I didn’t quite realize that I was getting old. That is, until an adventure guide in Costa Rica and a hip yoga instructor in Boulder told me. I’d been merrily going about my business, being a mom, running a small business, and writing a book. Sure, I had past the half-century mark, but who was counting? After my 50th birthday, which was spent with my family and dogs in our camper at a campground called “Difficult,” I didn’t think too much about aging.
Except when other people began to point it out.
In Costa Rica, Jay and I signed up for a half-day excursion in the jungle that consisted of rappelling down four waterfalls, as well as the quintessential Costa Rican adventure: zip-lining. Having tried hang-gliding and skydiving in my 20s, I’d always wanted to go zip lining. We met the two guides at our hotel and jumped into the open-air jeep. There were freshly picked bananas and pineapples on the dashboard and a general feeling of excitement in the air. Along the way, we picked up two other couples. I noticed that they were younger, but never once did it occur to me that I couldn’t handle what was in store for us.
While yes, it does seems a little what, risky? crazy? kinda-sorta dumb? to hike through a Costa Rican jungle to get to the top of a 30-foot waterfall, strap on a harness and ropes and rappel down, that’s what we did. Four times! After that, we zip-lined on the longest and highest course in Costa Rica. I didn’t love the zip lining so much 'cos frankly, I like my feet on the ground or in fins, scuba diving. All in all, it was a great, exhilarating day and Jay and I had a fantastic time.
It was only when the guides dropped us back at our hotel that I learned that I was old.
“Thanks so much, guys,” I said as Jay handed them a tip.
Will, who was maybe 22, looked at me with a big grin. “Lori, you did great. I gotta admit I was a little nervous when I first met you.”
“What do you mean?”
Whoops, now he seemed a bit embarrassed. Central American men are generally very courteous, particularly around women from the U.S.
“Well, you know…”
Actually, I didn’t. He looked over at the other guide, Mike.
Mike spoke up. “I think what Will means to say is, you did so well.” He cleared his throat. “For, um, a middle-aged woman.”
Oh! Is that what he meant? Is that how I’m viewed? Sure, I have a tummy and my arms are decidedly not made of steel, and okay yes, things are drooping.
“Oh, of course, you were worried because I’m not 21? Ah, I get it now.” Will smiled, but shifted his weight uncomfortably.
“Like I said, you did great.”
“Yup, I did. Now give me back that tip.” I gave him a playful punch in the arm.
“Hmph,” I remarked to Jay as we walked away. Come to think of it, my body was pretty sore.
Then recently I was drying off after taking a shower at the yoga studio. Core Power Yoga is a style of yoga that takes place in an extremely hot room. This particular class was a core power 2—let’s just say, not for beginners. A sweet young male teacher named Alex taught class, which was vigorous yet peaceful at the same time. Lots of vinyassa flow, plenty of twist postures. My perpetually tight neck muscles loved the heat, the stretching. My spirit loved the music, and the Rumi quote Alex read in the beginning, something about acceptance.
“You didn’t just take this class, did you?”
The woman was sitting on a bench about five feet from me. Startled that first off, I was being watched while getting dressed and secondly, that this question was being posed to me, I stammered out, “Uh huh.”
“Wow!” she said.
I quickly pulled my shirt over my head. I’m really not one to hang out in my underwear for too long in front of strangers, especially that day when I was sporting some pretty boring panties from Target. I turned to face her.
“Wow? Why wow?” I grinned at her.
“Well, you know…”
“Nope, I don’t,” I remarked casually as I pulled up my jeans.
“I’m just impressed that you did that class, ya know, it’s not like you…”
“Oh.” I stopped her. “You mean I’m old?” I smiled again at her. I wasn’t angry, just a little mystified.
“”Yeh, that’s what I mean. Rock on, Mama.”
“Well, thanks,” I said.
Please don’t call me Mama, I muttered silently to myself. OK, now I was a little pissed. Sure, I suppose at 51 I could have been this woman’s mother. If I had her when I was 20-something.
Now that I think about it, checkers at the grocery store have called me “Ma’am” for what, a decade now? When a waiter calls me Miss, I give him or her an extra big tip. I keep getting letters from the Double A-R-P, I mean like monthly, and I keep throwing them in the recycle bin. Ads pop up on my Facebook feed for communities for the “active 50 and over” crowd.
I’m not sure if its where I live (Boulder County, Colorado, where people of all ages actively strive for youthful-like energies and attitudes), but I just don’t seem to be drinking the Kool Aid when it comes to believing that we are OLD when we’re in our 50s. When I turned 50 my mother-in-law told me that this would be best decade of my life. I love that she said that to me. I keep that sentiment in my head, sometimes, oftentimes, like when I get out of bed, arch my back to the sky and do a standard forward bend. I listen as my spine cracks, my neck pops and my joints creak.
It seems to me that it all truly is how we look at things. I mean, there I was rappelling down waterfalls—friggin' waterfalls—in Costa Rica and doing my best in a lively hot yoga class. People made reference to my age. I think I better get used to it. This is where it’s at. I’m 51.
Suck it, old age.
Oh, and welcome.
p.s. Here I am with my family doing a formal (think ball gowns and tuxedo shirts) Polar Bear plunge into the frigid waters of the St. Vrain River in March. What will you do today to feel young? I really want to know.