I recently posted a photo of John and I to Instagram along with the comment that he is aging so much better than I am, which is a really obnoxious caption because it absolutely comes across as a fishing-for-compliments thing although I swear I did not intend it that way. I truly do think he is aging in a ruggedly attractive manner while I am becoming more washed-out and haggard but as some people wisely pointed out in the comments, we as a society tend to view greying hair and deepening character lines as attractive on men but less so on women.

(The comment that says it all: “Men are allowed to age.”)

It’s a complicated time to be a self-conscious middle-aged lady, I think. There is this cultural sea change underway with regards to body image and beauty standards and the role of women and our inherent value and while I am greatly in favor of where things seem to be going I also feel like I was programmed during a different time and it’s hard to realign with these new perspectives.

Does that make any kind of sense? It’s like I want to be fully on board with a better way of thinking but my brain is stuck with an outdated operating system and if I didn’t already feel inferior to the dewy-skinned younger demographic for their collagen levels I definitely envy their wokedness when it comes to not falling for some bullshit socially constructed notion that physical attractiveness is a woman’s most important asset.

There’s sort of a double-whammy lameness to feeling bad about yourself at 44: for one thing, you’re supposed to have reached a kind of fuck-you enlightenment; for another, you’re supposed to be educated and aware of how fucked-up feminine beauty ideals are and therefore not fall prey to their toxic messaging.

I wish I was better at not caring, or I wish that I cared in the right kinds of ways — the modern self-loving ways, the patriarchy-destroying ways — but the truth is I’m still a big old mess of dysfunctional thinking. I have always pursued beauty in all its shallow magazine-bullet-list forms and it is a real struggle to let go of that crap.

It’s hard to let it go, it’s hard to admit it’s been impossible and futile all along, it’s hard to orient myself in more rewarding directions when I also feel like it’s too late for so many things which is another lie but goddamn it is so sneakily believable.

I was leaving Riley’s school the other day and, woolgathering, absentmindedly got up to the surrounding neighborhood speed while still in the school zone and that is of course when I saw the flashing reds and blues in the rearview. The cop was pleasant enough, asking if there was maybe a legal reason I was going 34 when I was supposed to be creeping along at 20, to which I said no because I guess “Forgot about the law while trying to figure out basketball practice logistics while also toe-tapping to that annoyingly catchy Imagine Dragons song from Wreck-It Ralph 2” probably isn’t a legal reason.

He asked me to produce my license and registration and after nervously announcing that I was going to reach into the glove box if that was okay (yes, I realize if *I* am skittish about traffic stops I have no idea what it’s like to not be a Mom-mobile-driving white lady getting pulled over, privilege is recognized) I pulled out the envelope containing my paperwork and that’s when I saw this:

I think John put that in there at least 5 years ago, maybe more. I haven’t had a ticket since 2009 or so, so I’d completely forgotten about it. I showed it to the cop, who laughed so hard he slapped the top of my rolled-down window. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve never seen that!” he snorted. “Your husband is a piece of work.”

“You have no idea,” I said, thinking specifically of the time I sat on the toilet only to discover John had put a bunch of leftover Fourth of July firecrackers under the seat.

When the cop came back he announced that he had decided to reduce my ticket for my honesty and because he was so amused by the envelope. “I guess it wasn’t entertaining enough for a warning, though,” I said, and he smiled and shook his head. Still, he reduced my recorded speed enough to lower the fine and I can go to a traffic school class to have it taken off my record completely.

So my advice to you is this: put something funny on that envelope you keep in your glove box. You never know. If nothing else, maybe it’ll cheer you up while you’re parked on the Road Shoulder of Shame.

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