What I Hope My Girls Learn About Growing Old / by Joellyn Hoekstra

The month of May means it’s birthday season in our house. My girl is turning 2. My boy just turned 4. He’s pretty proud of his new, bigger number. We even had a fun birthday countdown going on in the kitchen window. My main man is creeping up on his 30’s. He is looking forward to the coming decade and looking good too (if I do say so myself). My mom’s birthday was on the 3rd. She, on the other hand, is not so thrilled this year. Her number is bigger than she would like it to be. I’m sitting here in the middle of my babies and my parents. I am proud of my time here in this earthly body, and I like that it’s starting to show. I know it’s easy for me to think this way now, but I hope I always do. 

The ideal body type and age, in this society, seems to be somewhere between 12-25. Of course it’s not bad to long for a frame that is unhindered and active, but sometimes I think we have gone a bit overboard. How much money is spent on age concealing products each year? I don’t even want to know. My mom actually doesn’t look her age, but her time boasts of 4 children birthed and raised, 9 years of breastfeeding, 12 grand babies, 47 years of marriage, and approximately 24,000 days of experience. She’s done them well, with beauty and grace. She has learned from life’s lessons with many personal experiences of joy and sorrow. She carries that with her, and she shares with others.

We don’t often celebrate the story that our bodies have come to tell. You and I have to consider that the way we look and how we carry ourselves impacts others around us. Do people look to you for advice and wisdom? Are you someone who others naturally feel comfortable around? As a young nurse, I have been a preceptor for nursing students who are much older than I am. I have always found it fascinating that when we go into a patient’s room together at the start of the day, it is often the older looking nursing student who the patient will turn to for answers to their questions. Their age makes the patient feel like they have more to offer. It’s not bad for that new nurse to use this to their advantage. In time, they will have the skills to match their wiser looking structure, and they will likely develop a fast connection and earn a sense of trust from their patients without having to prove it.

I have a friend who is a CNA (certified nurses assistant). Trust me, there is not a person on this earth who has seen more naked strangers than a CNA. The other day we were marveling that when you care for a person (and wash their body) you can usually tell what kind of life they have lived. Even if they can’t speak anymore, sometimes you just know exactly what kind of person is in your hands. Some bodies are more hunched from years of heads hung low. Others show a different story. You can see it in the kind of wrinkles on their face. You just know they have worn a smile more often than a frown. 

One of my favorite photo documentations of age comes from, Lucy Hilmer. It’s called, “Birthday Suits.” She has photographed herself on her birthday for 40 years wearing nothing but her white undies. It’s awesome. She turned 70 last year. What I love most about these images is how evident it is that she is unashamed of her body even as it is changing. I especially love the year following the birth of her daughter. That’s where I am, and it gives me such strength. 

Women seem to have a serious desperation to hide or undo the look of having just carried and birthed babies. I get that, but sometimes I just want to linger in it a bit longer. I feel like an instrument who has been used in the most tangible way immediately following my children’s births. I have surrendered myself to bring life. I don’t feel the need to hide that. I look like a woman who has sacrificed, and that gives me credibility. I refuse to give into the lie that our bodies were made for preservation—to be put on a shelf and looked at. I hope that I am spent and used up completely when my days in this body are through.

People ask me all the time what their breasts are going to look like when they are nursing their babies. They are worried about their sex life, to be honest. I usually encourage them to think about how their new body tells a generous story for the two lovers as a couple, and that is truly stunning. When did we allow this incredibly profound human work of bringing life into the world to become a bad thing when it comes to our body image? I would even venture to say that you might think back on your honeymoon self and remember that it was so romantic because you looked your best. I believe this actually has more to do with the fact that you were confident in your skin. You don’t need to have a 21-inch waistline to choose assurance and carry yourself with dignity. Even into the bedroom. 

I have no problem with wanting to look good, but we have got to get rid of the idea that the only way to look good is to look like a younger, less-experienced version of ourselves. Please, for the sake of young women looking up to you (which is a privilege), be poised. I want my girls to grow into the women God has created them to be, and I hope they are never hesitant to wear the story of their days as a beautiful banner of life. They need to see more healthy examples of this. 

So, happy birthday to my special people—especially to my beautiful mom. You have given your body to do life’s work with great love and sacrifice. That is certainly worth celebrating. Wear this next year as a badge of honor and pride. To all other aging sisters and mommas: stand up tall in the body that you occupy. Toss your head back and throw another crease in your smile wrinkles on purpose. I’m watching you, and you are giving me strength and courage to fill every inch of my own frame with joy. I hope you can take a good, long look at yourself and say for certain that your body tells the true and remarkable story of your years. Heck, go on and make a birthday countdown for yourself this year. You’ve earned it, and it’s lovely on you.