Aging is One Thing

Doing it gracefully is another.

Photo by BBH Singapore on Unsplash

How did I get so damn old? I was in my thirties — it seems just the other day — and I could do anything! I mean anything. I was a 5'3" police officer. I could leap tall buildings…well, maybe not. But I felt like I could. I could damn sure arrest people a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier. I meant to be a strong chick like that forever.

Then I was in my forties and even my fifties.

I felt great. And you know, I’m going to go ahead and say it, I looked great, too. Although, I didn’t know it back then. I settled a lot because I was very critical of myself, and especially of my looks. I only found out later — the truth was that I was good-looking. Especially compared to the crone I am now. We’ll talk about her later.

I was just going along. My hubs and I were active in our forties and fifties and into our sixties. We walked on the beach, we loved going camping — if you could call it that — in our Airstream trailer and we spent two months on the road out west. My husband had motorcycles. I could run.

And then, one winter a year or two ago, it became harder to do the things I had always done. When spring came, it was apparent I had lost ground over the long, lazy winter curled up on the sofa reading. It was hard to get my mojo going once the days became gently warm. I felt stiff as if I had hibernated all winter.

It became especially hard to look in the mirror and to feel the same kind of happy and confident. My youth didn’t sneak away slowly, at least it didn’t seem that way to me. It just up and flew the coup one day and and I saw wrinkles, dark spots, and thinning lips. Lord help me, what happened to that mane of hair I had thrown around and had even been envied for? Suddenly my hair was thinning. My part was wider. My skin was becoming crepe-like. Where the hell did those ugly moles on my neck come from. I bruised easier and my thinning skin got wounded easier. Heck, the rose bush could inflict not just a prick, but a tear that looked serious. These days, I might bleed to death from a light scratch from our dog. Crepe doesn’t hold up worth a shit, and it tears easily.

Realizing all that was a few years ago and I’ve sort of adjusted. I wrote about someone stealing my youth in another article.

https://caroljburt.medium.com/she-stole-my-body-9011f43a807c

One big difficulty was getting used to not being the “main” generation and to so many professionals being so much younger than me. It’s a hard, hard thing to accept that one’s own generation is no longer the people in control (well, except for the president, and he gives me hope). First, I was a kid, and no one took me too seriously. Finally, I was middle-aged and we were the movers and shakers, if you’ll forgive the cliche. But we were in charge of everything.

My doctor was about my age. My hairdresser was just a few years older than me, and owned the very successful salon. My mail person was about my age. Most of the other police officers were close to my age. My friends and contemporaries were off on journeys, succeeding at business, making their marks in media, being the most fit folks on the golf courses and ski slopes. We were in charge. We were large. The baby boomers, no less — yes, I’m part of the boomer generation, born in August of 1951.

I remember when we had no computers, cell phones, color television, and thought it would be impossible to see someone with whom we were talking on the phone.

Once in a class some teacher said there would come the day we would be able to see each other while talking on the phone. Ew, we said, what if we have rollers in our hair and a boy calls us? What if even worse, we aren’t dressed? We laughed about the possibility, never dreaming such a thing would come to pass not too far into our adult lifetimes.

We thought movies meant drives in or walk-ins. You couldn’t watch the movies at home. We watched Gunsmoke on Saturday nights with mom and dad. Mom usually made popcorn. In a pot. And sometimes even candy — fudge from scratch. Netflix wasn’t even on our radar. We thought the only movies watched at home were those awful videos some people’s parents recorded and played back on a projector. I can still see the blurred and jumpy things.

I’m dated all the time now. No, not asked on dates. I’m dated, my daughters tell me, because of the kinds of tennis shoes I wear. Because jeans, rather than leggings are my go-to. Because I still have a lace tablecloth for special occasions and have shades and curtains instead of blinds. I have doo-dads and stuff all over my house and have never been able to achieve the sleek minimalist look. And I don’t like gray. I don’t like gray days and I don’t like gray living room walls. Mine is a pale, pale rose blush. And I’m old enough to like it. And the lacey curtains in my sunny kitchen, too.

I used to be so, so competent. I was modern Milly. I was “up” on all the latest things. I was one of the first of my friends to have a word processing “computer” to write on instead of a typewriter in 1989, and I had a real, actual home computer, on the internet, by 1994. Whew. I was with it. I had a box phone in my car, too, when I served as mayor. A phone in my car. Wow.

But a day came when I had to call my grandson downstairs to help me do something on the computer. I had to learn to sign into Netflix and how to ignore video calls if I didn’t want to look at anyone or be looked at. I drive a car that tells me when I mess up and cross the line and when there’s another car in my blind spot. It opens the back gate on command, too, and closes the thing and locks it. It won’t allow me to lock my keys in the car. It helps me park. Can you believe it? Modern stuff is so cool.

But I have a special appreciation for it, while my kids just think it’s normal.

There are no more stereos. People just play music on phones or their Alexa. I ask Alexa for the weather forecast instead of waiting for the news and weather program on TV. We shop mostly online since the Covid pandemic got so bad. So, I’m not completely left in the dust…yet. But I know it’s coming and not too long from now, either. My mother is 22 years older than me, and although she has dementia now, she started losing ground way before that and couldn’t keep up despite trying hard. Her computer always had her flummoxed. Cars got too complicated. Smart phones weren’t her cup of tea.

