Not Your Mother’s Middle Age.

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I passed a certain milestone birthday in the spring.  I’m still not sure how I feel about it.  I find myself telling people sort of apropos of nothing “I’m 50,” just so I can say it out loud.  It’s weird.  I don’t ~feel~ 50.  But telling someone much younger – a colleague, for example – makes me feel the tiniest bit irrelevant, maybe just a tad past it.

People are quick to jump in with “you don’t look 50!” What does 50 even look like?  My mom at 50 looked, and acted, how I envision 50.  Except that I can’t imagine myself like that even at 80!  So I got to thinking, and came up with another list.  This one explores some fundamental contrasts between my mom at 50 and me at 50.

1.  Mom had the ubiquitous 1970’s permed helmet hair that was washed and set and baked under one of those beehive hair dryers at the hairdresser every week.  Her do was pretty much the same from her 30’s through the end of her life.  She never colored it.  She slept on a satin pillowcase with a couple of curlers pinned in the front to preserve the style.  When it rained, she would whip out one of those plastic rain bonnets from her purse and pull it on to protect the helmet.  

I have shoulder length straight hair that I get trimmed maybe every 8 weeks.  My hairdresser is awesome. Smart, funny, and rocking some interesting body art (she’s about my age).  She scans my credit card on her iPhone.  She puts in a semi-permanent rinse every several months to hush up the gray.  I get a scalp massage.  If it rains, I hope I have an umbrella, but if not… Oh well.

2.  I never saw my mom break into a run, for any reason.  She could have been on fire and she wouldn’t have run.  Nor would she have dreamed of lifting weights or participating in any sort of sweat-inducing exercise.  She golfed, riding in a red golf cart between shots, usually with a lit cigarette in one hand.  She would drop this in the grass nearby as she moved to address the ball, and pick it back up after her shot.  Kinda badass.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I exercise.  A lot.  I don’t golf, neither do I smoke.  Having said that, I am also not a badass.  

3.  My mom did not own a pair of jeans, or any sort of athletic shoe (other than golf shoes).  She wore polyester pants in winter, and knee-length shorts or culottes in summer.  Tops did not generally involve natural fibers.  There may have been appliqués of holiday-themed characters, or flowers.  It would not in a million years have occurred to me to borrow her clothes, or vice versa

Jeans are my life.  I have my own, but I have been known to pilfer a daughter’s cast-offs.  They wear my cardigans; we all own Birkenstocks and Nikes.  And I tend not to wear things that will melt when held to a flame.

4.  My mom had zero interest in popular music.  She actively disliked what she called “all that screaming.”   I suppose this must have been in vague reference to, who, the Beatles?  The Stones?  She pined for the 1940s, and loved the Big Bands.  That, to her, was “music.”

I don’t claim to have any taste whatsoever, but I like my kids’ music, and I have to stop myself from singing along to the (very young) trainers’ mixes during workout classes.  These tend to involve Katie Perry, Usher, Fun…  

5.  Mom had about five or six meals in her standard repertoire, and they all started with meat and ended with potatoes. Vegetables were from a can in winter or the garden in summer.  Butter was usually involved.   It was all good, but not a lot of variation, and definitely no unusual flavors or ethnic foods.  Unless you count spaghetti with a hamburger and tomato sauce.  And Parmesan from a can.  My dad wouldn’t have cooked dinner for the family on a bet.

Most of our meals are one course, using as few pots and pans as we can get away with.  Beans and rice.  Stir fry. Something on pasta.  Stews, soups, chilis.  Always with some spice, and often with hot sauce on the side.  Mexican, at least weekly.  Sometimes I make Indian.  Probably half or more of our meals don’t include meat.  My husband makes meals, and usually helps when I’m in charge.  And sometimes, when we just damn well don’t feel like it, we put in some frozen pizzas and call it good.

So yes, things are different for today’s 50-year-old.  I guess it’s just a number, after all.


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