06/21/2012 05:59 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2012

The Gates to Coot-hood Are Open: Three Ways to Tell if You're On Your Way Through

I blew right through the door to coot-hood today.

How do I know? For the first time in my life, I wore my at-home soft flannel pants (really pajama bottoms) into the supermarket to pick up a few things. No kidding.

I've never even entertained the thought of doing that before. In fact, from time to time, I've heard myself hiss a little tsk, tsk at the sight of young women traipsing in and out of Kroger in their pj bottoms. I didn't consider it a fashion statement.

And now, here I was. As I pushed my half-gallon of skim milk and package of extra lean ground round across the checkout counter, I looked down at my loose navy pants with their elastic waist -- and I wasn't the least bit embarrassed.

It suddenly occurred to me that I face the possibility of becoming an old coot. Despite thinking of myself as still young in my mid-60s because my mind is active and my life is full of interesting stuff to do, I realized that I was in danger.

My casual coot-hood shift into who cares? got me thinking about other passport checkpoints to old age, and how I'll know when I've arrived. Here's a few of the things I'll watch for as I keep track of my progress.

Walking out the door without any makeup. A million times in the last 45 years I've heard myself say, "I'll be just a minute -- I'm almost finished putting on my face." My kids used to settle in and turn on the TV when they heard that. The foundation and powder matte, lipstick, mascara and eyeliner ritual was sacred. I never left the house without it.

I'll know I've crossed the coot-hood line when I go out with those red splotches and spider veins clearly out there for the world to see. It's one thing to go au naturel when I water the garden in my front yard early in the morning. But I'll know I have taken another step into the it doesn't matter of coot-hood when I find myself bare-skinned on my way to lunch with a friend or dinner with my husband. I shudder just thinking of it.

Not getting dressed by 9, 10 or noon. I easily recall the early morning rise-and- shine grind when the alarm went off at 5 a.m. I'd throw back the covers and start the countdown, ticking off duties and seconds religiously so that I could get into town to work before other commuter warriors jammed the expressway.

Yesterday it was gray and cloudy, so I decided it was a good day to stay in my flannel pants, sleeping T-shirt and socks. No regrets and no guilt. I was in the joyful house of lazy and I settled right into its welcoming couch with my latest stitchery project.

At the end of the day I decided the no-getting-out-of-my-sleeping pants was all right now and then. But if it became a daily habit, then I was in coot-hood trouble.

Eating the food I want, when I want. Growing up, eating was strictly kept to three meals a day. Our parents heeded the nutritionist's warnings that we'd faint mid-morning and fall right out of our desk chairs if we didn't get a good start with a full breakfast. Then lunch and an after-school snack would see us through to dinner when we could chow down in style and toddle off to bed, full and contented for the long night of rest and sleep. Having been raised that way, I followed the same directives when raising my own children.

But today I found myself living dangerously. I skipped breakfast and nearly forgot about lunch until I saw some leftover macaroni and cheese in the fridge. I scooped out three nice spoonfuls around three o'clock and poured myself a glass of cold milk.

I topped off this unbalanced food day with a delightful plate of sour cream Angel Food Cake for dinner, with fresh fruit balls (cantlelope, watermelon, golden honeydew and blueberries in a pomegranate juice and honey sauce) and whipped cream on the side.

I could almost hear my nutritionist scream.

The coot in me didn't even care. I was happy to discover that I hadn't fallen off my writing desk chair and my navy pj bottoms still held their shape after a full day of carrying me around. My face was clean and shiny, plumping up nicely with several coats of moisturizer, and my life was good.

Very coot-hood good, in fact.

Martha Nelson is an award-winning journalist and a former educator, nonprofit executive, chef and musician. Her first novel, Black Chokeberry, was published in April 2012 and is available everywhere including from her website,