Mirrors remind me that I’m aging. Some are kind. Others, not so much. Kind mirrors, bathed with warm light, soften my face and bring out my color. Unflattering mirrors, like the ones in gas station bathrooms and hair salons can be downright mean. Fluorescent lighting casts shadows on my deepening wrinkles and staring at my reflection in a beauty parlor mirror for over thirty minutes is a form of torture. I don’t recognize the woman I see. I wonder, “Is this how others see me?”
Now that I’m in my 70's, I realize that the difference in the mirror images has less to do with the angle of light and more to do with my self-perception and judgement.
This self-awareness has evolved over time.
In my forties, I was concerned that my youthful face was beginning to show signs of wear and tear. When I asked Mom how she handled aging and the wrinkles that came with it, she gave me this advice. “On a given day, you may notice a new wrinkle or sag. At first, you might be bothered. Then, after awhile, you get used to your new appearance until the next change comes along. Then you readjust once again. Grow old gracefully, Barbara,” she would say. Mom was sixty-five years old.
Mirrors aren’t only made out of glass. People serve as mirrors too. They shed light on us and reflect back what they see. Store clerks and medical staff who once called me ‘Miss’, now call me “Ma’am’. Strangers do too. I no longer turn heads unless I happen to trip or knock a grocery item off a shelf.
In my 50’s, driving a rental car in an unfamiliar city, I made a turn, which I admit, was careless. A young man standing in the crosswalk, jumped back onto the curb and shouted, “Whoa, Granny!”
I slammed on the brakes and rolled down my car window.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you!”
The man frowned and walked away.
My husband who sat in the passenger seat remained quiet. I parked the car in silence. Engine off, tragedy averted, I looked at Bill and asked,
“Do you think I look like a granny?” (I wasn’t yet a grandmother.)
“Well, you don’t look like a grandma, but you were certainly driving like one.”
“Well, I’m glad no one was hurt, but, honestly, how could that young man have seen my face? I don’t even have gray hair.” (I probably did have gray hair, but I was dyeing it blonde.)
After that incident, I considered purchasing a car pillow in order to sit taller in the driver seat since I’m only 5’2”, but haven’t yet. The time will come since I’ll most likely shrink with age.
In my early 60’s. I made one of those quick and desperate grocery runs where you hope no one you know will see you. I hadn’t washed my hair. Since my hair always looks thin and flat when dirty, I pulled on an old red stocking cap to hide it. I threw on a winter jacket to cover the sweatshirt that matched my gray sweatpants and stepped into my snow boots that weighed at least two pounds each. There was no time to put on make-up.
While at the store, grateful not see anyone I recognized, I purchased my groceries and began shuffling my way toward the exit. An employee ran to greet me.
“How’s it going grandma? Here, let me take your bags for you. They must be heavy.”
I didn’t correct the man and tell him I wasn’t a grandmother. I forced a polite, “no thanks,” stood a bit taller and tromped out of the store.
Driving home along a stretch of highway that winds through lovely forests and lakes, I ignored the beauty of the snowy landscape.
That guy looked way older than me. He must have poor eyesight. I’m never wearing these stupid boots again. I’m going improve my posture and change my wardrobe!
I purchased more youthful, trendy clothes, but eventually gave them away to a local thrift shop. I preferred my sporty, casual look. The latest fads looked silly on me. As for my posture, it hasn’t changed much.
A couple of years after that incident, a grandmother by then, I attended an outdoor wedding. My brother seated behind me, had a fair amount of time to study my the back of my head.
A few days later he phoned me and after sharing a few pleasantries, he said, “It's time to stop dyeing your hair. Your hair looks fake, especially in the sun. I’m your brother, trust me. You’re sixty-seven years old. You have a grandson. You’re not going to look like you’re a young woman any more, no matter what you do. Let your hair go natural like Mom did.”
My brother’s comments stung, but I understood the love behind his words. And indeed, when I stood outside and happened to see my reflection in a window, my hair was beginning to look a bit orange. I gave up the dye and saved my money for other things. My hair, now snowy white, feels right on me.
Mirrors still continue to reflect my outward changes, but not what is happening in my soul. As my eyelids droop and my eyesight declines, my vision and wisdom expand. Mirror moments still hurt at times, but as Mom predicted, I’m getting used to it.
I’m a grandmother of five young grandchildren now. Call me ‘ma’am, or ‘granny’ or grandma’. I wear these labels with pride and am grateful to have reached such a wonderful stage in life. When I look in the mirror, I see my smiling mother and both my grandmothers looking back at me.
They say I’m ripening nicely.