Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On borrowed youth

Okay, so since I no longer have Bill Hemmer and those hot little Clark Kent glasses to brighten my day every morning, I've been forced to look to other sources for my weather, traffic, and occasional entertainment drivel. And like a dog who gets smacked every time but keeps chewing on the azaleas, dammit, I turn on the Today Show.

This morning, Katie was handing out advice for not-young people on how to stay young by embracing technology, dressing young, and hanging out with young people. This segment could have been titled "How To Embarrass Your Children In Five Easy Steps." Don't get me wrong - I have no problem with older people feeling youthful and vibrant. I think it's a great thing, and I like to think that I'll still be youthful when I hit middle age. But there's a difference between "youthful" and "childish," and if you've seen Amy Poehler's character in Mean Girls, you know what I mean.

Take, by contrast, my parents. They are (and they'll back me up on this) not in their twenties. Or thirties, for that matter. But they've got to be some of the most youthful people I've met. My dad exercises regularly, acts in all kinds of plays, and turns into a seven-year-old when you take him to an air show (honestly, it's really cute). Mom plays tennis (and can pull off those short little skirts better than I can), delivers Meals On Wheels in her little convertible, dresses well, listens to music not written by James Taylor, and has been known to tell jokes that make me blush. Together, they've taken lessons in salsa and swing dancing. My parents are actually fun to hang out with. If I'm home for a weekend, I'm more likely to have fun than to not have fun.

Part of this is because my parents recognize that I'm an adult. The other part is because they recognize that they're adults. My dad doesn't have a Corvette. My mom doesn't wear halter tops or mini skirts (that don't come attached to tennis bloomers, anyway). Neither has attempted to use the "youthful lingo" without the necessary self-deprecating irony. They recognize something that far too few people realize these days: that once you hit fifty, you'll never be twenty again, no matter how hard you try, and that the more you do to look like you're twenty, the more you're calling attention to the fact that you're not.

So now, to counteract the evil that Katie Couric has let loose on the world, is the real fountain of youth: How To Stay Youthful Without Alienating Your Children And/Or Making A Fool Out Of Yourself.

1. If you don't know what the lyrics are saying, don't try to embrace the music. A fifty-year-old woman saying, "That's dope, G. I'm smackin' the hos and gettin' crunk, yo?" Embarrassing, not youthful.

2. Skin covered should be directly proportional to age. You don't have to dress like a nun or a piano teacher, but scoop-neck tops are for those without turkey waddles and a boat-neck is just as attractive (and far more flattering). By the time you're eighty, you really shouldn't be in anything shorter than cropped pants and three-quarter sleeves - even during the summer, in Florida. That's why God invented linen.

3. Wraparound sunglasses are not okay. Need prescription glasses? Get prescription lenses put into a pair of classic - not trendy - frames.

4. Pleated pants are not okay. On anyone. This is another case where trying to hide something only emphasizes it more. Find a pair of flat-front pants that actually fit, and you'll have knocked off ten pounds and ten years. Don't question; just do as I say. (Similarly, tapered legs are right out; find a nice straight leg or slight bootcut to balance out those hips there, Mother Ginger.)

5. Women, recognize that your complexion tends to wash out as you age. That means that the makeup and hair color that made you look like Faye Dunaway when you were 25 now make you look like Estelle Harris. Go to a salon, an actual salon, and have a professional choose colors for you that are actually found in nature.

6. Men, bald heads are dead sexy. Combovers? Not even a little bit sexy. If you find yourself maneuvering the remaining 50 percent of your hair to cover the other 50 percent of your scalp, you're fighting a losing battle and need to just go ahead and shave it off. Any hairstyle that relies purely on the support of styling products is right out (that goes for women, too).

7. Listen to your kids. If your daughter says to you, "Mom, your hair looks like a St. Louis Rams helmet circa 1965," or your son says, "Dad, you're wearing a short-sleeved Madras plaid shirt and it has to stop," don't argue. Don't. Don't.

8. If you feel the need to get a little bit of work done, go for it. Just don't expect it to literally take years off. There's nothing wrong with lifting a few sagging features or tightening up some skin or putting your boobs back where they started, but if your forehead doesn't move, or you've got that perpetually surprised look, you've gone too far. And once you've gotten the work done, you're still sixty, so don't think that you're now free to pull out that halter top. Still not okay.

9. Spending time with young people is a great way to feel youthful and energetic yourself. Bond with your kids. Listen to their music with them. See their movies with them. Take them to a football game. Take them out to dinner and talk with them. And then when they want to go hit the bars or go to a club? Don't go with them. Go home, turn on the Britcoms on PBS, and hope the kids are having a good time. If you have grandkids, put one on each knee and read The Phantom Tollbooth with them. You'll feel young, and the kids will love you for it.

10. Realize that it's okay to get older. The alternative? Far less pleasant. There's no shame in hitting middle age and keeping going. And you can stay youthful - right up to the point when you try to be young. Wear low-rise jeans and stilettos to the movies and you'll be "that old chick dressed like Britney Spears" (as soon as the gagging subsides); wear some nice flat-front pants and sleeveless polo shirt, and all eyes will be on the guy stretching a Metallica muscle shirt over his beer gut.

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