I had a birthday last week. But I hesitate to tell you which one. Because I think you will think less of me. Or at least differently about me.
You will think I’m old.
And you will write me off.
Why? Because we are a little obsessed with staying young in this culture. Or possibly a lot obsessed.
Like, have you noticed, as Bill Thomas, a geriatrician and eldercare specialist, mentioned in a recent TEDx talk, how so many of our “aging experts” are actually anti-aging? Making kazillions of dollars a year, trying to help us figure out how not to get old, or at least, how to look like we are not.
Yet we all are, people…getting older. Every day. Every one of us. Tick tock.
Along with trying to deny aging (while buying our age-defying packaged goods) it seems many of us are also often kind of just not exactly telling the whole truth about it. What you might call “lying about your age,” if you wanted to be harsh about it. Or if we aren’t lying about it outright, we are simply “discreet” about it, we hide it, in a “don’t ask/don’t tell” kind of way. We do this to stay viable in the dating pool, the work pool, the socially cool pool. And what’s wrong with a little collective age-dishonesty? Maybe nothing, maybe it’s just another life survival tactic. Like hand sanitizer and 401Ks. Or maybe, it’s not…maybe as Oprah suggests, it’s a form of “denying your very existence.”
But it hit me the other day, one reason why so many of us lie about or conveniently forget to mention our actual age so often. It’s because showing your age is one of the worst things you can ever do.
“You’re showing your age.” is one of the worst insults you can hurl at someone.
Of course, a lot of things qualify as “showing your age.” Not having the skin of a 20-year-old…or the ass, perky breasts, general muscle tone, and bouncy, vibrant (read: not graying) hair. Having a V-jay-jay that has been around the block a time or two qualifies as well. (Yes, there are some lovely vagina rejuvenation surgeries that can take care of that for you sweetie…).
But “showing your age” isn’t just physical.
You can also be accused of showing your age if you happen to bring up remembering things like when clouds were just fluffy objects in the sky that sometimes looked like elephants or more rarely, Jesus…
versus data-holding thingies no one has ever been able to adequately explain.
God forbid you don’t get Snapchat. Or hashtags. Or know whether GIFs are pronounced with a hard G or a soft one.
Heaven help you if you forget someone’s name. Or perhaps forget where you put your keys/glasses/the gift card someone gave you for Christmas, etc. (My friend Marcia and her husband Steve have taken to announcing things out loud to help them keep track of stuff…as in “I’m putting the keys in my pocket now.” “My glasses are in my purse…” “My hat is on my head.”)
But I had a wild realization. The truth is, we all show our age. We just show it differently at different ages.
A 1-year-old shows her age when she starts walking instead of crawling. And we applaud. An 8-year-old shows his age when he can finally lose a game without bursting into tears and running from the room. A 17-year-old shows her age when she decides to apply to colleges she’d actually want to attend versus ones she thinks she should attend. A 28-year-old shows his age when he chooses intimacy and commitment over isolation and X-box. In fact, whenever you complete any age appropriate developmental task, you are “showing your age.”
What if we (and by “we” I mean anyone who is growing a little older everyday, which is, to be clear… everyone) reclaimed the phrase showing your age? What if instead of using this phrase as an insult we started using it as an affirmation?
Maybe we could start when the kids are young. Like, we see a baby take his or her first steps and say, “Yay, baby, you’re showing your age!” Or perhaps when our 18-year-old drives the 8 hours home from college by herself in the middle of a snow storm in the dark of night, for the first time, we say, “Wow, I’m so proud of you, you are showing your age.” Or when your twenty-something offspring finally turns to you and asks “How are you doing today?” and seems to really want to know the answer, actually seems interested in your life, we could say, “Great honey. You have taken a huge leap, you’ve been able to see me as person and not just your mother – you’re showing your age.” (I could have been closer to 30 when I first asked that question of my mom, to be honest…or maybe even older.)
I know it might be hard to redeem the phrase “Showing your age” and to begin to use it this way, because it would of course, involve seeing the benefits of aging, even when we start to get really old.
But I’ve noticed a few in myself and others.
For example, a friend of mine recently told me she’s finally gotten old enough to stop chasing who she thinks she should be and to accept who she is.
For me, I think I’m finally getting old enough to be less certain and more open to possibilities. To know how little I do actually know…and to say, unashamedly, “I can’t answer that.”
I’m don’t hear as well as I used to when I was 7 or 17, but I’m much better at listening than I was then, and much less judgmental about what I hear. Much less convinced of my own rightness. Much less inclined to argue, defend my position. Honestly, arguments bore me now. Because I’ve lived long enough to see they so rarely change anything.
I’m less afraid to cry. And slightly less afraid to be happy, too. (Which, come to think of it, is a lot more like I was before the age of 5, when I somehow got the message that I needed to stop acting so immature by crying, or by laughing too loudly or too much.)
My reaction time has slowed down which means, unfortunately, I can no longer easily win that hand-slapping game in which you try to move your hands before your opponent slaps them, but it also means I don’t usually say the first thing that comes into my head, or even the second. I take a breath, and a few seconds, to look at my first reaction, and question it, ponder whether this reaction is based on fact or just on fear and insecurity, and on the slightly crazed perspective of the cold, starving, beat-up Neanderthal in constant fight or flight mode who lives in a dark cave inside my brain.
I get the long view. I am further through the story so I can look back and see that things often turn out better than you expected, even when they didn’t turn out exactly the way you wanted them to.
I also get how short life is, and how little time we have to waste trying to assign blame…and how our time is much better spent doing something about what we don’t like, versus whining. Or at least, try to get through the whining quickly, preferably humorously.
I am starting to grasp how someone who is at home in her body, who is fully present in the world, eating life up, not hiding the scars they’ve earned along the way, is way more beautiful than a made-up, oiled up, retouched-up little doll type person (ahem-Kim Kardashian, for instance…) who’s afraid to laugh or cry or hug for fear of smearing. (I used to believe I was ugly when I cried. Now I know I’m alive when I do.)
So yeah…basically now that I’ve turned 60 (there it is folks, that’s the magic number we’ve all been waiting for), I think I’ve gained a little wisdom and I’m saying to myself, “Wow, sweetie, good for you, you’re showing your age.”
And I’ve decided I may need to start a movement.
Now I know in my last blog post I was thinking I needed to start the anti-self-improvement movement. But perhaps that one will just have to get folded into this one… The “showing your age” as an affirmation movement.
This one will have a hashtag and everything…#ShowingMyAge or #ShowingYourAge. We could start adding the hashtag as a badge of honor. A show of pride whenever anyone, at any age, shows their growth, their steps forward on the path, shows their particular age-appropriate strengths, displays their developmental leaps and bounds in maturity, love and generosity, humor and grace.
What do you think? Want to join me? If so, speak up… ..loudly, because, remember, I don’t hear as well as I used to. And I’m OK with that #ShowingMyAge
(Oh, and if you need me to explain the whole hashtag thing, let me know. I think I get them…mostly…because I’m #NotDeadYet.) The “HashtagShowingMyAge” mug is something I created which you can actually purchase (I think they’d make good gifts…not to be confused with GIFs).
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Another post you might like: Screw aging gracefully.
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