Tomorrow is my birthday, and I will be 55 years old. Fifty-five. Years. Old. The double nickel. Halfway through my fifties and skidding downhill toward my . . . I can’t even say it.
Holy cow. How in the heck did that happen? Wasn’t I a young 45 just last week–and a frisky 39 the week before that?
I’ve always thought of 55 as a speed limit I seldom obeyed, not an age I looked forward to attaining. My grandmothers were 55, and they were old–cropped gray hairstyles, support hose wadded around their swollen ankles, dentures soaking on the nightstand. I color my grays, I don’t wear hose (and my ankles are the skinniest part of my body), and all my teeth are real–so that’s not me, which means I can’t possibly be that old.
And yet, somehow, I am. In fact, I’ve been on this earth longer than Legos (which first appeared in 1962), zip codes (1963), the Ford Mustang and acrylic paint (1964), astroturf (1965), and hand-held calculators and microwave ovens (1967). Thankfully, Mr. Potato Head, birth control pills, McDonald’s and Barbie pre-date me (all 1950’s inventions), or else I’d really be depressed.
I can take a small degree of comfort in knowing I’m not alone, though. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in three Americans are now over the age of 50 (out of our way, whippersnappers). And the women among us are expected to live to age 81, which means (with any luck) I should have at least another 26 years ahead of me–but since that doesn’t sound like nearly enough time for all the things I have yet to do, I’m banking on about twice that much.
I also feel a generous degree of satisfaction in knowing that the previous years–although more numerous than I would like–have still been good ones, filled with laughter and love and beauty that far outweigh the aches and pains and heartaches. I’ve even learned a few lessons along the way, and so to celebrate my double-nickle birthday, here are 55 of them.
Fifty-Five Things I’ve Finally Learned:
- Middle-age is more than anything a battle against gravity–and the only sure-fire way to win the battle and return all body parts to their original positions is to walk on our hands.
- There is nothing so simple that I can’t do it wrong–repeatedly. And there is almost nothing so difficult that I can’t do it right if I really try (although you probably don’t want to volunteer to be my first surgery patient or dance partner).
- I’ve visited a lot of really cool places with many more on my “must see” list, but my favorite place in the entire world will always be my own bed.
- I need to create–and so do you. Find your passion, follow it, and share it with the world; you will bring happiness to others and fulfillment to yourself. And if brilliant ideas wake you in the middle of the night, drag your sleep-fuddled self out of bed RIGHT THEN and put those ideas on paper, or you will be tormented in the morning by tiny whisps of brilliance that you can’t quite recall. Trust me.
- Forays into nature may torment me with ticks and chiggers and poison ivy, but they will also reward my efforts with peaceful sunsets, wondrous waterfalls and delicate wildflowers. I’ll take the bad with the good, scratch until I bleed and be happy.
- Despite how sweet and inviting they may seem, Sara Lee, Little Debbie, Mrs. Fields and Aunt Jemima are not my friends but rather evil temptresses intent on doing me bodily harm. Granny Smith, though, is the real deal.
- Stop looking in the rear-view mirror and focus on the road ahead. There are still a lot of hills to climb and grand adventures just around the bend. Lay off the accelerator, tap on the brakes and slooow down. Take note of all the marvels that surround you. Ponder. Dream. Imagine. Enjoy.
- “One size fits all” never fits short, chubby gals.
- Forgiving yourself and loving yourself are unbelievably hard and vitally important.
- People who ask for an honest opinion usually don’t want an honest opinion.
- It’s never too late to make new friends who can expand our worlds in refreshing and glorious ways.
- Acid-washed jeans will never be in style again–and those pint-sized ones taking up space in the back of my closet will never again fit my gallon-sized butt. (What’s wasting space in your closet?)
- An hour-long, deep-tissue massage is worth every moment of face-flushing, sweaty-pits embarrassment caused by lying exposed and vulnerable in front of a stranger.
- People believe what they want to believe, no matter how much evidence to the contrary.
- Surround yourself with beauty every day. Light the candles, put flowers on the table, open the blinds and let the sun shine in. Feel the grass beneath your bare feet, pat the dog by your side, read words that nourish your soul, and listen to the melody in your heart.
- There is absolutely no topic worthy of a phone conversation after 9 p.m. (unless it’s from a son announcing an engagement or a grandchild–hints intended).
- A warm, sunny day in January is a rare gift not to be squandered indoors.
- Somehow it is possible to eat like a bird, exercise like a madman and still gain weight like a pregnant hippo.
- Drinking 64 ounces of water in a day will generate roughly 15 gallons of urine, necessitating approximately 137 trips to the bathroom–and even though you would think those 137 trips (17.6 miles, give or take) would result in immediate and tremendous weight loss, they don’t.
- Anyone who never doubts his beliefs or changes his mind is probably wrong a lot.
- Putting off a difficult encounter only allows it to inflate into a torturous mental monster. Tackle the difficult stuff early and be done with it.
