On Becoming An Icon
Sherrill Pool Elizondo
I finally googled “older invisible woman” to see if this phenomenon is actually real or not. Sometimes I get down about no longer being 40 or 50 (30 anyone?) Time speeds by after a certain age. The invisible feeling started when my oldest son turned 40 and, when he recently turned 45, I was sure that as
I approached 70 I would either have to fight this feeling or accept it. I’m not a good candidate for accepting what society thinks one way or the other on many subjects and aging (gracefully or not) is one of them. I never imagined that one day someone might consider me an icon at this stage of my life.
For years I kicked myself for not fulfilling my potential. I did not feel successful and I certainly was not iconic in any sense of the word. I looked more at negatives than positives of what I had accomplished. My generation opened up so much for women in the workplace and won freedoms that had been
denied previous generations but I was one of the women who chose to be a stay at home Mom. Again, nothing notable and nothing iconic. The choice came with certain sacrifices though there were many well educated women who made the same decision. We were the ones who put off fancy vacations, ski trips, the latest fashions, expensive cars, and would have rather swallowed nails than to take our children to day care. There, I said it. Remember THAT woman? We cooked every night, didn’t have maids, and ran our children and other people’s children to every imaginable school extracurricular activity. I DO take my hat off to the women who managed BOTH a career and did all of this! Extraordinary women indeed. There were those in the 1970’s and 80’s who pursued careers and others who ended up like me…home makers who stayed busy with family, friends, hobbies, and volunteered. We took our family responsibilities seriously above all else. Some eventually went back to work or school. Others did not. Some took on part time jobs like I did for several years as a substitute teacher.
When I volunteered for many years at a hospital and at an assisted living center is when I felt like I contributed to society. A skilled nursing floor of a hospital is not for everyone but I enjoyed the work immensely. The patients were terminal but I never saw much sadness or regret on that floor. For years I had worked in genealogy alone and with other researchers and made contributions to a book but decided that, since so many people fail to write the biographies and memories of the elderly, I would do this at an assistant living center. Every week for 5 years I interviewed residents. Sometimes this would last 2 hours and often I would return for another session. What beautiful people with incredible memories and unbelievable stories to tell. I took copious notes and another volunteer would type up the memories for the residents and their families as a gift book. Eventually I saw the narrowing gap in my age and the person who I was interviewing and realized that the 90-100 year old people I had talked with years earlier were eager to discuss their lives but, before I stopped interviewing, I found the younger ones were not as forthcoming with information plus I was getting depressed being around older people! It was time to move on.
I am a late bloomer or, at the least, spent many years putting my family first and allowed some of my interests to become stagnant. I started writing years ago and attended writers’ meetings hoping to some day be published but nothing came of that endeavor. A few years ago I opened a closet and found bags of stories with many beautifully written rejection slips. Some of the stories dated back to the 1970’s. I decided that some could be rewritten and needed a regional publication so I went online and found what I was looking for in a website/newsletter from a place where I had vacationed since childhood. I discovered other publications that accepted essays and, although I am still not a professional writer by any means, I am happy that certain editors finally did take notice. Still, there are days I wake up thinking I could have been so much more in life. I wondered if others were like me and were seeking the same recognition or sense of achievement that I craved. I have three good, well educated, and successful sons and several beautiful grandchildren who are remarkable in all they do…but me? Every day I throw off the covers in the morning so I don’t stay in bed and think too much about my faults or recent physical limitations or aging or what comes next on life’s journey! Becoming an icon in any form was not anywhere on the radar.
I have been physically active starting with my first dance class at the age of 5. I did not become a professional dancer or performer on stage in New York like I could have done but what I do is to continue to dance. Every morning I remember what a cousin said: “I hope you dance until you drop!” In my young adult years I attended ballet classes between and after the births of my children and later other danced based aerobics. For some, swimming, running, or other physical activities are a passion but for me it was always dance. I am elated that, after recent back problems when I was in physical therapy and receiving cortisone shots for several months, I finally returned to a jazzercise center where I exercise and socialize with many caring, accepting, and remarkable women from all walks of life and professions who see me as a contemporary and not as an older woman. I am NOT invisible there. This is a place where no judgements are made and where women receive hugs and encouragement. There are a few women my age and older and I heard there are those at another center who are over 80. The younger ones, though, have made me feel special and have told me that I am an inspiration. Maybe I don’t go into second classes as often as I used to or always do high impact or have managed to trim an expanding waistline…do I care? Yes, I certainly do but I try to remain positive. Doing a routine onstage to “Uptown Funk” on my 68th birthday helped my morale tremendously! The day that a manager looked me in the eye and told me that I was an icon at our jazzercise center was truly a blessed moment in my life. Was this some form of recognition or accomplishment? It is difficult getting there certain mornings but I have something to live up to now and, if the day comes that I have to enter the doors to the center with a cane or a walker, well so be it! I didn’t realize being an “icon” was such hard work but so much fun too.
On a couple of occasions I still hear someone call me “Mama” with affection. I try not to cringe but rather take it as a compliment and try to smile through some of the heartbreak of what might have been. At least I have finally realized that I am so much more than a mother of three and grandmother of six. If the truth were known, sometimes when I am on the floor dancing my heart out I visualize my own stage Mom mother and my childhood dance teacher in my imaginary audience beyond the instructor and raised stage looking down on me with smiles. They would both be proud.
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