It really is ironic that right about the time when you have the most freedom and discretionary income, that’s when your body really starts breaking down. The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak.
I have come to tolerate routine aches and pains that my 20-year-old self would have been horrified by. And that’s particularly annoying because it’s her stupid antics that have caused me to be able to predict the weather in several of my bones.
I would love to climb more mountains, but I know those days are gone. I want to go to foreign lands and try exotic foods, but I don’t seem to digest things as easily as I once did. I can’t cover the same amount of ground in a day as I did 30 years and 80 pounds ago.
Older people used to warn me that this would happen, but I was too busy being young to listen. If I had really gotten the message that I shouldn’t take my health for granted, maybe I’d have done more back when I could do more. But no.
I don’t know what terrifies me the most: becoming physically dependent upon indifferent caregivers, or staying relatively spry, but becoming the overwhelmed caregiver of my loved ones as life passes us by.
No matter how much you jog or do sit-ups, age is inevitable. Things fall apart. The center does not hold. So maybe I need to stop looking backward with regret. What’s the point?
It’s time to assess what’s possible now, and take advantage of it while I can. Do more. Now. Because 10 years from now, it’s a safe bet that I’ll be even further down the hill.
Dating in one’s 50’s, or even later than that, is something else again. It’s not for sissies. It adds another whole layer of complexity to things.
In your 50’s, you’re more apt to come with appliances. Glasses. Dentures. Night Guards, canes or back braces, arch supports, bottles of pills.
There are things you can no longer do. Maybe your lower back isn’t up to that 10-mile hike. Or you don’t hear well enough to hang out in that noisy bar. You become less flexible, both physically and emotionally.
Chances are you’ve outgrown a lot of the shenanigans of your youth, too. Getting drunk isn’t as much fun anymore. One night stands are just depressing. And yes, I’d love that slice of pizza, but green peppers give me indigestion.
You also come with a boatload of baggage. You’ve got your whacky adult children, for a start. And ex-husbands or wives. Experiences you’d rather not repeat. You are skittish.
And lest we forget, that first impression of you naked is not going to be as stellar as it was when you were in your 20’s. Gravity has taken its toll. There are surgery scars. There are wrinkles and sags and grey hair, or no hair at all. Some things don’t work as well as they used to.
And, speaking from a purely female perspective, there are a whole lot of older men who are still looking for women in their 30’s. Lord knows why. They won’t be able to keep up with them. But they still expect you to be lean and athletic, with nice tight… skin. In other words, they’re in a fantasy world.
But oh, when you get it right… it’s magical. Age-appropriate partners are much easier to relate to. They get your cultural references. They understand your jokes. There’s a feeling of “we’re in this together.” You’ve each made your share of mistakes and have therefore learned a great deal. You’re hopefully more patient. You have many more stories to tell.
And even better, you get to feel young again. Just when you thought those butterflies in your stomach had moved on, they’re baaaaack! You forgot you knew how to blush. Life seems much more exciting. Hope springs eternal. And best of all, you appreciate things so much more because you never thought you’d ever have those things again.
The other day a friend was lamenting that instead of his usual solitary work environment, he was soon to be sharing an office with a coworker. “I’d like to be able to fart in peace without having to look over my shoulder,” he groused. That made me laugh. And it also got me thinking.
Why are we so programmed in this country to be ashamed of normal bodily functions? In some cultures, it’s polite to burp. Here, I’ve actually seen people blush when they sneeze or cough. I’ve even known people who have to turn on the sink faucet to block out the sound before they’ll urinate in a public bathroom.
We also have placed a heavy moral burden upon consensual sex, and how much we weigh or do not weigh. Heaven forbid someone be too tall or too short. Aging seems to be a source of shame. We’re supposed to keep all our body hair under strict control. And don’t even get me started about the stigmas attached to physical or mental disabilities.
Are you sensing a theme here? All of these things are biological. They are a natural part of being human. Everything from sweating to vomiting is a necessary physical process. We have limited control over our bodies.
I must admit I’m an extremely gassy person. When I went back to college in my late 40’s, I was often surrounded by young people who still cared what others thought. My occasional unintended farts would shock them. So one day I said, “Look. I’m old, I’m fat, I fart. I burp, I sneeze, I cough, and I puke. You’re just going to have to get over it.”
Seriously, though, I’ll tell you what: I’ll try not to fart during the National Anthem if you try not to act as though you’ve never farted in your life. The age of the Puritans is long past. We have so many other things to worry about. Let’s move on, shall we?
Back in 2006, the term “Sandwich Generation” was officially added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It’s used to describe those people who are “sandwiched” between caring for their children and for their aging parents. As life expectancies rise, more and more of us find ourselves in that situation. The term actually started floating around as early as 1981.
For reasons both intentional and unintentional, I have managed to keep myself sandwich-less. I chose not to have children, and unfortunately my mother died when she was 64, and I was 26. I never met my father. As much as I might grouse about the stress in my life, I really did get off easy.
I loved my mother, but she’d have turned 91 today, and it’s almost a guarantee that she’d be in very poor health had she lived. She was already showing signs of severe osteoporosis at the time of her death. She was also a lifelong smoker, and continued that habit even after being diagnosed with emphysema. Her hearing was already terrible. Does dementia run in our family? Who knows. None of us lives long enough to get to that point, it seems.
