Ahhhh, the joys of puberty! Who can resist giggling out loud at the thought of the awkward and terrifying years of unexpected body changes and middle school identity confusion. As a mother now in midlife, I can still remember the class that prepped me and the other 7th grade girls for the monster called puberty. My 5th grade daughter will soon watch the video, and she and her classmates will giggle and observe and nod their heads and then — bam! –puberty will hit and there is no turning back.
Well, sadly, there is no class nor video that prepares you for the unexpected and rapid changes that occur in midlife. I have been saying for years that I am having a midlife crisis, to which I am quickly told, “Oh, you are too young for that!”
The more I hear this response the more annoyed I grow. I am most definitely having some sort of identity crisis, even if I am not yet the big 4-0. Something is happening to me; I am changing physically and emotionally, and it is all happening way too quickly. My midlife crisis is a lot like puberty and — my god — it is definitely real. I don’t feel the need to go buy a red sports car or get plastic surgery (or maybe you do?), but I do feel like something has taken control over my body and stolen so many things I value, like my metabolism, smooth skin, and muscle mass.
Having worked in education most of my life, I have been schooled in puberty intervention. My former boss had a sign in her office that read Puberty is a Fact. It stood as a reminder to parents and educators alike that our middle school students were going through something big, something confusing and, well, something that left these middle schoolers feeling as though their bodies were betraying them.
Well, guess the eff what? I am going through something big and confusing and my body is betraying me too! I am growing hair in places I did not used to grow hair, my boobs are saggier, and my butt is jigglier. My mom always told me that you either have cellulite or you don’t. It is not something you just get as you age. Well, Mom, you are dead wrong. Two years ago I had smooth, dimple-free, muscular, legs. And now? The dimples have arrived and they are multiplying like Gremlins who have been fed after midnight.
A few years ago, I woke up in the morning and there was a “crease” on my face that I had never noticed before. The crease formed to the left of my mouth, and it was about 3 inches long. I examined it for a long time wondering what it could possibly be. I truly believed that I had smiled or laughed too much and that my crease would disappear as the day went on. When days had passed and said crease did not magically vanish, I grew flustered and anxious and downright angry. It was then that the thought, “wrinkle” finally occurred to me. Was there a wrinkle on my face? Already? It was too soon. I was not ready for this. I tried every anti-aging (or face) cream out there, but my crease soon became permanent. It was officially a wrinkle.
Like an adolescent in the throws of puberty I had questions about these unexpected changes: Why is my body betraying me? How can I stop it? I slowly realized that this process of aging, like puberty, is a fact and it can’t be stopped. I have stopped obsessing over the wrinkles, grey hair and cellulite. I remind myself that when kids make it through puberty they emerge a little bit wiser, stronger, and more prepared for the life that awaits them.
So as I turn the corner and approach the big 4-0 with a changing and aged physique, I am finally approaching acceptance: My body is on a journey of its own. I try to take good care of it and I embrace all of my imperfections. Like middle schoolers, I am gaining wisdom, strength and vivacity. Every stretch mark, every wrinkle and every grey hair has been earned. I birthed three vivacious, loving children and accomplished some amazing feats in my adulthood. I have lived through 39 years of love and heartbreak, strength and weakness, faith and emptiness. Everything that I learned along the way has created the person I am right now at this moment.
The physical changes have felt alarming and scary, and whereas I have not wanted to say goodbye to the younger version of me on the outside, I am often very happy to say goodbye to the younger version of me on the inside. I love who I am and who I have become. Who I am now has taken years of hard work. And in that, my body hasn’t failed me yet.
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