Yesterday was my 58th birthday.
I have never been someone who could not wait until her birthday arrived, thinking its timing coinciding with Back to School made it convenient to ignore. The worry of wearing scratchy, too warm clothes the first day of school coupled with concerns about whether I’d like my teacher(s), and outright paranoia about the moment that teacher called out my name in class during attendance always seemed to take precedence over celebrating the day I was born. When I think back over the years, unsurprisingly, not many of my birthdays stand out. Other than the good memories that remain of a few adolescent slumber parties, I remember my 20th because it seemed a milestone to no longer have teen attached to my age. My 40th stands out because in defiance of the impending school year, I told my husband I wanted to go to Las Vegas. The significance of this is probably lost on anyone who hasn’t taught school and can’t imagine the potential terror of going away for three days just before school begins, minus lesson plan books and teaching resources, to relax and have fun. It remains one of my best memories because it was a spontaneous decision. My 50th will always be remembered because my husband and very best friend organized a lovely dinner party for me at her home. Family and friends attended, waiters passed with trays of tasty tidbits, and dinner was enjoyed outside under a late August evening sky.
When I was growing up, our family moved quite a bit for a variety of reasons: divorce, marriage, military orders to a different state or country, and always on a tight budget. We celebrated birthdays in our small family with a cake my mother always baked — cheesecake for me — and candles and singing after dinner. Rarely, if ever do I remember an event requiring party dresses or invited friends from the neighborhood and school. For someone who cringed at the thought of having to withstand a group singing Happy Birthday to her, it was more than fine to celebrate in our usual way.
It’s one of the lovely aspects of aging — not caring so much about that sort of thing any more — if you’re like me, that is. Or perhaps it is more that life helps one realize time wasted on insecurities and obsessions is better spent developing a more open-minded perspective about living. A few cleansing breaths along the way helps.
In no particular order, here are some things I’ve learned about life that I’d like to pass along:
1. There are assets and liabilities to having a magnifying mirror at your disposal. Yes, you can actually see pores on your face that need cleaning and an errant eyebrow hair that you might spend time deciding whether to pluck or comb over for more volume, but you will also be able to see the foundation you just applied laying on your skin and in your wrinkles instead of smoothly covering it. Glasses + a 10x magnifying mirror is not recommended ever.
2. It is never too early to begin to use moisturizer. A lifetime of its use will be far less expensive than any procedure you may be tempted by. (I’ve used Nivea, Ponds, L’Oreal, Chanel, Kiehl’s, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and a variety of others I can’t remember. But I started with Noxzema when I was about 13. It’s magic. And for the record, no, I haven’t had any procedures. But if you have, well then, groovy.)
3. Sometimes when the big picture isn’t coming to fruition, take time to notice the glimmer of what is thriving in spite of it. It doesn’t matter how much effort you’ve put into planning, research, or revision — just appreciate it, reconstruct the big picture if need be, and move ahead.
4. It’s lovely to have dreams, but realizing that some are more viable than others and putting effort into the one that fulfills you — no matter what others say — is even more lovely.
5. Life is too short to continue doing something every day that you have lost your passion for. Yes, there are choices. You have to make them even if they aren’t easy. Go ahead — just do it.
6. Feeling poorly about something you once loved and devoted countless hours to is pointless. It served a purpose. There are so many other things to learn about and enjoy. Go find them.
7. A bathroom remodel is so less enjoyable than traveling somewhere — anywhere. The bathroom will be waiting when you return, unless you decide to travel somewhere else, and then somewhere after that.
8. When you have someone in your life others don’t and wish they did, you should let that someone know how much she matters to you because she is truly one of a kind.
9. Noticing the dirty dishes in your sink instead of the lovely frame of beach glass and whimsical African violet on your window sill will always be a grave mistake. On the other hand, the moldy grout is a constant source of irritation, so put it on your “fix it” list and get around to it — some day.
10. Keep things around that make you smile — especially in the most disorganized areas of your life.
11. The people in your life who get their energy from being around others and doing things out in the world may never, ever understand that you are restored by the exact opposite: perfectly content to be alone doing what you love. Forgive them their lack of understanding and help them see it doesn’t mean you don’t care about them.
12. There is complete satisfaction in organizing something for someone else so that you can avoid doing the exact same thing for yourself. (No, I will not show you my closet.)
