When I think about it, 36 seems like a lot of years. At 33 years old, my mom was readying a 13 year old me to travel to Berlin, where I’d spend a whole year mostly doing my own thing under the permissive eye of my aunt and uncle. At this same age, various relatives yet another generation removed were running their own businesses, inventing things, and finishing up their childbearing years with not a pair, but a brood.
I suppose, unless lifespans change dramatically in the next few decades, that I am one-third of my way toward my eventual death, and when I think about it that way 36 years seems like an astonishing number of years. I am not one of those people who will feel forever 16 because even when I was 16 I think I felt about 45. (A childhood in which the weight of the world rests squarely on your shoulders will do that to you.) But still.
Getting older, the media will tell you, is a slow descent into irrelevancy and invisibility. First, I strongly disagree. Yes, ageism exists, and I’m sure someday I will be on the receiving end of it and it will make me mad, but the media only shows one side of the getting older story. The worst side, of course, because it wants to sell you something. Face cream. Hair dye. A “lifetyle”. And second, I’ve worked hard to be mostly invisible anyway!
So if you’re a mom who is totally super scared of getting older – and I don’t blame you – here are some of the upsides I’m enjoying at 36:
- Cut back to, say, 10 or so years ago, and I was catcalled and harassed fairly frequently. Going out might mean having some half-drunk idiot get mad at me because I didn’t want to dance and didn’t want a drink and maybe didn’t even want to talk, but telling someone straight out “I don’t want to talk to you” is hard. I’m not bad looking a decade later, but I am 36 looking and married on top of that, which means I essentially have a protective bubble shielding me from the kinds of creepy guys I used to have to deal with all the time.
- I would never want to be in high school again. And I’ve never understood people who look back on their teen years with unadulterated fondness. Being a teenager is hard, even when you’re popular. One huge thing I like about getting older is that I just don’t care as much about what people think. Of course I want people to like me and think I’m pretty and fun, but I’m not going to chase approval down – or sob into my pillow when it’s not there. I care about what the mister thinks of me. And my kids. Family and mom friends and next on the list. Everyone else can suck it.
- I’m more comfortable in my own skin. I may not be utterly thrilled with what I see in the mirror, but the mister seems to like it well enough and everything works just fine. Health is pretty important and I have it. In fact, I’m probably healthier now than I have ever been in my entire life, save for certain points in childhood.
- At this point, I am far less afraid of failure than I have ever been. Mainly because I know that most people who have achieved great things failed many times before succeeding. And then many have failed again after. If you’re not failing, the saying goes, you’re not challenging yourself. There is no perfect age at which to finally succeed so I may as well keep trying. A certain John Lowe took up ballet at 79 and at 91, was quite the dancer.
- I am no longer many marketers’ target demographic. Madison Avenue is looking to grab the eyeballs of teenagers and twenty-somethings. As a mom, I am also in a coveted demographic but I’m media literate enough to ignore the messages when I want to. (Not having cable service goes a long way toward avoiding advertising in the home, if you find yourself easily swayed.)
None of this, of course, is a balm for the absolute terror I feel as I watch more lines show up on my face. How the skin around my eyes now crinkles up when I’m feeling joyous. What was once a tiny crop of gray hairs hiding among my naturally brown locks has recently become quite obvious, leaving me at a crossroads at which I need to choose: to dye or not to dye, that is the question. My body is somewhat… looser than it was once upon a time. Not heavier. Leaner, in fact. But looser. And do NOT even get me started on my boobs.
That said, there is a lot to like about getting older. My physical self aside, I’m a better person than I was five years ago, ten years ago, or even before that. I have my moments of feeling off kilter, like we all do, but I am generally good at this game we call life.