It’s been a little over three weeks that I’ve been walking around in a 50-year-old body. I’ve been trying it on, testing it out, trying to decide if I should be proud or blasé about this, being fully aware that my turning 50 is not in any way a unique occurrence.
The age of 50 should come with some sort of illuminating revelation about the meaning of life. Something other than “You are now beyond middle-age.” Something like: “You were born specifically to . . .”
A lot of people I know commemorate their 50th with some sort of grand gesture, a whirlwind trip or getting a tattoo. I couldn’t come up with anything I hadn’t done but secretly wanted to do, because I’d already defiantly torn all the tags off the mattresses when I turned 30.
It has come as a surprise to me that the one emotion I know I feel about checking a higher age bracket on survey forms is a strange sense of relief. The pressure is off. Everyone figures if I haven’t done anything spectacular by now, odds are it ain’t gonna happen. And if I do accomplish something, everyone will add with incredulity, “. . . and she did it after 50!”
When I say this out loud to friends, women in particular, they point out that our generation is the one that breaks those old stereotypes. This is usually when they list the examples of powerful women over 50, most of whom, I point out, started their ambitious journey well before middle age. Then they bring up Grandma Moses and . . .who?
Besides, I’ve never been what would be considered ambitious. Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to move up the ladder, the first rung always requires more of my personal time than I’m willing to sacrifice, not to mention the fact that I’d hate the footwear.
I’ve always felt your 40s are about mourning the things that your past choices have now made impossible. For instance, by 40 I knew I would never become a ballet dancer or sail solo around the world, neither of which made me particularly depressed. But I was pretty bummed that I’ll never have legs like Cyd Charisse.
But you get over all that, hopefully without making any stupid decisions like a lot of people make in the heat of their despair, like divorcing a perfectly redeemable, albeit flawed, mate in the interest of developing a relationship with someone else’s cast-off, perfectly redeemable, albeit flawed, mate. There was one year during my 40s when everyone we knew was exchanging spouses with everyone else, which made it rather convenient because we could hang out with the same people, only in different configurations. Interestingly, the complaints about their respective spouses stayed about the same.
So while your 40s are about who you aren’t, I suppose your 50s are about coming to terms with who you really are. So, no, I’ll never be a Mover and a Shaker. I’m more a Sitter and a Watcher, which happily coincides with my occupation and is probably why I’ll never have legs like Cyd Charisse.
Still, society has its expectations of this first generation of women not expected to stay home and have babies. It’s almost like I’ve let everyone down by being content to sit up here on my little hill, slinging lasagna at anyone coming within a mile and sending out little domestic dispatches over the internet. I would say circumstances landed me here, but I’m fully aware that my life is the result of a series of deliberate decisions I’ve made, even when I wasn’t aware I was making them.
I guess this is the part of this piece where I tell you that I’ve come to terms with being 50 because I’m so proud of the fact that I’ve managed to maintain a marriage for 19 years and raise two intelligent, functional boys. But, if I’m honest, I have to admit that a lot of those accomplishments were achieved through luck and timing. I’m just as surprised as most of my relatives that I pulled it off.
If I’ve learned anything it’s that age does not necessarily make everything you say right; because it never did freeze “that way,” guys do to marry “that kind of girl,” and no one ever gave a flying flip about my permanent record.
In short, I thought 50 meant you’d have all the answers. Instead it’s only meant the questions have changed.
And that is the closest I will ever come to understanding the Meaning of Life.