Too Late, Too Early
It’s July. We haven’t put the lounge chairs on the patio yet. We never opened the hot tub. The peonies and roses came and went without even one gracing our kitchen table.
2020 is half gone, and I know the second half will disappear as well. It’s as if the whole country – the whole world – is in a coma. We’re not sure when we will awake, but it seems distant.
What happens to a lost year?
I feel bad for all the children who never had a birthday celebration. But then again, losing a year when you have so many ahead of you seems – well, not trivial – but manageable.
But what if you don’t have so much time left? Losing a year when you are old seems tragic.
I’m sixty-nine. Not so old. I’ve always considered middle-age to last until age seventy. I am losing the last year of middle-age. When the world finally comes back to life, I will officially be old.
I’ve spent the whole of my middle years in a determined effort to be not middle-aged. But I didn’t intend to lose a year of it.
I worked at being youthful. And I am – thanks to hair dye, sunscreen, makeup, contact lenses, and the most fashionable outfits I could afford. And Zumba and Yoga and crunches.
But now I am out of time. And I (and everyone else) have been cheated out of a year.
I didn’t waste the last six months entirely. I finished the manuscript of my third novel. I painted portraits. I even housebroke the dog who was figuring to be unhousebreakable. (Or more likely, he just finally figured it out, but I will gladly claim victory over peepee.)
But I still somehow feel like I have missed an important deadline.
I am well-educated. I’ve had reasonable success in my career – which I define as making good money at something you like well enough. I retired when I was ready, and returned to my childhood dream of becoming a novelist.
But I had another childhood aspiration.
Despite being grateful for my brains and my artistic abilities, and as shallow as I know it is to admit it, what I have really wanted since I was five was to be beautiful.
Oh, I know I am not ugly. I’m fine. But how I have wanted to be more than fine!
I’m a late bloomer for sure. Really late. I looked better in my forties than in my twenties. It was a gradual process for me, a slow understanding of how to accentuate what I liked about myself. Even more important, I needed to learn to like myself.
I wrote an essay three years ago listing the things I liked about myself. I wrote that I thought I was quite pretty. Imagine that, at 66! I felt that there were three possible explanations of why I would feel pretty after all these years:
A) I finally understand how to make the most of what I’ve got.
B) I was always pretty but I didn’t know it.
C) I actually and mysteriously got prettier as I aged.
And the answer was: D) All of the above.
But now I am sixty-nine, and the year is a total loss. We are all looking ahead to 2021. When I will be seventy.
Pretty in middle age – but not beautiful. I didn’t quite make it. I came so close but I have run out of time.
I think a lot about what it will mean to be seventy.
In some ways, I think it will be freeing.
I’ve always fallen into the trap of comparison. I’m pretty but that woman is prettier. I’m smart but that person is smarter. I’m successful but that guy is more successful.
Or, in my vanity: I’m not athletic, but I’m more athletic than that guy. And at my worst: I’m not beautiful, but I am more beautiful than her.
I hope at seventy I can give that up.
A friend recently told me, “You will never not care about being stylish.”
That’s probably true. I don’t think I will ever go out of the house without makeup. My mother is 96, and still makes sure she has her eyebrows drawn in case anyone visits. It’s genetic, you see.
And I can’t picture myself in elastic-waist pants in lavender double-knit polyester.
But who knows? Maybe I would rock those slacks.
On the other hand, I worry a lot, too much I’m sure, about looking foolish.
I don’t want to be one of those old ladies still trying to look like a teenager. I don’t want long blonde beachy hair in a pruny face. The kind of person who looks great from a distance, but makes folks wince close up. I fear being pathetic.
Years ago, I made a pact with the women in my office that we would tell each other – kindly – if we wore something too young for us. We decided the code would be, “What a cool blouse. My daughter would love it.”
But now I’m retired. I’m afraid no one will tell me.
Someday – soon – I will need to give up my skinny jeans.
There’s an appeal, however, to comfortable shoes. Within limits, of course. Returning back to my genes, last year, my mother tried on a pair orthopedic shoes and said to the saleslady, “I’m sorry, but I’m just not ready yet for ugly shoes.”
Oh, but there’s a lot of room between stilettos and crocs. Between skinny jeans and polyester slacks.
There are luxurious materials and classic hairstyles. There are non-feathering lipsticks. And gorgeous earrings.
And inner peace.
It’s too late to be a beautiful middle-aged woman.
But it is so early to get a start on being a beautiful old woman.
Since I’m writing off the rest of 2020, I think I will be old now.
I may like it.
