THAT Old?!

We were visiting with some friends when my husband used a phrase I had never heard of.

“Where do you come up with these things?” I asked.

My friend looked up from the game board and said, “That phrase has been around forever.”

“Ok,” I replied, “but I’ve never heard him use it. Sheesh! I’ve been with him for over half my life. You’d think I’d have heard all the phrases he knows by now.”

“You are that old?!” Daryl asked.

“What?”

“You are old enough to have been married to Daddy for half your life?”

“Well, I said ‘been with him’ but we’ve actually been married for over half our lives too.”

“But what about your childhood?!”

“My childhood was a lot shorter than adulthood has been at this point.”

“Besides,” my husband said, “We were 18 when we got married. We were kids.”

Daryl had another hysterically funny-yet-insulting-to-his-mother line after that, but by the time we got home, I had forgotten it. Guess I am getting old.

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Don’t Worry About It?

At the symphony the other night, an old and not-very-mobile man was sitting a few rows in front of us. At some point, he decided he needed to leave. As he struggled back up the aisle, he suddenly exclaimed “Dammit!”

I glanced his way and my suspicion that his pants had just fallen was confirmed a couple of seconds later when he stage whispered to his wife, “I should have worn my belt.”

None of this was amusing or shocking to me. Not the pants falling, not the loud swearing, not the too loud remark to his wife. No, what got to me was his wife’s immediate response to the Dammit! and sudden grabbing of his pants.

As he struggled to maintain dignity and before he remarked about the belt, she muttered (also loudly enough to be heard), “Oh! Don’t worry about it!”

Don’t worry about it? Really? He’s a grown man in a public place and you don’t think he should worry about dropping his pants? Even placing aside issues of dignity, there are some practical considerations. He couldn’t get out of the chair without your help. He can’t walk up the aisle without you holding one arm while he leans against the wall with the other. He’s basically shuffling along the floor, unable to lift his feet high enough to step. And you don’t think he should worry about his pants suddenly puddling around his ankles? As if that won’t further hinder his progress?

Let’s try switching roles and see whether you can resist worrying about your pants falling down.

Those Boys Would Hurt You

A lifetime ago, my husband and I played roller hockey.  It started with a handful of people playing pick-up in a converted tennis court in a city park.  It grew into a league of four teams that played two seasons a year, and eventually even involved us playing a season or two for the local university.

I wasn’t good and I certainly make no claim to have been, but it was fun and good exercise.  Very early on, I learned the value of a face mask (I was one of the few who were already wearing a helmet) when I collided with a co-worker who wore thick glasses to protect his eyes.  Those thick glasses were briefly smashed between our faces before I hit the ground hard.

As the only woman on the court, I felt the urgent need to get up quickly so as not to look weak and unable to take a collision.  I quickly rolled onto my knees and opened my eyes as I prepared to push myself to standing.  That’s when I noticed the blood gushing from my face and thought uh-oh.  I stayed put with my head down so the blood poured straight to the court instead of down my clothes.

Someone eventually gave me a dirty T-shirt to press against my forehead and then people helped me strip off my skates after guiding me to a bench to sit down.  Then my husband, very carefully avoiding the I told you so that had to be in his head (we had argued about the need for face masks just that afternoon), drove the co-worker and me to the emergency room.

He got 8 stitches.  I got 11 – straight through my right eyebrow.  Since he arrived to work before me the next morning, the crowd eagerly awaited my arrival.  Ah, yes… those were the days.

Pregnancy and hockey do not mix well, so my career, such as it was, ended a couple of years later with the Fall 1999 season.  The summer of 2000, about 6 or 7 months pregnant with Jane, I briefly donned skates and wobbled unsteadily around the rink, taking a shot – and scoring – on one of my fellow goalies.  That was my last time to wear skates and hold a stick.  Motherhood took over from there.

Until last night.

One of the men from those days was looking for a way to get himself back in shape.  And looking for a way for his son to play hockey without having to travel to a major town.  He’s starting up a league and holding pick-up games in the mean time.

He’s been encouraging my husband to join him and he finally did last week.  I went too because Hal wanted to see what it was all about.  That set a series of events into motion where we dug out our gear, found some cheap gear for the boys at a thrift shop, and took them skating a couple of times before they headed off to summer camp and grandparents’ houses.  Jane declined to participate.

Last night, with all the children gone, I joined my husband at the rink once again, this time dragging my dilapidated and broken bag behind me.  When I told the ticket man that we were paying for two people, he looked shocked.  “You are going to go out there and hit?!” he asked.

“I’m going to give it a go,” I responded, not bothering to mention that checking is usually avoided in recreational play.  At forty years old and after a fifteen year break, I wondered a bit if I was crazy.

I had a blast.

A serious blast.

