The Muddle of Middle Age

February 9, 2011, by Prudence Baird

teapot and teacup in front of a window with snow covered trees outside

A telephone survey has Prudence coming to grips with middle age and beyond

Recently, a marketing firm contacted me looking for a Baby Boomer willing to talk candidly about a variety of subjects ranging from plastic surgery to (ahem) performance-enhancing supplements.

Never shy about broadcasting my opinions, I agreed. I am, after all, a member of the me generation that was promised 15 minutes of fame. Each. Never mind that the infant terrible who made this promise is long dead, so can’t be held accountable. And talking to a telemarketer isn’t exactly fame, per se.

The thirtysomething professional on the other end of the phone reminded me of myself—albeit a two-decade-earlier self, when I, too, thought of age 50 as an impossibly faraway place that would somehow recede into the distance the closer I got to it. Her tone was all Law & Order; clinically pleasant with a dash of disbelief, as if she were interviewing a member of a soon-to-be-extinct species, which technically she was. After all, a Baby Boomer dies every 34 seconds, roughly 2,500 every 24 hours, a rate that is expected to increase with each passing year.

The interview, mostly about my purchases aimed at enhancing my health and longevity, goes well until, “So what do old people think about….”

Say what?

My stunned silence forces the interviewer to rephrase her question.

“What do older people think about…”

What the fuck difference is there between old and older?

Besides, isn’t the point of the interview that we Boomers—my peers and I—are a vital, and influential group of consumers; not young, but certainly not old?

In truth, “middle age” is a misnomer. Looking at the issue from Chandler Bing’s point of view (sorry, he’s the only actuary I know), at 55, I’m past middle age by about 15 years. If I die smack dab in the middle of the actuary tables, my middle age—middle as in median—was 40.5 years old; a time when I was still nursing baby #2. Every year after that is a walk down Banana Peel Hill in slippery bottomed shoes.

When she turned 50, Dorothy Parker observed that “People ought to be one of two things—young or old.” She quickly recanted, “No, people ought to be one of two things—young or dead.”

Apparently, Mrs. Parker isn’t the only one who thinks poorly of the transitional period between true middle age and, well, death.

I remembered standing curbside in Los Angeles a few years ago with a 20something friend as a flotilla of fat geezers roared by on Harleys, strands of frizzy silver hair flying out from under helmets, leather vests festooned with studs and fringe; sun-burned upper arms jiggling from the strain of controlling 100 horsepower machines. The noise from half-a-dozen dual exhaust valves was deafening. When we removed our hands from our ears, my companion snarled, “Boomers! Can’t wait ‘til they’re all dead.”

I don’t blame Generations X & Y for feeling that way. They’ve been tossed about in our wake for decades. And, while we’re still here, cutting a wide, possession-strewn path across the planet, we American Boomers tie-up $28 trillion in assets—everything from beachfront second homes to 401(k) accounts groaning with cash. Who can blame those in our shadow and Madison Avenue for circling us like buzzards?

But back to the phone call. After it is over, I glance outside. A leaden gray winter’s sky struggles to snow, and the earth, barren of green, awaits a mantle of white.

For all intents and purposes, many of us are in the winter of our lives. But winter isn’t the end; winter isn’t something that needs to be “fixed” with products and procedures. Winter is not a punishment for summer’s excess, nor should we pretend it away.

Winter has its own majesty as do spring, summer and fall. And while marketing types scramble for new ways to cure winter and milk the Baby Boomer cash cow at least one more time, I’m going to settle in with a nice hot mug of green tea and appreciate however many winters I have left, one snowflake at a time.

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21 Responses to “The Muddle of Middle Age”

  1. Nancy Says:

    Lovely! Your message speaks to the power of gratitude, perhaps the real cure for most ills.

  2. Evonne Says:

    I love reading these posts. I am not alone! As we swim in our pool of mid-life misery, the sun is shining overhead, beckoning us on. I am allowing myself some wallowing time, then I will pick myself up, brush myself off and stride forward.. F**K em all!!
    As always, thanks.

