Thursday, February 24, 2011

What is My Mother Doing in My Mirror?

I remember thinking about growing old when I was a kid, feeling certain I would be one of those women who ‘grew old gracefully’. By that I meant I would not cry on my fortieth birthday, color my hair or subject myself to expensive surgeries in a pathetic attempt to look younger than my years. I was resolute. Aging is as natural as breathing and unavoidable in the extreme. Of course, I was absolutely certain I would look very much like the stylish older women I saw on TV or in magazines when the time came, and not at all like my mom who later in life was prone to carry weight, avoid make up, and dress very casually. 

After the birth of my second child, the ‘baby weight’ never really went away. But as I had always been slim and athletic, the extra weight didn’t look too bad as long as I was wearing clothes. Two-piece swimsuits were out, of course. Nobody was going to be impressed by my midriff ever again. But I faced my thirties with relative equanimity. After all, you don’t have much time to fret when you’re raising young children, caring for a husband and maintaining a home. When my fortieth birthday came and went without a ripple of emotion, I felt great! I’d done it, fulfilled the promise of my youth – to age with calm and grace.

My forties zipped by in a flurry of graduations, weddings and brand new grandbabies. We also bought a restaurant / fish market, and I can honestly say that owning your own business is one surefire way to make the time fly. Truly, the nineties whizzed by in a blur, but one thing I recall vividly was that I quit smoking at the age of forty-one, right after my first grandchild was born. And each year afterwards, I gained another pound or two, but I wasn’t too worried about it.

In April of 2000, Gary and I decided to indulge in a really fabulous Hawaiian getaway. I was so excited and of course, I had to shop for a new vacation wardrobe – swimsuits, shorts, sun dresses and sandals. I had not shopped for clothes in years so it came as a total shock that I was no longer housed in the same body I’d last shopped in. Nothing fit right. I double checked the tags. Yes, they were tens alright. But the swimsuits were much too small and when did those ghastly lumps appear on my inner thighs? I tried twelves - they were not much better. Ultimately, I purchased the only suit I could stand to look at myself in - a size fourteen low rise with criss-crossed panels in the front and a formidable built-in bra… another complete shock to my system. Exactly when did my 34B’s morph into 36 longs?  The photographs from that vacation were a real eye opener, too. I think – no, I’m certain this was when I started to color my hair.

My fiftieth birthday did not pass as seamlessly as my fortieth. I tried to put on a brave face in spite of my mind incessantly chanting ‘half a century, half a century, half a century’. Gary took me out to dinner at a nice restaurant but I couldn’t relax and enjoy the evening. My mind was consumed with scrutinizing other women in the dining room, especially those who appeared to be close to my age. I wanted to see how I measured up. ‘Does my butt looks as big as hers? My upper arms – do I have bat wings like that poor soul? Oh, now that gal looks good…too good, actually. She’s probably had surgery.’

Surgery! I smiled to myself. Gary smiled back at me. “Are you having a good time?”

“Oh yes,” I replied savoring the mental image of myself after liposuction. “Yes, I really am.”

Well, that was eleven years ago and I have to confess, I was never able to summon the courage to do it. Call me a wimp – but the thought of undergoing surgery just terrifies me. So here I am, fifty-nine years old, twenty pounds overweight, watching my mother emerge in my mirror more and more every day. But I haven't cried. At least, not yet.

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