I had a photo taken recently, just a head-and-shoulders, taken in natural light. A little something to update my LinkedIn page. And, looking at it, I realized something…I look my age.
This is not a terrible thing, of course, there is nothing wrong with looking your age. It’s just that without deluding myself, my face could cheat a little. I used to hear it all the time, “You look too young to….be a grandmother, have cataracts, remember the 60s.” They say that mirrors don’t lie, but mine does, its kind light filling in all the little crinkles and wrinkles and throwing a camouflaging shadow beneath my softening jawline. But a photograph is proof. I am looking my age. I am getting old, not just older.
There’s more reminders. A news report describes someone younger than me as “elderly”. A visit to my employer’s Pension Fair reminds me that my retirement age, once soooooo far away, is approaching. Rapidly. I stopped colouring my hair last year, wondering what my “natural” colour would be. It’s grey, a kind of pewter rather than silver, but grey it certainly is. There’s a shortness of breath when I attempt to climb a long flight of stairs, a reminder of the pneumonia I had in the spring that does not go away. I am too tired after a full day’s work and two hour-long commutes to go to the gym, or a concert, or the movies.
It seems to me that youth is inherited at birth. And you ease into middle age; the male gaze slides over and around you rather than lingering, people seem more willing to help you out, and you realize well, that’s over. But old age seems like a decision. You accept your grey hair, you opt to take the escalator more often, you make plans to retire.
And that’s the rub. I have been working for over 40 years. When I had small children I worked for them. Other than the child-bearing years I have held paying jobs, and all of that comes with its own regimen. Your days are nicely laid out for you, even your weekends are defined by the fact that you are not working for two days, it’s your chance to catch up on everything you didn’t have time for during the work week.
But just thinking about retirement…day after day with no one telling me what to do, no duties arranged in a never-ending list. It’s disconcerting. And even the flexibility we have now to retire at age 55 or 60 or 65 or 67 and-a-half or 70 is stressful to think about.
I don’t have any big plans for retirement. We want to travel, but there are no solid plans, just a general wish to do so. I haven’t put off writing a book, or getting a degree, or taking up flamenco dancing, waiting for my retirement to get it done. My children and grandchildren need and want my help, but that’s not a full-time gig, they are quite independent and want to stay that way.
So I have decided to approach old age the same way I would any new challenge — by learning all I can about it. The more I learn the less intimidating it will be. And I’ll be ready to face it. With this face: