By the Numbers- Thoughts on Aging

50The hubs celebrates a big birthday this month. As our children like to tell him, he’s halfway to one hundred. Whoa! It seems so weird to think about how I married a 29-year-old and that in the blink of eyes that now require reading glasses I’m married to a 50-year-old. Same guy, different number. He’s cool with it. Cause he’s just cool.

But those numbers can rattle my insecurity as if a number is what defines me.

I remember when I was turning 40 and was wringing my hands about that number and what I imagined it stood for. Middle age. Wrinkle cream. Becoming suddenly unsure of my wardrobe because the forties occupy this middle space, a life stage limbo when some clothes make women look like they’re trying too hard–rhinestone studded denim and leopard prints, or like they’re simply giving up–rhinestone studded sweatshirts and elastic waist capris.

I shared my lament about turning 40 with my grandfather who was 80ish at the time. He stared off into the ether in some hypnotic gaze, heaved a great sigh and then said, “What I wouldn’t give to be 40 again.”

THAT, my friends, stuck with me. A message born of wisdom. This train isn’t slowing and it will most certainly stop one day. If we’re lucky and live to be 80, we surely don’t want to have wasted being 40 by being obsessed with the number.

It’s funny how I still try to conceal my number. At what age do we begin boasting about our number? Most 80-somethings I know are always saying things like, “Look how well I’m getting around! You know, I’m 84!”

We’re in awe at the 60-year-old who runs a marathon but people in their forties receive a collective shrug. Why is no one impressed with my ability to work an iPhone or decipher my health insurance coverage? My BMI and cholesterol levels are within the acceptable range and I have relatively few aches and pains. Isn’t that impressive at my age?

But still, I struggle with insecurity. I rant about photo-shopped celebrities and the ubiquitous use of cosmetic treatments and procedures. I occasionally hover weirdly close to the TV screen leaning in to examine a newscaster’s face for a frozen furrow or overly plumped laugh lines. I wish for more women my age to just let those lines live on their foreheads so I’d fit in and feel better about myself. I seek solace by wanting to compete on my own terms.

I’m a fool. Because it’s not a competition. It should not and does not matter how we look compared to other women because our beauty and our worth are not measured by how we look in contrast to others. We know this but how do we live it?

In Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, she talks about how there is more currency in life than looks and how people don’t need to be good looking to be good. She suggests that women in particular “decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.”

Aging women like me who’ve been tricked by society into over-emphasizing youth and beauty as currency might want to figure out what else we’re good at in order to avoid the losing game of chasing what we maybe never really had and certainly can never get back. Cosmetic treatments might help some of us look “better”, but in truth, they don’t really make anyone younger.

And the maintenance. Gah! It’s endless. I can see why grandmas used to just let those chin whiskers grow and their hair turn grey. Trying to meet media standards of beauty is just SO MUCH work.

Okay fine. Yes. I will continue to tweeze those chin whiskers. And my hairdresser need not fear losing me as a regular client just yet. But I’m going to try to be cool like the hubs and live less in fear of my number.

I’m going to focus on what other currency I might have to share. Wisdom? Encouragement? One need not be young or beautiful to be a good mom, wife, friend, reader, writer, thinker with a daily goal to live a useful life.

And if that doesn’t work, I might just start playing with my number instead of keeping it secret. If I over-state my age, people will be all like, “Doesn’t she look amazing for 58?!”

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Being Judgmental Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’re Being a Jerk

The Face I Make When I'm Judging You. Just Kidding.

The Face I Make When I’m Judging You. Just Kidding.

Friends like to tell stories when they get together. I consider myself a pretty good storyteller. Especially since I’ve made some cringe-worthy decisions in life and have also been “blessed” to know some pretty interesting characters along the way. Sharing life experiences, memories and the occasional odd habit or obsession is part of exposing a bit of who we are to people we’re attempting to amuse or to those whose opinions we care about.

