The Art of Growing Old…

I’m too old to be young and too young to be old.  This quote from Evelyn in Fried Green Tomatoes sums up what I’m feeling these days.  I’m not ready to start polishing up my obituary, but I recognize I am entering my third act.

When I contemplate the remaining chapter of my life, I know I want to be the author.  When you are a child, your parents write your script.  On my own from 18-23, I had no clear direction. I know there are individuals who in young adulthood take control and endeavor to forge their own paths, but I think they are few and far between. I did make the choice to marry at 23, but in retrospect I think that decision was largely driven by social expectations and limited exposure to our wondrous world. Luckily, I chose a mate well.  Then we had our sons and when you are raising a family, they become your focus and direction. But now, pushing 65, life has grown simpler.  I am lucky to be basically healthy, all our children and grandchildren are healthy, and Mr. Smith still loves me. I’m not naïve enough to think my remaining years will be all champagne and beach sunsets, but I hope to direct them as much as possible.  In looking for guidance, I went to the place I always go.  Books.  

The Art of Growing Old, Aging with Grace by Marie de Hennzel was referenced in several articles I read about aging, so I decided it was time to check it out.  Marie de Hennzel is a French clinical therapist, largely focusing on the art of aging well.  She is also the recipient of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honorary decoration. I found her book to be positive and heartfelt, drawing from many of her life challenges and personal experiences.

There is no doubt that we live is a society obsessed with youth.  If you feel you have an issue with your appearance, there is more than likely a cosmetic surgery procedure you can undergo.  But Dr. Hennzel believes that in order to age gracefully, we need to dwell less on the physical aspects of aging and focus on the positive emotional changes.  Accepting that we may be slowing down and acknowledging that this slower pace will allow you new observations and insights is just one of the positive aspects of aging.  She doesn’t ignore our inevitable physical deterioration and provides practical life plans for dealing with the fears of becoming a burden on our families, illness and isolation.  

I do think my time spent reading this book was time well spent.  I will share that for me, it read a bit like a research paper full of academic references and studies. What I was really seeking in a book about aging, was something with a more conversational tone.   Like sharing a cup of tea with my beloved Aunt Ruby while she shared her best wisdom for growing older and remaining so loving and kind.  I’ll take inspiration from both.

C’est la vie

Unsolicited advice from an aging Duchess…

This post is not for the mature woman who strives to look 30 despite her hair greying and thinning, and her skin slowly wrinkling and acquiring Pollack like age spots. This is for the ladies who accept aging as a gift (the opposite is the grim reaper) and settle into the advantages of attaining the high numbers (remember 100=perfect). While it seems our younger sisters and brothers believe growing old is a dire fate, many of us that have reached the exalted heights discover there are real pluses up here. 

Dylan Thomas, phrase, “Do not go gently into that good night” does not suggest torturing your body with cosmetic makeovers and extreme diets in order to attain the ‘you look so rested and 10 years younger’ look. Let’s look to the positive side…the advantages to growing older…maturing…surviving in spite of your kids…winning!

Yesterday I was pre-shower when the whimsical thought flitted through my brain, should I perform the boring task of shaving my legs. I noticed that thanks to poor eyesight and less hormones my leg hair is thinning and disappearing.  Yeah thought I, a perk for growing old. No longer a slave to the stupid pastel ‘feminine razor’. So what other perks have I been overlooking.

Our bodies. Ladies surely you have noticed that the shape you have at 50 is pretty much your shape. Almost none of us is satisfied but as all the articles lecture us…live with it or change it and I’m guessing mostly we continue to grumble and do not really accept it. That soft tire around our middle is not going to go away…mine makes me think I’m 4 months pregnant again…and I smile. I liked being pregnant. I consider it my grandmother silhouette. The plus is we have a new creative chore though not always easy, to discover which clothing styles suit and flatter our new shape. Believe me there really is something for everyone.  You can camouflage your loss of a waist, if that’s your issue, by finding flattering tunics in fetching (good word, right) colors or neutrals. One rule for myself (sadly, quite short in stature) is to dress in the same color top and bottom. A monochrome outfit adds inches to my dumpy frame. Yes, like my ancestors…I’m dumpy but fun. Look at magazines for pics of mature actresses…they have talented stylist to assist them but they can be a great source of inspiration.

Another fabulous advantage to aging is Mother nature gives you the trendiest hair color for free. Embrace the silver, love the grey…tons of teens are stealing our color palate. Plus there are dozens of different shades of grey. It also gives you an excuse to acquire some new wardrobe pieces in yummy soft greys, creams and blacks to freshen up your look. Add a bright pop of color scarf for meetings and evenings out and add some great silver earrings to compliment your hair.

Okay…now cosmetics. Buy less!  If you wear makeup, time to ease up. You should be wearing less because your finer skin may nor support heavy coverage. You will look fresher and younger with less. And it saves you time and lots of money but do purchase a good moisturizer. Your local drug store has several very effective reasonably priced ones. The days of peacock eyeshadows and heavy red lips are gone. They may still be fun for 20 year olds but a soft lip gloss, brow pencil, if needed and a brush of mascara should easily get through most days unless you have a hot date or are accepting an Oscar!

Now let’s address our foundation…not girdles or makeup ladies, our feet.  Our doctors and science tell us ‘high heels ruin our feet and our backs’, so unless some fab shoe designer is slipping you thousands of greenbacks to model his 6” stilettos, now is the time to discover comfort. There are thousands of cool and comfy footwear styles to choose from on this planet.  Women speak with their wallets. Demand for more comfortable footwear is a result of our buying power. This has led to wide spread acceptance of flats and athletic shoes. The younger generation led the way on this one, Bless them. Check out red carpets and the Met Ball. Gold sneakers are the bomb!  SAVE your back and SAVE your feet.  You’ll thank me later.  However ladies, if you must have a heel, my favorite, the kitten heel is back making a welcome reappearance. They’re feminine but not torture.

Time now becomes our most valuable asset.  If you no longer have a 9-5 and have more control over that valuable asset, you may now choose what, where, and how to spend those valuable hours. Catch up with friends and family, books you have put off reading, hobbies or sports you have always longed to try, there are neglected movies and music to enjoy.  All the things you delayed doing or experiencing because life, jobs and kids came first. Volunteering can be great fun. The library, your local hospital, charities or schools always need help. A wonderful advantage besides feeling useful is you will discover lots of new friends and lunch buddies. 

Now admit it ladies…you are wiser. That ol’ chestnut is really true. It’s as if without the everyday stresses and demands of our earlier lives our brain somehow relaxes. It may not be scientific but we senior chicks just know it.  We often see issues and problems through a  historical lens…been there, done that, or certainly seen it or heard about it.  Experience and age…gifts we now have.  A wealth of ideas, knowledge, thoughts and opinions are inside those aunts and uncles, grandparents, and elder friends that can prove a source of wisdom if any brave soul will inquire. I think the most intriguing attribute we seniors have is often a firm opinion…the ‘funest’ of all.  

So the lesson to be learned is…aging can be pretty okay. Shave less, spend less on unnecessary crap, do things you have put off, buy a few new duds. Appreciate and care for your body and soul and best of all share the thoughts and opinions that have been piling up in your cerebellum for all these years, even if no one asks. We’re old, it doesn’t matter who is listening. We no longer give a damn!