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.