It was one of those moments you see in the movies (or maybe a shampoo commercial). There I was, innocently walking down the pathway, wind in my hair, feeling good. Not a care in the world.
I noticed a stranger walking toward me. As he came closer, he smiled and nodded appreciatively. Then he spoke: "You are so beautiful."
I was flustered yet flattered by this advance. I remained composed and cautious. As I prepared a witty response, he reached forward and … petted my dog.
It wasn't me who was the target of this unsolicited attention. My five-year-old retriever's golden locks had outshone mine. Again.
I sighed inwardly, thanked the man graciously and agreed that Kody is a lovely dog, but he prefers to be called "handsome."
We (the dog and I) continued our walk as I contemplated this turn of events. "When did this happen?" I asked myself. There was a time when I could attract at least a smile, maybe even a wink, without assistance. But these days, the only time I get a second glance is from my daughter, who is checking to make sure I'm walking far enough behind so that no one will think I'm with her.
I recall my early days of motherhood when strangers would often stop to comment on my beautiful babies. Proud of my offspring, I never gave it a second thought. I didn't mind being eclipsed by these amazing children. I guess I felt that somehow I was being credited for their perfection.
But a dog? It's not quite the same.
The kids got older, and apparently so did I. While they are thrilled with the independence that age has brought them, I am left contemplating how quickly time flies. I had no idea how the passing of years can alter you on the outside without you really processing those changes on the inside.
Aging itself doesn't bother me. It's just a number, after all. And apparently 50 is the new 40, according to all my girlfriends who are marking that milestone with me this year.
But I am curious at how the conversation among us has taken a turn. We joke about our arms getting shorter, causing difficulties reading. Hot flashes have replaced hot guys in our repertoire of topics. And, once in a while, someone will raise the spectre of plastic surgery or some other equally appalling intervention to offset the realities of passing time.
It is an interesting debate. We all touch up our hair, wear makeup and invest in outrageously expensive, gravity-defying underwear. Some have even braved braces, seeking the perfect smile in their middle years. Why not go that extra step? There is a certain lure to the laser spas and Botox boutiques that are popping up all over the place. But, as my husband says, "Plastic surgery doesn't make you look better, it just makes you look like you've had plastic surgery."
I certainly wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of the scathing comments and jokes hurled at those superstars who have succumbed to the pressure to achieve eternal youth. It used to be that on Oscar night we watched to check out the beautiful gowns. Now, we scrutinize the red carpet to see who has had what done and whether it worked.
I was sitting around a pool last summer with several of my girlfriends. (Yes, I still say "girl" friends. Some things never change.) We got into a self-deprecating discussion lamenting the loss of our never-bikini-perfect bodies.
I looked around at these women, all shapes and sizes, all beautiful to me. I asked them how they had felt about their bodies at 40, or 30 or even 20 for that matter. Again, they were all quick to focus on their flaws, commenting that their legs were too short, middles too thick or arms too flabby.
But everyone generally agreed that if they could only have that younger body back again, they would be satisfied. So I challenged them: "How about we pretend we're 60 and have been given back the bodies we have right now?" We discussed this ridiculous concept over another glass of wine.
It is not in our natures to be satisfied with what we have – at any age. The quest for eternal youth has been going on for eternity. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look better, be more successful, have more money, as long as you don't miss out on what you have while you have it. We spend a lot of energy looking back with regret and forward with anticipation. What about just looking around (or in the mirror) and appreciating where we are right now?
But that makes me sound like an old woman. Sigh.
Maybe we could be the generation to embrace our chronology instead of fighting against it. Too many people don't get the chance to suffer through crow's feet and cellulite. We have been lucky enough to earn those wrinkles and stretch marks. We should value them more, lament them less. They are testaments to our time on earth, the experiences we have had and the challenges we have overcome.
I wouldn't trade them for anything, so I guess I'll take the baggage (or bags in this case) that goes with them. As for the few extra pounds, I'll keep walking with my handsome dog and live vicariously through the compliments he receives. It will help to keep me in shape – I may just want to wear a bikini next summer.
Michelle Perrault lives in Vancouver.