“You Don’t Look Your Age” (Musings on Turning 73 and What Looking One’s Age Means, Anyway)

I used to relish what I interpreted as a compliment when someone looked at my driver’s license and said, “No, way!  You don’t look your age!”

And I’d feel all warm and fuzzy and say, “Oh, yes, that is my birthdate.”

And they’d say, “Well, you could have fooled me!” (or something to that effect).

And I’d walk away, smiling—grateful that the crows’ feet at the corners of my eyes or the slowly deepening wrinkles on my face didn’t yet scream out, “Get thee to a plastic surgeon for a few shots of Botox.”

But, now, I’m not so sure how to respond to “You sure don’t look your age.”  What does that mean, anyway?  That I don’t resemble the physical stereotypes of senior women?  That my hair is not thinning?  My skin not sagging? LOL  My eyes not squinting or not wearing trifocals a mile thick?  My clothes outdated?  My bones breaking?  (Oops, that would be a “yes.”)  My hip or knees buckling?

Is it truly a good thing to have folks constantly move the goalposts?  You know, 50 is the new 60.  Or 70 is the new 80.  Like the next woman, I want to believe that I’ll outlive my mother (She died just short of her 92nd birthday) and that I’ll be healthy with all my faculties intact.  The memory thing is a question mark.

But what’s wrong with looking our age?  Aren’t the lines on our faces symbols of lives well lived and the wisdom that accompanies decades of experiences, failures and successes, love and loss?

Full disclosure:  I do stare at young women’s unblemished legs, their unlined faces, muscular arms often tattooed, and I do get a modicum of comfort knowing that they, too, will be seniors before they know it.  But that’s a cop out, really.  I want to be able to embrace my body (and my spirit) and to wear all the scars with pride.

How to proceed: One strategy is to befriend younger women.  Actually, that’s easy to do because the pool of women in their 70s+  is beginning to diminish.  These younger women can keep us up to date, so to speak, about what life is like today for them and can, in many ways, use our experiences to enhance their own.  I often find myself channeling my mother and her generation, saying things like, “Well, when I was _______.”  Or “Back in the day, we ______________.” It does peg us as Boomers but, hey, I’m thankful I grew up when I did and felt the strength of being able to make changes in our world. That optimism is currently in short supply.

Another strategy:  Honor your voice.  “The truth will out.”  (Kudos to Will and his Sir Lancelot.)  Yep, no matter how often you hide under a desk or keep your mouth shut for fear that someone won’t like you, the harder it becomes to “get what you need,” and the more difficult it is to have open, honest relationships.  (I once backed out of returning a pair of shoes because I didn’t want to disappoint the salesman. [I was twelve.])

I realize this isn’t always easy.  I took a class in active listening when my son was maybe five (He’s pushing 45 now) and thought I had this whole “Say what you want to say in a nonjudgmental way” all wrapped up.  LOL.  It has taken me maybe 60 years to refine this way of communicating and up until this moment to use it more than—I don’t know—80 percent of the time.

And give this a try:  To allay your fears of your demise, look back at, say, twenty year chunks of your life: 40 to 60 or 50 to 70.  Consider all that happened—the fun, the accomplishments, the hard fought changes that made your life better.  As a 73-year-old, I’m shooting for at least another twenty years.  And that gives me relief, knowing that there is still much ahead—so much to look forward to and to check off all those items on my bucket list.  (Right now, it’s little stuff like look down and don’t trip, hang on to the railing when walking up and down stairs, don’t lean against doors until they are securely shut.  I missed that last memo and ended up with a spinal compression fracture.  Oops!)

The Bagel Bopper and the Jesuits

After my parents died within less than a month of each other, I decided it would be best to find a full-time job.  That way, I would have somewhere to go each day and the chance to meet and mingle with a group of what I hoped would be new friends.

I’d been a freelance writer and author for many years, and the chance to bring in a regular paycheck and, hopefully, ease my grief seemed the perfect antidote to losing my parents.

Years before, I’d been a high school English teacher, then a writer/producer of educational filmstrips.  Remember them?  (If you’re weren’t in grade school by the early 1980s, you probably never heard of these rudimentary frame-by-frame  visuals with recorded sound.) I’d also written a slew of books and figured I was the perfect candidate for a job at Loyola Press in Chicago.  The head of the editorial staff agreed.

Loyola Press is a Catholic press started by Jesuits back in the day.  As a Jew, I wasn’t sure how that would go down, but my first assignment was to edit a series of books on reading and writing for elementary and middle school students.  Okay, I could do that.  And I did. The only signs of religion were the crosses that dominated the office walls and the prayers that began every faculty meeting or special event.  I put my head down and pretended to go along.

