On August 15, 2012, I turned 49½. The only time I have thought about half birthdays since I became an adult has been in the daunting half-year prior to a decade changing big day. From that moment on, much to my husband’s annoyance, I tell people that I am already the age I will be six months hence. It really feels that way, and it helps me prepare for the shift.
So I am now 50. Sort of. I'm not really liking the sound of it. At 30, I was sad about the end of the long downward spiral from adolescence to adulthood. At 40, I was terrified of being older. And now, barreling into 50, I am dreading the feeling of being on the other side of the life arc, starting the inevitable slide downwards.
But if my 30s and 40s are any indication, I have a feeling that my 50s also will wind up being immeasurably more wonderful than I can imagine.
A close friend, who has been waiting for me to join her on the other side of 50 for a good six years already, has told me that the 50s are otherwise known as the “screw you 50s” (not really, but I can’t write what she actually said - and it was quite alliterative.) She told me that once we – women – get to be “women of a certain age” as the French like to call it, we no longer give two hoots what other people think. We dress the way we want to dress (and more comfortably), we say what we want to say, and do what we want to do.
This all sounds good. I told her that there is a part of me that feels like I had already reached that plateau earlier in life, when I was faced with incalculable tragedy. Something about facing the worst thing you can face that makes you realize how much of the daily bull you can ignore, avoid and push away. It strengthens you, makes you bolder, eliminates insecurities, and makes you understand what’s important.
But this sounds a bit different. Because no matter how much I learned about life from sad events in my mid-30s, I was still only in my mid-30s. I still had my 40s to conquer, and conquer I did. My 40s were the time where life goals clarified (and some were realized,) friendships solidified, my work and family and life balance seemed to strike a mostly harmonious chord. I knew my priorities, and having that map to guide me helped me make the right decisions about most things.
That balance is shifting again as I make my way towards 50. I am getting more deeply involved in work. I am contemplating working a true full-time schedule. My children are older, with the teen applying to college and the youngest starting middle school. They still need me, but in a different way.
I am also realizing the things that I am just never going to get to – learning another language, going en pointe, raising my children in another country – and while there’s a little bit of grief letting go of these things, it’s also a bit of a relief to winnow down the list of what is doable and within my reach. Perhaps deeper wisdom can be attained with a smaller list to conquer.
I think that the attitude my friend espouses about the freedom that coming into your 50s as a woman must originate in the physical end of the burden of childbearing. In the old days, women’s children were already long grown by the time a woman reached her 50s, and if she hadn’t died in childbirth or from an incurable disease, it was likely that she would be mostly ignored once she reached her 50s. Her body was no longer able to do anything productive, and her usefulness had worn thin. Hence, perhaps she was freer to be who and what she wanted.
Today, thanks to technology and societal shifts for the good, many of us are still deep in the heart of our childrearing years well into our 50s and even 60s. Yet nature still takes its course. Our bodies are telling us that things are changing. I'm being sent subtle messages that my body is preparing to be done with the potential of childbearing. And I am ready to be done.
Facing this physical change is liberating in and of itself. Add to that a society that, while not completely willing to eradicate the face of the older woman, is still less enamored of us and tends to ignore us, and it absolutely opens the door to the feeling of complete freedom to be who and what we want when we hit this stage.
Now, I am not ready to toss it all in, let my roots take over and wear nothing but comfortable shoes. In fact, I spent so many years being hippy-dippy and wearing comfortable shoes that I see my 50s as a time to embrace the heel. And that’s ok. Because it seems that if reaching this age milestone means that anything goes, then wearing a good 3-4 inch heel so that I feel tall and powerful and the same height as my husband is going to be one of my goals.
So while I am still reluctant to actually make it to the big day, and every time I realize that I am actually still ONLY 49 I get a little giddy, I am preparing. I am preparing for changes in work, and family, and life. I am preparing for setting new goals, and reaching them, because I know I can. I am preparing for aging a bit more, and trying to appreciate my roots, my moods, my wrinkles, the extra weight that feels like it will never come off now.
And I am going to scale these heights in high heels and with the flair of a woman of a certain age – because that is what I am.
Photo by andrewhallpics via Flickr