Monday, June 26, 2023
It’s tough to get old.
I pilfered that phrase wholesale from my grandmother who used to say it often enough that I’m not the only one who remembers.
Whenever she said it I would feign a sort of empathy. I knew what it was like to get older, I mean, I’ve been getting older my whole life. But I couldn’t wrap my head around what it would feel like to get old.
The thing is, she always seemed perfect to me. Every gray hair that stuck out sideways was beautiful. Every wrinkle on her hands was like tracing the route that her love took to reach us.
I would smooth her flyaway strands and marvel at how silky her hair was, wonder how anyone could think she was anything but exactly right.
I know she had aches and pains, and her wedding ring would spin on her finger while simultaneously not be able to clear her knuckle. I know she got tired more often, though judging by the fact that I used to have to chase her down the driveway as she tried to drag out a garbage pail twice her size, she couldn’t have been that tired.
I know she missed her shiny black hair. I know she would rather have been wearing a Kelly green dress and white kid gloves than her housecoat and slippers.
But this is how I remember her, in those baggy thin cotton robes, knee high stockings in slippers, blue plastic headband to keep her frizzy mop from getting into her eyes while she scrubbed dishes and our socks.
I think my empathy failed because her telling me she was getting old was like someone saying boy, it’s really a shame that Christmas isn’t going to happen anymore.
You try to imagine what the other person is thinking, but in the end it’s so preposterous that you just can’t get a mental grip on it.
Except lately, I feel like I know exactly what she meant.
Yesterday I read a Facebook post from the director of King of Kings School, the woman who hired me to teach that first year I moved to New Jersey, and who’s son was in one of those early classes I taught.
He turned 30 yesterday.
This wasn’t my first encounter with a grown up version of a kid from my class. I’ve run into a few over the years, even kept in touch with some. One girl’s mother sent me Christmas cards and photos with a little report every year until eventually we lost track of each other in all the moving.
This one turned 30, and all I could think was… wait… that kid from my class a few years ago?
How I could possibly have had a kid in my class who is 30 since I’m 30, right?
A little dawning realization that I may have gotten older while I wasn’t looking.
Keep in mind that I was about six drinks in when I read that and everything seems a lot more fraught six drinks in.
Math doesn’t work when it comes to age. It’s like it gets sucked into the quantum realm and suddenly everything you think you know doesn’t add up. 30 years old. This kid. This little tiny kid who liked to paint tigers.
How the quacking duck did that happen?
Instead of crying, which I kind of did anyway because nobody was looking, I kept telling myself how proud I should be of myself, that I have accomplished all these things in my life, that this kid-not-a-kid remembers my class and still talks about how much he loved it and that it influenced him to pursue his own creative passions.
I should stand by my age, well worn perhaps, but, you know, Velveteen rabbit and all, so loved.
It didn’t work.
Fortunately, I am at a place in life where I know the difference between fraught brought on by real life and fraught brought on by six drinks. So I slapped myself around a little and told myself to get over it because by the morning it wouldn’t matter.
And I was right. Mostly. I mean, it didn’t go away. But I can ignore it when I have defenses. Because I have to write client blogs and do something about dinner even though I have no idea what.
Still, that phrase walked around with me today, every time I passed a mirror and saw the crinkles in my chin that were never invited. Every time I got up from my beanbag chair with a grunt as I worked the kinks out of my knees.
I don’t bound out of bed anymore, I creak. If I had to go out dancing until 3AM I’d need to be brought home on a stretcher and rehydrated like a shriveled grape. I’m much more likely to need an afternoon nap.
Thoughts are far more likely to slip out of my head than off my tongue.
And seriously, what IS it with the wrinkles on my hand? I didn’t scrub a fraction as many socks as my grandmother, so I have no idea where they came from.
It’s tough to get old. I completely empathize.
It’s a shame that our years of getting older never overlapped. Sometimes I really want to look at that beautifully lined face, into eyes crinkled by years of so much joy that it wrote itself all over her skin, and say yep, it sure is. And then we’d talk about our sore wrists for a while and look at old pictures of ourselves not wearing housecoats and sweat pants, and I’d smooth down her flyaway hair and she’d smooth down mine and we’d tell each other we were perfect just as we are.
And for a minute, we’d believe it.
Photo: me and grandma on my wedding day, minus the housecoat and headband. Still beautiful.