59 and Holding…

best3…my bladder. The railing. My tongue!

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.

As a newborn with my mama

As a newborn with my mama

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

Me and my mom in the 1960s

Me and my mom in the 1960s

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.

Mom in her 80s

Mom in her 80s

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,

“Hey, I’m still here. Let’s eat cake!”Cindy's bday 1962

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It’s All Going to Be Okay

Birthdays come and birthdays go.

This has been a quiet birthday for me, except for the opening of my eyes in gratefulness at meeting a new day. Some of my family had forgotten that it was my birthday, which isn’t odd given that we usually celebrate mine the following day along with my son’s birthday. My day, I’ve found, is more of a day of reflection. I have had a few memorable birthdays, though, that always come to mind on this reflective anniversary and are remarkably similar, though separated by 24 years or so.
One July when I was about six-years-old, we were at our family cabin nestled in the woods of mid-Michigan along the banks of the Tittabawassee River, and my Grandma Cowan was with us. That was unusual, as I recall. I think my mother must have needed her help that summer, for she normally didn’t take trips ‘up north’ with us.

My mother’s mother had been a ‘flapper’ during the roaring 20s, a totally modern girl living in Detroit in its heyday! She was the

My mom and her brother with my grandparents Ralph and Clara Cowan in the late 1940s

My mom and her brother with my grandparents Ralph and Clara Cowan in the late 1940s

first female insurance agent for The Royal Neighbors Insurance Company, and all her life had a keen business mind and was involved in helping the community. She married ‘old’ for those times, at thirty, to my grandfather, a tall strappin’ man who escaped the isolated simplicity of his Tennessee farm life to venture to the ‘Mecca of Prosperity,’ Detroit. After some work in the factories, my grandfather became a Detroit City police officer, affording his family security and a respectable middle-class life. My grandparents had two children, my mother and my Uncle Harvey, and lived that kind of ‘1940s ideal life’ one sees in those Spencer Tracey or Myrna Loy movies of the times, complete with stylish clothes, a strong work ethic, religious devotion, order and tradition, and even had their Polish Busha and Jaja living in the house with them. Family warmth and love were a given.

In the 1950s, when my parents married and brought forth eight children into the world, my grandmother was called upon to aid in the transportation of us kids and to give my mother all the support she could. She was a good grandma, always kind yet orderly, in control but generous. She would have us over to her stately but comfortable home in Detroit two-by-two, where we would enjoy outings to the Polish meat market and German bakery and get the kind of attention we didn’t get at home in house full of kids. On Sundays we’d trail behind my grandma and her elderly sister Maxine in their pearls and prim dresses as we walked to their church, Our Lady of Good Counsel, lit candles and learn to sit still. Back in her small but cozy kitchen ripe with the fresh tomato and green pepper smells of a summer garden, we’d enjoy fresh ham and cheese sandwiches on Jewish rye, Lorna Doone cookies, and then out to play in the then safe neighborhood and flower-lined alleys ways. She kept a bag of blocks and other toys in her front closet for us, and saved all her used cartons, dish soap bottles, and cereal boxes for us to play ‘store’ in the back yard. At bit of a gambler, she let us use her Po-Ke-No chips, which in this case were small multicolor tissue paper discs, as money or just for whatever we imagined. She kept round pink and white mints, sugared orange slices and mint leaves, and sometimes Circus Peanut candies in her china cabinet, and would give us a treat of them when she felt it was time. I can still see the cabinet filled with pink and green Depression glass, the spotless glass door slowly opened by my grandma, and us standing there patiently waiting for our reward for being good little guests.

My Grandma Cowan as I remember her in the 1960s.

My Grandma Cowan as I remember her in the 1960s.

Because my mother didn’t drive in those years when she most certainly needed to, my grandma would come to her rescue in her well-kept pink AMC Rambler, hat in place on her pin-curled hair, earrings on, boxy purse in hand, and she would get us around in her sturdy shoes and ironed shirtwaist dresses, far from the flapper flair of her 20s, but still classy. She was always willing to go the extra mile to help her only daughter, even to a musty old cabin. Something I completely understand as I now follow her example of devotion to my only daughter.

But it was during that summer in the early 1960s that my grandmother, Clara was her name, was staying with us at that musty old cabin where I was presented with a birthday gift that totally caught me off guard. It was a big box, for starters, and all lavishly wrapped in pink with a big pink bow! God, I was overcome with joy even before I opened it. In those days of dime-store gifts like a lace hanky, or a comb and brush set, maybe a paint-by-number kit and a multitude of handmade gifts from my other young siblings like a dog’s head carved out of an Ivory soap bar or a potholder made from a child’s weaving kit, that big pink box was a big deal!

