Decade N° 5: A Not-so-Average Blog on Middle Age
Being 50 years old for exactly one month, I still haven’t warmed up to the idea.
By Carrie McConkey
I’ve always watched with feigned interest as people described the milestone event: “Fifty and fabulous!”. Or, “Fifty is nifty”. I felt detached, thinking, “Good for them for feeling confident!” When my favorite comedienne Molly Shannon created the character Sally O’Malley, I thought it would make the inevitable day easier to bear. I said to myself, “See? Molly Shannon is doing a skit about being 50. She’s not even 50 yet! It must be cool.” But when my own clock struck half a century, I felt no urge to kick and stretch. Only to lie motionless and make moaning sounds, dabbing my tear-stained face with a soggy tissue.
Entering new decades never bothered me in the past. Twenty was exciting; life felt full of friendships, love, and the future. I remember feeling funny when I turned thirty — it didn’t seem to fit — but taking a birthday trip to the local zoo to view a visiting exhibit of koala bears helped to distract. Forty… now forty was alll-right. I felt ready for it. Up for the challenge. When I applied for my new driver’s license I held my head up high for the photo — I’m forty now! Watch out, world!
Thinking further back, I never really dug being a youngster. I felt like I was born old. I hated being called a “kid” — I was very serious and wanted to be treated as such. Hmmm… is that what’s going on with me now? Are the 50s the pre-teen years of old age? Am I in adolescent mode all over again, when your brain doesn’t fit your body, and everything just feels awkward? Will things feel better on my eightieth birthday?
From my mother and stepfather, I received a very pink birthday card with “Happy 50th Birthday!” emblazoned across the front. I nearly dropped it like a flaming piece of shrapnel. More tears. Thank heavens there was a second, no-specific-age-listed card from them as well — Mom blamed my stepdad for picking out the “50” card and felt I’d need a standard birthday greeting to serve as a buffer. She knew there had been a buildup.
Even writing the number was difficult. Several weeks after the big day, I filled out profile forms at my doctor’s office. I was humming along, listing my address…. checking the “married” box… and suddenly, the “age” line appeared. Once again, I felt the bile rise to my throat as I slowly wrote “5… 0”. Upon arriving home I discovered an AARP letter in the afternoon mail. I assumed it was for my husband, eight years my senior. Nope. It had my name on it. My eyes kept shifting back and forth from sender to recipient… AARP… Carrie McConkey… AARP… Carrie McConkey. When will it end?
My Mom has always been so relaxed about life. “Oh, hon”, she reassured me, “I really enjoyed my fifties. You don’t have to worry about your period anymore.” Yep, so I’ve heard. But not in my case. Many of my friends began going through pre-menopause in their forties, partnering with their doctors to get to the bottom of their various symptoms. Those in the full throes of “The Change” suffered through their hot flashes, and still others informed me that post-menopause their body thermometers became resilient and they were no longer cold. I nodded in admiration, shivering while wearing a sweater in the middle of August. I’d like to stop taking birth control, but my doctor warned that it was still very possible I could get pregnant. I could just see myself joining the inimitable Janet Jackson in giving birth to our first children as quinquagenarians. Somehow, I don’t think my situation would be as glamorous as Miss Jackson’s.
Speaking of babies, maybe that is my problem. Maybe it’s because my husband and I made a conscious decision not to have children. Full disclosure: it wasn’t like we discussed it during our courtship or engagement. We just enjoyed our dating life and jubilantly got married, assuming that parenthood would happen on its own. Every few years I would check in, “Sweetheart, do you feel like you want a baby?”, I’d tentatively ask. “Is there anything missing in your life?” No, not yet. When John turned 50 the discussions ceased, which brought some degree of relief. We had never felt a longing for children of our own and didn’t feel it would be right to force it. We’ve always been happy, and I’ve loved being an aunt to all of my friends’ now-young-adult kids and my own five nephews. But is that my 50th birthday issue? Not having a part of myself live on through a son or daughter?
There have been some bright spots thus far at this halfway point in life. Most significantly, I don’t have to dread it anymore; it has arrived and is settling in despite my loud protests. I’ve finally found my career passion, writing, which is something I can enjoy for as many years as my mind will allow. I’m fascinated by the fact that, like so many of my older relatives, I’m becoming interested in my family’s history. And I like having a middle-view perspective, finding great joy in watching young people grow and become independent but still feeling youthful myself as I admire my parents and beloved friends in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, who embrace life with abandon and seemingly enjoy every moment.
I must say I already feel better getting all of this off my chest. Month number one has been conquered, and I have eleven more to figure it all out. After all, Mom says that the first year of the fifties is the hardest… after that, it’s a breeze.