There’s a zit on my wrinkle.
I never expected the two of them to exist on my face in the same decade, let alone to occupy the same space at the same time. Right there on my forehead; an anachronism of sorts.
But here we were, the 3 of us, me, my wrinkle and my zit, peacefully coexisting. I leaned over the bathroom sink to get close to the mirror. Was this going to be my new normal? I was dumbfounded. “How in the hell?” I said to my face.
At that moment, staring in the mirror contemplating my options for dealing with this zit I realized that nothing quite explains what it’s like to be this age better than a zit on a wrinkle.
It was perfect actually.
At 38 ½ I am in the midst of an epic change. A vibrant, powerful, unscripted metamorphosis punctuated with periods of much needed hibernation because quite frankly vibrant, powerful, unscripted metamorphosis at this age makes me sleepy.
I am enjoying my midlife awakening the body, mind and soul all evolve rapidly with permanence and without seeking permission. This is my definition. Once it happens THERE IS NO GOING BACK.
My body hasn’t changed this much since I was 13. This time there is no special class, girls in one room, boys in the other. No awkward animation showing us what physical changes we can expect in the next 10 years. No school nurse to tell us the wonderful joy of using “lube” during sex and handing out little samples (by the way trust me on this one…buy the lube. You can thank me later) or explain that our cycles are going start to go haywire and which apps are best to track them when they decide to be 24 days one month and 36 days the next or that night sweats are no joke – drenching perspiration during sleep that wakes you up not because you’re hot but because you’re actually freezing cold and soaking wet in your own bed. Or that when you sneeze, cough, laugh you might actually pee a little like in the commercial, or you might pee a lot, like a 3 year old who can’t make the potty in time.
At 38 ½ years old I feel like I have one foot in the generation ahead of me and one in the generation behind me. It’s a conflict of youthful curiosity and hopefulness and mature acceptance of responsibility. I see myself in my 10 year old daughter who is for the first time experiencing her own body, mind and soul awakening. We bond over the odd things our body decides to do. We question the status quo. We push back on rules. We crave the safety of a familiar hug. We are both in a type of puberty, the beginning of a new phase of life. We are in the middle. We both miss the way things used to be, when we didn’t know how good we had it. But the same time there is a palpable excitement while we both learn more about ourselves. So much is unexpected. So much is positive.
But at this moment barefoot in my bathroom with a roll of toilet paper on the counter next to me and an empty brown tube on the holder for the thousandth time I refrain from yelling and instead turn my attention to the conundrum on my face. I am captivated by the zit on my wrinkle. Unexpected, yes. Positive, not so much.
Wrinkles. I have a few deep long ones on my forehead, which is worse in my opinion than having many because I can easily obsess over them, count them, intimately know their depth, clandestinely Google home remedies for getting rid of them while my kids sleep. Someday, I suppose, my wrinkles will be so numerous I won’t be able to be count them. I imagine the distraction they cause me today will be long gone by then. They will simply just be a part of me. Mine. Created by thousands of sunny afternoons, some regrettable sunburns, too many times I’ve cried at the loss of a loved one, all the funny faces I’ve made just so I can hear my kids giggle, the nights in college and then again after my divorce when I drank too much too often and forgot how important it was to drink water. My wrinkles — some will be hard earned.
And then there’s the zit. After my second daughter was born in my mid-30s breaking out here or there became the new normal. But today’s pimple, planted right there on my wrinkle has affected me, offended me. I feel it’s taunting me. I stare at it. Run my forefinger over it. It brings me back to when I was 13, tight jeans, plaid flannel shirt and a my forehead covered in a constant collection of tiny hive-like bumps well hidden under hair sprayed bangs. It’s a sign of youth I decide boldly. This zit is here to remind me that I will remain forever young. I am certain of it. (Forget about that I haven’t washed my face before going to bed forever.) It’s my youthful soul. Of this one thing I am sure.
But on a wrinkle, a zit. I never imagined this. It’s the physical manifestation of mid-life. Right there on my face.
This isn’t the only thing changing about my skin though at this age. Lately my body is enjoying making little red spots. I remember watching my mom change her clothes when I was little and asking her about her red spots. “It’s because I am getting old,” she would say. But that can’t be. I am not getting old. I am only 38 ½, right?
My teeth are shifting. At least I think they are. I Googled “teeth shifting middle age” and I got 286,000 results. So it’s a definite thing. I had braces from 5th grade through 8th grade. There is no way I am getting braces again, but what does the future hold for my smile? Will my grandchildren see the same smile my kids see today?
