Monday, July 16, 2012

On Growing Old(er)

My sister recently called me long-distance to ask if I knew that our mom had just had a face-lift.

I was puzzled.  "She told me it was a neck lift," I replied.

"Dad called it a face-lift," she remarked, explaining that Dad had then told her how our 75-year-old mother felt she "wasn't aging well" and had mentioned wanting "to look like Joan Rivers."

This was news to me.  I can't imagine anyone wanting to look like Joan Rivers, or for that matter, anyone else who's clearly had their face re-sculpted beyond all recognition.  I can imagine my mom wanting to look her best, something that, as we all know, becomes increasingly difficult to do as we age. 

Now, to be fair, my mom's face has suffered a bit recently.  She fell out of bed about two years ago when accidentally over-medicated, which caused quite a bit of skin discoloration on the left side of her face.  And just last New Year's, she wound up in hospital after falling in the bathroom and hitting her head on a fixture, which caused a scar on her forehead.  However, on a recent visit (they live in Florida and I don't see her too often), she looked pretty much the same as always, albeit covered with a bit more foundation.
I was much more alarmed when, as I looked down at her feet in open-toed shoes, I saw that her toes were terribly disfigured.  They were curled in on each other as if huddling against a storm.  I asked her if they didn't bother her; didn't they hurt?  They sure looked painful.  She poo-poo'd my concerns when I mentioned that instead of a neck lift, she might want to invest her money in something more important, like fixing her feet. 

"Oh, no," she said airily, "Medicare will pay for that."  (I wondered privately if her feet might have been an underlying cause of the last fall she'd taken.)  I still thought that repairing the sorry state of her feet might be more important than whatever she thought was wrong with her neck (or face), but I let it go.  I've found that in the last few years, trying to persuade Mom of anything, let alone something she doesn't believe or think in the first place, is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. 

Even my Dad, normally the voice of reason in most situations, has given up.  True, he no longer does that really annoying thing he used to do when I was younger: say something that sounded like he agreed with me, but which really meant he was siding with Mom.  He was the master of the veiled-but-barbed insult, pun or quip.  But now he basically just lets Mom do what she does, whether she's buying too much jewelry on QVC or deciding to have plastic surgery in a quest to look like someone I wouldn't give candy to at Hallowe'en. 

I'm sure that my opinion matters not at all to Mom, and I try not to say uselessly hurtful things to her when she blurts out observations that are hurtful to me.  This much at least I have learned.  The only issue here is a focus on outward appearance rather than a person's general health and well-being.  This maybe wouldn't be such a big deal if (1) my mom wasn't beautiful to begin with--and she still is; and (2) she didn't judge others so harshly on their surroundings and appearance. 

I can understand a person wanting to improve their appearance if they find something on their person to be lacking or poorly designed.  I once had a high school friend whose breasts were vastly different sizes, so she had them evened out via plastic surgery.  I got that: she could never find a bra to fit her otherwise.  Personally, I'd like to have a shorter nose.  (My mother's is far and away the cutest beak in the family, followed closely by my older daughter's.)  But it's not something that affects my health, and it's expensive, so my own nose is still just as it's always been.

Far be it from me to question another person's view of herself.  We all do things to keep ourselves looking younger, haircolor being the most common.  But without trying to sound too cliche, I think that looking young comes from acting in a youthful (preferably not childish) way.  I suppose there are some (Mom) who might take issue with my love of certain kinds of music.  I guess that's too bad for them.  I still tell people that I'm really just a 16-year-old (or 19-year-old) inside.  There are days when I feel as old as my own mom, or older.  Taking care of yourself physically is important too; I have frequent pre-menopausal days when I would give one of my arms to feel better than I do. 

But I think also that a youthful spirit is the most important thing in life.  I hate it when I feel chained to the ground (or my desk), and can't imagine something better than my present situation.  You spend so much time when you're growing up wishing and trying to be older; then you spend the rest of your life trying to look younger.  Where's the sense in that? 

I don't articulate it often, but my personal motto is "Embrace Imperfection."  You might have moments of perfection, just as you have moments of joy, but they don't last.  They can't, because nothing is perfect, and that's okay with me.  So there are always things that you want or need to change; how you look as you age might be one of them.   The important thing to me is to enjoy what you have, and take care of your health as best you can. 

It may be a cliche, but beauty, like so many other important traits, starts from the inside.  A truly happy person--and there are too few of those--will always be beautiful, because they'll smile and make others happy as well.  Wouldn't you rather have laugh lines than a flawless face that never shows joy?  I know I would.