woman of a certain age 2 (thoughts on being 50)

I made a promise to myself around this time last year that I would not allow negative stereotypes about being a middle-aged mama frame my future revolutions around the sun. I can say that promise felt 100% doable on the day that I turned 50. And not so easy in the year I spent actually being 50.

I’ve had to work harder than I’d thought I would at keeping this promise to myself in the past year. Societal ageism has snaked around the corner in unexpected ways despite my determination to smite that nasty little sucker. My own biology waged war on me for months. My natural Pisces sensitivity morphed into rapid-fire crankiness at the strangest times. My usual ‘live and let live’ demeanour was stealth-shadowed by a ‘come at me, bro’ attitude, followed by a chaser of regret/fear that I wasn’t ‘nice’ anymore. I was also surprised to experience with some intensity the growing perception that I was quickly moving into past-my-prime time.

All of this in a year? Yup. It’s been an interesting journey. It was a struggle at times to keep my head above it, to find the silver linings. Now – at 51 – I can look back and recognize a few lessons I’ve (re)(re)(re)learned during my year of being 50.

1. Don’t go there.
I believe that we teach people how to treat us. So when I make fun of my various wrinkles, achy joints, flabby this and greying that, I am telling people that it’s okay to laugh at my vulnerability. So I’m really trying not to go there because it just sets me up to feel shame. Instead, I’ve been working on the self-affirming practice of taking a like in the mirror. When it works, it’s a beautiful thing.

2. Go ahead and wear purple. Add some pig tails while you’re at it.
Jenny Joseph wrote a poem a while back called Warning that included a great line about wearing purple and rocking red hats. What has this meant for me in the past year of ‘being 50’?  To stop wasting time on what I think other people might be thinking. ’Cause they’re probably not thinking anything at all. If they are, I try to practice #4 below.

3. Protect this house.
This is what happens at middle age’. More than one health-care practitioner said this to me with great sympathy in the past year. The implication is that I need to accept that there will be a train of ailments chugging by, doling out arthritis, osteoporosis, frozen shoulders, failing vision, hotter flashes, mood swings, weight gain, etc. Gah. Get OUT of here. You won’t see me waving the white flag. Geez, I’m only 50! I can live vibrantly. I will exercise, eat well, hydrate and push myself out of my comfort zone. Not while I can, but because I can.

4. Let.It.Go.
I simply do not want to ruminate on things that I can’t control or that truly have nothing to do with me. So I’m working on practicing loving detachment every day and in every part of my life. Let it Be (thank you, Beatles) and Let it Go (thank you, Frozen) are mini-mantras that remind me to focus on what matters and, more importantly, to be a better version of myself.

5. Shoulda-coulda-woulda can take a hike.
There’s very likely more road behind me than what lies ahead. This caused me to feel THE PANIC rise around all of the things I could/should/would have done with all of that lovely road. Gentle self-reflection has (re)assured me that regret of this kind is pointless. Who knows what’s ahead? In the absence of a crystal ball, I might as well believe that it’s going to be sweet.

The most important truth that has come to me is that happiness is an active choice. It isn’t waiting for me to arrive at a certain age. It’s something I get to choose every day. It’s something I want to choose every day. It’s what I’m for, always.

words of wisdom from mama t

Enlightenment comes in fits and starts for me and in the strangest places and oddest moments. I will be entirely focused on something else when an idea, thought or feeling will hit my brain and then spread like an inkblot. And then, for better or worse, the thought stays with me and I’m never quite the same again.

Such was the case on a treadmill. Long enough ago that I was listening to a cassette tape on my Sony Walkman (Yes. A Sony Walkman). A friend had given me a copy of a Wayne Dyer presentation to listen to. Not your typical ‘workout mix’ to be sure, but that’s the way I’ve always rolled.

He had a lot to say that really resonated with me and where my head was at that time in my life but on that particular day, in that particular moment of my journey, he told a story about Mother Teresa that struck me with such power that I stopped moving on the treadmill. Which caused the ‘falling off the moving treadmill’ disaster you are probably imagining right now. If you know me, you won’t be shocked by the image of me on my keister in a crowded gym.

Anyway … back to the point. He told a story that you’ve probably heard and that has probably been retold so many times that its accuracy could be challenged. But it’s the core of the story that stopped me in my tracks (literally) and has stuck with me ever since. Here it is.

According to Wayne, Mother Teresa – who was a pretty amazing gal in my humble estimation – was asked to speak at an antiwar rally. She blew the minds of the rally organizers when she declined their offer. They were like, ‘Uh. You are MOTHER TERESA. Aren’t you against WAR?’ Her paraphrased response: ‘It’s not so much that I’m against war. It’s that I’m for peace. If you call it a Pro-Peace rally, I’m there.’

And this is where the ‘falling off the treadmill moment’ happened for me. She said ‘no’ to what she was against. And ‘yes’ to what she was for. More importantly, she turned what she was against into something she was for by changing the language around it, shifting a negative into a positive with beautiful, mind-blowing simplicity. Huh.

There was plenty I was ‘for’ in my life, obviously. But in that moment – and in millions of moments since then that have followed – I realized how much I positioned myself around what I was ‘against’. I was an elementary school teacher at the time dealing with a wild assortment of mind-numbing behaviours on a daily basis. If I took a page out of Mama T’s book, I could move easily from ‘I wish these *insert cuss here* kids would just behave’ to ‘Look at that wonderful kid who’s behaving so beautifully.’ I attached myself to the behaviour I was for. It felt good, really good. I was happier in my classroom. I praised the behaviour I was looking for. And guess what? There was less negative behaviour because those kids wanted praise, not nagging. The nagging (negative) got us all stuck in ‘against’ mode. The praise moved us to a whole different planet. Woah. The inkblot spread. And I have never been the same since.

Here’s the deal for me around this beautiful seed of wisdom:

1. Attaching myself to the negative drains me. It makes me … to state the obvious … an uber-negative gal. I feel grumpy, judgmental and dark. Like my lip is curled in a continual snarl. Like my brain is in a constant smirk. I also tend to lose my confidence in this mind-space and am easily hurt because I doubt myself and personalize almost everything.
2. Attaching myself to what I’m for energizes me. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t jerks in the world or that crappy, awful things don’t happen. It’s not about dismissing those experiences. It’s about not getting sucked into them. Also, I happen to really like myself when I’m in this mind-space. It’s when I am the best version of me.

I’m still not always great at doing this, but attaching myself to what I’m for is a thought that’s transformative for me. When I’m able to do it, it changes everything I perceive. It’s not magic. Because if it was, there truly would be no jerks and crappy, awful things in the world. But it is a tremendously helpful tool for me as a human – a Pisces no less – trying to do her best in this tricky world.

I guess that’s what this whole blog thing will be about. How in the moments when my lip is curled in a snarl and my brain is smirking with judgment at others, I will try my best to shift from what I’m against to what I am for.