Today is the second Friday of Lent, and day ten of my Radical Lent: A Poetic Approach to 40 Days in Wilderness project. I had hoped to write a particularly meaningful post to mark this small occasion, but unfortunately could not pull one together. Today’s post is, I’m sorry to say, about wrinkly skin.
But not to worry. This isn’t going to be a long, narcissistic whinge about aging and appearance. For one, I save those for my husband who LOVES to listen to them; second, too many other people have written hysterical, insightful things about this topic (Nora Ephron in I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman, Carol Leifer in When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win: Reflections on Looking in the Mirror, and Anne Lamott on “the Aunties” in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, for example); third, there is nothing new or interesting to say on this topic–looking older sucks, especially if you are married, as I am, to someone who seems to be getting better looking each year (and I say this with spite, not appreciation). And finally, I am 42, old enough that some Botox and Restylane would not go to waste, but too young for REALLY old people, like my dad, to take anything I have to say about aging seriously. Right, he might say, talk to me again after you’ve had your first colonoscopy.
What happened was that a few nights ago I was helping Gabe brush his little corn kernel teeth. He had his yellow toothbrush with the planets on it and his SpongeBob toothpaste, and was standing on his stool, trying to brush but mostly just sucking off the toothpaste. I stood behind him, watching him in the mirror, the gorgeous blue eyes, the sweet round cheeks, and I leaned my chin on the top of his head and said what I always say: “You’re delicious!” He said what he always says: “I’m not food!” and we both laughed, and my eyes traveled upwards from his smooth 4-year-old cheeks to my not smooth 42-year-old ones and all I could think was, “Oh dear.”
My two older sons are unfailingly honest reporters of what they think about their parents’ appearance. They hate Martin’s funky new glasses because they “look like glasses a girl would wear,” and before Noah knew that crow’s feet refer to the wrinkles around one’s eyes, he told me that I had crow’s feet around my mouth. Once, towards the end of my pregnancy with Gabe, I was trying to look stylish by wearing a poncho, and Jacob said, “That would look nice if it fit you.”
There are only three things I know about getting older: 1) I would rather be myself now than at any age I have been up until now; 2) looking older is depressing but getting older is a privilege; 3) “growing older gracefully” has more to do with other people than yourself. As a parent, I feel obligated to model adulthood for my boys not as burdensome drudgery that they will have to bear up under one day, but as a time of possibility and satisfaction, and of freedom from at least some degree of bewilderment, self-absorption, and drama. I do not see this message delievered enough, anywhere.
When my father-in-law told me last summer that his retirement has been the happiest time of his life, something inside me that I did not realize was tensed relaxed. By him sharing his experience with me, he let me know that it was possible–that life could get better, richer, more fulfilling. These are the stories I would like to hear more of. If anyone out there has some, send them on in. Please.
Today’s poem (for those of you who will continue reading, and yes, Darren and Martin, I’m talking to you), is by the New Zealand poet Fleur Adcock, also an editor, and former librarian. It’s called “Weathering.”
My face catches the wind
from the snow line
and flushes with a flush
that will never wholly settle.
Well, that was a metropolitan vanity,
wanting to look young forever, to pass.
I was never a pre-Raphaelite beauty
and only pretty enough to be seen
with a man who wanted to be seen
with a passable woman.
But now that I am in love
with a place that doesn’t care
how I look and if I am happy,
happy is how I look and that’s all.
My hair will grow grey in any case,
my nails chip and flake,
my waist thicken, and the years
work all their usual changes.
If my face is to be weather beaten as well,
it’s little enough lost
for a year among the lakes and vales
where simply to look out my window
at the high pass
makes me indifferent to mirrors
and to what my soul may wear
over its new complexion.
Ah, aging, the perenniel dirge of women over 30.
I like my old self. Through living life in the “yes” I feel like I have earned all those wrinkles and silver hairs. I can be audacious without regret. It is good.
And it is true about our husbands. Sometimes I think other women are wondering what this handsome gold and blue-eyed man with the curley white and grey hair see in this square shaped, chubby old women. Fortunately, we both see beneath these wrappings and the hearts and history glow with the passion of long life together.
I read your post today and this article side by side — http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/magazine/31ecopsych-t.html (“Is There an Ecological Unconscious”), and the tone of both struck me as similar, particularly because the poem that you shared captures the beauty of being in the place that one was meant to be, the “heart’s ease” spoken of in the article.
And my favorite thing about the article is the neologism “solastalgia,” “a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain),” defined by the creator of the word as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’ ”
Sometimes it strikes me how much a word can work as a poem — that is, as “a distillation of experience,” to quote the indomitable Gwendolyn Brooks.
(I’ve been working in her archives all week! At Berkeley! And, just being back on the west coast, my heart feels very much at ease . . .)
Thank you for your beautiful blog posts! I’ve loved receiving them in my inbox each day!
I was just thinking about aging this morning as I touched base with a high school friend who is turning 49 today. This poem really speaks to who I want to become as I age; “to be in love with a place that doesn’t care how I look and if I am happy, happy is how I look and that’s all.”
Thank you so much for sharing, Leslie. I’m really enjoying your blog!
I agree with Joan – the choice of that line speaks volumes as we age….
I got a kick out of your boy’s comments! The “innocence” of youth and the inhibitions of saying what comes into their minds! I think it speaks to the openness you foster in your home. I remember many of those kinds of comments from my daughters…. Style is very thing to pre-teen and teenage girls!
I love reading your posts! Thank you for sharing !
Thanks again Leslie. How to reconcile loving the age that I am, which I do and yet not wanting to age is a ongoing skirmish at my mirror. sandra
I read on one of those women calendars “If you are beautiful at 16, thank your good genes but if you are beautiful at 60, thank your soul.”