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The Women’s Movement 40 Years Later

When Did You First Realize You Were Old?

As much as we would like to believe otherwise, a lot of how we define ourselves comes from others. If strangers regularly run screaming in the opposite direction when they see you, it would be a fair assumption that you might be a candidate to play the monster in a horror movie.

And when a 20-something interviewing you for a job leans across the table, pats your arm and says, “Tell me your life goals, dear,” you can excuse yourself and leave because she thinks you are too old to handle the work.

From the cradle, we are taught that old is bad. Through images and language in books, magazines, television, movies and behavior of others, we learn that the aged are at best tolerated or made the object of derision and bad jokes - and, at worst, denied employment and even the opportunity to spend money.

So we pay attention and make note when others begin to classify us as no longer young.

The first time it was made evident to me, I was in my early thirties. Walking home from the subway, I crossed the street behind two boys about 12 or 13 playing catch. As the one facing me threw the ball to his friend who was running backwards to catch it, he yelled, “Watch out for the lady behind you.”

I can remember the shock. No one had ever referred to me before as anything but “girl,” although it was a different era. The incident occurred in the 1970s when it was still okay to call even a 60-year-old “girl” and before many newspapers began, improbably, referring to teenagers as “…the 16-year-old woman who lives in The Bronx…”

At home that evening, I carefully checked my appearance in the mirror, but mostly I forgot about my age until, in 1996 and in my mid-fifties, I looked around during a staff meeting at cbsnews.com and noticed I was the oldest kid in the room. By decades.

When one of the youngest learned I had been at Woodstock in 1969, her eyes widened in a wow effect and she reacted as though I had watched Lincoln give his Gettysburg Address. To be fair, she was more interested in a first-hand account of a legendary rock-and-roll gathering than pointing out my age, but for my part, I was startled to realize that I was recalling an event that had taken place before she and some of my other colleagues were born – a sure indication no one would ever again think of me as young.

If it were as acceptable to be old as it is to be young, no one would ever say, “You’re only as old as you feel” or, with faux shock at the number of candles on their birthday cake, “I don’t feel 50” or 60 or 65. It makes me nuts when I hear those statements because whatever you feel at a given age is what it feels like to be that age. To say otherwise is to tacitly agree with the cultural consensus that to be old is to be a lesser being.

I suspect what people really mean when they say those things is, “Where has the time gone?” Sixty years sounds like a long time – actually, it is a long time - but without much effort - and especially if we close our eyes for a moment - we can recall our tenth birthday or first kiss or other special event as clearly as if it were yesterday.

The tagline of this blog is “what it’s really like to get older.” It is unlikely I would have created Time Goes By if that were easy to know. It is not easy because we live in a time and place which demands that we hide our age by any means possible until it is impossible, and until we reach that point, we try to fool not only everyone else about our age, but ourselves as well.

Still, we note the changes as they occur, we notice when others begin to treat us differently and in time, we come to acknowledge that we are no longer part of the youngest or even younger generations. And if we are not unduly taken in by the youth and beauty police - age becomes an happy and enjoyable place to be.

So which brave readers among you will tell the rest of us what it was that made you realize, the first time, that you were growing older?

Comments

I would have to say the first time I realized I was growing older was when my two big toes starting turning in the wrong direction. That was on my 45th birthday, actually.

The next time was on a tube in London last year in March when a young woman stood up for me to sit down. It was a kind gesture and I appreciated it on one level. But at a more important level I was horrified! I smiled and said, "No thank you," and I don't remember if I was actually tired or not. That was so easily not the point for me at that moment. Inwardly I thought, "That's it! I'm old now."

And then, of course, it is almost always when I walk past a shop window and get a glimpse of myself ... somehow it is always a surprise. My outward appearance just does not seem to match what I am feeling inside at the moment.

A few years ago (30s) when my doctor gave me the same cholesterol medicine that my father was taking.

My moment was the first time a young store clerk offered me the senior discount because it was Tuesday.
When will we all realize that "old" is not a dirty word? The worst offenders are doctors. We start seeing so many of them as we get older! And they are expert at making us feel ancient by telling us that trite line about being only as old as we feel.

