Sunday, November 1, 2009

growing old gracefully

Not long ago I was at the thrift store trying on clothes.  We don't have any mirrored closet doors, or full length mirrors in our house.  There was one once, in the hall, but the kids' shopping cart clobbered it.  I've yet to get my husband to buy another and hang it elsewhere.

There are around thirty regular readers of this blog, but I only know a few things about a handful of you.  You're a young lot, compared to me.  Anything I say about aging will be foreign to you, no doubt, but bare with me as I try coming to terms with this cruelty.

I used to have a 33-23-33 figure, which was too skinny by some accounts.  Now, skinnier then I've ever been due to the recent illness, my body measures differently at the waist (25.5), but pretty much the same elsewhere.  That said, my current shape doesn't resemble what I lived with for my first 35 years.  Each pregnancy, including the miscarriages, changed it, even though the numbers on a tape measure aren't remarkably different.

As I stared at the body I hadn't seen for a long while, I was shocked.  Varicose veins rendered my once good-looking legs a total disaster.  After this last pregnancy, I even have varicosities high on one of my inner thighs.  No stretch marks, but I'd gladly trade them for the bulging, sometimes-painful veins.

The calf-muscle tone I once enjoyed from frequent gym visits is all but gone.  Walking is my exercise of choice, but it doesn't build or maintain muscle, unless one can do it daily.

There are sun spots, freckles and wrinkles on my arms and hands.  I now have some idea why my 72-year-old aunt never wears short sleeves.

My once perky breasts, full of milk, no longer stand at attention.  They sag, and when the milk is gone, they will be a vision of deflated, wrinkled ugliness.  It isn't nursing that causes the unsightly sag--it's pregnancy itself.

My behind, once high, now hints that it will eventually become part of my thigh.  Perhaps it too sags due to pregnancy, as well as to aging.

My children are absolutely worth every sag, every bulging vein--don't get me wrong.  I don't mean to convey that I got a raw deal.  My heart is full of gratitude that God gave me motherhood.  The gratitude is so deep I can't begin to describe it.

Nevertheless, the image staring back at me was foreign and scary.  I knew it was the tip of the iceberg.  It will get far, far worse in just a decade.

What does it matter?  Why be so vain?  If I felt as old as I look, I wouldn't mind nearly so much.  But I don't feel any different--I have the same energy and strength.  Recently, my aunt told me she felt good all the way up to age 70, at which time she noticed less strength and energy.

As I glance at my young, taut-bodied children, with their beautiful, flawless skin, it feels as though we're somehow transferring our youth to them.  That is how it must be, but how will I hide my jealousy from them, when I glance longingly at their curvy waists and smooth skin?  And how will I avoid hating my own image in the mirror--wanting to run from it?

Husbands are visual.  They can still manage to pour out the complements while we're in our forties, but what about our fifties and sixties?  Will they want to turn away too?  We can lift weights together perhaps, hoping to make the best of what's left?

All is not lost.  During our wrinkled, sagging-skin years, we have our wisdom.  It seldom shows up before then.  We can think we are wise in our youth, but more years will prove we were wrong.   Somehow, I'll need to befriend this scary body, and be thankful for any wisdom that comes my way.

Growing old gracefully, with joy, humor and lack of regret, is high on my to-do list.  I haven't a clue how I'll manage it, but I must.