My friend Pat was quoting an article on mature women to me over the phone the other day and asked, "Do you think we're ready to be called mature yet?"

I gave the question serious thought later while matching socks from the dryer. It all depends on the meaning you give the word. Since I usually have one foot in the garden I considered it in garden terms: A mature vegetable is fully ripe (I'll accept that), but if by mature you mean overripe, I protest.

Overripe is jogging and having your skin jiggle. It's a drop of toothpaste landing on your stomach instead of your chest. It's having a good day if your eyebrows match.

Overripe is tennis elbow when you don't play the game. It's hoping tights become fashionable with tennis dresses to cover varicose veins and showering so you don't have to look at them.

Overripe is needing more than one box of candles to decorate your birthday cake. It's a T-shirt that says: Growing old is a pain. Kiss it and make it better.

It's being able to remember scooters and worrying what the neighbors would think and not going out when you had just washed your hair. It's recalling record albums with more than one record and the giving of wedding and housewarming gifts only once.

Overripe is dental floss in your purse and sitting down with a groan. It's hoping to die with your makeup on and knowing life is more hamburger than quiche.

But now maturity . . . maturity is wondering if today's young women want too much or if your generation wanted too little. It's being extravagant enough to buy yourself a bag of candy but not a box. It's burning old love letters, not because they said too much but because they said too little. It's adjusting to the weekday solitude of an empty nest and the shock of togetherness on weekends. It's one marriage partner suddenly needing more sleep as the other needs less.

Mature is knowing you should go for yearly physicals yet longing for a time when your body belongs just to you. It's getting a pet when young children are no longer around because you're too big to hug a stuffed animal. It's becoming invisible in crowds and a license to talk with male as well as female strangers. It's when you stop arguing and accept the image your mirror reflects.

Mature is rejecting the choice of dyed hair and a face lift because what's inside your head seems more important to you now. It's noticing, when you wear reading glasses, flecks of mascara and dust you hadn't seen before and wondering if that's how we back out of life, a speck at a time. It's a watch with numerals too small to read.

Maturity is dressing for comfort and being old enough to know the difference between fashion and fad. It's loving good jewelry but being a sneaker person at heart and knowing all you'll attract with perfume is bees.

In maturity you don't fool around. You play for keeps. You don't reach for the cocktail to turn you on but the cup of tea to soothe you. Hobbies, pets, children, gardens and books seem more important then gleaming silver and shining floors.

Maturity is accepting the stage you've reached and being grateful to be there. It's a growing awareness that everything (everything!) is temporary and that life is a celebration and why pout in a corner because caviar isn't being served?

I once carried medical records across the country when we moved. Since my folder was stapled closed, I opened it and read through, half afraid of a dire disease I might have that was being kept from me. Among the entries I read a phrase that's stayed with me since: "Patient has wonderful . . ." That's it. That was all I could read of the doctor's scrawl.

I've spent years wondering what I have that's wonderful. (It doesn't show in a three-way mirror.) Whatever the mystery, it's given me a lift more than once. When life got difficult I could hug that fragment to me ("I've got something wonderful"). That forgotten doctor will never know how much his three words meant to me.

Nor will the writer of the article my friend quoted ever know all the thought his words provoked. Do I think we're ready to be called mature yet? If mature is acceptance, gratitude and further growth, yes.

Beans that get tough with age eventually soften if they hang on the vine long enough. We're hanging in there, we decided, a little less tender, but somehow still green . . . and with a lot of growing yet to do.