I first confronted aging 18 years ago while standing in a long line at Target with the youngest of my four children clinging to the cart. Out of nowhere he cried, “Mommy, someone drew rivers all over your legs!”
“What?” I questioned, perusing my exposed legs. “Where?” I asked twisting my torso to get a better look at the backs of my thighs, standing like two white birch trunks eye level to him. I caught the expression of the other customers in line trying hard not to smile. Most were simply staring. At my legs.
“There, look,” he said, pointing emphatically, “They’re blue!”
“Oh, honey, those are my veins,” I whispered, glancing around at all the sympathetic 30-somethings in line. “Nobody drew on me.”
“Do they hurt?” he asked as we inched toward the front of the line.
“Only when people notice,” I said, mostly to myself.
He ignored my response, distracted by the bright wall of candy near the register. Finally, it was our turn to check out. I unloaded the toys, the toothpaste, the tissue, the tea towels, and lastly, the tampons, that I delivered with great aplomb, daring anyone to think I was premenopausal. Take that, I wanted to say.
I unloaded the toys, the toothpaste, the tissue, the tea towels, and lastly, the tampons, that I delivered with great aplomb, daring anyone to think I was premenopausal. Take that, I wanted to say.
Just as I began to feel empowered inside my maturing body, I swiped my credit card. The sales clerk smiled, handed me the receipt and said, “Thank you for shopping at Target, m’am.” M’am?! Who are you calling m’am? I wanted to say. I’m only 42! I turned on my tarantula-veined legs, stormed out to our full-size van, unloaded my tampons, my child, and hopped into the driver’s seat, MacGyver style. Was I graceful? Probably not.
Aging gracefully is acknowledging who you are at each stage of life and embracing it with humor. Looking back, I think it’s hilarious that my son thought someone drew rivers all over my legs and announced it in public. Aging gracefully is also saying Why not? instead of I’d better not.
Sometimes aging is an unexpected bonus. When I was training for a triathlon at age 52, I scheduled a physical to make sure I wouldn’t kill myself in the process. My doctor, aware of my training, asked if she could measure my physical age based on fitness.
“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”
She weighed me, took a few measurements, made some calculations, then looked at me in disbelief. “According to this, you are 32. I’ve never seen more than a 10-year gap, and even that is rare.” I still had my veins, of course, but who cared with that news?
I am now nearly 60 — no longer in a 32-year-old body, no longer fit, but not yet flabby. Today, I was asked to be on the board of the ballet studio where I used to dance. As we discussed what my role would be, my mind drifted to what my role had been years ago as a ballerina in numerous ballets. The discussion turned to other board members I may know, like my former dance instructor.
“She’s still teaching, you know. You should take her class,” someone suggested.
I remember when Margot Fonteyn turned 60, thinking how impossibly old that was for a dancer. I couldn’t think of a better way to age gracefully. “I just might do that,” I replied, hearing the crunch in my arthritic spine as I sat up straighter. Why not?
Christine Cunningham is a lawyer and writer who finds humor in everyday life, inspired by her family and former life as a bartender/ballet dancer.