When a young cashier asked me if I wanted a senior citizen discount at age 38, I knew I might be getting there!

I see more and more of my people in the same decade as me in the obituaries (I'm in my fifties).

I am feeling older now that I am buying lots of incontinent products for my mother.

I remember tv shows and can think of expressions that my kids don't know the meaning behind them!
Those are just a few I can think of at the moment and will probably forget them in 5 minutes!

Old??? Never. Well, ok. I guess it's inevitable. My AARP card came in the mail (6 yrs ago). Sometimes people offer to carry my bags and I think, Why?. But the biggest kicker was the recent interview where the nurse manager asked me about my 5 year plan. She says, "Are you looking at a Master's Degree". I said, "No, I'm looking for something I can do for the next 10 yrs until I can retire."

I look in the mirror and sometimes don't recognize the person that looks back. Nor do I have the physical stamina that I did 20 yrs ago. That's when I realize that I'm getting old. It was a rude awakening.

The good thing about getting older is that I just don't care as much about what people think. I am who I am. I'm way more straight forward than I used to be. It seems to be the best way to be.

Age is a state of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter. I don't know who said it, but I agree with it.

I worry myself as I am growing older 70 next month in fact a time to ponder over what we have all done in our lives I think.
I happen to notice this very well written blog of your’s on a friends blog Dus7 comespeak2me and I am very worried about her she has not posted to her blog now from the thirteenth of this month which is definitely not like her at all.
And no e-mail either which is also odd.
Apart from this I do not know a great deal about life in the USA although I visited once in 1994.
We here in Australia seem to be better off in a lot of ways free medical (well almost) and nothing like the one mentioned by Alan I believe in the UK but it does have similarities akin to the New Zealand one possibly.
I am however very worried about Dus or B as her name is; very worried indeed.
If perchance you here from her that would be a blessing.
Sorry to take up your time on this but B and myself had discussed at one time what to do in the event of passing re pen pals and blog pals.

It kind of crept up on me... I don't remember a defining moment, but I do know that at some point a lot of people started calling me "sir," and since my general deportment has never been particularly genteel, I am sure it was because of my age.

Beth and I did have a moment of clarity at the movies a few years ago when the clerk just automatically rang in the "senior citizen" discount. The irony was that neither of us then quite qualified for it. We didn't hesitate to accept it though.

When the comely co-eds in my classes began addressing me as "sir".

When, about the time my then-wife was reaching her sexual peak, I discovered I had a favorite chair. (Stolen from Rita Rudner, but true nevertheless.)

Bifocals.

This is easy. First of all it doesn't help that I stopped coloring my hair when I was 30 and I had a full head of gray/white hair. Most people young and old associate graying hair with age, but when one of my son's classmates in 3rd grade asked if I was his grandma, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I still don't color my hair and never will.
Most recently an aid at the retirement home my father lives, asked if I was dad's wife, now that stung.

Age 43--Noticing a lack of skin tone in my until-then taut belly, while bathing.

Age 52--Noticing HR people's talking about retirement--30 years hence--during the indoctrination classes for my last change of employment. Based on the age at which all of the women in my family had so far died, I expected to be three-years dead, not retired!

Not only the mammograms, but then the follow ups and more follow ups followed up by the biopsies. Ah well.

To my friends I first became old at 19 when I got married and very old at 22 when I had a kid. None of them have had children yet...so I'm the eternal parent while they remain eternal children.

To my husband, who was 33 to my 19, I was a just girl and so I remain.

In my early 30s I worked with a bunch of newly graduated 20 year olds that made me feel ancient. In my late 30s I worked with a bunch of men in their 50s and 60s who had worked at NASA on the moon launch. Despite my inexperience (and girliness) they let me be part of their gang. I felt like everyone's kid sister.

Most recently I've gone back to college with kids younger than my son. Anticipating the experience, I felt old. In reality, none of them ever treated me any differently than each other. It was I who found myself biting my tongue to avoid disparaging remarks. (Like..."That was probably before you were born.") They were wonderful and I realized that I was the one making myself feel old--not them.

Since then, I haven't thought much about my age.

