The ancient Greeks had a working definition of “in your prime” which was around 43 years of age. I am in my late thirties. The idea of being on an upward trajectory over the next few years as I head towards middle age and my prime is really appealing.
Unfortunately, biology and society tell me that I reached my prime was I was about 25. At 25, I was super-fertile. My breasts were pert. My face was plump. My stomach was tight. I had no grey hairs. Any bags or puffiness under my eyes were a result of a hangover. When I was 25, hangovers only lasted one day, rather than three.
Science tells us that a woman’s fertility starts to decline in her early 30s. At 35, it starts to decline more rapidly. I think its fair to say that when it comes to reproduction, I am most definitely past my peak. I am on a downward trajectory. My reproductive “prime” is a long and distant memory.
I never really gave a great deal of thought to what middle age would look and feel like. I look tired. The grey hairs are now quite persistent and I spend time and money trying to hide them. I always thought I’d have wrinkles around my eyes, and indeed I have, but I never really considered that I would have what I can only describe as loose skin either side of my mouth. The skin on my face has lost its younger plumpness.
But despite of this, I feel comfortable in my body, more comfortable than I have felt before. I don’t mind that my post-pregnancy stomach has lost its definition. It doesn’t really bother me that my bottom is a little lower than it used to be. My breasts are barely recognisable as my own after pregnancy and then breastfeeding.
The lines around my eyes are smile lines. They document a life full of laughter.
Middle age has also affected the way I think. These days I see young guys on the street and I think of them more as my son than as a potential love interest. If a boy in his early twenties dies in a TV hospital drama like Casualty for example, I find myself identifying more with the boy’s mother than with his fiancée.
As I approach middle age, I know that sleep is a cure for almost every ailment and stressor. I also know that sleep is incredibly valuable and I shouldn’t waste any opportunity to get a little shut-eye.
I know that hard work pays off…eventually. I know that out of our greatest challenges come our greatest achievements.
I know that it is best not to reply to an angry email or text message immediately, but rather to sleep on it and wait a few days.
I know that we need to experience really difficult times in our lives to enable us to appreciate how good life can really be.
I know that life has chapters. Some periods of our lives have a definite break followed by a new beginning. Some chapters are good, some are bad. Some chapters are like emotional roller-coasters, others are stable and narrative fillers.
In my novel, I have been a quiet child; a conscientious school girl; a head-over-heals in love teenager; an enthralled student; a content and energised employee; a loyal girlfriend; a woman who has lost her way and in the wrong relationship; a shell-shocked mother suffering an identity crisis. My current chapter is the story of a happy single mother. I want this current chapter to be a long one.
In this current chapter I am on an upward trajectory towards middle age. I feel I’m heading towards my prime.
Maybe the ancient Greeks were right about middle age after all.