The saying goes “you’re only as old as you feel,” or “as young as you feel” or somesuch. I would suggest, based on recent events, that sometimes “you are only as old as other people make you feel.”

Fortunately, most of the time, we Napa Valley citizens of a certain age feel pretty good about growing older. Not for us the obsessions of our California neighbors to the South, who greet advancing age with a dread we reserve for incoming swarms of glassy-winged sharpshooters. Here the concept of aging has more positive connotations: like a bottle of wine, its naïve sharp edges gradually softened by the wisdom of time, we ripen and mature naturally, becoming more complex and nuanced and hopefully less fruity. Resisting that process would be like Botox-ing a wrinkled prune.

Still, I’m surprised by how infrequently the subject of age arises in conversation here; remarkably less so than when I was working in theater surrounded by actors. And one rarely suffers the reminder of spotting 20-somethings tarted up for a night of partying into the wee hours, the wee being way early in these parts. Plus, so many locals are perfectly preserved specimens — at least that’s the impression I’ve formed as they jog briskly past me Saturday mornings — the impossibly fit women and their spry older gentlemen with their muscular dogs. Yes, I realize that my headband with pony tail may be age-inappropriate, that many of the clothes I’ve worn since high school are now collectible vintage treasures, and that I will soon be eligible for the senior discount at the Cameo Cinema. But so long as Cher and Susan Lucci remain ageless and Eddie at Market still greets me with “Hello, Gorgeous,” I will carry on in blissful ignorance of the passage of time.

That was until Super Bowl Sunday 2012.  I missed the game, so it was indeed a rude awakening Monday morning when I discovered that, overnight, my youth was gone, my middle age terminated, and I had been officially declared an elderly geriatric senior. You see, Madonna, who entertained and/or annoyed an audience of 114 million during the half-time show, was born in 1958 just like me. And word was spreading like a bad rash all over television and the Internet that a woman our age was old, finished, kaput.

Americans might disagree on many things, but they were united in their opinion that Madonna’s ability at 53 to dance around and shake her hiney in 5-inch heels was not only unnatural and unseemly, it was a major medical miracle. Great. Just as cradle-snatching Demi Moore and bikini-rocking Helen Mirren had finally established that sex appeal could flourish in a woman’s late 40s and well beyond, Madonna comes along and prompts a collective pronouncement that our precise birthday marks the point when desirability reaches its expiration date.

Still, I sympathize with the old girl. She put on one heck of a show, yet was upstaged by a younger singer’s obscene gesture — I’m sure she wistfully recalls a time when she was the most obscene thing onstage. Even dignified dowager newsgoddess Diane Sawyer quoted a viewer who said Madonna’s performance “was like watching your grandmother flirt with the pool boy.” Let’s compare this reaction, shall we, to Steven Tyler’s appearances on American Idol? Now Steven is 10 years older than Madonna and me, but younger than Mick and Rod, and only a 6 on the Keith Richards scale of decrepitude. Still, teenage contestants “ooh” and “aah” for the cameras about how cute and sexy he is and how much they want him. And not once have I heard anyone express shock or awe at his ability to dance around and shake his hiney in 5-inch heels.

As for Madonna, I cringed a bit watching replays as she danced in a cheerleader’s costume, her frozen face and shellacked locks staying absolutely still as her legs and pom poms twirled wildly around her. But no one deserves reviews ranging from “I hope I look that good when I’m that old” to “there was an unmistakably musty grandma smell in her aging act.” Nor, come to think of it, do I deserve to be lumped together with toned and tightened Madonna, since I prefer to preserve my youthful patina by packing a few extra pounds on my frame.

Then again, Madonna and I never did have much besides chronology in common, although I do enjoy dancing around to music in my underwear, despite the fact that no one has yet paid millions of dollars to watch me do so (but hope springs eternal). And that would make me feel so young.

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of, a resident of St. Helena, an attorney and former theatrical producer, and an author and columnist.  Read more at