Tag Archive for: aging

I cry differently as an adult. I mostly cry about the same kinds of things, but there seems to be an odd threshold for actual tears falling now that there wasn’t when I was younger.

I have always been fairly emotionally sensitive, crying when I perceive that someone I love is hurting or finding myself so deeply embedded in a book or movie that a fictional tragedy sends me reeling.  I have also always been a frustrated-crier. That is to say, if I ever feel completely misunderstood or disregarded or unfairly shut-down, the anger that rises in me does so in a liquid form rather than a vaporous trail of words I probably ought not to utter.  I am one of those women who cries when her boss yells at her or when anyone in authority calls me out, especially if it is unjustified.  I have hated that quality for most of my life, all the while knowing that it has special powers over some males of the species (in my younger years, I was pulled over for speeding/taillights out/changing lanes without signaling a few times and always, the tears tumbled over each other to cascade down my cheeks — I have never ever had a ticket, only warnings).

As an adult, though, it seems that something has changed. Either my older-woman body is producing less liquid or my eyes have sunk deeper into my lower lids. Despite continuing to have very strong feelings about a variety of things, I seem less able to cry actual tears than I used to be.

Today, as we headed to the mall to shop for back-to-school clothes (admittedly one of the activities I despise the most, so I may have been a tad bit predisposed to negative energy), Eve said something mean to Lola. Instantly, I felt my chin begin to dimple and my eyes moisten behind my driving glasses.  I quietly pointed out that Lola’s feelings were quite likely to be very bruised by that comment and asked Eve to consider her sister’s reaction before opening her mouth. In the uncomfortable silence that followed, my emotions continued to build as Eve’s words echoed in my head and I imagined just how painful and shocking it must have been for Lola to hear them.  I half-wanted Eve to glance over and see a tear rolling down my cheek, if only because it may have made my point for me, but not one drop crested the edge. I blinked. My eyelashes glistened, but still no tears fell.

When my cat, Marley, died I was heartbroken. She was my first real pet as an adult.  This tiny, charcoal grey bundle of silky, purring fur that slept on my lap, shared my pillow with me, and loved everyone she met.  She lived for 13 years and when the Emergency Vet called to tell me she died peacefully in her sleep I was stunned.  I couldn’t cry for the longest time. A lump inhabited my throat, my face screwed up in that hideous way that prompts you to cover it with both hands, and my chin quivered, but no tears fell.  I alternately held my breath and gasped and buried my head in Bubba’s shoulder in true, physical grief, but it took forever for the tears to form and release.  Once they did, it was a torrent of warm, salty emotional relief, but it took forever.

I never did cry actual tears today, although my eyes did well up for a bit. Eve didn’t notice, or if she did hear my occasional sniffles and put two and two together, she didn’t let on.  The emotion passed and we ended up having an okay time shopping together, the three of us. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t start crying and risk sparking a “whole thing” as Eve says, but it does make me wonder just when I stopped being able to create a flood of tears so that my ‘crying’ has morphed into more of a sad-face-making endeavor than a sloppy mess.

When I was a kid, I don’t think I thought much of aging. I can recall thinking that my grandparents were ancient and my parents were just plain old.  There wasn’t much worry of mortality in my worldview, but I do remember feeling lucky that I still had the majority of my life ahead of me, wide and expansive. Everyone said I could do whatever I wanted to, be whomever I chose (within limits – my father was a Marine and was big on personal responsibility and ‘doing the right thing’).  It seemed as though my parents’ lives were set in stone. Their careers chosen, families begun.  Other than maybe buying a new car every few years, how were their lives going to change much in the future?

That view was mostly reinforced by mass media – wrinkles were bad, anti-aging products and jazzercise were there to help you look younger and feel younger.  My mother’s contemporaries lied about their ages and winked, complimented each other on how ‘fresh’ they looked when they met at school events.  My father was obsessed with physical fitness and his vanity showed in his crisply ironed shirts and slacks. I blame the shiny shoes on the Marine Corps.  It’s no wonder I was convinced that being a kid was where it was at.