13. Opt for clothing that fits well instead of worrying about whether it fits the trend. You’ll feel more comfortable, perhaps save some money, and yes, look much better than those who have chosen “cool” over fit. (Of course, there is the option of finding chic and comfortable which is always a good thing.)
14. Eat real food with real fat and skip all the processed nonfat, lowfat, zero calorie, low carb, imitation ridiculousness. It probably isn’t making you more thin or healthy, but the industry certainly is making a lot of money encouraging you to think it does.
15. Listen to what others’ points of view might be even though they radically differ from your own. Try to see things from their perspective. Then pull the plug when you’ve had enough of being the only one who is even attempting to have an open mind. They aren’t worth your time.
16. Just because “the experts” say something is in vogue doesn’t mean you have to like it, but try it if you are inclined. When you confirm you don’t like it, well then, move along. Something everyone used to love a couple of decades ago will replace it.
17. Some things should be saved — not everything. Get rid of the clothes you haven’t worn in forever thinking you’ll fit into them someday, the magazines you keep because you’ll read them again or finally make those recipes, the boxes you never open, the dishes you never use. Someone out there could make use of all of it. Let it go. (My baby shoes were rescued from my mother who saves nothing.)
18. A box of L’Oreal hair color from the grocery store is your friend when after 10 years you finally realize you’ll never quite have a full head of grey hair and as much as you loved your colorist, the money you’re saving can be spent on that bathroom remodel.
19. Sometimes no matter how hard you tried to make something work in one place, deciding to uproot it and relocate it to a different place is the best decision. It may bear scars, but eventually will show signs of growth. With patience it may thrive. Lots and lots of patience.
20. When a thousand voices proclaim the wonder of something wildly popular, find the one or two or 10 brave enough to suggest otherwise. They may surprise you.
21. Save your money to purchase something of quality instead of hitting the “Buy One Get One Free Because More is Better and Cheaper” sales. Some things last, but most are made not to, and you’ll have to hit that sale again, and again. And again. (Nice sheets = good sleep)
22. Read the books you enjoy, watch the movies that entertain you, and listen to the music that fills your soul. The book/movie/music snobs can get over themselves. #Nickleback! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
23. Grown sons will tell you they love you and hug you far more than they ever did when they were little boys. Well, at least mine do. It’s pretty cool.
24. Sometimes you just need a good burger. Once or twice a year will do. And sure. Grass-fed, organic, hand-patted, homemade sounds great, but not much can take care of an In-N-Out urge. (Animal style, please, no soda.)
25. Go ahead and judge. It’s what people tend to do. You can either take it personally, or decide whatever they think of you is really more about them than you. (PS — You bet I’ll judge you if you let your dog do its business on the grass and don’t clean up after it, or let your children run around in a restaurant, or tailgate, or make fun of others just for entertainment).
26. Proposing to the man you want to spend the rest of your life with is the best decision you could ever make. And if you’ve already done that, tell him you’d marry him all over again. Do this occasionally just because.
27. Making lists is highly overrated. But go ahead and give it a shot. It will help feed your obsession for pads of paper and notebooks, pencils and pens regardless of whether you check any of those items you listed or not.
28. No matter what the weather is where you live, someone from the east coast will always declare it is colder, more humid, more hot, more wet, more…you know — more. Let them. (And then send them a photo of a perfectly clear, sunny, dry, beautiful 70 degree January day. Palm trees optional.)
29. Spend some time every day doing nothing: get rid of the phone, step away from the computer, turn off the TV, leave the mail alone, don’t look at that list, notice something other than your tasks. Stare out the window, look at the sky, breathe the air, feel the breeze on your skin, count stars…YES, you have time.
30. You really don’t have to finish that book you started. There are so many others waiting to be read and in the end, there won’t be a special line for those who have forced themselves to do so to receive a star.
31. Get over the guilt. You really don’t have to do whatever it is you think you are supposed to do because someone else expects you to. If you can’t do something with a feeling of sincerity, giving from your heart, then reconsider why you’re doing it. Appearances aren’t everything. But if you think they are, well…
32. Age is a frame of mind, and that is all. As much as I have good memories of many years of my life, I wouldn’t go back to any of them (except for the years my family lived in Spain). I’m too interested in right now, this day and what will follow. There is always something to look forward to.
If you’ve read to this point, I hope you’ve found something that has made you laugh, caused you to stop and think, or gotten your goat. And by all means, if you’ve some wisdom from your life you would like to pass along, please comment and share — age stated optional.
Thanks for reading!