I'll be 44 in a couple of months. This realization is punctuated by the momentary surprised glances in the mirror or the internal reflection of my divorces and observation of my adult children. I'm getting older. It's becoming evident. I'm not carded as much these days, in comparison to my younger friends. *hint* Hang out with younger friends. It's evident in my overall creakiness of joints and the bulge of my tummy, for once not the result in yet another pregnancy. Slow metabolism, I loathe you. I've moved on from mothering newborns to now mothering teens and adults who are for the most part, fairly independent. We talk about politics and jobs and relationships and, "what's next?".
Having been a stay at home mother for 21+ years, I am asking those questions along with them. While they might be off to college, or just finding jobs to pay the rent, I am in a constant deep dive into the depths of what I want to do when I'm grown up. At 44 the questions are a little different. I'm not starting out from scratch like them. They can pull anchor and travel the world. Join the peace corps. Hop on a train and disappear into the middle of Spain. Hike the Andes or throw mashed tomatoes at La Tomatina. No strings or responsibilities to hold them back from whatever their imaginations can conjure. With a 9 year old still at home, I'm not quite there yet. When I was young I wanted to be a fighter pilot, then a flight attendant, then a parapsychologist, then finally landed on being a wife and mom. And I achieved that with wild success and experience! Five kids, two marriages and twenty two years later, I have to admit being a wife and mom doesn't pay the bills as much as I'd envisioned and I don't have much of a plan B to fall back on. I'm back at square one, along with them. It's not a horrible place to be. I have wisdom and experience and comfort in my own skin. I adore the person I've become, the mother and partner I am. I have given birth and gone through surgeries and endured and overcome all sort of pains in life.
Of course, one usually arrives at such a locale of confidence after about 20 years into adulthood. I have discovered that the older I get, the less of a shit I give about my own skin. At a time when you're past your peak of physical attractiveness (according to society that is), is when you feel the most confidence? Oh, wisdom, why you do that?
Once in a while as I'm driving up the highway to deliver my son to and from school, I'll catch a glance at the back of my hands. Without lotion filling in the cracks, they are checkered, the wrinkles creating a pattern of deep living. While the palms of my hands supposedly tell a mythical story of marriages, life, career and sorrow, the backs tell a realistic story of age. The skin is looser, aged, weathered. Sometimes it surprises me and catches me off guard. But every single time, after the initial thought streaks through my brain, another takes it's place.
I remember my grandma's hands.
I remember trekking to her house through the snow, nestled in the hills of Anchorage, Alaska. It was literally over the hills and through the snow. The fireplace was always burning; there always seemed to be a roast cooking or cookies baking. There were always blankets on the couch ready to curl up in, and games in the closet ready to be played. My grandparents had a wall in the living room of their home, which my grandfather built, crafted into a library. While the adults caught up and talked about church and neighbors and us kids, I would search the wall of books and find one to investigate under the couch blankets. It was the only time in my life when I admired and loved reading encyclopedias. They had books on legends, classic novels, mythology, biology, it was like being in a college library, but with the addition of sweetly cooked meat wafting through the air, or laughter from the dining room table, or my Grandfather telling silly jokes or ghost stories. Sometimes, I would hear the constant grinding of his saws downstairs in the garage beneath the living room, as he transformed yet another piece of wood into some kind of practical piece of furniture or art piece. The busyness soothed me. During football season, they'd have a game playing at all times. I'd unbox the Simon Says game and test my memory. We didn't have smart phones or computers. We had books and games and warm laps to sit on, and stories and snow to play in. Old school sleds, toboggans with real metal legs and a rope to hang on as you sped towards your ultimate fate of a face full of snow. My family was big into snow machines. *note*, NOT snow MOBILES. I remember clutching for my sweet virginal life with my arms wrapped around my uncle, going ungodly fast over the snow berms in my grandparents' neighborhood. As a youngster the jumps were surely hundreds of feet high and long, but really they were probably only a few dozen. Still, I would arrive back at my grandma's fire with stories of adrenaline, calmed by hot chocolate and warmth.
Sometimes my grandma would play the piano which also graced the living room. Mostly church hymns. I would sit next to her and just watch her old crinkly hands playfully tapping the keys, producing the most sedately relaxing sounds. On the rare occasion she would sit on the couch, done with the cleaning or cooking or baking or gossiping, I would curl up next to her and take her hand, playing with the silk-like substance covering it. It was hard to imagine it as skin, as it was unlike skin I'd ever seen or touched. It was the softest thing I'd ever touched.
My grandma was always overweight, as most of the women on my mother's side. I remember at one point being teased that I was the "leftovers" because I was always thin and skinny. I never really considered my mother's or aunt's or grandmother's weight or shape as a health issue, they always seemed adept and absolutely healthy, not to mention tranquil to snuggle up next to.
When I was 29, my grandmother was hospitalized for complications with diabetes, type 2. She had an infection in her foot that wouldn't heal. That lead to amputation of her foot, and as the infection spread, she lost her entire leg over the course of many months. I talked to her once on the phone during that time, and she still had her sassy spirit. When she died a few weeks later, I traveled back home for her funeral, accompanied by my 2 year old son Aric. Her house was a somber place, but with the flurry of activity of visitors coming to bring casseroles, and the entertainment of my toddler scooting around, there was little time for extended sorrow. We grieved and ate and ate and grieved. We told stories and laughed and played cards and watched the fire in the fireplace. I could still feel her all around her house. I remembered playing with her baby fine hair while she played piano. She used to *love* getting her head scratched and hair played with, even though there was barely anything there to play with. Whatever was left due to age and thinning was as soft as her skin, silken, and tactile person as I was, irresistible to touch. I remembered her active, always in the kitchen or playing piano or doing this or that. She worked so hard all of her life, not only essentially being a pioneer wife, but mom to seven kids. The woman had a work ethic and heart that wouldn't quit. She wasn't perfect, as none of us are, her generation was hardened and born into a world of strife and hardships, not to mention war. She didn't have a ton of acceptance for things outside of her church and world, but she cared deeply for her family and her home and anyone who came into it.
I can't help but think of her every time I look at my hands and see the lines forming. On a cold dry day when the air is sapped of moisture and my hands look like the cracked earth of a clay desert land, I remember how soft and luxurious it felt to touch my grandma's hands. How much I enjoyed snuggling up next to her warm, plump body, and how safe and comforted I felt next to her. And how I will never feel ashamed or badly about getting older and gaining wrinkles.
I only hope that my hands feel as softly as hers did.