Growing Older: Reader Essay by UMN First Lady Karen Kaler

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Winter 2017

W2017_GrowingOlderKarenKaler_Inline300 At age 7 I had a vivid visual image of my older self—older being precisely 14. I pictured the 14-year-old me as poised, always wearing lovely dresses and big white bows in my perfect hair. The picture of that self remained with me (I can see her today), and around age 10 or 11 it occurred to me that I hadn’t changed at all. Halfway there and I was still more rough-and-tumble than poised, would never have good hair, and it was doubtful I’d ever care enough about appearance to bother with the envisioned white bows.

I was the same person at 7, 11, and 14. I felt fortunate that I had that early epiphany that age is merely a number. In my beloved grandmother I could see the little girl she had been, and I knew she still was that girl. I made it a point to seek both older and younger friends. Wisdom does increase with age, but most important personal characteristics are ageless.

What then to make of the tricks the aging body plays in trying to convince us that age is meaningful? The first awkward birthday is 30. Pessimistic people had, for years, dismissed my positive attitude saying I was “too young to know better.” Turning 30 ended those conversations. Turning, and looking, 40 seemed to earn me more professional respect from those who thought age mattered. Being 50 meant better service in stores and restaurants.

This magazine will be published around my 60th¬†birthday—the dreaded 60 that my 7-year-old self thought was the absolute definition¬†of old. How does it feel? I’m looking forward to being a grandmother and hope to finally give up the wish of having perfect hair.

- University of Minnesota First Lady Karen Kaler, Minneapolis


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