When I was too young to know better, I made myself a promise.

I’ve made myself a lot of promises I didn’t keep and can’t recall. But I remember this one.

It was just before my 30th birthday. I was a stay-at-home mom with three small children. My 5 year old had just started kindergarten. My daughter, barely 3, was busy helping her teachers run her preschool. And my baby — for whom I’d gained 50 pounds in pregnancy and lost only 10 of it (his weight) giving birth — was a few months old.

I had plenty to do: Laundry, meals, nursing every two hours and answering questions such as, “Mama, if parents can make their kids behave, how did God go wrong with Adam and Eve?”

I was a mama machine. I barely had time to brush my teeth. Aging was the last thing on my mind. Then suddenly, I was turning 30, and it hit me: I’d been young all my life. I took my youth for granted. And that was about to change forever.

Funny, isn’t it? We spend our early years wanting to be older, and the rest hoping to stay alive.

So I started watching women I knew, or saw on TV, to see how they were handling aging.

Some fought it like badgers, dying their grays, working out at the gym, getting Boxtox or fillers or face lifts or boyfriends.

Others seemed to take it in stride, year after year, growing gradually, gracefully and even gratefully, a little more gray, a little more wrinkled, and yet somehow more alive.

What was the difference? How old would we feel if we never looked in a full-length mirror?

One day, driving my 5-year-old and his buddy to school, we passed a car that was covered with a tarp, and I heard the buddy say, “Grown-ups are so dumb! Everybody knows there’s a car under there!”

I laughed and thought, “You can cover it up, but you can’t hide aging. Everybody knows there’s an old person under there trying to look young.”

So I made myself a promise: To grow old with grace and never hide anything: Not my age, my feelings or who I am.

It was a good promise. There was only one problem. I had no idea how old I would get.

At some point I looked in the mirror and thought, “Who is that old woman and why does she look so shocked to see me?”

And so it began. I started coloring my grays. Slathering on night cream. And paying a lot more attention to make-up.

I’m not proud of it, but there it is. Honestly? I wasn’t so worried about how others saw me. It was mostly about how I saw myself.

It’s still about how I see myself. I have friends who’ve gone gray and they look fabulous. I might try it, too. Tomorrow. But not today.

My husband, God bless him, often tells me I am beautiful. Never mind that when he says it he’s often looking at the TV. I take it gladly, nonetheless.

My brother is totally blind. He has never seen my face. In his mind’s eye, I never age at all.

The photo that runs with my column might look more like my daughter than me. I mean to replace it, but I forget. Is that vanity or just forgetfulness?

Occasionally, readers write to say, “Your columns make me think you’re my age, but your photo looks much younger.”

Here’s my explanation: I like to think I AM your age, whether you’re 5 or 50 or older. That photo is 10 years older than I am. Ten years is a long time. But a photo is only an image of our packaging. It says little about the soul within. And it can prevent us from looking further.

The soul can be anything, young or old, male or female, any race or religion or creed. It’s like a book. You can’t judge it by its cover. You need to turn its pages and see what’s inside.

Try it. The next time you meet someone, close your eyes to their appearance and open your heart to their soul. And maybe I will get a new photo.

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950, or on her website: SharonRandall.com.