Around seven or eight years ago, when my daughter was in high school, a cashier thought I was my daughter’s sister. (Either that or she was well-versed in the art of flattery and customer manipulation.) Yesterday, a different cashier (not so well-versed in the art of flattery) assumed I was the grandmother of an eleven-year-old. I felt like I’d aged ten years in five seconds as I silently assured myself that grandmothers are much older than I am and the cashier needed her vision checked.
Though the eleven-year-old’s mother was also standing with us and it was not totally clear who the cashier had dubbed “grandma,” I’m sure it was me. Not only is my friend younger than me, but three months ago, I stopped coloring my hair.
People have noticed. Some have asked if I’m frosting my hair. Two people have said I’m “rocking” the look. Others who have chosen the natural route have given me a high five. Those who are disturbed by this rapid transformation from middle-aged mother to potential grandmother are thankfully keeping their thoughts to themselves.
After yesterday’s shocking experience jolted me out of my blissful denial that I am within spitting distance of fifty years old, I’ve asked myself if I can own my age.
First, I did the math. I needed to prove to myself that even though I don’t feel old enough to be a grandmother I could technically be the biological grandmother of an eleven-year-old. Unfortunately, the numbers do not lie. I could if both my daughter and I had a child when we were 17.5 years old. This is not the case, but it is biologically possible and has been for longer than I want to admit.
Then, I considered going back to the coloring bottle. I’ve done it before. I found my first gray hair in college. For a few years I pulled the gray hairs out until I began to fear going bald. In my early thirties I started coloring my hair to hide the gray because I didn’t want to look older than I was. I quit for a few years after what may have been an allergic reaction, but then one day I looked in the mirror and couldn’t own the age that looked back at me. I began coloring again with no ill effects but the inconvenience. Three months ago, I stopped because I was tired of trying to mask the truth—I’m going gray. But I reserved the right to start coloring again, if my ego couldn’t handle it.
Last night, I had a “Come to Jesus” meeting with my ego. My ego said, “You’re letting yourself go!” and “Gray hair makes you look older than you are!” But my ego can’t argue with the facts—I am old enough to be a grandmother and I was blessed with early graying hair. My looks have changed as a result of my decision, but that doesn’t mean I’m not taking care of myself. If people want to assume gray hair means I’m as old or even older than I am, so be it. And as Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”
Ultimately, this experience has challenged me to rethink my own assumptions about age and ask myself if I truly own my age.
- When I was a child, I often thought I wanted to be five years older and my focus was on the future, so I didn’t own my age.
- Since my mid twenties, I’ve often wanted to be five or more years younger which kept me focused on my near past. I rarely owned my age.
- As I approach my fifties, I find myself more and more focused on Today. Maybe I’m getting closer to owning my age?
When it comes down to it, an age is simply a mile marker, not a sum of who we are. Each stage of the journey has its joys and challenges. If we always think the best of life is behind us or ahead, we’ll never experience it. So here’s to owning your age (and your hair color)—whatever it may be.
Do you own your age?
For those who are tired of coloring their hair to hide the gray
Go natural. It’s free, and you can age yourself 10 years in 3 months, guaranteed. If for any reason you are not satisfied, you can always give your money back to your hairdresser or favorite retailer and start coloring again.
In the past two weeks, I’ve had at least two conversations where I said, “Since I’m not working anymore…,” and the person I was talking to responded, “But you are working. You’re a writer.”
Oh yeah. That work.
I needed the reminder that writing is my work because I don’t always feel like it is legitimate work for a number of reasons:
- Creative writing doesn’t include a regular paycheck.
- I work from home.
- I’m still developing the discipline to write daily. Sometimes I do well. Other times, I don’t.
- I have more unfinished writing than published writing, partly because I write slowly, but mainly because I’m a perfectionist who knows my writing will never be “good enough.”
- At this point, all deadlines are self-imposed.
- I hired myself, and I’m my own boss. Sometimes I wonder if I picked the right person for the job.
- The opportunity to write full time is an undeserved gift.
The last reason fills me with gratitude, but it’s sometimes accompanied by a paralyzing guilt and sense of responsibility. What if I don’t succeed? Why have I been given this gift?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but the second reveals something fundamental about work. Seeing the opportunity and ability to work as a gift, whether we’re self-employed or an employee, shifts the focus off our personal success or failure to the fact that work requires us to serve. Not only do we need to serve others—our customers and co-workers and family—but we need to serve the gifts we’ve been given.
This is a truth that Madeleine L’Engle came back to many times when talking about her work as a storyteller and writer. So, to wrap up this small offering, I’ll leave you with a few of her words from The Rock That Is Higher:
I listen to my stories; they are given to me, but they don’t come without a price. We do have to pay, with hours of work that ends up in the wastepaper basket, with intense loneliness, with a vulnerability that often causes us to be hurt. And I’m not sure that it’s a choice. If we’re given a gift—and the size of the gift, small or great, does not matter—then we are required to serve it, like it or not, ready or not. Most of us, that is, because I have seen people of great talent who have done nothing with their talent who mutter about “When there’s time…,” or who bury their talent because it’s too risky to use.
Yes, it is risky. We may not hear the story well. We may be like faulty radios, transmitting only static and words out of context. But I believe that it is a risk we have to take. And it is worth it, because the story knows more than the artist knows.
Whatever gift of work you’ve been given, I hope you’re encouraged to serve that gift today.
Photo Credit: singhajay at morguefile.com