The Jesuits would have been proud because I prayed that my next assignment would augment the English series—maybe a focus on writing or literature or critical thinking. No such luck.  I was asked to edit and update Finding God, one of the faith program books.

I couldn’t do it.  Heck, I wasn’t sure I even believed in God.  And I wasn’t interested in finding Him/Her.

“You know I’m Jewish.”

“Of course, I do.  But this won’t be too much of a stretch.”

Were they kidding?  I couldn’t come in to work every day, sit down at my desk and read the New Testament or revise text about the importance and finding and keeping God in our lives.  I could easily sabotage the whole deal and write about bagels and lox instead of wafers and wine.  I could underscore the pure fantasy in much of the Biblical stories.  I could scream profanities so loud that the Jesuit priest in his second floor office would come running—well, running is a bit of an exaggeration.  He was getting on in age and walked with a cane.  (At least, that’s what I remember.)

So, I started searching for homes in northern California.  I’d wanted to live there since I’d graduated from college and decided this would be the perfect time to get the heck out of Dodge.  A move would be a perfect excuse that even the Father could forgive.

I was uncomfortable about quitting after only a year+ on the job and put off my resignation as long as I could.  But the Finding God project was scheduled to get underway, and I couldn’t hold my cards any longer.

“I can’t do it,” I told my immediate boss.  She was Catholic, too.

“You’ll be great.  You can be more objective.”

Objective?  I doubted she or the higher ups wanted objectivity.  I was, after all, a Bagel Bopper who, while not religious, resented the notion that Jews were Christ killers and that the Catholic church had remained silent during World War II when they knew damn well about the slaughter going on right under their noses.

But I’d heard that Jesuits were tolerant of other religions and believers in free education. I couldn’t argue with that.


Still, I quit.  Before I packed my bag and walked out the front door, I made my way up to the second floor office of the Father and titular head of Loyola Press.  I don’t remember what I said.  Probably some bogus about being needed to care for an elderly relative or needing time to write a novel.  I couldn’t possibly tell the truth and confess.

Father (I wish I could remember his full name) was generous and kind.  He wished me best of luck and thanked me for my service.

I felt like a—well, like a traitor.  Maybe I was getting religion, after all.





No, not the age jumps (gaps) between brothers and sisters. For now, I’ve written enough about that topic in both The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives (shameless plug) and in many posts right here.


An age jump day.

An age jump day.

Nope, I’m talking about the days when you wake up, look at yourself in the mirror and stare in dismay at a new line that has made its debut around the corners of your mouth, the corner of an eye or anywhere else.  Or maybe a slightly deeper fold that runs along the side of your nose like a river in the Grand Canyon.

Oh, I could go on about the physical “ravages” of age.  I fondly remember the day when I was in my early 40s and a friend sat on a porch step one rung higher than mine.  She peered at the top of my head adorned with a mass of what I called a “lion’s mane” and declared, “You don’t have one gray hair!”

Honestly, I hadn’t given a thought to turning gray.  I was concerned about the small amount of loose skin between my bra strap and my arm.  (If only I’d realized then what I know now.  I would have worn sleeveless tops every day of the year.)

So, back to the present.  A new wrinkle . . . a deeper line . . . crepe paper skin . . . Your first response?  If you’re like most of us, you want to slam a bag over your head (any material/size will do) and sulk for the rest of the day.  And that’s what I recommend—minus the bag, of course.

We need to grieve.  To feel sorry for ourselves.  To wonder where all the time has gone and why we look more like our mothers/grandmothers than we vowed we ever would.

Hell, if you feel like buying a burka, go right ahead.  Cover yourself and all your imperfections from head to foot.  (If it’s summer, take care: you could suffocate.)

We grieve all kinds of losses: loved ones, pets, friends, satisfying jobs.  But, rarely, do we give ourselves permission to grieve for what society has convinced us is a loss of beauty.  Oh, we complain to anyone who will listen.  (My husband has had it up to “here.”)  We bitch about our flabby stomachs, our sagging chins, the veins large and small that mar our legs into an atlas-like illustration of all the rivers that flow through our state.

(BTW, I may take the prize for the flabby stomach thing.  Mine used to be so flat and taut.  Farewell.)

What I’ve found is a little bit of grief goes a long way.  Feel sorry for yourself.  Look at old pictures and curse the day you were born.  Maybe even try on that size 8 dress you’ve hidden in your closet in the hopes of someday being able to wear it again.

But at the end of your age jump and your day of grief, give it up.  Look straight in the mirror and thank the gods or goddesses that you look (and feel) as good as you do.  And remember: Next week, next month, six months from now you’ll look back on today and wish that you had embraced that wrinkle or sag because you looked damn good.




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