I don’t like getting older. I’m scared by it. It’s both uncharted waters and the great, repetitive forever at the same time.
I’ll be 41 next week, and I can’t say anything good about it. Turning 40 was no great shakes, but 41 is another ball game altogether. It’s lifting one foot up on the ladder in that inexorable climb towards… well, you know. Before 40, I never thought like that. In my late 30’s I was hyper-aware that I had not reached the personal milestones that most women hope to have achieved by then, but I didn’t associate that with death. Quite the opposite, actually, since as a single, childless woman I served no master other than myself. Although I was sometimes lonely, I maintained the youthful attitude that my life was still in front of me – that I still had choices about the way it would turn out.
These days I think about the end of life a lot more than I used to. Even though I hopefully have more than half of my life left, I have such a hard time picturing it other than as this block of time that will just happen and be over. I see it now as punctuated by my children’s milestones rather than my own. By the time they are off to college, I will be almost 60, and then what? I’m reasonably active, so hopefully R. and I will be healthy and can still travel a lot and do whatever interests us, but will it really be as much fun when I LOOK SO OLD?
Maybe it sounds vain and strange, but my experience with the things I love has been as a young, attractive woman. Travel, concerts, restaurants, meeting my husband – everywhere I have sat and enjoyed the world has been as a young person; I have been observed as a young person, as a pretty, young woman. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that making the break with potency of the external-facing part of one’s self is a semi-traumatic event. Until I had children I still felt young and attractive, but on the other side of the big event I don’t feel that way at all. I am self-conscious about my pregnancy-revised body, about my graying hair, about my boring job. Honestly, sometimes I don’t even feel like me anymore. I feel invisible, like I’ve handed over my flag of youth to a new generation. I am irrelevant now apart from making sure I raise responsible, polite, loving little guys who have all the tools they need to create their own happy destinies.
Even as I write this I know I am wallowing it in a bit. I know I still have choices about what to do with my career, how to raise the kids, on and on. I choose to color my hair and try to lose weight in hopes that I can stop freaking out about the physical effects of aging, especially since they will only get worse. But I have had choices for a long time, and for a long time my choices have been to stay put and do nothing, at least on the career/personal fulfillment front. So how do I learn to light a fire in my belly at a time in my life when I barely have time to eat dinner before going to bed? I am daunted.