About halfway through this day, at home with a not-very-sick Whit, I realized it was my half birthday. 36 1/2. Gulp. I remembered my attempt at being funny, exactly a year ago. For some reason, humor makes me feel MUCH more exposed than writing my regular, self-revealing posts. I don’t know why this is, but I am trying to face the fear (a sign by the trapeze said this) so here it is again … a letter to my body:
Tuesday was my half birthday. Nobody remembered. Why should they? They shouldn’t. I realize my attachment to my half birthday is irrational, and I trace it to the fact that my actual, mid-August birthday was often a bit … well, lacking in celebration. This is not my parents’ fault – they were always wonderful in marking my birthdays. But, say, a party? Not really, on August 16th. This has resulted in some specific tendencies in my adult self:
- I am totally obsessed with my kids’ birthdays, and their parties
- I remember people’s birthdays, often send cards, and usually remind others of these key dates (this reached a pinnacle a few years ago when one friend actually got annoyed at me for forgetting to remind her of another friend’s birthday … this was now my official responsibility?)
- My half birthday is more important to me than it should be
So I decided to mark the occasion of my 35 1/2 birthday with a letter to my middle-aged body. I’m inspired in this by two of my favorite writers out here in the blog wilderness. The Kitchen Witch‘s letter to her her 40 year old self and Momalom‘s letter to herself in her 31st year both made me writhe on the floor in laughter. I also like how I am midway between these two wonderful, funny (not to mention, as far as I can tell from their photographs, beautiful, which is relevant only because we are talking about their physical selves) women. Despite the fact that I seem to have birthed a five year old stand-up comedian, I am not myself funny. But these letters were so wise and poignant in their humor, too, that I wanted to give it a go.
Dear Body, as you turn 35 1/2,
First of all, I’ve finally come around to agreeing with my wise-ass middle school self about the fact that I am actually midway through my 36th year. I don’t much like it, but I can’t see a way around it. Yikes. Crap.
There’s a lot I’m really grateful for, Body. And I think – I hope! – I’m a little better at appreciating what you are able to do now than I used to be. Of course, this is pretty bittersweet, seeing as I’m finally appreciating you just as you seem to be falling apart. But maybe that’s by your design, to show me how ungrateful and horrible I was to you for so many years? I’m sorry.
I’m definitely pretty unhappy about certain things you are doing to me, now, as I glide (saunter? skip? am dragged, kicking and screaming, heels dug in until kingdom come?) into middle age. But I’m also aware of some bad behavior on my part, and I want to conclude by apologizing for some of the abuse I’ve forced you to take.
First, things I really am thankful for, dear Body:
- I still have 20/20 vision. I don’t wear glasses or lenses. As the daughter of a woman who is practically blind, I really appreciate that.
- I hope that I share the hair fate of the aforementioned almost-blind woman (hi Mum!), because at 62 she doesn’t have a single gray hair. Please, please, please, genetics, show me your power!
- Thank you for still letting me run. It is vital to my staying sane, so I’m really glad you haven’t taken it away from me yet. Thanks for letting me finish that half marathon in under 2 hours. I still wonder about a marathon, but I don’t know if you would let me get away with that. I’m sure we’ll talk it over.
- I am immensely grateful for the fact that you were able to conceive, carry, and deliver two healthy children. I am aware of what a blessing this is and I am sorry if it ever seems that I take it for granted. In fact, it is more than a blessing: it is an outright miracle. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (PS: the no stretch marks and easy return to pre-baby weight were a double bonus, don’t think I didn’t notice those. Thanks.)
There are, however, some things I am pretty pissed off at you about:
- The chest. My God. I did not know what I had. When I saw one of my college roommates lately, and she saw me shirtless, she did a double take and remarked on the sad state of affairs in my bosom region. Remember, this is from a woman who was seeing said bosom daily during its (arguable) heyday. Alas. I think the best way to describe the situation is that I never really realized you could be both tiny and saggy. That’s just plain cruel. I’d lift – ahem – things up, but I’m told you have to have something to lift first. And while I’m cool with plastic surgery, something about artificial sacks of fluid inside my body scares me. I think Michael Scott, that sage, that cornerstone of today’s women’s studies, described the situation best: shrunken chesticles.
- The skin. I hate my skim-milk skin. I hate its pallor, its translucency, its propensity for cold sores, its wrinkles. I’ve been called Casper more than once. Is it a surprise that I chose to run in the Nude Olympics flanked by two dear friends, both of whom have similar coloring to me? I figured we might as well all glow in the dark together. Most days I can see my veins through my skin, not just faintly but in glorious detail: I am aware of my blood throbbing through my arms a little more vividly than I want to be (ironically, it has always been really hard for phlebotomists [great word] to find my veins). And the cold sores? Oh, the horror. So ugly. So painful. Such a physical manifestation of my anxious, nervous personality. Yuck, yuck, yuck. My cold sores have caused me so much embarassment, Body … really, are you not done shaming me with them yet? But maybe most of all, I dislike my skin’s thinness. Everything gets to me. I had hoped that living more years would result in thicker skin but, no, sadly it seems to be going in the opposite direction.