I was at my sister's wedding two years ago and I was asked if I was the bride's mother. (ouch) Mercifully, my sisters rolled their eyes and declared the woman who asked to be an idiot.

I also can't read with my ordinary glasses on anymore. I have to lift them up and read underneath them. Something I saw my mother do for years. The gesture of lifting my specs to read was a "What am I doing?!" moment.

To add insult to injury, my waist is much to thick to use a hulahoop. I used to be great at it.

When did I first realize I was getting old?

I am not sure there was a defining moment but there was this…

An ever increasing number of rude and disparaging birthday cards aimed at old people that seemed to make everyone in the room break out in spontaneous laughter with one exception - me. I kept wondering, “Why in the hell are these people giving me these kinds of cards?”

For me it started with turning 60 and I couldn't think of that as being middle aged. At first it was an adjustment, then came the moment of old and wow together. Cool that I got here and wasn't sure I ever would (a lot don't).

The cool part was I did accomplish a lifetime of what I would have hoped-- even if not as much as I might've wished, but overall I did it and if life ended now, I did all of that, but there was more ahead and it's a different set of experiences to go through.

I have observed some people don't like to call themselves old, but I do call myself old and don't mind. For me to call myself young would take away the meaning of the word. It's just that, as you have observed here often, the word old has been misused. I think it's time we redefine old and claim it when others would look at us and say no, you aren't but we say yes we are and it's good to be here. Being old should be respected, valued and used in one's life for what it is.

I have never had anyone else treat me differently for being almost 63. If my attitude to aging is different than some, it is probably because of the wonderful old people I have been blessed with in my life. Their memories, feistiness, individuality are still with me.

A few years ago, I instantly felt older when I noticed a crease in my eyelids that wasn't there the day before.

in India, the normal practice is to address older people by honorifics and not by name. When I was 27, a 16 year old called me 'aunty'..
and more recently when my sister's grandchild called me 'chikkajji' (little grandmother)

I'm not old, only 57. That's old? Oh well, I think I realized I was old the first time I uttered the words "I remember when....." to a young person who didn't give a damn about anything that I remembered. When one starts reminiscing more than thinking about what the future holds, well, maybe that's when you know you are old.

Just last night,during our usual bedtime ritual of talking about the day passed, Kman said that he just doesn't recognize the face that looks back at him in the mirror, "I don't feel as old as that balding, greying and sun-whupped old fart who stares back at me".

On a shelf in our den, I have two 8 x 10 photos of Kman and myself taken our senior year in high school - those famous annual book pictures. I recognize those faces. Like my husband, the face I see in the mirror now is just strange. It doesn't seem to match my perception of who I am.

That daily mirror check has become my trip to reality.

I know the purpose of TGB is to teach acceptance and rejoicing of aging, but some days I just plain hate getting older, at least in the physical sense.

It is "those days" when the newly found wisdom of growing older is pisspoor exchange for a healthy vigorous body.

And it is "those days" when the words of Claudio ring too true:

"Aye, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod. . . .
To be imprisoned in the viewless winds
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendant world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling —'tis too horrible!"

(Measure for Measure, 3.1.117–27)

Though I know it is a gigantic waste of time, self-pity and the fear of mortality still finds its wormy way into my psyche on occasional nights.

Age is an attitude and I have not let myself feel old. In fact, most people think I am 10 years younger than my almost 68 age. I fly Southwest senior fare and they think I have forged my id!! I have creaky, achy bones when I wake up, but I put on my pedometer and do my 10,000+ steps and then I feel fine. I head to my studio and make some abstract fiber art and I feel even better.

I noticed a trend when supervisors were 10-15 years my junior more often than not.
I felt the difference at the onset of menopause when the body I had grown so comfortable with, began reacting like a stranger...

When I was 35. Halfway between 20 and 50. But that was only until I decided to adopt a new attitude on the stages of life:
Only four:
Infant, youth, prime, old

I decided that prime was a better way to look at things.

I used to work in a college town, where everyone seemed young. When I turned 35 I had a distinct feeling of being on "the other side of young". I wasn't exactly old, but I was no longer young. Turning 50 was another point where I felt older - I am a senior member of the staff now and I'm the one with lots of experience. Thinking about, and planning for, retirement also brings age home for me in a new way.

