“One foot on the brake and one on the gas, hey…”
– I Can’t Drive 55, Sammy Hagar
I turned one of those ages that end in a five today so I guess that means I should write something contemplative and replete with Deep Thoughts because, as such, it is a significant year.
Truth be told, I don’t really like getting older all that much. I’m supposed to hide that and instead pump myself up about the wisdom of age, caring less about what others think, gaining clarity on what matters – and that is all true and all appreciated – but I can’t pretend that I like the palpable feeling of time being in shorter supply.
I feel I should take a moment here to say that if you came here hoping for some rah-rah-rah aging rules stuff, this won’t be it.
I am at an age now that I first remember my grandmother being and at the specific age when my mother started going steeply downhill. The fact about my grandmother is just an observation; the one about my mother, though, that keeps me up at night. (Oh, plus I probably have to pee no matter what time I cut off beverages the night before, another injustice and indignity of aging.)
The good news? It often surprises me in a positive way that I am this age-that-ends-in-five. I don’t feel old, though that was always my impression of those who are this age until I was staring down the barrel of it myself. I am as fit as I’ve been in a long time. Often I hear myself giggle and it sounds pleasantly childlike to me. My spirit is strong, my health is good, I haven’t had as much as a sniffle in more than years. All good.
I can’t deny that there are weird pops and cracks when I move these days, especially when I first get out of bed. Sometimes my joints hurt randomly and I can’t blame it on exercise. (And what is going on with my knee anyway?) If someone famous is under, say, 35, chances are more than likely that I have no idea who they are and I am fine with that for the most part but also thinking I may be out of touch. I think of 40 as young now and my instinct is to refer to full-grown adults in their twenties as “kids” but I am a little too vain for that. My eyesight, never great, is full-on Velma Dinkley ridiculous at this point. Not that long ago, I wouldn’t start thinking about dinner until 7:00 but more recently, I’ve discovered that I like eating dinner during early bird hours in part because I sleep better that way. Speaking of, in the old days, I would flop on a bed-like surface at 3:00 in the morning, straight from a bar or party with cigarette smoke still trapped in my hair, and bolt up for school or work at 7:00 AM, shower, and be fresh as a daisy. I’d rise like a phoenix who’d never crashed and burned, skin like a soft shield of freaking alabaster, the metabolism of a hummingbird, bouncy as a trampoline, good to go. Today, if I go to sleep after 11:30 PM or eat something with too much salt, sugar or excess of whatever, I will pay the price for daaaays.
So there are signs that the one-time Manic Pixie Girl qualifies for AARP but, whatever.
The fact of the matter is there is more life behind me than in front of me, and even if I do live to an impressively old age, those latter years are not necessarily ones I am clamoring to experience. It is not lost on me, though, what an amazing privilege it is that is denied to so many through no fault of their own, this growing older thing, this looking back at an impressive spool of years behind you and this knowing factors into everything I’ve written here, even if it is a little bittersweet.
I’d much rather grow old than not.
. . .
Despite the fact that I have a bit of what I will just call age dysmorphia – in my mind’s eye, I am at least 20 years younger than my actual chronological years – in some ways, I am painfully aware of being an easy roommate to the Golden Girls and pictures of nice, flowy kaftans are whispering sweet nothings to me in a way I never would have thought possible. “Put me on, Marla. I am made for you.” How can it be this many years since I climbed trees with skinned knees and played Charlie’s Angels with my besties from the block into dusk? Since I sat with my grandmother at her little kitchen table and measured vanilla, since making prank calls at sleepover parties? Since platform heels and mosh pits? The clichés of getting older are kind of like the clichés of falling in love: Cringe-worthy in their triteness but bizarrely accurate.
I used to roll my eyes when I’d hear seniors say that their lives went by in a flash but I understand that sentiment so viscerally now – wasn’t my son a toddler just a couple of years ago at most? – which is why I am intent on savoring and extracting as much as possible. No matter one’s age, there are no promises. I know with the last couple of years and my husband’s close call before that, anything can happen. We can eat all our vegetables, keep everything on the verboten list far from our lips, wear our bike helmets and seat belts, stay well-hydrated, get in our 10,000 steps a day, cultivate great relationships, Blue Zone the ever-loving crap out of our lives and shit can still happen, you’d better believe it. We are deluding ourselves if we think that adding ground flax to our smoothies is going to keep an errant car from doing irreparable harm to our bodies but stacking things in our favor is still beneficial.
. . .
Fifty-five January 25ths ago (yes, I’m done with being coy if the quote at the start didn’t tip you off), I was born in Chicago’s most legendary snowfall and my mother and I were snowed in to Weiss Hospital for two weeks. Family legend has it that my grandfather spent a whole day trekking to the hospital to visit us – though he lived in the city, the roads were socked in and impassable for a while – and when he got there, he correctly identified me from the other side of the glass among a riot of other blizzard babies as being his granddaughter. Papa Nate and I always had a special bond. I was basically born in a snowglobe. It is not lost on me that we did not have snow in Chicago this year until nearly January, the latest measurable snow on record for the city.
Despite it being the natural confetti of my birthday, I am not a fan of snow. I have slipped on ice and lost keys in snowbanks, I have shoveled many a sidewalk, scraped it off many windshields and it is the official worst when it somehow gets under the wrist of your gloves. By March, what was soft, pretty, sparkly and even majestic has been pushed by snow plows into dirty, crumbly charcoal gray heaps. I am not a fan of snow but I am a defender of it if for no other reason than a world without polar bears is one I don’t want to contemplate. And I am also here to defend coral reefs, water tables, soil health, air quality, communities at risk and the animals who were born with bodies that can suffer only to end up tortured and eaten.
It’s kind of perfectly on brand for me to take on the task of helping the atmosphere create more freaking snow but you know what? All of us working together for some time can do this. We can do this. There were polar bears when I came into the world that day when the skies tore open and snow fell out and out and out in January, 1967 – oh, they would have been in snowy heaven, even diving into Lake Michigan in Chicago – and there damn well will be polar bears when I leave it, many more than today, finger crossed, because I just don’t want to think that we suck that bad.
I’m 55 and I have so much to do. This is my lament. It is also my challenge.
Maybe this is all to say that the worst part of aging for me isn’t so much the weird pops and aches but the fact that I honestly love this purposeful life I’ve built, so getting older swirls with both sadness and pressure. Gratitude, yes, so much, but those other things as well.
Happy birthday to me. Let’s do it.
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