How old are you?
In July, on lucky 7/7, I turned 50.
Is there another age you associate with yourself in your mind? If so, what is it? And why, do you think?
Maybe I still think I’m 38. I remember feeling so old when I was 38 because my life suddenly changed. My husband of almost 18 years asked for a divorce, kind of out of the blue, which of course, there’s no such thing because we instinctively know when we’re about to be left. And at that point, I was alone to reevaluate my life and rethink my decisions over the past 20 years.
Coming head-to-head with the fact that I’d eventually have to get back on the “market” again made me feel achingly old. Who on earth would want to date an almost 40-year-old with two teenage sons? I’ve since learned—dozens of people!!! Dating is not difficult with the onslaught of online dating sites. However, finding the right person is a lot trickier and takes a combo of finesse, grit, and the luck of the draw—and destiny, if you believe in that sort of thing.
When I was 38, I thought my life had ended, which was correct in many ways because the life I knew had ended. Being married and single are two separate beasts, and when I look back at my married life, it felt much simpler, easier, and even breezier, like a CoverGirl ad. I had a partner, someone to call my own, who called to check up on me, and not having anyone, especially during the pandemic, has been super challenging and not for the faint of heart.
I basically had to start my life over again, mostly financially, but also my very being felt like it got churned in the agitation cycle of my washing machine. My ex-husband was the consistent income earner, and I was a stay-at-home mom, the invisible and free labor. So, all the plans I dreamed of for nearly two decades suddenly felt like they’d been scrubbed squeaky clean with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser sponge in a simple 3-step process: wet, squeeze, and erase.
So, at 38, I began to ask difficult questions. Who was I really? Meaning, who was I, separate from being a wife and a mother? In many ways, my age was stunted at 38, which goes back to the original question because at 50, I’m still asking myself the same question. My primary identity until that point was marriage and motherhood, and I still struggle to accept and believe those two identities are no longer me, at least in the same way.
At 38, coming head-to-head with the fact that I’d eventually have to get back on the “market” again made me feel achingly old. Who on earth would want to date an almost 40-year-old with two teenage sons? I’ve since learned—dozens of people!!!
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
In the past couple of years, while I still feel young-ish, I don’t feel as young. I happily feel my age; I feel I am 50 because my life mimics that of a 50-year-old or someone older. If I still had young kids or kids in the home, I’d probably feel differently, but because my two sons have lived on their own for several years now, I feel like a true empty-nester.
I’ve accepted my babies aren’t coming home to live with me in my house. They’ve flown the coop, which is funny to say because my eldest son just moved into the same housing complex as me and now lives four houses away, less than 200 yards away! So while we don’t live together, I see him almost every day, at least briefly, when I pick up his dog, my grandpup, for a nightly sunset stroll along our dry riverbed. In the past week, my youngest son also moved back to Tucson after living a year in Puerto Rico, so I guess babies might return home, which is a gift.
My body feels young, but my soul feels old—it always has. Emotionally and mentally, I feel my age because I’ve lived my life in neon yellow and hot pink-flashing colors, with zest and flare, rarely forsaking a moment, knowing what I value most in life is time, something I am very greedy with and protect fiercely. I’ve done so much in my life not to feel my age.
So while in some ways I felt stunted after my divorce, needing time to transition to my new identity, I’m also very aware of time and love to enjoy every age because I know I’ll never get back the time—whoosh, it’s gone. So, yes, I proudly feel my age in spirit. And yes, I hope to feel every new year as my life moves forward—being in the present, mindful of my minutes.
Starting at 50, I made a clear decision to get unstuck from my prior intimate relationships, cutting their very last pesky cords. I’m moving forward with my future as a happily single woman, focusing a heck of a lot less on my past hurts, which have been my core pain. I used to expect relationships to last forever, and in true Disney Princess fashion, like my favorites Cinderella and Snow White, I believed in forever love.
I realized that I’ve spent much of my life languishing in endings, expecting my relationships, houses, and animals to last forever. Each time they cease to exist, my heart shatters into pieces again, as if endings are surprises rather than as predictable as Tucson, Arizona’s glorious sunsets and sunrises which flood the sky with cotton candy pinks, roaring reds, and tangerines.
