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Growing older: Didn’t I look forward to this age?

Posted on Monday, May 10, 2010 in Me, Mom

I’m over 40. That seems to be the sole reason why two of my four rotator cuff muscles have given out in my left shoulder. At least that’s what my doctor highlighted on a handout he printed out for me. I didn’t injure my shoulder, a couple muscles just got old and lazy. Like my left breast. It fails the pencil test and I chalk that up to age-related sloth.

I thought I’d age better. Not that my body would necessarily perform better, but that I’d be more comfortable with it. I watched my mother for clues about growing old and thought it looked pretty simple. She never complained about it.

When I was in grade school I wasn’t like the other kids who couldn’t wait to be in high school. I couldn’t wait to be in my 30s. High school didn’t look exciting at all when viewed through my sister’s experience. Life seemed to really get started in one’s 30s. After all Mom got married at age 32 and that seemed about the right time to me.

Not that I was looking forward to marriage. I thought I’d graduate, work a few years to save up for college, go to a big city for school, work some more, and then—after all that hard work—I’d get married and have some kids. It was all very hard to imagine. Twisting apple stems to determine the first initial of my future husband and counting bounces off the center pole of the ocean wave (playground equipment) to see how many kids I’d have really didn’t prime my imagination.

I think I was most attracted to the idea of responsibility of full adulthood. I didn’t have any chores to speak of as a kid and didn’t want any, but I did like the idea of being good,  hard working, responsible and selfless. For some reason when I was young, Mom never shared with me her stories of dancing and drinking in her 20s, so I really only had her roles of wife and mother to emulate.

While living in a dorm during my first year in college, I upset the young women on my floor by drawing wrinkles all over my face. I was astonished by how upset this made every one of them. They were horrified by the idea of turning 25 and here I was curious about how my face might sag. I loved the deep ruts in my grandfather’s neck. I planned to wrinkle deeply and with great character lines.

I’m sure that I fantasized about retirement more than beginning my career. My parents retired just before my senior year of high school, bought a 5th-wheel trailer, and were touring the states. That seemed like the good life to me. Much more rewarding than earning a paycheck.

I celebrated every gray hair I found on my in my 20s. I actually had them taped to colored paper which I hung on my bedroom wall. Now those are the hairs that turn orange when I regularly henna my hair.

I watched my parents hike all over Yellowstone trails—continuing on after first my brother-in-law, then my sister, then I all waited in the truck. Age didn’t seem to be the deciding factor of how much energy or stamina any of us had.

My 30s ended up being a huge disappointment. I was not happily employed. I finally had my B.A. but it didn’t seem to do anything for me. Bouts of unemployment and a few weeks on food stamps had never been part of my plan. My master’s program was a disappointing experience. And my body was rapidly gaining weight. But I thought my 40s would be better. After all that was the age when my mother’s life really began—with my birth at her age of 40.

So far my 40s have been interesting. I even got married. But marrying someone so young has really messed with my desire to get old. No matter what, I’m going to look two decades older than he does. He’ll probably turn gray in his 50s. I haven’t seen any yet. While my own gray has shown up everywhere except my eyelashes.

For a few years I shared my mother’s panic about aging causing forgetfulness. Mom was sure she was getting Alzheimer’s and did brain exercises every day. She discounted the doctors who would give her the exact same memory test as they had the year before. “Who can’t count backwards by seven? You just subtract 10 and add three.” Now that she actually has dementia both of us have relaxed. It doesn’t seem that terrible. People are willing to help out. It requires a lot of trust and resilience, but there’s still laughter and awe.

Now that I’m hitting middle age and can’t multi-task like I used to, I’ve decided that this loss is really a reminder to live in the moment rather than in the fantasy of future moments. I can live for my 40s and enjoy the youth I still have. Plus my husband is really good at reminding me to take my keys, check my wallet, etc. and I have long-term care insurance. I’m all set for retirement, but will get there later. There’s no hurry.

  1. Sis, this is a really good entry. It’s interesting looking at you through your lens because it’s very different than how I see you. For as long as we’ve been friends, I’ve thought of you as someone who’s fairly comfortable with herself overall. It’s only been in the last year or two that I’ve seen this isn’t strictly true.

    As for me, I never thought I’d reach this age, so I’m somewhat at a loss.

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