Sunday, September 13, 2009

When I am an old woman...whoops

Some strange things have happened 2009. Among them--my son turned forty and my daughter turned thirty-six. This was a total shock to me even though I was there at both their births. I look in the mirror every day when I brush my teeth and wash my face, morning and night. Every time I see the me who is sometimes twenty-five and sometimes thirty-five years old, but that is pretty much the range. Sure, I’m not wearing my glasses for face washing, but still, as plain as day, I see a youthful glow on my face, shiny blonde hair, girlishly slim figure. Certainly not the mother of two --GULP-- nearly middle aged adult children. Is it even possible to have children older than one’s self?

Wait! Beep, beep, beep…back up the truck. My children are approaching middle age?? How does this happen?? I mean, I understand I’m not exactly in my youth anymore, but what happened to my own middle age? Really, where did it go? Because I suddenly realize I’m not even middle aged anymore (unless I last well into the three figure years). If my children are nearly middle aged, logic would have it that I am…that makes me…it has to mean I’m…old.

Well, once that realization hits, let me tell you things start to go down hill. Okay, so some things are already at the bottom of the hill, but you start to notice. People you know start to get sick, even die. Aches happen. Cholesterol becomes a concern. Hearing aid batteries get on the weekly shopping list. Bifocals are prescribed--then--horror of horrors--a colonoscopy. Is there no end to the indignities?

Yes, of course there have been the signs all along. I started having to take my glasses off to read fine print. A springy hair popped out of my cheek. I accused my husband of using my brush because it was filled with grey hairs. At some point, store clerks started calling me “Ma’am,” and hotel clerks started never to forget to apply my senior discount. I’d be walking along the downtown shops and notice a matronly woman reflected in a shop window. “She looks familiar,” I’d think to myself. “Is that a friend of my mom’s? Oh, no…wait. It’s me.” I have grand children--one of whom started college last month. I read Nora Ephron’s essay, “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” and could totally relate. Still some things are hard to admit.

It’s hard to admit to being old when you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up. Maybe I grew up too fast in a way since my childhood and teen years were marked by my mother’s illness and the rest of my family trying to cope. As the oldest child, I felt somehow in charge of the coping. My young adulthood was certainly a blur. I was busy with a home and a husband and two kids, a full time job, church and professional activities, a fairly active social life, and continuing my post graduate education. It was not unfulfilling, but still, there was very little “me” time, very little down time at all. At some point I even gave away all my house plants because I just could not stand the extra responsibility of taking care of them. Then, in my early forties, with an empty nest, I lost a few years to a debilitating depression. That’s the same age my mother, always “nervous,” had a major nervous breakdown. I guess I thought it was required, but it was also a true crisis of the spirit. Somehow I emerged in my later forties with a new husband, a new home, a big bump up in my career and professional life, only to suddenly take on a major care taking role for my mother who was in incipient dementia. “Me” time was not even on the table, but a vigilant husband and good friends saved me from another downward spiral. I got through that, endured once again.

So now I am old. Here I am--old. I’m retired and I really retired at the top of my game, professionally, and that gave me satisfaction. Our children are grown and independent. It’s gratifying to know and like your own children as human beings. Our grand children are lovely. My husband and I have had very fortunate opportunities to travel and pursue our respective personal interests. I still tend to my family and my home, but it is so different -- it’s like it is all “me” time now. I can now take joy in things that once seemed such drudgery and I have the time to explore new interests. As Thomas Moore said, “The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are more important to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”

So old age is not so bad--at least at this point. I’m relatively healthy. I have enough to eat. I’m warm in the winter. I enjoy my family and friends. I can afford to indulge my interests, simple as they may be. I guess in the end, I cannot complain. I can look back wistfully or I can look forward with the wisdom of an older woman. Let me embrace the wisdom, but please, God, (and sorry, Jenny Joseph—love the poem, read it the club thing is just not for me) just don’t let me go out and buy a red hat and a purple dress.

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