  3. Proinsias Faulkner Says:

    Damn, you are good, Pru.

  4. Cathy Says:

    Pru you really nailed it. This mushy place we call middle age is such a shift, in body, mind and perception from others and of ourselves. Trying to embrace it is truly a challenge. Trying to stay relevant and “hip” is something to strive for, as is being vital and vibrant in spite of the withering of mind and body and the stink eye we may get from the youngins. We were there once. You articulate this transition beautifully. Onward and upward down Banana Peel Lane together. Weeeeee!

  5. Conz Says:

    Pru–You have the deadly aim of a SWAT team sharpshooter and you never miss. Banana Peel Lane–Hahahahaha!

  6. Louise Says:

    The new metaphor for winter, especially on this crisp Vermont cold and white morning, makes life seem all the more precious, and of course I am smiling, as usual, reading Pru’s piece!

  7. christie Says:

    Hahahaha from me too Pru, this is a priceless post! We boomers do saunter around like we think we are going to live forever lolling about on the laurels of our extraordinary time and impact on the world. But, my word we were fabulous, and still are.

  8. Nina Says:

    I couldn’t agree more – you can’t cure what I have, and I certainly wouldn’t relinquish it for the world: perspective. Now, for the aches and pains….:)

  9. Mellimel Says:

    I wish my 401k was groaning with cash…
    This age is about getting comfortable with the gray
    area, not just the hair but the neither here nor there, not
    this or that. You had your tea, I found an infinite world
    of happiness when I bought myself a couple
    of bunches of daffodils. We can do these things
    for ourselves without apology.

  10. rosemary Says:

    I agree with all sentiments expressed by readers above. However, just for the record, I always hang-up on telemarketers and people taking marketing surveys. I feel utterly vindicated from guilt for doing so after reading this post. Enjoy your cup of tea. I’m going to go and slowly sip mine.

  11. Elizabeth Says:

    This is simply exquisite! Thanks for giving me a lift on this winter (albeit a sunny Bay Area kind of winter) morning.

  12. dearpru Says:

    Glad to read that this piece resonated with so many readers…and just for MY record, miss rosemary, the marketing company promised me remuneration for my deepest ponderings on life in the “old-adjacent” ‘hood.

    Needless to say, the check never came (it’s only been 2 1/2 months….!), which proves the old adage, “You can’t trust anyone under 30.”

    The Author

  13. Carine Says:

    Winter is good by me as long as it’s warm inside, where it counts. You’re a wonderful writer, Pru.

  14. Tom Says:

    Well this boomer was up on his porch roof shoveling 2 feet of snow off. Was going to leave it on but then read about the 100 cows that had their roof cave on them. Took me a while to get my stride then worked for three hours straight. When the roof was clear and my wife home so she could call 911 I did what boomers should always do when there are deep piles of snow below a 9 foot drop. Jump right off the roof. Thanks Pru for your thoughts. Tea really hit the spot after a morning outside.

  15. Julie Says:

    Nice.

  16. tim Says:

    what are those three biggest lies again? the check is in the mail is number one. number two is too obscene to mention. but what was the third? anybody know? hell, i’ll just forget it again anyway.

  17. dearpru Says:

    “I’ll respect you in the morning,” is #3, darling.

  18. Breon Says:

    Prudence, you are too delightful. I’m so grateful to even know you–it’s a wonderful piece, again. There’s a little wisdom thrown in with this aging process, and I’m deeply glad of that part. Onwards, with what wit and humor we can muster…

  19. Thea Swengel Says:

    I know there is a lot of crap about this dang aging thing but what a ride to be on the leading edge of all the boomers. We are resilient bunch that I love being part of.

  20. Jerry Says:

    I just stumbled across your blog. Very funny and entertaining! I started one myself, being on my last year in my forties but approaching my fifties with gusto. Love to have you read my blog sometime!

    http://forty9andcounting.blogspot.com/

    Keep up the good work. I’m a fan.

  21. daeja Says:

    enjoyed this :)

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