Baby Boomer Babbling-er-Musings

I'm from the baby boomer generation. I have a mop of white hair, courtesy of my gene pool. And a botox-free face that sports frown lines in the forehead and around the eyes. Love handles instead of a waistline. Can't say I'm exactly crazy about any of these old age indicators but I accept them with grace. And now I've lived long enough now that I ponder on a lot of things, new and old.

Monday, August 2, 2010

High School Reunion Angst

aka "Niecey"

My best bud from high school said that we should go to this year’s All Chief’s Reunion since we missed the one last year. I was less than enthusiastic. I had dodged the bullet last year and now she was gnawing on that bone again and just wouldn’t let it go. The thought of the reunion set off all kinds of anxiety that made me feel like I was once again an insecure, bashful teen. At this age how could I still break out in a cold sweat of dread over reconnecting with my high school classmates?

After all, I am a grown woman and it had been 39 years since that day in 1971 when I received my high school diploma. Over the ensuing years I had navigated through the murky waters of life, which started at the tender age of 21 when I married the first boy who asked me. A new mother by age 23, I spent the next 10 years trying to figure out how to be happy, without much success.

In my early 30s I survived a divorce and subsequently raised my sweet daughter, Ashlee. Then I found true love and it was the real thing. With the love and support of my husband, Monty, I have slowly become the authentic me. Now my life is full, happy, and blessed. No longer am I the insecure young girl of my youth. Or so I thought.

Janiece, my friend and cohort in mischief for the last 43 years, was now asking me to step back in time by attending the 2010 All Chiefs Reunion. I could hear a roar in my head. It should have been the incantation, “I am Woman, hear me ROAR”. Instead it was all my old insecurities rearing their ugly heads and their collective roar was very, very loud.

My perception of time has changed as I have gotten older. It is almost as though time is a wheel, one where in my youth I started out at the center hub where the movement seemed painfully slow. As I’ve gotten older, I feel as though I am now moving outward toward the rim of the wheel where the winds of time are like the wild winds of a hurricane - hurtling me forward through time. And so the summer of 2010 arrived as if in the blink of an eye.

Janiece insisted that we really must go to the reunion this year. What did she say? I could barely hear her for the roar. The closer it came to July 10th, the more anxiety I felt. For one thing, I was pretty sure I had gained an additional 10 pounds for every decade after high school. Janiece called me about a week before the reunion and said, “What are you going to wear?” Oh no, I have to figure out what to wear! Would any of my clothes fit? The roar was getting louder.

Me, Way Back When
I am transported back to my time in high school, an early morning on a school day. My slimline, aqua-colored 1960’s Princess phone is ringing. I reach across my twin bed to answer, flop down on my back, and put the receiver to my ear. My fingers are twirling the curly-que cord that is stretched across my body. I can still hear Janiece’s young, teenage voice saying, “What are you wearing to school today?”

Back then I always knew the answer. Thirty-nine years later, I have no clue. I’m thinking to myself, “Will triple Spanx pull in these love handles and make me look as though I still weigh 103 pounds, soaking wet?” Reality sets in. I will need to actually breathe at the reunion. I think of pretty, skinny Sara Blakely, who invented Spanx. Sorry Sara, but squirming into multiple jiggle controllers is not going to work.

My other hero, someone I know would be my soul sister if only I actually knew her, is author Nora Ephron. She wrote the book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck”. Nora, I don’t just feel bad about my neck, I hate my neck! A close inspection in the mirror reveals that my neck now has more lines than the infamous Atlanta “Spaghetti Junction”. How can I hide my neck? Why doesn’t my head just sit on my shoulders? I can barely hear these stupid thoughts for the roar.

Maybe I should wear a scarf. The reality is that I’m a gal who lives on a farm. I could never comfortably pull off a fashionable scarf around the Spaghetti Junction lines on my neck. It would never stay put and besides that, I might accidentally strangle myself.

Wait! Maybe a turtleneck! The roar almost drowns out coherent thoughts. It is July. The temperatures are near 100 degrees. Wear a turtleneck to your reunion and be sure to look like a fool or even worse, end up on the floor after fainting from heat stroke.

In my early 40s I had to buy a magnified makeup mirror because the 20/20 vision was gone. It was now a week until the reunion and I am looking into the 150X magnified mirror. I touch the deep lines between my brows, gifts from my ex-husband and my last job before retirement. Could I get last-minute Botox? Or even better, plastic surgery! Can one recover from plastic surgery in less than 7 days? Probably not. Why-oh-why hasn’t Adobe figured out how to Photoshop someone in the flesh?

