As a child, I couldn’t wait to get older.  As I reached each age milestone, more privileges were granted and I’d be more independent.  My older brother would be allowed to “do more things”, but when I asked to do that same thing (like stay up later), I was told I was “too little”.  It made me think – at times – that being a child was a “lower life form” that I’d hopefully “outgrow” when I grew up.  So – when I was asked what my age was, I’d say “8 1/2” rather than “8” just to increase my age closer to the next higher digit – and maybe I’d be granted that privilege sooner.  It’s no different in college when kids count the days until they turn 21 where even more “adult privileges” are extended.

Yet – there was a dichotomy going on at the same time.  When I was about 13 years old – I can’t remember for sure – I remember my mother talking to an elderly lady after church one Sunday.  All four of us kids were hanging there, too – waiting to be taken home.  The woman was grouchy, negative, and spent the entire conversation – – if you could call it that (she monopolized it) – – complaining about “young people today”, their bad morals, their rudeness and bad manners, and on and on.  It was clear that this woman wanted my mom’s ear, hoping that Mom would instill these values she thought were so lacking into the four of us.  But – we were standing around, listening, too – a captive audience – and I think this elderly woman wanted that, as well.   However, we were probably too impatient to listen all that intently.  Through some well placed, though subtle, eye rolls (yep – probably bad manners!), we begged my mom to “wrap it up”, so we didn’t “lock up the church” (be the last ones to leave) for yet another Sunday.  Finally we got to leave, and I realized later that even my mom felt worn down by the negativity of the conversation.

This woman was dowdy.  It was probably the early 1960’s, but her dark, drab colored dress was more than likely something that was in fashion in the 1940’s.  She wore a black Sunday hat – one that had this black lace thingie that shielded her eyes from direct view.  Her black laced up heels were even more dowdy and very clunky long before that became fashionable (or fashionable again?).

On that day, I vowed that when I got “old”, I’d never be like that.  I told myself I’d not remain stuck in the clothing styles of the “older generation”.  I’d work hard to refrain from negativity about the younger generation, and, even if I didn’t like it, I’d try to understand how they viewed the world.  I never wanted be “stuck” in a previous generation.  This experience has remained with me since the day it happened.

I wanted to “grow up”, but I never wanted to be “old”.

Fast forward to early adulthood.  Even in my 20’s, I felt like a teenager, but loved being an adult.  Age 30 rolled around and I think it was then when I realized that I was an adult, WITH adult responsibilities.  Our son was born when I was 29, and I had to put aside the belief that I could be a perpetual teenager.  It was kind of sad, though joyous, too.

Each decade milestone brought more realizations that the world was getting younger, and I was only aging.  I had fewer problems with the actual decade birthdays (30, 40, 50), and more trouble with the midway points.  Somehow they reminded me that the next decade was not too far away, and I’d have to “prepare”.  How I prepared – I do not know.  I guess it’s just an acceptance that would happen.  Yet – I wonder if I have spent many years burying my head in the sand because I am now age 60, and it has hit me like a ton of bricks that somehow my young adult and middle age years have quickly slipped by, and I am now in the last third of my life – that is – if all goes as planned as far as age projections.

The catalyst for these feelings has not only been reaching a certain age, but the events of our life that have transpired during this last decade.

First of all, Ray retired in 2001, so we have left the work world.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s nice – but it’s also a reminder that we’ve entered the next stage of our lives  Our son is also on his own, is married and we are often the last on his list of persons to talk with or visit.  It’s what 20 and 30-somethings often do, as they forage their own lives.  I admit – I did that, too….  I did not see, nor understand the feelings our parents may have had about us “leaving the nest”.  Yet – I am also truly enjoying the freedoms and new opportunities that come from the empty nest.  Our snowbird lifestyle is possible because we have the freedom one doesn’t have when there are children to raise.

Also – little medical things have crept into our lives:  Ray’s kidney stones, my “bad knee”, and diverticulitis. When I was young, I used to go to the doctor, and was quickly in and out.  I expected them to find nothing wrong – and they didn’t.  I can’t now, though…  Each time I have a doctor’s appointment, I am beginning to expect they’ll find something:  high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol.  I’ve had debilitating rashes, and my heart has been checked because they thought they noticed “something” (thankfully it was nothing).  I used to take my health for granted and assumed my body would not fail me.  Now it’s not a sure thing.

On top if this, Ray and I have watched our parents’ decline.  In particular, watching my inlaws “slow deaths” was one of the most difficult experiences we have had.  Dementia, hearing loss, blindness, physical impairments, and inability to get around, nor take care of simple life’s functions slowly engulfed their lives from about 2002 until their deaths in 2008 and 2009.  Each spent a total of 3 years in a nursing home with 3 more years with home-health aides.  I remember visiting them in the nursing home, and, even though this was a good facility, I was always relived to be able to walk out, get in my car and go home.  Yet, I’d then be overwhelmed with sadness that they couldn’t leave.  They were trapped there, and this would be their home for the rest of their lives. 

Is this how the end will be for me?  Who can say for sure, but it does end that way for many.  Lately we are hearing of some of our contemporaries who have passed away – or have become quite ill.  My inlaws were a little less than 30 years older than I am, and that really isn’t so far away.   Time “shortens up” as you get older!  I admit it – – I dread – and fear – those upcoming years.

Maybe it was these worries that consumed that elderly lady in the dowdy clothes that burned my mom’s ear about the “younger generation”.  Maybe she was simply jealous of our family – of Mom — and of our youth.

I do know that it is time to seize the day — “Carpe Diem”!  When “time” suddenly is seen as “finite”, it is a message for me to embrace “living” like I’ve never done before, because there will come a time when there won’t be that opportunity.  I admit – I am not quite sure how I want to do that.  There is my music – my photography – but how I may choose to use those interests of mine is not yet formulated.   But, I know I cannot stall for too much longer.  Time is of the essence.  One never knows!

I continue to vow that I will work to understand the younger generation and not stay stuck in old ideas.  I realize that the complaints about “kids” are the same from every older generation – concerns about morals, rudeness, bad manners, etc.  Nothing is new under the sun.  I have confidence that each generation ultimately grows up and works through these issues in their own way.  They thrive, too, just as we have.  Yet, as I age, I see how easy it is remain in a “comfy cocoon” with “the familiar”.  I admit I now “get” the mentality of that dowdy woman from church – that sometimes the past has wisdom.  Change is clearly more difficult the older I get.  However, – I am aware of this, and try to resist the temptation.  And, as far as how I dress, I work to remain relatively current, despite being a bit overweight.  No – I will not dress like the teenagers, but I will not dress like I am back in the 1960’s, either.

And – I am letting my hair grow long.  I want it long enough to put in a pony tail and it’s almost there.  It’s a “young” style, and an odd way of burying my head in the sand about my age.  Some say it looks “wrong” on my slowly aging face.  But – it’s my last shot, and Ray likes it!  I’m loving it, too – and suspect I’ll keep it that way.

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