Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting old. When I turned 40 back in March, I didn’t feel particularly ancient, didn’t get depressed about my best years being behind me, and didn’t have a crisis. But for the past couple of months I’ve been hyper aware of the changes I’m seeing in myself and wondering what’s to come. If I live to be 107 like I plan to, I’ve got a lot of years of change ahead of me. I think the biggest influence in putting me in this frame of mind is spending time with our older relatives, both my trip to Charlotte with Mom at the end of June and the more recent family reunion on Mr. Karen’s side. I see up close how our older relatives are doing, and it scares me a little—and none of them are particularly old for their ages, either. I see them moving more slowly, and thinking less quickly, and being slightly more confused than they were when I first met them, and know that eventually that will be how I am, too.
I’d much rather get old than die young, sure, but that doesn’t mean I look forward to losing my ability to race around and make snap decisions that turn out to be right more often than not. I don’t relish the thought that someday I’ll be the one who’s frustrating other people with my inability to keep up physically or mentally. Even if I’m not annoying the people around me, they’ll still have to change what they’re doing to accommodate me and my diminished capacities. I’ll be the weak link. I don’t want to be the weak link.
My mother in law gave us a scare the last time she and Dale were visiting. She got up in the middle of the night and reached for what she thought was the door handle of the guest room. She tugged, and the door didn’t open, so she tugged harder, and pulled the bookcase next to the door over—she’d grabbed hold of it instead of the door. Fortunately, despite the who knows how many pounds of books that came tumbling off the shelves, she was only bruised and not broken, but it frightened us all. I felt like a really deficient hostess. Mr. Karen and I try to think of what will make our guests’ visits safe and pleasant. We put a night light in the bathroom and set up an extra rack for towels and put up a hook on the closet door (since the guest room closet is my fabric stash warehouse, there’s no room to hang clothes in it). If the guests are young, we remove breakables and potentially dangerous chemicals to what we hope are inaccessible locations. But we never considered the bookcases a danger. No one else who’s slept in that room has had trouble with them, including Joan and Dale on earlier visits. Was it just bad luck, a fluke, or a sign that she’s getting too old to do another thing she used to do with no trouble? It’s hard to know. How many years do I have before I can’t see well enough to get to the bathroom at night without help? Twenty-five? Thirty? Science has made all sorts of new things possible, but I think people will still have to pee regularly for the rest of my lifetime.
(An aside: The bookcase incident illustrated again how good the earplugs I use are, since I completely missed the crash and only woke up because Mr. Karen turned on a light before he went to see what had happened. If I’d had my glamorous sleep mask over my eyes, I’d probably have slept through the whole thing. Given that I didn’t wake up when the transformer in our neighborhood blew the day we left for the reunion, either, I hate to think what any baby of mine would have had to do to get my attention for the 2 o’clock feeding—learn to use an airhorn, I guess.)
I also wonder how long we’ll be able to live in our two-story house. Sure, my mom manages her steps, and she’s got arthritis in her knees. But I remember Grandma Bess tumbling down those stairs and fear it’s only a matter of time before Mom does the same. Dale’s study is in the basement of their ranch condo, and he injured his thumb grabbing for the railing when he slipped on those stairs. Surely it’s not something I need to worry about right this minute, though my knees periodically remind me that I’m not getting any younger, especially the right one, which I tweaked at a little ski area next to Lake Tahoe some years back (the view was great; the snow, not so much).
I don’t mind the grey hair and wrinkles, the surface signs of aging, all that much. Sure, I’d rather be raven-haired and unlined, but it’s not that important. It’s the functional stuff that bothers me— my periods being harder to manage, sleeping not being as easy as it once was, the creaks and aches that show up more and more often. My biggest motivator for getting in shape this time is a desire to feel better and set myself up to age as gracefully as I can. That’s a change from my younger years, when it was all about looking better. Now, looking better will be a nice side benefit, with feeling better and being able to do more, more easily, being the main goal. There’s no reason I can’t be stronger entering my next decade of life than I was for this one.
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