It’s the little things about growing older that hurt my feelings. One day, without any warning whatsoever, I went to the mailbox and found an invitation to join AARP addressed to me. I was shocked and gaped fearfully at the envelope like it might contain Anthrax. Somehow, I’d convinced myself that the inevitable march toward sunset might not apply to me personally. I know that’s illogical, but it’s how I felt.
Since I am not yet fifty—49 is not 50, by God—I assume the letter was posted to me in error. I marched straight in to my husband’s office, announced, “You have mail!” and off-loaded the hot potato onto his desk, in case his slightly older genes might be catching.
“You’re aging just like the rest of us!” he taunted. “You think you have some kind of exemption?” he scoffed.
“We’ll see about that,” I shot back.
Do I not walk half-heartedly on the treadmill at least three times a week while gossiping with my best friend on the phone? Do I not swallow those calcium horse pills every single day? In my own mind, I’ve been playing a shell game with the grim reaper for years.
Every day, I pole my pirogue right on down the river of denial. You can’t worry about everything—the flu virus, glaciers melting, and gluten content. I make a determined effort not to dwell on things I can’t control without a magic wand or a time machine. Although I hope my children do not figure this out for a while, I am not, in fact, the boss of the world.
It’s hard to find an up side to aging. We’re wiser, happier, and less stressed, according to studies funded by institutions which waste money proving things regular folks already know to be true, but no one would choose to be older and wiser if the other choice is to be younger and foolish.
Some of us go to great pains (not me) and expense (a bit) to postpone or camouflage the inevitable gravity-induced wrinkle or droop. None of us wants to look old—even when we are. This false expectation leads to epic fashion faux pas–women eligible for Medicare wearing T-shirts with “sexy mama” emblazoned in sequins across their sagging bosoms, for example.
The fact that I have to stash reading glasses all over my home like Easter eggs isn’t the worst of it. It’s not just the superficial stuff that vexes me. Every fifteen minutes or so, I worry that I’m developing Alzheimer’s disease. To me, that would be a nightmare.
I often lose my train of thought while arguing with one of my teens about his curfew, folding laundry, responding to text messages on my cell phone, cooking dinner, and paying bills—all at the same time. (Don’t ask how I managed to pay the mortgage three times in one month. My husband is still baffled. It was an accident. I’ve apologized. Let’s leave it at that. Just so you know: If you accidentally pay your mortgage twice, it doesn’t give you a “credit” for the next month. Oh, no. It counts toward the balance, of course, but you have to pay the next month’s bill in addition.)
I’m a mom of three, so multi-tasking is normal for me, but it can get out of hand. For example, while cleaning up the kitchen yesterday, I bent to retrieve a napkin. That single act caused a chain of events that sucked up my entire day. First, I scrubbed the filthy kitchen baseboards next to the dropped napkin. That led to an emergency mopping of the kitchen floor, which was so sticky my shoes made sucking noises when I walked to the refrigerator.
When I propped the mop on the porch to drip-dry, I remembered that I needed to water the plants near my mailbox. After retrieving the mail, I sat my fat fanny on my porch swing to peruse a catalogue hawking pants “guaranteed to make women look ten pounds lighter.” I don’t know a single woman in my zip code who could resist a sales pitch like that.
Poof. My day was gone.
I get that aging beats the heck out of the alternative. I am in no hurry to have my name checked off the roll up yonder, I assure you. Still. I’m struggling with how to handle aging with humor and perspective—as opposed to a menopausal meltdown—and I’m surprised by how sensitive I am about a foregone conclusion.
After all, aging is the good version of “playing the back nine,” as my father says. It obviously beats being run over by a log truck at an early age. Still, it’s harder than I thought it would be. Inside, I feel the same way I always have. When I visit people in nursing homes, I remind myself of this. I bet all those residents feel the same inside as they always have, too.