Last week I turned 51.
I was thinking I could say I’m officially over the hill except I just Googled what age is considered “over the hill” and it said 40.
I think Google needs a new definition of hill.
40 is like a mound, at best.
In any case, I’m definitely officially over the hill.
Like, the hill is so far in my rear-view mirror it looks like, well, a mound.
It’s weird to be over 50, which seemed like such a solid, almost unattainable number: an age I wore like a badge after I got used to it.
51, however, is like being 11 or 22 or 44 — it seems like kind of a non-age.
A bit of a let down after all the hoopla of 50.
If 50 was Thanksgiving dinner, 51 is the salad.
If 50 was the Oscars, 51 is the People’s Choice Awards.
If 50 was the bride, 51 is the bridesmaid … the one on the end.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to have made it to the other side of 50, and even though the number 51 seems uneventful, let me assure you, for me the age is not. Because while 51 means alarming new sags and bags, thin hair, a broken internal thermostat, veins and spots showing up in places you do not want to see veins and spots, occasional mental fogginess and forgetfulness that makes you certain you are on your way out, weekly mail from the AARP, and a seemingly sudden disconnect from anyone younger than 40, 51 means freedom.
And that, my friends, is everything.
51 means freedom
Because I had my kids at age 26 and 32, 51 means freedom from the attentiveness I’ve had for almost half my life. Now that my kids are grown and out of the house (except, of course, during a world pandemic), I have a type of freedom that I haven’t had since becoming a mother. Sure, I’ve been able to pursue personal interests and carve out space for myself in the past, but for the first time I have the freedom to put myself first and create my own schedule without having to figure out how it fits in to everyone else’s.
51 means freedom from weight. Thanks to a newfound appreciation for fitness and a newfound therapist, 51 means feeling stronger physically and mentally than I ever have before (I said “feeling,” not “being,” which I think is key). While I am learning to accept and embrace the added weight that my hormones (and fine, years of wine and chocolate) are responsible for, I’m also letting go of a lot of the weight I’ve carried around with me for most of my life: weight that doesn’t show up on a scale but that is heavy just the same.
51 means freedom from expectation. I’m finding I honestly don’t give a damn about a lot of things I used to — other people’s opinions of me being one of them. Now that I’m on the other side of 50 and the slope suddenly seems pretty steep, I’m setting boundaries and letting go of a lot of the load and burden of trying to please everyone. With all the face creams and hair-growth serums I’m juggling in my hands, I don’t have room, anyway.
They say with age comes wisdom, and while I think that’s definitely true (for things that are not math, at least), I don’t think you have to be 51 to appreciate life; appreciate freedom. (We’re all certainly learning not to underestimate its value right now, aren’t we?) But I do believe that being on the other side of 50 will bring a newfound sense of harmony with my life that I haven’t experienced until now. I feel like I can finally exhale and release a lot of pent up anxiety and pressure I’ve been holding onto — without realizing it — for years.
You know how sometimes when you’re climbing a big hill you think how much easier it will be if you can just make it to the other side? Then you crest the top only to realize the steep decline is actually harder on the legs than the trek up? Once you hit the gentle slope near the bottom, however, your breathing gets easier, your legs relax and it feels easy to regain your stride. You’re happy you’ve made it over the hill.
You feel accomplished.
You feel exhausted.
You feel exhilarated.
You feel free.