She would have also outlived her oldest daughter, with whom she had been living. I can’t imagine that she would have handled that well. (I once gave her a bit of bad news while she had a head cold, and it sent her to the hospital for three days.)
Who knows where she would have lived after my sister’s death. With my other sister? With me? In a nursing home? Impossible to say. None of those scenarios would have been ideal for her.
Every year when my mother’s birthday rolls around, I speculate about how different my life would be if she were still in it. I miss her. But the woman I miss and the 91 year old who would be here now are two very different people, no doubt.
Recently, I crossed the line to a place where I’ve lived more time without her than I did with her. That was a strange feeling. (If you still have your mom, stop what you’re doing, right now, and give her a hug. I mean it. Do it right now.)
If I had had children, they’d probably be in their late teens or twenties by now. I can’t imagine dealing with the typical rebelliousness, and anxiety over college costs, on top of worrying about a very elderly, and most likely very unhappy, mother. The mind boggles.
For those of you who are the meat in the sandwich generation, my hat is off to you.
All my life, I’ve been told that old people are set in their ways. They’re rigid. Conservative. They don’t want to try new things. It made me dread growing old.
Now that I’m getting older, though, I’m beginning to have a different perspective on this subject. First of all, I know a lot of older people who are still willing to push the outer envelope. My friend Carole even jumped out of a perfectly good airplane on her 73rd birthday. That gives me hope. I think that as the baby-boomers age, they are less willing to quietly settle into that old folks stereotype. That makes me really happy.
On the other hand, as I start to develop more and more “ways” of my own, I totally understand the desire to be set in them. One should never overlook the wealth of experience that older people possess. We say that people become “wizened”, which means shriveled or wrinkled, but I like to imagine that it also means more wise. Most of us learn as we age. There’s a reason most of your teachers are not your contemporaries. Older people developed their ways through trial and error. They’ve survived. They’ve figured out what works for them. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the saying goes. I no longer see anything wrong with that.
As I settle into a routine that brings me joy, I’m less and less willing to change those habits. It’s only natural that I become less flexible as I become less flexible. I like the peace and quiet of not having a television. I like my Epsom salt baths by the light of my lavender candle. Cuddling with my dog makes me happy and reduces my heating bills. I doubt I’ll ever embrace Twitter. And I may say “hashtag” out loud, but I’ll always be thinking “pound sign”.
So yeah, this happened: I got dressed in grubby clothes, complete with an extra t-shirt to cover my hair, and a face mask and safety glasses and gloves, and I dragged my fat self under my house. Mission: installing insulation on the sub-floor.
I think it’s important to know one’s house from top to bottom, but I’ve never known a crawl space that wasn’t unspeakably gross, and this one is no exception. Despite the extra t-shirt, I was picking spider eggs out of my hair in the shower later that day. Fortunately, the rat poop was at a minimum, but it was still there. And I was blowing fiberglass and dust out of my nose for hours afterward. I knew I would feel it in the morning, and I wasn’t wrong.
Why do I put myself through this? For starters, I’m cheap, and can’t justify paying someone else to do something that I can do myself. But mostly it’s simply because I can, and I’m proud of this. When I was a teenager, I had a summer job with the Youth Conservation Corps and it taught me that I’m capable of a heck of a lot.
My whole life, I’ve been told I couldn’t do things. Because I’m a girl. Because I’m too young or too old or too weak or, well, because it’s just not done. So I used to change the oil in my car myself. I took vacations alone in the woods. I traveled overseas by myself. And I’ve done more than one home improvement project in my day. It does wonders for my self-esteem.
Sooner or later I’ll reach an age where crawling under my house will be foolhardy at best. I can see that time off on the horizon, but it gets a little closer every day. I wonder if I’ll be sad or relieved when that day finally comes?
My advice would be to ignore the naysayers. If you have the brains to learn how to do something (God bless Youtube), and the physical ability to pull it off, then do it yourself as often as you can. You’ll value the results more, and you’ll gain the confidence you need to climb over the next hurdle that crosses your path.
When I was young and I’d hear an older person say they were getting old and forgetful, I used to smile and say I couldn’t wait to have that excuse for my absentmindedness. I’ve always been easily distracted. Flaky, even.
But now I’m starting to get it. As I age, it’s getting much, much worse. And that’s terrifying. It is no fun, no fun at all, to know you can no longer rely on your own brain. Especially when you live alone.
Today I accidentally left my to-do list at home, and I’m a bit freaked out. I’m fairly certain that I’m forgetting to do something that’s time-sensitive and important, but for the life of me, I can’t recall what it is. That’s a helpless feeling. I don’t like it. That’s why I created the to-do list in the first place.
And I’m starting to forget words. I know what I want to say conceptually. It’s on the tip of my tongue. I just can’t always verbalize it. “Please pass me the… the… you know. That thing.”
Do you have any idea how scary it is for a writer not to be able to come up with a word? And since I’m not currently in a nice comfortable relationship where the other person can finish my sentences for me, odds are that the person I’m talking to doesn’t know what thing I’m referring to.
The older I get, the more I feel like I’m traveling in a land where I don’t speak the language and I don’t have a map or an itinerary. And while I do love to travel, I love to be able to communicate even more. This is a confusing place. I’d like to go home now.
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