I began to ask difficult questions. Who was I really? Meaning, who was I, separate from being a wife and a mother?…My primary identity until that point was marriage and motherhood, and I still struggle to accept and believe those two identities are no longer me, at least in the same way.
What do you like about being your age?
Right off the bat, I must warn you that I have OCD, and I’m an organization and clean freak, so what I love most about this age is that my house is always clean, exactly like I left it—flawless like Halle Berry’s skin. There are no dishes in the sink or crumbs on the counter or floor. My fridge is always organized, and I know what is inside. And holy camoly, my block of tofu is never mysteriously missing—haha. I rarely have to do laundry; a load a week is all I need, especially now with the pandemic, since I work from home and switch out my dresses every few days for Zoom calls. I also love that I produce so little trash, only one plastic grocery bag of actual trash and another Trader Joe’s bag of recycling.
When I was married, I was methodical with money, but my husband was a spendthrift. Now, I know where every penny goes; I am not balancing a checkbook with another human, so there are never surprises regarding my finances. I am also in charge of my schedule and can now plan my exercise regime and go as early or as late as I like to the gym. I often go later at night, when no one is there so that I can feel like Queen Bee of the Gym—really, I am just an introvert who likes avoiding other humans.
I also love that I can control my food and eat what I like. I don’t have to worry about everyone’s dietary likes and dislikes. I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life; my children and husband were not, and each had a special diet. So, I spent years cooking separately for everyone. My husband was mostly keto and loved curry. My youngest didn’t like much and would’ve been happy to live off of smoothies and fruit. My oldest was the easiest, but he didn’t enjoy vegetables, my favorite food. Our diets were always in opposition, creating stress for me as the feeder in the family. I’m a Jewish mom, so food and feeding are always a worry. Always.
For years, I ignored my diet, rarely having time to prepare my meals because I was so busy worrying about my family’s nutrition. So now, I love that I can focus on my diet. I don’t have to cater to anyone else’s. What does Tamara like? What’s nutritious for her?
I’m so glad I don’t have to spend hours a day in a kitchen. Now, I spend my days reading, writing, and watching whatever shows I like, whenever I want. I can get up in the middle of the night and watch Netflix; my newest delight is the Peacock network. Peacock has all the reruns of Bravo TV, so I’m currently catching up on The Real Housewives of New Jersey and Beverly Hills, which I haven’t watched in ten years, pressing the fast-forward button like a maniac.
I’ve spent much of my life languishing in endings, expecting my relationships, houses, and animals to last forever. Each time they cease to exist, my heart shatters into pieces again, as if endings are surprises rather than as predictable as Tucson, Arizona’s glorious sunsets and sunrises which flood the sky with cotton candy pinks, roaring reds, and tangerines.
What is difficult about being your age?
I am a Cancer, the most maternal, homemaking, and sentimental astrological sign in the zodiac, an INFJ on the Myer’s Briggs, the rarest and perhaps most sensitive personality type, a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), Jewish, and the list goes on. I love family, home, and children, so losing those parts of my identity will always be the most challenging part of being my age.
I don’t actually reign as the Queen of the Gym, but I definitely win the title of the Queen of Nostalgia. Nostalgia and bittersweetness bite me in the butt—a waning and tenderness for what was before—a signature cocktail of aching muddled with joy and gratitude, courses through my veins. I’m always missing some person, some place, some time period.
The loneliness and aloneness are the most difficult parts of being my age, and I’m aware these emotions will likely only intensify with age, which frightens the heebiejeebies out of me. I’m sure I’ll always miss having activity in my home—the sounds of giggles, sword fights, and crashing matchbox cars. I even miss stepping on dang Legos.
I loved mothering my boys at every age, just as I relished in every period of my life, but the bittersweetness of watching boys grow into men is f’n intense. I’d do anything to squish those adorable cheeks again and devour their baby rolls with wet kisses.
My mom sent me a text a few days before my birthday. “I can’t believe my baby is turning 50.” I can’t even imagine what it felt like for my mom to have her only child turn 50—it’s so beautiful, the greatest beauty of all that we’ve had the past 50 years together, but I am sure it’s also a hard pill to swallow— her baby turned 50, and that’s ain’t a small number!
The persistent and insistent passing of time is one of life’s greatest struggles, for me at least.