When I opened it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a beautiful baby doll swaddled in a soft pink blanket. I thought I was in heaven, for I loved dolls and rarely got one of my own. I remember holding that doll continuously after that point; for many years she was my dear child. I was so grateful to my sophisticated grandmother and happy as I watched the proud look on my mother’s face as well. She was apparently just as excited about my receiving such a special gift as I was.

It wasn’t until I was 38-years-old that I would receive another baby as a birthday gift. In labor all night on my birthday, my son was born just into the next day, saving him from the awkwardness of having to share his day with his mother for the rest of his life. Oh, and what a gift he was. Unexpected after the premature death of my father, an easy-going, mild-mannered child, who has grown into an honorable young man; he has always been my personal expression of celebration. As it is, I willingly gave up all the fanfare on my day for the next 19 years and will continue to do so, in order to celebrate my birthday baby!

Those two memories stand out above all others…including overtures of love from fumbling, good intentioned young boys, sun-burnt birthday picnics, drunken parties with girlfriends, and the traditional birthday cake and ice cream with loved ones. Perhaps, it’s because they all involve mothers, my mother, her mother, me as a mother, and our dear little babes in arms….real or, in the case of my six-year old summer gift, perceived real. Certainly, they are involved ‘real’ love.

I spent this birthday by myself, for the most part, with the memory of my mother. It was easy and natural. After all, she was the only loved one truly with me as I was ushered into this world through her labor, and she has been with me all along through the pain and struggles of my rebirths, as well. It would seem unnatural for that feeling to stop, simply because she is no longer physically present on earth.

Just a few months ago, I was struggling with despair. I had too many thoughts in my head and nowhere to take them, too much planning, work, and daily demands on my plate, and had reached a point of sleeplessness and exhaustion. I was trying to nap one afternoon, and somewhere between sleep and being awake, I heard my mother walk in the room calling out my childhood name, “Cindy,” as if she were trying to wake me up in a gentle fashion. It was so real. She was so real. I could smell her perfume as she slowly came around the end of my bed and sat down beside me. She was dressed in one of her nightgowns with an old-fashion ‘housecoat’ covering it much like the one I had admired for its sensibility during my last visit the summer before she died. She had gotten it from Sears or The Vermont Country Store, someplace where one could still get those sensible kinds of garments that allowed modest women to make breakfast, do a few chores, and even venture outside before actually getting dressed for the day. In soft feminine pink, it had little floral edged pockets and snaps as buttons. My always sassy mother giggled and told me it was kind of sexy in that way. I had to agree. When I was leaving that last summer day, I found the housecoat washed and lovingly folded on the top of my things in my luggage. She told me it was a going-away gift, as she proudly peeked around the corner to see my reaction, so much like her face when I receive the gift from my grandmother years ago.

That sleepless afternoon, I sat there looking at my mother’s pleasant face as she sat next to me, not young, not old and sad, just angelic-looking. I seemingly was awake, yet not in shock at seeing her or overly emotional, just completely given over to her presence. She said to me several times, quite simply in her familiar voice as she patted my leg, “Everything will be okay, Cindy. It’s all going to be okay.” When she walked away she gave me her signature girlish smile, reassuring yet joyful at what would come next, and when I came to the place where I thought I was indeed awake, I felt at peace, solid, reassured by my mother’s visit. Who else could do that? She was there at my first breath, and like today, she walked with me silently whispering that simple truth as a puttered around the house, during my exercising and getting ready for the day, and while I received lovely messages from friends. That was enough of a gift, and just as memorable as my baby doll and beautiful boy.

Birthdays are mostly lovely, but sometimes hard, especially as we get much older. There comes a point in life that you don’t need

Me and my mother in the 1980s.

Me and my mother in the 1980s.

a big pink box to feel special, you just need to feel loved. Today’s gift was a simple reminder, that “It’s all going to be okay.” Everyday gives us a chance for celebration; we just have to be willing to receive those small gifts as they come. There will be more babies to hold, boxes to wrap and open, grateful sunrises, memories to share and wisdom to pass along.

Like my mother and her mother, my task is to pass those gifts and love along to my children, washed and folded neatly or sugar-frosted as candy, and that proud reassuring peek around the corner for the courage to carry on through all the birthdays of their lives.