I never liked the saying, “39 and holding.” I felt it was just one more slap in the face of older women and a high five to the glorification of youth. We ought to be proud we got this far in life. We are the wise women of the world even if we are pretty much ignored.
The reality is that no matter how many inspirational posters we all share of crazy older women in big red hats and gray-haired grandmas driving around in convertibles while sporting oversized sunglasses with their laughing gal pals, ‘the world’ doesn’t see us, nor think of us as glamorous, or viable, or even intelligent. Unless, of course, you’re Christie Brinkley and your whole life has been spent on the profitability of looking beautiful. Even 60-something Cindy Joseph, the new spokeswoman for ‘older women’ in the glam world, has the classic square-cut jaw and the body of a highly maintained young woman. You can put gray hair on it and sprinkle it with a few cute dimpled wrinkles, but a model is still a model; not the norm. Normal women in their 60s are pretty much invisible.
Even the most educated and accomplished women are looked over to spy the bulbous asses of empty-headed babes. If you’re an intellectual ‘older’ woman, you’re on a hag list or not acknowledge at all. You may have some buying or political power and the luxury of a big veranda overlooking the ocean, but words out of the luscious plump lips of a young mouth still draw more attention, regardless of how idiotic they are. The rest of us, at best, are someone’s loving grandma or a doer of good deeds. Loving and being loved is enough for most of us.
Many people would say, “Hey, get over it! You’ve had your moment in the sun; quietly move out of the way, lady. It’s not about ‘you’ anymore.” Of which I would generally agree. It’s hard work to keep up with perfect celebrities who still look airbrushed and sexy, or the young women filtering into your hard-earned career in their yoga pants and digital language. I don’t have the energy to compete with that ridiculousness.
But, it’s something else we grapple with, something more elusive that we try to hold on to: TIME.
Beauty may be fleeting, but TIME moves as swift as freakin’ flood waters! One minute you’re driving down the road, the wind in your hair with your skinning arms glistening in the sun, your teeth white as pearls, your face still distinguishable from your neck, listening to America’s ‘Ventura Highway …” feeling badass and beautiful. Then you change the station and you can’t understand the music, you can’t read the road signs without your tri-focal lenses on. Someone is talking to your through your car radio and you sound like your grandma as you try to figure out how to talk to the dashboard; you just want everything to slow down. One day it IS all about you, and then the next the flood waters of time sweep you into a weird kind of warped no-man’s land where you don’t belong anymore.
It takes tenacity to not be drown-out!
But ‘time’ stops for no woman. It doesn’t even slow down. In fact, everything changes faster and faster as the years go by, and if you’re on top of things, one can do okay navigating through those swift flood waters, for awhile. It helps to have kids. They teach you things and tell you to change your clothes when ‘you look old and frumpy, mom.’ It helps to remain a part of the work and social world. It keeps one sharp and alert, especially as everything just keeps getting more and more unnecessarily competitive. It helps, but it won’t save you. “Oldness” creeps up on you in the middle of the night when you turn and your back goes out or when you can’t seem to get up that long flight of stairs.
It robs you of the ‘right’ words, in a kind of half-joking way.
The other day I was driving with my daughter behind a very slow vehicle, and I yelled at the car in front of us, “Hellloooo, its 65 degrees, dumbass!” Apparently, my old wires got tangled and I blurted out the wrong term of measurement! It was great for a good laugh. We’re still laughing about that, but I’m not so sure it’s funny. It’s scary. What will I say next?
With time goes flexibility, upper body strength, mental sharpness, sex drive and performance. Your bladder weakens, your internal organs start messing with you, “Heartburn, again? What did you eat, honey?” Every day it’s something else…a new wrinkle, hair in places one never thought hair would grow, and diagnoses of syndromes you’ve never even heard about before you got old!
Of course, one does the best they can to keep living! Very few of us just want to roll over and die, though at the worst of times, like when you’re coughing incessantly and pissing yourself at the same time, I’m sure it seems like a reasonable option. Just take me now, God.
I loved talking to my mother. She was as funny as Hell about these things, though I know how much she suffered on many levels. She taught me stuff, though, important ways to look at all of these cruel changes. Mostly, she taught me to savor the present moment, to take it all in, to run while I could still run and ‘doll myself up’ as long as my lipstick wasn’t bleeding into the wrinkles around my lips.
