Turning 50 On It’s Head!

Michelle Cox

I am in the shallow end of the pool, feet in the air, one hand on the bottom of the pool, the other holding my nose, demonstrating that I can still do a perfect handstand when the upper half of my body is supported by three feet of water. During a typical summer, I wouldn’t set foot into the neighborhood pool until well after July 4, but the hot, sticky St. Louis weather has made its appearance in early June this year, heating our pool to a lovely bath-like temperature.

 I’m cold-natured and spend most of my life donning jackets in restaurants, movies, malls and grocery stores. So I am among the special population who loves the oppressive heat that blankets my hometown in the summer. With its earlier than normal arrival, I left the comfort of my chaise lounge and waded into the waters well ahead of schedule. But it wasn’t just the weather that enticed me to the summer party early this year. It’s actually the pending arrival of something grander, more intangible, and frankly, unexpected. — My 50’s!

Of course, I technically knew I’d turn 50 someday – assuming that things ticked along as planned. As my Grandma used to say, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise ….“ But my heart and soul missed the memo, or they simply read the subject line and skipped the body of the email because it seemed too wordy, too much to take in and process. “Yea yea, I know. The big 5-0 is on the horizon. I got it. No need to read on and get the deets.”

When I mentioned this to my friend, telling her I’m a little surprised to find myself less than 10 months from my 50th birthday, she summed it up perfectly. “I’m just baffled to discover that I’m not in my 30s. My nose was so deep in what I was doing that I lost my self-awareness.”

That’s exactly what happened. I was consumed with the activities — the busyness — of my 20s and 30s and 40s, and I lost track of my sense of self in regard to the passage of time. I didn’t lose myself – that’s not what I’m saying at all, although I know that happens to some women (and men) as they commit themselves to their spouses, their children and their careers.

For me, I believe whole-heartedly that I was blessed to have been on the exact path I was meant to be on, leading me to the place where I find myself at age 49.

Still, while on that path, I neglected a part of my consciousness that would have gently delivered me into my 50s like a canoe guided by an Indian princess, gracefully floating up onto a river bank. Instead, I feel like I might be slammed into my fifties like an amateur body surfer gets slammed into the beach, sand scrapes on my back, knees and elbows, salt water burning my nose, eyes and throat, coughing and choking and not quite sure how I got there. Somewhere along the way, in the busyness of life, I didn’t nurture the part of me that would have embraced each moment, each experience, milking it for what it could teach me, how it could shore up my self confidence and allow me to wrap my arms around my age-gained wisdom in a big, embracing bear hug.

So I’m being very intentional about the last months of my 40s. Most importantly, I’m doing my best to be present in the moment, purposefully aware of what that moment is offering me and pushing back against fear and insecurity. Which is how I found myself in a handstand in the pool.

I chose not to care that gravity would pull my swim skirt down over my belly, exposing my white thighs dimpled with cellulite. I chose not to worry that I left my hat at home and my soaked red hair would dry in a frizzy, curly imitation of Little Orphan Annie.

I opted to ignore the voices that said the younger, tighter, toner, tanner moms sitting at the baby pool with their toddlers just a few feet away were going to witness all of my handstand antics and possibly pass unfavorable judgment.

Rather, I focused on the sensation of sound disappearing as my head plunged underwater, my ears popping and my hair fanning out around my head. I briefly opened my eyes and saw the sunlight refracted through the water, casting strange shapes on the pool bottom. I relished my daughter’s delight that I was in the pool and took in her smile and the thumbs up that she flashed when I resurfaced, handstand successful.

And in so doing, another voice began as a whisper in my head and then strengthened into a conviction in my heart:

I might have misplaced my sense of self-awareness in the previous decades, and maybe I’m going to arrive at 50 a little baffled to find myself there. But the wave I’ve recently decided to ride – the one that says EMBRACE life – that one is grand. It’s a real groundswell — and better to find myself slammed into my 50s, coughing and choking on a beach with a few scrapes than to sit lazily on a couch of fear, listening to the voices that said “don’t try; play it safe; you’re not good enough; it’s not time; you’re too old; you’re too (insert any number of critical adjectives) fat/weak/unqualified.”

So that’s the basis for these essays. I’m going to share my ride toward 50 and invite you to come along. I hope it will inspire us to think, talk, experiment, reflect, empathize, take risks, support each other (and teach the youngins’ to do the same) and enhance what could be the grandest decade of our lives – as least until we hit our 60s.


About Michelle Cox

Michelle Cox is a wife, mother and professional freelance writer/communications specialist. She’s a regular contributor to stlouismag.com, parent.co and New You inside & Out Magazine and is a word slinger for a handful of corporate clients, as well. A former crime and courts newspaper reporter, she knows truth is stranger than fiction, but she still enjoys crafting short stories, and in 2016 was named a finalist in the Atlantis Short Story Contest. Now she is working on her first novel. She also writes about writing on her website, michellecoxwriter.com, where she encourages other midlifers (not young, never “old") to pick up a pen or keyboard. Michelle lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband and their three children (ages 21, 18 and 8).

4 thoughts on “Turning 50 On It’s Head!”

  1. Loretta says:

    Michelle, you are entering this time of your life with the right attitude. When I turned 44, I too reflected on my life and was astonished that the years had flown by so fast. My children had both graduated from college and were off to a more exciting horizon. Now what was I to do with the rest of my life? That was when I decided to return to college and fulfill my dream of becoming a teacher. Everyone said that I was crazy. That I would be fifty when I graduated…but I decided that I would be 50 anyway and would prefer that I be 50 and have my degree. I surprised the naysayers by earning a BS, a MS, and getting a job as a reading specialist. Those years enlightening young minds were so happy. Like you, I sat on the floor, played games and embraced each moment. A student once asked me how old I was. My answer that I was older than dirt didn’t satisfy her. She said, “my mom is 30, you must be 30.” “No, I am probably closer to your grandma’s age.” “You can’t be as old as my grandma because you like to have fun with us.” Out of the mouths of babes.

  2. Tina says:


  3. Kate Conn (Kathy Coyne) says:

    Hey Michelle! I truly enjoyed reading your thoughts about your turning 50. I SO can relate!! I turned 50 in January, and I have never felt more complete! I made some small changes in my life (no more Facebook, no more saying yes to a million things when I really needed to say no, focusing more on my family instead of trying to please everyone else’s expectations of me and so on…). I ABSOLUYELY LOVE THAT I CAN SAY I AM 50!! Thank you for sharing your journey!!!!

    1. Michelle Cox says:

      Thanks, Kathy. I can’t believe we’re 50!! But how lucky we are! I am also learning that “no” can be a very loving word — loving to my friends, family and myself.

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