We don’t agree on who actually said it, but we do agree on what was said. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but my dad probably made some comment about being old.
“Grandpa!” said Chelsea (my version). “You’re not old! You just look old!”
It took her several years to figure out why we all laughed. She was slightly wounded.
I still remember my father’s expression of amused chagrin. Over the years, my own amusement transformed into something closer to his chagrin. I do my daily ten-minute workout, search endlessly for “hip” clothes, try every length of haircut, carry a modest-sized purse, and maintain a slight tan.
But when I look in the mirror, I just see old—threads of gray highlighting chocolate brown hair, veiny hands, soft skin barely clinging to my neck, and the first sign of jowls. Realistically, there’s nothing I can do about it. Anything I try won’t make me look young. It will just make me look different. And I don’t want that.
Obviously, old is what my children and their friends see, too. I can’t just join a conversation between my daughters and their college friends without being reminded, at some point, that I’m the mom. The more I try to be one of them, the more obvious it is that I’m not.
The funny thing is, my kids seem to think I’m beautiful. They like those shadows of age that enshroud me. My sage appearance comforts them and makes them feel safe.
My children don’t even realize I’m aging, because to them I’ve always been old. To me it’s a new thing, but not to them. As far as they’re concerned, I am who I’ve always been—timeless, the way Bing Crosby and Katherine Hepburn and Debbie Reynolds seemed timeless to me when I was young. Timeless and agelessly old.
Crosby and Hepburn and Reynolds hardly seemed to change through the years, because I never saw them as anything but old, which is how I saw my parents as well. To me, that meant 50. No one really got much older than that.
When I look at old albums of my parents and their contemporaries in their teens or 20s, I still see that glint of ageless wisdom they had in their eyes at 60, 70, and 80. And it comforts me.
Getting old may simply be growing into that timeless wisdom the way you grow into your mother’s shoes. In your mind, you grow up a lot sooner than that. Finally fitting into the shoes is just a formality.
To me, I’ll always be 32. To my children, I’ll always be 50. At least we agree on one thing.
I am who I’ve always been.