Pass the Prunes, I'm 49

Being a middle-aged woman has few consolations.

Being immature doesn’t help. Nor does having braces and an adorable combination of freckles and adult acne. And from what I understand, being an actress or a famous rock star doesn’t ease the sting either. They say the amount of plastic surgery required to keep you working and the head-dive in self-esteem if you don’t, are inversely equal. I wouldn’t know.

My 49th birthday was this week and I was feeling pretty good about the fact that I was not turning 50 until I got a card from my friend Diane K. At the bottom she wrote, “May your 50th year on this wonderful planet be . . . “ something, something something.

My eyes were stuck on the 5 and the 0 she had written there. There must be some mistake, I thought. I’m not 50! God! Only losers are 50! I’m 49! She knows this! She’s been to every one of my birthday parties, from my 4th when we played musical chairs around my dining room table to my 21st when we played a different kind of musical chairs around the bar and had to take a taxi home.

Then I realized what she meant. I’m beginning my 50th year now, which will end when I turn 50 next year. I had to make an Excel chart and write out the words “From birth to 1st birthday, that’s your first year; from 1 to 2, that’s your second year . . . “ all the way to 25 before I got the pattern and could figure it out.

I never used to have an issue with age. I can’t even remember turning 30. On my 40th birthday I had to spend the evening helping my son study for four different tests he had the next day. When I complained to his teachers at the next parent conference, they issued a collective “Awwww!” 

“It’s OK, I wasn’t going to do anything fun anyway,” I had to grudgingly admit.

It just wasn’t a big deal to me. I never felt old, I didn’t fear death and I was actually looking forward to wearing elastic-waisted pants. So I was fine with it.

Then something started to happen about five or six years ago. I started seeing my mother in the mirror (and she didn’t live in there). I started to color my hair because I had to, not because I wanted to be a blond. I found myself saying things like, “We didn’t have VCRs” and “When I had a report to do I had to go to the library and look things up in big, heavy books” and “What happened to all the good TV shows like Leave it to Beaver.”

And then young people started ganging up on me. Bands that used to be hip, like Smashing Pumpkins and Bush and Barenaked Ladies, all got on a plane and flew to Vegas.  Out of the iTunes corporate headquarters woodwork crawled bands with names designed to be mispronounced by anyone under 19. So of course we’re going to look bad!

And then the tech company CEOs all made a suicide pact and their grandchildren took over the companies. One of them designed a cell phone ring tone that only teen-agers can hear. Did you hear what I just said? They designed a cell phone ring tone that only teen-agers can hear! Like a dog whistle except that instead of being glad we can’t hear the piercing, saliva-inducing shriek, we’re just missing out on everything. No one ever misses out on anything when dog whistles blow, unless you count Snausages.

“What was that? Was that a phone ringing?” used to be a phrase only heard in nursing homes and insane asylums. Now it’s heard everywhere I am. You only know when your kids are getting a phone call when you notice they’re not listening to you blather on about Leave it to Beaver and the  public library, and they absently pat their pockets.

Armed with this and other high-tech tools (some of which we don’t even know about; the ads are all on MySpace and are in code), the teen-agers are loaded for bear. My son claims he can hear my Palm shrieking when it’s turned on.

I think he’s lying, just like he lies when he tells me he’s reminded me six times that Zach needs a ride to practice. (I don’t remember that at all.)

When I was younger I thought it would be keen-o to be old. I was going to wear my hair all gray and in a bun, get the elastic pants, do crossword puzzles, listen to talk radio and order prune juice in restaurants without caring that the wait staff is howling with laughter in the kitchen.

Once when I was about 8, Diane K’s grandmother came to visit. Diane and I snuck in the guest room where she was staying, either because we were juvenile delinquents and were looking to steal her bingo money, or because we had a morbid curiosity for dentures and prescription pills. I found a pair of beige, cushy lace-up shoes under the bed and said – and, sadly, I do remember this – “When I get old I’m going to wear shoes like this.”

Were we on drugs?

I am never going to wear those old lady shoes. Let it be known right now, I’m wearing big girl party shoes to the grave. They can wrap my calloused, crusty, bunion covered, bloody stumps in flesh-colored bandages and squeeze them into those pointy-toed black lacy 3-inch heels that are covered with dust in my closet. Paint my toenails first, please. Maybe a neutral, classic mauve.