I am no longer invincible like all young people fancy themselves to be. I know I will someday — gasp — die. And if I live far, far into old age I may be so tired I won’t care. It seems to me that people often live about as long as they want to, barring illness (Covid!!) and accidents. Those who die of old age have often long since quit enjoying the view and are ready to see what’s next.

But, I digress — and go off on a tangent as usual.

All that said, the shocking thing is the woman I see in the mirror is not the woman I see in my mind’s eye. Every time I see her in photos or in the mirror, it’s various degrees of jarring, depending on how hard I look. That’s my mom — not me.

Who the hell is that old lady in my bathroom, anyway.

I’m going to be 70 this year. I’m an old lady. I. Am. An. Old. Lady.

I still can’t quite get that through my head, but there are plenty of signs. Man, are there ever signs, the wads of hair on my hairbrush being a non-too subtle one, or the groan I emit when I have to dig in the bottom cabinet for a pan in the back.

Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash

All that said, there are still parts of this aging thing that aren’t too bad at all. For one thing, I know stuff. I know so much more than I did when I was 40. I was late to grow up and didn’t know what I wanted to be for most of my working life, so I had three distinct careers. Journalism, politics, and law enforcement. I often wonder how much better off I would be now if I had chosen one and poured my whole working life into it. Eh, who knows and I don’t worry about it much anymore.

I have regrets, yes, but I can look at them more philosophically than I once could and I can see, too, that even the bad parts helped shaped me into the woman I’ve ultimately become, and I don’t hate her. I wish she’d quit with the wrinkles, age spots, skin and hair thinning, etc., but I really pretty much like her and realize she, the older me, is a hell of a lot smarter and more serene than I’ve been before I got some age on me. I don’t waste time on stupid things anymore. You know what I mean…I don’t care so much what people think of me and I’ve outgrown that painful self-consciousness that plagued me for most of my life.

If I’m digging in the dirt outside, or painting the kitchen, and need something to finish the job I’m perfectly capable of getting into the car and going after it, just as I am. I don’t have to shower, change, fix my hair, put on lipstick — any of that crap. I just don’t have time for it and don’t care.

Once we realize we are older, we also realize we have a limited amount of time. I never realized that until I was about 65. I’m much more concerned these days with doing what I want to and not worried about what I “should” do. Who says what I should do? I do! And I should have as good of a time as possible during my remaining days on this ole spinning earth.

Yeah, I don’t want to run. Stuff flaps too much in the wind. But I want to walk and go as slow as I want while watching and experiencing what is going on around me. I want to grow things. Flowers, vegetables, trees. I put out four new tiny trees a few weeks ago. They looked like little sticks about as thin as a fork tine. Now they have leaves. Things like that make me inordinately happy.

I ordered rugs for my room with the somewhat ugly western cedar floors that are splintering in places and need refinishing. Walking around on those thick rugs barefoot instead of having to put on house shoes in my room is satisfying to me. I can walk from my bathroom to my bed without ever standing on bare floor. But unlike carpet, I can change those rugs anytime I get tired of them.

Now that I’m old and accept it, I’m kind of enjoying it. Not much is expected of me. We got a load of gravel for our muddy second driveway last week. My daughter and her beau were out spreading it this afternoon, leaving me and hubs to read, write, watch TV, etc.

One of the writers I follow wrote this week that we are a different kind of older. We’re more active, inquisitive, involved, and healthier, too. She said we have dispensed with rocking chairs and knitting needles, but not me. We have three rockers on the back porch of our big ole 100-year-old house that we enjoy immensely. Just rocking and watching the busy birds and squirrels, or just rocking and reading or listening to music is very relaxing and uplifting for me. If I weren’t old, I wouldn’t have the luxury of rocking as long as I want on these heavenly spring days. If I were young I’d be raising kids, working for a living, and stressing my youth away. I like it better now.

I still have stress. My mother has sunk into a dark world of dementia and physical disability that is making her life miserable. I’m stressed and frustrated that there’s nothing I can do. But she’s 92. And I’m about to be 70. I figure I have about 20 more good years — well, if I’d behave myself and quit that all important three cigarettes a day and my caffeine addiction. But, what the hell, gotta’ have some fun and if I don’t have cancer yet, I may never get it. Surely it would have killed me by now if it was going to. I’ve been tempting it since I was about 15.

(Don’t write me about how I need to quit. I know. But I don’t want to, and one of the most important things to me about enjoying my old age is doing just exactly as I please. Your pleas for my health will fall on deaf ears).

Looking back on the storms of my younger life and the self that stayed in a constant state of crisis — this ain’t half bad. I’m not sure I’d change places with a 35-year-old and go through all that muckiness and seasoning again. And I am. Seasoned. Well-seasoned. I know stuff by instinct that I completely missed as a younger woman. I know my life is in its autumn. But I don’t mind.

In fact, it may be better than it’s ever been.

Every day, I get up and decide what I want to do that day — except for tending to my mothers’ needs and we are fortunate enough to have caretakers for her. Every day is a possible adventure for hubs and me. We can go and do exactly what we want. Or not.

I like my life just as it is. Life at any age is what we make of it. I choose to make mine full of the things I love best and to hell with the rest.

Former print journalist, former mayor, retired law enforcement officer. Writing about politics and government along with random personal essays.

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