Anyone who watched the ’80s chick flick “Steel Magnolias” is familiar with Shirley MacLain’s character “Weezer” when she wanders into Dolly Parton’s beauty salon, armed with a bag of tomatoes and a scowl that would make Scrooge look like Glinda the Good Witch. When Sally Field’s character calls her on it, MacLaine, belching after a long swig of coke, blurts: “I’m fine! I’m an old Southern woman! We’re supposed to grow vegetables in the dirt and wear funny hats. Nothing’s wrong with me, I’ve just been in a very bad mood for the past 30 years!”
Serving as a reminder of my recent mood swings, my kids downloaded this scene and simultaneously send it to my Iphone whenever they think I’m “over the edge.” “I’d rather be over the edge than over the hill!” I yell in response to no one in particular, while folding my 5’9” daughter’s skinny jeans and thongs, placing them next to my elastic waist denim shorts and granny underwear. (I’m having a “fat month” as I write this; next month I plan on tossing anything that has elastic in my closet even if I have to walk around unable to breathe.)
While MacLaine’s character was probably past menopause and my friends and I are just on its cusp, her line defines what I call “the mood swing years.” Sounds like a ’70s Woodstock throwback term, right? In fact, the whole hippie theme has made a comeback, although I think the politically correct term now is “Boho.” Case in point: For Mother’s Day this year my kids bought me a mood ring, but not because it’s fashion-forward, even though the look is called retro, which seems like an oxymoron to me. They got it to monitor my pre-menopausal mood swings. They know that blue or green indicates it’s ok to ask me for money or the keys to the car, and orange or red means to stay overnight at their friend’s house.
The “mood swing years,” somewhere between the ages of 40 and 50, our sense of wisdom, self confidence and self worth rises, while everything else droops, falls, shrinks and sags. At 5 foot, I can’t afford to shrink even a quarter of an inch. To help combat it, I’ve taken to yoga and Pilates, hoping that perhaps standing on my head and elongating my spine preserves what little height I do have, while simultaneously getting rid of the “muffin top” that has resulted from indulging in too many trips to the bakery and soft pretzel factory. The only good thing about that is my fingers swell from the salt and I can’t wear the mood ring, so my husband and kids never know whether their dinner will be Chinese takeout eaten directly from the carton with chopsticks, or a four-course gourmet dinner served on my grandmother’s china.
Getting older has its perks. Metaphorically speaking, we’re more comfortable in our own skin. (From a physical standpoint, laser therapy is the save-all). We’re less concerned about what other people think and more concerned about how we keep our own minds forward-thinking. Google has become the new senior wonder tool. By mastering the art of manipulating this search engine, we give the impression we’re keeping up and delude ourselves and others into thinking no one considers us “over the hill.”
Although truth be told, by the time we think we know all there is to know, senility sets in and we forget it all anyway.
—Susan Haas Bates
Pennsylvania writer Susan Haas Bates describes herself as a writer, mom and wife in midlife mayhem.