Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oy V(age)

I saw the cutest boy today, and thinking of him as a kid got me on the mental track, as I walked out of the building and into the dazzling, icy-cold brightness of the morning. I often see people who are probably in their twenties, and think of them as children in a way, and I was thinking about that. That my affection for youth is probably tinged with a bit of the patronization of my age (forty-two, now, in less than a month), but that this ageism isn't a matter of superiority, even if part of the affection comes from a very real gladness that I am no longer "there". I certainly don't feel better than those younger than I am, but I feel a joyous gratitude to them for being, for doing, what I no longer have to.

The train of thought began when I caught myself thinking, "Oh, there was a time I'd have seen that boy and so been excited by his cute head of Sideshow Bob curls," and playing back in my head all the reams of bad writing I have read, which has opened with "Oh there was a time" sorts of phrases, and understood that always as a lament, a pining, a regretful reminiscence.

Thing is, for me, it was more of a relief, a genuinely energized thanksgiving.

I used to say, even years back, "I earned every minute of my age, and I don't want to lie about it!" Like my mother, I apparently "age well" as the kids say. I don't "look old" (or, at least, I don't conform to the expectation of what forty-whatever is supposed to look like); or, at least, I don't sport saddlebag-tanned skin, clue-catcher bangs, and a spiral perm, which I gather are considered standard-issue ageing equipage for someone familiar with the eighties. Of course, nobody my age really *does*. My generation hasn't aged as the ones before us did; but then, our own parents and grannies didn't do as theirs did either. A century ago, gloves and aversion to skin damage kept women *and* men from the vagaries of mid-twentieth-century tanning and smoking, which aged some generations to a crisp. Each generation has its virtues and its vices, and they all manifest over time in different ways.

But this diverges from the point. Surprise surprise.

Anyway, so I was thinking about all the self-indulgent twaddle I've consumed over my lifetime, largely literary, depicting women particularly and people generally (but especially women) as an entire population put out by the process of aging.

And, yes, we all do have our moments, missing the cute knees we used to have, or the way our arms didn't use to wave in the breeze.

But not all of us care about these things more than for a minute.

I'm hideously conceited, vain about my looks and my person more generally. I'm obsessive about the image I present, not least in the way I look to other people.

And yet ... I do not miss my youth in any way. I don't want it back, I wouldn't *go* back - no, not even "knowing what I know now" - most *partiuclary* not knowing what I do now. My happy outlook on twenty-something owes its ALL to the fact that I am no longer in it. To having earned my ticket past; and past my thirties, too. I look at myself, aged thirty-four (great zot, almost eight years ago) - the year I met E, the year before I lost my first parent, the year so many things changed - and even that seems the face of a girl, not a complete woman.

I don't know when I became confortable with the word woman; I used to hate it. I thought of myself always as a "kid", a "girl" even (and *therein* lies another long-winded post indeed) - as the youngest in my family, the baby cousin, even if I never was babied in the way many families indulge. Even now, my mom's outlook on me still contains much defaulting to juvenile.

But at some point, I bought (and paid off) a car. I bought a home - and haven't burnt it down. I have held, and flourished in, increasingly responsible and prestigious jobs. I cultivated some pride in my grown-up accomplishments. I actually accomplished them.

And so it is strange, but I think of myself as a woman somehow. That's a new one. Or, at least, more recent than one might expect of a woman my age.

I feel an enormous comfort in my skin. My skin which, taut as it may seem, I can see some crepey-ness in. Which has thinned. Which isn't as moist as it once was.

I can indulge the writer's cliche' of looking myself in the mirror, seeing the subtle changes in the shape of my face, see the whiteness in my hair, see that my neck has lines; my dryness, the tiny age spots on my hands.

But I think, oh, how soft my skin is this way. It was soft in one way when I was younger, but its smoothness is now delicate, a different kind of delight. It is tender, it is different.

I think, oh, I can't wait to see what it will look like, when I've decided there's *enough* white - and I strip out all the brown dye, and let my hair go natural. I think of my mother's shining, beautiful white hair, and my grandmother's, and I know I inherited it, and I am excited to see what it will look like, when I let mine shine like that too, when I soften its edges perhaps with a little curl, when I have a halo like that.

Ten years ago, saying it, I had no idea the glory and the joy of a statement like, "I have earned every second of my age." Now I do, and now I love it, and I am so glad. I love my little bones, my freckles, my sturdy, steadily-more-arthritic fingers. I am not a model, I am not a stunning girl. But I am so beautiful. I am my Grandma Major's jawline and set lips; I am my maternal granny's wonderful hair and smile. I think of the photo of her and my grandfather, and know the incredible beauty of what she was, and I miss her, and I am so grateful she gave me the face I have that I cannot imagine pulling it tighter, making it "prettier" - desecrating my family's gifts to my body.

I love my dad's coloring, but see my loss of it as gaining my grandmother's. I ache and wish I didn't; but to trade it for having to be twenty - or even thirty - again would be a sin, even if it were possible. I realize the reasons one knuckle is more arthritic than the rest, and don't resent it; I merely consider what can be done to stop making it burn so badly. I consider the grandparents who lived - *healthily* - to eighty, to ninety-four, and respect those in my family who weren't so blessed. I believe I'm at home with either possibility for myself. I weep at my father's death, even seven years on now, but never lose my gratitude to have had him for thirty-five years (to the day).

Oh there was a time. Adulthood frightened me: age was impossible then.

It's entirely possible. It's G-d's blessing in our lives. What else is yet to come ... I find myself eager for more. More life. Not less of it.

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