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When I woke up today—on the morning of my 50th birthday—there were two things on my mind: the theme music to Hawaii Five-O and the vision that, physically at least, the journey is all downhill from here, with me riding the brakes all the way.
Over coffee, Frank told me that we were taking a surprise journey to an undisclosed destination. Had he read the dream residue in my mind?
Just in case anyone needs a kid stock-take, my son is now 8 and my daughter 5 years old. There’s a universe of difference between what I think of parenthood now and what my beliefs were 10 years ago, at 40, when I was on the brink of becoming a mother.
As I write this, I’m hurtling down scenic highway #1—the boast of Central California, hewed out of the coastal mountain rock—in an oxymoronic downfall of icy rain, as my computer slaps the passenger door at every bend.
I glance over at his smug smile and think, for Frank’s sake, the mystery destination had better not have anything to do with a romantic Burger and Chili Cheese Tots at Sonic, or an afternoon’s entertainment on a rock-climbing wall.
That kind of thing would take a husband a few lifetimes to live down—and at least a decade or two sleeping on the sun porch.
Still, I made it to the gym at seven-thirty this morning, and tortured my aging and unwilling glutes with a medley of pain inflicting devices—to weigh myself and discover I’ve actually gained 2 ounces—so I can feel like I’ve eaten the proverbial broccoli of the day.
Taking in the trees, rocks and ocean in the drenching rain makes me feel as though I’m on the outside of nature’s washing machine, looking in through the glass window.
And I have the epiphany that perhaps, in his giant Yoda-like aura of secrecy, Frank was trying to send me a message about life, love and the meaning of midlife motherhood.
Lighten up. You don’t know how the story is going to end. Enjoy the unraveling of it. You know, the journey.
With that in mind, I did a little reconnoiter–here are a few significant sign-posts on the pilgrimage of later life motherhood you should know at the 50-year-line:
1. The Fat Facts At Fifty. You no longer lose pounds; only ounces. And if you so much as sniff the handful of candied pecans on your designer-diet salad, you can tape an extra 200 calories to the circumference of your newly rounded ass.
2. The Gym is Just For Show. You no longer lose weight by going to the gym. Whatever you do to your muscles, they are still encased in a layer of fat that could potentially serve up 100 lbs of pork scratchings. You only go 3 days a week because you suffer from advanced maternal-masochistic optimism.
3. You No Longer Care What People Think. However people might judge you by what you wear, how you speak or what you buy at the supermarket, you begin not to care any longer. They haven’t walked in your shoes. And, contrary to what your mother said half a century ago, if you get hit by bus, clean underwear is the least of your problems.
4. Face-sag is subjective. How ravaged by age your face looks depends on what mood you’re in. On a good day, you’re under the illusion that you’ve managed to sucker-punch Time, believing that a good, cheap olive-oil rub really works better than Botox. On bad days—like one had recently—you’re watching the movie Tangled with your 5-year-old and realize you bear closer resemblance to the old bag that stole Rapunzel, than her “real” mother (Thank you Mr and Mrs. Pixar-Disney for reinforcing all of those wholesome stereotypes about youthful motherhood).
5. Being Walter Matthau’s Twin Sister. That’s right. John Malkovich doesn’t know weird. This is weird. Read it and weep. (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/being-walter-matthaus-twin-sister/)
6. “Because I said so!” is passé. At 50, you tell your kids: “It’s because I KNOW SO!.” You’ve been there. You’ve experienced the 57 different flavors of humiliation, disappointment, broken dreams, bloody noses, insults, mistakes, and kicks in the butt the world is going to give them if they don’t take your advice: right here, right now.
7. The Doyenne of Motherhood. Ergo (from #5), what we relinquish (however unwillingly) in youth and beauty, we regain in wisdom and the regard of society for hard-earned experience. It’s something money can’t buy. It’s the knowledge no earthly no university can teach. It can only be learned each day in the House of the Rising Sun, with Time as our Teacher. Take a look in the mirror. You’re graduated summa cum laude. You’re now qualified to teach the young.
8. Age Can Set You Free. Upon turning 50, Oprah Winfrey (God, forgive me for going there!) said that she could now “live fearlessly” (http://www NULL.oprah NULL.com/omagazine/What-Oprah-Knows-for-Sure-Turning-50). Simply because we do know that it’s all downhill from here for the body, most of us accept the truth gracefully. To live in dignity, to exist without fear, is the true state of grace. You begin to ask: What else can life do to destroy me, except death?” And you begin to know all that you are capable of.
9. The Art of Treasuring. Your children, your people, your life. By this time you’ve been around long enough to know what, and who really matters. You’ve lost loved ones, and maybe had your own brush with death. You know that life is temporary, even if you’ve been around longer than you care to admit.
10. The Renaissance of Youth. For centuries, sage writers have talked of age as the return of innocence. You’ve served your time in the Correctional Institute of Hard Knocks. You’ve outlived a lot of those past sins and mistakes, though not much can be done for that David Cassidy/Donny Osmond tattoo above the crack of your butt.
Epilogue: For those who made it this far, last night was Frank’s píece de resistance. Not only did he replace the long lost diamond in my engagement ring, but he took me to the finest hotel on the ocean town where we once camped out in our salad days of romance long ago. Then he took me to the best restaurant for fresh-caught local fish, and got me nicely drunk on Champagne. But best of all, he then took me to the worst bar in town, where moronic patrons stared drunkenly at the dynamic duo playing 70’s covers, and I cried to “Candle in The Wind,” just like the good old days.
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