Sun’s up, I’ve thrown hay, and now I’m in the shower. My second-best thinking happens here because there’s a window to the pens and barn; to the horses, donkeys, llamas, and the goat. (Every dressage barn should have a goat as a reminder that control is not an option.) It’s my birthday. I’m hoping that no one will sing When I’m Sixty-Four because, well…
A woman my age isn’t much of a peep show in the shower but it could be worse. There are some scars and lumps but I’ve still got my teeth. My left pinky can’t straighten; I’ll take that to the grave with me. My feet don’t match since the surgery. Lots of metal inside but it doesn’t hurt now. I traded excruciating foot pain for swollen ankles, yay, I got the best of that deal. Truth is I’m a gray mare with chronic lameness.
I’m at an awkward age. Maybe all ages are awkward or maybe it’s that I’ve never fit in. But it’s happened once or twice at the grocery store. During checking out, as my groceries fly over the scanner, the clerk will say, “Did you find everything, sir?” I suppose that’s normal enough, living in a conservative small town, as I do. Probably lots of gray-haired white guys wear dangly pearl earrings.
It’s not just the grocery store; I’m a politics geek, so I notice no one mentions women my age as a voting threat. Salespeople look past me, most of us shop less than when we were younger. Do we become transparent as we age? If we’re not careful, we’ll lull people into a false sense of security. They’ll make the mistake of thinking we’re irrelevant.
About now I remember Lilith, the most determined walking corpse I ever met. She was a foster donkey who came here to die but ended up running for the place for eighteen months first, kicking every vet and farrier she met. And me, of course, but no hard feelings. They were just warning shots. She thought aging gracefully was for saps. In hindsight, she looked a little like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Birthdays, once we’re past the age of balloons and staying up all night, are about taking stock. There’s a clock ticking and since I’ve trained myself to not over think around horses, it’s freed up lots of time to obsess about being a woman of a certain age and trying to find my place in this world. It’s trying to separate peer pressure from personal choice. But what’s peer pressure other than our own judgment of ourselves out in the world, heard in the voice of others?
One of the things they tell you as a kid is how many ways you can totally ruin your life, especially us girls. We’re taught life is a vale of tears, (more likely a landmine field,) and so we prepare for battle. What they don’t warn you about the larger number of times you will have the chance to reinvent yourself. That’s the real birthday question, “Who do I want to be this year?”
I’m ridiculously blessed in this life. I’ve always been a dreamer, but this is crazy. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror. I’ve published my fourth book, who would have ever thought? And I’m preparing to be a presenter at Equidays in New Zealand. It’ll be my second trip this year, again, beyond all expectations. Best of all, I spend every day with horses, on the largest learning curve of my life. This is exciting and I’m grateful! (Understatement, but words fail me when I think of my wild luck.)
Meanwhile, at a recent author event, I was behind my table, books displayed in front, when a man roughly my age walked up, and seeing my titles looked horse-related, he decided to hold forth, saying, “You want to be real careful riding a mare if there’s a stallion around.” Then he starts to explain why and I’m thinking who leaves stallions loose around mares? I am polite, I smile.
For the next twenty minutes, he regaled me with his feats of horsemanship. He’s never owned a horse, but a friend used to let him ride years ago. At one point, I interrupt him, hoping to escape but he got firm, “I’m trying to give you advice here.” He actually scolds me and then continues to tell me about killing a horse by tying him on a rope that was too long. There’s an author who writes westerns here, why is he dogging me?
I was aware of my calming signals; I turned my shoulders away, I looked down. I was absolutely breathing deeply, being schooled this way. Finally, I stood tall, held full eye contact, and thanked him for the advice. It isn’t about what I wanted to say.
Day by day, we all stand at the corner of Do You Know Who I Am? and No One Cares! The intersection of confidence and humility, making a decision about who we want to be. Sometimes we get it wrong. The other word for that is life.
The Dude Rancher gave me a birthday card, he said it reminded him of someone. It was a vintage photo of an old west cowgirl, a bit blurred but she was holding a pistol:
Do No Harm But Take No Crap.
Is there a better mantra than that? After a life of being strong for others, maybe it’s finally time to be strong for ourselves. To stop selling ourselves short because we don’t want to threaten others. And find some compassion at the same time.
Back at the farm, usually around four in the afternoon, I want to get in my pajamas. I’ve been working for twelve hours, it’s fair. Pajamas is a euphemism for wanting to get out of my underwear. Have I stated that in a way understood by other gray mares? Then I try to stay dressed until after dinner.
Sitting on the edge of my bed after late chores, grateful, realizing even though my body that was never good enough when it was younger, it has become dear to me now. Caress those old knees, feel strong muscles under crêpe paper skin. As I put oil on the scars on the repaired foot, I glance at my tattoo. It’s older than some of my friends. I got it in my rebellious youth, never once thinking years later they would be so common. Go figure. I’m ready for rest, it’ll be a big day tomorrow. It’s always a big day if you want it to be.
Have you been beaten back by nay-sayers? They’re the ones who manage to drown out all the cheers from your friends with nothing more than a raised eyebrow. We give them too much power. Might be time to raise an eyebrow right back at them.