Six years ago I wrote a blog post about turning sixty. About how turning sixty was somewhat cathartic for me. A sort of reality check. All my life I had seemed to lurch from one stage of my life to another, with no perceptible change in between. I’m a kid, and then suddenly, almost overnight, a teenager. I’m a confident, experienced teacher in my thirties, and then in a moment I’ve become a sad, sagging, middle-aged, menopausal woman.
Or at least that’s how it felt one day back when I was fifty-one and I caught sight of my face in my car’s rear-view mirror. A big jolt of sagging, menopausal reality. When had I gotten so old? Tears and self-flagellation followed. And then subsided. By the time I finished relating the event to my friend the next day, I was laughing about it. But all hyperbole aside, it took me days to get over the shock that I was no longer young. And then I was back to normal. Just in a new phase of my life.
Turning sixty was another reality check. Thankfully less of a dramatic one than that day when I was fifty-one.
But for the past few days, I’ve begun to think that sixty-six is the new fifty-one. Life has been a bumpy ride lately, my friends. And I think I am due for a big reality check.
Let me take you back to the other morning. Hubby and I were readying our tent trailer for our camping trip this upcoming week. It was a beautiful, sunny, breezy, not too hot June morning.
The birds were madly twittering in the trees behind the shed. The yellow primroses were blooming. Out on the river, all was calm beauty. Sunlight glinted off the water. Two fisherman sat companionably in a small boat, lines in the water, talking in low voices, occasionally jogging their rod up and down, as one does to check that the lure has not become tangled in weeds. A breeze blew the leaves in the big maple tree at our backdoor. On the lawn, Hubby was unpacking the screened tent we have recently purchased so we could do a trial set-up.
And me… I was on my hands and knees in the trailer cleaning. Vacuuming. Wiping down surfaces. Scrubbing the floor. And bawling my head off.
Seriously. As I shoved the vacuum nozzle into crevices, rammed my wet cloth into corners, and shifted cushions and mattresses to get at the dirt that had accumulated over the winter, big tears rolled down my face. I cursed under my breath… well, mostly under my breath. And felt sorry for myself. “I hate frigging cleaning. And I really hate cleaning this frigging tent trailer,” I muttered. “I hate all the damned effort it takes to pack for this trip. I hate all the rain and bugs and dirt that is camping. Why the hell am I still doing this at age 66? We never have any fun. And I’m old.”
Then I sat on the floor in the trailer and sobbed. I snuffled and blew my nose on a thick wad of paper towel. Quietly. So Hubby wouldn’t hear. Because… I mean, really… how could I ever explain this latest drama? Despite my over-the-top emotions I still knew that they were over-the-top. And when I had dried my face, I sat there glumly, thoroughly disgusted with myself.
Turning sixty had been easy compared to this. I’d been almost sanguine about sixty. And looking back now I realize that’s partly because I looked the same as I had in my fifties. In fact, I think I looked pretty good for sixty. The folds and wrinkles I had noticed at age fifty-one were now just a part of who I was. And I was okay with that. Overall I felt great. Life was good.
I had settled into retirement. Hubby and I had weathered the rocky years of his numerous surgeries and health scares. We’d been travelling. The year before we’d had a wonderful month in France. We’d spent two lovely weeks in the Carolinas in the spring, hiking and eating shrimp and grits. I had planned a couple of short trips that summer and fall with a girlfriend. And Hubby was mapping out our big adventure to South America coming up in the winter of 2017. As I said, life was good. My reality check, turning sixty and acknowledging that fact, was easy peasy. As it always is when reality itself is easy peasy.
But this year, and in particular this past week, has not been so easy peasy. On the surface our charmed life continues apace. We are both healthy, for the most part. We have not caught Covid. Mum is well cared for and happy. Hubby and I are financially stable. The roof hasn’t caved in, nor has the basement flooded.
But despite all my good fortune, I’ve had days when I have been so restless, so dissatisfied with life and with myself, and some days so sad, that I am brought up short. “What the hell?” This year my reality check has taken the wind out of my sails. And I’ve been trying to analyse why that is.
I think that the fault lies in the fact that this year for the first time I truly feel as if I am IN my sixties. Kind of how the twentieth century didn’t really start until 1919, after World War I ended. My sixties did not begin when I turned sixty. But this year, there’s no pussy-footing around it, I am a senior citizen. And I have the white hair to prove it.
When I embarked on my white hair adventure back in 2020 it was a lark. Why not just let my hair go au natural since I wasn’t able to get to the hairdresser anyway? I could have purchased home-dye kits at the drugstore, I guess. But I didn’t want to start messing around with all that. And I have not regretted my white hair decision. I like my hair. Most of the time. But let’s face it, white hair does make me look older.
“And so what?” someone, somewhere who is reading this might be saying. I am older. I should stop whining, be grateful, and remember that I am lucky to be healthy, and privileged to be growing old. And I am grateful. Most of the time.
Except for lately. Lately I have been feeling old. And not feeling sanguine about it. So I’ve been trying to distract myself by focussing on how I can change up my style to reflect my changing body and my new colouring. And when I get dressed up and do my hair and make-up I feel good. Strong, confident, more like my old self. Not my OLD self, my normal self. Ha. I’ve been concentrating on eating healthier. And changing up my exercise routine. Which is all good. But, you know, this whole thing, it’s about more than positive or negative body image. It’s about more than how I look.
It’s really about the whole idea of growing old. Growing old is not something that rose-coloured glasses, and chirpy, positive self-talk can magic away.
Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m not old. Yet. But unlike when I was in my forties or fifties, I have begun to see that my time is not unlimited. Our time is not unlimited. And the two years we have spent waiting for the pandemic to be over are two years we’ll never get back. The pandemic threw a big monkey-wrench into all Hubby’s and my plans. Into everyone’s plans, I know. And lately I’ve been dwelling, perhaps too much, on the fact that Hubby and I are running out of time together. Remember he is a decade ahead of me age-wise, if not activity-wise.
So maybe all my angst about my hair and my changing body, my restlessness and dissatisfaction, my profane muttering, and whining about how we never have any fun, is just my fear talking. And maybe realizing that fact is my biggest reality check yet.
That’s it for me, folks, for another week. As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, Hubby and I are off camping tomorrow. Pray for sunshine and no bugs, please. I know that once we are set up, the campfire is crackling, and the wine has been poured, I’ll forget all about my tantrum. Some toasted marshmallows and a paddle down the Little Bonnechere River will restore my perspective. It always does.
P.S. In case you’re interested, here’s a link to one of my posts about our trip to the Carolinas in 2016. A couple from our trip to 2015 France here and here. And a couple from that 2017 South America trip here and here.