While being busy in retired life, as you can see from my lack of posts in the last several months, I have been reflecting a lot about “getting old”. It happens quite a bit in my age group, which is natural. After walking the planet for over sixty years one finds oneself stuffed with lots of memories from the past, while one’s body lacks the energy and stamina of one’s youth.
In childhood every adult and teenager was old and I could not wait to get older. In my teens, it was the same thing. I wanted to rush into adulthood as soon as possible. Somehow that meant freedom, but little did I or others my age think of the responsibilities freedom would bring. Thirty was old. The saying in my teens was: “Don’t trust anyone older than 30.” Forty was ancient and beyond that, my mind would just not go there.
As I bordered thirty at the age of 29, I became a mother. I broke the tradition of two generations of my family that had children in their early thirties. I was of the generation where women’s lib pushed women to find themselves in a career. Stay home mothers were and still to this day scorned by many of the feminists. I wanted children, but financially not working was not a good option. Where my mother was a stay at home mom as most of her generation, I like many in mine went off to work. It was hard thing to do. While I enjoyed a very rewarding career, I missed out on what I would ultimately find to be most precious.
Thirties, to my welcome surprise, was far from being old. Being in one’s thirties still meant youth with the added benefit of having some wisdom under one’s belt, that was lacking in one’s twenties. But now I was now working with younger people that did not have the same “generational memories” I had. At first this was not too apparent until one day while working with another designer, I made the unfortunate remark that it was “Howdy Doody Time” . This remark was greeted by a blank stare. She said she did not recall the TV show that I had referenced. Didn’t everyone remember Howdy Doody? Well apparently not. I asked what year she was born. She said she was born in 1960, nine years after me! She had missed fifties television. This was the first signal that I was getting old. Ten years later I the opportunity to witness what had happened to me, that first time of feeling old, would happen to her. Another designer did not respond to a memory she had. She, of course, asked what year he was born, which turned out to be 1970. Oh, karma!
But still forty meant being old, and well, fifty was out of the question. I remember finding a greeting card that was targeted to someone turning forty. It said: “Congratulations on turning 40. Just think in ten years this will look good!” Forty was still a ways off, but it was not long before forty danced at my door. It hit without too much impact. I still felt young oddly enough. I was still doing the same things. A somewhat older and wiser woman greeted me in the mirror, but she still lacked the ravages of a really old person. At least that is what I told myself. My body still worked without much effort. But fifty was still inconceivable.
But like it or not, fifty happened. Gravity, which does not sleep, was working on my body as well as lack of estrogen. My mother, God rest her soul, consoled me with stories about being in one’s fifties. She said fifties for her were great. She said it was like getting a second wind and in some ways she was right. I did have a second wind. I got married again just before my 50th birthday. My new husband and I had lots of fun, we traveled, and worked on our new home. However, after my mother’s positive statements of being in one’s fifties, it ended in that warning of “but sixty.” A phrase that would linger in my head for nine years.
At 59, the “but sixty” would chime in my head like a loud bell. My career was definitely winding down. Although I was still getting small raises, good reviews and survived many layoffs, the focus was obviously on the youth. I as many others my age, were overlooked on special projects. Many in my age group started to feel targeted by their bosses. The climate had definitely changed. The pressure and workload increased which in turn effected my health. Long hours, working with people that knew less, many that were totally clueless who looked at older people as if they were mentally retarded, took the wind out of my sails. Some literally had the gall to talk down to me as well as others in my age group. It was unsettling. Fifty-nine was the doorway to “but sixty,” It was the depressing look of the spiral down hill.
Sixty hit like a hammer. I was now officially really old, at least by career standards. Although my mother was still living at the age of 92, she was now in a nursing home in a wheel chair with short term memory loss. When in ones forties and fifties, when asked one’s age, one can say that they can’t bear to say the “F” word. I supposed you can say I can’t bear to say the “S” word, but it still makes one really old as it spans into one’s seventies.
My peers at work were all but disappearing. Work was becoming a lonely place. Many on my staff were in their thirties and we did not relate. I was like the leper that they would leave behind. The designer that sat next to me was born the year I started my career in greeting card world. At 60 I had worked there for 38 years. I wondered how many more different kinds of snowmen could I come up with. Even though coming up with new and different salable product was my forte, the hey day of greeting cards was over. The greeting card business is shrinking. The world once again is changing. So was I.
But 60 brought something else! My son and his wife were now expecting! The promise of a new young soul joining our family. A brand new door lay on the horizon!
At 61, with the blessing of my financial adviser, I retired the day after my grandson was born. Thirty nine years, just one year short of Moses’s journey through the desert. I wanted to see the promise land of retirement while I could still enjoy it!
My husband and I both watch my grandson three days a week, and it has been an absolute JOY! Being a grandmother is the best part of getting old! It is the silver lining! It is the dessert! I get to slow down and take notes, where as a parent, life was too hectic to do so. It is like a reprieve, a second chance to be there to love and mentor this precious young sweet little soul.
In April, after along Cleveland winter and months before my 62nd birthday, I got the chance to introduce my grandson to my mother, his great-grandmother, in the nursing home. My mother was 94. It was one of her better days. She smiled and said,”He looks terrific!” She passed away a month later just before Mothers Day. My position in the family went from old one to ancient one. All the ancient ones of my parents generation in the family were gone.
I will be 63 soon. Yes, my body is getting creaky. I like many others my age have knees that don’t work as well; that hate kneeling on any hard surface. I have “old lady arms” that I don’t see in the mirror but are unavoidable in photographs. Those are only a few of the somewhat gloomy highlights of getting old.
But on the bright side, I am busy at what gives me joy. I still design at my leisure. I even sell my artwork at shows which keeps me busy enough. But the biggest joy is playing with my grandson. Nothing is sweeter. Yes, he totally wears my older body out, but nothing compares to the rewards. Maybe this is the secret of blessings of what old age brings.
In youth, old age meant a body falling apart in decay with death as its partner. Most likely that is why we could not and would not have any desire to comprehend it. But then, we missed comprehending that there was anything else.
But if we are lucky, really lucky, old age can give us the silver lining too. We get grandchildren. We get the sound of the patter of little feet that comes to greet us bringing big smiles worn on cherubic faces. We get those little arms that hug us with so much love that our hearts melt with joy. Riches beyond what is material, because at this age we know the material is not that important.