Hah! If age was just a number, how about we pick one we like, say a single digit one, and stuck with it? It might be really cool to be 7 again. Picture running barefoot in the summer grass (minus wasps and ticks) with an orange popsicle dripping down your arm. Who doesn’t remember the Pavlov’s dog call of the Good Humor truck, or halter tops minus bras (we didn’t need them at 7), lazy afternoons with paper dolls and Nancy Drew books?
Well, stop dreaming; that’s not going to happen. The truth is, knowing all the good and not so good that’s happened along the way to where we are now, would we be content at any age forever? I don’t think so.
When I thought of getting older, I set pretty low bars. I yearned to ditch the Saturday morning weeding chores. I couldn’t wait to wear the makeup I saw teen girls artfully apply and even thought, that once I grew up, my younger brothers would stop trying to get me in trouble. Well, the weeding was traded in for an entire house a mom of three needed to keep clean. Makeup became a must not a dreamy thought and, at least one of my brothers doesn’t ever tease me anymore. He died before he ever really got to live.
So much for setting goals high.
As a kid who always loved to draw, I thought I’d go to art school and become a passionate artist. Oops, I totally forgot Women’s Lib had yet to visit my house. My big idea being the next Norman Rockwell took a backseat to making sure my brother went to college. Like many households back in the day, women became teachers, nurses and/or wives instead. So, I sidestepped plans of a paintbrush in my hand and tested out my father’s theory that I should instead become a dental assistant. That idea barely lasted through one part-time job in an interminably quiet dental office.
But I digress.
What age comes down to is the fact that we all mostly want to be any age than what we are. Maybe, we think, another number might bring us another life, a better life. For me it did; actually several lives.
We all have good and bad memories of ages we’ve been. Hopefully, we’ve learned during or after each one. If I knew at 19 what I know now, I’d definitely have waited a tiny bit before being married with children. I might not have even had that first marriage, but then I wouldn’t have my amazing children that were its truest gifts. Maybe, like my youngest daughter, I would have traveled to France and Italy before being a married lady. Maybe in my 30’s, I wouldn’t have spent so much time obsessing about my big butt or hair (well, maybe that). Maybe I’d forbid family Campbell soup casseroles or nitrate ridden hot dogs, knowing how health conscious I am today. And maybe I’d begin exercising at 20 instead of 40, but then, what did we know?
Yet, here we are, wistfully wanting to be older if we are young and the reverse if we are past the age of no return. If we seriously could pick an age we’d like to stay forever, what would it be? When we still believed in Santa? When we were constantly awash in teenage angst? How about first love and its roller coaster ride? Young parenthood? How about the age your Happy Birthday was an AARP card? For every age, there’s an up and downside and you can’t skip any one of them.
Someone wrote that there is no inevitable mid-life crisis, which I kind of agree with. Crisis can happen at any age, along with thoughts about your mortality – or of those you love. We are better served reflecting not so much on the age we are but who we are. Instead of yearning for where we want to be next, or should have been before, we can adjust our sails, and accept this is the ‘precious present’. And yes, maybe that does mean we change direction, take a tuck here and there but if we’re lucky, the next age may bring a second or even third wind.
An acclaimed memoirist, Diana Althill wrote that, when facing old age, “there are no lessons to be learned, no discoveries to be made, no solutions to offer.” Huh? This is it? Well, considering the author is 93, I guess she would know a thing or two about aging. The tiny tree she bought for her backyard, which will never provide shade in her lifetime, any more than I am likely to see my youngest grandboys morph in middle age men. But, like the pleasure this English author has in just watching the seedling grow, I have in spades watching those imps lose teeth, grow taller, even, like the 14-year-old cousin, get their first after-school job.
All in all, the number I hold today is not a bad age at all, especially if I don’t pay attention to the horizon getting closer all the time. I’m old enough to have put a lot of mistakes and stupid stuff behind me, though I can’t guarantee I’m done. Hopefully, if I make any more crazy decisions, at least they won’t set anything on fire. I can still work, even in my PJs if I want to, in a career I love. Grandbabies top the list of people I love spending time with, their parents next and my friends fill up all the space around them. I have time now to pursue things I put on hold through kid-raising, empty nesting, single-momming, career growing, and caretaking my man’s cancer.
Yet, from laziness or procrastination, I still have a full bucket list without one checked off. My color pencil illustration may never have a resurgence. Unless I actually do Retorno a Italia, the language of my ancestors may still escape me. I may always be a hack photographer, and the shelves of reference books I’ve promised to dive into may forever go unread. And that ‘try a new recipe a week’ resolution? For someone suddenly cooking only for one, I’m thinking that thought was a definite overreach.
We can continue to stress about the image in the mirror, or the aches we never had before but what if we ask, as Satchel Paige did, how old we would be if we DIDN’T know how old we were? Would we be able to settle comfortably in the thought that today is the oldest you’ve ever been and the youngest you’ll ever be again? I wonder. If our lives are lived only in pursuit of the fountain of youth, we goofed. It’s what happens along the way to each next age that’s important.
Yes, I still feel alone with out my better half but that has nothing to do with age. And yes, I do cheek pull-ups at the mirror (admit it – you do, too), sometimes envisioning the facelift I’d never have. But in truth, I feel pretty okay with who and where I am right now. Make no mistake, I hate living this age, or any age, without the man I thought would share the rest of my life with me. When another milestone two-digit number arrives next year, it will smack me like a tsunami that my husband never made that age. But none of us can reverse the workings of the universe; all we can do is make the very best of our personal world.
Luis Bunuel said, “Age is something that doesn’t matter unless you are a cheese”. As a true cheese freak, that’s a thought I think I’ll stick with.
How about you?