It is hard to feel old when I still have my Mother living. At age 90 she is doing great. So how can I be old, I must still be middle aged, right?

The feeling of being old hits me when I look in the mirror and see the wrinkles. They seem to have developed overnight since menopause. Also whenever I see the annual list Beloit College puts out about what the freshmen entrants have been born after.

Last year a bed & breakfast guest thought my husband was 45. Actually 68, he is beginning to feel his age. Me, too. I used to be able to work and work and work all day. Now my energy gets rapidly depleted. I wonder what happened to my stamina? Wonder Woman I am no longer. The clincher though was when my 96-year-old mother asked how old I was the other day. I can stop looking in the mirror and pretend my eldest child isn’t 35, but when I had to actually say 59, it hit me. I’m almost 60. I used to consider 60 old. People certainly have silly ideas, don’t they?

I still do not feel or consider myself old. I am still the girl of 5 who started to kindergarten, the 16 year old who graduated from high school, the 21 year old who married her best friend, the young wife giving birth and raising 3 children, the grandmother to those children's children, the companion to the love of my life for 55 years in November.

I only feel old when I try to fit into a pair of panty hose. :P

The first time someone called me "ma'am." Shudder.

A couple of years ago (I'm 39 now) when I picked up my son from childcare and another kid asked me if I was my son's nanny. Being the innocent I am I thought he meant carer. It took me a couple of days to realise he meant grandmother.

Just the other day I was leaving the supermarket with a carriage full of groceries. When I got to my car I opened the trunk and started to put the groceries away when along came a young lady who asked if she could HELP ME put them in the car!!

I was pleasantly surprised and said, "yes." She also asked me just how I wanted them placed in the trunk so they would be easy to take out.

No one had ever offered to help me before. Maybe I am old or maybe she just needed the carriage! ;-)

When my daughter started kindergarten two years ago one of her school friends came up to me and said, "You're Katie's mom?...you're too old to be a mom!" Quite a shocking moment for me at 48 years old, but then I realized that in our public school here in Hell's Kitchen most of her classmates mothers were in their 20's. Ouch!

I am about to be 66 in 5 weeks. I still don't feel old and sometimes I am shocked at the visage in the mirror, but some people tell me I don't look my age. The only thing that makes me feel older is when younger people in my business (who do not know me) treat me with indifference.

I've been aware of being viewed as "old" by others at various points in my life, some of which have been described above.

One of the most poignant ones was when my son, in kindergarten, came home one afternoon, having realized I was one of the few "older" parents compared with those of his classmates. He was recognizing that he was maturing, how our relationship was changing, when he shyly, but affectionately, smiling all the while, said, "You know Mom, I use to think you were cute."

When I became invisible to men.

Three years ago I took a Polish class at the university. Two of us were going to miss a class so we arranged for a private session with the instructor. The topic was age. We had to practice saying, How old are you? I am __.
I said to the instructor, I'm the oldest person in the class including you. She replied, Someone has to be. But she could see I was uncomfortable so she suggested I say I was twenty. Everytime I said that she laughed and corrected my pronunciation. Finally she told me I was saying
I was one hundred and twenty.

A couple of years ago when at the age of 47 I deceided to return to full time education. Worried about whether I would able to be cope because of my mental health problems I discussed the matter with my (ridiculously young) physchologist, I will quote his reply:

'Well, at your age it doesn't really matter whether you complete the course or not. Its not as if you were young and were planning a career. At your age its just something to fill your time.'

I almost, almost, didnt follow through with my plans after that. However as I start the second year of a four year degree, I'm really glad that I chose to ignore him.

I am not old. I was just born some time ago (9 Dec 1933 if you must know).

When I am on duty at Our Little Local Cathedral visitors say to me, "And which is your Parish then ?" I tell them that I don't have one, and am retired. "Are you ?" they say, in tones of disbelief. I put it down to the tablets, which like Moses, I keep taking twice a day.

When I KNOW that I am old is when I find myself in a conversation where someone refers to a topic or event and I find myself saying, "Yes, but in 1947 . . . . ". Then I realise that they are looking at me with a slightly glazed look because this is long before they were born - and when I look at them I see that they have grey hair and wrinkles - which of course I do not.