I have OCD, and I’m an organization and clean freak, so what I love most about this age is that my house is always clean, exactly like I left it…There are no dishes in the sink or crumbs on the counter or floor. My fridge is always organized, and I know what is inside.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
When I had young children in the home, even though I intellectually understood they’d one day fly away, I still couldn’t emotionally comprehend what that would look like or feel like in my body. So, the most surprising thing about being my age is the unnerving lonesomeness. I sound like a broken record at this point, but at least I’m consistent in my answers.
Before my life exploded with family, community, banging and clanging, after-school activities (football, karate, wrestling, music lessons, etc.), celebrations, social events—nonstop go, go, go. In some weird way, I thought the racketing and clamoring would last indefinitely.
But, now, my life is the exact opposite. My home is silent. Outside I hear buzzing cicadas, a reminder I am unquestionably alone inside this house. The quiet and solitude shock me most. I still expect to hear the roar of children’s laughs, howling, wrangling… living. I still hope to hear multiple heartbeats, but all I hear is my own, which is shocking as hell.
Now, I have unlimited time for myself, which is exciting and petrifying.
Nostalgia and bittersweetness bite me in the butt—a waning and tenderness for what was before—a signature cocktail of aching muddled with joy and gratitude, courses through my veins. I’m always missing some person, some place, some time period.
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
Again, I will sound like a broken record, but age has given me time for myself. When I was in the muddy middle of parenthood, time alone felt so far in the distance that it didn’t even seem possible. And then, one day, time crept up and said, “Hey, I’m here. Now what?”
I still vividly remember the days when I was unable to go to the toilet without two sets of hands banging on the door. Age has taken away the feeling of being needed. In my younger years, I always felt needed. Now, I feel invisible that way—not in my appearance, but in my lack of being unquestionably needed by someone, many someones, by many fingers and toes.
Age has taken away innocence, hope, and belief, and in many ways, has replaced it with jadedness, despair, and fear, and as I watched Roe v. Wade get overturned, I was furious. In 1973, thanks to my mother and her generation of women warriors, not even six months after my birth, the Supreme Court issued a decision in favor of Jane Roe. During my 50 years on earth, all my fertility years, I never once had to worry about abortion, and now I am in shock that girls and women after me will be unable to control their reproduction. So much of what I’ve seen in the past several years saddens me. I want so much more for our people, girls and women especially. Freedom—may every human on earth have freedom of choice over their bodies!
Time has also taken away my beloved pets. Without tears dripping from my eyes, I still can’t think of my dearest passing pets, whom I believe are humans’ greatest gifts on earth. My Latka and Li’l Guy, my Blazer and Willow, you are love, true lasting love. My forever love.
Aging has given me many gifts, but most importantly, critical thinking and perspective.
Age has given me time for myself. When I was in the muddy middle of parenthood, time alone felt so far in the distance that it didn’t even seem possible. And then, one day, time crept up and said, “Hey, I’m here. Now what?”…I still vividly remember the days when I was unable to go to the toilet without two sets of hands banging on the door.
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
My identity has completely shifted with age. As a younger person, I was primarily a daughter, sister, and student. As a girl in her 20s and 30s, I mainly was a wife, mother, granddaughter, and graduate student. And now, as a 50-year-old, my identity is no longer granddaughter, my most honored identity, because all my grandparents have since died. And even though I say that, in her death, my Bubbe, my Holocaust survivor grandmother, is who I live for every day.
Not a day, rarely a moment goes by, that my Bubbe Mina isn’t on my mind. All the writing and work I do in this world is for her and those murdered in the Holocaust. When my grandmother was living, I usually visited her or spoke with her on the phone daily, but now that’s she gone, she has a new place—in my heart. I write for her because she was unable to write for herself, making sure her life is remembered, our family is recognized, and that, in some way, I leave behind her words, the message I believe she would’ve wanted preserved as her memory.
I’m also no longer a wife or a girlfriend, huge parts of my identity, because I was married or in a long-term relationship most of my life. And even though I’m still a mother, a daughter, and a sibling, all of those roles have changed too, which has freed me up to find my identity separate from all others and ask: Who is Tamara separate from her roles?
I was a mother, wife, and granddaughter before I was Tamara.
