I did something really stupid about 2 years ago. Those of you over 50 but still stuck in your brain like you are still in your late 20’s will totally get it. Well, I have never been athletic and have never liked team sports and definitely never participated in them. I hated that mile run in school because, well quite frankly, I could not run a mile when I was in high school. BUT, I could do a mean cartwheel. As a kid I would spend my time on the swing set and monkey bars, in my own little world. I admired my friend Terry who was an amazing gymnast (this was in grammar school) and she got me doing cartwheels, splits and hand stands. I would spend hours trying to perfect my back walkover, and eventually I could do it. I was so flexible, it was easy back then. In college I resorted to yoga since doing cartwheels around campus might be weird. I was good at it, able to touch my feet to my head, do handstands and back bends with ease. But as time went on, and I got older, I transitioned into biking and jogging and belly dancing classes with my friends. Well, it never occurred to me that I would lose my flexibility and strength. Until I decided to show off one day. I can’t remember who I was showing off for, maybe it was one of my 20 something year old kids but anyway, I went to do a cartwheel in the yard and it was not pretty. My arms gave way, I almost landed on my head were it not for my elbows hitting first. I was appalled, and frankly, kind of scared. What the heck??! Doing a cartwheel was nothing! and yet, there I was, almost with a cracked head. I tried again, but very carefully, and determined, but yes, it was true. I can’t do it. And then, it dawned on me that something had happened. I might be thinking and feeling great, like I did way back then, but my body had changed. My arms could not hold me up. This was not good.
I went through a phase of trying to do something about it. I started practicing standing on my head…the easy way, you know, leaning against a wall. One problem….my neck hurt. Oh great, now even my neck is weak. Then I decided I was going to practice my back bends, and do a back bend by Christmas. This plan did not work (despite my husband promising to give me a monetary reward). I just was not motivated because doing a back bend did not benefit my life in any way. Yet, this lack of flexibility has bothered me so much that I made a plan to stretch over the winter. I am a firm believer in habits, and that you can create a healthy habit just as easily as you create a not so healthy habit. So every morning over the winter I incorporated toe touching and stretching exercises with my morning coffee and the news (which I watched anyways, so it was easy….10-20 minutes in front of the TV, not bad, kind of relaxing, 2 birds with one stone). It did work and by the end of the winter I was touching my toes with ease. Then came spring and flower season and those precious minutes in the morning had to be spent watering my garden and talking to the bunnies….so needless to say, my flexibility has lost its priority in my life.
Besides my inability to do a cartwheel or a handstand or a back bend…..there have been other changes I am not too fond of. I am guessing I am not alone. I am talking about eyesight. I have always been blessed with 20/20 vision and for that I am grateful. Yes, I went through the typical phase where you have to hold the menu 2 feet from your face to read it (I think this happens in your 40’s?) Anyway, I bought the cheap reader glasses and that solved the problem. But then I turned 50 and something else happened. Darkness. When it was dark, I could not see. So driving at night becomes an issue when you can’t see the exit until you are on top of it. Or read the signs. I finally had to admit, I needed an eye doctor to see what was going on. Long story short, I needed glasses. Expensive ones which I lost twice, so changed to disposable contacts because I lose things and that solved that problem (until I left them in overnight, because I forgot to take them out, loss of memory another issue but another topic). When you leave disposable contacts in overnight and try to get them out in the morning, you can cause a corneal abrasion which hurts and is not fun. But at least this sudden loss of night vision is treatable.
What isn’t treatable (unless you are a millionaire and kind of vain) is what happens to your skin. I can only speak for myself but it was kind of nice in just one way when I couldn’t see because when I looked in the mirror, I thought it was pretty cool that I wasn’t really getting many wrinkles. Wrong. When I got my contacts I was a bit flabbergasted. Not only could I see that my bathroom floor really DID get dirty (I always wondered how it stayed so clean…it was because I could not see the dirt)….anyway, I could now see my wrinkles. The only ones I really was not a fan of was the ones around my neck. I toyed with the idea of a bread clip in the back of my neck. It kind of works to pull everything back (but this technique is not comfortable, and I am all about comfort). Scarves work, but who wants to always where a scarf? If you hold your head high that helps. But it gets tiring. So making peace with these new neck wrinkles is the only answer.
