I leaned forward on my stool and peered into the round mirror on the counter at the Merle Normal Cosmetic Studio in Chandler.
Rhonda was perched next to me. “Don’t look too close,” she warned.
So this is 52, I thought.
It wasn’t a milestone birthday. Not like 50, which felt like I was embarking on some new adventure. The big 5-0. Fifty is the new 30, and all that.
I had always thought I’d mark turning half a century in the Greek islands, sipping frappe coffee and watching the sun come up over the water. But an overseas trip had not been in my budget.
Instead I went to Disneyland with the Fab 5, friends all the same age as me — in order, Carrie, me, Ally, Niki and Rhonda — and our kids. It was fun.
But while turning 50 had seemed cause for celebration, turning 51 felt a little flat.
So I threw myself a party, making Jell-o shots and pulling all of the furniture in the living room onto the front porch to make enough room to dance. That was fun, too.
But as 52 approached, I found myself unusually uninterested in my birthday. I’m not sure why.
I was all gung-ho about being 50. “I’m 50,” I’d declare, and then listen smugly as those around me protested that it just couldn’t be true.
But in the last two years, I seem to have settled into my age. I’m in my fifties, not just on the precipice. And sometimes it feels like I have gone over an edge.
When I turned 45, I mused that if I lived to be 90, I was halfway to dead. It seemed like plenty of time.
But when I turned 52, I actually Googled it, and my life expectancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is 81.1 years.
Through a glass, clearly
No matter what Rhonda advised, I had to look closely into the mirror.
I can’t see a thing any other way.
I’ve worn contact lenses for 25 years, but that was never a sign of age. I finally started pulling on reading glasses, at first only when the print was especially small or the light particularly bad.
But now no matter how much I squint — and no matter how far I stretch my arm — I can’t see anything in detail without the glasses. I have two pairs in the car, four in my purse and a half dozen scattered throughout the house.
Maybe that’s what 52 is — 52 pairs of reading glasses, one always within reach.
With my glasses, I’ve noticed other changes: Dents in my shoulders from decades of wearing a bra. Spider veins busting out on my legs like tiny road maps. My desert cleavage.
But not only can I see all that, and what’s on the page, and on the screen, I’m also beginning to see my 50s differently. (Though it has taken a couple months.)
Fifty-two has found me back in the gym, for which I have paid $10 a month for the privilege of saying I belong to a gym, even if I didn’t go all that regularly — OK, hardly at all.
Because this body doesn’t feel as strong as it used to. I roll out of bed most mornings instead of hopping up, my legs sore from tap dancing or my back aching from sitting at the computer too long.
Fifty-two finds me watching what I eat — OK, just in the last three weeks since my doctor warned me that my sugars were creeping up — taking a multi-vitamin and not skipping any doctor’s appointments.
I realize now it’s about more than looking good. I want to feel good. And the health-insurance gods know I can’t afford to be sick or have any pre-existing conditions.
Fifty-two finds me cooking again, really cooking, not just boiling pasta and pouring a jar of marinara sauce over it and tearing open a bag of salad.
I’m waiting for the olive oil to shimmer in the hot pan before seasoning and searing chicken breasts, sautéing Swiss chard, and making a basil pistou.
Fifty-two finds me tearing through the house, emptying and organizing drawers, cabinets and closets, and donating or throwing away things that I was once sure I needed.
A dozen sheet sets. Thirty-seven coffee mugs. Boxes of craft supplies for projects never started.
It feels as good as losing weight.
Fifty-two finds me planning my first trip to Europe, thanks to a wicked airfare sale and Airbnb.
And 52 has found me thinking about how I want to live in retirement, something I never gave much thought to before.
Do I want to drop dead at my keyboard in the newsroom or in a tiny house parked in my son’s backyard where I planted a garden and played with my grandchildren? (I’m working on getting my now-teenage son to agree to that, though I’m sure he’ll see the wisdom when he’s grown. In the meantime, I’m paying attention to my 401k and planning ahead.)
Don’t judge my magazines
I think I’m growing to like 52. Maybe not as much as I liked 50.
But 52 finds me confident, sure about the choices I make.
At 52, what you see is what you get. There’s very little about me that’s not real. Because I’ve learned there’s no point to being anything but who and what you really are.
Fifty-two finds me content to slow down a little, be in the moment more, and even nap on the weekends. My mantra was always, “Sleep when you’re dead!” I’ve discovered the deliciousness of reading in the shade in backyard and falling asleep for 20 minutes.
Fifty-two finds me happy. Apparently we get progressively happier as we get older and more satisfied with our lives, according to research by AARP. (Yes, I read AARP magazine.) We get better at the ups and down and worry less.
There’s a magnet on my refrigerator, a quote from Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Because I’ve learned I always come out the other side.
The eyes of someone confident
And 52 found me perched on a stool at a make-up counter, peering into a mirror.
Now I know why I don’t have a magnifying mirror at home. My crow’s feet looked like caverns.
I straightened up and looked at gorgeous Grace, who studied me silently.
Rhonda had signed me up for a make-up lesson for my birthday — and after I asked too many questions about how she does her eyeliner.
I haven’t done anything different with my makeup since I was in college.
I’m not trying to look younger. I just want to make the most of what I have (and maybe disguise those crow’s feet).
Grace asked about my cleaning routine (um, soap) and assumed I used moisturizer. Of course. (I’m sure she could tell I was lying.)
So now 52 finds me using moisturizer, applying color-correcting foundation with a brush, dabbing under my eyes with concealer, contouring my cheeks — seriously, it’s like magic — and applying eyeliner with a curve upward.
“Look at her eyes!” Grace said. Rhonda nodded, approving. I looked into the mirror.
I looked back, eyes wide open and bright.
This is 52.
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