Older? Definitely. Wiser? Debatable.
Picture this: a little over a year ago I was in my bathroom, fresh out of a rare uninterrupted shower and feeling that deep sense of contentment only a mother can feel when your children leave you the eff alone for 20 minutes. "Not today, dry shampoo!" I chirped as the sun streamed through the window and woodland creatures perched on my shoulder to sing while I moisturized. It was at this idyllic moment that I noticed a suspicious discoloration on my leg. It was barely bigger than a freckle but several shades lighter and slightly indented, like an old scar. Its appearance puzzled me, as I could've sworn it hadn't been there even a few weeks before, so I made a mental note to keep an eye on it.
Over the next few months the spot slowly but steadily got bigger until finally, when it had grown to the size of a lentil, I decided to get it checked out - I'm normally not an alarmist but my father has had a few melanoma scares, so I figured it was better to be safe than sorry. I duly made an appointment with a dermatologist, and showed up for it with an uncharacteristic feeling of dread. My pulse raced nervously as he listened to my explanation and examined my skin, and I searched his face for telltale signs of alarm or resignation. Instead he straightened up, gave me a kindly smile, and dropped this bomb: "Mrs. Kim, what you have there is your first age spot."
My eye twitched. Somewhere in my head I heard glass shattering. I sat there dumbstruck until I became aware that my silence was getting awkward, so I made some lame attempt at a self-effacing chuckle but realized after 5 minutes that I was still grinning crazily as the doctor rambled on about lightening creams. I drifted out of the examination room a short while later clutching pamphlets on retinoids and intense pulse light therapy, and paused at the receptionist to settle the bill. Totally unbidden, I loudly announced to her that everything was ok, it's just age spots hahahahahaha! I think she took pity on what was clearly a deranged person because she proceeded to offer me samples of their age-defying antioxidant eye cream. She pushed them into my hands with the wad of pamphlets and my invoice while I graciously thought, "BITCH I DON'T NEED EYE CREAM YOU NEED EYE CREAM."
Now, let me just say something - I am not the kind of gal who usually gets hung up on my age. And it's not like I haven't had reminders that I'm no spring chicken anymore. When I was pregnant with Gioia, every one of my medical files was stamped with "A M A" at the top, which stands for the delightful term "Advanced Maternal Age." Because I would be giving birth past the age of 35, this meant my pregnancy was high-risk and therefore required extra testing and extra caution. I was unfazed; I took the demoralizing terminology and scrutiny in stride, rolling my eyes at what I saw as much ado about nothing. I even welcomed the big 4-0 the following year with relish. But age spots? For some reason that gut-punched me. I was woefully unprepared for this tangible evidence of my advancing years.
In the weeks following that doctor's appointment, I found myself ruminating over things I never did before, like whether I'm officially middle-aged. Now don't be a ninnymuggins, I said soothingly to myself, there's no way. In this day and age, with all the technology and medical advances and the fact that I eat organic carrots? As an American female I must have a life expectancy of at least 90 years! Yeahhh, no...turns out it's 78. I also found myself doing a lot of mental math, like how old I'd be when my daughters graduate from high school, or when they're likely to get married, or when they're likely to have their own children. This led to me berating myself for not having kids sooner so I could witness more of their lives, which in turn led to a feeling of helpless, bitter remorse. From there it was a slippery slope into absurdity. I brooded over how I almost never get called "miss" anymore, only "ma'am." I fretted about how I recently had to increase the font size on my kindle. I pondered whether the age spot would multiply like gremlins, or whether I needed to start taking Centrum Silver, or whether I would soon need one of these things:
All of this came to a head when I found myself contemplating the rest of my life with a sense of panicked urgency. "Good grief, woman, what are you waiting for?" I thought. "Hurry up and book that trip to Finland so you can realize your dream of staying in one of those glass igloos and seeing the aurora, because age spots." Then my 41st birthday came around and while everyone sang "Happy Birthday!" all I could hear was "Congratulations On Your Relentless Aging!" It was also during this time that I turned to Mike in bed one night and solemnly proclaimed that we needed to figure out a way to die simultaneously in each other's arms at the ripe old age of 120.
Suffice it to say, I had reached a point where it was necessary for me to cease and desist with this line of thinking. I could see where that path led, how all those bleak notions would culminate in an eddy of anxiety and dread. But it was harder than I anticipated to snap myself out of it. Once that reckoning of your own mortality grabs hold of you, it's alarmingly easy to get mired in gloom. For someone who's naturally very glass-half-full, this morbid preoccupation was unfamiliar territory and deeply unsettling.
So I did what any other sane person would do in that situation...I made an excel spreadsheet. In the first column I wrote all the things I was thankful for: my health, the health of my loved ones, great friends & family, a wonderful marriage, laser hair removal technology, etc. In the second, I listed goals I look forward to accomplishing, like traveling and developing my calf muscles and teaching the girls how to make my dad's zuppa genovese. Then came the third one, which was unsurprisingly the most challenging. In that last column, I wrote everything that takes up valuable (and rapidly diminishing) space in my brain but which I have no control over, and therefore need to relinquish to the great unknowable universe. These were all my regrettable past actions, decisions I wish I'd made differently, fears about the future, and most apropos of the circumstances, the fact that I am getting older.
Taking a good hard look at that third column was sobering, because it forced me to acknowledge how much mental horsepower I expend dwelling on matters I can do nothing about (spoiler alert: way too much). So I resolved to make like Elsa and let it go. Considering the existential crisis I had spent months consumed by you would think this would be a herculean task, but the truth is that it ended as quickly as it had started. Why? I came to the humbling realization that it's an exceedingly foolish thing to resent the passing of time, because time is never guaranteed. With every tragic headline, every friend who loses a loved one, every pained conversation I have with my parents about how they still miss their parents every minute of every day, that fact becomes achingly clear. Ergo, agonizing over the pace and circumstances of my aging is not only a colossal waste of my energy, but to take for granted the time I continue to be blessed with is also the height of ingratitude. So what I will do instead is endeavor to embrace my body's evolution with grace, and to greet each birthday with gusto and appreciation, because growing older is a privilege. It's a gift that is precious in its impermanence, and you know what they say...never look a gift horse in the age spot.