Not a day, rarely a moment goes by, that my Bubbe Mina isn’t on my mind. All the writing and work I do in this world is for her and those murdered in the Holocaust…I write for her because she was unable to write for herself, making sure her life is remembered…
What are some age-related milestones you are looking forward to? Or ones you “missed,” and might try to reach later, off-schedule, according to our culture and its expectations?
I learned Arabic as a child and studied Arabic during my bachelor’s degree and beyond. I even traveled to Egypt and studied at the American University in Cairo. My lifelong dreams were to work for the United Nations, but I met my husband as a junior in college and became pregnant with my first son just before we graduated, so my hopes of flying off and living in the Middle East were revised. I still, in some ways, regret and feel a longing for what never was—a dream I’d worked so hard on for many years. Becoming fluent in Arabic is no easy feat.
But the dream of world peace still flames high and hot. I grew up simultaneously Jewish and Muslim. My father is Muslim, and my mother is Jewish, which makes me both, so my goal has always been to bring peace and understanding in the Middle East between Jews and Muslims, using my experience of being both religions, people, and cultures. A couple of years ago, I created a nonprofit called “Muslim Jewish Love,” which I hope to foster and leave as my legacy, a place where Muslims, Jews, and allies can come together to support and love each other. If my grandmother was capable of boundless love after the Holocaust, we’re all capable.
I was home raising a family in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, so I am looking forward to pursuing my career, mostly publishing my memoirs. When my Bubbe was in the hospital dying, I was finishing my Ph.D., so I always carried my laptop in a backpack. One day, I pulled out my computer as she lay in her hospital bed, and I started writing what she was saying, almost transcribing. Before I knew it, I had 90k words, a memoir about her life and death and the dissolving of my marriage that was happening in tandem. My husband asked for a divorce the day before my Bubbe died. In my grandmother’s death, she gave me the gift of gab.
I suddenly became a writer, whereas before, I had never considered writing as a life or profession. I’ve spent the past 10-plus years learning the craft and business of writing. Since my Bubbe’s death, I’ve written more than a dozen books, poetry and memoir, and thousands of pages of essays and poems. After my PhD, I went back for an MFA in poetry and nonfiction at Columbia, attended Grub Street’s Memoir Incubator, and have taken countless workshops.
But, almost everything I have written is trapped inside my laptop, so in years 50 and beyond, I plan to publish more, which is super hard because I’m a private writer, like Tina Turner was a private dancer, except I haven’t been a writer for money, something I’d also like to concentrate on in the next half of my life. How the heck can I support myself as a writer?
I’ve done so much in my life. I’ve traveled to 77 countries, backpacked solo worldwide, studied seven languages, raised a family, and have more university credits than I can count. So, there aren’t many things I feel like I’ve missed other than my career, which has been an unfilled hole in my life. I don’t have the same wanderlust to travel as I used to or the same desire to obsessively study languages. I am happy to stay in America and spend the second half of my life learning English better to become the best writer I can be to tell the story I was born to tell.
I’m also looking forward to cycling my first 101-mile bike ride in November and eventually participating in a triathlon. Going to Burning Man for the first time is on my bucket list, although I don’t have that set in the books yet. I’m also looking forward to meeting my next lovey loves.
Are you there Lover? It’s me, Tamara. (A Judy Blume joke, in case you’re wondering. )
My father is Muslim, and my mother is Jewish, which makes me both, so my goal has always been to bring peace and understanding in the Middle East between Jews and Muslims, using my experience of being both religions, people, and cultures.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
Ages 22-27 were my favorite ages because, within those six years, I met my husband, who I fell absolutely in love with, who I thought was godsent, which he was. Then I became pregnant with my first son, birthed him, nursed him for two years, and then I became pregnant with my second son, birthed him, and nursed him for two years.
Those six years were the busiest and the most excruciating on my body, but I’ve never felt so much love or joy. I was a balloon you couldn’t have blown one more breath into. Nursing for four years is by far the most rewarding experience of my life. Staring into my babies’ eyes as they stared into mine is the closest feeling to heaven on earth I’ve ever experienced.
Also, in those years, I had all my family members in my life—my grandmas, my mom and dad, and all of my siblings. We also had my husband’s huge Bangladeshi family, whom I adored. My mother- and father-in-law were so good and supportive of me as a woman and a new mother. I was fortunate to have the world’s best mother-in-law, an example I take with me as I’ve moved into the role myself. My youngest son has had the same girlfriend for eight years, and I try to be the best woman to her based on the lessons I learned from my MIL, whose eyes sparkled when she looked at me, who always complimented me, and told me how amazing I was at being a mother. Her praise meant the world to me, and I am forever grateful for her.