The changes of getting older are not really teachable, though. It’s like telling a man what it’s like to bear a child or a civilian what it’s like to crawl through the jungles of Vietnam. Until one does it, whatever it is, they’ll never really know.
I usually take stock of my life and make resolutions on my birthday, much like one does on New Year’s Eve. Tonight I found myself making a list of things, dreams and plans that I know will never happen in the years I have left. Kind of an acceptance speech on reality.
Big dreams like buying a vintage house; won’t happen. Living in a small town again; can’t move without the hubby and he’s not budging. Thick voluminous hair; it’s only getting thinner. A perfect figure; it never has been, well except that one year in 1986. I was HOT that year! World travel, a move back up north, wild nights of sensuous romantic love; nope, nope, and nope (damn!).
Circumstances, health, finances, and, yes, aging, have all pretty much closed down some roads.
But what I do have isn’t so bad. I’ve worked hard so I can live more freely on my modest pension. The kids are in the beginnings of their marriages, so grandchildren are a reasonable expectation. I can still walk, talk, sing (well, not as good as I used to), joke around, read and drive (with the right corrective lenses), and generally connect with others. If not, I’ve learned how to ‘nod and smile.’ Thanks mom.
I generally get along with my husband of almost 30 years. We’re the same ages as Aunt Bea and Floyd the barber on the original “The Andy Griffith Show,” for God’s sakes! He (my husband, not Floyd) opens my jars and keeps me in conversation. We don’t always see eye-to-eye on politics and movies. He doesn’t like loud music; I can’t hear music unless it’s loud. He likes dark rooms; I can’t function without natural light. He grumbles and gets pissy when he’s mad; I just disappear for a few hours. We both talk to our pets like they’re children and love being around our real children, so it all works out. We share some laughs, some affection, enough to not give up on each other or plot the other’s death.
A long marriage, like aging, just isn’t something people can tell you about until you’ve lived it. Unless one wants to be alone or angry their whole life, you make it work and muddle through together. There’s a lot of muddling.
Time keeps racing along, even as we muddle and scramble to keep things the same. One day you realize no one wants your ‘highly experienced’ expertise at work anymore. You’ll want to have dinner with your kid, and he’ll be leaving to have dinner with someone else. Few people will want to hear your precious memories (again?), and the face looking back at you in the mirror may become unrecognizable.
Our bodies start to give out, even as we do our yoga, water aerobic, and daily walks. You notice a spot where there wasn’t one, you can see the tracks of your veins through your thinning skin, your lower arms are flapping more than before, you can’t crap; it happens.
You’ll survive, of course; God willing you’ll thrive. But, ‘holding on’ isn’t an option. You just have to live the Hell out of the moment you’re in. There’s no getting anything back; time marches on.
My mother was a great example of someone who didn’t let time or aging get in her way. Wherever her
children and grandchildren lived, she got there, even if she had to wear Depends, ride through the airport terminal in a wheelchair, pack a week’s worth of medications (my God that woman had pills), a patch over one eye, a bum leg, whatever, she went!
One time she was driving her little car along a country road up north, and she looked like a 12 year old kid with a mop head of gray hair and a lead foot, hugging the steering wheel with crazed determination on her face. I thought, “Who the Hell are you? You’re not my mother!” She was hilariously bold. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was skillfully navigating those flood waters of change, adapting, morphing, whether she wanted to or not, into a survivor of time.
As for me, well I still have a few more doable dreams in me. I can still look presentable, though more Aunt Bea-ish than like Christie Brinkley. It’s important to me, though; it’s significant to keep trying. Once one doesn’t care, doesn’t try, is convinced ‘no one cares what they look like,’ or ‘no one is listening,’ or they ‘think’ they can’t do something because they are old, then they are definitely ‘old.’
At 59 that’s my birthday wish to myself, to courageous navigate the flood waters of change….even if I have to learn some new fandangle app, or I use the wrong words here and there. There’s no ‘holding;’ there’s just making the most of the moment. No crazy red hat that proclaims, “I’m a wild and wise woman” or super model’s lip balm is going to make a difference or stop the hands of time. One just has to stay the uncertain course of rocks and waves, even the still lonely waters, until there are no more birthdays left to say,