Miss Nancy, I always thought you were pretty, inside and out. But more importantly, I admire your brilliant creativity to focus on work, writing and painting! Be well my friend!
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Wow! This hit so close to home I’m so many ways. I’m 69 as well and the thought of turning 70 in a few months seems almost impossible to fathom. In my mind, I’m still young, but everyday occurrences remind me that I’m not. I won’t leave the house without makeup either and I worry about dressing too youthful and being judged. I envy those women who dye their hair purple, or doing something outlandish, without caring what others think.
The past few months have stolen so much from us but I’m constantly reminding myself that I have so much to be grateful for, because I do. Thank you so much for sharing your journey.
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I think both you and Judy will gain so much by your brave acceptance of your age. Come on in, the water’s fine!
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Wow! Just like Judy, I totally relate to your essay. I turned 69 two months ago and I’m starting to contemplate the big 7-0. A little bit scary and feels like it might be the beginning of the downhill slide. But I’ll keep my chin up and roll with the punches!
I think that the wisdom and perspective of older people is just what makes them more beautiful. Especially if they did gain wisdom and not rigidity. I’ve got a few years yet before 70 but I consider my age an accomplishment!
Look at you.
Listen to you.
You will never be ‘old’. You will accumulate more years, your age number will increase.
But you will never be old’.
In my humble opinion
I live for today as I can’t change the past and the future is unknown am I pretty I don’t think so but I am not ugly either just kinda adverage looking
I think you’re beautiful. Not only on the outside but inside also.
My mother told me in my 60s that I was in the youth of old age. I never figured out at what age that distinction was left. I quit riding a motorcycle at age 71. I wasn’t ready but we sold our home to hit the road in an RV. One of my motobuddies used to say age was just a number. She’s a yr older than I. I can say it is just a number until I grab a chain saw to cut down snags in the woods below our house. Then I feel it.
I don’t want to go down that path either. But here we are. We have to make do with what we’ve got, and sister … we have a lot!
Hi Nancy. t 82 I’m still not prepared to be an old lady. I never go out without makeup and painted nails. And I do not own a pair of elastic waist pants. I mostly mix with friends who act as I do. 12 years ago I was 70 so welcome to the next 25, or maybe, 30 years
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I’m loving all the comments on this post. You’ve accomplished more than me in your career and hobbies but as a 35 year old I feel like we could easily be friends 🙂 And you are beautiful so accept it!
I have always thought you were quite lovely. Before I ever saw a picture of you I felt that I knew you through your writing. The person I was reading was beautiful. When I did see you my opinion had already formed and I was not disappointed. You are beautiful. It is funny, especially how we grow older. My husband thinks I’m beautiful. I am not, but in his eyes he still sees the person he fell in love with and she was beautiful to him. Sometimes I think it would be wonderful to see myself through his eyes.
That’s so true, the greater the number is in our age the more awareness and truth there is in the saying, “that’s time spent that I’ll never get back.” What’s been hardest for us at our age and during this pandemic is the time spent visiting family and friends that we’ve missed out on, and the lack of travel while we still can.
It does feel as if this year has been wasted. I’m so glad that I had a granddaughter born in May, so it feels as if there is at least one good thing I’ll remember about it. As for beauty, you are beautiful! And you will be beautiful at seventy too.
“this year is weird,” -Grand-daughter, age 11.
You are and will always be a total Fox!
70 is actually quite a wonderful decade. It is my 80th year that is being challenged by this pandemic. Challenged, but not lost! I won’t give up my skinny jeans until something mre stylish comes along. But I won’t paint my eyebrows unless they turn silver like my hair and disappear into my forehead. Then, you bet I’ll paint them til I’m 96. You have your mom’s spirit. Treasure it. Beauty is that sparkle that radiates from the inside out. Keep it lit!! And don’t ever settle for being an “old woman.” That’s only for those folks who forget how to dream – and who give up on their skinny jeans too soon!
Have you ever read “No Reservations” by Alice Steinbech? I just finished it yesterday and I kept thinking of you and this post as I read the last few chapters. You remind me of Alice, and I think her story could be an encouragement to you.
Sorry, it is actually “Without Reservations”
It is strange how we accept ourselves with the wisdom that age brings along, somedays I feel like a 40 year old but then I do something and I know that I am 65 years old.
Somedays I agree with your friend that age is = numbers and I show the world that I can still do things. The other day I went horse riding with my daughter: the getting up was easy, but the getting down was a laughing matter, suddenly my body was not so supple as it used to be. As long as you are happy with yourself and those around you, life will still sparkle! Run the race gracefully to the end!