what no-one will tell you about ageing . . . a rant

I’ll tell you, you sweet taut 20 to 35-year-old who looks at older women with a self-satisfied or dismissive smirk and doesn’t countenance that such a thing will ever happen to you.  I’m not old but I am ageing so I know . . . I can share my experience.  And while this rant is mostly focussed on the body, because that’s likely where your focus is right now, the heart and mind and spirit are all affected.

No-one will tell you that hair will disappear from some parts of your body and appear in others.  The blessing is that you are now in need of glasses so you don’t notice it for the most part . . . that is, until you are out somewhere and you feel a hair on your chin or you spot it in the unforgiving light over a mirror in the women’s toilet.  You will swear to carry tweezers in your bag but you will forget.

No-one will tell you that the hairstyle you want can’t be had because the gray hairs have the most rebellious nature, almost a mind of their own dear little individual selves going off in there own direction as it pleases them, a texture defying any attempt to smooth or curl.  You want sleek as it was in your youth without working for it? HA!  And perhaps you will decide to brave it out and go natural (Why the hell should that be considered brave?) or maybe you will just develop a reaction, allergic or just distaste, and decide against pouring chemicals on your head with any regularity.  Or maybe you’ll continue because you’ll be judged by your graying hair.  Pathetic and small minded as those judges are, they may have control of your potential income.

Wrinkles?  Yes they happen, and the pores of your skin on your face are more visible, your grandchild will be fascinated by your saggy skin so let them touch it, but never, ever, ever place a mirror on a horizontal surface to clean it . . . not ever!  Enough said about skin because the changes are inevitable . . . and if your self-worth is tied to your youthful appearance it’s doomed.

No-one will tell you that fit as you may be, supple and you may be, your body will change shape even if your weight doesn’t . . . and sooner or later bits are going to ache if you sit still for too long.  My advice is to simply keep moving.

Strength diminishes unless your lifestyle remains the same and for most, it changes because we have so many labour-saving devices . . . I used to have a push mower, use a hand drill and now I’m thinking I might need a skill-saw.  No-one will tell you that sooner or later some lids on jars will not come off even if you employ all the tricks you know and you’ll be tempted to go and get your electric drill (I own two), and take to it with a vengeance because you’re damned if you’re going next door just so you can have artichoke hearts with your crackers and blue cheese and besides, it’s 2:00am and you can’t sleep!

Sleep is something no-one will discuss when it comes to ageing . . . when your body wants to sleep you will and it doesn’t matter a damn whether you want to or not.  When you want to sleep . . . that’s another story.  Maybe you will and maybe you won’t.  I sleep like a baby; I fall asleep quickly and wake up every few hours.  I’ve always thought ‘sleep like a baby’ was perhaps the most ridiculous saying ever.

Your feet . . . comes a time when not only do you see the sense in keeping your feet flat on the ground . . . you can’t wear heels anyway as you feet just won’t stand for it.  Personally I would like to be barefoot all the time, socks in the winter, jandals (thongs) in summer and my old favourite boots in winter (they’ll die soon and then I’ll bury them with full honours, bugle at dawn, flag at half mast).

No-one will tell you that inside your body things have changed drastically even if you have retained stunning good health.   For me, menopause was so long ago that it’s just like a bad dream.   You know, one of those nightmares where you wake up and the emotions just won’t let you go?  Your heart is thumping with fear or you’re so anxious that you’re almost frozen.  Well, twenty-um years later I still have a hot flush with coffee (I have a 3-a-day habit and I love the stuff strong and black, unsweetened) and red wine is drunk advisedly because I know how I will sleep . . . hot and restless.

Skipping . . . yes skipping.  There will come a time when you realise that what you did all the way to school and home again is just so damned exhausting!  When was the last time you attempted to skip?  DO IT!  DAILY!  In the privacy of your own home, or on a deserted beach which is my preference, if you must but do it!  Why? Because sooner or later you will lose that spring in your step.  Honestly, this phenomenon really happens, one day you jump down off something quite low and you realise the bounce didn’t happen.  It vanishes somehow, somewhere there are a lot of bounces waiting to be reclaimed . . . they were ignored and took off to find new owners.

