How is it that with the new year we imagine all the ways we will be different NEXT year? We could make that decision to change on March 1 or May 15. The possibility is always there, and yet, with the turn of the page of the calendar, the new year just feels like the right time to make that personal change that has been nagging at us for months.
It’s also the time of the year for reading articles on how to keep the new year’s resolutions and why so many of us don’t keep them. I must have read at least three of those- “this year can be different”- types of articles in the last few days.
From these articles I now know, as though I didn’t before, that I need to have incentive and that a positive focus, like gratitude, is better than reminding myself of all that I lack. I need to take one day at a time and start small. Rewarding myself is better than punishing my lack of compliance, and sharing my plan leads to more commitment than hiding it in a drawer. I need to be realistic, as opposed to idealistic, structured, rather that organic. Armed with all this knowledge, I SHOULD be able to….
To Eat or Not to Eat?
So what will it be this year? I can remember my first new year’s resolution, at the age of 12: I will lose five pounds. At TWELVE! Already, I was caught in the mire of women and weight loss, beauty as being defined by the scale, feeling that I was not good enough as I was. And I wasn’t THAT chubby—a bit plump, one might say, but hardly over the top in terms of fat. But that didn’t matter, I felt fat.
And so it went. I wanted to lose weight in the year 1960. I bet that was a new year’s resolution for at least half of the following years. As they say, “A woman can never be too thin or too rich.” So here I am, in 2018, pondering that same question… Can I be thin enough?
I am thinner than I now than I have been for most of my adult life, but the question still comes up. Should I lose some weight? Even at my age?
Along with the literature on how to keep new year’s resolutions, I have been reading about the joys of aging. Despite all of the ageism that decries getting old as a time of memory loss, reduced mobility, and lack of powerful impact in the world, as well as wrinkles, sagging butts, and flabby muscle tone, aging can bring lots of latitude. We don’t HAVE to pretend we have the tiny waist of the magazine model or the long, separated eyelashes of our favorite actress. At this time of our lives, we don’t have to impress others or worry about what our neighbors think; we have come into our own with a clearer sense of who we are.
As Jenny Joseph wrote in her poem:
“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple…And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells, … And make up for the sobriety of my youth. … You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat, and eat three pounds of sausage at a go…”
But then she reminds us of our responsibilities of adulthood:
“But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,…and set a good example for the children…”
In theory, we might have reached this place of self- acceptance twenty or maybe thirty years ago, but with all the pressure to succeed and the requirements to belong, the children to raise and the money to earn, creating a strong sense of “this is me and I don’t care what you think”…is delayed until… now.
That’s me: Eloise!
As we age, we have the gift of perspective. The many years that I have lived allows me to open up to the wonderment of possibility, rather than closing the door out of fear. For instance, the new person who shows up for the family dinner, the one that doesn’t look like the rest of the family, can be embraced, rather than shunned, because I now acknowledge all that I can learn from her. And the odd looks I might get when I wear sandals on a cold fall day or boots on a hot spring day, are just that- odd looks. I understand that they have nothing to do with me in the long run—although I might just take the feedback as helpful information. But it is up to me! The sense of who I am perseveres through the squinty eyes and the nasty comments. And what’s more, the boss and the kids aren’t around for me to worry about their critique of my footwear, or anything else, for that matter!
I have lived long enough to see that compliments and approvals are ephemeral, and that it takes a lot of energy to keep them coming in. I have learned that over time, the peaks and the valleys even out and what’s left is—me!
The choice is mine: Make it sweet
So back to the new year’s resolution. While the new year might still be a good time to turn the corner on working on something that I want to improve, like spending more time writing or giving up caffeine, the operative words of my resolution are “I WANT”. I don’t need to lose weight to look like the woman in the magazine, or even exercise five days a week because a friend told me that she read an article about the value of abundant aerobics. I’m old, I know who I am and what is important to ME, and I get to decide!
The new year opportunity at this age is really not so much about behavior change. Instead, January 1 is a day to take the time to appreciate all that I am today, to reflect on the parts of my life that I value, and to acknowledge all that I bring to the table—not just the fattening food, but the sweetness of life, the candies of curiosity and the lemons of a life well lived.