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Friday, June 24, 2011

Old Age: A Field Guide

This week, between my parents' celebration of their 49th wedding anniversary and a visit from my mother-in-law, I had to finally face up to all of my fears about aging. When I was a little girl, in single-digits, I couldn't wait to be older, well, by older, I meant somewhere between old enough to live on my own, but young enough to look fabulous - so, 21 years old, or somewhere in that neighborhood.

Being young, well, you just can't beat it, at least for some things. When you're young and say something moderately intelligent, you're a genius. You're all potential - untapped, raw, and powerful. You are clever, but not in that cold and calculating way that us older people are. And if it seems like I'm raining on the Young People parade, well, I am, but that's only because I've caught a glimpse of the future and it's a bit scary. For all that I've read and experienced in the years before I was thirty, for all of the places I've been and people I've seen in this great big world, I'm scared that as I enter the seventh and eighth decades of my life, my world will only get much smaller. Out there, at a point in the future, concerns about the cab ride over to Gatwick from Heathrow for that trip to the Canary Islands will be replaced with a vague feeling that I can't remember my name or what year it is or which house is mine. Old age is some deeply scary &%#*!!

And so this week, as I found myself listening as Mom and Dad related the wonders of the 4:30pm seating at the Borgata dinner buffet, I started thinking about growing old. Will my husband and I be as thrilled at getting the first seating at some casino buffet somewhere in the future as we are now about getting the 8:00pm seating at Restaurant Eve? Will we be as giddy at a dollar store as we are now scanning the racks of Nordstrom? Will we keep our home at 75 degrees Fahrenheit and complain about how cold it feels?

We spend such an awful lot of energy just trying to make it to old age, but I don't think that we've ever really thought about what we'll do when we get to that magical, aged "there."  So, I'm doing just that right now. Here is the I'm Just Saying Field Guide for Old Age, Or Those Contemplating Old Age:

  1. Don't retire - What do people most like to talk about when you first meet? Their jobs and their families. From CEOs to stay-at-home moms, we are what we do, and we love to talk about what we do. It defines us, for better or worse, so why stop? Also, it's a great way to pass the time, stay social, and keep your mental batteries charged.
  2. Forget Florida and Think NYC - Unless you lived in Florida or Arizona or Nevada or whatever other Old People Mecca before you reached retirement age, then don't move there NOW!! Go where there's stuff to do, and people to meet, like the city that never sleeps, New York, New York. At some point, when you no longer want to/should drive a car, you'll want to have easy access to public transportation and there's no better place than a major metropolitan area. You'll also have access to museums, restaurants, and other attractions that will just make life more fun.
  3. Stay High-Tech -  In the winter of 2011 my mom sent her first text message. It would also be her last. She'd been signed up for a free text messaging trial by her mobile phone company, but little did they know that my mom had a strange tech immunity which started when she retired from work some 15 years ago. Mom doesn't send emails (probably because she doesn't have an email account), Mom doesn't do online banking, and Mom doesn't surf the web on her PDA (and no, she doesn't know what a PDA is, or even the 1990s meaning of PDA). Strive to be that granny listening to your iPod while you're taking your Seniors Zumba class. Whip out your iPad while you're in the waiting room prior to your cataract surgery.
  4. Ditch the Socks and Sandals - Staying stylish is a challenge for most seniors. You may be on a fixed income and can't afford Seven for All Mankind jeans. Or you may have developed certain physical conditions which preclude trucking around in a pair of Jimmy Choo's. So while you're sipping on that coffee or tea at the Barnes and Noble at 8:00am, pick up a Vogue or a GQ to see the latest styles and then head over to Target for a less expensive alternative.
Now, I know some of these may seem unrealistic. My mother in law thought I'd lost it when I told her my brilliant New York City retirement plan - there was some mention of rent and expenses, or something along those lines. But if life is for the living, then why not live it from edge to edge, being busy and vital at every stage?? Not too many years ago I met a lovely woman named Marguerite. She was in her 90s, and after a life of marriage and children and photography, she was almost blind and living in a high rise senior apartment, but she was far from done when it came to her creative self. As her eyesight began to fail, she learned pottery and ceramics, creating a new outpouring of work. Marguerite refused to let go of the creative spark that had propelled her through her first 90 years.

But maybe Marguerite's case highlights why a lot of us really fear joining the senior citizen brigade. There are quite a few of us walking around in our 30- and 40-something bodies living smack in the middle and not along those glorious, thrilling edges. Aging forces us to confront opportunities missed and opportunities wasted and sends us out to either make it up or make peace. Old age may be scary, but I can think of something even scarier! I'm just saying:)

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