Answer: My age.
I just had a birthday this month. And among the many good wishes, for which I am grateful, were two cards that, in different ways, implied that I just might be ready for large old lady underpants.
Another card took a different tack. It featured a gutsy older woman, wearing an oversized pink madras plaid camp shirt, about to get on a razor scooter. I say gutsy not only because she was about to get on the scooter, but also because she was wearing that shirt.
This made me wonder if I received any cards like that last birthday, so I looked. One from last year featured platform heels. Another showed a woman wearing leopard print (not well, but with a certain panache.) A third said, “In France they have 3 words for women like you – ooh la la!” And another showed a picture of Michelangelo’s David with birthday candles covering his crotch, implying that I might be inclined to blow.
But no industrial strength underwear. So what changed this year?
It got me musing about age and some of its many ramifications.
I teach college students, one of whom I recently overheard to say, “OMG, I’m going to be 25 on my next birthday, I’m SO OLD!” I wanted to slap her silly little estrogen-poufed face, but instead I just smiled indulgently, as one does with a child, and congratulated myself on the restraint that comes with age and maturity. Clearly she has no clue yet as to the jowls, gingivitis and dry vagina that are waiting around some future corner.
When one of my friends called to wish me happy birthday, we were both congratulating and lamenting our respective years, and she asked if I had ever known my grandmothers. I said yes, one of them. She asked, “And when she was the same age as you, how did she compare in vibrancy and youthfulness?” I had to admit that, as much as I loved her, at my age she had neither. Even at 10 years younger than I am now, she was roly-poly, had thinning gray hair in no particular style, and wore dumpy housedresses and sensible shoes. Even worse, she did not have much of a life. She cleaned, visited her son and granddaughters, watched TV and wrote letters to her remaining sisters. Once she had been married to a handsome doctor, had worn furs, collected antiques and invited people to her stately home. But her husband had died, and the house had been sold. The friendships had died too or faded away. She had no current hobbies or interests to speak of.
Then my friend asked me what I did to celebrate my birthday. Well, first I had a karaoke party with about 10 friends. I wore tights and a sheer top, drank martinis and sang Nina Simone (not well, but with a certain panache.)
Next I went shopping for some new dance shoes. I got two pairs of salsa shoes, both with 3” Cuban heels and straps that daintily criss-cross the ankles – one in bronze satin with scalloped edges and the other a peekaboo black leather.
Then I went to a party for another friend. I wore a flowing black hi-lo skirt that swirled when I twirled in those bronze satin shoes. I drank wine and danced for hours.
Finally, I got a massage from an attractive black masseur. He delicately asked if I wanted my “glutes” massaged, and I said sure. I noticed he hovered there for awhile, and then he said, “You keep yourself in nice shape.” I do exercise, but admittedly not as much as I should. Yet I had a feeling he wasn’t picturing me in granny panties.
“Now,” my friend asked, “could you imagine your grandmother celebrating her birthday that way at your age?” I had to admit I could not.
It’s true that my panties have gotten bigger over the years, and now include some Spanx-like support garments. (Though I wanted to like Spanx, they just flatten my ass. Support is supposed to mean “lift and separate,” not “flatten”!) But I also still own some thongs and lacy tangas. Mostly I just go commando because, well, I’m a commando. Or an aging hippie. Or too lazy to do the laundry. Or all three.
I don’t resent the people who gave me the granny panty cards. On the contrary, I’m lucky to have friends who want to celebrate my birthday. I’m fortunate to be healthy and have enough of what I need, and grateful that I still want to get off the couch and sing and dance, drink wine, enjoy life and lick the spoon.*
But the friend who gave me the pink plaid shirt card? Well, the irony is that I don’t own such a shirt, BUT SHE DOES! Along with the MATCHING BERMUDA SHORTS!
I’m signing off now. I’m heading over to her place where I will find that shirt and shorts and burn them. Not only as a favor to my friend, who is still youthful and vibrant herself and deserves better. But also as a public service to the rest of us.
*Licking the Spoon is my metaphor for living life with gusto. In my book in progress about food, sex and relationship, I talk about how to remain youthful, sexy and vibrant at any age.