Turning 70 Made Me Realize a Few Things About Aging
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I Just Turned 70 and Here's What I Finally Realize

I feel obliged to share.

illustration of number 70 with floral background
Rudi de Wet

As I celebrated my 70th birthday in July, I feel obliged to share wisdom about aging and life. Here goes:

Every time I register for something online, I’m amazed how long it takes to scroll way down to my birth year, 1952. I feel older inside and out, yet younger in thought — thanks to my millennial daughter. I’m a little wiser sometimes, still learning from my mistakes. And oh yes, it’s hard to believe my age.

No matter how active and alive we feel, there comes a time when we become self-conscious about our age and consider whether to announce it in public. Until now I felt more liberated than my mother, who had difficulty coming to terms with each birthday.

On her 50th birthday Mom announced she’d go in reverse. The next year she claimed she was 49. Decades later, I published an essay about our relationship, citing her age as 78. She phoned me, miffed.

“My friend Dave called me up after reading your article!” she said on the verge of hyperventilation. “He said, ‘Sylvia, you always told me you were 75.’ You made a liar out of me.”

As a journalist and her daughter, I knew the exact year she’d been born. She was the fibber. I was too young to understand. My father had died three years before and she was in the dating game again.

I celebrated her December birthday each year by flying from New York to Florida, putting candles on her favorite ice cream cake. In her 80s, she began saying, “What’s the alternative?”

She lived 11 more years before the “alternative,” enjoying sculpture classes, museums and eight grandchildren. At her funeral only one close friend was still alive.

Today, my friend group ranges in age from 30s to 80s. Yet I always used to be the youngest. The “baby” of my family, I skipped third grade and went through puberty years after my seventh-grade classmates transformed into sexy fashion-model types. They ridiculed me, chanting, “You’re a flat-chested broad.” In college I was emotionally immature, dateless and depressed.

After giving birth to my daughter at 41, I was promoted to the oldest in the Mommy crowd. In fifth grade my daughter asked me not to volunteer as a chaperone for a class field trip. I wrote it off to typical tween embarrassment. Later she told me, “You’re the oldest mom in the class,” even though others were just a few years my junior. I felt hurt but find it amusing now that she’s 28. “You’re beautiful,” she says. Occasionally, “You’re hip.” Hippy maybe. Former hippie too. Yet 70 remains hard to roll off my tongue.

My mother played golf until she was 90. She refused to ride a golf cart, walking 18 holes for better exercise. I never liked the sport, but maybe I should consider taking it up now for longevity.

I’m not going to mention (oh yes, I am!) my arthritic knees, crepey skin (no matter how many laps I swim) and implants—the toothy kind. But it’s the number 70 that feels more unreal.

My Prussian grandmother wore housedresses, high-topped black shoes and nylon stockings knotted at her knee. I bop around in leggings, sneakers and athletic shirts.

This flat-chested broad has turned into a 38D. Mama mammilla, those bullies should see me now! Lately I notice gravity pulling them farther south. But I’m grateful to still have both of them. The most pleasurable moment of the day is taking off my bra at night and flopping around in pj’s.

I have no plans to retire, fortunate that college professors are viewed as esteemed veterans rather than fossils. My students keep me young, teaching me about their political viewpoints, worries for the future and essential texting abbreviations.

Though I do have to confront how our youth-driven celebrity-worship society makes it harder for us to accept changing body shapes and realistic expectations aligned with our age. I loved the way Grace and Frankie highlighted mature women, as do actors like Helen Mirren and Jamie Lee Curtis. Who knows how many face-lifts give them ageless beauty, though seeing them makes me even more aware of my well-earned wrinkles.

As designer Diane von Furstenberg, 75, has said: “Your wrinkles reflect the roads you have taken; they form the map of your life. My face carries all my memories. Why should I erase them?”

I learn to accept the fact that unlike my daughter, I can no longer bike 12 miles and then play tennis for two hours. But I can teach her about the importance of 401(k) plans since she’s unable to visualize that far into the future. I can encourage her to take vitamin D daily to prevent the skin cancer that runs in our family, even when she sends me a TikTok ridiculing mothers who are supplement pushers.

Recently I told her, “I’m tired of spending all that time dying my hair brown.” I parted my hair to demonstrate my roots.

“You’re actually all white,” she said. “When will you go natural?”

“Not yet.” I smiled.

She suggested I get a second ear piercing — after I mentioned that my lobes have also sagged. She has eight or nine piercings; I’ve lost count. We made a pact to do it together, as a post-70th birthday celebration I suggested (if I don’t chicken out).

My mother was a pioneering trendsetter when she added second holes to her dangling lobes in her 70s. Am I turning into her? No way! Well, maybe just a bit. I don’t yet store tissues under my boobs, but I vow to always proudly announce my true chronological age — even though I often feel younger inside.

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