I turned 50 a few weeks ago.
I’ve never had a problem with birthdays and getting older until this year when things started sliding down like an uncontrollable mudslide. I am now wearing 3.25 power reading glasses, my lips are thinning to the point that it doesn’t make sense to put on lipstick and my middle is getting squishier. There’s also the night sweats and that Welcome to the Club letter from AARP. The aging process is a culmination of unkind memories of a younger self that are still fresh in my mind.
You see, I don’t exactly feel like I’m 50. I mostly still feel like the dorky kid in junior high school with frizzy hair who doesn’t have a clue about most things. Most of my life I felt like I was the late bloomer. I didn’t even get my driver license until I was in college, didn’t find love and marry until I was in my 40s and I have no idea what Snapchat is. So here I am at 50 and I haven’t caught up to it—haven’t caught up to the shell of a body I have right now that is slowing down when I feel like I’m just getting started.
There is now a new box to check to identify my age when completing a survey or filling out a form, and I begrudgingly check it. I am to forever be in this separate category, pushed into a group that separates me from my younger self when I actually self identify as a thirtysomething who still has questions and not a whole lot of answers.
But I’ll be damned if I was going to turn 50 while sitting in the office. We had a big vacation planned to Panama this year for my 50th, but I couldn’t spare a long trip away from the office due to some projects, so we pushed that trip out to September. And because of the weird layout of our offices right now, even though I enjoy a spectacular view of the preserve outside my window, the dismal part is that there is not a soul who works by me. There would be no one to bring in bagels or even a cupcake for my birthday. No, I would sit there all day as the clock ticked away my last moments as a 49-year-old while I answered email and worked diligently on work stuff.
Nope. Not going to have it.
So I came home one day a couple months ago and announced to my husband and mother (who lives with us) and said, “We’re going to the beach on my birthday.”
Life’s a beach
Growing up in Oregon and being an August baby, I always had my birthday at the beach. My folks would load up the family van with every Coleman camp accessory imaginable and we’d camp at either Fort Stevens or Beverly Beach campgrounds on the Oregon Coast. Sometimes it rained—poured, to be exact—on our big green family tent, but mostly we were able to catch the few days of sunshine Oregon managed to eek out at the coast. Never mind a few days of rain. It was the sunny day at the beach we were gambling for.
On the beach my brother and three sisters and I would start playing in the sand, building sand castles and then looking for sand dollars. Eventually we’d get the courage to enter the frigid Pacific Ocean and we’d stay there for hours on sunny days. Less so on cooler, overcast days.
When I got older and started traveling I quickly learned that ocean water doesn’t have to be cold. What? they’re not all like Oregon beaches? When I started traveling to the southern part of the country and even further south to Mexico, Central America and the northern most part of South America—right smack on top of the equator—I fell in love with warm ocean waters that lapped up on white sandy beaches.
And that’s what I was looking for on my 50th birthday this year: A birthday at the beach where the sun was out, the sand so blazing hot that you have to hop around on the sand as if you were walking on fiery coals, and, of course, water as warm as a bath. My husband and my mom and I traveled the 7-hour drive down south to South Padre Island, which is still in Texas and spitting distance to the US/Mexico border. It was the beach I wanted. No camping (the bones hurt at this age, remember?), but we stayed at a lovely hotel right on the sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.
Being at the beach was exactly what I needed. My husband and I played in the waves, rode a boogie board and we even danced on the hotel deck to Top 40 songs covered by a live band. And we had Italian ice cream, so diet be damned. I AM NOW FIFTY!
And then like most 50-year-olds, I got pensive
In the weeks approaching my 50th birthday I had been compiling a list of 50 Things I’ve Learned that I thought I would share with you here. It’s been helpful to reflect and maybe I have learned a few things along the way.
- Always smile in an interview
- The best way to get help even when you’re really frustrated is to tell someone in customer service “I really need your help. Can you help me?” Works all the time. Especially if you sigh first.
- Never go on a cruise during Christmas break if you want to avoid children.
- Whenever buying something on the internet before you check out make sure to search for coupon codes online. There is almost always a coupon code to use.
- Getting Global Entry and Nexus is totally worth it.
- Take the time to go through your photos right after your trip so that you can edit and delete sooner rather than later. Because, let’s be honest, you’re not going to get back to them after that. And if you do wait until later, then you’ve got a big mess to get through.
- Good knives are worth the money spent.
- Keep a bowl in the freezer. There is nothing better than eating cereal from a bowl that’s been frozen. Trust me.
- Chiggers will always find me.
- Bandannas are a curly, frizzy girl’s best friend when she travels.
- Those shower caps in your hotel room make great covers for DSLR cameras when it’s raining outside.
- It’s OK to photograph in Auto.
- You really don’t need bridesmaids.
- Never end the year with unused vacation days.
- Buying clothes a size smaller with the hopes that that diet will work is never a good idea.
- Always document the items you give to charity. It all adds up and will help you come tax time.
- Tip your hair stylist well. He or she will always take good care of you and will move mountains for you if you need a last-minute appointment.
- Prayer is helpful.
- Writing is hard work.
- Smart people are those who ask questions because you can pretty much count on others in the room having the same questions.
- Never say never.
- Babies on airplanes aren’t as awful as everyone makes them out to be. That’s what headphones are for anyway.
- Having a good tailor will open up all sorts of possibilities with your wardrobe.
- Don’t workshop a highly emotional memoir at a writing conference without a box of tissues.
- Try to meet in person some of the people you connect with on Twitter.
- Go to your 30th high school reunion. The cliques have dissolved and everyone wants to hug everyone. People have been through lots of hard stuff by then and it’s all better.
- Try karaoke once.
- If you do karaoke sing something by The Eurythmics because there’s probably only, like, 3 different notes in the whole song. Hard to go wrong.
- Don’t paint/tile/renovate your house in a vanilla sort of way for resell purposes. Decorate it tastefully in a bold way that YOU like.
- Learning to sew (hand stitch and machine) is an important skill to have.
- Before going to the doctor make a list of questions and use that to guide a conversation during your appointment.
- When giving feedback (at work, or on Yelp or someplace else), remember that the person you’re talking to or about is a person too.
- It’s perfectly okay to not have the desire to have children.
- Smile at a person who looks like they’re having a bad day.
- Don’t burn bridges. You just may end up working at that company again or work with one or more of those people again.
- Let falling in love be the reason you try something scary…like scuba diving.
- Bookmark Snopes and be a fact checker.
- Exercise gets harder as you get older.
- Don’t be afraid to just shut up and listen to people who believe completely different than you. It’s amazing what can be learned and shared by people on both sides of an issue.
- Surround yourself with a variety of people and viewpoints.
- More people are charitable and kind than not. Remember that when things in the world seem awful.
- There are so many answers to be found on the internet.
- There are so many lies on the internet.
- Every woman should own a pair of red shoes.
- Talk to people how you would like to be talked to.
- Not everyone will like me.
- There is always someone having a worse day or life than me.
- It is totally worth the money spent to get great seats at theatre, symphony, opera, rock concerts.
- It is better to be true than right.
- People still like receiving handwritten thank-you notes.