I felt so alive skating back and forth, even if a bit unsteady.  It was a thrill to hold the stick and control the ball or puck (we had both out there).  There were three young boys too and we worked with them on their skills.  I was exhausted and exhilarated.

At one point, as I sat on the bench, panting for breath, a very young, small girl walked up.  She indicated to her mother that she wanted to go out on the rink.  Her mother told her no.  One of the men pointed out that I was skating.

“Yes,” her mother said, “She’s already told me that there is a girl out there.  But she can’t play – she’s a girly girl through and through.  The first time she fell down, she’d cry.”

“The first time those boys fall down, they cry too,” I commented.  And it was true.  Tears had been shed by at least one boy already.  I wondered briefly if girly girls are girly girls because they are or because their mothers insist they are.  Because that’s what they want.  This girl certainly appeared interested in joining the game.

The girl, of course, was not dressed appropriately for playing hockey.  In my mind, she wasn’t dressed appropriately at all, wearing just sandals, short shorts, and a sports bra-like top.  But she was obviously interested in what was going on on the rink.

I died a little bit inside when she reiterated her desire to go out there and her mother murmured, “No, honey.  Those boys would hurt you.”

The woman, I knew, wouldn’t have said that if the girl had been a boy.  The girl’s seven year old brother, after all, was out there right then.  All the boys were heavily padded and flopping down constantly.  None could stay on their feet for long nor move particularly fast.  No one was going to be hurting anyone.

But this girl was already learning her proper place in the world – on the sidelines unless it involved dance or cheer.  A hockey rink is no place for a lady.  With a sigh of regret, I slapped my helmet back on my head and returned to the action.

I should have said something.  I shouldn’t have worried about meddling with this woman’s child-rearing and her narrow view of the world.  I should have turned to the little girl and said, “Yes, you might get hurt.  But it’s not the boys that will hurt you.  It just happens when you do something worth doing.  You have to get up and keep going.  You can do it if you want to.”

Do You Like How That Foot Tastes, Dear?

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My husband is quite fond of his new-to-him cup that he picked up at the thrift shop the other day. He was sipping tea from it while we ate dinner recently.

I turned the cup to look at the 1776-1976 marker on the back, confirming that it had been part of our country’s bicentennial celebration back when I was a tender two years old.

Setting it back on the table, I commented to my children, “This cup is older than Uncle Aaron is.”

Before they were able to articulate the question, I answered it, “But not as old as me. Because… I. Am. An. Old. Woman.”  Continuing on with my exaggeration of age, I then pointed both fingers at my face and addressing my daughter, said smugly, “Take a good look, because this is exactly how you will look when you are forty.”

“Unless I get plastic surgery. Did you think of that?”

My husband began to cry foul and Jane hurried to redeem herself.

“I mean. I’m sure I’d look much worse than you if I had plastic surgery.”

Surprised realization hit her eyes and then they fell to the table. She picked up her food and muttered, “I’m just going to be quiet now.”

Good idea.

Looking at Me

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I spent a lot of time looking at my hands this past week. I don’t know when they started looking so old. The skin is thin and the veins are always visible and if I extend my fingers out fully, there are thousands of tiny little wrinkles. The hands don’t match how I think of myself.

I got a card from my mom and she had written on the back of the envelope:

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I burst into tears when I saw it. Why? Because she had articulated some of that bad feeling I was having about my birthday. She doesn’t think of herself as old enough to be the mother of a forty year old. Where does time go?

At a recent women’s luncheon, a woman in her eighties made some remark. A woman in her thirties sitting next to me whispered, “Oh! Aren’t they so cute?!”

I wondered what the older woman would think of being called cute. I bet she still thinks of herself in much the same way she did when she was younger. Don’t get me wrong, she knows her body is old and doesn’t work as well anymore. But the woman inside – that woman is the same. But we don’t see her. We just see the old woman. And we call her cute. Which undermines everything she has to say. Whether we meant to do that or not.

Maybe this is what I’ve been afraid of. That people will stop seeing me. That maybe they already have. Maybe I’m just the middle-aged white woman, which means whatever they’ve categorized that as in their head. I’m not a woman that has scaled mountains, ridden down small waterfalls, competed in collegiate co-ed roller hockey, built a kiln from scratch, given birth at home, preached sermons, won awards, created puzzles, stretched my horizons. A woman who married her high school sweetheart and made it work against all odds.

For some reason, turning 40 scared me. I truly didn’t expect it to. And, really, if people are dismissing me as a middle-aged white woman, they’ve been dismissing me as something or the other my whole life. I can strongly remember being distrusted or belittled by bank officials and employers when I was in my late teens and early twenties. It really didn’t matter who I was. My age was all that mattered.

