It started the year my husband was turning 50. I was actually 46 at the time but I suddenly realized that he was nearing the big 5-0. And ... well, I freaked. Quietly. But intensely.
This really threw me because frankly, I hadn't been the type. I knew other teenagers who wept as they approached their twentieth birthday, convinced their best days were behind them. I didn't react that way. In fact I was counting on having better days ahead.
Thirty did not faze me. Neither did 40. They're just numbers, I said, and meant it. But all that changed in 2002. Even though I was 46, I started thinking of myself as 50 years old ... and it made my blood run cold.
It was a big deal to me. I dreaded it. It was ridiculous, I think I thought I was going to become a little old lady with hair in a bun, and a cardigan buttoned to my wrinkly neck, in sensible shoes in a rocking chair. Overnight.
Were the best years of my life behind me? Took me a long time to shake that.
I don't know where this came from. My mother hadn't been a little old lady at 50 years of age. Newly divorced, she had just started a new part time job and was dating again for the first time in more than 30 years.
She was seeing the man who would later become her husband the same summer I was dating the man who would become mine. I helped her put in her earrings just before her first date, because her hands were shaking too hard to do it herself.
We would sit as girlfriends talking about the new men in our lives. I borrowed her clothes and admired her style. We went to yoga class together. People were forever telling her that she couldn't possibly have children in their 20s. I agreed with them.
So where did this unreasoning dread about turning 50 come from? Ten years later I still have no idea. But I do know that it's not based on reality.
I occasionally get surprised looks from people if age comes up. Ten years ago when I was 50, I began hearing "You don't look 50."
But the thing is, I did.
I don't look like I've been drinking at some fountain of youth. As a matter of fact, I was in the midst of a chronic illness that left me looking pretty dragged out for some years. But I started getting better — after I headed into my 50s.
You know, I'm pretty much like a lot of other people born around the same time that I was. I look like the other women I know who are around my age. Fifty doesn't look like a little old lady anymore. And for that matter, it didn't in my mother's generation, either. That whole picture is a throwback to my grandmother's era.
Now, I'm not saying that we will necessarily look good at the half-century mark. And it becomes less and less likely that we will look good, or be in robust health, if we don't put some kind of thought and effort into it. Gone are the days when I could eat junk, or nothing, or live on coffee and cigarettes, and still look and feel pretty sharp.
There are foods that I can't eat these days that used to be no problem. And that's true for a lot of people in my generation. In our 50s and beyond, we are all liable to be less tolerant of wheat, for instance. We are more in need of supplements like vitamin B12 to keep our brains, nervous systems and circulatory systems intact. And without exercise of some sort, we are more prone to turning into blobs of fat.
So looking and feeling good has to be accomplished on purpose, we can't just go on auto-pilot anymore. But what's wrong with a little exercise and a more mindful diet anyway?
Is 50 the new 40? or 30 for that matter? I'm not even sure what that's supposed to mean. I just know that when I look at women in their 50s these days, I can't tell some of them apart from many women who are in their late 30s or their 40s.
I think there is a shift in attitude among women who are 50 and older, I think many of us are not paying attention to old societal cues to become ... drabber. We may get tired more easily, and "nap" is no longer a ridiculous word. But the idea of being that stereotypical little old lady — well, that has to go.
We're more likely to be wearing running shoes, or possibly heels, rather than sensible shoes. We are as likely to be riding a bike, running a business, or fulfilling our passions with volunteer-work, as we are to be baking cookies, sitting in a rocker, or taking care of the grandchildren.
Don't get me wrong — baking and grandbabies are the icing on the cake, in my book. Well, not the baking so much anymore since I can't handle wheat, and if I can't eat it maybe I'm not going to bake it. But the grandchildren! Who knew they could be so wonderful? I never knew that until after I hit 50.
The point is that while they are indeed wonderful, as are their parents, they are not the whole of my life any more than I am the whole of their lives. They are part of a marvelous mosaic, involving an intricate balance between work, my marriage, running a home, and thinking my own thoughts, taking care of the things I have to, and embracing the things I love.
Because I'm over 50 and I am old enough to do what I want.
Visit Jody's website at http://www.ncubator.ca