- Everyone is somebody else’s weirdo (including you–and me).
- Comparing myself to others is stupid. There will always be someone younger, prettier, smarter, kinder, thinner. Everyone I meet will be better than I am at something, and the only person I need to be better than is the person I was yesterday (and sometimes even that will be a struggle).
- Those who are cruel to others are almost always unhappy with themselves.
- Some things are always worth splurging on: comfortable shoes, down pillows, grass-fed beef, good toilet paper, and long vacations.
- No matter how badly I feel saying no, sometimes it’s the only possible answer if I have any chance of successfully meeting other obligations. (And my own mental health and physical well-being need to be two of those obligations.)
- There are too many great books out there to waste time stubbornly trying to wade through a terrible one–put it back on the shelf and move on.
- Those who are capable of laughing at themselves will never run out of things to laugh about. Just on previous experiences alone, I have enough material to keep me giggling for at least another 30 years.
- In the time it takes me to accurately spell and punctuate a text message, it would have been quicker to call.
- The tighter the jeans, the bigger the muffin top.
- If I surround myself with unhappy, negative people, I will eventually become one of them. And that’s not who I want to be.
- Sometimes the smartest people can do and say the dumbest things.
- The people with the least to give often give the most.
- Don’t sit too much–sitting kills. Get off your butt and move. I’ve spent too much of my one precious life anchored to a recliner instead of exploring this great big, beautiful world, and it’s time to make amends.
- Immediately after I’ve slowly and clearly vocalized the spelling of my last name, 95% of people will still spell it wrong.
- No matter how many times my mind declares, “I will NOT get sick,” sometimes my body has other plans.
- Whenever possible, take the stairs. Just don’t hold onto the railing–do you have any idea how nasty and germy that thing is?
- Feeling “hot” after 50 usually has nothing to do with physical appearance and everything to do with an impending menopausal melt-down. And thanks to those same menopausal melt-downs, it is entirely possible to pack on 10+ pounds one night while sleeping–and then lose half of it (but never all) the next sleepless night in a tangle of sweat-soaked sheets.
- Foot-stomping, door-slamming, curse-muttering temper tantrums won’t fix a locked-up computer (but that doesn’t mean I won’t still indulge in them).
- When I exercise, I hurt. When I don’t exercise, I hurt. I might as well exercise and hope that my heart will be happy now and my muscles will join the party someday.
- Swimsuit shopping should be done early enough in the day that water weight bloating has yet to set in but late enough in the day to justify the downing of at least two glasses of wine to numb the physical pain and emotional devastation of squeezing 50 pounds of belly blubber into 2 ounces of nylon and spandex and then looking in a mirror.
- My life won’t end just because I don’t know how to program the DVR, change a flat tire, drive a stick-shift, or fold a fitted sheet.
- There is no greater honor and no greater reward than being somebody’s mama.
- Grand intentions don’t mean squat. If you think about doing something nice, do it. If you want to say something kind, say it. If you wait, the opportunity may never arise again, and someday you will regret all the goodness you didn’t share. Again, trust me.
- Not everything is worth fighting over. In fact, very little is.
- The cheeseburger inside the wrapper looks nothing like the cheeseburger on the commercial.
- Eight hours of continuous sleep–uninterrupted by a snoring partner or midnight bathroom treks–is sheer bliss.
- Some people deserve to be smacked in the face with a shovel–but just because they deserve it doesn’t mean you should do it (but you can still gain a small measure of satisfaction in fantasizing about it).
- Standing at the bedside of a dying loved one is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do–but also one of the most important.
- When the expected attire for an event is unclear, it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.
- Regardless of differences in race, age, gender, religion, politics, backgrounds, we all have something in common with every other person on the planet. Nurture the commonalities.
- The best way to grow is to occasionally do something that scares the hell out of you. (And today I will be doing just that.)
- Most ailments can be lessened with a loving hug, a hot shower, a long nap, a leisurely walk or a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
- Use your brain, listen to your heart, and trust your gut–especially if all three are telling you the same thing.
- Be yourself. I am not cool and never will be–and I’m okay with that. I wasted too much energy when I was younger trying unsuccessfully to be like everyone else, but I finally learned it is so much more satisfying, liberating and fun to be my own nerdy self.
The years may have stolen my smooth, wrinkle-free skin, youthful metabolism and perky you-know-whats, but in exchange they’ve given me increased confidence, peace and creativity (with just a touch of wisdom thrown into the mix). And that trade-off has been totally worth it.
The coming years still have much to teach me, and I will embrace the opportunity. And as I wave farewell to 54 and face life as a 55-year-old, I will try to focus less on that dang number and more on the fact that I feel good–happy and peaceful and excited and strong and vibrant and lucky.
I have a thing for sunsets (and the symbolism of that does not escape me) . . .
And flowers . . .
And sweet white wine. Cheers!