But not all stories receive the desired reactions. Some people find a few of the things that come out of my mouth rather shocking, uncomfortable or even brow-furrowingly strange. Fair enough. I can be a bit of an odd duck. I get that. But sometimes, reactions to our revelations can be a callout creating that prickly sensation of being judged.

But in our current culture of non-judgment, I believe we are unwise to dismiss all reactions that are less than backslapping endorsements of any given behavior.

For example, years ago I was out at a local restaurant sipping wine with girlfriends. The banter was light and the laughter was loud. I ended up sharing a story about a relative who was collecting restaurant menus in order to use them in a decoupage backsplash in her kitchen. I thought the idea was brilliant and still dream of a kitchen wallpapered in eye-catching restaurant menus featuring dishes like dry-aged duck breast with Swiss chard and braunschweiger. But a friend, whom I believed at the time was missing the point of my story, said, “So your relative is a thief?”

Wait. What?

Well, yes. Technically she was pilfering restaurant menus. Slyly tucking them into her oversized bag after telling the server she wanted to hold onto it for a bit longer after ordering.

But hey! This woman is my relative. And the menus as wallpaper idea is brilliant. And all you can do is call out the minor fact that she was taking items that didn’t belong to her? Sheesh. How rude.

I truly was indignant.

But then, I let her comment sink in. Of course she was right. My relative was a thief. Worse yet, she never did complete that decoupage backsplash, which makes me sad.

But what I’m trying to say is, sometimes it’s completely appropriate for people, mostly friends, to call things as they are. To speak the truth in love.

Um, Thou shalt not steal and all that jazz.

Sadly, it seems most of us do not want to be called out on anything. We end up surrounded by like-minded folks who tend to support all of our behavior good or bad. People tend to think being a friend means supporting every action and decision. And if they don’t support us, or don’t feel supported by us, they simply slip out of our lives without saying much of anything at all.

I can be a lot like the truth-teller who called out my larcenous relative. If you tell me you cheat on your taxes or your spouse, I’m likely to wrinkle my nose. If you confide in me about some behavior that is unethical, immoral or illegal, it’s unlikely that I’ll say, “Good for you!”

Does this mean I’m judging you? I guess so. But not in the way portrayed in today’s culture as mean-spirited, close-minded or uncaring. If I work up the courage to call you out, it’s likely because I DO care about you. I’m not casting stones. And I’m mostly aware of the logs in my own eye. But If you’re my friend, I suspect you want me to be honest with you. That we should want to help each other become better people.

Sadly, this doesn’t always work out. In the course of a week I had one friend who’d become mostly MIA tell me she was spending less time with me because she didn’t like it when I called her out on her sh*t and another friend tell me that because I call her out on her sh*t is precisely why she likes hanging out with me.

It’s tough to know when you’re saying too much or not saying things in a way that a person can receive without feeling wounded. I mean, it’s not my goal in life to be a jerk. But if you’re making bad decisions, like stealing restaurant menus or just plain living in denial about the likely outcome from poor decisions, I cannot and probably should not let it slide. At the very least, I’ll likely make a face and then leave you alone. But do we really want to be left alone? Do we share sketchy things because we want others to be supportive or because we desire clarity–a friend to help point us toward something better?

Books like “Morrie: In His Own Words” by Morrie Schwartz and “The Road to Character” by David Brooks spotlight how individualism and the loss of a common moral language make it difficult to become who we’re meant to be. It’s also bad for society overall if we simply tolerate all manner of behavior without some guidepost of common virtue.

In the Christian faith, believers are called to be like Christ. That is a tall order for sure considering His sinless and sacrificial life. God gets that. He knows that we’ll always fall short, which is why believers like me could/should daily fall on our faces in gratitude for God’s grace and forgiveness freely given.

But God has also put people in my life who live by example. People who are rightly shocked by questionable deeds and who gently point out self-destructive or just plain a**holely behavior. I’m grateful for these people. I’m also glad that at least a few people are grateful for me.

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