Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Turning Sixty

January 22nd, 2022

I remember when I was a freshman in college, my boyfriend’s parents came to visit. His mother must have been in her late 50’s at best. She told me she was too old to do something. I can’t remember what, maybe go on a hike. Who was I to argue? Fifty seemed plenty old to me. I was consumed by frozen yogurt, cute guys and not failing Econ.

Flash forward three decades, I am 48 and my mother 76. My father has died a few years before and my mother, who didn’t like to be alone, was determined to find a replacement.

I’m not ready to close up shop, Elena” she told me bluntly at the kitchen table one morning. Below is my mother and her boyfriend, the late George Englund.

One woman feels old at fifty, another feels young at 70. Attitude.

To be honest, at the time I was slightly horrified by my mother’s frankness.  The idea of my mother wanting to be a woman, not a mother, but a person in her own right with desires, a sexual being, and at the age of 76, I wasn’t ready for it. (By the way, the new film directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal starring Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson The Missing Daughter addresses the unspoken taboos of motherhood. I loved it.)

But now as 60 looms, I am in awe of my mother’s spirit, her hutzpa. No giving up for Frances. She never discussed her age, and we weren’t allowed to call her old. I did once and paid for it. At the time I thought she was being ridiculous, not accepting the obvious. Now, I see exactly what she was doing. You are what you think. I’ll decide when my kids can call me old.

Age is all in your attitude.

Whatever my age, the shop will be open- I mean that in the best possible sense. I plan to stay curious (which won’t be hard since I’m eternally nosey), engaged, active and nonjudgmental. And keep trying new things. Pickle ball? You got it. Games are fun. Also important to me is maintaining my rich friendships, and selectively forming new ones. Friends are my lifeblood.

Several of my similarly aged friends are taking stock as well, making changes where necessary, appreciating what is working in their lives and eliminating what’s not.

New York interior designer Tom Scheerer is slowing down his successful career. All work and no play makes Johnny, in this case Tommy, a dull boy.

I waited till I hit 65 to wake up! I’m making big changes,” he told me over the phone. From November Scheerer is only taking on projects he loves and very few of those.

I’m tired of doing the same thing over and over again,” he explained. “If you do it nonstop then you don’t leave yourself open to do anything else. I’ll put the same energy into self-care and health. And I’m going to start traveling again.”

Scheerer went on to explain that his job is all-consuming. He thinks about other people‘s stuff in the middle of the night when he’d rather be thinking of his stuff- or just getting a good night’s sleep. He tells me that his mother, who embraced life fully right up until a few months before she died last April,  may have influenced his decision.  We don’t go on forever, what do we want our not exactly middle act to look like?

My friend Laura  in Boston has recently given up her full-time job working in the arts. But that doesn’t mean she’s retiring from life.  No siree. Last year alone she visited Zion and Bryce Canyon, Vegas “because why not!!!”, Jordan (wanted to tick Petra off her bucket list), Paris to see artist Christo’s installation, and finally a safari in South Africa and Botswana. She continues to do consulting work and is taking a course. She’s busier than ever.

I’m not good when I’m idle,” says my understated friend. “I’m auditing a course.  I don’t need a certificate at my age, but the course needs to be interesting.”

And my London-based friend Jessica, who was thrilled to get a bus pass on her 60th, is equally active. She’s a magistrate, tv journalist, school board chair, local citizens advice board member and volunteers at a food bank. She’s recently been appointed to a panel that interviews judgeships. And she just got a Labrador puppy to keep her other Labrador company.  OK, Jessica is a bit of a superwoman. Ageing hasn’t slowed her down. If anything, it’s speeded her up.

None of these people are saying they’re too old for anything. None of them are saying that they are old. Whether it’s finding new love or embarking on new adventures, they’re game.  Life is precious, not something to be squandered. If Covid’s taught us anything, it’s that life can be over in a New York minute. Age has nothing to do with a youthful spirit.

The NYTimes published an article a few years ago entitled  The Faces of 85 and Up about six ageing New Yorkers. Here are some of their secrets to living a long happy life.

Bridge during the day, Manhattans at night.”

Not overdoing sex.”

And my fave, “I color my hair, wear makeup, flirt with cute guys and take the stairs.”

In the words of the wise Betty White,

Just keep plugging away. Don’t give up.

January, 2022