“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  My clothes outdated?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 woman who just turned 73, 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.

Here I go.  Why don’t you join me?

 

 

First, there was “OMG, I’m Turning 70!”

http://janeleder.net/wp-admin/post.php?post=418&action=edit

 

THEN came:

“OMG, I’m Turning 70! – Chapter 2” (based on insightful comments from lots of women)

http://janeleder.net/wp-admin/post.php?post=418&action=edit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Forever Self

When a friend and I were talking—I’m sure I was whining about my back or the flab on my arms or something my husband said the other night—she looked at me and, not in a patronizing tone but in one of acceptance and understanding, said “My forever self.”

“Write that down!  It’s a perfect title for a book—maybe my next one.”

Dutifully, she found a piece of scratch paper and wrote “My Forever Self,” as if it were already a book or magazine article on her shopping list.

Okay, what did those three words really mean?  Was it a call to arms of sorts (no, not my flabby ones) to honor our physical, emotional, intellectual selves and to understand that we’d better make the best of things because—at least, in this turn around the block—what you see is what you get?

For many of us, that’s a tall order—at least, when it comes to body image and aging.  When I wrote about “age jumps” years ago (and then again more recently), I suggested that we not run from change but mourn a loss and then move on.  Feel sorry for yourself for a day or two and then get on with it.

We each have our Achilles’ heel (or heels).  Actually, I have no problems with either of my heels.  Other parts of my body?  Well, you already know about my flabby arms.  But, no, my arms and every other body part are mine forever, and I’d be wise to acknowledge their strength and longevity and take good care.

Or did my friend intend to encourage us to recognize our physical/emotional/intellectual pain—real pain— and to own it?  To not resist because then the pain persists?

So, I asked her.  She’s a 62-year-old woman who was told by a doctor when she was a babe in her twenties that she had physical issues like those of a woman 50 years her senior.  She could have done as her mother and sister had: she could have curled up in her misfortune and, in a very real sense, given up.  She did not.  Instead, she understood that she had limits and worked within the day.  She studied and became a professional dancer, a physical trainer, a dance instructor, and a choreo strength trainer.

Most evenings, her restless leg syndrome keeps her up into the middle of the night.  Most mornings, she cannot walk.  But she takes her time, practices all the stretches she teaches and, by mid-morning, her first client arrives.  She moves right along with her.  She does not feel sorry for herself—at least, not most of the time.  (She is human after all.)

“My Forever Self.”

I have another friend who has MS.  Her one leg is particularly weak; she may soon need a cane.  In hot weather, the electrical charges in her body go haywire.  Not that long ago, she mentioned that it felt as if a body part had disconnected from the rest of her.  It was strange, uncomfortable, and worrisome.

“I’m such a wimp,” I told her one day.  “I don’t know how I’d handle your diagnosis, limitations, and pain?”

“I was a wimp, too.  But when you’re up against it, you have a choice: Accept, do whatever you can to ease the discomfort and live life to the fullest or fold like a wilted leaf and live a life of anger and regret.”

She chose the former.

“My Forever Self.”

 

 

 

 

 

In Our Sunset Years, Buying Trees and Shrubs Is Like Buying Life Insurance

If you’re 50+, trying to get a reasonable life insurance policy is a frustrating, expensive task.  As far as the insurers are concerned, you are two steps away from the grave.  (Well, maybe three.)

“Age is the most important contributor to both term and whole life insurance rates. How old you are plays the biggest role in how much you’ll pay to purchase a new life insurance policy.  The reason every year inches up the cost of term life insurance is simple math. Every birthday puts you one year closer to your life expectancy and thus, you’re are more expensive to insure—rates increase every year by 5% to 8% in your 40s, and by 9% to 12% each year if you’re over age 50.” —  Chris Huntley, life insurance agent at Huntley Wealth and Insurance, San Diego, California

Okay, you’re thinking.  I see the title of this blog but don’t get the connection between buying life insurance and buying trees and shrubs.  Let me fill you in:

Yesterday, my husband and I went shrub and tree shopping.  It wasn’t a bad winter here in the Chicago area (Well, not for us because we got out of Dodge) but something went wrong with our 20+-year-old red bud tree, our privets along the south side of our property, a shrub that will remain nameless because I simply can’t remember, and several of our miniature boxwoods that encircle a blue stone patio.

My garden is my temple.  I tend to it with loving care, backbreaking weeding, watering (except for a “summer” like this one that feels more like early October), and with a sense of wonder at how flowers and plants decide to return year after year—most of them— in all of their glorious colors, designs, tactile differences.  I spend a lot of my money on my garden, but I can justify the expense because, the way I see it, the garden is an extension of my home—an integral part of the design to be used and enjoyed.

The saleswoman at the garden center read the tag on a a multi-colored bush perfect for the empty corner where a hydrangea died over the winter.  “Well,” she said.  “This shrub should grow a couple of inches a year and reach a height of 5′ to 6′ in maybe six or seven years.

“Great,” my husband said.  “We’ll either be blind or half dead or in a senior home by that time.”

The saleswoman in her 20s didn’t really connect.  All she could think of was that her shift ended in 10 minutes and that she craved a hot dog with everything on it.

“How about this one?” my husband asked, pointing to another bush.

“Same thing.”

He looked like one of the gangly clematis vines hanging on for dear life on the trellis along the side of our deck.

“This sucks!  Either we pay out the nose for a mature bush or tree or we settle for a little nothing of a plant that we’ll never be around to see when it’s full grown.”

I never envisioned the day when we’d suffer the consequences of aging in the garden.  I anticipated physical and mental insults.  But decisions about shrubs and trees?  Never.

If there is a moral to this story, it would have to be this:  Buy trees and shrubs when you’re young so you can age together.