I also tell fibs.

I ride to the gym with a woman who is 90 years old, doesn't need glasses or a hearing aid, is sharp as a tack, and does most of her own housework. I am nine years younger than her and need glasses, two hearing aids, quit driving ten years ago, and am no longer sharp as a tack. My first question to her as we head out for the gym is always, "How are you feeling today?" One day her answer was a simple, "Old." That said it all and so I wonder what is wrong with the statement, "You're only as old as you feel." Somedays I feel like I am forty and other mornings I feel like an ancient hundred. When did I start to feel old? It was a gradual awareness.

I'm still waiting. Why is it that as women we take what others think of us seriously? We write, paint, craft, fly, sail, break horses and birth babies..but none of these accomplishments of a life well lived seems to matter when it comes to the 'clock' others gauge us by.

I have always been fascinated by people and how they have chosen to live their lives...Japan honors those over 100 and in the US they honor no one, ageing is seen as failure to leave a corpse that can be 'displayed'. Sad because to endure, live well, burn that candle totally up with laughter, tears and song is the best we all as humans have to offer.

Old? Yep, ask a petrified tree it's age. I want to live fully and to be as old as that tree!

My defining moment came when I made an appointment to see my new advisor after enrolling in graduate school at age 60. When I walked into the office and noticed a VERY young man sitting there, I asked him if he was also waiting to see Prof. So-and-so. Needless to say, I was quite embarrassed when he replied that he WAS Prof. So-and-so...

Several defining moments in my life made me feel like I was getting “old”; when I realized at 40 that my time had run out for ever bearing a child is the first one I remember – that was hard to take. The passing of my mother when I was 47 is another experience that added to my feelings of getting old. During my last years in my career, when my boss and co-workers were decades younger than me, while my influence at work decreased to nothing, and I started hearing myself saying, “back in the old days…” – I really started feeling I was getting old. But until my early 50’s I still tried to deny the fact that I was aging, and it really wasn’t until about a year after retirement from my 32 year career at 55, that I finally realized, yes, I’m getting old. Face it. Deal with it. Live with it. Enjoy it!

It was when my cousin's 19 year old grandson told my husband and I, "You guys are really cool for old people." I learned from my dear old Daddy years ago that a sence of humor is a fine thing to have. If you can't laugh out loud at life then you're in trouble. LOL!

Excellent question Ronni!

I distinctly remember the first time I realized I was—not so much “old” as when I realized I was no longer “young.” I worked in HR for a municipal corporation of 600 employees. I always related to all incoming new employees as peers. Then one day, when I was in my early 40’s, while I was orienting a new employee who might have been in her 20’s, I realized that she was looking at me differently. So subtle it was, yet so clearly did I tune into her perception of me as “older”, as someone in the generation ahead of her. It was a very profound moment for me. I realized in a very deep way, without pomp and circumstance, that I had crossed a threshold in life.

I am now 51. It makes me wonder if I will cross a similar “threshold” into “old old” when I approach 80 or 90—I mean, do folks look at people in their 80’s and 90’s as “really old” or some such sentiment and attribute a whole different set of characteristics (i.e.: stereotypes)? I wonder.

Defining moments - I'm not so sure that they are defining, but there have been moments. the one that popped to mind immediately was at a niece's wedding in Atlanta four or five years ago. My four surviving sibs and I attended. As the evening wore on and I had been watching the "children" (including the almost 40 bride) dancing I looked at my brother and three sisters and said, "You know what? We're now the old people in all those family photos." (As a child, there were many, many family photos - aunts and uncles and a couple of grandmothers. Now we were them!)

The moments: When my redish beard turned grey; when the hair on my chest did the same; when I first noticed the beginnings of a turkey neck;when my oldest sister passed away, followed shortly by my oldest brother.

I still think my appearance (at least from inside my skull) is that of the 18 year old at Notre Dame or the 22 year old getting married or the 42 year old getting married for a second time. These visions are especially true when I think about friends who have not aged as gracefully as I have aged! I have always been good at fooling myself!

