BECOMING FIFTY Cheri Laser (Written just prior to the birthday—year undisclosed … ) Statement of Fact (SOF): The young

girl I visit in the mirror each day is about to turn fifty. And now we have about three minutes before I stop hyperventilating, which is an improvement. The SOF used to stop my breathing altogether. While appreciative of the progress, I’m keenly aware that preparations are far from complete. This is not a normal birthday, not just another party. Becoming fifty is a full time project—one that must be approached carefully and, frankly, from behind. Until recently, I was able to intellectualize about that age. Scores of women enter the warp every day, emerging intact on the other side. My mom did fine, for example, although at the time I remember hoping that I would look half as good when I was that old. Now my daughter’s friends are saying those same words to me. But I remain gracious, cuddling them with a maternal smile as I wonder what they’d look like without teeth. (“To the moon …” also comes to mind.) Each new phase of my life has generally been welcomed with enthusiasm and with more curiosity than prudence would have suggested. Actually, birthdays number 30 and 40 were two of my favorites and, in retrospect, were two of my best. However, somewhere in between numbers 45 and 49, I developed a sharp, crotchety edge at any mention of the looming age marker starting with a five and ending with a zero. (God help the poor soul who might have inadvertently referred to the pivotal event as my upcoming half-century marker.) All right, so I had a problem. I ask you, though, where was the justice when family and friends suddenly began cooing comments such as, “You looked so young then” or “so thin” while flipping through our old photo albums? (What are people thinking when they say things like that?) For some reason, believing such remarks merited a response, I found myself stating the obvious: The “me” in those photo album pictures was working, going to school, raising a baby daughter and, by the way, was only twenty-four, for heaven’s sake! Then this past spring the postman delivered The Absolute Ultimate Horror (AUH) addressed clearly and unmistakably to me. “Welcome to AARP (American Association of Retired People)!” What? I did not sign up for this. “Certificate of Membership: Three Years/$29.50,” the letter continued to hammer. Someone certainly had a lot of nerve assuming this would apply to me—and how did they know where to find me anyway? Subsequent research revealed that our social security numbers trigger the initial AARP mailings a few months before we turn fifty. Yes, this is a collective we, with every single one of us being on “the list.” However, I soon learned through my panicked research that thirty-three percent of AARP members are not truly retired in the traditional sense. In fact, many of the more senior members still have sufficient energy to make a number of my friends look comatose. Membership, I discovered further, is surprisingly affordable and offers health, life, auto and homeowner’s insurance options, in addition to savings at hotels, restaurants, rental cars, lawyers’ offices, even McDonald’s. What’s more, AARP’s political clout is formidable. "Hmm," I began to think as I shoved the envelope inside a very deep drawer. “Maybe this isn’t my worst nightmare after all.” Clearly, the time had arrived for the concept of becoming a positive fifty to mutate from an oxymoron to a possibility. But through which charmed formula was that going to happen? How do we learn to feel at ease with the conversion, or with the parts of us that gravity has begun to transform? One of my fit-and-trim friends told me last week that the dimples she’d always wanted in her cheeks are now showing up in her thighs. Mind you, this is a woman who works

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out on a daily basis. So what about the rest of us? How do we make ourselves happy about this calamity? Well, let’s begin at the top. Some of us are fortunate enough to have funds for cosmetic surgery (or botox parties), but most of us are not. That leaves the larger group with only a few reasonable alternatives such as wide-brimmed, all-season hats providing facial shading or really big hair offering similar benefits. But we generally end up with the beauty industry, I conceded, noting the assemblage of wrinkle creams on my makeup table. (Where were those IPOs when I needed them?) Thankfully, most of my face still has some elasticity, although I suppose there are one or two worrisome areas. At the moment, I’m experimenting on those spots with a department store goo priced somewhere near my car payment per ounce, but which does seem to noticeably tighten things, from a distance of six feet. I also heard that smearing a lightly tossed egg white over the problem place(s), then letting the application set for twenty minutes, works wonders. I gave that suggestion a try in a Pre-Senior Moment (PSM), and there did seem to be a slight, temporary difference (miraculously without the infusion of salmonella). However, I haven’t been able to eat meringue on top of anything since the experiment. The next point for consideration is, well, the rest of my body. I’ve been warned for years about the inevitable, progressive slippage, which will, if I’m not careful, have me buckling my belt somewhere close to where my knees used to be. This undoubtedly portends the “e” word. I have no difficulty with high levels of activity, since my days are routinely packed with plenty of movement and to-do lists. The issue is answering, “My exercises,” in response to the question, “What are you doing?” or worse, watching a roomful of skinny, highly-paid people demonstrate techniques that frighten me more than math story problems. Perhaps the structured approach is what irks me. I’ve always believed that staying fit should be a natural part of one’s daily habits rather than a separate segment requiring another two hours of time we don’t have in the first place and that costs as much as a new house. As with so many of life’s finer attributes, the resolution to this dilemma was literally at my feet—walking. Just throw on a headset and my jazzy outfit of the day—unless, of course, there’s rain, or snow, or a heavy wind. (Exercising while carrying an umbrella is undoubtedly unacceptable.) Finally, toss in an assortment of vitamins (E, C, B6, Beta-Carotene, Zinc, Tums) and certainly the Wisdom and Inner Peace of Fifty (WAIPOF) will prevail. We’re told that until all of us baby boomers file through the “fifty” turnstile, there will be 10,000 women and men reaching that age every single day through the year 2014! And each of us will need to become fifty with the same individuality (or peculiarity) characterizing baby boomers from their onset. While my own knee-jerk response to the inevitable may have been one of denial and reproach, the truth is that I looked young and thin in those early photo albums because I was young and thin. No matter how much exercise I do from here to the end, my body will never come close to matching those images—and of all the things I’ve been, the one I can never be again is twenty-four years old. A little nostalgia is to be expected, but resistance only beefs up anxiety (pardon the cow reference). As Oprah says, if you’re now a size 12, don’t try to squeeze into those size 8 jeans. Fifty seems to be the same sort of concept. Learning to fit into the healthiest and most beautiful fifty possible is far preferable to looking backwards with a whine or forward in defiance. After all, this isn’t the finish line, but rather the next part of the relay.
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Thankful to have been blessed with the extension, I now eagerly await The Day. My bouts of hyperventilation will diminish, I’m certain. My acceptance will increase, I’m convinced. And the occasion will come and go without anything of value falling off of my body, please God. In fact, this is starting to sound so good that I think I’ll visit McDonald’s on my birthday and produce my new AARP membership card for my inaugural Big Mac discount. They’ll undoubtedly look at me like I’m kidding, though, and ask to see my driver’s license to prove I’m fifty. Wait a minute! Now there’s an idea—fake “50” ID’s for those unfortunately younger baby boomers who lust after my discounts. Yes, indeed. I do believe I’m ready for this. At least, I’m sure I will be by the time my forties are over.

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