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What I Can’t Stop Thinking About Now That I’m Middle-Aged

I am an (aging) work in progress, girlfriend.

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Alice Mollon
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“Oh, I love your sparkles!” 

What a sweet, bubbly nurse, I thought. It wasn’t the first time someone had commented on my sparkly eye makeup, but it was unexpected and appreciated at this early hour on a Monday morning. The compliment put an extra pep in my step as the nurse brought me back to see the doctor.  

I was at the orthopedic for another cortisone injection to hopefully ease the symptoms of tendonitis in my right hand.   

“Thank you so much,” I said with a grateful smile.

Before I could continue with my next sentence — an unnecessary, probably socially awkward explanation about the specific details of my eye-glitter routine with a nod to how they make me feel young — she interrupted me. “That’s what I call gray hair — sparkles,” she whispered to me. “I think it is so great that you are growing out your grays and embracing them.”  

My heart literally sank to my stomach. I felt sick. Nauseous. Shocked. Disgusted. Overwhelmed.  

I wasn’t growing out my grays. I was simply between hair appointments. To be honest, I had looked in the mirror that morning when I pulled my hair back into a high bun and noticed the patch of gray — the one that sits at my roots, in-line with my left eyebrow — and I thought, It totally passes as blond. No one will mistake this for gray.  

I feel way too young for gray hair. And so maybe my eyes, therefore, tricked me into seeing more blond than gray. But when I discovered that my little patch was indeed noticeably gray, I was not OK with it. The bubbly nurse no longer seemed nice or friendly. She now seemed like she had some nerve. How dare she think this was something to celebrate and talk about freely? This was something to deny. To avoid. To pretend didn’t exist. I want to feel young, damn it! — and pointing out my gray hair was unwelcomed evidence that I am indeed aging. And aging so aggressively that my hairstylist and I can’t keep up.   

What is happening to me? To my body? To my hair? To my mind? When did this start and why was I having such an adverse reaction to this particular so-called compliment? The truth is as of late these moments happen more often than not.

I glance at my knees and all I see are wrinkles that I swear were not there a year ago. When applying makeup, I notice new spots on my face and wonder whether they are age spots or sunspots or liver spots and/or cancer. My cellulite is increasing, and my metabolism is decreasing, and I have all sorts of joint pain that simply gets explained away as “overuse.” But my God, I have so much use left in me! It’s too soon for overuse! I am 43 years young. I feel young every day, but my body tells me otherwise. I don’t know where I was led astray, but for whatever reason, I truly believed that wrinkles and grays and unidentifiable spots on my face would not occur until I was somewhere in my 60s or 70s.

In other words, until sometime in the future that still feels pretty unreachable and far away. And, up until recently, I truly (and naively) believed by that time, I would be totally and completely OK with all-things aging. Now, though, I am facing the hard truth that aging is inevitable. It is here now, and I am not OK with it.

But I can’t make sense of why I’m not OK with it. Why do I resist aging so much? Is it all about the reflection in the mirror or is it more about the fear of life ending before I am ready? What I do know is this: Life goes by way too quickly; and even if you were to promise me 43 more years of life, it wouldn’t seem like enough. I want more life. I want it to slow down, and I want to savor every moment. Perhaps my discomfort with things like wrinkles and grays is an awareness that I didn’t appreciate my youthful appearance while I had it.

A stark realization that everything is temporary, and I had no freaking clue just how close midlife was to childhood. I’m learning that maybe I am just a bit too obsessed with shallow things like looks and wrinkles and hair color, and I probably need to do what my 73-year-old mother has lovingly suggested all along: “Accept aging and all that comes with it.”

Maybe that’s exactly what the bubbly nurse thought I was doing all along — embracing my gray hair, and perhaps that’s the greatest compliment of all! Acceptance can’t be forced, but it can be practiced. And so from this point forward, when that patch of gray pops up as it always does, I shall practice referring to it as “my sparkles.” I will wear those sparkles with pride … at least until I get in to see my favorite hairdresser!   

I am an (aging) work in progress, girlfriend.