Making Out: Truth or Mirror

Making Out is a series centered on how Jess Burnquist, mother, writer, and teacher is "making out' as she processes adolescent issues amid the glare of parenthood and the shadows of nostalgia.

About Jess

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I am smack in the middle of my forties. It is the strangest thing because emotionally and mentally, I feel a lot like I did twenty years ago. I have joy in my daily life and I am regularly excited about my future. Physically, I am changing.

I have age spots that my daughter insists on calling freckles.

My hips are fuller and gravity has found its way to my torso and beyond.

Last month I met with friends who are slightly younger than me—we try to meet monthly. They’re brilliant and lovely. At the restaurant, I listened to them discuss their beauty regimes for what felt like an eternity. I’ll admit it—I was bored.

When one of my friends noticed me stirring my drink and not really participating, she asked me what I do to prevent aging or to ‘look young’. I panicked—do I dare tell them the truth? Disclose that when I hear words like base and toner, I think of copy machines?

I decided to be honest and confessed to my friends that I don’t really do much. Usually I’m so exhausted from work that I forget to remove what little makeup I wear.

I like coconut oil a lot, but I notice that my dog Skipper does too. When I use it as moisturizer, he tries to eat my face. I’m a believer in sunscreen—living in the desert makes it a year round necessity. I’ve never been to a Sephora. And I still use Noxema—the same kind I used in my early teens.

That’s not to say that I’m not health conscious. I have an autoimmune disease with symptoms that manifest in exhaustion, aches and pains and weight fluctuation. Whereas I used to set a target number on a scale as a measurement of health, I now set a goal of miles and active minutes per week. With consistent activity and the right foods, I feel good.

It’s noticeable to me that when I feel good, I look good. There is no way in hell I could have foreseen such a correlation in my younger days. Like many young women, I associated my happiness with what I weighed more than with how I felt or with what I was creating and giving to the world.

The thing is, though I may have neglected thinking about ‘getting old’ even a few years ago, I find myself musing about it when making decisions about self care now-a-days. For example, my hair. I teach high school—and I’m literally surrounded by teenagers 24/7 because my own children are teens.

I am not complaining about being surrounded by them—I happen to love their age range. The point is, they keep me busy—so busy that this past December I realized it had been months since I’d had my hair trimmed. (I don’t count cutting my own bangs)

Upon this realization, I stared a bit longer at myself in the mirror than I normally do and took some stock. There are crow’s feet by my eyes—especially when I smile. My neck is a little fleshy—it’s just like my mom’s. Oh, and that show! Remember Ally McBeal? Dyan Cannon played a character named Whipper. She had a young admirer who was obsessed with her ‘waddle’—the flesh between neck and chin.

I’ve got a waddle.

Apparently, there are exercises I can do to reduce it and of course, surgery is an option. I guess I don’t mind enough to care. When I mentioned my ‘waddle’ to my husband during breakfast, my kids became hysterical. “What are you even talking about? Mom! Omg!”

In any case, when scoping out my hair, I noticed that my roots are more silver/gray than their previous dark blonde shade. When I called my hairdresser to set up an appointment, she asked if I wanted her to color my hair in addition to styling it.

The image of my grandma Rose flashed in my mind. I miss her. She was stunning every day of her life which lasted well into her nineties. Her spirit and fondness for adventure far exceeded her petite frame. And her silver, chin-length bob was part of her signature style.

Come to think of it—she had silver hair for my entire life.

When I snapped to, nudged by my stylist, I told her that I wouldn’t need color this time.

That evening, I announced to my husband that I was ready to let the gray hair happen. He didn’t miss a beat and simply responded, “You’ll look hot.” (Keeper)

Perhaps gray will age me in ways I’m not expecting. I suppose I can always change my mind. Still, a part of me is excited to see if I will in some way resemble my grandmother. There’s something else that I felt upon making the decision to go gray—it’s elation.

The kind I felt as a teenager when I swam against the tide.

The kind attached to rebellion. Choosing to ignore the billion dollar cosmetic industry and their messages that aging is ugly not only feels defiant—it’s also kind of beautiful!

This time when I meet my friends, talk turns to an upcoming birthday. I ask my friend, who will be turning 40, what she wants to do to celebrate. She responds that she would like to stop time.

I laugh but find this heartbreaking because all she seems to notice about herself are perceived flaws. She devotes so much time trying to hide evidence of having lived an interesting and productive life.

As the waiter refills her wine, I remind my dear friend that she has accomplished incredible things these first 40 years.

We toast, and as I move to take a sip, I catch a reflection of myself in my wine glass.

The curved glass and light create a funhouse mirror effect and I look elongated and strange.

Even so, I like what I see.

* You may find archived installments of Making Out, and other work by Jess, at