I was wringing my hands, thinking about my hair. Then I saw my hands! But first things first. Let’s talk about the hair. I had started going gray in my 20s and soon started frosting it. Frosting. That term certainly dates me. We didn’t know about foils back in those days. Instead we pulled a tight cap over our head, which often would give us a headache. Then someone stood over you with an evil dirk called a “pick” and proceeded to pull and tug pieces of your hair through microscopic holes all over the cap until tears literally streamed down your face. 

One day I was fretting about the aging effect of gray hair when my sweetheart Monty pointed to the place where my heart would be and said that he loved who I was inside and not the color of my hair. That man is a keeper. So I allowed the last of the frosted color to grow out. I was blissfully, happily…gray haired…and content with that fact. That is, until a week before the reunion when the roar was deafening. That’s when I started contemplating buying a wig that would be the color of my hair when I was a teenager. Common sense did prevail, but I must admit that for a few minutes I was on the online wig store page that was touting the overnight shipping.

Back to my hands. To be specific, the back of my hands. I have been a little dirt digger for about 23 years. Every spring, you could find me huddled down in the flower beds, pulling weeds and digging around in the dirt planting new flowers and bulbs. No gloves because I loved the feel of the Earth against my fingers. When I finally got fitted with my first prescription glasses, I saw my hands in a surprising new light. Where did those poppin' purple veins come from?  And were those brown age spots? In my pre-specs days, I could have sworn they were but tiny freckles.

So I’m staring down at my mother’s hands. No. Wait. Not hers, but mine!  So now I’m thinking gloves for the reunion. Little white ones like I used to wear to church on Sundays when I was a wee little girl? Can you even buy those any more? All I have at home are winter gloves, which are briefly considered until I remember that the reunion is during the Dog Days of July.

On the night of the reunion, I finally picked out black jeans that I thought were stylish enough. They were dressy with slightly flared bottoms and not the one that my daughter referred to as the dreaded “Mom” jeans. Another plus was that they were high enough on my hips that the zipper was longer than ¼ inch.  If I sneezed, at least they wouldn’t slide off of me. I decided on a timeless white, cotton shirt that had long sleeves to cover my arms. And I won’t even go into that. Except to say that no amount of lifting weights has cured that bit of skin flapping under my upper arms!

Anita, my childhood friend, loaned me a necklace that didn’t exactly cover “Spaghetti Junction” entirely but perhaps would distract anyone from noticing just how many lines there are. Anita is my same age and will attend her class reunion the following week. She won’t have any of these same anxieties because she aged very well and looks 10 years younger.

I consider not wearing my glasses. As I am getting dressed without them, everything is such a blur that I am stumbling around. Do I really want to arrive looking like I’m already drunk? Then I’m desperately squinting to determine if that tube of mascara is brown or black. That’s when I realize that I won’t be able to read name tags without my glasses. Do I want to talk to people and pretend I know who they are when I really don’t?

I resolutely perch the specs back on my nose. The woman in the mirror comes into focus. I see her more clearly than I have in a long time. The furrows between her brows are medals of honor for surviving the tough times in her life. The hair color is a gift from her lovely mother, who also went gray at an early age. The brown spots and popping purple veins are scars from her war with the weeds while doing battle to bring forth blooming beauties year after year. The love handles bulging over the waistband of her jeans are evidence of some really great meals with her terrific husband.

I look long and hard at my neck. I stare at all the lines only barely hidden beneath Anita’s beautiful necklace. And all I can think is that I still hate my neck.

The teenager with the line-less face and the brown hair is only a vague memory. To remember her clearly, I would have to stop by my mother’s house, the one I grew up in, and stare at the senior portrait on her wall. And I don’t have time for that. So I look more closely at the woman staring back at me in the mirror. I see a happy, mature, gray-haired woman who loves and is loved by her husband and family.

I picked up Janiece at her home and then we were riding down some of the same streets that we cruised when we were teens. She is fretting about her clothes, her weight, her sandals. I reassure her that she looks very cute in her capri pants, blue top, and white sandals. More talk and I see clearly that her anxieties mirror my own.

Only after I arrived at the reunion did it finally become clear to me that I had been visualizing all of my classmates as I last saw them 39 years ago. I had unrealistically been comparing my 57-year-old face, hands, body, and neck to the classmates of my memory – all 18-year-olds. What a relief it was to find that every single one of my classmates at the reunion were the same age as me! They all looked good but thankfully not one of them still looked like a teenager. Each one seemed to be a better, wiser version of their youth.

As I chatted with everyone, I began to relax. The roar of my collective anxieties had become a purr. Jeanelle Phillips Beard is a classmate that I barely knew in high school but have now come to know through Facebook. I do love her sense of humor. She made the statement that we all looked pretty good for AARP members.

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