I look in the mirror, and just below my chin I see something I don’t like.
“Excuse me. What are you doing here? No one invited you.”
The once smooth, supple skin is gone. In its place sit deep, horizontal lines that cut my neck in thirds. When I gently pinch the skin here it stays in place even after my fingers no longer hold it together, revealing fine, tiny lines.
“You don’t belong here!”
In my head I’m at times a 12-year-old, jumping on the bed trying to engage my friends in a pillow fight. Or 22, still traipsing across a university campus excited about my future that lies ahead. OK. Maybe even 30ish. A little wiser on the cusp of my fourth decade of life. But in reality, I’m past middle age.
Still, I don’t like these wrinkles on my neck. Not one bit.
I tighten my neck muscles and deliberately frown in an attempt to erase the signs of age. But a small voice – somewhere in my head, a place that knows I’m not a teenager but a full-grown adult with an ever expanding midriff – says, “That’s not going to work, you know. In fact, it’s just going to get worse.”
“Who asked you?”
Eventually, the youthful voice relents, accepting the truth.
I’m getting older. No matter how I young I might feel and even act, this body is aging. Ugh!
Until one day, my sister-in-law and I sit with a rep from a home healthcare agency looking for a way for my mother-in-law, who recently had a stroke, to stay in her home.
“Tell me about her,” says the rep.
“She’s very easy to get along with,” my sister-in-law claims.
“Wait a minute,” I interrupt. “I’m sure that’s what everyone says, but I’m her daughter-in-law, and this is what I can tell you: She’s very patient and forgiving. And, yes, she is easy to get along with.”
“Wow!” the rep replies. “It’s not often you hear that from a daughter-in-law.”
I haven’t always felt that way. When my kids were little, I was annoyed by her parenting suggestions. And there have been plenty of things we didn’t see eye-to-eye on and power struggles around holidays as we executed family celebrations. Over the past 15 years we’ve each lived in three different homes. My kitchens have always been larger than hers. Yet somehow, her kitchen is always big enough for the two of us and mine isn’t. Hmm, I wonder what that could mean? In the last few years as I’ve gone with her to doctor appointments and experienced her unconditional love – for her son, grandchildren and me – the annoyance and power struggles have subsided. The differences in opinion have been opportunities for growth.
While I disdain the aged look on my neck – not to mention my crow’s feet and gray hair I vainly cover with highlights, lowlights and touch-ups every six weeks – it’s more than just a representation of how many years I accumulated in this life. A stereotypically sour relationship has grown sweet. Filled with love and mutual respect. And those babies I was once insecure about mothering are finding their passions and excelling as high school and middle school students.
True, I’m plumper and saggier than I’d like. But with each wrinkle and gray hair, growth, maturity and accomplishment have come. Instead of fighting the cycle of life, I can embrace it!