Examining the Joys, Fears (and Humor) of Aging
A new blog with a light look at the passage of time
Posted Nov 21, 2018
“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” –Sophia Loren.
Welcome to my brand-spanking new blog, an opportunity to talk about what is a constant in the backs of many of our minds: aging.
The title of this new endeavor, (R)aging with Grace, conjures up in me a snapshot of older women drenching themselves in bright colors, dressing wildly bohemian, and sporting huge glasses and spiky hair. It’s about showing the world that aging is all in your head. I get it. While that’s not really my style, I have to admire that kind of spunk.
So I guess what other women do with clothing, I will try to do with words.
Who am I? Just a 67-year old gal who has been there, continues doing that, and wants to help others find ways to age well. I’m no geriatric physician explaining how aging works, nor am I some kind of fountain-of-youth celebrity, appearing as if the camera never blinked. But I have a lot to say about aging, because it’s fast becoming a focus for me and a lot of people around me. Following is an overview of just a few of the topics this blog will cover in ways brutally transparent (What the heck does my age mean?), honestly educational (It sucks that I have to work harder than ever to get and/or stay healthy), or ridiculously funny (I actually appreciated slipping into menopause, but I keep forgetting to ask for a senior discount).
Appearance. It doesn’t have to be all downhill from here.…
I grew up with pretty strict rules about dressing — playing up bodily assets and downplaying detractors. Today’s young women seem not to have received much of this instruction, but it’s no longer my job to impart it, nor am I certain it matters to them. My 1950s-style mother indoctrinated me well: If you have a waist, show it off. If you don’t, find ways to make it look like you do, even if it means smoke, mirrors, camouflage, or a burlap sack.
Men, of course have no such rules. I can’t tell you how often I avert my eyes when I see them walking by with tight, tucked-in polo shirts weighed down by huge, rounded mid-sections and a waistline that curls every belt meant to contain it.
As for wrinkles, extra pounds, getting into shape, and fashion meant for older gals, let’s definitely go there. We’re all in this together. Let’s define our frustrations, our sources of stress and do something about them, letting go of regrets and grudges and finding out why we can’t sleep like we used to — because life is too frickin’ short as it is. All of it contributes to our physical appearance. And it may sound shallow, but our physical appearance plays a big part in how we feel at any given moment. I am by no means ready to pack it in.
Health and wellness. Yes. We have to work at it.…
When I was a teen, anyone past the age of 35 sounded middle-aged to me. Of course, we considered grandparents who reached their late 70s or early 80s to have lived a long life back then. Anyone recall when TV’s The Today Show actually flashed photos of people living past the age of 100, as if it were an anomaly? According to the 2010 census, nationwide the centenarian population has grown 65.8 percent over the past three decades. And it’s not unusual to have relatives in their 90s on both sides of your family.
If you picture yourself reaching your 90s, then turning 60 means that you still have a full third of your life left. Now think about how long 30 years seemed to take when you were still in your late teens or early 20s. It’s as if you have another entire life to live. (R)aging with Grace is not about working out to get or stay skinny; it’s about getting strong, finding your (physical) balance again, getting enough sleep and considering every morsel that enters your body as medicinal, even if it’s the occasional chocolate bar or killer Cosmo. Since I can’t age like Raquel Welch, I’m fine with doing a modified Meryl Streep or a George Clooney and embracing my looks now, in this moment. I say that even if it means laying to rest the memory of ever having had a tiny waist and the ability to see my hip bones while lying down.
All this means is that health, above all else, is the key. Unfortunately, just when we want to take it easy is when we need to work the hardest at getting or staying healthy. That not only means regular exercise, a good diet, and (for me) a “pill-tainer" full of supplements; it also means regular doctor visits to make sure we are staying on course. One of my biggest challenges these days is warding off the sun damage I did to my body during my tanning youth, when brown arms and legs were the prize to be won at all costs. Getting a mammogram callback the same week a suspicious mole is detected on your arm can happen at 30 or at 60, but that doesn’t stop us from thinking age has something to do with it.
The thing I hate most, however, is overhearing people my age in restaurants constantly talking about their last surgery or their nagging conditions. Over food. If I ever sound like that, please — grab the hook.
Self-fulfillment and growth. It never ends.…
Some of us once pictured all those great things we wanted to do “in retirement.” I never really thought about a time when work would end, probably because I have primarily worked freelance or on commission, both of which never offers the promise of a continuous income. In fact, I am more interested in earning money by doing something I love now than I ever was when I pulled a salary for a job than was meant to help me keep up my car payments. It seems I am not alone. A very recent Harvard Business Review article says the U.S. labor force will grow mostly because of retirement-aged workers between now and 2024.
