Gero-Punk Provocations: New Years Fragments

“I was the belle of the ball!”

That’s the first thing my 67 year old mommy said to me after saying hello and how are you.

“Five kisses on New Years Eve! Can you believe it?” And this is the woman – The mother, okay, my mother – who resisted for months becoming part of this community of fine folks who dance and drink too much champagne and kiss one other on the mouth.

I love (by which I mean hate) being called by my own bluff. And let me tell you something, this woman, this mother, my mommy called her own bluff in the coolest, most supreme way.

But this is her story to tell. And I hope she tells it soon because it is spell-binding, surprising and juicy!

+++

I was in the backseat of an old Honda listening to the two late mid-life brothers talk about their older father. One of the mid-life brothers, the younger one, is the man I love. I was trying not to get carsick. I was exhausted and recovering from a virus and holiday-travel-stress. And I was trying not to scream my bloody head off.

No matter what the younger late mid-life brother said about their older father’s condition (eye witness account: he’s not doing so well), the older late mid-life brother countered it with some strong objection.  Some of the objections – all geriatric nursing assistants and home-care workers are unskilled and don’t really care about their clients; and, if their father used a wheelchair in an airport so that he could continue to travel it would be the road to disaster – made me want to bop the older late mid-life brother on his nose.

Instead, I offered my unasked for “expert” opinions on both matters. (Let me know if you want to know what I said.) I started wondering if that’s why the man I love brought me along on this trip, to offer unasked for “expert” opinions. Though my own family has rejected my expert opinions, so why should his family be any different?

Other objections older late mid-life brother made I was able to countenance with more compassion and understanding as I somehow intuited that they weren’t well prepared entrenched arguments or positions but manifestations of his own vulnerability and fear about his father’s (as well as his own?) aging, ill health, and inevitable decline toward finitude.

The only time in the entire conversation that the older mid-life brother yielded to the younger mid-life brother was when he admitted that yes, he should respond to email messages from their father’s partner, otherwise she might not know that he had received them. Oh, and that he should call their father more often and even visit once in the while.

+++

Sometimes being a girl is really hard.

Please understand, I am not saying that being a boy isn’t hard. I am just speaking from my own experience. I’m a girl, not a boy.

And my experience is that being a girl is really hard. And it hasn’t gotten any easier, speaking from the vantage point of being a 47 year old girl.

Being a girl means that I sit on the couch and cry my heart out as I listen to Cyndi Lauper, a favorite singer/songwriter of my youth, talk in a radio interview about how hard it is to be a girl. The interviewer complements her for being fearlessly honest and genuine.

Being a girl means that I cry until my eyes swell shut because no matter what I do or say, I can’t seem to make myself understandable to the person who matters so much to me no mater how fearlessly honest and genuine I am being.

I know that girls are a sub-category of humans, and being human is what matters most. But right now I am mostly feeling like a girl.

+++

As I was (finally!) getting my hair cut yesterday, emboldened by temporary blindness as my stylist makes me remove my glasses,  I admitted to her that I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t know how to dress or how to wear my hair now that I am “mid-life.” I suspect that I’ve shot myself in the foot by being a smarty pants and letting my hair go “natural” (that is, gray) in 2008.  The woman cutting my hair said, after an enormous yawn and a long pause, that there “aren’t any rules today.” She said that once my hair is more silver I should punk it out and wear it short. She said I should just stick with my mostly black clothing uniform with appropriate modifications as I continue to grow older. Just for the record, aside from two really old women at the salon getting their snow-white heads-of-hair blown out, I was the only client with “natural” hair. The only woman of any age with un-chemically-modified hair. (Which isn’t a judgement. Just an observation. If you’ve followed my posts, you know that between 1985 and 2008 I experimented with many chemicals. Ha!)

Sometimes I get compliments for my silver streaked hair (a much too young man stared at me and smiled in a quite inappropriate way at the market yesterday), and sometimes I get ridicule (When Isobel and I were in NYC this past November, we stayed in a funky hipster hotel with communal bathrooms. I was washing my face before bed when two hot young women entered the bathroom. They took one look at me, pointed at my hair, snickered and laughed.).

Either way, it sucks.

+++

In her interview, Cyndi Lauper, who is currently 60, said that we should bravely embrace who we are, even if we are out of step with the mainstream, even if we get rejected by others. In principle, I agree, and I’ve tried to live this way my whole life.  But I am really confused, truly and profoundly confused.

I wish she’d talk more about how it feels to be in this weird indeterminate zone between being a young woman and an old woman.  How is feels to still be a girl with a mid-life body.

Alas, I am a mid-life girl who still just wants to have fun. (Oh, and change the world!)

About Jenny Sasser

I am currently Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past fifteen years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (8th edition). I live in Portland, Oregon my dog Happy. My daughter Isobel is a Freshman at Bard College in New York state. I have been on the planet 47 years.
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4 Responses to Gero-Punk Provocations: New Years Fragments

  1. The "original" JLaw :) says:

    In this new year, I would encourage you to contact Cyndi and invite the conversation….what a fabulous Gero-punk exchange it will make! <3

  2. Erica says:

    I’m tempted to agree, Jenny, about being a girl. It is hard. The world asks a lot of us, and we ask even more of ourselves. As I raise my daughter & my son, I often hear parents joke about how boys are so much easier (and I laugh along, oh sure, boys are a breeze! ha ha), I find that I am resolved to embrace the complexity of girlhood: at Susie’s age, at our age, at our daughter’s ages. Complex is messy, difficult and wonderful. Sometimes just plain hard too. And perhaps that is where we get our strength, even when we don’t think we have it, we find it. xo

  3. Nicola Bemister (Cox) says:

    Thank you for this. Raising two girls aged nearly 16 I find is like being on a roller coaster. One minute shouting at me that I don’t treat them equally the next sharing her art work course work with me. I also watched on as my Dad and aunt made decisions for my elderly grandmother. And now watching the changes in them and myself (46). I would also love hear what Cyndi has to say.

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