I don’t know whether things have changed significantly or if, now that I am older (‘old’ according to my child self) I am more prone to listening to the views of older generations, but it seems that despite the physical challenges, most of the folks I know enjoy their lives increasingly as they age.

“At twenty we worry about what others think of us; at forty we don’t care what others think of us; at sixty we discover they haven’t been thinking about us at all.” Author Unknown

At this point, I am firmly in the “don’t care what others think” phase of my life, at least chronologically. I will say that I have a completely different perspective on aging and while there are some things I don’t particularly appreciate like sporting both wrinkles and pimples, and discovering new grey hairs on a daily basis, I wouldn’t trade where I am for anything.  The notion of going back to childhood or puberty sounds atrocious and I’ve developed what I call the Horizontal Hourglass theory.

If you lay an hourglass on its side, you will notice two things right off the bat.  First, the sand stops running and settles with some in each of the large sections and a few grains in the chute between.  Second, the middle portion becomes a bridge or channel between the two ends.  That’s where I am right now.

The wide open area to the left represents my childhood, not bounded by any particular age range, but more by maturity. This was the time of my life when I could see that thin channel in the center but felt no particular push to get there. More than anything, I felt free to roam and explore, spread my wings and move around.  Once or twice, thanks to circumstances, I found myself shoved in to that center portion, my options diminished to three: forward, back or still. I felt trapped, panicked, out of control.  Somehow I always managed to find my way back to that child world view, seeking someone to take care of me while I licked my wounds and finding possibility for the future.

But at some point I moved in to that center portion voluntarily, choosing to pare down the boundaries of my world and focus my energies on parenting and working in a certain chosen field.  At this point, those close-in walls felt protective and safe.  I cocoon myself within, feeling a certain sense of relief at knowing that I don’t have to decide what I want to be when I grow up or which of the myriad exciting things in the world to devote my energies to. For now, my attention is on being the best parent to my children I can be and using any extra time I have to honing my writing skills and dedicating myself to causes for which I have passion.  It is freeing to be released from the extra noise and chatter of other things I don’t have energy for at this point in my life.

I can see ahead to a time when I will again forge ahead and live within the expansive space of the hourglass to the far right (politics notwithstanding – I’ll always lean ‘left’).  Once my children have moved into adulthood and become independent I foresee more freedom to structure my days.  I look at my in-laws in their retirement and marvel at the delicate dance they did during the first few years, trying to prioritize how to spend their time.  All of that freedom was disconcerting in the beginning and they had to negotiate preferences (he loves to travel, she wants to stay close to home) and find new activities to explore.

I think what I love best about this notion of aging is that I realize moving through each of the stages is less rigid and more voluntary than I used to think.  And while the wide open spaces at either end might initially sound preferable to the tight, sometimes gritty, quarters in the center, it is in this place where I have learned the most.  It is in this place where the sand sometimes rubs me raw as I grind against it that I have perspective on both sides of me.  Here is where I learned who I truly am and what is most important to me and what I am willing to give up to remain here.  Despite the fact that time marches on and I do continue to age in years, eventually getting to 50 or 60 or 70 years old, because the hourglass is resting on its side, I can choose when to emerge from any one section and move into another.  Right now, frankly, the endless possibilities to my right scare the hell out of me and I am perfectly content to stay where I am. I know that won’t always be true, and I am encouraged to know that, when I get there, instead of feeling as though my life is over, even if I suffer physical ailments, my options are many and I will emerge with the wisdom gleaned from years spent in the middle.

No, really. I do. It almost sounds cliche (or maybe it’s closer than “almost”) to say this, but dang, I feel pretty good. Despite the fact that I’m 40 days away from turning 40, I can say that the revelations I’ve had in the past decade are what have made me appreciate being exactly where I am in life.

