On my 25th birthday, I paced around the house tending to minuscule tasks waiting for a single phone call. This was not just any call, but the call. No Facebook posts from “friends” I hadn’t spoken to since the last birthday could compare to this.
Every year since I could remember, my grandmother would call my parents, siblings, and I — among other relatives I’m sure — to sing happy birthday to us. A simple tradition, but also a cherished one.
Life has a way of teaching us how to love ourselves through aging, an inevitable metamorphosis, whether we accept it or not.
It was well into midday before my grandmother’s name blinked on my phone. I didn’t realize how much this tiny, thoughtful gesture made my birthdays more enjoyable. So, when she finally called, I was ecstatic.
She, unfortunately, was under the weather and didn’t have the voice to sing to me this year. Instead, she encouraged me to sing happy birthday to myself for her — a suggestion that tickled us both.
“I said to myself today, ‘Is Tatiana 25 already?’” A question she asked that sounded more like a statement because she knew exactly how old I was.
“Yes, Jojo,” I giggled, calling her the nickname she made my brother, sister, and I call her when we were little — a nickname she wished hadn't stuck so well as she now wanted everyone, especially her great-grandchildren, to call her grandma. “I am 25.”
Our comical exchange transitioned into a conversation about not resenting getting older from how I don’t yet feel 25 to how even at 74 years young, my grandmother has admitted to not feeling her age any more than I feel mine.
“You know, Jojo,” I said to her, “I always wondered why so many women my age and younger dread getting older. I’ve even heard women in their early 30s call themselves ‘old.’”
My grandmother, baffled by this, told me a story of when a woman nearly 10 years her junior was taken aback by her age.
“I know women who are younger than I am that look... old. Just because I’m 74 doesn’t mean I have to dress a certain way.”
This led me to a theory. Maybe the way we perceive age is mainly in part due to how the women who raised us also perceived it.
As children, we learned what love is, the inner workings of a marriage, and what relationships are like — or at least what we pictured those things to be. It makes sense that we learn how to define aging through other’s eyes, too.
To most, getting older means slowing down until death. To a few, like my grandmother and the women in our family, getting older meant a promotion, a victory celebrating what we overcame.
It was at this moment when I understood that maybe the resentment of aging is more psychological than physical.
With every wrinkle, a gray strand of hair, and scar — both visible to the eye and beneath the skin — I’m convinced that aging isn’t the end of a beautiful thing, but the beautiful thing itself.
The matriarchs who taught me to embrace getting older
I am the daughter of a woman who I tease about dressing better than me. The granddaughter of a woman who celebrates her birthday every year for the entire month of March.
I’m also the great-granddaughter of the woman who was not only the oldest leap year baby to ever have lived at 100 years old, but who lived alone in her house with the sharpest of memories until her homegoing. And the great-niece of eclectic, diva-ish, fashionistas whose styles are timeless.
The matriarchs in my family have passed down more than legacies. They’ve inadvertently also taught me the lesson of embracing age.
Each matriarch in my family is a representation of embracing age as a milestone of beauty.
Some have had health conditions that have either hospitalized them or required daily doses of medication. Some wear their gray hair like a crown, while others color their grays away. Their styles are diverse, owing to their individual personalities and tastes.
But all of them from first cousins to great aunts, and even my grandma’s mother — who I never had the chance to meet, and whose photos always turn heads — stay dressed to the nines, plan birthday celebrations for themselves in advance, and never say to each other, “Girl, I’m getting old.”
I never hear them tear themselves down about looking older. If anything, I’ve heard them longing for their physical energy to keep up with the unrelenting fire in their spirits so that they can continue to take on the world as they did when they were younger.
Why resenting aging is only aging us
Just because I’m getting older doesn’t mean I have to get old. Because of my family, I’m learning to dwell in the present, embracing each phase for what it is and what it has to offer without resenting the years that I have yet to be graced with.
When we grow up, we tend to only think of the end. After a certain age, we can lose sight of the fact that life isn’t about preparing for the end, but how we seize the years in between.
There will be days when I don’t recognize the face of the woman I see in the mirror, although her eyes look the same. Despite that, I’ve decided that I’ll be mindful even now not to burden my older years with dread.
Society has conditioned us to think that the only thing to look forward to as an adult woman is getting married, bearing and raising children, and taking care of a household.
It’s also brainwashed us into thinking we’re all inevitably doomed to an old life of sitting on front porches, yelling at kids to get off our lawns, and going to bed before sundown.
Owing to my grandmother, my mom, and the many ageless women in my family, I know better than that.
I know that age isn’t what society tells me I should be doing in the moment, but the way I feel in my body, how I perceive growing older, and how comfortable I am in my own skin. This all tells me my older years are also for anticipating, expecting, and firsts.
What I have to look forward to
I’ve made significant growth in less than a quarter of a century. The less I stress over the small stuff, the more I’ll learn to relinquish control, the better choices I’ll make, the more I’ll discover how I want to be loved, the more planted my feet will be in what I believe in, and how I’ll live even more unapologetically.
Surely, I can only imagine the wonderful things I will have gained by the time I’m my grandmother’s age.
These extraordinary, inspiring women have taught me that beauty is not despite aging.
Growing older won’t always be easy, however.
To me, the willingness to beckon each year with open arms is almost as beautiful as the women in my family who have cultivated an environment where I am neither afraid nor resentful to become a more evolved, upgraded version of myself.
With every birthday I am grateful... and patiently awaiting that phone call from my grandma to sing me into a new year.
Tatiana is a freelance writer and aspiring filmmaker. She can be found in a room littered with an eclectic library of untouched books, chasing her next byline and drafting scripts. Reach out to her on @moviemakeHER.