‘Now that you’re turning fifty, you’ll begin to thicken,’ announced my mother on the eve of the birthday I’d already been dreading. Non-plussed, I’d asked her what she meant. ‘You know, spread, expand, broaden across the beam. It’s inevitable.’

Broad beam or not, I was beginning to get why women lie about their age. Making the transition from one decade to the next can be tough but crossing over from forty-nine to fifty was even more confronting than I’d expected. When I turned thirty, I remember experiencing a twinge of unease when it occurred to me that ‘life’, which until then had seemed infinite, was passing by quite rapidly. When I turned forty I was so stretched with kids, pets and work (not to mention MS) that I barely noticed. And looking far into the future, surely crossing over from ninety-nine to 100 would carry a certain kudos and a telegram from the Queen. But there was nothing good about turning fifty. Consider, for example, reading a news report that a forty-nine year-old fisherman has been swept off rocks. You immediately think ‘tragedy’ and wonder about his wife and kids. But the same story about a fisherman aged fifty, you tend to think, oh well, he had a good run.

Not long after that particular birthday, I took Mum to see her cardiologist. Unprompted, he shared the fun fact that once you turn fifty your blood pressure begins to climb.

‘Oh, my daughter’s just turned fifty,’ she said brightly. I expected him to look surprised but he barely acknowledged me (which perhaps he would have done had I just turned thirty).  As a freshly minted fifty year-old, I did not need the fact advertised. Later Mum told me she wanted to find a new dentist because hers was approaching retirement.

‘How old is she?’ I asked.

‘Oh she must be fifty!’

Even aside from my mother’s reminders, discomforting signs kept intruding into my consciousness – like the ‘How do you know when you’re old?’ segment I heard on ABC radio. The biggest giveaway, apparently, was being an ABC radio listener, but there were others. One woman called in to say that you know you’re old when you walk into Sportsgirl and don’t recognise anything as actual clothes. I knew exactly what she meant.

On a post-birthday outing, I was waiting for a friend outside a well-known clothing store. I usually avoid clothes shopping but they must have been pumping happy hormones into the atmosphere because something lured me in. I gazed at the displays as if in a trance. It all looked so nice, so fashionable, so me!  I tried something on and it fitted beautifully.

‘Perfect,’ I said to the twelve year-old sales assistant. ‘Usually I don’t find something so easily.’

‘This is our new label,’ she said, ‘Coz the old people weren’t buying our stuff anymore.’

‘Really?’ I said, trying not to feel slighted.

Then there was my school reunion. I was surprised when we were provided with ‘parting gifts’, a veritable goody bag of anti-ageing products. I’d arrived at the function feeling as young as the day I left school, and went home with a plan to revise my opinion on botox.

These days, I’m more understanding of women who pursue artificial means to slow down the ageing process. But I still plan to hold the line. Telling a fib about my age would seem almost quaint by comparison.



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