Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Best Kept Secret: Getting Old is Okay

                        

When I was in my twenties fresh out of college, for a few months I lived with my parents who’d left suburban Long Island when their last child, my youngest brother, went off to college. 

I think it’s the first time I was conscious of their age.  I was temporarily back home and meeting new people.  I saw them through my friends’ eyes along with my own and I saw them as old.  They were fifty.

I do remember how excited they were by all the things they could do, the opportunities that were now open to them living in the city.  My father was still working, but after work he loved trying the restaurants that until now he’d only been able to read about.  My mother, who hadn’t worked since I was born, immediately got a membership at the Metropolitan Museum, started volunteering at the local Red Cross and signed up for courses at the New York Botanical Garden.  She especially took to the city like a duck to water.  It was as if she had a new lease on life and I remember being proud of her, but I was also amused because she was “old.”

Now I’m older than they were then, but I don’t feel “old.” If I’m old, and by most definitions, I am, I’ve discovered that it’s not a bad place to be.  From the time I was a child until I went away to college, I didn’t feel like I had control of anything, let alone my future. It wasn’t much better after that.

For as long as I can remember there were people to worry about, standards to measure up to, and of course, the competitions.  I never figured out the rules to those competitions until it was too late, so I wasn’t very good at them, but I worried anyway.

For some reason, those competitions don’t matter so much anymore.  Maybe I’ve been around so long that I can see a lot of them are silly and have finally figured out that comparisons don’t usually make any sense.  I’m not sure.  What I do know is that I’m finally at the age where I don’t worry so much about what other people think and I don’t spend a lot of time comparing myself to others. 

There will always be people that are better looking, have more and by certain standards, are more successful.  But I’ve pretty much stopped judging myself by others.  I know I’m very lucky and have the life that I want to lead.

Of course bad luck or tragedy could be around the corner.  Most of us have experienced that first hand: a loved one who dies without warning, a serious illness that changes everything, or a personal disappointment.  No one is immune.  But even so, being older is the most comfortable I’ve ever been in my own skin.  Looking back I think that’s exactly where my parents were when they moved into the city.  My mother, particularly, was the happiest I ever saw her, but both my parents were excited and alive—even though they were “old.”  I think the same could be said about my husband and me and that makes us very lucky.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

UNIVERSAL ATONEMENT

My husband and I were down in the Virgin Islands on vacation last week where we took a sunset cruise.  As we looked off into the horizon and watched the sunset a conversation started with ‘what do you do.’

One of the two women I was talking to explained that she was an ex-Catholic studying to be a Methodist minister.  This led to a discussion of Lent and how we were going to observe it.  To my surprise, as a nominal Catholic, the third woman in our group, a Jew, fully participated in the conversation.  The future minister mentioned Pope Francis and his recent comment about sacrifice and what was really important about Lent.  We three ultimately agreed that some form of giving was a better way to observe Lent than giving up something we love, even if the giving up was difficult.  I’m still struggling with how, based on that philosophy, what I should do, but that’s another story.

I wouldn’t think this conversation or my thoughts on it would be right for a blog, except that like politics these days, it’s a subject that seems to be on everyone’s minds.  In my art class here in New York City, we’re a group of nine, ranging in age from thirty-seven to seventy, who are Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Protestants and agnostics, but Lent and how we observe it, or what we were going to “give up” was the conversation at my last class.  Everyone had an opinion, Pope Francis’s recent statement was mentioned, and it seemed that whether we intended to observe it or not, we all had thought about it.

I’m not sure what this seemingly universal recognition of this Christian season means.  It doesn’t happen at Christmas, where the holiday and all its trimmings are observed from afar by everyone but Christians, even if with nostalgia and pleasure.  True, there are Jews that have Christmas trees, but at least from my observation, those who do have trees are in the minority. Instead, there is an emphasis on Christmas being a Christian holiday, not a universal one. 


Could it be that in these tumultuous and stressful times that just as we find comfort in the existence of a holy man like Pope Francis who renews our hope that there is good in this world, we also find comfort in how we’re alike, not different.  No matter what our religion or belief system, I think we recognize that we all good-hearted and thoughtful people. When times are uncertain, I think we see a need to find universal truths and be prepared to sacrifice or atone with the hope that we’ll participate in making the world a better place. Or am I complicating it?  Is it simply that as a people we have far more in common with each other than we realize?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Aging in Today's Society

When I was at the gym last week in Manhattan, I overheard a personal trainer refer to his client, a distinguished looking man most likely over 70, as Buddy. I was horrified.

It reminded me of when I’d visit my father in Arizona and take him out to lunch.  It was in his last years while he still was living independently. He had been a successful Wall Street lawyer, always in command, always distinguished.  Now he was in his mid-80’s and not so distinguished and no longer with the trappings that came with his status as a successful lawyer.  Even when I struggled to help him manage the trip from the car, navigate the curb, then the walk to the restaurant entrance and then to the table, I still saw him as dignified and someone to respect.  He still had his wits about him and still had his wonderful sense of humor. He still was my father.

And then someone, the hostess or the waiter would speak to him in the same patronizing tone as that personal trainer and I’d cringe and want to lash out and correct.  Whether these people knew it or not, they are and were treating these older adults like infants or half-wits.

