Gail Sheehy’s New Passages (2nd edn, 1996) maps a second adulthood in middle life: when fifty is what forty used to be, sixty is what fifty used to be. She predicts that healthy women and men who reach fifty today can expect to see their eightieth or ninetieth birthdays. Her discussion of ‘the flaming 50s’ and ‘serene 60s’ rekindles hope in my weary heart.
When my birthdays equalled the half-century mark, I began a clandestine investigation of the ageing process. The first time I discovered my cellulite was during a doctor’s exam (fortunately, a female GP). I thought the rippled effect on my upper thighs was a rare medical condition when I saw the look of horror on the face of the young nurse in attendance. Since no one, including myself, has any interest in the aesthetic appearance of that part of my anatomy, and my modest nature prevents exposure, I cast this ageing sign aside with deserved disdain.
The creaking in my knees that began many years ago is easy to disguise: when I rise from a sitting position I merely clear my throat to drown out the clicks, and no one is the wiser.
Replying to a question about the ages of one’s children is a dead giveaway which I avoid at all costs, because I know queries are really veiled threats to discover my own chronological truth. My reply became embedded in decades: my close-in-age children were ‘in their teens’, ‘over 21’, ‘in their twenties’ … mid-twenties … 20-somethings, and so forth. I stretched out that decade for more than its ten years, and no one appeared to notice.
Moving from one room to another, and forgetting the purpose, bothers me not in the least because it is a brief lapse of memory which doesn’t get any worse in my experience and is common after the age of forty. I have noticed an increase in incidence, however. My solution is to return to my starting point and retrace my mental steps, to kick-start the memory. This can result in a somewhat circular movement (our house is small), and Mary Kate finds it a great source of amusement. She giggles: ‘You’re going in circles, Mum.’ Sometimes I do a little pirouette for her, to display my nonchalance at such a minor lapse of cogent thought.
Sagging never really bothered me, and clever use of clothes conceals my form moving south. Comfort is my priority and the less constrictive clothing is, the more relaxed I am. Fashion trends have no power over me. My GP has been of great assistance with my arthritis, high blood pressure, etc. and I have modern up-to-date pharmaceutical assistance. Visit your doctor early and often.
Two lesser-known phenomena of the ageing process continue to confound me, as I am aware of no medical reason for them. One’s nose gets slightly longer! Considering myself to be a truthful person (at times to my own detriment), this elongation cannot be evidence of the warning Pinocchio received about telling lies, unless little white lies count (there I do plead guilty). As a teenager with hormonal angst about my looks, my nose was my least favourite feature, and because it occupies such a prominent facial position my dissatisfaction with it had a lingering effect. I found it quite insulting to hear on an Oprah show that this elongation is part of the ageing process. Is no part of my anatomy safe?
The most puzzling phenomenon of all, however, is what happens to your ears. I can’t understand why everyone isn’t talking about it–especially women who wear earrings. (It occurs equally in men, but perhaps they are too busy trimming the little protruding clumps of hair to notice.) What happens is this: the earlobe increases noticeably in size, much more so than even the nose! The cartilage above the lobe seems to divide gradually and painlessly, allowing the soft tissue below to expand! Whatever for, you might ask? I haven’t a clue, but I can tell you I never wore earrings because of my small neat earlobes. Now, not only could I wear earrings, but brooches, badges, corsages, if I wished! Soon I will be able to tie my earlobes in a bow beneath my double chin to hide my ‘waddle’. Aren’t I just too adorable for words?
You should see my feet. No wrinkles, blemishes, stretch-marks or any evidence of their unstinting devotion to my ramblings. They have never visited a podiatrist, but were absolutely thrilled with my visit to a reflexologist. The least appreciated of our bodily parts, feet are unrelenting in their commitment to getting one from A to B. I wisely resisted fashionable high-heeled shoes, pointed toes and other malicious designs, and my feet have asked only for comfortable shoes. They seem to have an instinct about price and quality, pointing me towards the expensive shoe displays. I indulge them, whenever the budget permits.
If my age were judged by my feet, people would surely say: ‘Oh, she must be in her thirties.’ But if my hands were judged, my peer group might be septuagenarians. It’s just not fair … my poor little hands perform countless tasks, morning till evening, and the results of their work are evident. Naked and worse-for-wear, I am forever indebted to them. I wonder will white gloves ever come back into fashion?
Ageing is undeniable and an affront to the ego because it has become a number that defines us, and I refuse to be defined by a number. So, how do I see myself at the beginning of the new millennium? Well, I’m not young and I’m not old. Middle age is becoming part of my past. Maybe I have finally become ‘a little old lady’. I can live with that. I’m a lady who is a little old!