Just For Fun, Pretend Your Next Breath Is Your Last
Three summers ago, just days after my 55th birthday, my 4-year-old grandson stood next to me at the bathroom sink and stared into the mirror as I dabbed a few drops of liquid makeup around my face and started spreading it around.
He was trying to be patient, as he knew I had to finish whatever it was I was doing before we could leave for something — anything — more fun. After a minute or so, which is an hour to a little boy, he asked, “Grandma, what are you doing?”
I smiled at him as I reached for my blush brush and chirped, “I’m putting on my makeup, honey. It makes me look better.”
A few seconds passed as he continued to stare in the mirror, his brow slowly furrowing. Finally, he asked, “When does it start working?”
And that was that. I hugged him and readily agreed that one of us was wasting a lot of our time. Off we went, both of us flush with freedom.
I’ve been thinking of that moment a lot lately as I round the bases and head toward birthday 58 later this month. I may not be running, and there surely is no crowd cheering me on, but I still feel a sense of conquest. I’ve reached that age when the choices are easier. I can spend a half-hour on makeup or I can spend it playing with my grandson. I can read misogynist vitriol on Twitter or write another chapter of my novel. Time will run out, and if I pretend for even a moment that the next breath will be my last, the choices are easy-peasy, friends.
Some of this has to do with my mother. She died at 62, and within weeks, I swapped the life goal of a flatter stomach for living to celebrate birthday 63.
The spring in my step also has a lot to do with the pace of our times. Mine is the first generation of women in America who don’t expect to become invisible after age 50. Note that I didn’t say many still think we do. I’m referring to what we refuse to put up with.
Speaking of young people, there’s something so emboldening about reaching the age when they think of you as a constant surprise. “Wow,” they say, “you walk so fast … you have so much energy … you have really great eyesight.” (Thank you, cataract surgery.) Sometimes I want to egg them on to finish that sentence — “for a woman your age” — but I’ve decided to just relish my new role as a walking miracle.
One of my favorite scenes in this year’s TV lineup is from the Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie, starring Jane Fonda as Grace and Lily Tomlin as Frankie — and yes, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston star, too, but if I haven’t yet made myself clear, we’re not talking about you men right now. This particular scene involves that all-too-familiar feeling of magical disappearance, when we feel as if we’ve been suddenly draped in invisibility cloaks. This phenomenon is particularly common in retail stores.
Grace, who normally is as tightly wound as the business end of a new Weedwacker, loses her temper when a male cashier ignores her and Frankie even as they wave, shout and erupt in yoo-hoos. He is entirely too busy hanging on the every word of a darling young woman who just sashayed over to him for lottery tickets. Grace. Loses. It.
Frankie, however, saves the day after they walk back to the car and she brandishes a pack of cigarettes that she stole. “We have a superpower,” she tells Grace. “You can’t see me, you can’t stop me.”
Forget the red hats, ladies. I want that on a bumper sticker.
When I was growing up, I was always aware of the artificial demarcations of family. Ella was my step-grandmother. Martin was my step-grandfather. Uncle Bob’s stepdaughters weren’t really my cousins, but I could call them that if I wanted.
Like so many women of my generation, I’ll have none of that in our family, which was merged through a second marriage almost a dozen years ago. All of our children are our children, and all of their children are our grandchildren, who are encouraged to count the days until they will again see their cousins. They will get excited about Christmas and summer vacations — and many times for no reason beyond the love that bonds them together like Gorilla Glue. And isn’t that the best reason of all?
Last year, I was on a flight that was so turbulent I had to at least consider it might be my last. Judging by the gasps and occasional screams all around me, I’m certain I wasn’t the only one who had a little conversation with God, even if it required an emergency introduction.
“I’d rather not go right now,” I prayed, “but if I must, I just want to thank you for the best life ever.”
I lived! And so, I will live.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including …and His Lovely Wife, which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (email@example.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo: Tim Hamilton via Flickr