Besides the neck, I have noticed my arms are starting to look like the principal from my elementary school. Mrs. Torrent was her name and she was terrifying. Back in my day, they were allowed to spank us if we misbehaved at school. Mrs. Torrent had a giant thick silver leather strap that she would whip the bad kids with. When she would point with her arm to walk a certain direction you shook in your shoes and went that way. Her arms shook too. She had these skinny arms with hanging skin that shook when she pointed in her dramatic scary way. And when I saw the picture of me dancing with my mom (above) all I thought was, dang, I am Mrs. Torrent.
Hair is another issue. I am not someone who has energy to put into hair. As a result, my head usually looks like a bit of a contrived mess. My issue is the skunk look. I am not ready to go gray. I am not sure why, maybe just that I don’t like the color gray. I do like white and if I was guaranteed that my hair would be the pure beautiful white that my grandmother had, or my mom now has (who says her hair was gray first, so maybe, just maybe if I am patient, there is hope). I love white. I am working on this shallow concern of mine. I just have not figured it out yet.
There are other issues that bother some other women I know who are getting older and not thrilled about the changes. The tendency for the fat on our bodies to migrate to our tummies from our butts. Women for some reason (guessing culturally) have a big issue with belly fat. Yes, excessive belly fat is associated with some health issues, but if it is just natural aging belly fat, and your cholesterol and insulin and all your labs are normal then you have nothing to worry about. I absolutely love the new looser fashions and even the new bathing suit styles that are looser and more comfortable so that those of us who are no longer into wearing bikinis have really pretty things to wear. Although, I am all for anyone wearing anything they feel comfortable in. I totally loved the energy of the elderly women on the beach we visited on a cruise that stopped in Tortola and Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean. As I sat there on my towel feeling somewhat self-conscious in my two-piece, a women just strolled out of the water with NOTHING but a bathing suit bottom. Nobody blinked. She sat on her towel with her hubby and basked in the sun. I was jealous. I wish I had that confidence, but then again, we clearly grew up in different cultures that focused on different things. She was way older than me.
Despite all the things I am not thrilled with, there is much more that I am SO happy and grateful for. If you are, like me, noticing changes that might be throwing you a bit and making you think that you need to do something, take a moment to think of all the good things about getting older as a woman. To me, this is what I am grateful for:
- Knowing, through my years of experience, what is important. That someone’s energy and heart and soul is what matters, not the wrinkles on their neck or the gray roots coming in. The people I crave to be around have much more that straight brown hair or strong arms or a flat stomach. I need character and a loving and generous heart. Those who fight for a cause or care about the helpless, elderly, homeless, hungry and poor, those are the beautiful people.
- I am so grateful for health. Health is something worth working towards. Everyone is different so you need to do what works for you. To me, health does not really mean being able to do a cartwheel or a handstand, but it does mean being able to get up if I fall down, lifting a bag of topsoil, pushing my lawn mower, lifting my laundry basket up the stairs, and being able to bike along my favorite bike path for an hour or two. It means having the energy to make it up the multiple flights of stairs in a village in Cinque Terre Italy to be able to get to that restaurant on the top of that mountain to have a glass of red wine and watch the sun set. It means having the energy and stamina to hike down the Grand Canyon Angel Trail and make it to the bottom to camp at Phantom Ranch, and then hike back out (on my bucket list). Your idea of health may be different, but what you want for your life is what matters.
- The gift of time. As I get older, I am realizing that time, well, it is a slippin’ away. It feels more priceless now. So much so that I am getting a little bit better at saying no. I am guessing lots of women my age are feeling it too. We want to spend our time wisely, doing the things that mean the most to us. For me, that means being with family and friends, although my work time fills me up with more than most people have at work, and for that I am grateful. I also spend less time on having the perfectly clean house or the perfectly weeded garden. It is good enough. Good enough is now one of my favorite phrases (right along with “Here’s to….!”). Yes, time is more precious now.
- Comfort. Being comfortable is a priority for me now. For some reason, I can no longer stand tight clothing or belts. My shoes need to be Naturalizer or Aerosoles. I can’t wear anything itchy. I am guilty of wearing pajama bottoms underneath a long dress to work. I have several blankets in my house for anyone who stays over to cuddle on a couch or wherever (the garden swing, fire pit, patio). I promote coziness.
I could go on and on, but my husband is waiting for me and our nightly “date on the couch” where we watch some silly show that we tape so that we get to eventually unwind at the end of the night. Yes, life is short, wrinkles and gray hair come but, in the end, if you have energy to dance the night away (like my 85 year old mom), then well, maybe getting older is not that bad. Although, if I am honest, I really do want to do a cartwheel again. And if I do get there, you will be the first to know it!!