No-one will tell you that you will become more sentimental, that little things will have the power to move you to tears and that the sound of young children laughing is the sweetest thing in the world.  No-one will tell you that as your body deteriorates and your thinking slows, even though your intellect remains intact (so don’t you dare think that because someone needs additional thinking time or forgetful they’re not as astute as ever!) your heart, your spirit, call it what you will, will enlarge and your capacity to love those near and dear will remain untouched.  You will regret that you didn’t call your parents and grandparents more often.

Now don’t get me wrong, even with the inevitable changes you will continue to love and honour your body as much as ever.  (You do, don’t you?  Something damned wrong if you don’t because it’s going to house you for a long time.)  You will still feel the thrill as a soft warm breeze caresses your skin, yes even that flabby stuff you used to call finely toned triceps, and appreciate where it can take you, and the skills it holds in its ancient muscle-memory.  You will continue to make demands on it, nurse it when its sick and curse it when it lets you down but mostly, you will love it.  It allows you to say I love you and to touch and cuddle and listen to music and laugh and cry and laugh some more.  Love it, better still, respect it . . . every tiny part of it.

So there you go you taut 20+ year-old.  And why has no-one told you?  Because you aren’t interested . . . yet.  You’re busy taking your youth for granted and perhaps feeling a tad superior to us ‘wrinklies’  however if you want to hear about your mind, how every time you forget something you wonder if there’s more to it that there was when you did that exact thing when you were 20 and question if it happens more often, well ask someone.  I’ll give you an honest answer if you ask but it’s purely from my perspective, no longtitudinal studies here, no polls, just my experience.

Now I think I must point out that today is a brilliant sunny summer day, birds chirping and all that, I’ve been for a walk and I’m about to water-blast the fence so I can paint it . . . I love my body but I’m tired of all the put-downs, some incredibly subtle, others blatant, and the elevation of youth as an ideal.  It’s fleeting . . . if you’re lucky.  Youth lasted a short time when I look back at it and I think I have about a thrid of my life to go still.

The fence behind these gorgeous blooms needs a coat of paint . . . and I needed and image for this post. Wendy @ the Late Start Studio

The fence behind these gorgeous blooms needs a coat of paint . . . and I needed and image for this post.
Wendy @ the Late Start Studio

Yes we have role models, mostly carefully made up affluent women who perhaps won’t leave the house unless they’re dripping with make-up and certainly styled for that photoshoot where the images will be cleverly photoshopped and airbrushed.   Let’s get ourselves our there, barefaced or with make-up doesn’t matter . . . let’s just get out there as we were in the 60s and be loud and proud feminists . . . our sons need it just as much as our daughters.

A little disclaimer here: my mother was still ‘getting old’ at 96, she was not allowed to work as a young woman, “Ladies don’t work!” was what she grew up with, but she owned a library, was a pattern-cutter in a knitwear factory, could mix concrete, swing a hammer, use a crowbar with devastating efficiency, and the first thing she did when she moved house at 95 was to plant beans and tomatoes.

28 thoughts on “what no-one will tell you about ageing . . . a rant

  1. All of this is so true. We think of anyone above 50 as useless and old-fashioned. Until we get there ourselves. All those smirks and calling older women “honey,” and demeaning them. Well, it won’t stop until the smirkers are too old to realize they’ve moved on, too.

    • I was in a clothing store that targets a ‘younger’ clientele and was asked by a rather supercilious assistant who I was shopping for in a manner that led me to believe it couldn’t possibly be for me. Although it was for me I replied with a smile that it was for my elderly mother. The look was priceless and I think she understood the lesson.

