A Note From My Mother

I was born on Friday, February, 14,1964 in Waterville, Maine. That makes me fifty today.  I harbored a hope that a new decade would make me feel different, like discovering a latent super power.

Instead the morning greeted me like most.  I wrangled our teenagers up and off to school.  Leo texted me Happy Birthday, no call.  Lila annoyed me as she finished her math homework in the car, even though I promised myself I would be more patient in my fifties.

I guess patience is not my latent super power.

The plan for today is to lay low because of the marathon this weekend. I need to conserve my physical and mental energy. Tonight Matthew and I are going out to listen to music. Later this spring, I’m taking a short trip with a friend to mark this milestone.

I have absolutely nothing to complain about, I know.

That’s why I feel so terribly guilty for emotionally flailing today.  I didn’t expect this. It began with the ordinariness and gained momentum when my mom called.  I started to cry.  She said exactly what I needed to hear.  She reminded me that the big birthdays with zero’s need time for grieving as well as celebration.  My mom gave me permission to meet fifty on my terms.  I didn’t have to be happy.

I’ve flailed about all day, with breaks to be grateful and laugh with friends.  It’s OK though, I have a note from my mother.

Fifty.  Downtown Austin.

“Look, I really don’t want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you’re alive, you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. And therefore, as I see it, if you’re quiet, you’re not living. You’ve got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy, colorful and lively.”  ― Mel Brooks —

And Then There’s Maude

“You’re turning fifty?”

Now imagine that question asked in slow motion by a wide-eyed incredulous twelve-year-old girl from my daughter’s gymnastics team. The words came out of her mouth laden with disbelief as if I said that I was turning into a lemur.

Her sweet mom took a quick read of my facial expression to gauge my reaction. I laughed and asked her why she was surprised.

“You don’t look fifty,” she answered.

I’ve noticed that people think that telling someone that they don’t look fifty is the best compliment they can come up with for a person on the verge of turning fifty – particularly a woman.

What they are really saying is that I don’t look old … yet.

Fifty is definitely the gateway to old. Little kids think the number is dinosaur ancient. Teens associate it with their parents. Twenty-somethings pity the loss of youth. Thirty-year-olds are way too busy with career and family to have an opinion.

On the other hand, people in their forties are a little leery of fifty, like perhaps it may be contagious.  It is, if you’re lucky!

I’m not sure what fifty is supposed to look like. When I was a kid I thought the coolest “old” person on television was Maude, played by Bea Arthur in the sitcom of the same name. I liked her flowy sweaters and jackets that traipsed after her as she paraded across the set. She was bossy and wise-cracking and did what she wanted. She did not look or act like any of the middle-aged women from my life as a child.  I suppose that I wanted to be Maude when I was old.

Fifty-year-olds don’t share a uniform profile. I will wear the number differently than another. Instead of focusing on what I look like, I want to celebrate arriving at this milestone healthy and content, surrounded by family and friends and curious about what’s next. It’s more about who I’ve become and where I’m going.

I am a partner, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, dog mama, friend, social worker, marathoner, gardener, artist, writer, yogini, traveller, volunteer, photographer.  That’s what my fifty looks like and yes, I feel the most beautiful when wearing flowy sweaters that trail behind me when I walk.

Maude

Lady Godiva was a freedom rider,

she didn’t care if the whole world looked.

Joan of Arc, with the lord to guide her,

she was a sister who really cooked.

Isadora was a first bra burner

Ain’t ya glad she showed up?

And when the country was falling apart

Betsy Ross got it all sewed up

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s that uncompromisin’ enterprisin’ anything but tranquilizin’ Right on Maude!!!

Lyrics from theme song for the sitcom Maude

One final note: I know flowy is not a word but it should be.

Almost Fifty

 

 ‘‘One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” – Paulo Coelho

Fifty is not the new forty.  Let’s face it, fifty is fifty.

While talking to other tail-end boomers and reading what the media and blogs tell us about being middle aged I find that there are four major approaches to turning fifty out there.

The first and loudest camp is the pro-fifty crowd. By listening to this group you’d think that middle age was just one big find-the-best-part-of-yourself fest. This group plans to never age or die. They eat kale, do triathlons, change careers and have great postmenopausal sex.

Then there’s the survivalist group. They definitely know they are aging and want to stop it at all costs. They also eat kale but on a restrictive life-extending 1,000 calorie diet. Many in this group gets an extra colonoscopy each year AND will tell you their triglyceride levels at a cocktail party.

On the flip side, there are those who have given up. They have lost their jobs, their health insurance and well being. This group of fifty year olds do not have a lot of hope. It’s a young world out there and it’s hard to find your way. This isn’t just an outlook but a social/economic/political issue.

Of course there are those who don’t give a damn and are just living their lives.

If we boomers are honest, we can recognized a little of each of these perspectives in ourselves. Much of the noise out there sounds a lot like whistling in the dark to me. I for one am not whistling. The tune I was trying to carry is being drowned out by the ticking of the clock. It’s not the biological clock of my thirties, this is the sound of mortality.

I know I am going to die.

At almost fifty, this line of thinking can leave me feeling like it’s over.  As a counter balance, I am fortunate to have many thriving friends and mentors who are Old. Capital O Old. Our culture hates the word, particularly middle-aged people. I use this word with the greatest of respect. If we are lucky the ultimate destination is OLD.

Ask any person in their seventies if they are living the new fifty and they will chuckle.

Standing here at the brink of fifty, I am fully aware, but not-so-accepting, of the fact that in a hop, skip and blink of two decades I will be seventy. One of my Old friends once picked up a comb and ran her thumb down the teeth, smiled and said, “This is how fast the time goes.” For me the sense of urgency is palpable.

I realize that I need to get off my lower-than-it-used-to-be butt and move a bit faster toward living. To do more, love more, make more mistakes, keep promises, show more kindness, make amends, take more risks, follow through. Let go of the hesitation and leap; to hear the clock as a heartbeat, a breath. A metronome for staying in the present.

When I tell people that I’m almost fifty, it is more often than not greeted with, “You’re at the halfway mark.”

More whistling in the dark.

If you look at statistics, I passed the top of the mountain about a decade ago. I’m more like at the timber line on the other side, going down.

Time is an illusion and the mountain analogy is too. In actuality we are all dancing from the most fragile, beautifully shimmering thread of the present moment. There is no solid mountain beneath us. There is no thinking, eating or exercising our way out of this predicament. It is universal. It doesn’t change if you are almost fifty, twenty or eighty.

When my friend Marcia knew she was losing her battle to cancer she organized a glamorous birthday party for herself. People came from all over the country. It was her pre-funeral. She didn’t hide it. She wanted to celebrate her life with the people she loved while she was alive and feeling well enough to have fun.

Marcia always said, “Nobody gets off this planet alive, so what are you going to do?”

LIVE.

I took the photograph at the Bastille in Grenoble, France.