I never thought about growing old until I began noticing that people around me were looking younger and younger. When one of them actually called me “ma’am”, I looked around to see who he was talking to – it couldn’t have been me. Well, it was and that was the start of an emerging relationship between my mental and physical selves. You see, I never acknowledged myself as growing old and I had settled into an age that reflected my mental state rather than physical. Apart from the maturing and growth processes, I am the same person I always have been – just a bit smarter and wiser (I hope), a bit less anxious to get everything right and a bit more relaxed.
Not that I have ever had a Type A personality, far from it; but I had a job to do, two sons to raise and a ton of responsibility that I had to face. Meanwhile, the years passed, my hair started turning gray (under my highlights and color), I gained weight more easily, muscles began to relax (as well as my skin) and the person in the mirror began looking older each time I came face to face with her.
When I was very young, I read a little book about an old lady called Mrs. Pine. She lived in a little cottage with a little white picket fence in a little storybook neighborhood. She was short and stout with white curly hair. She was very kind and was like a grandmother to all of the neighborhood children and she always made time to talk with them and bake them cookies. That became my image of how I wanted to be in old age. And now, I can’t figure out how to get there from here and if I even want to. It’s funny how ideas hang in the background for so long.
There are a ton of clichés about growing old: grow old gracefully, mind over matter, better than the alternative, and so on. Victor Hugo said “Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.” Poets have a way with words, but none of that really helps, does it? How do I transition into old age? How do I go from the youth of old age to actually being old? How do I make peace with my aging self and do it gracefully without succumbing to the alternative?
My granddaughter, who is nine, was telling us a few weeks ago that she would never get married. We told her she didn’t have to but she would change her mind many times before she becomes an adult. She then came to me and said, “Nana, you have a happy life. I will just get a dog – and a cat”. This startled me into thinking. First, how sweet she is to notice her unmarried grandmother’s life; but more importantly, what messages am I sending to her and how can I be a good role model? She already sees me as old, I am sure, so that leaves the more important characteristics. I want to be an example of how to stay involved, active, spiritual, linked in, kind, adventurous, funny and wise.
The reality of aging is far more than the pain in my knee that flares up more frequently; the aches in my hands after weeding the flowerbeds; and the wrinkles that are being grooved into my skin. It is about life and making myself better as each day passes and contributing to something greater than myself. It is about being comfortable in my own skin and showing my granddaughter that growing old does not mean becoming obsolete.
So, I have answered my own question on how to grow old. I will just give it my best shot, try to be a good role model, enjoy life and be happy that I can move into old age, hoping the alternative doesn’t happen for some time. As the Italians say: Cent’ Anni – May you live to be 100!