I started growing out my real hair color 107 days ago, and I am enjoying the process of watching the transition to silver and black. I keep thinking I should have more silver by now but the real me is a slow secret, revealing itself micron by micron.

I thought the real me would look older, but the gray hair surprises me – it looks like highlights. I even received a compliment the other day. A beautiful and smart young woman said she was “loving my grays”, meaning the color, the longer length, and the way I’m parting my hair against the direction of growth so I can show off my widow’s peak. The compliment made me feel great, and reminded me that stressing over my appearance is a waste. It will take care of itself.

I am not loving other transitions. My favorite activities often result in shoulder and knee pain. My eyes look tired from too much late-night reading and coddling of cats, and the skin on my arms and legs is permanently dry. Cheese and anything containing gluten is no longer on my menu. I want to get out of my head more, but physical limitations keep bringing me back in.

I wish I appreciated the real me when I was younger. Back then, there was perhaps more emphasis on stereotyped beauty if you were a female. I got hung up on a few mean-spirited comments from people I trusted and admired. “You are a very strange-looking human” is one I will never overcome. It made me feel like I was deformed. Dad must have thought I was pretty special because he took hundreds of pictures of me as a baby, child, pre-adolescent, and young woman. But he never said anything positive to me about my artwork or my writing, not to mention my appearance. I believe his frequent criticisms were meant to teach me to strive for perfection, and they worked. I learned I could never be perfect, and was doomed to mediocrity.

I was kind of a tomboy who grew into a no-makeup hippy, and met with exasperated comments from my mother and role-model cousin such as “why don’t you wear lipstick and a dress so you will look like a woman?” When I see old pictures of myself with my graceful figure, perfect lip line sans lipstick, and shiny black hair, I wonder why I didn’t believe more in nature and in myself.

Growing out my grays celebrates the real me. People often tell me I’m looking better than ever, and I believe them since they see me all the time. I love to laugh with my partner’s grandkids, and easily forget myself when I work for hours in my garden planting, weeding, and basically crawling around with the living soil. I am enjoying organic food and my clothes fit better than they have in years. Knock on wood, my health is good.

I’m basically a happy person. I feel connected to and absorbed in the beauty of the natural world around me. There’s the woods outside my door with its myriad birds and animals, and the massive trees that must be well over a century old. There are three beautiful cats who rule my life. There is literature, art, music, my family, my partner, and his gorgeous grandchildren who I share.

Question: What is more beautiful than these tender children with their clear eyes that see everything, and their candid observations of the world? Answer: Pretty much nothing.

I remember my own childhood as a time when everything was new and thrilling. The older I get, the more I strive to look outside myself the way I did back then, to the magic in everyday experiences.

When I immerse in the moment, the real me experiences the world like a curious child. The child is waiting right below my surface, along with my worries about not being perfect.

For better or worse, I guess the real me hasn’t really grown up at all.