Are we all just too busy to take the time to step out of our stereotyping habits? I had a serendipitous moment when I read this great blog post about being a black woman in a place where people don’t expect to see black women. The author expressed the desire to be seen for who she is, to be more than “the only black person in the room.”

I realized that was a bit of my concern, although on a much different scale, when I watched the older ladies at that meeting and I pondered getting older myself. I don’t want to be just the mom. Or just the old woman. I don’t want to be filed away as some stereotype. I want people to see me. To get to know me. And I’m afraid that people dismiss you more and more, the older you get.

Another Day Older

So I haven’t posted anything for five days now. For me, that’s a serious drought. I typically find something to say every day; worst case, I skip a day. It’s particularly humorous since I have 15 drafts waiting in various states, including one that I started at lunch 5 days ago and thought I’d wrap up that night.

This happens from time to time. I get busy or I get withdrawn and don’t feel like writing. I’ve never figured out if I can’t find something to write about because nothing is happening or if it looks to me like nothing is happening because I don’t feel like writing. Sometimes, as I think has happened this time, I’m pondering BIG ISSUES but I’m simply too tired to express my thoughts cohesively. That takes so much more work than relating a funny conversation with my kids.

My big issue right now is this. I recently turned 40 and I haven’t been able to figure out how I feel about it. In the days leading up to it, I felt like it ought to be a big deal and got depressed because I knew it wouldn’t be – it’d just be another day. And then I’d immediately think that it really isn’t a big deal and I didn’t want anyone to make it one.

In trying to explain some of my conflicting emotions to my husband, I told him, “They were talking about a survey on the radio and they said, ‘People in their twenties and thirties were more likely to…’ and I realized that in a few days, they won’t be talking about me.”

He responded simply that they already weren’t talking about me. He’s right. Stages of life are much more indicative than age.

My daughter went to a friend’s birthday party the night before my birthday. The mom had 8 game cards for the video games at the venue but only 6 kids present. The birthday girl argued she should get the extras since it was her birthday.

“But what if Jane’s mom and I want to use them?” her mother asked.

“It’s my birthday!” she countered.

“It’s my birthday too,” I said.

“Yours isn’t until tomorrow,” Jane said.

“So?” I asked, turning to look intently into the friend’s eyes, “This is the last day I will ever be in my thirties. I need something to help me feel young and carefree!”

The girl stared at me briefly before saying, “Ok. You win. Give her the card, mom.”

I laughed and waved it off. I didn’t actually feel like getting up from the couch. Besides, another mom, who turned 50 last year, sat down and we began to gossip, for lack of a more genteel term to describe our whispered discussions.

And that leads me to what I think was my overriding thought as I tried to figure out how I feel. I don’t feel any different. I’m not any different. I’m the same person I’ve always been. Older, maybe wiser, maybe a tad more confident, maybe more responsible, but still me. And this woman in her fifties is still the same. And the people we were talking about. There isn’t some generic personality that goes with a given age.

I think I had a problem with turning forty simply because it was an obvious milestone on my road to old age. I’ve had some fun joking about it though. Anything I could blame on age, I did.

The morning of my birthday, my husband and I lay in bed, each playing a game on our phone. I dropped mine. On my face. Twice. My husband took his eyes off his game to look at me.

“Give me a break! I’m old!”

I still don’t think I’ve processed it all. I will say that 40 plus a day was better than 40. And 40 plus two days was even better. And so on. So I think maybe I can adjust to this decade of life. I have some more thoughts that I’ll share soon. My thoughts have been so disjointed that I found it impossible to form into one cohesive post. Stay tuned… I’ll try not to keep you waiting another five days.

Scribbled Names

As we passed out presents at my grandmother’s house last night, she called me over to tell me there were some envelopes behind the tree that needed to be handed out. I was very familiar with the envelopes. She has been giving everyone a Christmas card with cash in it for as far back as I can remember. Just like her mother before her.

I reached behind the tree and grabbed the little packet of envelopes. I slipped the rubber band off and pulled the first one off the top to hand to the recipient. As I looked down at the second envelope, I suddenly felt that I was looking at my great grandmother’s envelopes, not my grandmother’s. What had always struck me about great grandma’s envelopes was the shaky script our names were written in.

These envelopes looked just like those. I have watched my grandma age over the last few years. She falls. It takes her longer to recover from illnesses. She doesn’t argue her way as much. She sits more, travels less. Mentally, she’s the same as always. Physically, she’s entered a new stage of life. And while I’ve seen it, I haven’t faced it. Not until last night when I looked at those envelopes and realized she was now her mother and I am now mine. Life moves inexorably forward. Whether I like it or not. Whether I’m ready for it or not. Whether I accept it or not. I wonder if anyone noticed the tears in my eyes as I handed them their envelope with their scribbled name on the front.