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Essay: Before It's Too Late

De Visu
When do you look in the mirror and realize you're "old?" Is it a single moment or a slow, gradual shift?

Lake Effect contributor Meagan Schultz's writing often focuses on experiences with motherhood, midlife and aging. Her essay, “Before It’s Too Late” asks us: When do we actually remember getting old?

I look in the mirror this morning and see my grandmother. Or at the very least, I see her jowls. Just below my own cheeks. Though if I smile you hardly notice.

Immediately I want to call her and ask her - before it’s too late - when she remembers getting old. I mean, one day, she must have looked in the mirror and said to herself, I am an old woman.

Right? Is that how it works?
Or is it a slow and gradual shift?

Is it that one day you wake and find a wrinkle where yesterday it had been smooth? And the next week you look again to find that pesky hair on your chin has grown back again. So you cover the wrinkle in cream, and tilt your head under just the right light, and with your tweezers, you pluck the hair.

I want to ask my grandmother all these questions: When did you decide you were old, and how did you feel? Or is it not until now, the cusp of your 90th year, when you can no longer see the hair sprouting from your chin, or the lipstick that you’ve smeared above your lip line, that you decide to call yourself an old woman? Was there a day, a week, a year that you knew?

And was it glorious?
Or frightening?

I should ask my mother too, except she doesn’t feel old to me. She is just my mother. Occasionally she asks the same question twice, and I see the wrinkles in her hands, the ones my own hands are beginning to mimic. But somehow, before it’s too late, seems a very long way off. Though of course, we never know.

We never know.

(I know you're only as old as you feel, that age is just a number, and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I'm talking jowls here, people! The inevitability of jowls.)

Lake Effect essayist Meagan Schultz writes and lives on Milwaukee's East Side.

Meagan Schultz is a mother and writer living on the East Side of Milwaukee with her husband and two young boys. She recently fixed up her basement and fashioned a small space for a writing desk where Legos are not allowed.