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Posted: June 8, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Apted: There's beauty in aging

A 20-something-year-old friend said she wishes she could just make her own decisions and feel confident in her choices, not worrying about what other people thought.

Though I could relate to her feelings, it's been a long time since I'd felt that way. Her lament made me realize exactly how marvelous it is to be over 40.
I've reached a stage of self-acceptance that was foreign to me 20 years ago, a confidence that makes me rejoice that we don't have the option of turning back time. You couldn't pay me to be my nervous, self-conscious, 20-year-old self again.
Granted, I miss the physical body I had back then. I could pull an all-nighter, work the next day and still have energy for dinner out with friends. Nothing hurt. I had no joint pain, no achy back after simple tasks like vacuuming. There wasn't any gray hair to cover, and I didn't need these blasted reading glasses.
But I quite like the person I've become after 20 years of mellowing-out, much like a fine wine. I suppose it's always been the lament of the middle-aged, to wish for the physical body of their youth coupled with the mature psyche of the later years.
Of course, if that happened, we'd all be so fabulous, we couldn't stand it!
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do." Being 40 has taught me the truth in that. Most people couldn't care less if I'm wearing makeup, or if my shirt matches my flip flops, or how jiggly my thighs look in my bathing suit.
They don't care about deeper issues, either. If people want to judge my life choices, such as homeschooling my kids these past four years, that is their problem. I no longer worry about being judged for that choice, or any of the other dozens of choices I've had to make as an adult.
Yes, I weigh too much. I let my oldest son wear his hair long. My middle child watches SpongeBob and loves it. My toddler still breastfeeds several times a day. All three of my kids have eaten at least one package of Ramen noodles and a chocolate bar over the past week.
I don't owe anyone an apology or an explanation for any of that. And if someone thinks I do, well, they've either got more growing-up to do, or they have far too much time on their hands.
We are meant to grow out of that stage of painful self-awareness that consumes us as teenagers. Why would anyone want to stay stuck there? Yet so many are.
I'm facing some of that with my oldest son now, and my heart goes out to him as I so vividly remember what it was like to be a teenager and feel that the eyes of the world are constantly upon you.
I never believed those who told me that one day, I wouldn't worry so much about what other people thought about me. I honestly couldn't imagine the concept of a life free from the bondage of other people's expectations.
But wow, it's beautiful to have reached a stage of life where I get to walk in that freedom more often than not.
I also never understood those who embraced the process of aging. But I'm learning that the more that time tarnishes the outside, the more treasure builds up inside, if we let it.
And living life confident in my choices, walking with my head held high, not worrying about what other people think of me, that's worth more than all the youth in the world combined.

Kari Apted may be reached
at kari@kariapted.com.

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