Me at 50, by Rebecca Photography, professional photo for work, hence tons of makeup

When I turned 50, I threw myself a birthday party and invited a whole bunch of friends over to celebrate, mostly from our local church choir. Three of my kids were grown and gone and the high-schoolers were at a cross country meet, so we had the whole house to ourselves. I’d never thought about that side of empty nesting before. Much as I love my kids and miss the older ones, we had a great time without them.

After we cut the cake, an older friend turned to me:

“You know what? You’re in the infancy of old age. From our perspective, you’re just a baby.”

I was intrigued. Is 50 sort of like starting all over again? Kind of nice, when you think of it. Maybe I can use this as an opportunity to start over, do some things differently.

My birthday was in January. I put some thought into this “do-over,” as an actual goal.

On Ash Wednesday, I told the kids “I’ve decided to give up complaining for Lent. From now on, if you don’t clean your room, I will — but I get to keep all the spare change I find.”

I managed to get through the next 40 days without grumbling and complaining. It was tough, but there were some perks — I made an extra $185 that spring, just from cleaning the house.

Time went by, and all the kids were on their own.

I felt like making more changes this year, so I stopped coloring my hair. The red had faded long before, replaced with pure white strands. Hairdressers kept urging me to go darker, to cover up the white, but I didn’t like it. I thought it looked too harsh against my fair skin. And, because my hair grows really fast, I had to keep coloring it every two weeks. Time to just stop pouring chemicals on my hair.

I’ll just grow it out, I reasoned. But after a few weeks, it looked really strange, all this brown and white. I looked at least twenty years older and really frumpy.

So I had the color stripped off a few months ago. Not a good idea. My thick, coarse hair basically fried from all the chemicals they kept applying. And, after six hours at this fancy salon, I still had orange-tinted hair.

I gave up, went home and washed it. Tons of hair broke off. I ended up going to a different hairdresser.

“I really need to just cut it off,” she advised, gently.

I sighed and told her to go ahead. I probably should have done that in the first place.

As it was, I ended up walking out of there with a pixie cut — and going back every few weeks for another one, until my hair finally stopped breaking off. I used lots of hair masks every few days, which helped. Three months later, my hair has softened to a kind of gold and white mix and has grown into a short bob. It looks like somebody dropped some egg yolks on my head, but it’s no longer orange.

Life is all about change, right? It is nice, not having to color my hair any more.

When I flew out to California to see my mom, my older sister and I compared notes.

Her hair was a lovely pure white. “But you started as a blonde to begin with, that’s easier.”

She nodded. “Its so freeing, not to have to color anymore.”

She didn’t look much different, having gone from blonde to white. If anything, she looked better. Her hair was soft and healthy, and it shimmered in the sunlight, silver and pure white. It looked lovely with her light blue eyes.

At 94, my mom had decided she didn’t like white hair, and went to the salon for a very light shade of blonde, to give her face some color. She didn’t bother with makeup anymore, so the light blonde was just right for her.

I liked the contrast of dark eyebrows and brown mascara against the golden-white, and discovered wearing red or pink lipstick gave a nice bit of color to my face. I’m getting used to the golden white hair against my fair skin. Then I looked at my wardrobe. Time for a change. I invested in some new tops with bright colors and gave away my black ones. They really drained all the color from my face.

I didn’t realize how long it would take for the color to fade, but there’s no way I’m going back to the salon for another coloring job. I think those days are over.

We give ourselves makeovers all the time, in one way or another. We change jobs, spouses, hairstyles, interests. Too often, I think, we try to conform to what others expect us to look like, how they expect us to act. But those expectations feel confining after a while.

One thing I discovered about turning 50 was, I didn’t care enough about what other people thought to ignore my own desires. I realized I was setting goals to make them happy, not me. It was time to change all that. Where do I want to be, ten years from now? Who do I want to be?

Most people dread growing older, but honestly, I’ve come to realize it’s something to celebrate. The older I get, the more I accept myself and tune in to my own hopes and dreams. I love my children, family and friends deeply, but I don’t let them run my life. Life is more fun when I’m fully alive and exploring all the possibilities it offers. My children say I’m more relaxed. I think I’m just growing into being me.

I want that for you too.

Writer, editor, coach, occasional organist/cantor. You can find me at barbaracarsontodd.com or email barbara@barbaracarsontodd.com for infrequent updates.

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