It also happened in the nursing home where my father spent his last months.  The highlight of that stay—in a home with an excellent reputation—was the visit from the woman who brought in the therapy dog once a week.  She spoke to the residents as adults and was respectful.  Otherwise, my father and the other residents were treated like nursery school children.   Even the tone of voice of the nurses and aids in the nursing home was that special tone that inept preschool teachers save for their most recalcitrant students.

Most of us, at least in the progressive and inclusive area where I live, make an effort to be sensitive about gender differences, sexual orientation, race and religion, but when it comes to age, so many people are tone deaf.  I considered sending an email to my gym telling them what I overheard and how offensive I thought it was, but I wasn’t sure if I was being sensitive on behalf of my father and my memories of him or myself since although I’m not as old as that man or my father, I’m no longer young.

One might say disrespect to the elderly is the least of our society’s problems in these days of turmoil. The case against ageism may not be as compelling as the one against racism or other minorities.  In fact, as boomers, we seniors are climbing into the majority. On the other hand, most of us won’t escape getting old and a society more sensitive to the reality of the elderly would, no matter what our other minority statuses, be a more tolerable and kinder place to live and age.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

TOO BUSY

                                                            

I see a trend with my peers, older women with spouses, grown children, and often grandchildren. We’re all busy.  Our days are full and, especially during the holidays, we approach each day with a long to-do list. 

I never expected this.  I thought my main concern at my age, 60-something, would be making tee times or dinner reservations.  I imagined myself sitting by a pool or in my kitchen over a cup of tea, alone and bored, wondering what to do next. 

I don’t want to be that person in the kitchen, the one who has too much time on her hands who spends her days mostly alone and in silence. But isn’t there happy medium? How did it come to be that my peers and I are so overbooked and overloaded?  Could it be just during the holidays?   Maybe.  I’m sure the holidays are why I am writing this blog on the day that it’s supposed to be posted.  If I’m lucky it will at least make the west coast deadline, but the east coast one is long gone.  The holidays, although the reason for some of the busyness, doesn’t account for the rest of the year when my head, and so many of my peers, is still filled with lists of what needs to be done and calendars full of engagements. 

One reason for my schedule is I like being busy.  The picture of the lonely woman at her kitchen table or by the side of the pool is not an accurate picture of me.  I’m social, enjoy having people in my life and have many intersts.  But as the end of the holidays approach, I ask myself when does being busy become an escape or is simply too much.

New Years is a time for resolutions.  Mine are usually to lose 10 or fifteen pounds and finish my work in progress.  This year, instead of the weight loss resolution—although continuing to be a wish seems, after all these years, kind of trite—I’m wondering if I should vow to schedule and do less.  Could there be a happy medium between sitting alone at my kitchen table nursing a cup of tea and a woman whose calendar is so full of engagements there is scarcely time for any spontaneity? 

Maybe it’s because I’m still in the midst of holiday recovery, but I’m thinking that instead of filling every day with obligations and challenges, my resolution should be to pare down what I do, learn to say no and take some alone time doing nothing.  It’s occurred to me that my head shouldn’t always be stuffed with what I need to accomplish.  There should be space for taking detours and even occasionally days of doing nothing or, heaven forbid, lunching with a friend.  


This goal is so revolutionary that I’m betting my husband, children and those who know me well, doubt I can do it. But I’m going to challenge myself to try. I think the resolution to occasionally do nothing is long overdue.  I’ll report back about my success or lack thereof.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

LOOKING BACK

The next generation in my large family, including my children, and my nieces and nephews, are having babies.  I watch their happiness, exhaustion and obsessiveness, and I remember.  In spite of it being over thirty years ago, I remember very clearly what those days were like.  What most clearly comes to mind is how I kept looking forward to the “next” stage, instead of enjoying the present.
My excuse was that, at least with my first born, I spent a lot of time alone:  I lived with my husband and baby in a place where I didn’t have friends—at least not at first—who had children.  None of my old friends did and they all worked.  My husband was at the beginning of his career so he was gone all day and often into the night.  He sometimes even had to work on the weekends.  There was a lot of alone time.
I loved my son.  He was a great baby.  But he wasn’t much company and certainly not someone I could talk to.  When he was about six months old, I did start making friends who had babies, but then we moved and I had to start over again—in December in the Northeast.  I spent the next three or four months either in the house or driving around the suburbs of New Jersey after my son woke up from his nap.  To this day I know more back roads in northern New Jersey than anyone I know.
I’m not sure if my experience would be repeated today.  The obvious solution, in hindsight, was for me to get a part time job.  Even if it were only a couple of days a week, it would have gotten me out of the house and with other adults. But thirty years ago was still a time when women were “fortunate” if they could stay home, even if they were lawyers. 
But besides getting a part time job, I’d tell myself to cherish the time I had with my son and then my twin daughters when they came along.  When I go through photographs from back then, I realize how young I was, as was my husband and even my parents and his.  We couldn’t imagine, my husband and I, life in the future when our children would be grown and gone.  But that day did come. 
Maybe that’s what being a grandparent is about:  we finally have the wisdom to enjoy the little moments and the quiet and the details of a young child’s life before they’re up and running. 

There was one additional positive impact from all that time alone.  I started writing.  Since I had no one to talk to except my infant, I started keeping a journal that morphed into a novel.  That first novel is tucked away in some draw in my office, but when it was done, I started another and then another after that. I was on my way.