Guest Post: Forty

by Libby

(On a three-child-induced career sabbatical, Libby spends her time sewing lavish Halloween costumes, reading, and volunteering on the board of her daughter’s cooperative preschool. She lives near Boston.)

I got a pedicure today. This is actually a pretty big deal, because my husband gave me a $120 gift certificate two years ago for my birthday with the idea that I’d get a manicure a month for a year. I’d used it exactly twice before today. Life, you know?

But we had a friend come for lunch today, and she’s pregnant, and since she’s someone we knew from Pittsburgh and we haven’t seen each other for five years, I thought, “Hey, let’s go get pedicures!” Totally on a whim.

It was fun. We chatted and caught each other up on things and talked about who was living where, and why, and I now have kind-of-iridescent green toenails. And while we were waiting for our toes to dry we got neck and shoulder massages from the ladies at the salon, which they do extremely well.

What wasn’t fun, though, is that the woman massaging my neck and shoulders and head (ooooooooh, it felt good) started fishing around in my hair and then yanked out a piece of hair. And handed it to me. And then she went after another one.

They were both grey, of course. Grey and curly, so they kind of floated around my head and wouldn’t obey a brush. I think she figured she was doing me a favor by plucking those unsightly bright silver crazy hairs out of my straight dark brown bob. But I’m kind of annoyed by it.

I’m turning forty this summer. FORTY. Instead of dreading it and having a midlife crisis and needing to buy a flashy fast red car (been there, done that) or have plastic surgery (please. I’ve had enough surgeries and can’t imagine why anyone would do it on purpose) I’m actually looking forward to it.

Why? It isn’t because I think I’ve figured everything out or because I’m glad to put those pesky thirties behind me. I don’t have much of anything figured out, and I’ve had a grand time in my thirties (if you take out the three c-sections and all fights with my husband). It’s because I really, really like how forty looks.

It’s true. I want to be a crone someday. I want to be the lady who can say pretty much anything in Relief Society and get away with it. I want to be able to tell younger women, “When I was your age…” and recite a litany of archaic injustices that they’ve never heard of. I want people to say, “She’s aged well,” because I’ve actually aged. I want to be one of the old-timers at the Exponent II and Midwest Pilgrims retreats who has been through the polygamy debate, and has had her years of outrage at the state of women’s rights in the church, and has fought with a couple of bishops about what will and won’t be taught in Young Women and Primary, and pretty much has her stance on life figured out. Not her whole Life-with-a-capital-L (what fun would that be?). But I’d love to have a set of thoughtful, well-worn responses to the stupidity that masquerades as politics and tradition in this world. I want to perfect the raised-eyebrow thing that my mother does, the one that stops fourth graders and unpleasant neighbors in their tracks. I figure forty is a good step toward cronedom.

Of course, this involves grey hair. And progressive lenses in my glasses. I’m hoping to get those next month, as a kind of pre-birthday present. (Also, my close-up vision is so bad right now that I have got to do something about it.) It also demands shawls, and very comfortable, very well-made shoes. I fell in love with spectator pumps when I was about fifteen, and I’ve been waiting for years to be old enough to buy a pair and wear them non-ironically. I think forty is the magic number there. And wrinkles! I love looking in the mirror and seeing my mother’s and my grandmother’s faces developing there, the sarcasm lines around the mouth and the lined forehead from raising one eyebrow. It’s a really cool face.

Forty is the age when you can wear clothes from the back of your closet that are back in style. Forty is when you can take your lawn chair to concerts in the park and sing along with the oldies band (because they’re singing songs by U2), and take your twenty-something friends for pedicures, and announce to the whole world without saying a word that you aren’t going to dye your hair until a really fantastic shade of old-lady blue comes along. This going to be such a good year.

What do you love about getting old?

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22 Responses

  1. X2 Dora says:

    Instead of facing an army of well-wishers, I ran away to Paris for my birthday month. A month of French lessons, picnics with Eric Kaysor baguettes, chateaux, open air marche’s, amazing restaurants, and all things Parisian. And lots of thinking about life. Past. Present. Future. It’s not much like the life I pictured for myself at age 8. But it’s precious, and filled with good things. And while I also loved my thirties, like you, I’m ready to embrace a new decade. I’m ready to peel back more of the layers. I’m ready to enjoy life more deeply. I’m ready to speak more frankly. I’m ready to wear more purple.

  2. KaralynZ says:

    I too, have always wanted to reach that status. The venerated Crone.

  3. Caroline says:

    One thing I love about aging: realizing that people don’t care about how I look. As a teen and as a twenty something, I wouldn’t leave the house without makeup. I was convinced that people were looking at me all the time and evaluating my clothes, my hair, my face, etc. I was hyper aware of my physical self, and that was stressful. It’s liberating to know now that that stuff really doesn’t matter. I wish I could have told that to my teen age self.

