In Defense of Wrinkles
by Ute Carson
The Galveston Daily News December 1, 1987
Response to Opinion November 14, 1987

Our ages coincide, but while Cleta Sireno paints a gloomy picture of the stretch between 40 and 50, I'd like to spotlight points along this mid-life path.

A disconcerting outlook awaits the traveler who thinks of herself as over the hill and on the decline. Whatever became of the respite on having reached the mountain top after traversing the steep incline?

The paunch protruding just below my waistline is evidence of my having borne three children. It has been under assault for years. But no matter how often I ride my bicycle and no matter how many leglifts I do, I can't seem to win the war against the paunch.

No longer do I bounce back elastically when I touch my toes. Instead, my muscles sorely stretch and my joints creak. Did I remember to take my calcium supplement?

I have to squint at the small print when reading the morning paper. And I get no consolation from my ophthalmologist friend's best efforts to persuade me that this is a normal sign of age. I do see well enough to notice my puffy eyelids.

And then there are "those nasty little lines that . . . creep around our eyes" that cause Ms. Sireno to try "not to smile or laugh so the lines won't show."

Now, who would not want to slow down physicial decline. But are lotions and potions and facelifts genuinely useful means "to retard aging," or merely clownish attempts to fool ourselves and others?

The nineteenth century German poet, Rilke, wrote of our inability to face our own mortality as long as there are "unlived lines in our bodies." And who is to say whether the smooth surface of a baby's face, not blemished, to be sure, but also not engraved by time and experience, is more beautiful than the wrinkled and creased face of, say, a Katherine Hepburn.

I observe my teenagers and marvel at their boundless energy as they sprint through life. But I also see them struggle to loosen ties that bind them to family and security as they search for their own identities and independence. I have not achieved everything I set out to accomplish. Not every road taken ended in success, and on some roads I stumbled, even fell flat on this once seamless face.

But now in mid-life, I know who I am and what I expect (and don't expect) of life. I have myself off my hands - well, most of the time! My eleven-year-old daughter and I are avid horsewomen. But a cross-country obstacle course presents each of us different challenges.

My daughter is thrilled at having mastered a higher jump, proud at having beaten her own previous time. I recall the joy radiating across her face when she got her mare to trot through a forbidding gully of water for the first time.

I, on the other hand, relish my horse's dependability and trust her to get us safely through the course. Having no stake in winning, I take in the fall foliage. Doing a known thing well gives me the satisfaction my daughter derives from taking on a novel demand.

Middle-age can be degressing if we deplore missed opportunities. If we continued to test the limits of life, we may bridle at our own limitations and remember our youth nostalgically.

But if we are lucky, we may have learned a thing or two by middle-age. Then there is time to explore and savor.

So, Ms. Sireno, as you can see, I'm not buying the woes. Being over 40 is a stage of life and a state of mind. We don't write the script, but we act the part -- or we don't.

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The above opinion piece was in response to the following opinion:

Opinion: Wrinkles and Woes begin at 40
Cleta Sireno, Staff Writer
The Galveston Daily News November 14, 1987

People talk about the terrible teens and how they need help and compassion. How about us 40- and 50-year-olds? We need help too.

Very few people look forward to being 40. Let's just say it wasn't exactly what I expected it to be upon arrival. I then a person should know everything, have done everything. It's a time when we should be content to sit back and enjoy life (what do they call it ‹ the golden years). Wrong. Now I'm told that will come much later.

Instead, all sorts of traumatic things the happening...

The first one is when you wake up one morning and realize you're 40. And so are most of your friends.

We haven't done nearly all the things we wanted to do in life. A lot of us haven't even finished school! It's about this time that we realize no one is perfect, not even our parents or children. We have too many bills to pay. All of a sudden we have 10 or 20 extra pounds, a few extra chins, three or more gray hairs, and those nasty little lines are beginning to creep at an alarming rate.

The hair is an easy problem. Soon only you and your hairdresser will know for sure.

Those little lines are a bit more difficult. My make-up lady sold me a $20 jar of solution to retard the aging. It's a very small jar. So far the old lines aren't going away, but no new ones have appeared. When asked if it really works, she said she has one customer that orders three jars a month. I don't know if that means it does, or it doesn't. And just how much do you want to pay to make those little lines go away?

And no matter how much we women fight for equal rights, lines on our faces man old age. Lines on a man's face mean character.

Pretty soon you find yourself trying not to smile or laugh so the lines won't show. Especially for pictures. Three months later you look at Aunt Sarah's photos and there you are, all 40-some-odd years of you. And there are the lines. But you have something extra now. It's that special pained or glazed look people get when they try not to smile.

If that's not enough to bear, we go to parties and our friends are showing off pictures of their grandchildren. This can't be true. You're too young to be a grandparent, you say.

"It's true," they beam. You smile and secretly thank your lucky stars you have many moons to go before someone calls you granny. It's bad enough to worry about getting on more kid through college and another through high school. This grandmother business is getting a little too close for comfort. After all, I haven't yet reached my own potential and time is running out.

Of course you can always stave all the old-age and fat off with some exercise. Why are we all so concerned with out weight these days?

At the age of 12, there were only two or three people, age 40 and over in my life, that didn't weight more than 150 pounds. It thought them well-preserved but very unusual for their age.

At that age most of us would have also thought it disgusting to see our 40-year-od mothers jogging down the beach. Now, here I am‹one of those disgusting people.

But even exercise has a price. The morning after beginning a new exercise routine is worse than any hang-over. The other morning I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought my long-departed grandmother was staring me in the fact. It was scary, I had her walk down pat.

I figured a cup a coffee and the newspaper would cheer me up. But it doesn't always work. Too often the names of my friends are appearing in the divorce columns, the obituaries or the police beat these days. Of course, on the brighter side, some of them are even in the wedding section, for the second time-around.

What ever happened to those nice but dull 40ish-type people I remember when I was young? The ones who were happy to sit on the porch, sew and cook, let us borrow their car and give good advice? It all looked so peaceful then.

How wrong can you be?

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