“GAH. Another wrinkle.” My mother stared at herself in the mirror, angry and frustrated. At nearly 70, she hated the onslaught on her once-smooth cheeks. To her, aging was the arch-enemy, the Evil One.
From her I learned to fear wrinkles. She would put her thumb against my forehead between my eyes and press down hard, trying to erase frown lines. She harangued me about laugh lines.
For years, I neither frowned nor laughed.
In other words, I didn’t live, either.
I did live in fear of any proof that my face had gathered experience. My mother’s messaging implied that if I had wrinkles, I was unlovable. Nobody would want me. Marry me. Even like me.
Look, I had all those problems and a lot more and none of them had anything to do with expression lines.
Eventually Mom’s eyesight dimmed, so she picked another archenemy: the single long hair that grew out of her chin, which drove her nuts. That, at least, I could remove for her.
But not the tracks of time.
Mom had been a lovely woman in her youth. She still was lovely, only tempered by years. Her horse laugh, famous in our family (which I inherited, with thanks), carved deep laugh lines. She hated them. To me, those proved she had one hell of a sense of humor.
So do I. It was years before I unleashed it, along with all the other pent-up emotions that fear of aging caused me to do my best to avoid.
I am now the same age as my mother when she gazed so disapprovingly at her forehead. The other day I was looking at a selfie I’d taken during a trip to Canada. (I don’t do that much, but when you can’t find a fellow photographer, you’re on your own.)
Ten years ago, my face was still pretty smooth. Then, I got into adventure travel: live-out-loud, madcap stupidly wonderful adventures from climbing very large gopher holes (Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya) to kayaking the Arctic to riding horses all over the world.
Now I’m looking at a face that has lived. Laughed. Loved (unsuccessfully, but look, I tried). Those magnificent stories are all over my mug.
My mother, may she float over my head without a walking stick in hand, would not approve.
However, I’ve noticed that when I finally lightened up, started laughing, started living, and stopped being in terror of time, I sure had a lot more friends.
The love? Look, I’m working on that.
At least now, I love my face.
I love the stories written upon it. Perfection in any form, while lovely, doesn’t always invite love. Admiration, maybe. The way I admire 88-year-old supermodel Carmen Dell’Orefice, but I’m not sure I’d want to know her.
I want to know the woman in my mirror.
I love that face.
Yours, too, Mom.
Julia Hubbel is a prize-winning journalist, professional speaker, and international adventure traveler. Her work takes her on extraordinary solo adventures all over the globe.She is a disabled, decorated Vietnam Era veteran who served as a journalist and television producer-director in the Army and as chief of military protocol for the Jimmy Carter Presidential Inaugural.