  4. DefyGravity says:

    So I’m one of the twenty somethings, but I love this! That’s how I want to approach life, instead of worrying about getting old. you are completely awesome!

  5. The reason crones can get away with saying pretty much anything at RS is because we no longer care what people think of us.

    • Libby says:

      I think I’m doing that now, Ann, but I think with more gray hair I’ll get fewer looks of disapproval. (Looks of pity instead, perhaps?)

  6. Diane says:

    “It’s true. I want to be a crone someday. I want to be the lady who can say pretty much anything in Relief Society and get away with it.”

    I know you mean to be funny about this, truly, I do, but on the other hand, no you don’t want to be one of those old crones who say what the heck they want to say regardless of people’s feelings. I became the target of one of those women and had sit and listen to her be verbally, emotionally, and spiritually abusive to me and wonder why the people around me did nothing to stop her. It was one of the reasons why I had my name removed from the church.

    Its really not funny. Gave me an anxiety attack just reading that sentence,

    but, happy 40th birthday

    • Libby says:

      Diane, I’m really sorry somebody treated you that way — and also that no one stepped up to stop it. Moderating high-emotion exchanges in RS is one of the things I try to do now, and I’m hoping to have more success with it as I get older.

    • amelia says:

      I think there’s a difference between saying whatever you want because you don’t give a damn who you hurt (which is what sounds like happened to you, Diane; I’m so sorry you had that experience–no one should have to put up with such verbal abuse) and saying what you think about things honestly because you no longer feel the need to be careful not to say something others might judge you for. In other words, it’s not okay to be someone who says hurtful things. No matter who you are or how old. But it is very liberating to find a place where you can speak your truth, and can defend those who need to be defended, without worrying about the judgment of others. That’s what I see Libby saying she looks forward to–the freedom from fear of what others might think, not the freedom from communicating responsibly and ethically.

  7. Mommie Dearest says:

    If you want to be a crone, by all means, be a crone. Be blunt about having compassion; there’s precious little of it in this world.

    But I must say, as someone who’s staring down the barrel of mph%dl*xty, forty is nothing. Enjoy being young, dear.

  8. Annie B. says:

    Awesome! Me and my sister have decided that when (not if) we outlive our husbands we’ll be the old biddies that wear large hats and feather boas everywhere and say things that make just enough sense but are just bizarre enough that people wonder if our minds have gone. I actually can’t believe I’m thirty. I don’t think I even considered myself an adult until three years ago.

    The numbers don’t actually scare me at all, it’s feeling old that scares me. I really love my body and all the things it can do. I think experiencing it start to creek and crack will be hard for me, but maybe that’s because I feel like I didn’t really get to enjoy my body as a kid/teen because I was so conditioned to be ashamed of it.

    I have noticed I have at least two grey hairs. I think they look magical.

  9. amelia says:

    I started seeing gray hairs when I was 16. I’ve never pulled one. I’ve never colored it and never will. I love my gray hair. I think it’s beautiful. And when I see a woman who has allowed herself to age naturally, I see strength and independence because she is a woman who has not caved to our culture’s pressures to try to look younger. I’m a fan of staying healthy, of feeling young and energetic. But I think it’s a little ridiculous to idolize youth. And I absolutely do not understand looking at older women and not being able to see beauty.

    The thing I love the most about getting older is getting more comfortable in my own skin–physically and emotionally and in relationships. It’s a work in progress, but I’m just so much more at peace with where I am in life than I was five or ten years ago.

    • Diane says:

      There’s another way of looking at the issue of dying one’s hair, and it has nothing all to do with looking younger. Some people dye their hair because its a quick cheap effective way to give yourself a pick me up. Especially, when your feeling down about something, that has nothing to do with age.

      What ever works, some women like getting facials, (I can’t afford them) Some women like massages(Can’t afford that either) a bottle of dye cost about 10.00 a box, plus tax, depending on the brand, and state where you live.Like I said, its cheap, effective, and at least I’m not stuffing my face with food.

      Aside from that, I fully understand the point that Libby was trying to make, but, I also understand that there’s a fine line and just because I feel that should be able to voice my opinion, I don’t have the right to shove that opinion down everyone else’ throat(just because of age) and because I feel comfortable with myself. The problem with behaving this way in a RS environment is that there aren’t really skilled enough facilitators who when someone does say something that is completely out line who will come straight out and denounce, instead what generally happens(which has been my experience) is that the facilitators will generally have a little lesson plan. This plan of action doesn’t work because the person to whom this little lesson plan was designed for doesn’t pick up that it was for their benefit. The fact of the Matter is that Mormon culture in general just does not handle conflict of this kind of nature and lays the blame on the person who was target as being “offended,” instead of taking it to the person who because of age, and who feels comfortable saying whatever, whatever, that they need to be mindful of peoples feelings.