I was having lunch with a girlfriend the other day and we were lamenting the fact that both of our tween daughters are asking about wearing makeup. I distinctly recall seventh grade as the “magic” year for me – I started shaving my legs, had my first period, and was allowed to wear deep blue eyeshadow and Debbie Gibson-brand mascara to school. All of those things sound horrific to me now. Each and every damn one of them. But back then, I was thrilled. And Eve, entering sixth grade this year, is convinced that she ought to be able to start wearing a little makeup as well. She did make a fairly keen observation, though.
“When I am allowed to wear makeup, who is going to teach me how to put it on the right way? You don’t know how to wear it, do you?”
I could have considered that an insult. But she’s right. Somewhere around the age of 19 or 20, I realized that I was trading sleep for makeup application time. Working two jobs and going to college full-time meant that sleep was at a premium. One of my jobs started at 4:30am and required me to care for the animals who had stayed the night at the local veterinary clinic – administering their medications, taking the dogs out to pee and stretch their legs, and cleaning the kennels before the office opened for the day. Those guys certainly couldn’t care less if I had mascara on. Generally, I finished just in time for my 8:00 class, so makeup lost the battle there.
I did retain the habit of wearing a little mascara and some blush for special occasions, but by the time my wedding day rolled around, I had to go out and specifically purchase makeup for the day since the stuff I had had been rattling around in a drawer for several years.
There have been times throughout the years where I have felt bad about myself, especially as I became more sedentary upon entering the workforce and again after having the girls. I have a closet with clothing that ranges in size from 6 to 12 and I am acutely aware of which of those clothes fit me comfortably. The difference now is that I won’t force myself to wear the smaller ones because of the number on the waistband. I am much more forgiving of myself and much less tolerant of tight, uncomfortable clothes. I prefer to spend my days feeling good.
I am also much less likely to beat myself up mentally. I started jogging in June, determined to add some cardio fitness to my yoga regime so that I can keep up with the girls better. While I generally don’t like running, I find that it is much more enjoyable if I don’t treat myself like a newbie at boot camp. If I miss a day or two, I don’t berate myself. Instead, I remember all of the previous days where I ran and tell myself that tomorrow will present another opportunity to run again. I have become capable of telling myself the same thing with regard to having dessert a few days in a row or not being disciplined enough with my writing schedule. Decrying the mistakes has never been motivating for me, but remembering that skipping one workout or sharing a hot fudge sundae with Lola isn’t grounds for desertion puts things in perspective.
Saturday, we had planned our first ever family whitewater rafting trip. The girls were old enough to be excited about it and it promised to be 90 degrees out. I was really excited until the guide launched into his safety spiel about what to do when you fall out on a Class 3 or 4 rapid, how to signal that you’re okay (or not), and how your paddle should never be out of your hands. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lola begin to blanch and I knew I had to keep my cool. I couldn’t let on that I was nervous, if only to reassure her. By the time the four of us climbed into the raft, Lola had recovered but I was sinking deeper into apprehension. I could see Class 3 rapids right out of the chute and did some quick calculations to determine whether the girls were actually okay to do this. Neither of them even weighs 65 pounds! I envisioned backing out. What would Bubba do? Would it be a relief to one or both of the girls – they could back out, too, and save face? I forced myself to stay put and breathe. I reminded myself that I am a very strong swimmer and I only had to be in this moment right now. Nowhere else. No projections into the future. And then I heard it. That voice inside my head. The angel on my shoulder. She said:
“You do not have to be anything other than you are right now.”
No shit?
So I can be a somewhat-frightened, 39-and-counting mother of two sitting in a raft in the glorious sunshine. And that’s okay?
Yup. It is. It doesn’t require action on my part. It doesn’t mean that I ought to be striving to be anything other/different/better. It will not drastically alter anyone’s life for me to be just who I am right now in this moment. It would not make anyone else’s life or experience better if I were different. I simply am.
And that, my friends, is the beauty of aging. I finally get to just be who I am and be happy with it. No excuses. No shame.