Note: Names have been changed to protect the middle-aged.
Ashley Scott was a high school phenom. She was young and beautiful.
Cheerleader. Beauty Queen. Perfect-in-every-way.
She had everything. Everything. And did I mention she was beautiful? She was also young, like me.
I should say that I never personally knew Ashley, because she went to a different school. But we were from small towns, and in small towns, everyone knows everyone. Everybody especially knew Ashley. I did say she was beautiful, right?
I don’t think I’ve seen her since high school, though, and really, I haven’t thought about her either.
Until the other day.
I was scrolling down my Facebook page and saw that one of my FB friends was tagged in Ashley Scott’s photo. Gotta love FB’s seven degrees of separation. My curiosity took over, and I had to click on it. I just wondered what she looked like now.
I clicked. But… huh, it wasn’t her. It was some normal-looking, middle-aged woman with a normal-looking, (bald) middle-aged man, and a grown-ish boy. I was disappointed.
But then… I looked again… one more time before closing it out… just a little closer, and I realized… that… OMG. It was Ashley Scott. And she… she was… She looked good, but… OMG. She was middle-aged. Middle-aged!
No longer a high school phenom. Not a polished sorority girl. Not even a sophisticated-looking twenty-something. She looked more like a regular, every-day member of the (High School!!) PTO.
I stared at her. And my stomach got queasy. If she is… Does that mean… Could it be that… Gasp! Am I middle-aged too?
When I turned 30, I didn’t bat an eyelash, although my mother just about had a cow. I have never paid attention to my age, or whether I looked my age. I have always thought that age is about how you feel, and I feel good. I had never thought a lot about what people see when they look at me. But when I saw that photo, it was suddenly very clear.
It’s not so much that it matters to me what people see, it’s just that I didn’t know.
It was a wee bit unsettling, kind of like seeing cellulite for the first time.
I felt like Lewis in Revenge of the Nerds when he has that big revelation about himself and other people’s perception of him. He says to Gilbert, “I’m a nerd,” and Gilbert says back, “Welcome to the real world.”
Lewis: Exhale. Shoulders slumping. Me: Ditto.
I stopped wearing short shorts quite some time ago, and I wouldn’t be caught dead in a bikini. But, I guess I’ve been trying to ignore some of those other real world hints, like the gray hairs that keep popping up, the fact that I prefer Better Homes and Gardens over Vogue (have you seen the demographics for BHG? Middle-aged!), and most disturbing, the fact that I can’t stay up all night and still function the next day.
There is one thing that makes it a little more tolerable. I think that probably, most likely many of my friends may also be middle-aged! This realization is equally comforting and disturbing at the same time. How have I missed this transformation we’ve been going through? Who would’ve thought it would happen so soon? This new insight brought up several pressing questions.
Should I start acting my age? Must I stop shopping in the junior section? Do mini-vans become mandatory? What is middle-age etiquette? And what does being middle-age mean, exactly?
I’m not sure about all those details, but I have come to one big conclusion about it.
I think that in some way, I’ve become a grown-up. While I was busy getting married, and having children, and taking care of children, and working, and doing laundry, and doing more laundry, and taking care of children… somewhere in there, I grew up. Which takes me back to Lewis’ epiphany. Still in shock, he says, “I never wanted to believe it was true,” and Gilbert replies, “It’s okay… We’ve got a good thing going.”
Well, the same thing goes for middle-age. There are lots of positives. I think growing up has overall been a good thing for me. (Although I’m still a little shocked I got here so quickly!) Right now I’m in a comfortable, happy place, and any place like that is okay with me, I suppose. In that photo Ashley looked like she was in a happy place, too. She was beaming, all grown-up, and beautiful as ever. I bet she’s still young at heart too, just like me.