I’m so close to fifty, I can almost taste it. I'm pretty sure that in the entire history of the world, no one was ever so excited to be fifty as I am. I can’t wait until the first invitation to join AARP drops into my mailbox. I’ve already had a couple of brushes with being considered a “senior”. Once, at Dunkin Donuts, when I thought I was looking particularly bad-ass, the server offered me the Thursday discount for over-sixty-fives, and last summer I was given a senior pass at the county fair, without even being asked. By then I’d learned to check my ego, take the discount, and assume I must look pretty awesome for a woman in her sixties.
I’ve been desperately excited to be in my fifties ever since I hit my forties, because so many women have told me that it’s a damn fine decade to be a woman. The take no shit decade. The deep self-discovery decade. The decade of true acceptance, and no longer trying to get the body you had in your twenties, but loving the body you have now. In the spirit of celebration, investigation, and preparation, I’ve been practicing. Dying my hair gray. Wearing less make-up. Telling younger women that life just gets better, and that they should also be wearing less make-up because they have no idea how gorgeous they are. It’s all the same stuff my mother and her friends told me, wisdom I didn’t listen to then, but which comes back now, in crystal-sharp relief against a blurred backdrop of youthful self-absorption.
The last time I felt this sparkly about life, I was five years old. Being five was fabulous. I was smart, precocious, had zero anxiety, and was cheerfully, relentlessly curious about everything. I was five years old when I began having deep conversations about life with other five year olds. When we started noticing and questioning ideas in a more existential vein, but without the angst. We could ponder infinity at the edge of the playground, then run to play on the dead tree that looked like a spaceship, flying off to find new worlds, broken shoe laces and scuffed toes trailing in the wind of our imagination.
At five, the only thing that bothered me was the possibility of someone stealing my favorite outfit from the dress-up box at school. I don’t remember worrying about anything else. I was confident. I knew exactly who I was, I knew I had a place in the universe, and I knew I was going to be a writer. And a nurse. And a teacher. Possibly an astronaut.
It’s becoming like that again (minus the plan to be an astronaut, and any concern about the dress-up box, because now I can buy my own clothes, and damnit, if I want a sky-blue princess dress with sequins, I’m going to have one). I’m so interested in life again, without the plaguing anxiety and self-doubt of the years between five and fifty, and with the added benefit of the acceptance I developed during the gut-wrenching self-realizations of my forties.
Realizations like the shock that youth is behind me. My priorities have changed. My desires are more durable. There’s a lesson in every loss. There’s relief, and there’s also a pang, a sharp-pointed pain of “I’ll never”. As much as I love who and where I am, acknowledging the loss is part of the deal. Being an astronaut is out, as is being a young prodigy at anything. Whatever remarkable feat I accomplish now won’t be accompanied by awed disbelief at how young I am to have accomplished it. I will never appear on a “40 under 40” list or even “50 under 50”, and I don’t think magazines bother with a “60 under 60 list” although perhaps they should. What’s that all about? That we should expect more of people as they age? That we shouldn’t applaud their achievements? Isn’t it more of a challenge to achieve as we get older? And yes, I know every so often there’s a story about someone who learned to play the trumpet at ninety years old, but doesn’t that imply the pendulum of expectation has swung back the other way? The very young and the very old aren’t expected to have the capacity or the motivation to achieve anything, really. And at some indefinable point do we assume people wind down completely, unable to tick, even before their final tock has sounded? What kind of patronizing message is that to the guy who learned to play the trumpet? “We’re so amazed you’re still capable of anything, we’re making it front page news.” The real news is, he probably doesn’t give a damn what they think. He just wants to play the trumpet.
I digress. Maybe it’s my age. Except it’s not. I digressed when I was five too. All those thoughts, followed by other thoughts, flying down newly discovered paths, being dragging further and further and around and around, until there’s nothing else but the giddy delight of spinning like a top just for the joy of it, no thought of who’s watching or what they’re thinking. Simply not caring, because it’s fun, and being fifty is about having fun, and play is the fun part of learning and exploring and experiencing, especially if you’re wearing your very own blue princess dress with sequins and piloting a dead-tree-spaceship into parts unknown. That’s what being fifty is like. Enjoying being here, right now, and trusting that it gets more beautiful, more fascinating, more fun. When I celebrate being fifty, I and my five year old self are celebrating that after forty-five years of research and development, deconstruction, disintegration, and dismantling, I know who I am again. I’m back, I’m flying, I’m fifty, and I’m fucking fabulous.