There’s a chance I may have slipped into crazy old lady territory. Evidence? I just took a 3-mile afternoon walk wearing dress slacks and a sweater, a grey puffy vest, cobalt blue tennis shoes, a pink scarf fetchingly wrapped around my head for warmth and – wait for it – a hiking hat to block the sun. I’m pretty sure I looked like a clown.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t care. And that, dear reader, is a watershed moment in my slow slide into being a “senior.”
It’s not like I’ve ever been a fashionista, but I’ve definitely been squarely in the “Don’t let yourself go” camp of aging. I exercise daily, don’t eat processed foods and spend too much money on facial creams that are supposed to guarantee my wrinkles don’t get any deeper. I dye my hair a couple times a year, still wear makeup and try to maintain some semblance of dressing with the times, especially at my job. I listen to podcasts, read two newspapers, participate in a writers’ group and challenge myself with learning something new every few days.
In other words, I’m uninterested in becoming out-of-touch, irrelevant, invisible or a joke for the neighborhood kids.
Or at least I thought I was.
Today, all I really cared about was getting some fresh air, courtesy of the chilly-but-sunny afternoon, and listening to the Wild Things podcast. (Told you I’m super-cool.) I could have changed into exercise clothes, which would definitely have been a step in the correct fashion direction, but doing so would have required me getting undressed and re-dressed one too many times in a single day.
Indeed, just thinking about changing into exercise clothes to better coordinate with my puffy vest and tennis shoes – not to mention making the hiking hat less obtrusive – exhausted me. The last thing my backside and I needed after two weeks of Christmas feasting was more sitting on the couch.
So I slipped off the black flats I’d worn to Mass, laced up my tennis shoes and added the aforementioned cold-weather fashion accoutrements. I glanced at my reflection in the picture frame near our front door and, for a nanosecond, thought, “Uh-oh. I look like a crazy old lady.” Then, throwing caution to the wind, I opened the door and headed out.
One of my most vivid memories is when my then-teenage daughter offered a commentary about my efforts to stay in shape and relatively current with fashion.
“I don’t know why you try so hard,” she said, lounging on our couch. “It’s not like you need to be super attractive anymore. You’re already married.”
I wanted to explain how one of the worst things anyone – man or woman – can do in a marriage is fall victim to the sweatpants-and-tee shirt lifestyle. We don’t need to be peacocks, and the extremes of Botox in college and facelifts at 50 should be avoided like the plague, but a little effort never hurts where the home fires are concerned.
Instead, I just said, “I like looking nice. And I like it when Dad looks nice.” As I recall, she rolled her eyes.
Which is sort of what the three teenage boys who saw me on my walk did. I only noticed them because the noises they were making dovetailed nicely with the grunts, squeals and shrieks issuing forth at that very moment from the Wild Thing podcast. Their barely concealed honking laughter sounded like migrating geese.
For a moment, a vague but familiar feeling flitted across my chest. It took a second to recognize it as the ache of being an object of derision. But what was amazing is that – for the first time in my very sensitive life – that ache was like a butterfly going by, not a wild racoon holding on for dear life with his clammy little claws.
Suddenly, I was channeling my inner Southern woman with a quiet, “Bless their little hearts.” I thought the boys were adorable. I mean, A.D.O.R.A.B.L.E. They just couldn’t help themselves, stumbling as they were toward the Land of Grownup, and I knew without any doubt that if they hadn’t been in a group of three, there would have been no mockery. I was witnessing negative peer pressure, that horrific side-effect of adolescence, and an overwhelming sense of compassion washed over me. The smile on my face was as wide a semi, and I couldn’t help but wave wildly at them.
Lucky for them, they were on the other side of the street, because I know if we met face-to-face, I would have struck up a conversation. Standing there in my church clothes, tennis shoes, wild pink scarf and hiking hat, I would have asked them about their day, how their Christmas was and if they were looking forward to the New Year.
Just like a crazy old lady.