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Why I’ve Aged Out of Embarrassment

Lately, I’ve grown increasingly pissy about this aging thing. Frankly, I can’t find much to like about getting older. My back aches, my hips are tight, I sleep too little and eat too much. My skin is dry, my hair is gray and I can’t see a thing without a pair of reading glasses, which I can never find.

But there’s one aspect of aging that I’ve happily embraced: Almost nothing embarrasses me anymore.

For most of my life, I’ve been hyper-conscious of drawing unwanted attention to myself by performing poorly. I cringed over every perceived shortcoming, constantly comparing myself to others. Somebody was always better at something. Well, that will always be true, but the difference now is I care a lot less. At this point, my heroes aren’t necessarily the best or brightest. My role model is Popeye who proudly proclaimed, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam.”

This doesn’t mean I no longer give a hoot about trying to be a better me; I’ve simply become more accepting of myself and my foibles. With that said, here’s a look at some of my blush-able traits that no longer make me blush.

I don’t care if I’m a bad cook.

My ineptitude in the kitchen is no secret. I’ve brought roasted-yet-somehow-rock-hard potatoes to Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve harvested apples from our tree only to cook up a batch of (unintentionally) smoked applesauce. I typically undercook pasta and overcook rice. I brew bad coffee.

Being culinarily challenged used to bother me a lot, especially since my mother was a fantastic cook, my brother is a natural and my husband is a master at the stove. Even my sons would best me on Chopped. But the truth is I hate to cook. I find it neither creatively stimulating nor relaxing. I’d rather do just about anything than pluck tiny thyme leaves off a stem.

Now that I’m in my fifties, I no longer berate myself because I stink at sautéing. I contribute to the many dinner parties we throw in other ways: I’m the shopper, flower arranger, table setter, dish washer and pot scrubber. When a hostess asks me to contribute, I show up with a box of Jacques Torres chocolates or a great bottle of wine. I may be a terrible cook, but I’m an excellent guest.

So what if I’m uncoordinated.

In junior high school, I watched with awe and envy as a clique of chipper cheerleaders hurled themselves across the gym with a move called the round-off back handspring. God knows I tried to emulate those pixies, but I faced three major stumbling blocks. First, I was as flexible as a fork, so bending my back into a U-shape was not going to happen. Second, I couldn’t finesse the timing required to achieve lift-off, or maybe my brain couldn’t convince my body to lift all four extremities at once. Lastly, I was terrified.

At hip-hop dance class, I’m completely awful but when the teacher yells, “You are Beyoncé!” I flip my hair like a diva.

Over the years, I’ve tried softball (I throw like a little girl and field like an old blind man) as well as squash, racquetball and tennis, all non-starters due to a distinct disconnect between my eyes and my hands. I can’t dive, swim with my eyes open or paddle a kayak in a straight line.

But at this point, who cares? These days, I just say no to sports I don’t enjoy, like downhill skiing. I’m happy to head to Park City with the gang, but while they navigate lift lines and moguls, I fill my days with yoga, hiking, massages and sushi lunches.

I’ve learned to embrace physical activities I do enjoy, even if I’m not great at doing them. I’ll never be a graceful yogini, but that doesn’t stop me from down-dogging. At my weekly hip-hop dance class, I’m completely awful but when the teacher yells, “You are Beyoncé!” I flip my hair like a diva.

Yes, these are my tiny boobs.

Some readers may already know of my angst over this issue but just to review: As a preteen, I stuffed tissues in my bra, waiting in vain to sprout. In high school, I felt freakish, as though my small breasts were as glaringly weird as an arm growing out of my forehead. I seriously considered implants, consulting one surgeon in my twenties and another in my thirties.

But a funny thing happened a few years ago: I stopped being embarrassed about my breasts and my body in general. Despite a rounder belly and softer butt, in the locker room I undress without a hint of self-consciousness. I don’t care whether my doctors or massage therapists are young or old, male or female. Whoever wants to help keep this body going is welcome to see me naked, tiny boobs and all.

I’m a ‘fraidy cat.

Growing up, I was afraid of the dark and the boogey man. I refused to venture into our basement without an escort. As a teen, my single attempt at babysitting collapsed when I heard a noise and called my dad to come rescue me (from nothing). I’ve never lived alone and hate sleeping alone. I’m afraid of what lurks beneath the surfaces of oceans and lakes and won’t swim in either. I hate horror movies and driving fast and roller coasters. Splash Mountain traumatized me for months.

I used to assume a stance of nonchalant bravery to avoid being labeled a fearful person. I remember one particular outing to the Delaware Water Gap for a day of rafting. As we slipped on wet suits, the outfitter showed a video. The footage featured massive rapids on a rain-swollen Colorado River and a raft tossed like a bathtub toy. Despite the fact that all we would face that day were a few gentle white caps, the damage was done. As I zipped my suit, silent tears of terror rolled down my cheeks. To his credit and my eternal gratitude, my husband took one look at me and said, “You don’t have to do this.”

We had driven 90 miles and our friends were waiting, paddles in hand.

“I don’t?”

“Nope,” he said. ”Who cares? Let’s go home.”

I felt ashamed of my paralyzing fear, but the embarrassment over my irrational anxiety dissipated in the face of my husband’s acceptance that my fears are part of who I am. He still teases me about my cooking and my (lack of) hand-eye coordination but only in fun, just as I tease him about his dyslexia-induced spelling mistakes and confusion between left and right (a dyslexic bonus). We’re not trying to hurt or embarrass one another – we’re expressing that we love the whole imperfect person we married.

P.S. For the record, these days I do go down to the basement by myself…but never at night.

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3 Responses

  1. Gila zamri

    Love your article. I so.. relate to them although i am a bit older. Will be 62 next week. Officially a senior citizen in Israel and can collect our social security , discounts on movies buses etc. Funny i dont feel old. Yes I was a cheerleader doing all those cartwheels and a super athlete and love extreme sports like you a disaster in the kitchen. Hate to cook but a great hostess and guest.

  2. Susan Shuwall

    Your article on aging is delightful!!! Even at 82 which I am, it gives me a good laugh. Being in the mid fifties, as you are, is practically a child from my viewpoint!! But I can still identify with your foibles and greatly enjoy your humor. with love and good wishes, Aunt Susan

  3. DW

    This is great. What a bunch of time and energy we waste being embarrassed over nothing when we’re young. So glad all that’s over.


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