Debby Waldman's Blog

The Great One Middle-Aged? Wayne, Say it isn’t So

The Great One Middle-Aged? Wayne, Say it isn’t So
February 25, 2006
Edmonton Journal

I think it’s a disgrace that Wayne Gretzky got dragged into a gambling scandal. What’s even more disgraceful is the way the media has played the story. And yes, I know, I’m the media, too. But bear with me. I have a point to make and it has nothing to do with gambling.
I’m here to gripe about the cover of the Feb. 20, 2006 issue of Maclean’s. There’s Wayne, his face grim, his fist mashed so hard against his mouth that it almost changes the angle of his nose. He looks so miserable it’s impossible not to want to offer him solace, perhaps in the form of a lollipop, or a career change.
But what really unnerves me is the list of six problems the headline writers believe are plaguing him.
Heading the list: “MIDDLE AGE.”
Since when is middle age a problem?
Shredded cartilage is a problem. Fine print rendered indecipherable is a problem. So is climbing the stairs to get something and forgetting what it is before you reach the first landing. Ditto for going through menopause while your daughter is navigating puberty. But middle age? It’s a number. It’s life. If you ask me, the alternative is a bigger problem.
On a more personal note, Wayne Gretzy is younger than I am.
Admittedly, he’s only two months younger, but the fact remains, if he’s middle-aged, so am I. I’m not ready to think of myself as middle-aged and I don’t think a hockey icon’s assistant coach’s gambling scandal should force me to do so.
Perhaps it would be easier to face if I’d had some practice at aging normally, but I think it’s fair to say that the last time I looked my age, I was in elementary school.
This was a bit of an issue when I was a 23-year-old newspaper reporter sent to interview a junior high school principal, who ignored me until he realized I wasn’t one of his students. It was a minor irritant on the first day of classes when I was a 28-year-old university instructor and one of my 18-year-old students refused to listen to me until I made it clear I was in charge. “You’re the teacher?” he said.
It was fun when I was asked to show my ID when I went to buy liquor when I was 29. I knew someday I’d appreciate not looking my age. I knew this because everyone told me: “Someday you’ll appreciate it.”
That day came sooner than I expected, about a dozen years ago when I went to Los Angeles to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade. “You look just the same!” I said to her. When she didn’t respond, I added, “So do I!” She said, “Well, you do. Except for those little lines by your eyes.”
I’d never noticed lines by my eyes but when I looked in the mirror, I knew exactly what she was talking about, and also why the liquor store clerks no longer asked for my ID. Soon I began noticing grey hairs whenever I looked in the mirror. I pulled them out and studied them until a hairdresser informed me that “when one dies, a hundred more come to the funeral.” Another hairdresser told me that’s an old wives tale, but I’m pretty sure it’s a curse.
About the only thing of which I am certain is that I no longer look the way I did when I was 28, which is to say, I no longer look 18. Neither does Wayne, come to think of it. But do we look middle-aged?
More importantly, do I?

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