And now back to the reflection in the mirror, this sight of a zit on my wrinkle has nearly moved me to tears. Time is passing. I am approaching the middle, rounding the turn, getting ready to enter “the red zone” as my father would say (he’s 65 and has been in the “red zone” since about 49), the second half. I can feel time is starting to move faster. I make a conscious effort to slow it down, to enjoy my 3 daughters, to make the most of my divorce and the many unwritten chapters that remain in my life. I am old enough finally to know what I don’t want; I don’t quite know exactly what I do want, but I know if I figure it out soon there is still plenty of time to achieve it. But what will I look like by then?
A while back I went to get my eyebrows and mustache waxed. It was my go-to place. The woman who worked there was quiet and kind. She would smile and nod when I entered the salon and then motion for me to go to the back room. There I’d climb up on the table and close my eyes and relax as she quietly applied hot wax and ripped the hair out of my face. When she was done she would tap my shoulder and say, “$12”. I’d pay and leave. That was it. For years. As a mom of 3 girls those few minutes of not having to talk or answer a question were like gold. But on this particular day while I lay there on the table, feeling her touch my face and anticipating the warmth of the hot wax she broke the silence with 2 words I’ll never forget: “Chin too?”
“WHAT THE FUCK LADY?!” my mind yelled. “We had a deal. You were never going to speak to me. I would enjoy the 6 minutes of relaxation while you removed my Italian heritage from my face. I pay you and leave. Why have you broken our tacit agreement?” The silence was deafening. I wondered, “Was this a classic upsell? How much does, “Chin too?” cost anyway? Was there some new employee contest where they get points for waxing more body parts? How many points was chin waxing worth in this soul-crushing game?” I managed to move my mouth and eek out the words, “No thank you”. She responded with a suck of her teeth and sigh. She proceeded to rip the hair off my face. I paid $12 and left. In less than 10 minutes I was home standing in front of the bathroom mirror studying one small, blonde hair that was more on my jaw than on my chin. And I plucked it with tweezers. For free. In the privacy of my own home where my imagination could run wild about the future of my hairy face.
At 38 ½ the hair on my legs is more sparse and grows much more slowly than before and that is AWESOME. However I now have big-toe hair. This is a thing no one ever told me to expect. Ever. This is a shaveable event. In the shower I shave my underarms, I shave Topanga (my pet name for lady parts, you know, big lips lots of hair…) I shave my legs and now I shave the big toe on each foot. If the lady at the salon ever offers to wax my toes she’ll have a deal. (By the way, if you have nipples and are around my age, well, there is a situation that occurs there too. Just look at the paragraph that sentence is included in and you’ll know what’s up.)
And just when I felt like I was ok with the visible conflict between my last youthful hurrah and the beginning of a new unique beauty, distinctly marked with the lines of my face that will tell the story of me before I even open my mouth, my 4 year old daughter comes in the bathroom.
I move away from the mirror, put the toilet lid down and sit. She climbs on my lap. “What are you doing?” she asks me. “Nothing,” I lie. “Oh,” she uses both her hands and squeezes at my face and stares at my forehead. “Here it comes,” I think to myself, the honesty of a 4 year old is brutal. She is going to ask me about the zit on my wrinkle. I brace myself for it.
“What is that on your face?” she asks.
“What?” I say.
“That,” pointing at my forehead, “the white and the black”
“What do you mean?” I ask. I’ve just spent the past 10 minutes staring at my face – what the hell is this kid talking about?
“Your eyebrows, they are white and black. Go look. They are two different colors. You have white hair in your eyebrows that weren’t there other day. You look like an old man.”
And just like that I am informed rather unceremoniously that my eyebrows are going white. The zit on my wrinkle which has fascinated me has gone unnoticed by my daughter. But the two new white hairs in my left eyebrow mesmerize her. She pets my eyebrows with her chubby little forefinger. She tries to pull the white hair out.
I’m in the throes of a change in womanhood that few ever talk about. It kind of sucks. My mind is young, much of my body thankfully is strong and fit and feeling good. But it’s happening. There is no stopping time. I will choose to spend as much time as I can with my daughters on my lap, letting them each examine my face, so that hopefully 38 ½ years from now they can tell my grandkids how beautiful grandma was when she young and realize that they too are young and beautiful as they evolve into their own unique and new mid-life beauty.
All because of a zit on my wrinkle.
— written by Julie Avellino. Selfie-portrait by Julie Avellino, no zit or wrinkle in this pic, sorry!