51

by ihidemychocolate

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Abiding Between Youth and Old Age

I am feeling all of my 51 years, no longer young but not yet old.  There is still so much I want to do.  To say.  To be.

I thought I would be GREAT by now.  Free of all my neuroses and at the height of a successful career.  I was never sure what that career was going to be, but I was going to be At The Top.  Brilliant writer.  Transcendent dancer.  Insightful teacher.  Inspiring leader.

It took my 40’s and several years of mid-life reflection to get to 50.  I find that each decade ends in the next one.  And now, at 51, I am fully ensconced in this one.  51 is simply 51.

51 is not the new 31.  I am angry at the marketers who insist we look and behave younger than we are.  I don’t want to be 31.  It was a good year, don’t get me wrong, filled with all the joyful beginnings of a new decade, with a new marriage and a new home and the promise of new life.  But at 51, I have gone through so much more living.  I’ve loved.  I’ve lost people I love.  I’ve had children (one of the experiences worthy of the word “awesome” in my mind).  I’ve lost a few jobs.  And survived.  And learned a lot about myself and other people along the way.

Why dismiss that experience?  Why do we elevate the giddy impulsiveness and anxiety of youth in favor of the patience and intelligence that comes with living life?

I still nervously pick my cuticles, compulsively measure my food, and procrastinate by getting lost in anxious thoughts.  But it is lessening.  I am aware that my tendency toward a sense of depression is a go-to habit – a vestigial way to elicit attention and make an excuse for my perceived failure to be great.  When I notice my tendency to complain, to feel sad or unworthy, or not ready, I now try to do or say something different, something honest.  It allows me to approach my day and the people in it with a more positive and open energy.  Call it happy?  Could it be?

Cyndi Lee discusses the concept of abiding in her book May I Be Happy.  Abiding is the stage between Arising and Dissolving.  Between Inhaling and Exhaling.  Between Birth and Death.  Between Youth and Age.  We work so hard at living.  What will I be when I grow up?  Who will I be with?  Who will my children be?  What will I achieve?  What will be my legacy?  Suddenly you realize that you are grown up and you are what you are.  Maybe it’s time to pause at the transition and just be.  Let go of the grasping ambition, the punishing hard work.  And just be.  Me.  Abiding.

For me, one of the pleasures of being 51 is enjoying pop culture (well, some of it) with my children and remembering parallel experiences from when I was the same age.  My daughter loves Taylor Swift.  I have happily chaperoned a few concerts and admire Swift’s song-writing talent and ability to capture the essence of her age.  Instead of writing an essay on mid-life filled with regret and dissatisfaction, I decided to turn Swift’s tribute to 22 into an anthem for 51.  I figure it will take me a year to perfect the lyrics and record it for YouTube.  At that point, I can call it 52, which rhymes much better with Ooh-Ooh.

51  (Sung – affectionately and enthusiastically – to the tune of 22, by Taylor Swift)

It feels like a perfect night to dress up like yogis

And stay home with the family, uh uh, uh uh.

It feels like a perfect night for reading The New Yorker

And wait up for my daughter, uh uh, uh uh.

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

It seems like one of those days

Noticed jowls in the mirror

Can’t wear high heels, uh uh, uh uh.

It seems like one of those days

Woke up at 4 in the morning

To do list is growing, uh uh, uh uh.

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

It feels like one of those years

Still living for each paycheck

Thought I’d be rich, uh uh, uh uh

It feels like one of those years

Still seeking the perfect life

Thought I’d be there, uh uh, uh uh

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

As for birthday celebrations, I whole-heartedly believe in them, for me and for you.  This is your day.  Like your name, it is uniquely all about you.  Celebrate you and share in the celebration with your friends and family.  Ask for what you want.  Be sure to have a cake with candles and a wish.  I am not a fan of cake.  And virtually refuse to eat it.  It is dry and tasteless and not worth the calories.  Unless, of course, it is my birthday and the cake is chocolate – dense and moist – and ideally homemade.  With icing smeared off from the plate.  And then I allow myself a sliver and I savor every bite.

Glazed Chocolate Cake with Sprinkles (from Gourmet)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • Sprinkles!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter bottom and side of 9×2 inch round pan, then line bottom with parchment.

Sift together dry ingredients.  Beat together butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Add eggs 1 at a time, then beat in vanilla.  Reduce speed to medium-low and add dry ingredients, alternating with milk.

Transfer batter to cake pan.  Bake until cake begins to pull away from side of pan and a wooden toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.  Invert onto a rack and cool completely, 1 hour.

For glaze, bring cream to a simmer in small heavy saucepan over medium heat, then pour over chocolate in a bowl and let stand 1 minutes.  Gently whisk until smooth, then stir in corn syrup.  Coll completely, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.  It will thicken.

Peel off parchment from cake.  Pour glaze onto center of cake and spread to edges with a spatula.  Decorate with sprinkles!

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