This week, I celebrated another year around the sun. For those of you who have been reading along for a while, you may recall how much I struggle with birthdays every year. It started on the day I turned 31, and my reaction to that day took me by surprise. Before I turned 31, I welcomed every birthday. I had no problem getting older. Even when I left my twenties to turn the big 3-0, I didn’t have an issue. But for some reason, turning 31 was a bigger deal. Part of it may have been because I was no officially IN my thirties, and not just 30. But I think the bigger issue was that I chose to celebrate my birthday in Disneyland. There I was on my 31st birthday, surrounded by all these young, adorable 20-something kids and I was just some washed up hag who was hiding wrinkles with makeup and gray hair with dye.
Ever since that year, I would dread each birthday as it came closer, and couldn’t get over the fact that I was aging.
For so many years, I took pride in being the younger person in the crowd. Having had my kids young, I’m often the youngest parent in the room at every school function. At my work, I was one of the youngest people in the newsroom. At my kids’ camp, I’ve been the youngest chaperone. And because my husband is 14 years older than I am, I’ve always been the youngest when we hang out with other couples. I placed a lot of pride on my youth. So when the tides started to turn, things began to get uncomfortable. As my kids got older, I stopped feeling like the young and fresh mom, and started feeling old and out of touch. My work started hiring all these young and brilliant millennials who are way quicker at learning new technology and social media skills. Younger chaperones signed on at camp, and have way more energy than my old body can handle. And so on.
Aging just became uncomfortable, because I had placed so much of my worth on my youth.
This year was different. I turned 39 on Dec. 7, and I didn’t have my annual freak out in the days leading up to my birthday. I think it’s because I’ve embraced the process of growing older. This is mostly apparent in the fact that I stopped dying my hair over a year ago. I am now sporting a brilliant streak of white in my hair.
The decision to stop dying my hair was huge. I found my very first gray hair at 19 years old, the same week I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. I do believe the two go hand in hand. When plucking these pesky grays became too big of a job, I resorted to coloring my hair. At first, I went with all-natural dyes to ensure I wouldn’t harm my hair. But soon, I was grabbing any chemicals I could get my hands on to ensure my youth would be preserved.
Last year, I’d had enough. I knew I had a section of my hair that was all white, and it was apparent whenever I was between colorings. I realized that I didn’t want to be one of those “old ladies” who continued hiding their true color even when the jig was up. I wanted to go gray while my face still held some of its youthfulness. So last year, I decided to see what would happen if I just stopped dying it.
At first, the process was awkward. It looked silly. I wanted to hide my head in a scarf until I no longer had three-toned hair. But gradually, I began to look at my hair differently. The white section created this new and interesting feature to my hair. I’d play it up with different hairstyles, and starting receiving comments on how cool it looked. But most important, I actually stopped caring (for the most part) about how anyone saw it at all because I liked it. I thought it was beautiful.
Because my hair is long, it will be a while before the gray is completely grown out. I have about 5 inches of white, followed by another 7 or so inches of dye. But my hair has never worked as well as it does now. It feels better, it isn’t weighed down by dye, and it’s fun to play with.
My hair is only one aspect that’s allowed me grace in growing older. My perspective, in general, has changed. Each year, I learn something new about myself and the world I live in. I learn what I can tolerate, and what I need to stop wasting so much energy on. I’ve learned to depend less on what other people think of me, and depend more on how I view myself. I’m learning to focus my attention more on my accomplishments and to stop putting so much weight on all I still have to do (this is a work in process, but I’m getting better).
Here are a few cool things that I’ve made happen this year:
- I published two books I’m incredibly proud to have written: Reclaim Your Creative Soul and Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan
- I enrolled in college and am finally taking the necessary steps in taking control of my career path
- I wrote another book, even while taking college courses, by implementing the skills I preach in Reclaim Your Creative Soul
- My husband and I went on a gorgeous Hawaii vacation that we paid for out of pocket
I’ve also lost my fear of being older. I still place importance on my age, but it’s in a different way. I’m now proud of being one of the older people in the room. In my college classes, the younger students turn to me to help them understand what the teacher is saying. I’m one of the more experienced people at work. I can relate with the crowd I hang out with. And at camp, I let the young and fun chaperones burn themselves out while I rest my tired bones.
I have grace about growing older. Each new year means new opportunities. Each gray hair serves as a badge of my experiences and time on this earth. Each wrinkle is proof that I’ve spent a lot of time smiling and laughing. Each birthday is a celebration that I’m still here, and I still get time to fulfill my goals.
Growing older is not a curse. It’s a blessing. And I’m 39 years blessed, and still going.