They say 50 is the new 40.
I’ve been hearing that more and more lately as my half-century mark approaches this month. Most of my friends are saying it with a kind of trepidation in their eyes, a hopeful “please don’t freak about this—you’re not going to freak about this, are you?” sense of panic lingering just behind their encouraging smiles. Most of my friends are younger than me.
The truth is I have been kind of freaking out about this. It simply doesn’t seem accurate. I remember clearly when my mom was this age, and I remember it clearly because I was pushing 30 myself. In contrast, my oldest child is pushing puberty. I’m happy when I remember his name.
And therein lay my dilemma: my perception of what it means to be 50. That perception has always been that 50 is older than I will ever be. It is an age that has always suggested a sense of being settled. Mature. Someone who watches from the sidelines. Maybe with a grandchild or two. Elastic-waist pants. That was my vision.
The reality is somewhat different. First off, my grandkids are another 20 years in the distance. And I still throw the football with my son. And based on my family history, I could conceivably have another 50 years ahead of me—another complete lifetime. When I look at it that way, I realize that I’m not even sure what I want to be when I grow up. So I cannot possibly be this age.
And it stands to reason, if 50 is the new 40, then 40 is the new 30, and 30 is the new 20. And that won’t work for me. I hated 20. I was still drinking at 20. I’d like to keep 20 where it is, thanks; way, way back there. It’s a good place for it. Back with the end of disco and the beginning of shoulder pads.
And I’d kind of like to keep my 30s, too; they were good. That’s really when I grew up. I got my black belt and earned my master’s degree, met and married the husband, raised my first dog, had these two kids. My 40s were darn good as well, because I got to watch those kids grow. I started teaching. I stopped hiding my flaws. So those couple decades were pretty useful. Let’s keep ’em in there.
Besides, if, as they also say, you’re only as old as you feel, then there’s room for all sorts of variation. For example, if they mean physically, then I was 90 about 10 years ago. Bad back, bad hips, blah blah blah. Throw in the thinning hair, the wrinkles, the sagging neck, the sagging everything else … but I reject this. Whoever “they” are, I think they must have meant you’re as old as you feel mentally and emotionally. And in that case, I’m … let’s see … well … 16.
My kids have asked me in the past why we’re older than their friends’ parents. I’ve explained as best I can that I wouldn’t have been a very good parent when I was younger, and that I’m planning to be here long enough to argue with them about putting me in a home. I also remind them that if I didn’t do things exactly as I did them, I wouldn’t have had exactly who I have asking me this awkward question. And I wouldn’t change that for all of the wrinkle-free, thick-haired tea in China.
I don’t feel like I thought I would feel at this point in my life, that’s all. What I think needs to change is not the age, but the reality of the age. And the reality is this: In all of its up-and-down, sagging-but-at-least-still-attached, wrinkling-but-having-fun-with-skin-care-products, restless-but-not-anxious glory, life is good.
So I’m going to stay with 50, because 50, in my case, is the new Maggie.
Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.