Today is TGG’s birthday. J has been aware of this for days, and is looking forward to celebrating…mainly because we’re going out for Thai food tonight, and he can reach the calamari faster than anyone else. I think he’s also excited because of how much time he’s been spending with TGG lately; you don’t leave the house every afternoon and go to the gym together without developing a very strong bond. There is kinship that grows in those sweaty gym garments that smell so ripe they knock us off our feet when the kids come back into the house.
The kids’ exertions have paid off: they have lost over sixty pounds between them; Dada and I calculate that’s about how much we’ve absorbed. Don’t ask how. We eat exactly the same diet they eat, but we are middle-aged and there’s no need to dig much deeper. We are now part of the “did-you-take-your-glucosamine?-where’s-my-probiotic-I-think-I-have-acid-reflux-had-you-noticed-these-hairs-growing-out-of-my-ears?-oh-my-GOD!-I-cannot-believe-that-sound-came-out-of-me-what-do-you-mean-you-can’t-read-the-label?-those-glasses-are-new!-no-I-didn’t-remember-to-bring-the-discount-card-don’t-ask-your-mother-now-son-she’s-got-the-ice-bag-and-and-that’s-the-universal-hot-flash-sign” set.
Now, you might think that we are exaggerating, or that we have basically given up on “youth,” but the honest truth is that there’s no denying we are no longer in our prime. We KNOW that the general mentality is that 50 is the new thirty, and we think it’s bunk. I’m sorry, but regardless of how many hours I dedicate to honing my body to a shape that equals that it had in 1995, I will never be able to go back “there.” It’s just not possible. I can work my ass off, eat like a caveman, listen to self-help tapes that convince me of my youthful state, color my hair, moisturize, and I will STILL collapse into bed wondering WHY I was young and now I’m not.
This is not a declaration of surrender. This is merely an acceptance of fact. While the kids are bouncing around full of energy and elasticity, ours are both depleted and we can only shake our heads and wonder at all the time we wasted not using them. We can still do a lot -don’t think we don’t know this- but the days when we could do it all with impunity are gone. I will ride the bike and pedal like I did when I was eight, but the other forty-one years will happily plunk down on top of me as soon as I crawl into bed at night; aside from that, if I fall from that bike NOW, I will be sore, and possibly more seriously hurt, than I would have been 41 years ago. The days of “oh, just clean it and slap a band-aid on it” are past. We now get the “where did you get that scratch? I have no idea!!!” interaction on a weekly basis, and gardening requires access to arnica and Tiger Balm.
I am not envious of youth, and I feel nostalgia for only parts of it. Would I want to do high school all over again knowing what I know now? No, not at all. I wouldn’t dream of voluntarily throwing myself into dating, partying, being weighed down by peer pressure. When my first marriage broke up I was 33…the prospect of being single horrified me because I wasn’t good at male/female interactions when I was younger, and I was pretty sure I’d lost what little touch I might have had in the thirteen years that had elapsed since. Dada and I were a perfect match because we were familiar with each other, and had always had great ease in being together and being ourselves. Getting old together is just another thing we have in common, and another thing we’re keeping a sense of humor about…we have to!
On Wednesday, TGG had a job interview for a position at another hospital. This was the same day he started his first vacation in two years. It went well, and he was happy and relaxed in the afternoon when I told him I was going for my walk, and I’d be waiting for J’s bus on the corner if he wanted to join me. A while later, I turned around hearing footsteps behind me, and there was TGG. I saw his face go from a wide smile to a look of surprise and confusion.
My first reaction to this is to ask myself “did I leave the house with the wrong shoes again?,” or “did I forget to put pants on?” (The shoe thing has happened before; the pants thing, thankfully, not yet.) TGG approached and said “what happened to your HAIR?????” I thought to myself that maybe I had (as I have had in the past) more hair accessories on than needed; I’ve been known to clip my hair up in several places because it keeps “wisping” out on me. I touched my head…nothing! I then realized I didn’t have my hat on, and shrugged: I forgot my hat, I said. “But your hair is SO WHITE!!!!!!!!!!”
TGG was aghast. He looked at me as if suddenly, in this natural light that we seldom interact in, he had realized his mother is old. Watching that DVD of old home movies a few weeks ago didn’t really help; he had suddenly witnessed his mom as a toddler who sat wide-eyed and happy for a camera, who danced in a goofy way when invited to, who rode a hobby horse, and who owned a red velocipede and a pedal car. Confronted with his gray-haired, middle-aged, near-sighted, wrinkled mother was -I suppose- a shock to him.
“You should see Dada’s chest! He looks like Badger Man! with that pattern of gray and black chest hair he has now. It’s quite funny!,” I said. TGG got closer and started looking through my mop of unruly feathers, and I added “see those hairs that look redder and lighter than the others?” He nodded while continuing his inspection. “Those are next, pal. Those are the next ones to go totally white.” There were choice words then…he was shocked, appalled, surprised, agog, awed, horrified. It had never crossed his mind, it seems, that we might be aging. “I thought, when I saw you as I walked down, that maybe you were baking and you put your flour-covered hand on your head, or something.” (This has happened, I confess. I have often ruined an effort at sophistication by being very much my clumsy, forgetful self.)
So, yes, we know that fifty is the new thirty, and we’re committed to being as fit, healthy and optimal as we can be…but we are in no way deluding ourselves into thinking the clock will turn back just because we take our glucosamine and probiotics, or simply because we still feel “twenty” on the inside. Our hearts and minds are in the right place, even if we need to remind ourselves of what we came into the room for at least twenty times a day. The husk, sadly, is deteriorating on schedule, and it’s fine…at least we’re rotting and rusting and falling apart together.