We remember what it looked like for our mothers and grandmothers. Or maybe we weren’t paying close attention. Like most things, age takes on more significance when it happens to us.
Anyway, there we were, sitting on a sun porch in northern New Hampshire, a small group of women who had made the passage into the mysterious fifties. The sun was setting and a soft breeze had come up. The conversation broadened and deepened, and we shared many things.
Some of us had lost our parents and were speaking about the existential experience of feeling orphaned, missing the net that parents provide us, even as adults.
Hannah talked about her father, a writer, who left behind rich documentation of his later years. She has realized a newfound appreciation for all her Dad had experienced.
We talked about feeling dismissed and overlooked, despite obvious skills and talents. Laura related the dilemma of trying to find work and confronting ageism. She proclaimed her desire and energy to start a new career at fifty-seven. “I feel the ‘postmenopausal zest’ and need a place to put it,” she said, referring to Margaret Mead’s affirmation about the power within older women.
And we all recognized the unexpected and unsettling sense of invisibility.
Cecilia told the story of her experience with airport security following her knee replacement surgery. “They never even looked at me, let alone scan me. I am so damn benign. I am like a dumpling of a pudding granny-lady. How did this happen?”
The group imagined various crimes we could pull off as rounded, benign fifty-year-old women.
Someone brought up the episode of Frankie and Grace, where Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda can’t get the young male cashier’s attention. So they steal a pack of cigarettes to smoke while they console each other (and pee a little).
Yes, we talked about peeing.
And we shared other things about our bodies. It seemed as if they had changed overnight.
But when we looked back, we realized that the flirtatious looks, raunchy comments and successful shopping at the Gap had stopped years earlier.
So how did we feel about these changes to our bodies?
Some of us felt scared. Losing sexuality left us feeling vulnerable and uncertain. Others felt relief and saw opportunities to be noticed for other assets. Some said the playing field had been leveled and they no longer felt left out of the “pretty “game.
The conversation eventually moved into areas of purpose, spirituality, and destination. Were we going to retire soon? What would that look like? Do you golf?
And then there was the topic of children. Two of us had children late in life and were still navigating elementary school. Two others never had children and shared the complex feelings around this. Others had grown children who no longer needed parenting. And still others had grown children in need of mothering more than ever.
We talked about divorce and one of us shared her pain over a recent difficult break-up.
We made a lot of “senior moment” jokes and poked fun at our weak bladders, failing memories, stiff joints and sagging cheeks (facial and butt).
And we asked ourselves, what does it mean to defy aging? Is that really possible?
We discussed the current pressure to embrace anti-aging and all that comes with it. We discussed Botox, cosmetic surgery, makeup, varicose veins, muffin tops.
And we talked about death.
We shared feelings about our own impending deaths, and we pondered the deaths of our loved ones. One of us was struggling with a life-threatening illness. Others were dealing with ill family members, parents, husbands, aunts, uncles and siblings.
We discussed regrets. We reminisced. We wondered who we used to be, really?
And we thought about wisdom and what does it mean?
Throughout, underneath the conversation, the subtext, so to speak, were these questions:
How do we want to live our remaining years? What really matters to each of us?
Where is our map?
And we realized that there is no map, or if there is one, it is obsolete.
We considered that perhaps we could forge new paths and discover new things about ourselves and the world. Maybe, like Laura, we could all find the zest within ourselves to change the narrative of older women.
We got quite excited about this.
So we are looking for the stories to tell, the stories to create, and the stories to change. We want to foster a community of women who are curious, creative and pioneering with our lives – in big ways perhaps, but also in the little ways that can count the most.
We hope you will join us.