Aging without a Road Map

Think about it for a minute: baby boomers are the first generation of women who are moving into maturity without role models. As we enter our 50s and 60s, we cannot look at what our mothers were like at the same age and say, “Yep. that’s going to be me.”

The boomers I know are far more focused on fitness and healthful eating than the generations before them, and whether it’s a testament to good genes or clean living, we all look younger and are more vital than our mothers. That’s the good news. The bad news is: what can we expect as we get older…and older…and older?

In truth, we are aging by the seat of our pants. Our mothers had their mothers to look to for what to expect. Our daughters have us, and if they’re paying attention, they’re learning that it’s possible to run marathons at 55, have a book published at 58, and play the romantic lead in a movie at 61.

But we boomers are a generation stuck in the no-definitive-answers zone, not knowing what’s lurking around the next corner as we make our way toward our golden years.

In truth, it will be a very different journey for all of us. Genetics and lifestyle will certainly affect the paths our lives will take. In spite of the variables, we will all share the not-knowing part…the unexpected, unpredictable changes that will appear as we continue to move forward. The road is not well lit–heck, there are no street lights at all!–so we’re left to make our way through the dark.

In situations like these, it’s good that we have each other.

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Stories I Never Finished

Four years ago, my husband and I moved from our home in Northern California to Los Angeles–a temporary change of scenery dictated by a lucrative work-related project for him. While we were there, I started—and never revisited–a couple of short stories about the move and the culture shock of being an older/mature/seasoned woman in the land of youth and beauty. I offer them here…now…because perhaps if I see them in print, I’ll be inspired to add a few hundred more words…

And We’re Off…

“Pack up the Buick, baby, we’re movin’ to LA!”

The words filled the house as my husband burst through the door, a grin of utter self-satisfaction on his face.

Never mind that we don’t have a Buick. His message was clear nevertheless—he had just received word that he’d won a large environmental contract with Los Angeles County, and we were on our way to southern California.

***

Crone Among the Roses

I’m 57 years old, my hair is dark, and I live in Los Angeles. Loosely translated, I think that means I’m an alien.

Every day, everywhere I go, I’m faced with youth and beauty. It doesn’t matter if I’m at the gym or the bank…the dry cleaners or the grocery store. If there’s another female present, odds are she’s a blonde with an unlined face and a tight butt. That’s not to say they’re all younger than me. Far from it. Some of the smoothest faces I’ve seen are on women several years my senior.

Youth. It’s not just for the young anymore.

An Ode to Aging

Aging is a state of mind
Be wise—avoid the mental bind
There’s really nothing new to fear
It’s just another stinkin’ year.

Okay…it’s true your boobs will drop
Your bones will start to crack and pop
Your brain goes soft, your gums recede
You can’t remember if you’ve peed.

Your hair goes thin atop your head
And sprouts up someplace else instead
Your vision blurs, your hearing fades
You’ve lost the point of panty raids.

You’re gray in places no one sees
Small mounds of fat embrace your knees
Your feet get wide, your butt keeps pace
You’re winded if you hum in place.

But keep in mind it could be worse
A gypsy could intone a curse
A witch could cast an evil spell
A warlock damn you straight to hell.

Instead it’s just an aging thing
With many years to dance and sing
Your book of life’s not nearly shut
You’ve still got lots of stuff to strut!

A New Brand of Youth

The aging process. Dontcha just love it? As women, we spend years convincing ourselves that we look good—better than good, dammit!—and then one day the mirror reflects back a face we hardly recognize. (“Mom? Is that you?”)

We realize we can no longer pretend that the eighteen-year-old supermarket checker finds us mysterious and intriguing and sexy, albeit in a Mrs. Robertson sort of way. (Okay, I’ll own that one, and it happened a very long time ago.) We have crow’s feet, laugh lines, and jowls. Sure, we’ve earned them. And yes, they are indeed a testament to a life well lived. But they are also visible proof that we are no longer young. On the outside, anyway.

It’s time for denial to pack its bags (of course, it will graciously leave behind the ones under our eyes) and slip from our mindset for good. We’re older. We’re different. It’s a fact of life, and it’s not going to change.

Basically, we have two choices. We can spend gazillions of dollars on cosmetic surgeries—or we can genteelly slip into a new brand of youth. The latter is all about being open to new things…to listening to what others have to say…to being willing to consider a different perspective…to reflect an inner spirit that absolutely shines with agelessness and wonder.

Sounds to me like it’s worth a try.

Sliding into Sixty

I honestly don’t know how it happened. I swear 40 wasn’t that long ago. And inside I’m still 25. So what’s the deal with this 60 thing?

I used to like telling people my age. It was a kick to see the surprise on their faces when I cockily announced, “Heh, I’m 57.” My all-time favorite response was from a young woman in my spin class who looked at me incredulously and said simply, “Get out!”

“Well, gee – it is dark in here,” I replied modestly, but deep down her comment made me feel giddy. Age’ll never get to me, I thought. I’m one of the lucky ones.

I drew from an Italians-only gene pool, whose surface was marked by a slick of olive oil. For nearly 30 years I wore that shiny badge of heritage on my face, only to emerge in my forties with the relatively unlined skin my mother always promised. My Mediterranean ancestry helped me out in the sun-abuse department, as well. My days of using baby oil and iodine as my only barrier against UV rays left me with less age spots than might be expected, and I gleefully referred to the ones I had as “freckles.” I might have gone on with that delusion for the rest of my life, were it not for an episode that occurred when I was in my late fifties.

I was sitting on the exam table in my dermatologist’s office, waiting for him to arrive for my annual lemme-look-at-every-inch-of-your-skin examination. His young assistant was entertaining me with small talk, when she suddenly pointed to the little brown garden on my chest and asked, “Do those spots bother you? ‘Cause we can fix ‘em, ya know.”

Bye, bye, freckles. Hello, Fraxel.

Looking back, that might have been the pivotal moment when my mindset started its subtle, but definitive, shift. I finally came face to face with the fact that I can no longer count on perky breasts or long, glossy hair to open doors of attention or opportunity. These days, the best I can do in the physical department is flex a moderately impressive biceps, whose majesty is somewhat dampened by the bat wing of skin that sways gently beneath it. And so what? This stage of life is not about youthful beauty.

It’s about the incredible feeling I get when I successfully add ten pounds to the bench-press bar…or when one of my 50-something friends runs her sixth marathon…or when another cycles 100 miles for leukemia…or when another travels to India with Freedom from Hunger to encourage teenage girls to stay in school. And I realize with an enormous flush of pride that we are wickedly wondrous women.

So bring on the turn of the calendar page. We “women of a certain age” are ready to respond with dignity and grace.