- The hair. Why do I have so damned much of it? It takes forever to dry. Blow-dry? Only when my life depends on it. Also, that ever since I had pregnancies, it curls in the back in weird, strange ways (which makes the aversion to blow-drying ever more tragic). I pull my own hair out, specifically feeling around for the really curly pieces. I’m told by people who aced Psych 101 in college that this, trichotillomannia, is the gateway behavior to more awful compulsions. Actually, I think I’m just subconsciously trying to thin my own hair.
- The joints. You seem to have granted me this odd, free-floating joint pain. Some days it is my ankle, others my wrist, for a while last summer, most painfully, my knee. This week my elbow is bothering me. What is this about? Are you asking me to take some kind of vitamin? Speak English! I don’t think I make major demands of my joints: fine, yes, I run, but come on. 4 miles 3 times a week? Seriously?
- The back. Holy hell does this make me feel old. A long airplane or car ride makes my lower back, on the left hand side, hurt. I understood the back pain in pregnancy. I did, I really did, and I tried not to complain too much. Both of the children were carried basically against my back and I don’t blame you, Body, for finding that hideously painful (it is the downside of the perk of not getting super big when pregnant, I know, I know). But now? Hello, there are no small bodies curled up against my spine anymore. What are you doing to me? You’ve driven me back to yoga lately with this pain. I hope that’s what you were getting at. If not I’m kind of at a loss for what to do next.
- My teeth. First of all, how could you let me not get any cavities for 28 years, let me develop such an enormous superiority complex about that, and then crush me with four cavities six months after having Grace? That was just plain mean. And in four different corners of my mouth? Thanks. That was an awesome appointment at the dentist, that one (and yes, don’t remind me that I insisted on doing them all at once against the dentist’s advice [ADA?] – you have to agree it was more efficient that way). And the receding gums? I realize that this is my fault for the grinding and clicking as I count off by 8. But come on. I’m just trying to deal with my crazy brain. When I had to have a gum graft, and I had to pick between using skin from the top of my mouth or from a cadaver, that was a nadir. Please just let me have my teeth and gums as they are. Please?
I will, Body, take responsibility for some bad stuff I did to you. Some of the things I am sorry about:
- The Diet Coke. I know. It’s a really bad habit. But damn I like the stuff. I’ve really cut down; I don’t know if you have noticed, but I used to drink 3 or 4 20 ounce bottles a day and now I’m down to one most days. I hope this is making a difference. When you get annoyed and nauseous on me, please remember I never smoked or did a single illegal drug of any kind! Do I get any credit for that?
- The conspicuous lack of calcium consumption. I have read in more than one SELF magazine article that this is especially awful in combination with the Diet Coke. I am hoping that my daily venti lattes help with this a little bit, because I really don’t want to start shrinking. I’m not tall enough as it is.
- My diet. Dear God, Body, I am sorry! I know better. I really do. I eat mostly bread, cheese (see! calcium!), and gummy candy. Occasionally a hamburger or some pizza. I am so sorry. It is truly a wonder that I don’t have scurvy. I keep swearing to do better, and I will recommit to that effort.
- The sunshine. I cringe when I think of all of the summers that I sunbathed. Wow. That seems amazing now, doesn’t it? I accept that my penance for that is bi-annual dermatologist appointments and a whole lot of small moles being dug out of my skin with scalpels. That’s my fault and I am really sorry. Did you have to retaliate so aggressively with the wrinkles, though?
- The high heels. I know. I’m not supposed to wear high heels all the time. But I don’t! I really don’t. Just a few days a week. And the rest of the time? Flip flops or sneakers. Haven’t you noticed? I am trying to make up for it, I really am.
- The broken bones. Maybe more than my share. An ankle, an arm (both bones, both compound fractures through the skin – that one really rocked), some ribs, and a toe. And I guess you thought I was kind of a brat for saying that having broken fingers and toes didn’t count … when I broke my toe sweet Jesus did I realize it counted. Yes, that hurt. Lesson learned. Thanks for healing all of those breaks, as good as new.
All in all, Body, I’m really thankful for all the ways you keep me in one piece (where on earth would this crazy mind of mine be if not contained in you? Now that is a scary thought). Now, I know I’m just plain not psyched about aging, and I’m sure I’m taking some of this discomfort out on you. I’m sorry about that. There are some ways you could cooperate more, though, and I hope my descriptions above inspire you to maybe do that.
Here’s to many more years together, as a team, and by the way thanks for putting up with all the ways I’m a total pain in the ass. I know, you’re as stuck with me as I am with you.