Folks that know me – or knew me in the life that preceded this current one – will know me to be a most enthusiastic fan of all things mid century. I cherish the Eames chair in my living room (although I admit it’s a vinyl knockoff – but it’s still gorgeous), and I lament the loss of that stunning, five level ranch home in South Evanston that some may remember from those once-famous Christmas parties. I still have a few mid century things in my life, in fact I’ve created a rather pleasant look in my home here by mixing early American with modern pieces. What I have satisfies my desire for beauty – it still ‘scratches the itch’, as my ex and I used to say. But day after tomorrow, mid century will come to mean something entirely different in my world. Finally, after much ambivalent anticipation I myself will be ‘mid century’. !
Honestly, that’s not a big deal. The bulk of my friends are already past that landmark. I’ve done enough rumination on it to be able to move on. Or have I? Ok. So maybe it is a big deal. There are still a couple of things on my mind at the doorstep of this birthday: I’m alive, many of my dear friends are not. My parents are alive, many of my friend’s parents are not. I’m healthy, many of my friends are not. I have my beloved son with me every day. Many parents do not have their children with them. So – there’s the half-full glass take on it. And that’s my overall, bottom-line assessment of this landmark. However, in the spirit of complete honesty, I feel the need to vent just a teeny bit (I am secure in the knowledge that I am putting a voice to the feelings of many in this forthcoming mini-rant…)
Here goes: Not happy with the funky neck skin (which literally seemed to appear over goddam night just a few months ago), nor the crazy new chin hairs (some white!), nor the now full-time creases around my eyes, nor the deeper lines from my nose to my mouth (when acting in high school plays I’d pencil in these lines to appear older – the way I look now!), nor the way the arthritis in my hands is causing the joints to become grotesquely oversized, nor the strange way in which the skin on my thighs and butt is more crinkly than seems fitting for my age, nor the way I just can’t lose those last ten pounds, nor the way I now need readers or glasses – no longer can I blow off the glasses when heading out… While not a one of these things came on all at once, and certainly no one thing just up and happened in my fiftieth year specifically, I can say that I didn’t really notice any of this age-related activity in my forty-eighth year. I can honestly say that a whole bunch of stuff really came to the fore just this past year. All of a sudden I had a head of silver when just a year ago it was hardly noticeable. My neck? Just fine and dandy – til recently. I’m sure all these changes happened incrementally, but they seemed to hit a critical mass of sorts this past year. When in my mid forties I still felt I looked pretty good – I didn’t really see what all this crap about aging was about. Didn’t need readers, hell, didn’t really need my glasses so much either. Yeah, physically speaking, my forties were fine (except for a little divorce-related weight gain). But all of a sudden I really feel that I look my age. The jig is up, the charade is over, the cards are on the table. So I’d better quit my bitchin and proceed with a little class and composure. I don’t need to go on and on about the disappointments of growing old when Nora Ephron, bless her soul, so eloquently expressed all of her aging-related predicaments in “I Feel Bad About My Neck”. If you’re a peer of mine or older, read it. She brings such humor and humanity to the experience.
I remember a moment once, when a new awareness washed over me – clarity and perspective came to me in a flash. I can remember being in my bedroom in my beloved Evanston home, looking through the branches of our backyard tree towards the afternoon sun… I was contemplating what it meant to be turning 42… I considered that if I had a life expectancy of 84, that I was now halfway there. That I was, more accurately, on the downslope of my life: I had passed all those years of youth, and before me was nothing but the process of aging… In that moment I realized that I’d had a general sense of hope and expectancy that had been present with me all my life and had been driving me forward… to that next moment of satisfaction, then the next one, and then the next… yet where was the destination? What was that ultimate, one experience that I still ‘hoped’ for? Cold fear grabbed my chest – had I been on a fruitless, vain search for something I’d never find? Or had I already found it – and didn’t know that I’d found it? I’d enjoyed my life – all of it, as best I could, I’d always been aware of my good fortune, and yet, there was always a tiny nudging from inside to move toward something not yet achieved… As endless as the process had always seemed, a certain end was, in fact, coming. To me.
In that moment, I understood – in a way that even evades me now – that I was going to die. Not sure how else to explain it. But I got it for a second. I also got that nothing was to be taken for granted, I got that I was somehow not exempt; that I too, if all went well, would one day be an old woman. That’s mighty hard to truly get when your skin is smooth, your joints flexible, your eyesight perfect… but I got it. For a few moments I think I not only came to know that I was going to be old one day, but in some way I made peace with it. But then life overtook me, vanity returned, the sense of being somehow immune to fate – all of that settled back in and had me forgetting again; living as if things would always be thus. But these days, now that the physical evidence is mounting, I am beginning to learn a little humility. And man, I’m not very good at it. Yet. My aim is to age with humor and dignity. I need to do this well, if for no other reason than as an example for my son. I’ve got to find a way to sink into this new body without that nagging sense of sorrow and loss. I know I enjoyed my youth – I surely did. So I have no regrets – and that should free me up to really embrace this new chapter. It’s liberating not to care so much about the trappings of vanity. I like that my priorities have changed. I’m looking forward to learning things now in a way I never had the time or interest to before. So while I might continue to bitch and moan about stuff, truly I’m coming from the half-full place. Just might not always behave like it. As I’ve said before, it’s a balancing act.
My paternal grandma and my maternal great aunt both lived to be a hundred. So, if I’m to live as long as Bessie or Helen, then I’m right smack in the middle. And I’m ok with that. After all, I’m a mid century mama.