Aging Gracefully

27 May

I went home last weekend for Memorial Day to a) spend a weekend with my folks in Jacksonville, FL (since I hadn’t been home since August), and b) help my mother prepare the house for…something. Maybe a move permanently up to Charlotte. Maybe my dad’s retirement from his part-time job as a clinic administrator. Maybe nothing in particular, except general home improvement because the house is in such sad shape and needs a lot of work. We’re not really sure (including my parents, who don’t know quite the next step to take in their lives), but regardless of the reason, I was happy to be home with them. When I go home, I don’t make too many plans or see that many old friends—I really go home just to BE. And on top of that, I enjoy helping my parents work on the house. I like doing projects like this, and I love spending time with my parents, who are unbelievably generous to me on a daily basis. This seems like a small re-payment.

The goal last weekend, amidst the rainy, dreary weather, was to clean out my parents’ bedroom closet, which is huge, and hasn’t been touched in basically 20 years (that’s how long we’ve been in our house since my dad retired from the Navy). We went through old photos (including almost every school photo of me from kindergarten to 12th grade—I need a montage!) and we sorted, threw away or donated so much stuff that it took up a corner of our garage ready for pickup: my flower girl dress from my brother’s wedding when I was 11, my mom’s dress from said wedding (and about 2 bags worth of other clothes), my parents’ love letters (mostly from my dad when he was in Vietnam), about 25 empty dusty shoe boxes, about 3,000 wire hangers, old Navy clocks of my father’s that hadn’t worked in 15 years…mostly old junk (besides the love letters, of course). We also found old videos that my parents converted to VHS, back from when they were just starting a family to when we lived in Hawaii (in the late 80s). When we finished cleaning, we decided to watch one of the videos, taken in 1990 right before we moved back to Florida, when my parents’ best friends John and Karen visited us in Hawaii with their 14-year old daughter Kate. The video is filled with images of all of us going to Waikiki Beach, me helping my dad make breakfast in our house on the Navy base in Pearl Harbor, my sister (in hideous shiny knee-length biker shorts and a Ron Jon Surf Shop t-shirt) avoiding the camera because she “looked awful” after being at the beach all day, and John and Karen’s trip to Maui during their visit. What struck me, besides laughing at how young I was and getting a kick out of seeing video of our Hawaii house (note that my parents still have most of that furniture in their living room today, and it is in SAD shape) was seeing images of my parents from 20 years ago. I couldn’t believe how young they looked, and they couldn’t either. My dad looked great, as he always does (and you wouldn’t know he’s almost 70—he could pass for 10 years younger), but he had so much HAIR. And my mother! My mother was so slim! John is taking video as Mom comes out of the house, laughing and urging him to turn off the camera because they’d be late for dinner (and she also hated cameras—still does). She was all dressed up and wearing the suit she wore to my brother’s wedding, looking incredibly lovely. I was with her when we shopped for that suit, and one of the things I can remember during that time was her constant complaints about how she hated shopping, how fat she was, and how the suit fit a little snug because she refused to go up a size. I’ve grown up with my mother complaining about her weight most of my life, and this shopping trip was no different. We just gave away that suit last weekend, and do you know what size it was? Size 8. My mother, at age 50, was foxy, but she was never happy with her body since she had gained weight after college (and who hasn’t?) when she was a petite size 4. When we saw that video almost 20 years later, she couldn’t believe how beautiful she was, how vibrant and young she looked when she was 50. And she didn’t appreciate it at the time. She just thought of herself as old and fat, when she was nothing of the kind. I think now she regrets all the time she wasted worrying about her weight from age 40 on, time she could’ve spent appreciating the body that she had, the body that produced three healthy kids, moved around the country with my dad, and traveled around the world.

I worry now that I do the same thing as I get older, that I’ve adopted my mom’s negative body image issues now that I can’t eat what I used to when I was 20. But my body is strong and healthy, and if I pay attention to what I put in it, I really have nothing to worry about. And yet…and yet…it’s a struggle. I still have my high school prom dress hanging in my closet at home, a black strapless number with a pearl-encrusted bodice that I absolutely adored. I couldn’t even get that thing zipped up halfway when I graduated from college, just because I hadn’t finished growing at 18. Why can’t we accept that our bodies change as we age, and then love them for those changes? My waist line might have grown a little, but I have breasts and hips where I had none 10 years ago. And in 10 more years, I might look back on this 30-year old body with longing. I want to embrace it now with gratitude—for the way it moves, how it feels, its shape, its curves, its weight, its purpose. I don’t want to waste it, wishing I were the college version of me. In the grand scheme of things…what’s a dimple or a roll here or there? Who really cares in the long run? If no one is as critical as we are of our own bodies, then maybe we should ease up a little. Hang out at home in our underwear. Stop sucking in our bellies. Buy clothes that fit. Get in more pictures! Seriously—no one cares as much as we do. And I’m sure someone thinks we’re adorable just the way we are (as clichéd as it sounds, you know it’s probably true). Enjoy the body you have already! I think this is the right time to start taking my own advice, don’t you think?

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