      • amelia says:

        Agreed, Diane, that we far too often blame the person who is “offended” rather than speaking up and making it clear that there are some behaviors that are just not okay.

        On dyeing hair–I totally understand your point there, too. I’m not suggesting that there’s something wrong with it, or that women who do dye their are less strong or something. Not at all. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a woman who dyes her hair because she likes to change her style or needs something new and a woman obsessed with making herself look a lot younger than she is. I have no problem with the former. I think the latter is problematic for a variety of reasons. And there are, of course, many other indicators of strength and independence than how a woman deals with aging.

        For myself, one reason I couldn’t dye my hair (beyond the fact that I like my grays) is that it would be too expensive. I don’t trust myself to do a decent job of it, so I’d be going to a salon; and, since I’m obsessive about details like roots showing, i’d feel compelled to get it touched up on a monthly basis. So even if I didn’t like the grays, no dyeing for me.

  10. Ziff says:

    I love this post, particularly this bit:

    I’d love to have a set of thoughtful, well-worn responses to the stupidity that masquerades as politics and tradition in this world. I want to perfect the raised-eyebrow thing that my mother does, the one that stops fourth graders and unpleasant neighbors in their tracks.

  11. Holly says:

    I come from a long line of people who express strong opinions forthrightly and directly. Two of my nieces, one of whom is 17 and one of whom is 13, have developed reputations for being “intimidating” because they are not afraid to disagree with people. From my perspective, that has little to do with age.

    But aging is not all about acquiring confidence or losing your looks. Stuff works differently, or doesn’t work at all. Things fail. Menopause can be hard on women. Some of the girls I graduated from high school with a small eternity ago are suffering a lot. I feel pretty lucky that I don’t seem to be anywhere near menopause yet, because the more I read about it, the more I realize that estrogen is actually pretty awesome.

    Even in my extremely long-lived family, it’s a pretty sure bet that I have already lived longer than I have left. If I live as long as my mom, I’m two-thirds of the way done.

    I suspect that I’m not as old as Mommie Dearest, but I agree with her: enjoy being young. I’m not saying that you should try to hang onto your youth unnaturally, but you should definitely make the best of it while you can. You only get to do it once. Whereas if you’re lucky, you’ll get to be an old adult for far longer than you get to be a young adult.

  12. Emily U says:

    I feel like you, Libby. I haven’t had a birthday I didn’t welcome, but I’m only in my 30s so maybe that’s not saying much. I just know at this point that I don’t dread aging at all.

  13. My sister told me a couple of years ago about how here sister-in-law said that when she made it to thirty-something, she realized she’d finally made it to the age that she’d been all her life. Then my sister said she thought I might be the same way. The more I think about it, the more I think she’s right. I make better friends with women with several children than with women my own age. Also, I don’t want to have the partying singles lifestyle at all; I want to stay home in the evenings with a good book or to snuggle. I’m glad that you’re okay with forty. I hope I’ll be okay with the post-thirties, but for different reasons than most people would assume.

    • Libby says:

      You’re reminding me: when I was a very little girl, my mom used to tell people I was three going on thirty. I like what your sister’s SIL said!

  14. Barb says:

    Life really begins at fifty in my experience. There is no excuse to hurt others at any age. I have a lady in my ward who is hurtful. I like to analyze why people do things. This lady is very homely and yet married someone who has been in high leadership positions in vocation and church. She wants to hang onto whatever she has, and what she has is her perceived importance in the church. Therefore she acts the gatekeeper of what is correct. She really made me look foolish one time and no one corrected her, but I am sure they were not happy with her. I don’t let her bother me.

  15. TopHat says:

    I know that the above are using the term “crone” in the modern usage, but I’d definitely like to grow old and be a crone in the pagan usage: a wise woman who cares for her community.

    I think that the aging of women, more than men, is scary because we physically change so much and are walking proof of mortality. That’s a scary thing in our world when youth and growth are honored. Our whole economy and society is about prospering and advancing and gaining, so when we are met face to face with the decline, we want to push it away. But nature needs decline: death can be so very important for new life. I grew up in the midwest and every other year, the prairies in our town were burned so that they could grow better the next year. Civilizations need to fall for new ones to grow. We can’t be afraid of that.

    Cue *Circle of Life*

  16. Markie says:

    It’s funny, when I turned 27 I had a real ‘I’m getting so old!’ crisis. I realized that I couldn’t even say I was mid-twenties anymore – I was firmly in the upper-twenties range and I did not like how close that was to thirty. Now I laugh at that me. Over a decade later, I feel very comfortable with my age and I foresee that continuing as I glide through forty and beyond. I am excited to be a wise aged woman with you (will you wait a year or so for me?), although I’m not sure I have the wisdom part yet. On a different note, I’m completely jealous of whoever it was you got a pedicure with – we need to make that happen on one end of the country or the other (or maybe we can meet in the middle).

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