So here’s what I think happened that resulted in such a disconnect between hitting 50 and actually feeling like I hit 50: I’m not there. Simply. Not. There. In my head, I’m somewhere in my 40s, I think. It went like this: I was born in 1962, did all the things kids did in the ‘60s – outside at dawn, back at dusk, walked two miles to school in the snow with Wonder bread bags in my boots, uphill both ways, blah blah blah – and many of the things that most kids did in the ‘70s – permed hair, bell bottoms and gauze tops, listening to Deep Purple and Frampton Comes Alive. The basics. And then I discovered drinking.
Drinking pretty much took me through the ‘80s, and let’s just call that my Lost Decade. College, sport dating, extended career in the restaurant industry, etc. Our generation was, I believe, the first to discover that the brain isn’t fully developed until 25 – or at least it seemed we were the first to take advantage of the information. By the end of that decade, however, I’d had enough; I came up for air, shook myself off, went to grad school, earned a black belt, met the husband, had the kids. And said, “Okay then! Look at all I’ve accomplished – and I’m only 29!”
But of course I wasn’t 29, I was 39. I don’t know where everyone else’s 20s went, but mine, if I were to go looking, would likely be found at Shifty’s on Burnet Ave. So that’s part of the disconnect.
The other part, I think, is based at its core on my childhood belief system. When I was a kid, with all due respect to my parents’ generation, 50 was pretty fucking OLD. When I heard of people dying and someone said, “Yes, poor thing was 52,” my narcissistic youthful brain would process it as follows: “Well, sure. Because that’s old. People hit 50, they retire, they die. That’s how it goes.”
I hear of someone dying at even 70 these days and cry, “No! Too young!” not because I’m creeping closer to that age, but because with medical advances in my lifetime alone, we’ve seen the life expectancy climb exponentially. Logically, when people often live to 100, 70 is young. Logically 50 is truly midlife, a concept I have to grasp so I don’t blow these next few decades … and with a good therapist, I’m sure it can be done.
But there it is – the disconnect between being my age and what I THINK of being my age. In my mid-50s now, it’s like a kick to the shins of my reality. “WAKE UP!” the kicker said. “WE’RE HERE!”
And “here” is this somewhat curious spot: I am young enough to be planning a trip to Alaska with my teenage son. I am old enough for AARP. I am young enough to wonder if the young men in the mall were looking at me or my teenage daughter, and old enough to know the answer. Young enough for another complete career, but old enough to feel completely lost at the thought of starting something new. Why? Because I never really had a Plan B. Because on some level, in my head, 50s were on the downswing to death. Yet here I am, feeling great, wearing my son’s American Eagle khakis (don’t judge me. They’re clean, and he’ll never know) and reveling in acne-free skin for the first time ever.
Those blasted ‘80s. That’s where I went wrong. And not just with the shoulder pads.