So let’s just call this time of life “Round 3.” If you are a part of this team, what does it mean to you? To me it means getting paid for doing work I love, traveling when I can, a degree of independence, and a lot of fun. Once married to a man who kept me on a short leash, I broke free at last. I am now with an amazing guy who seems to appreciate my sense of self and what that self requires in order to thrive. That sometimes means taking a trip without him or encouraging him to do the same, whether that is caused by not being in the mood to do things together or just the idea of going it solo. Somehow we make it work and still think of one another as soul mates.
Is your idea of fun finally making your backyard look like a resort? Is it taking a weekend trip to the water with friends and enjoying some great wine? While I don’t do it often, I love going to an amusement park and sitting in the front car of a roller coaster with my arms held high as I descend the first downhill roll. Yes. I float to the bottom (loop-to-loops give me headaches; just ups and downs, please). It’s really when we do something risky or uncomfortable that we truly grow. Think about how that’s just about all kids do, and you’ll get the picture.
Last month I took a solo trip to Europe to see a few relatives, and I was terrified I would never find my AirBnB digs in the heart of Athens again. I’ve made lots of trips abroad, but always with a spouse or as part of a group, when I waddled like a baby chick behind the person with the travel book and map, having no concept of what I was seeing because I never had to work at it. Being there alone, however, I began to discover everything around me — coffee shops, Uber-like ride-hailing apps, and some great shoe stores that set my heart aflutter. I ventured further and further from my home-away-from-home each time. I also posted photos of my meandering walks around the heart of the city on social media, bringing my friends along for the ride. I’m sure they thought of this as over-sharing at its most annoying, but hey — hide my feed, for heaven’s sake. My brain was challenged, as well as my personal sense of security, making it divinely developmental.
What I can’t figure out, however, is how, as I age, two weeks at home can go by in a flash, while two weeks away from home can feel like two months.
Relationships keep us going.…
I did not value the friendship of other women until my 40s. Sad, isn’t it? I watched as my daughter had a ball with bunches of friends in high school and has kept some of those friends well into her 30s and truly wondered all that I had missed. But I guess realizations happen in one’s life when they are supposed to. I now have more than one BFF, and even though we can go for weeks or even months without seeing one another, we know where to turn when we need to talk or get some joint retail therapy.
As for marriage or single-hood, everything is truly a crapshoot, but it’s no longer considered strange to meet someone using a dating app. Remember when it was considered “cheap” to be “picked up” via a classified ad in a PennySaver or a newspaper? Truth be told, most of us just want companionship past the age of 55 — someone to go to a party with or a friend who likes musicals. And it doesn’t have to be a member of the opposite sex.
Aging is an abstract. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.…
Outlook, of course, has everything to do with aging well. Studies have shown that your attitude about getting to 90+ goes a long way to achieving it. I found a few years ago that I could no longer raise my foot high enough to reach the stirrup of a saddled horse, and horseback riding was still a passion (even though I rarely had occasion to do it). Even worse, I couldn’t swing my weight onto the saddle without help. It was gut-wrenching.
I was not sad; I was angry. Around the same time, I realized it was getting difficult to balance while pulling up a pair of jeans from a standing position. And what’s with the not being able to get up off a floor without having to roll onto all fours? What the @!*# was happening? Was I going to become an old lady driver who couldn’t turn her head far enough to see someone coming from behind her in the next lane? I was shocked to know my body had aged so much that these small abilities were disappearing, and I pictured myself with a dowager’s hump. So I did something about it. I hired a personal trainer, sacrificing some items in my budget in order to have someone stand over me with a whip to get me into reasonable shape. And I have reversed all of the above. Do I enjoy the exercise? Hell no. I have never enjoyed feeling sore every waking moment, and I hate to sweat. But I hate a lack of flexibility and balance even more. In my mind, aging is all about what you are willing to accept. And I seem not to be a terribly tolerant person in that regard. And yes. I still balance just fine on a pair of four-inch pumps. I just don’t stand in them all night any more.
I want you to know that I take nothing for granted — my health, my lifestyle, my adult child, nor my wonderful husband who unexpectedly surfaced at a challenging time in my life. It can all change on a dime, after all. But if so much about aging is truly all in your head, you can use that head to make changes to enable you to be both healthier and happier. Will it extend life a tad? Maybe. Maybe not. But the quality of your days can be even more important.
Because when you find yourself at the age you thought you’d never be, there you are.