You’ve heard it a million times: “I’m getting too old for this.” Most recently these words panted out of my own mouth as I tried to keep up with my daughter on one of our frequent walks around town. One of the routes we take (and we have several with varying degrees of difficulty) combines the flat sidewalk along Main Street with the uphill side streets by the firehouse and the post office. It was during one of those uphill stretches that I uttered those words that often describe a once-manageable task now found daunting: “I’m (huffing and puffing) too old (more huffing) for this.” And I wasn’t even the one pushing the stroller with my toddler grandson.
The Aging Cheerleaders would have you believe that getting older is all in one’s head. Adopt a positive attitude! Do brainteasers! But it’s not. Aging isn’t just in my head; it’s in my knees, my belly and many of my internal organs. Of course it is...these body parts have been around as long as I have, generally, and some diminishment in function is to be expected. My knees don’t always bend when I want them to and when they do achieve the desired angle in an attempt to ascend stairs, there is often pain associated with the movement. What other mechanism can last that long without some deterioration? We’re not Volvos. The uphill climbs I attempt never get easier, but there are days when I accomplish them with less exertion. And some days I feel like Sisyphus because-- “it’s just one of those days”--another aging adage that explains why doing something one used to do with ease is now fraught with some difficulty.
Until quite recently, I have been slightly oblivious to having to “deal” with getting old. I admit, those lovely comments insisting I must have been twelve when I had my children because how could I possibly a grandmother are sweet music to my ears. And although I am on a couple of medications that help regulate a faulty thyroid and some pesky hypertension, it’s not that big a deal. A little wear and tear on this old body has not hampered me in the things that I really love to do, which, quite honestly, isn’t that much--physically speaking. I like to walk (on flat sidewalks), do some swimming, putter in the garden and get down on the floor with my grandson to play trucks. I often opt for the low footstool instead of lowering myself all the way to the ground to play, but so far he hasn’t complained. I can usually complete one of those brainteasers, too, if it’s not too hard.
Facing my own aging struck me recently when I needed to choose a photograph to include with a local interview for my book. There is one (and only one) photograph of myself that I don’t mind showing to others. Obviously I use it every chance I get. But it’s slightly outdated and I was compelled to get a new one and the new one makes me look old. And it’s not the photograph that makes me look old. I am old. I am an older woman now and I look it. My hair is grayer, there are deep lines in my face and smaller ones around my eyes. And if you pinch the skin on my elbow, it stays that way much to the delight of my grandson, who tries it out every chance he gets. I must have thought all those aches and pains I’ve complained about over the last few years were going to go away. But they’re not. They’re here to stay and I am--to employ yet another old adage--not getting any younger. My body and my mind and my looks are, in fact, aging. But, as they also say (and they must be those same AARP cheerleaders), aging beats the alternative.
In an effort to broaden my perspective on the aging process and how to best navigate its sometimes-choppy waters, I consulted my uncle Art. Uncle Art has been enjoying nonagenarian status for several years now. And counting. As far as I know he golfs fairly regularly and he and my aunt Diane play cribbage every night. They enjoy a steady stream of family visitors while managing a full social calendar, which includes continuing education courses. He told me, “Old age is a reward. When you reach old age, enjoy it fully. Don’t complain about not being able to do this or that any more than earlier in life when you would dwell on one obstacle for too long. If life is a meal, then old age is the dessert. And dessert is the best part.”
So that’s the advice I’m going to follow. The changes and challenges of getting older are no different than the changes and challenges at every life stage. A challenge is a challenge. Bodies will succumb to the planned obsolescence of physiology at one point or another. I will learn to remember to enjoy the meal that has been my life. Besides, I always did like dessert best.