When I was in my twenties I gave no thought whatever to aches or pains, medical screenings, etc. The only thing we thought about was surviving financially while we finished our degrees in college and began careers.
In my thirties the only thing I thought about was having my babies and starting a family. It was a busy decade as we grew our family, moved around as my husband was upwardly mobile and I taught school. Who had time to worry about fine lines around the eyes or random gray strands of hair?
Then I turned forty. The first thing to go was my eyesight. I was shocked! For my entire life I’d had what doctors called hawk-vision; better than 20/20. But the year I turned 40 I suddenly needed glasses! I couldn’t believe it. Then as the years passed more and more issues began to crop up. Arthritis became an issue by about 45. It wasn’t bad enough to require meds, but it hurt nonetheless. Blood pressure and cholesterol became issues.
Fifty was the real eye opener. The magic half-way point (or so I like to believe). The arthritis got worse and now I had to take Glucosamine, which actually helps. All of my friends started complaining of their aches and pains, celebrities that I grew up watching on tv and in movies began dying. Friends’ parents began dying. I had lost my mom when I was 47 and dad was in bad health (he died when I was 50).
So suddenly I was facing my own mortality. I’d had a brief cancer scare a few years ago that had resolved favorably. But I didn’t feel 50, or even 40. I felt 25 or 30. But when I looked in the mirror I was shocked to see a most silver-haired woman staring back. My knees hurt going downstairs. My energy flagged easier. What had happened to the young woman who played softball with her students?
The most bizarre aspect of this has been the psychological reckoning. It’s such a shock to realize one day that you are NOT the 20 something you feel inside. Maybe that’s why the anti-aging industry is so hot today. With most of us being in the middle-aged group (I’m at the tail-end of the baby boom, so there are a whole lot of boomers older than me), I can’t be the only one feeling this disparity. Hence the wrinkle creams and lotions, liver-spot bleaching creams, hair dyes, weight-loss products to remove that middle-aged spread, and of course cosmetic surgeries to remove double chins, eye and mouth wrinkles, etc.
That’s why I was so excited to see Jamie Lee Curtis doing the Activia commercials in her natural short gray hair at age 50. And she was proud of it. That was also when I finally stopped coloring my own hair and have loved the way the silver gleams as it slowly overtakes the natural black. It took a few years of thinking about it first, worrying if I would look so much older than I feel. But while I may finally look my age I’ve decided that’s okay. I AM 53. Why shouldn’t I look it?
The other aspect of growing older is that hopefully you also grow wiser. I feel like I have. Sometimes you hear people say “I wish I’d known back then what I know now.” But if you think about that, it wouldn’t give you any chance to grow wiser. Experience gained through a lifetime is where wisdom is born. And wisdom is the value of being older.
So as my children enter adulthood and have questions about dealing with life and its issues, hopefully they’ll continue to come to us for guidance and value the wisdom we’ve gained as my husband and I enter the second half of our lives. But hopefully they won’t ask for too much advice, they need to experience things for themselves to become wise in their middle age, too.