May 22, 2011

Aging In Place

Sometimes I think we are all just Pez in a Donald Duck Pez dispenser, waiting for that duck head to pop open and make it our turn. Our turn for what? Our turn to be the oldest in the family, the matriarch, the person who gives wise advise, or our turn to be the one who needs care.

Informally, I’m already the matriarch as my mother – who has vascular dementia – is increasingly unable to fulfill that role. How can one possibly prepare for aging?

Last week something happened that made me feel like I am indeed getting older. While visiting my son out East, I rode the subway all over the city. One evening after helping my son move to a new apartment, I grasp a handhold and looked off into space, contemplating my aching muscles and feet from carrying boxes of books and other college paraphernalia.

A young woman – perky and fit in her twenties was sitting next to me.“Would you like my seat, Ma’am?, she said, ever so kindly.

My mouth gaped open wide like a fish in Finding Nemo and I said briskly, “No, thank you.”

A tiny moment in time, in a sea of people, but one moment that has made me think all week about my past and my future. Indeed I am getting older; indeed if we are breathing, we are all getting older. And it’s damn better than the alternative.

My dear friend's mother (whose name happened to be Bea) always said, “You girls cannot imagine how quickly time flies, especially as you grow older.”

I remember thinking, how can that be? High school just seemed to crawl by. When would I be old enough to drive? To go to college? To drink legally? To have my own apartment?

I was in such a mad rush all the time to make things happen.Bea was right. Now that I want it to slow down, the world is rushing by. Wasn’t I just a bride, yesterday? Wasn’t I laughing with my bridesmaids when my uncle walked in the changing room, accidentally, when we were all in our underwear? Wasn’t it last evening when my groom and I danced to Just the Way You Are as the first dance at our reception?

I swear it was just yesterday that my son was born, wheeled into my room by a nurse in his little plastic cart. The nurse looked as me as if I was supposed to know what to do. I had no clue. I talked on the telephone while he lay bundled up in blankets that looked like a Native American sling. He slept a lot early on, which is good since I had to learn mothering. His father, however, knew immediately how to care for him.

Now I want to slow the world’s rotation down, to savor in those little moments because I know they will not last. As I watch my friend’s parents die one by one, as I see my husband mourn the loss of both his dear parents, as I see friends lose husbands and lovers to unexpected heart attacks and cancer, I know nothing lasts forever.

I am so aware of how blessed I am to have two parents and one husband.

I see my son becoming a man, his friends starting careers and marrying and having children. I watch my nieces and nephews assume different roles in the family, and my husband and I step into the background at events, sitting with the older people.

While I try to mask what is happening with Sudden Change eye serum and lip-plumping lipstick, life goes on.

The age spots are still there, under the Clinique foundation. Prince William and my dear husband have a few things in common, grace, beautiful eyes, and a monk’s spot on top of their heads. While I see the bald spot, I also still see the twenty-year-old boy who jumped up and down on my roommate’s bed one morning singing Dion’s The Wanderer with his own special lyrics.

Maybe next time I’m offered a seat, I’ll take it and be gracious. We have no choices about our time here; most of what we get is luck and genetics. So maybe I’ll relax a little more and remember the song from La Cage aux Folles, The Best of Times is Now.

The best of times is now.
What's left of Summer
But a faded rose?
The best of times is now.
As for tomorrow,
Well, who knows? Who knows? Who knows?
So hold this moment fast,
And live and love
As hard as you know how.
And make this moment last
Because the best of times is now,
Is now, is now.
Now, not some forgotten yesterday.
Now, tomorrow is too far away.
So hold this moment fast,
And live and love
As hard as you know how.
And make this moment last,
Because the best of times is now,
Is now, is now