On Turning Fifty

So I’ve been fifty for an entire week and so far things are going pretty well.

It didn’t look good there for a while, though, because I inducted myself into my fifth decade not only with a horrible cold but also with a violent stomach bug that had me barfing so hard and so long that I threw out my back.  All that vomit, without even a riotous party to precede it.  I followed the sneezing and coughing and barfing by peeling off a chunk of my thumb when I was peeling carrots for soup a few days ago. Left a lovely trail of blood across the cutting board but I’m pretty sure the scrap of thumb-flesh did not end up in the soup.

Fifty. I’m trying to buy into that whole “you’re only as old as you feel” thing and  “fifty is the new thirty,” but then you know what happens?  Some well-intentioned person says “You’re fifty?” which is meant as a compliment but the tone of the compliment sounds like sweetjesusfiftythat’sfreakingancient.  And that means that what’s really being said is “fifty means one foot in the crypt and for someone teetering on the edge, you don’t look half bad.”

Fifty. It’s not that old (and it’s getting younger all the damn time. Like, hourly).  I mean, there are lots of fantastic women who make fifty look good. Sandra Bullock turns fifty this summer, Michelle Obama just turned fifty, Madonna is fifty-four (sweetjesusthat’sfreakingancient).  I figure that  I’ve ridden buses driven by lunatics, I’m married to a handsome brown man, I’ve even danced to “Vogue,” so pretty much I’m going to age as fabulously as they are, right?

Fifty.  When the things you want down (weight, blood pressure, gray hair) go up, and the things you want up (back fat, boobs, good cholesterol levels) go down. It’s like a whipsaw in here as my body re-aligns itself to its new status as an AARP member (the card, I believe, is in the mail).

Of course, I have no intention of AARP-ing myself any time soon; like the plague victim in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” I have to say “I’m not dead yet…think I’ll go for a walk this afternoon…”  At fifty, I’ve still got an entire lifetime in front of me–it’s  just not quite as much “lifetime” as I had, say, fifteen years ago.

Here’s a thing that’s happened as I hit the far edge of late middle-age (or as that far edge hits me, whichever)–a kind of consolation prize, if you will, for the sagging skin and aching joints:  “fifty” gives you license to ignore the “shoulds.” Probably I should’ve learned to do that a long time ago (see what I did there?), but I didn’t, so now I have.  All those scripts that others want you to follow, all those conventional ideas about what a woman should do or shouldn’t do, all those commitments you’ve made because someone thought it would be a good thing for you to do?  Screw it. You’re fifty. Yes, you have a long time left on this earth, but not so much time that you should spend any of it doing anything other than what you think matters most.  You think Madonna is taking meetings she thinks are stupid? Nope. And you don’t need to wear a spike-encrusted bustier to follow her example (I hope).

So yeah. I’m fifty. And I can almost say that without wincing.

birthday candles

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5 Responses to On Turning Fifty

  1. Suzie January 30, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    Working at a University is the worst for these kind of things, as we know, the students don’t ever get older, only we do. And then we have to put wiser on our side too. The students are so young they just assume you’re wiser. And between you and me, I have two friends just over 50 who are gonna have babies. If that doesn’t make 50 the new 30 I don’t know what does.

    • Deborah Quinn January 31, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

      They are going to be so tired — babies at fifty? Yikes. And you’re right – the students stay the same, more or less, and we just sail further and further away from that island…it’s kind of strange. I am now older than some of my students’ parents (although not yet in the position of having as students the children of former students. I think that would be the day I will retire.)

  2. Veena S. January 31, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    What a beautiful turtle metaphor to our life at 50!
    Just read your article in today’s newspaper and reminded me of my 50th birthday last year…I was so disheartened that day! But life is full of changes and accepting this it’s easier. I feel so proud to say I’m 50 yrs. The silver hair, aching lower back, slower movements and zest, wrinkling skin,are now my friends. I’m proud to have a basket full of experiences, mature view of the world, a dont’ bother attitude creeping in and confidence in my self, once again.

    And I’m still learning. I’ve just begun blogging: http://www.walktomarket.wordpress.com

    Three cheers to the 50th birthday.

    • Deborah Quinn January 31, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

      Thanks for the comment – I love the image of a “basket of experiences!” That’s just exactly right. I’m sure you’re a fabulous sxith-decader!

  3. jamie@southmainmuse February 1, 2014 at 11:44 pm #

    Happy birthday. I’m about six months into my 50s and I guess I’m getting a little easier on myself. The winter does horrible things to your skin anyway and it gets worse each year. I can’t spend my days with greasy palms and continuously slopping lotion on my hands and face. I’m thankful for my health. I’ll leave it at that.
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