But in the days just before my 50th birthday I may, may have yelled, “Don’t do anything for my birthday,” to my husband, loudly… and out of the blue … but only once. I found myself staring at my forehead lines in the rearview mirror so long that I also started to obsess about those pesky crows’ feet nesting by my eyes. I did this so often that for a few days, I had to be honked into motion as each stoplight turned from red to green. There are other, more – truthfully many more — embarrassing examples, but I think you get the gist.
Maybe I am just crazy, crazy.
Or maybe I’ve just ‘celebrated’ (more on the reason for the quotation marks soon … deeper neurosis require more time to commit to paper) a milestone birthday. As I’m a privileged, white, American woman, no one is surprised that I’ve lived this long. And, while I’m glad to still be above ground, I don’t think I deserve a lot of kudos for making it to this ‘milestone’. And, while we’re at it, is 50 really a milestone or merely another Hallmark conspiracy to extract money for cards and party favors?
50 puts me past ‘mid-life’, when you think of it numerically and not in terms of how the ‘new 50’ is supposed to look. Seriously, how many people actually live to be 100? There are more years behind me than ahead. Isn’t that thought enough to make anyone – especially the ‘neurotically-inclined’ – act out just a bit? But I’ve known this intellectually for the past couple of years – living to 94 is an exceptional run on this mortal coil.
Bidding 49 adieu is clearly hard for me to do.
“Do you think I should try Botox for my birthday?” “No, Mom, if you do, you won’t be able to say it’s your natural skin. Besides it’s expensive,” my daughter said, suggesting I find cheaper but equally effective creams. Gotta love my little LA girl’s faith in product.
So why did I spend the days leading up to my birthday so unbalanced? It’s been a couple of weeks and I still don’t have an answer – or an actual AARP card yet, for that matter.
Hormones? Maybe. Turns out my gynecologist didn’t retire, so I’ll find that out soon. Mourning the loss of my beauty? Nah, what looks I had have already faded… I am a frumpy mom who never gets a second look… unless I’m being ‘interesting’ – like not stepping on the gas when the stoplight turns green, or asking store clerks to direct me to where I could find Geritol. And yes, the thought that many of you won’t get the Geritol reference makes me feel even older – so much older that I feel no compulsion to explain it.
But now, 10 days into my 50s I’ve realized that while I’m growing older, less firm, slower – the list of indignities does continue — I cannot claim increased wisdom as compensation, as my recent behavior will attest.
I’ve been an asthmatic for 45+ years. So I should’ve known better. But I didn’t.
I sat at home while the rest of the family enjoyed a fireworks display, wheezing audibly as I seethed at my failure to secure a course of steroids to treat my asthma flare up. By Saturday night, the next Wednesday allergist appointment seemed too far away for my lungs to bear. So I drove myself to the Emergency Room.
“I’m happy to drive you, Amy,” my PJ-clad husband offered.
“No! It’s my fault, I’ll drive,” I said, adamantly refusing assistance.
Sucking on an empty “Rescue Inhaler” at a stoplight, I questioned the wisdom of my stubborn insistence that I drive solo in the name of taking responsibility. I willed myself to focus; the hospital was only a couple of miles away and the journey would be a memory in minutes. There are times where it helps not to be present to win. I hunched over the steering wheel – in a position I would learn is called the ‘tripod’ by doctors, because desperate wheezers assume it in hope of opening the airways a fraction more – and worked hard to breath in and out while steering two tons of metal through quiet streets.
Yes, I live in a part of Los Angeles where the streets are quiet around midnight – even on July 4th. I am old.
Predictably, when medical professionals hear you breathing from across the room, triage is swift; a nurse appeared out of nowhere with a wheel chair and whisked me to a treatment room while I filed out the form the security guard had put on my lap.
I was shocked by the lack of firecracker crowds – there were only a few of us under the excellent care of the ER crew. Around four hours later I was released with lungs that could sustain me, and prescriptions to keep them so. As I approached my home around 3:00am on the morning of July 5th, I saw a woman jogging on the road – only in LA, my friends, only in my town.
“No one at the Emergency Room judged,” I noted gratefully to my family the next morning – no one had noticed I’d left the house, but everyone happily noted how much better I was breathing.
“Mom, they’re not going to say, ‘it’s your fault, we’re not going to help you breath’,” said my daughter.
Out of the mouths of babes…. And I think she’s right about the Botox too.
I thought about how I’m supposed to look at 50 in LA, the 3:00am jogger and my thoughts returned to my fast-disappearing youth. But instead of Spanx, Botox and the inevitable depression that comes with comparing oneself to one’s youthful self, I vowed to fight against the march of time by making more doctor’s appointments, eating better and drinking less to make sure that my insides make 50 the new 40, regardless of how I look on the outside…. which might just give me the same number of decades ahead of me as are behind me.