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As my 40th high school reunion approaches, I have so many mixed feelings. I’m looking forward to being with so many of the people who grew up alongside me; people who shared the experience of living in the “All American” town of Bloomfield during the same period of history. These are people who I went to Hebrew school with; people who had the same developmental milestones at the same time as me; people who listened to the same music, wore the same style clothes, and went to the same local restaurants and movie theaters that I did. And yet, these were not my friends.

It’s still bizarre to me that I’m “friends” on Facebook with so many school-mates that were not my friends during my high school years. I see photos of their lives, and their kids, and grand-kids. I celebrate their successes and feel compassion for their struggles. I “like” their posts and they “like” mine but I’m always aware that these virtual relationships are far deeper than any connection I had with any of them when we went to school together.

In 7th grade, the first year all the elementary schools came together, I struggled to fit in, wanting so much to be part of the “popular” crowd. I could never understand why some kids seemed to be accepted, invited to all the parties, clustering together in the hallways and sitting together and laughing at lunch. I spent most of the year sitting at the popular kids’ table with no one even acknowledging my presence. I was lonely and sad but I remember thinking that at least the rest of the kids in school would think I was part of the “in” crowd since they saw me at their table. Was I wearing the wrong clothes? What was it about me that made those kids decide that I just wasn’t going to be accepted? And what was it about me that made me want it so badly that I couldn’t seem to let it go and make an effort to find a group where I would fit in?

I eventually dealt with my feelings of rejection and loneliness by deciding I just didn’t care. I would march to the beat of my own drum and numb any feelings about it by smoking as much pot as I could get my hands on. By the time we got to high school, I had a boyfriend who was 6 years older and I wanted to be just about anywhere other than at Bloomfield High.  I was the classic under-achiever, getting A’s in English and Art and C’s in almost everything else. I can remember sitting in the back of Mr. Cunningham’s math class and reading a novel while he taught algebra. I skipped more school than I attended and I almost didn’t graduate because I had missed so many gym classes I didn’t have the PE credits I needed.

While I had one Bloomfield friend that I occasionally spent time with and there were a few people I partied with if we happened to run into each other at Penwood Park for sunset, I was basically friendless and without any real social life with my age peers during high school. I didn’t participate in any extracurricular activities, didn’t attend my prom, and was not once invited to anything by fellow students at BHS. Everyone else seemed to have tons of friends and a group where they belonged. If you had asked me, I would have sworn that I really didn’t care but still, I felt like there was something wrong with me, always on the outside looking in. I suspect that I didn’t appear that way to others, but the truth is I have no idea what anyone else thought about me if they thought about me at all.

Happily, I’ve grown from that wounded, lonely, angsty, teenager into a secure and confident woman. I understand myself at very deep level and carry deep compassion for my own painful experiences and know that there were others who also felt lost during that time. In my life today, I have a close-knit circle of friends, rich and satisfying work, and a loving family. I like and accept myself just as I am.

As our 40th reunion approaches, classmates are posting old photos and reminiscing about the halcyon days of friendship, fun, and feeling like family at our school in our very special town. But for me, those were not golden years and I’m not going to the reunion to re-connect with old friends.  I’m going to meet up with some new friends and to reaffirm to myself that these are the shining years and that the best is yet to come.

 

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A few months ago I glanced up at one of the many TV sets scattered around my gym to see a woman on QVC selling a line of “fashion clothing.” The pants on offer were an elastic waist, large pocketed polyester blend model that came in a rainbow of lively colors, as well as faux dungaree material, and whose length allowed for possible oncoming floods and insured the wearer need never worry about tripping on them. And, of course, there were also an array of loose flowered tunics and complimentary vests for mixing and matching on offer.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed by the memory of cleaning out my mother’s closet after she died last year. I found myself crying, right there on my yoga mat in the health club, recalling bagging up her countless pairs of ankle length, elastic waisted pants. I felt such grief in that moment, thinking of my Mom and her later in life wardrobe. When exactly had she made the shift from stylish, well-tailored outfits to what I could only think of as Old Lady Clothes? And why?

In that moment, I swore to myself that I would never ever dress that way. I would wear pants with a real waist band, zippers and buttons until they were patting dirt on my face. I would be the fashion forward forever woman who ages with grace and beauty, holding on to my personal style of the perfect balance of form, function, and comfort. My daughters would never feel the sadness of carting off bags of my old lady duds to the Goodwill, I vowed. In fact, they’ll want my clothes for themselves when I’m gone.

The next weekend I went to visit my in-laws in Rochster, NY. I don’t go with my husband all that often but my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s; I know that there is a limit to the time when she will still know who I am so I suffered the 6-hour car ride. There is still a brilliant, highly social, intensely judgmental person somewhere behind her ever more confused eyes but she can no longer place herself in time or keep a thread of conversation on a straight seam. A published author, she has heartbreakingly lost the ability to read, although she carries a book and an old New Yorker magazine with her at all times.

I spent a lot of our visit helping her in the bathroom. She has mostly forgotten how to use the toilet (thank heavens for Depends!) and she is befuddled by buttons and zippers. Once fit and trim, most of her clothes are uncomfortably tight on her widening frame. To avoid her confusion, we discovered that she often sleeps in her clothes and wears the same outfit until her 3-day-a-week aide arrives to give her a shower and help her change. Over the weekend, I dressed and undressed her just as I did for my little girls thirty years ago. “Arms up!” as I lifted her shirt over her head and grabbing hold of a foot or a hand to guide it through the appropriate sleeve.

It was clear, at the very least, she needed new clothes; ones that fit comfortably and were simpler for her to navigate. That QVC line flashed in my head and suddenly I understood my own mother’s choice of apparel. While her dementia was mild, her arthritis and degenerative disc disease was not. Of course at some point she would choose clothing that saved her aching fingers from the intricate work of buttons and zippers and felt comfortable on her pain ridden body. What hubris for me to imagine that I could somehow choose to avoid the need for ease in my own fashion choices if I’m lucky enough to reach my elder years!

Growing old is no picnic although it usually beats the alternative. It’s especially arduous in the youth and beauty obsessed culture we live in. It’s hard enough to manage the increasing aches and pains and the decline of sharp sight and wit as the years wear and tear at our bodies. Add in the insult that gravity takes on the flesh and the extra pounds that tend to accumulate as time passes and it’s a painful equation. I’ve decided that the best formula for my own fortunate advance towards old age is a combination of regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a large dose of acceptance, even if it eventually means accepting a closet full of Old Lady Clothes for me.

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