When I tell people how old I am, the most common response is, "Really?", accompanied by a slight gasp and an eyebrow raised in suspicion. Embarrassed, they quickly add: "You look great..." (their voices trailing off with a tell-tale dot, dot, dot at the end of the sentence, leaving off what I know they're really thinking) "You look great... for your age."
They seem incredulous that someone "my age" isn't lying on a cruise ship deck chair recalling the revolutionary impact of control top pantyhose while eating a 7 course meal -- through a straw. So perhaps hearing "You look great..." (dot, dot, dot) should be considered a compliment. I'd raise an eyebrow in suspicion of that theory but I've had so much Botox I can't move anything above my knees.
By the way, I'm 50. There. I said it. And there you are with your facile forehead saying, "You look great..." (dot, dot, dot), thanks. I think.
An embroidered pillow on my bed reads "Aging Gracefully Is Overrated" and I believe that's true. I also believe I need to get over it. And, by it, I mean my -- and perhaps society's -- expectations of where my life should be by now. (Let's not get started on where my butt and boobs should be. If they keep sinking, I'll need a Navy Seal to dredge them up.)
Let's see. Using my circa 1975, 14-year-old (and thus delusional) Helen Reddy inspired estimations, by "this age" I was supposed to be roaring and soaring -- managing my 401 k, winning 10k races and chasing twins who are pre- K... all while maintaining a size six with bowls of Special K.
None of this has happened.
So, I figure I have a choice. I can either find a way to feel good about my accomplishments -- despite my lack of a corner office, six pack abs and a calendar of play dates -- or not. I can accept my life "at this age" while shouting "I'm 50 and Fabulous!" as I wave my AARP card for 15 cents off a McDonald's fish filet -- or not. I can don stretch capri pants and let my hair go gray like Jamie Lee Curtis in a yogurt commercial -- or not.
For the last ten years or more, I've chosen "or not."
I've lied about my age since I was 40, shaving off five years knowing I could pull it off. This worked until I turned 45 and realized that subtracting 5 years still made me 40. And as an actress in Hollywood 2 + 2 = 4; Kate + 8 = television and actress + 40 = DEAD.
This reality hit me the hardest at the gym when I found myself lying to the elliptical machine as it prompted me for information. Input program: (1) Walk in the Park. Nope, too easy. (2) Run Up Big Hills. Nope, too hard. (3) Lie Through Your Teeth About Your Age. Bingo! I press three. Input weight. I cover the LED with my hand like I'm shielding my pin number at an ATM. 132. God I wish. Input age: Shit! With my index finger hovering over the display I break into a sweat -- and I haven't even started working out. My age?? What's that got to do with bobbing up and down on a machine? Why does the machine need to know? Isn't it bad enough it thinks I'm only 132 pounds? I press 45. The LED starts flashing. Input age: I try 46. It keeps flashing. I try 47, 48, 49. By the time I input 50 my time limit is up and another gym member is waiting. "Whew! Great workout! It's all yours!" I say to a petite Barbarella clone as I mop my brow and collect my dignity -- and my More magazine.
I finally stopped denying my age the day I found out I had a Wikipedia page put together by some well-meaning but overeager cyber geek who's apparently one of the six viewers of my TV career on Game Show Network. Right there on the World Wide Web is my birthdate glaringly displayed for the entire universe to see -- or those same six people (see above.)
It's not hard to edit a Wikipedia page- - believe me it's not if I can do it. But every time I went online and shaved five or six years off my birthdate, this unseen bothead went back and restored it.
How does Mr. WikiStalker know I've changed it, anyway? And why does he care that I'm so emotionally immature I can't bear to see the numbers 1-9-6-1 lined up in that order?
Besides, it's MY Wikipedia page. It's MY life. I can fake, forge or revise my own damned history, thank you very much. Who is this basement dwelling WikiWeirdo? This pleather-belt-wearing mouth breather who's cutting and pasting my life on some makeshift encyclopedia? Who has that kind of time? (Okay, I do, but I'd rather spend it sucking in my new middle aged gut. Oops, there goes 30 seconds.)
It's really crazy how crazy I can let my age make me. And it is just a number, right? Which I'm sure is how my silent editor feels. "Just the facts, Ma'am." Stop calling me Ma'am! Being called Ma'am is like hearing, "Hey, aging lady with a coupon for chocolate calcium chews who's buying Fresca and writing a check, how are you today, Ma'am?"
Okay, confession. I do Google myself -- occasionally. Maybe because it's much easier to look at old photos of my younger self than face the face I see in the mirror now --t he one that is slowly sinking -- the one with the jowls of life.
I blame modern technology for making us all so self-aware and too self-important. Why else are we constantly checking email, voicemail, texts, Tweets, Facebook -- and now an Encyclopedia of Us? Is it to reaffirm our existence and our worth... or to find a Groupon for half off some modern technology that can make us look half our age?
Is anyone else tired right now? I am. But then, I just turned 50. I had much more energy last year.
I guess I should embrace my age, my aging and technology's grasp on my truth. Perhaps I should get rid of that pithy little pillow and learn to age gracefully -- however overrated that may be -- because it is, after all, "Just the facts, Ma'am. Just the facts."
All right. I give. On one condition. Stop calling me Ma'am.