Will Only Thorns Remain?

In my sophomore year of high school, my social studies teacher, Mr. Pappi, went off on a completely non-academic tangent. He used me as an example of how a woman's looks go to hell once she's past the age of sixteen. The tangent went something like this:

"All you guys in here, you'd better listen up to this," he said, pointing to me. "You need to date a young lady like this now because she will never again be as beautiful as she is today."

The guys sat there snickering under their breath as Mr. Pappi continued. "Take a look: she's like a beautiful rose. When a girl's fifteen or sixteen, that's the height of her beauty."

The laughter grew a little louder in the room. "No, seriously. You'll see what I mean," he predicted. He paused for a dramatic moment and I remember his eyes looked slightly sad.

"Think about it. Roses don't last forever. The petals shrivel up, die and fall off." We quieted down as he delivered his final thought. "All you'll have left is a bunch of thorns."

Unfortunately, (although in hindsight, fortunately) none of the guys took Mr. Pappi's extremely jaded advice and asked me out. It was pretty well known that my parents did not allow me to date at all so there was no point. Mr. Pappi's tangent was one of the odder moments of my high school experience, one that I have occasionally thought about over the years. I thought about it again this week as my eldest son, Olinga, went off to school.

Olinga started kindergarten with a nonchalance that belied his mere five years of age. There was no obvious nervousness on his part. No shed tears (from him at least) and no desperate clinging to my leg. I don't think he even gave me more than a cursory backwards glance as he trotted away with his class, casually throwing over his shoulder, "See you later, Mom."

All week long I've been thinking about the swirl of emotions his going to kindergarten has caused. There's one particular feeling I'm not so thrilled to admit: Vanity. Having a kindergartener makes me feel old, a bit like I'm Mr. Pappi's stupid shriveling rose losing it's lustrous vitality. I'm not sure if I like that!

On the one hand, of course I know we live in a culture that glorifies and idolizes youth. It's just that ten years ago, it was so much easier to think about how I wasn't going to fall victim to our youth-worshipping culture.

I told myself then how I wasn't going to be one of those women who have a hundred pastel-colored pots of anti-aging creams stacked onto the three by twelve inch shelves of their bathroom cabinets. I wasn't even sure I was going to dye my gray hair, if and when I ever got a gray hair. Now though, the temptation to get those creams that promise to plump, firm and revitalize tired skin is growing. And nevermind how many gray hairs I have! They remain undyed, but if they continue to multiply at the current rate, their untouched state is up for debate.

I am realizing I need to continually think through how to protect myself from all the messaging that women are fed about getting older. It sounds very metacognitive that I have to strategize about this. However, I find it's especially needed since I reside in the epicenter of youth worship, Los Angeles.

By far, the strongest emotion I felt on Olinga's first day of school was a sense of pride and gratitude that my son was walking into kindergarten with such confidence and nobility. The thing is, without getting old, I can't watch him transform into a strong man that behaves with an exemplary rectitude of conduct. The happiness of getting to witness my son growing up is well worth the wrinkles and gray hairs.

Mr. Pappi left out a critical piece we all know in theory, but find so hard to put into everyday action: Getting older isn't all about external beauty and appearance. He neglected to tell us high school kids that true beauty is really about nurturing our internal "rosebuds". I have have the courage to let the veils of physical beauty fall away to reveal my true self.

If I don't water and tend my internal rosebuds, in another ten years when my external rose petals really begin to fade, nothing will be left but bitter, razor-sharp thorns.


the last noel said…
I am trying not to buy into this whole aging thing either. I am pushing forty and decided to take SOME preventive measures. I wear a moisturiser with a 15SPF suncreen in it. I also wear hats, usually ones with wide bills or rims. I say it's to prevent skin cancer. Who am I kidding? I'm prevent lines and wrinkles!
Jenn said…
There is always that one teacher that leaves a forever lasting impact on us. Those are the ones that tought us the most!
jimmy said…
Well you certainly don't looke like your rose has withered! You are right when you say that true beauty is internal, but your external beauty seems to be intact as well.

I can relate to those feelings of sending off your baby boy to school on the first day. I walked home thinking, "Man, I'm getting old!" Good times.

By the way, thanks for your kind words when you dropped by my site the other day. That means a lot.

grace and peace, jimmy
Sundry said…
Right there with you.

It's outrageous, the things that people with a little bit of power like that can do with their words. When I was little, I remember hearing Bob Fosse say that Cher had perfect armpits. I have maybe worn a tank top in public 4 times in my life because I was ashamed of the way my arms look. They really aren't that bad now, let alone then! Ugh.

You really do look marvelous. We need to appreciate what each stage brings. Thanks for posting.

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