I am taking the business of turning 50 terribly seriously. I have dedicated the year since my 49th birthday towards this landmark celebration – an incongruent milestone because the age of my physical body – half a freaking century – and how I actually feel couldn’t be further apart.
My 30s and 40s wore my body down. Migration, motherhood and establishing a new career stress-tested the collagen out of me. Back problems. Heavy bleeding. Anxiety and panic attacks.
But in my 49th year, I feel more girlish than at any time since my 20s. I recently completed an indoor rockclimbing course and was the oldest person by a decade in our group. I’ve started wearing high heels. And I’ve found a lipstick I like and can wear without looking like a clown, a soft brown endearingly named “Flutter”.
In my 49th year, not only have I learnt to live with my big nose, I’ve befriended it. It belongs on my face – finally. I’m relieved I’ve outrun vanity and have never succumbed to the pressure to involve a plastic surgeon in the matter.
I give blood regularly – my iron levels are high because my periods have started missing some appointments, as if my uterus has developed intermittent Alzheimer’s disease.
I”ve stopped colouring my hair. I feel an endearing gentleness to the emerging streaks of white and think of them as my own natural highlights. I met up with an old lover who used the term “slippery slope” about my natural look, which in a previous decade would have made me feel ancient and undesirable, but at 49 makes me think he’s a bit of a dick.
I’ve given up on being radical about anything, so when I’m in the mood, I still colour my hair, but only with products that are body- and planet-friendly. And I’m perfectly delighted when the white grows back again.
In my 49th year, I’ve given up friendships that have been draining me for years. I’ve pulled the plug on people who make me feel like a therapist (without the fee) or a life-support system for chronic help-rejecting complainers. I did this gently and without guilt.
I’ve given up alcohol (but not in a sad, feel-sorry-for-me way) because I realise it makes me feel like shit and I really don’t enjoy it that much.
I do a lot of yoga, without trying to be the best in the class. I’ve stopped wearing anything remotely uncomfortable. This means graduating from bikini to granny panties, and though actually seeing my panties in the laundry basket causes me to wince a teensy bit, the relief and joy of actually pulling those generous, spacious undies up without tight elastic castigating and pinching my belly makes it a happy compromise.
I say, “No thanks, I think I’ll have an early night.” Often.
I have thrown out every single polyester item in my wardrobe.
I’ve gone through 20 photograph albums and got rid of thousands of photographs, only keeping a few, which, when I have time, will be scanned and plopped in the cloud, that lovely virtual space that never gets cluttered. I’ve hired a virtual assistant.
I’ve made a list of every person who has made a difference in my life – old teachers, friends from school, ex-boyfriends – all over the world. People who’ve opened doors for me. And I’m busy handwriting letters to every one of them, expressing deep gratitude. I’m also writing to people I no longer speak to (only a couple) to thank them for the role they played in my life, even if our relationship is over.
I’m reading books on abundance. Everything by Marianne Williamson.
This is the year that I finally got an American publisher for a book I self-published. I was finished with “trying” so all I did was put my best work out into the world and Hay House came to me with an offer. Just at the point in my life when it didn’t matter all that much.
My kids suddenly – and I’m talking never-saw-that-coming whiplash suddenly – outgrew their need for me. Mothering had been a migraine of effort for two decades, and suddenly it left, lifted, like a miracle cure. But a cure for what? For the neurotic need to be needed? It was as if I’d been told, “No more treatment is required – you’re free to get on with your life.”
What shall I make for dinner?” This was always a thought relating to everyone else’s preferences but my own, boomeranged back to me. What did I want for dinner? It was a question so disused, so undusted and locked in the back of the cupboard I struggled to relate to it. That there was a “me” tucked in there somewhere. I’m having to tug it out, wipe it down and assess it.
With my nurturing of others forced into early retirement, I feel oddly bereft, shorn and unsure. I’m still feeling blindly for the shape of myself, clean and whole. Like a newly laid egg.
But as my 50th birthday draws near, I cannot suppress the excitement. I’m planning a ritual. It will involve 50 lanterns. A photo-shoot. And a white dress with goddess sleeves. In the words of poet Mary Oliver, I will become a “bride, married to amazement”. Bring it on.
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