I recently went fishing with my brother (75 and four years my senior) in Alaska. We had a great time. He asked me when I was going to retire and I replied, "When they throw me out!" He also pointed out to me that I had now outlived our father. That was indeed a moment. I had not thought about that up until that moment.

I do like my life. I don't like the stiffness in my joints in the morning, or the wrinkled skin or the pharmacy on the kitchen counter.

On the other hand, I do love my job, seeing my children and grand children, riding my bike, walking, taking road trips, medicare/social security (the old age bonus), dinner with friends, arguing politics, an occasional date and telling folks that I do remember Pearl Harbor.

My life is good. My independence is a gift. I have been abundantly blessed.

Uncanny. A week before your post, I had written the following (inspired by Nora Ephron's latest book title):

The Neck

The discovery of my neck
is a trauma that will stay with me
forever.
The major no turning back moment
of my life.

It was this way.
I was 60, 61, 62, whatever,
driving up to the Dayton Art Institute
with a young I-mean-young friend.
Great conversation
tripping over one another's last words
completing one another's lines
looking forward toward
loving or hating the exhibition
at the end of the line.
It didn't matter.
We were free
and getting hungry
and talking about strange dishes
like biscuits and gravy.
My daring friend had eaten them.
I had not
but thinking about it was excitement
enough for me.

The day was sunny, warm, breezy
the sun at my left.

I can't bear it.
I'm going to watch television.
I'll finish this later.

I'm back.
Unwillingly I end the story.

So I'm driving north on I-75,
with the sun pouring in
over my left shoulder.
Glorious day.
I want to change lanes.
I check the rear view mirror.
I am covered in sunlight.
I do not see if there's a car in back,
or a car to my left.
I see - my neck.
More particularly,
I see - wrinkles.
A mass of wrinkles
has taken over my neck
in careless disregard of
esthetic pattern.

Engulfed by astonishment,
shock, and shame,
conversation disintegrates,
smiles are swallowed, then forced,
I cannot believe my eyes.
Can my friend believe my eyes?
Has she seen what I've seen?
Will she still be my friend?
Will biscuits and gravy
make up for the new burden of my life?

My first full time job was in the late forties and my starting salary was $1092.00 a year. My Grandson just received a $60.000 bonus in his second year with his company. Now thats old.

I realized that I was the oldest relative in my immediate family of one girl and two boys at my father's funeral...So as the oldest of the Vega Clan I have been given the Chair to sit on called "The next oldest Vega to kick the bucket!" Siiiiggggggghhhhhhh.

Playing a pick-up soccer game with the 9 year olds I was coaching and tearing my hamstring at 40. That sucked.

Six years ago when I was 57 I was visiting a friend and her grandchildren. Her granddaughter wanted to get my attention but had forgotten my name. So the little girl refered to me as "grandma's friend". This came as a bit of a shock. Now that I have my own grandchildren I fully accept what generation I belong to!

I'm not old yet. I refuse to feel old. But I acknowledge that my body is getting older and try to accept all of the stuff that comes with it.

First time that I realized the outside didn't match the inside:
We were picking blueberries. The owners had told us not to eat the berries without washing them first, because they had sprayed the day before (I'm assuming some kind of repellent or pesticide). A gaggle of teenagers came in, obviously sent by a parent or parents to pick enough for a pie. One on the other side of the bush from me started eating berries. I told him, "These berries were just sprayed yesterday, so it would probably be a good idea to wash them before you eat them." He ran off to his friends, shouting, "Hey, the old lady over there says don't eat the berries without washing them first!" (I was 42 at the time.)

Feeling the weight of experience the first time: the day I realized that the mother of one of my youngest child's classmates was young enough to be my daughter.

I THINK THE YOUNG LADY WHO SHARED THIS COMMENTARY HAS TO TAKE A LONG HARD LOOK AT WHAT PEOPLE OUR AGE LOOKED LIKE WHEN WE WERE YOUNG LOOKING AT THEM ITS A WHOLE DIFFERENT WORLD IN OUR 40s we look like we are in our 30s back then 40 looked like 60 if you look good you feel good and vice versa , pay attention your still turning heads

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