Today I turn 50. As my girlfriends will tell you, I’m still not a serious adult. And yet -– sometimes -- I feel old. I can’t stand the way young people talk about the 1980s as if they were the 1920s. Or the way friends call at 9 p.m. and tentatively ask, “did I wake you?” (Sometimes, they have.) I also have a real disdain for the loose skin on my elbows. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for taut arms.
Most of all, though, I abhor the way people expect you to start acting your age the minute you near the half-century mark. Sometimes it’s fun NOT to accept the perceived restrictions of a number -- whether it's 50 or 85 -- just as it was when you were a teenager.
And that’s why, for my birthday, I’ve decided to do three things I’ve always wanted to do but have never gotten around to, either because of a lack of time, money or the persuasiveness of another person’s negativity: participate in a flash mob (how can anyone forget the great “Modern Family” episode in which Mitchell breaks out in dance in a sort of “love letter” to Cameron?); get a tattoo; and see Barbra Streisand in concert.
I know many women age 50 and beyond who appear to be entrapped in the same old routines, poised and mature but hampered by grim rigidity. I know others, though, who remain fun and adventurous, unafraid to stretch their comfort zone no matter how old they are and what anyone else thinks. They are the ones who can still party all night -– even if it is once every few months and it takes that long for them to recover.
I want to be like them.
No doubt many people at 50 start broaching the idea of undertaking a massive physical challenge, like an Ironman competition, just to prove they’ve still got it, right? And most people I know would have no problem with that. But try telling your 12-year-old daughter that you’re going out dancing with a group of girlfriends and she’ll look at you like you’ve grown a second head. I don’t care what age I turn but I’m never giving up my penchant for 80s disco, red wine and moving to music.
I admit there are certain things I will never do now that I’m turning 50. I will never go to a concert again that only offers “festival seating” -- code for “standing room only.” At my age, I absolutely have to have an assigned seat. I will never go slam dancing in a mosh pit. I also have no desire to stay in a hostel or ride on a motorcycle or study Mandarin or learn to snowboard or jump from an airplane.
But I greatly admire post 50s who do. Remember when former President George H.W. Bush went skydiving over the coast of Maine a few years back to celebrate his 85th birthday? Bravo! At the time, Bush remarked: “Just because you’re an old guy, you don’t have to sit around drooling in the corner. Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.”
When it comes to my own mini-bucket list, I ticked off the easiest box first. I saw Streisand recently in Philadelphia and it probably was the best concert of my life. At 70, the woman still looks stunning. Next up is the flash mob; I signed up to participate in one later this month in New York City. (Spontaneous AND a wild workout.) After that will come the tattoo, which I’d like to be small and discreet -- possibly a tiny scorpion as I’m a Scorpio -- on my lower back.
I know what you’re thinking. Streisand and the flash mob were one thing, but don’t do the tattoo. At 50, getting “inked” will look ridiculous, especially when one still isn’t sure where all the wrinkly bits of her body are going to be. But I’m not the only one who’s going under the needle. London’s Telegraph newspaper recently published an article about how tattoos have turned mainstream. Actress Helen Mirren, who sports a symbol near her left thumb, even remarked that she was disgusted by the fact that her tattoo no longer sets her apart from everyone else.
Some would argue that a tattoo proves nothing except an endless desire to tinker with one’s appearance. Others would say a so-called tramp stamp looks no better on a person of 50 –- and probably a lot worse -- than it does on a person of 15. I think, though, that it proves one can still be spunky and have spirit, and do something crazy, no matter how advanced their age.
When I was in my 20s, I eloped with my boyfriend to Guatemala. People thought I was insane but it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Then, a few years back, a group of friends was talking about the New York Marathon and that same boyfriend -- now husband -- casually remarked, “wow … a marathon … there’s no way you could ever do something like that.” I hadn’t planned to do one but, after he disparaged the idea, I signed up and completed all 26.2 miles -- it took me 7 hours and 5 minutes, but I did it.
So maybe I’m just trying to prove something to myself. No, 50 may not be the new 30. (Try asking a 30-year-old if 50 is the new 30 … uh, don’t think so.) But 50 also isn’t 90. There’s still a lot of playfulness left in these 50-year-old bones. No, I probably won't ever do a cartwheel again. But I can get a tattoo. And don’t try to stop me.