Sunday, September 8, 2013

Growing Old With Attitude

While I was in junior high, my mom and her three closest friends all turned 40. When the youngest of the group had her 40th birthday, they got together for lunch at the home of one of the ladies. It was summer, so I went with my mom. The birthday lady cried through the whole party. The other women tried to console her, but she couldn't stop crying. She said she felt that all she had ahead of her was loss: menopause with the loss of fertility; the loss of her children as they grew up and left home; and, she feared, the loss of her husband's love as she turned into an old woman. The others pointed out that there were good things such as not having rug rats constantly needing something and the opportunity to occasionally go out for dinner alone with your husband. The oldest of the women, whose kids were already grown, insisted that her marriage got better after the kids left home. The birthday lady wasn't having any of it.

I have never understood why people are so freaked out about getting older. I've always thought older people (especially women) were very interesting. My idol was Kathryn Hepburn, who was in her seventies when I was in my early teens. I loved her crotchety, smart and funny persona. I made it a point to watch every interview she ever gave. (The Dick Cavet interviews are classics!)

The women I knew personally whom I admired the most were all older women. My mentor and "other mother" was a childless woman who was one of my mom's best friends. She didn't wear make-up or a girdle, and she didn't wear a bra when she was at home. In my [small-town Midwestern] world that was very edgy. Another woman I admired was a lady who went to our church. She was cool because, even though she was in her sixties, she drove a Corvette, wore stylish clothes (including miniskirts) and didn't seem to give a damn what other people thought of her. I wanted to be like those women, but most of my life I gave in to cultural pressure. In other words, I wimped out and did what others told me to do.

Now that I'm flirting with sixty, and alone -- dependent on no one and with no one dependent on me --, it's time for me to conform to no one's expectations but my own. I don't have any expectations for myself other than that I will commit to savoring small pleasures and to being creative in as many ways as I can -- whatever that may mean. I'll figure it out as I go along.

Who would have guessed that getting old could be so exciting? Maybe it's not quite as exciting as the very first time you move out on your own, when you're too young and inexperienced to know that you should be terrified at the prospect of some of the shit that life will dump on your head. When you start over in the third stage of life, you do it with your eyes wide open and in the knowledge that you can survive (and even thrive) with a whole lot of shit on your head.

Today, most of the happiest people I know are women over 50. That includes me.

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