  2. A well written dissertation on ageing Wendy. I think the shock is the reality of the fact that we are getting old or we are old is hard to face up to and saying to ourselves, “Yes. I am getting old.” For many of us it’s the physical metamorphosis of our bodies, mostly from the neck down that rings a few alarm bells!! We still have our faculties; we think young; our brains continue to work well – comprehension is great and our brains still takes us on great journeys of discovery, interest and satisfaction. As you say, it’s the physical changes to our bodies, both internally and externally that almost daily, we find ourselves making a new discoveries, and then we think but it was only yesterday I was doing this and doing that, raising a family and doing a great job with our resective careers. I think I was around 35 that the reality of getting old in terms of my chronology was a reality. As the kids grew older and Tricia and I were very involved with so many of their interests and activities and the fact that I was getting older wasn’t of great concern. As a teacher, P.E. was a strength in my teaching and I participated in most of the activities I presented to my classes. The big shock came when I was at RIS and still trying to be half my age and tearing around like a mad thing and nearly breaking my arm racing against Anna H on sports day and ending up in he medical room! For me, the onset of chronic arthritis when I first came back to NZ also did a lot of heavy underlining of the fact: “You are getting old!” In saying that, arthritis affects people at almost any age but with the help of medication I am in a pretty good space. “In the twinkling of an eye” has become a stock phrase for me over the more recent years especially when I see and hear the younger generation putting “old people” down. Their day will come.

    • It’s inevitable this ageing thing. It’s a natural process but so many young people waste their youth, which grieves me, and would deny us our dignity now we have left ours far behind. They can’t deny us our dignity unless we hand it over and I don’t think either one of us are likely to do that!
      I think we have lived and are living rather wonderful lives my friend.
      By the way, I editted Anna’s last name to simply H.

  3. I know what mean by the sleep factor, I can be reading or watching something and “bam”, next thing I know its 30mins later and had an instant nap !.
    I get asked by ladies at work, why I don’t dye my hair as I’m going grey – as far as I am concerned I have earnt every one those lovely strands of moonlight tint.
    I am finding that bursts of energy are precious and should be used !

    • Welcomed and used!
      (And perhaps I need point out to those who read these comments that yes, my daughter does not fit the 20-35-year bracket and nor has she ever fitted the ageist profile . . . maybe as a teenager but teens see anyone over 30 as ancient.)

  4. Love this post. Particularly funny because I tried skipping not long ago and realized gravity must be much stronger then in my youth. I love being older but miss my spring. I also have been noticing much more ageism in my old age!

  5. Everything changes shape as you age. Funny old thing…life. Still so glad to be very alive with so much more fun to look forward to though.

  6. Ah Wendy you are a marvel! Your words ring so true- my 50+ body creaks and pops, aches and sags! I wonder if the years of gym-ing has sped up the onslaught of arthritis?! As for skipping I attempted to jump up a step with my 2 feet together and found I could not!! It worries me but maybe it means I am finally grounded.

  7. Oh ho! I remember a friend moaning about what childbearing had done to our bodies … poor us! Little did we know what lay ahead.

    These days I revel in my gray hair … am letting it grow long as it was in my youth, in fact. I don’t sit on the floor when I can help it, but I can saw dead tree limbs with the best of them. It is my greatest pleasure not to “act my age,” but to have fun doing whatever I wish to do.

    So thank you for this clear-eyed view of our reality. Sadly, there are all too many downsides (my husband and I have both experienced ageism in the job market). I’ve decided being gleeful is the best revenge in the long run.

    • The upsides come from our acceptance of us and the downsides from others it seems. Here your age does not have to go in your job aplication and a prospective employer cannot ask or not employ you because of your age . . . sadly many still discriminate however others welcome experience.

  8. Great post such a good description of growing older. I am quite happy being older, quite happy with the grey hair I just wish I could still lose weight easily and that my joints were a little less painful but otherwise I have found it quite a freeing experience.

    • Apparently all we need do to lose weight is eat healthy food and move more . . . would that it was as easy to do as say! I do know that when I move more I am less still in my joints. Just as well we have a beach nearby!

  9. Only one solution to growing old and no one seems to want that! Worst experience, when you see your mother in your mirror . Personally I have given up make up and dying my hair and I am perfectly happy with it.

    • Yes, the alternative to growing older has nothing to recommend it. No dyed hair for me but I do use a little eye make-up . . . I fill in the gaps with an eyebrow pencil and wonder why my eyebrows have gaps when I never plucked them.

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