It happens at odd times. I’ll look in the car mirror and discover that a few of the hairs above my ear have turned white. Or I’ll do the math and realize that I’ve been teaching high school for longer than my current students have been alive. Or it’ll occur to me that I just spent fifteen minutes of a party hanging out in the kitchen with two friends and comparing notes on our respective colonoscopies.
And it hits me: I’m middle-aged. I am actually middle-aged.
How Did This Happen?
There’s no escaping this reality. I turn 45 this month, which is well past the age that I can pretend I’m in the dewy bloom of youth. But it’s a hard reality to grasp because it seems so far from my conception of who I am. As a friend of mine said, “Doesn’t some part of you still feel like you’re 26?”
I sure do. And weird as it sounds, I didn’t see middle age coming. It honestly seemed to sneak up on me when I wasn’t looking.
Maybe this has to do with the timeline of my life. I married at 29; my first child was born when I was 33, my second at 35. For much of my thirties, I was absorbed in being a mother of littles, the sort of thing that women much younger than I were also doing. It was easy to feel more youthful than I really was.
But then things started changing. My cycles started shifting; my eyesight got ever-so-slightly worse. Jeans that used to fit just fine began to feel uncomfortably tight. The few gray hairs hidden among the dark, which had always seemed like a fun little novelty, suddenly seemed to be proliferating at an alarming rate. I got a letter in the mail saying that it was time to schedule my first mammogram.
So yes: I’m definitely middle-aged. And I’m not quite sure what to make of it.
The Highs and Lows of Being Middle-Aged
I vacillate between two extremes. One is a sort of denial, or a kind of bravado in the face of aging. “Fifty is the new forty!” you hear people say, and that’s an appealing slogan. My license may say I’m 45, but I don’t have to believe it or look like it, right?
And I can’t deny that my first instinct is resistance. It seems to be the norm in our society, with cosmetics to erase wrinkles and dye to cover the gray. The marketing around these products makes it sound like you are a weakling if you don’t fight back; think of the ads that urge you to “defy” aging with eye creams or serums, as if aging is some dragon-like nemesis trying to haul you into an abyss.
But sometimes, at other moments, I find myself surprisingly okay with being middle-aged. When I am okay, it’s because I’m focusing not on the externals of skin and hair and figure but on all the things I’ve gained since that seemingly magical age of 26. It’s a good list. I’ve gained wisdom, for sure. A family I adore. Professional experience. Clearer insight into who I am and what I want.
I also find that I’m now thinking outside the box in ways I didn’t when I was younger. I understand why people talk about mid-life crises; I think there’s a part of human nature that makes us, at every point, want to be vibrant and interesting. And if you realize that you’ve always relied on one particular thing to feel vibrant and that thing isn’t quite so relevant anymore, that’s when you expand your own horizons and habits. There are plenty of healthy ways to stretch our middle-aged selves and be pleasantly surprised at the results.
Time to Do Something Different
For me, it’s happened in my writing. About a year and a half ago, I started a writing project totally different from anything I’d ever done before. It’s been fascinating; I’ve looked at the world through a new lens and have learned a tremendous amount in the process. And I jokingly call it my “mid-life crisis book” because I’m not sure I could have written it at any other point in my life. I didn’t have the experience, for one thing, but I also didn’t have the thirst to shake-up my routine and find a new way to use my creative energy. And the writing of it has been a gift: a surprising, precious gift.
And the realization that I’ve likely passed the midpoint of my life makes me think a lot about mortality. That’s a double-edged sword; it can get depressing quickly. As I age, my parents’ generation ages too, and losing people I love is painful. But at the same time, this awareness of time passing is oddly freeing.
What Really Matters
After all, what really matters, when all is said and done? It’s not the way we look. It is not how cute and young we are. It’s what we do with the time that is given us, to paraphrase Tolkein. It’s about zeroing in on God’s plan for each one of us, and following it. It is also about recognizing that that plan is always evolving and growing just as we are always evolving and growing, and that it may lead us down fascinating paths that we could never have imagined when we were in our twenties or thirties.
It’s about a deeper, stronger, feel-it-in-the-bones sort of understanding that God is with us for the long haul, through every single age and stage.
And with that truth, I can handle anything.
Any other middle-aged women out there? We’d love to connect! Feel free to comment about what has surprised you most about being middle-aged!
Ginny Kubitz Moyer is an author, high school teacher, and mother living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her latest book is Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses. You can find out more about her here.
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