My mother was 50—the same age I’m just months away from now—when she helped me into my cap and gown and watched me cross the stage to collect my communications degree from Hofstra University. This much I know is true: I thought I was grown and life for me was just beginning—off to a running start, with a prominent journalism gig and a whole journey waiting for me. I also know this is true: at the tender age of 21, I wholly bought into the idea that my mother’s life had peaked and all she had left to do was to curl up in a rocking chair, wait for grandkids and prepare herself for, well, you know.
I know. I was dumb as hell. But then so was society and what it expected of women of age, even back in 1990. Especially Black women of age. I wish she were here to tell me for sure—my mother died of a heart attack just 12 years after I graduated, at age 62—but now that I’m (really) grown, I think that she may have been frustrated by the shackles that came with growing old. As a woman, she was expected to put her dreams and desires on hold to be a wife and a mother, and as a Black woman, she was expected to be a mule, working her fingers to the bone in a factory job for menial pay—pay our family needed to survive because nobody in our house was being paid what educated white men were being paid. Dreams were just that: dreams. I have no idea what hers were—whether she wanted to turn her sewing prowess into a career in fashion design, of if her love of the Lord had her wanting to pursue the pulpit. Maybe she could have been a community organizer or a chef with her own popular restaurant.
What I do know is that she seemed profoundly unhappy. Frustrated. Stuck. And I think society’s expectations for her—that she be happy being a wife, being a mother, being a hard worker and then prepping for her grave—helped all of that along. At age 50, she was being put out to pasture. It was what was expected of 50-year-old women in 1990: they were to lay down and just, like, die.
I’m not so sure things have changed much all these years later. As I approach age 50, I see how women of age are disregarded—how society dismisses us at every turn. We don’t have little babies, so nobody wants to hear what we know about motherhood. We’re not 20-somethings, so no one wants to hear our thoughts on beauty. We’re not 30-somethings so no one wants to hear our thoughts on career and pursuing dreams and breaking glass ceilings. We’re not 40-somethings so who cares what we think about anything ever? What we truly want? What’s next?
I do. Even if “society” doesn’t, I DO. I know I most likely have more years behind me than I have in front of me—that math is omnipresent—but my mind, my body, my spirit all recognize, too, that the years I have left deserve to be counted. Maybe in a different way than they were my first 50 years, sure. But counted nonetheless. Prepping my grave isn’t an option.
But dreaming—and pursuing those dreams—is. Of course, I wrap myself in the dreams that everyone expects women my age to have: I want to see my daughters in successful careers, doing what they love, in love, with children I can bounce on my knee. But I also dream big FOR ME. I’ve had a helluva career—27 books under my belt (six of them New York Times bestsellers), my own award-winning children’s book imprint, an Emmy Award-nominated television show, a made-for-TV movie, and a boisterous freelance writing career—but there’s so much more I want to and am determined to do. I want a radio show. I want another film produced from my written work. A television series based on one of my books would be awesome. Another national column would be dope. Writing Erykah Badu’s memoir would the mother of my dreams if I could convince her to let me do it.
I’m excited by the prospects. My dreams are too big for some dumb, ageist box. I’ve chosen to disrupt aging.
With all of that on the horizon at age 50, can you imagine what kind of beast I’ll be at 60?
“Society” would be wise not to count this almost 50-year-old woman out.
This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging.
All opinions are my own.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.