Growing Pains


Getting dressed one morning, I caught a glimpse in the mirror of a naked backside. I ran for the pepper spray. When I returned, the intruder was gone. But as I turned to make my way to the closet, I saw it again. From the neck up, it looked like me, but everything south of the equator - well, okay, south of North America - had morphed into something that reminded me of those nude sculptures of rotund women who weren’t ashamed of their folds. Why couldn't I have been born in that century? Before corsets and Twiggy. Before thin was in. I'm trying to avoid elastic-waist jeans until my 70s, but praying to God the elastic in my underwear loosens up after a few hundred miles. Meanwhile, I’m losing the elasticity of my skin. I'm getting jowls where my jaw line used to be. Like a bassett hound. By 80, I'll be a charpeigh.

Nobody told me about rapid muscle loss after age 40. It's the "use it or lose it" theory to the Nth degree. Last week, I waved goodbye to a friend at church, and my upper arm reverberated for 15 minutes. There are others parts I keep hidden, but my big biceps and chiseled calves I'd like to keep.

Muscles are shrinking as other things expand.

Flash recently enlightened me, "People's ears and noses keep growing forever. What's up with that?"

"What? No they don't." I sounded confident, but was inwardly trembling.

"Yeah they do; look at old men. Their ears are huge," Flash explained. "Then hair starts growing out of them."

I wasn't thinking of elephant-eared, hairy males; I was stunned by the realization that my non-pug nose might become even more pronounced. I got my nose from Dad’s side of the family – a long, sharp nose. Dad’s was a virtual carport for his mouth. I use half a bottle of sunscreen, per application, on my nose because it's the part of me closest to the sun.

I shuddered. There could come a day when my olfactory organ enters a room five minutes before the rest of me. I thought of my brother, Doc; it’ll be eight minutes earlier for his nose.

So I began looking at elderly men in public. Got some strange looks from their wives, who knew nothing of my research. To be fair, I observed the women, too. The ladies weren't sporting dainty noses and lobes either. Their dangling earrings were tripping hazards, and I wondered how many peas they could fit into those cavernous nostrils.

You'd think with bigger ears, our hearing would improve with age; like oversized amplifiers, they should work better. And maybe the sense of smell should improve with oversized nostrils, although that wouldn’t be an advantage during the years when gas no longer gives warning signals before "passing" from our posteriors. Now, gas falls out, of its own volition. There’s no keeping it in anymore; it slips out while we're walking, talking, sleeping, making public speeches. Flash told me he once crop dusted the aisles of Home Depot. Unfortunately, he was only 35 at the time. 'Twill be a breezy house for us in our Golden Years.

I had to know the truth. Would my nose one day be my own built-in selfie stick? Would I have mud flaps on the sides of my head? One quick google gave me answers: these apparatuses do not, in fact, continue to grow until death. Collagen and elastin fibers break down, gravity happens, and we’re left with sagging and drooping. Combined with decreased volume in our faces, we eventually look like the love children of Pinocchio and Dumbo. So, my education in nose and ear growth was not much of a consolation prize.

But, upon further investigoogling, I read contrary reports saying cartilage cells do continue to multiply until we die, meaning the parts in question keep on getting bigger. Enlarging, sagging – either way it comes down to the same thing: there will always be a place in this world for plastic surgeons. But I’m not a fan of pain. So, when I am old, I shall wear earmuffs. And I will invent Snoot Lift, a device that clips to the inside the nostrils and can be pulled up to the hairline at the forehead, where a second set of clips holds it in place. If you are bald, I can’t help you.

And in the midst of all these magnifying parts, my energy level shrinks.

Things are backwards in the world of physiology. In our younger years, when we naturally had more energy, the weight came off more easily. I could keep fat cells at bay if I were still in elementary school, going to required P. E. classes, playing tag, and skipping rope. But neighbors stared at me when I played hopscotch on the sidewalk last week, and I can’t get any of them to join me in a game of Red Rover.

We should get skinner as we age. After surviving childhood, and raising our own children and husbands, it would only be fair. I used to think the age disclaimer was a crock. When I began working for a weight-loss company, middle-aged women would tell me, "I'm eating right, I'm exercising, but it's not coming off like it used to. It's harder now that I'm older."

Whatever, I'd think to myself, as I scanned their purses for contraband Snickers bars.

If I believed in karma, I’d say it bit me in the cellulite a few years later. I read an article explaining that women get an “extra layer of fat” around the middle as they get older. I’m guessing that’s why they call it “middle” age. Extra blubber at the waist, as if we’ve morphed into seals that must survive sub-zero temperatures. I see no logic in this development. 

Since the beginning of time, women have had to deal with these changes. I’m sure Eve switched from her animal-skin wardrobe to something in a lightweight cotton toga-style muumuu when she hit her mid-40s. Nothing binding around the waist, plenty of room to sneak chocolate into the cave for a midnight snack. The perfect menopausal garb.

When I was a teenager, it drove me crazy that Mom never tucked in her shirts anymore.

“Mom, what’s with the shirt?”

“What do you mean?”

“You look sloppy. Tuck it in,” I mentored her on how to dress younger.

“I don’t like them tucked in.”

“It will look better, Mom. You’re dressing like an old lady.”

“I don’t care,” she said, “I like it.”

When I glance through old photos of myself, I see my own transition from Tucker to Untucker. The change happened sometime in my late 30s. I get it now; it’s all about Middle Berth. Or the Non-Flat Abdomen phenomenon – the “pooch.”

Two years ago, I saw that ponchos were back in style. In that instant, my life was forever changed. My answer to life was in a brilliant fashion statement that I took for granted in the early 1970s. I bought two. I wear them with jeans, with leggings, with skirts, as pajamas. They hide muffin tops and unbuttoned jeans. If I’m having a glorious “skinny day,” they fit. If I’m bloaty, they fit. The fashion industry for mid-life women has been revolutionized. We could have theme ponchos for special occasions. New Year’s Eve? Hangover poncho. Passover? Menorah poncho. Christmas? Santa poncho.

Eventually, designers could expand the poncho line; people of all ages and either gender could improve the quality of their lives. Got a chubby baby and getting tired of all the “hefty” comments? Baby poncho. Local priest giving in to gluttony?  Poncho with a collar. Been partying too much? Beer-belly poncho. It could work.

A simple change in poncho themes would help with transitions in all stages of life. From those awkward pudgy junior-high years to the days right after giving birth – the nightmare of figuring out what to wear will be over. We’ll have Hello Kitty ponchos. Yves Saint Laurent ponchos. Clint Eastwood style ponchos. Rhinestone-studded evening wear ponchos. Denim ponchos, silk ponchos, even classic, groovy crocheted ponchos.

Menopausal fashion train wrecks will be a thing of the past; nobody will ever have to hear, “She’s too old to be wearing that.” The playing field leveled, sleek pubescent girls who are too proud to don a poncho will no longer leave me drowning in a pool of envy. Because I’ll know, deep down inside, that they too will one day have growth spurts they never imagined.

Eventually, my ears will flap and my nose may put someone’s eye out. But, by golly, I’ll look great as I age gracefully in my ever-youthful, always-flattering ponchos.