Friday, February 25, 2011

I remember when I was twenty one I asked my mother how old she thought of herself as being. She didn’t hesitate, “28 or 29,” was her answer. She told me that it startled her when she looked in the mirror to see someone so different than how she pictured herself. I myself am now just a handful of years younger than she was when I asked her that question, and how I can identify with her.

I wouldn’t say that I am having a mid-life crisis. I don’t think women have mid-life crises. Thanks to the twisted sense of humor of Mother Nature we get to celebrate our physical evolution on a regular basis. I will risk the wrath of the men who read this and say that I think that it is this continual physical self-awareness that prevents us from having the cliché mid-life crises men do. Women have to rethink themselves when they begin to develop curves, ovulate, give themselves over to the physical process of creating life, live with the emotional and anatomical changes that giving birth and raising children incurs, and then accept that lifts and tucks may be the only way they’ll ever cough again without peeing their pants.

Perhaps you could equate a breast lift or tummy tuck to a sports car… but if you are a man, I wouldn’t recommend it. Keep thoughts such as those firmly inside your head. As my husband always remembers, men can never trump the “giving birth” card (one of the many reasons why I love him.) The reason you can’t equate them is because no one worth a grain of salt would put loss of bladder control due to childbirth on par with thinning hair or “this is as good as it going to get.” You know why… cause women feel the same thing AND they pee their pants.

Back to me not having a mid-life crisis! I attempted to grow my hair long in my early thirty’s. I had lovely thick hair when I was younger. Back then I spent more time in the stylists chair having it thinned than cut. I would have people ask me if my hair was naturally that shiny, or did I put something on it (truly). The hair I grew in my thirty’s was an imposter. It was thinner, lacked shine, and turned odd shades of caramel-orange. To be fair, it served its purpose when my kids were really young. No time for a shower, great I can pull it back. Needed to entertain my daughter? I gave over my freshly washed and styled hair to hair clips, scrunchies, and red gel.

I remember Christmas of 2009, standing with my sisters-in-law and discussing dyeing our hair. We all swore we’d never quit, we weren’t interested in seeing how much grey had snuck its way in! Two things took place just six months later, I decided to cut my hair and quit dyeing it. Now to the men in the group, this may not be earth shattering or even interesting, but every woman who dyes her hair is now sitting before their computers wondering, “Why? Why would she do that? Think of all the quality salon time she is missing out on. Think of all those horrible grey hairs springing forth from her head. Think how different (code word for ‘old’) she must look.” I made such drastic decisions because I decided that my hair was never going to start growing thicker (I think 12 years of trying thickening and strengthening products, changing my eating habits, and giving it stern looks qualifies as giving it a chance). I also decided that the hair dye might just be adding to the weird caramel-orange hair color.

A friend who always has great hair sent me off to her stylist. I pleaded to not be given the proverbial “mom do” a.k.a. The Bob! I left the salon with a great asymmetrical chin length cut. I think the technical term used was “stacked.” I walked in the front door, showed off my new do and announced to my husband that I was finally stacked, no push up bra required.

I have to admit that the jury is still out on the hair color. While I am fortunate to have silvery grey hair, and that it is fairly evenly distributed, I get that jolt my mom mentioned every time I look in the mirror. On the one hand I give myself a pat on the back for being who I am, but then I realize almost immediately that I cannot quite believe how quickly time passed and that it cannot be too much longer before there is more silvery grey than caramel-orange (turns out that is my hair color, not a reaction from chemical treatments). Is it wrong to long for the days when my hair was thick, shiny and deep auburn?

To take my mind off of that I switched to my eyelids! Oh yes, you can see where this is all headed! Minutes here and there standing in front of mirrors spent pulling eyelids and forehead up, to the left, to the right. To be completely fair, I’ve always had these eyelids, but as I said, I am looking for distraction from the grey hair issue. It didn’t take long from me to start in on my jowls and neck.

By now you must have quite the image of me created in your mind.

Well, fear not! I am an improved version of who I was ten years ago, and I’ve decided that I would rather have my kitchen and bathrooms remodeled than avert the eyelid/jowl/neck issues. Just last night I was fortunate enough to attend a fashion show at the University of Washington with my tweenie daughter and our fabulous friends. The event wasn’t to showcase designers, it was to celebrate the wide variety of body types there are in the world, and some of the models spoke of their self-acceptance and the journey they’ve been on to embrace who they are.

They were college students, so sagging skin and grey hair are distant thoughts for them. However, sitting there I did give thought to the fact that every generation wonders what has “become of today’s youth.” Well, the people I saw applauded their friends for courageously being who they were in front of 700 people. The people I sat amongst clapped when an openly gay rather dramatic looking guy modeled skinny jeans in platform shoes. The people in the auditorium were silent and held to attention when a young woman read a poem about a girl struggling with Anorexia.

Needless to say that part of what was on my mind was how my tweenie was taking this all in. In my eyes she is all things beautiful. She is at that phase so eloquently described by Ray Bradbury, “all elbows and knees, and legs that are long like a colts.” I worry about words like Anorexia even making their way into her vocabulary, let alone her thoughts. As always she dazzles me, because she swatted away my gentle attempts at talking to her about her self-image with her excitement about a bridge building project at school. “I’m fine mom!” and off she went.

So, am I having a mid-life crises? Well, of a sort, yes. It is hard to articulate, but it has to do with how quickly time passes. When I was a child I had the absolute belief that at some point I would know I was grown up because I wouldn’t want to eat candy anymore. Well, that hasn’t happened. I like things neatly organized, paths to follow, hoops to jump through, boxes that I can check off. But life just isn’t like that. I have these moments when I absolutely forget that when my kids are grown up, I won’t be thirty.

I remember reading “The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Suess and I dreamt right alongside my children. “Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you. And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along, you’ll start happening too.”

There are so many choices. Me, who rarely cries, is a puddle watching American Idol, because I worry that those who don’t make it onto the show feel like life is over. How can you tell them that at 45 they would [probably] rather have a lifetime of memories of singing in a hotel bar than working all day in a job where they barely recognize themselves? That is what age gives you. Perspective. The knowledge that you may not know what you do want to do, but you do know what you don’t want to do.

So, I am learning, deep down emotionally, that most of life does not unfold neatly with one clear path to follow. No, it is messy. There are parallel paths and it is in the intertwining of these paths where the truly beautiful moments of life exist. It is here where we can fulfill ourselves, listen to others with both ears, and reach for dreams versus just dream.

If you're of a mind, listen to Alan Jacksons "Remember When."

Thanks for reading!