Is it when you start having those age-related medical tests like a colonoscopy, mammogram and bone density test? Is it when you qualify for the senior discount at the pharmacy? Is it when the server calls you ma’am instead of miss? Is it when those old people cartoons on napkins don't seem so funny anymore?
It just gets more and more confounding. I’m closer in age to one 40-year-old friend’s parents, and recently realized I’m several years older than a 31-year-old friend’s mother. A friend two years behind me in high school already has three grandchildren while another friend my age still has four kids in middle school.
I’m finding it more and more difficult to look at random people and tell their age. Growing up, I identified “my age” as someone in my grade at school.
When I moved back to Columbia ten years after college graduation, that “my age” definition seemed to have shifted as people I’d known growing up who were, at the point, “way older” or “way younger” became “my age.” That first grade girl who remembered me as a 12th grade cheerleader introduced me to her husband as someone she went to school with.
In my mind when I was growing up, old always equaled looking, dressing and acting a certain way. That certain way involved panty hose, a weekly beauty parlor appointment and lipstick.
I haven’t bought panty hose in 20 years. I go to a salon and not a beauty parlor - and that’s only once every couple of months for a color touch up. The closest I get to lipstick is Burt’s Bees lip balm that I keep in every pocket, drawer and bag I use.
A recent NPR radio program really got me thinking about the idea of age. When I'm on vacation, one of my favorite indulgences is having the time to listen to the full hour of my favorite NPR programs live, in real time.
One topic that kept me intrigued was about the consequences of middle age. I was raptly attentive until I realized the host was using 40 as the benchmark for middle age.
While I can’t exactly pinpoint when I consider middle age to kick in, it certainly isn’t 40! Most of my 40ish friends are still negotiating carpools, soccer schedules or orthodontist appointments. To me, that doesn’t square with middle age.
Yet, everything the host and guests talked about was relevant to me … except the 40 part. So if I’m 17 years past this magic mark of 40 that defines the descent into middle age, where exactly does 57 fall on this age spectrum?
I’m on the barely trailing end of being a boomer. I’m on the early end of contemporaries who are retiring. I have long-since received my first solicitation for AARP membership. I now qualify to live in my parent’s retirement community. So am I middle aged? What’s the next phase? Old?
There was lots of discussion on this radio program about why age does or doesn’t matter. Is it just a number on a driver’s license? Should age drive our decisions? Should we consider age more a matter of how we feel not how we look?
A painful back injury last summer made me realize that age does impact how I feel. I’m fairly active. While I’m typically the oldest (by far) in a workout class, I can usually keep up pretty well. But when I went to the doctor to figure out what I needed to do to make this injury better and ensure it wouldn’t happen again, all he could offer was “stop aging.”
I recently saw a black and white photo of myself doing something I enjoy immensely – playing the uke with my friends in our band, Serious FM. After one recent outdoor performance, a friend shared some photos he had taken us. They were artfully edited black and white photos that clearly illustrated our joy, concentration, fun and passion in playing. I was blown away by his thoughtfulness and grateful to be able to witness us playing through the lens of his camera.
Later, however, I went back and looked at the photos again. Somehow the lens that had reflected joy, fun, focus and passion the first time I looked, was now showing off my age spots, wrinkled neck and sagging jawline. How’d that happen?
I immediately realized I was looking at myself in a judgy way that I would never look at my friends in those photographs. I quickly recalibrated my thought process recalling how one friend said he thought I looked like a “badass” in the photos (I took that as positive feedback) and another said she thought I had “good shoulders.”
Maybe they too had noticed the age spots, sagging jawline and wrinkled neck but what really came through was the fact we were enjoying the heck out of something we were doing just for the joy of it.
And that’s ageless!
Read the earlier posts in my series about adulting:
(photo credits: Shell Suber)