During those years, I also had three wedding ceremonies—one in Texas with my father’s family, one in Tucson with my mother’s family, and a third in Bangladesh with my husband’s family, which was a 1,000 person three-day Indian-style ceremony. My life then was filled with people, college friends, extended family, and hope. I had so much hope then. Our careers were in front of us. I had time on my side, which was the most glorious freeing feeling.
My Bubbe was strong as hell and lived her life with gusto. She walked miles a day and did aerobics and yoga until her last days when she broke her hip. Even in the ER, right before surgery, she jumped off the gurney, refusing to sit still for a minute.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
My Bubbe Mina, my grandmother, is who inspires me. She was 94 when she died and the feistiest, most resilient, and most compassionate woman on this planet. My Bubbe survived four years in ghettos and concentration camps and survived being a refugee in New York City without heat and hot water. Despite all the abuse she suffered, watching the murder of her parents, and witnessing death, disease, and starvation all around her, her heart surged with love and forgiveness. She came out of the Holocaust not hating anyone, not with a stitch of anger, which I never understood because I have so much anger for what was done to her and all Jews.
My Bubbe was strong as hell and lived her life with gusto. She walked miles a day and did aerobics and yoga until her last days when she broke her hip. Even in the ER, right before surgery, she jumped off the gurney, refusing to sit still for a minute. She then cracked her skull, but she was willing to do anything not to die—to live forever, which she thought meant to keep her body moving, even with a broken hip. I take her attitude with me into life. Even when the road ahead is foggy and the mountain above seems unsurmountable, keep moving. Living is the greatest blessing and something I never take for granted, given my family’s history.
There are two women who I look up to, who remind me most of my Bubbe—Dr. Ruth Weistheimer, who is now 94, the same age my grandmother when she died, and Dr. Edith Eger, who is also 94. Both women are Holocaust survivors, were born in the same part of the world as my Bubbe, and have almost the same accents. They are also probably the same size as my Bubbe, pint-sized, with hearts bursting out of their bodies.
But unlike Ruth and Eger, my Bubbe wasn’t a child in the Holocaust, but an adult, so after she survived, she was over 30 and a brand new refugee in America with a toddler and a third-grade education. So, she didn’t have a chance at an American education like Ruth and Edith. Instead, in true immigrant form, she made every sacrifice in her life so my mother, me, my children, their children, and so on, could have more, be more—have every opportunity America offers. I am the first and only PhD in my family, and the main reason I tirelessly worked to get a doctorate was for our family. My education and everything I do in life are to show my gratitude and indebtedness for my ancestors’ struggles.
Elie Wiesel is also my hero, someone with the same joyful attitude and message of peace as my Bubbe. I draw from Holocaust survivors. I bring their light with me, their gifts into my body, absorbing and allowing their strength and resiliency to fuse into my being.
Lastly, I also love, but for very different reasons, the Green Lady of Brooklyn, who dresses in all green. Everything in her house is even green! And Angelyne, the billboard queen who drives around Hollywood in a pink corvette. I also relate to Angelyne because her family were Holocaust survivors, and like me, she probably chases the color pink to brighten and soften the excruciating pain of genocide. I like these women for their style, funk, and no-give-a-shits attitudes.
I am the first and only PhD in my family, and the main reason I tirelessly worked to get a doctorate was for our family. My education and everything I do in life are to show my gratitude and indebtedness for my ancestors’ struggles.
I wish I could say I’ve made adjustments, but I haven’t. I still don’t wash my face before going to sleep, but to my credit, I also don’t wear face makeup, so I don’t really need to, but still… Recently, I was at Costco, and I bought two huge bottles of Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser. I haven’t pumped either of the bottles. Also, at Costco, I purchased Vitamin C Moisturizer and Neck Tightener in two packs, but all bottles remain unopened.
For years, I’ve had big plans to take better care of my skin but something inside me rebels. I can’t figure out what it is, but secretly I might think my skin should take care of itself and do what it does and that it doesn’t need me hemming and hawing—I’m not sure, though.