“Every so often I read a book about age, and whoever’s writing it says it’s great to be old. It’s great to be wise and sage and mellow: it’s great to be at the point where you understand just what matters in life. I can’t stand people who say things like this.”
Last month, my daughter celebrated her seventh birthday, and let me tell you: Nothing makes a middle-aged woman feel more at home in the sweat-soaked country of peri-menopause like her baby turning 7.
So, yes, that’s a bit of hyperbole; I’ll be far more fossilized by the time she turns 14, and if I’m lucky, I’ll follow that milestone with many, many years to complain about my ultimate deterioration, drying out and dying off. The ailments of that future time will likely make my current situation seem quaint.
Nevertheless, it’s a terrifying barometer of aging, this realization that my child’s puberty is in closer range than her many (disgusting and seemingly endless) diaper changes. And there are plenty of other discouraging I-feel-old moments.
Like when I walked the girl to school the other day with a dryer sheet stuck to my right breast like a giant pastie. That was nice. Better, you might say, than walking her to school with the previous night’s underwear balled up in your pants’ leg like the world’s largest varicose vein. Which I’ve done. Twice.
There are, as always, the whippersnapper college kids at whom I shake my fist as they come and go in the middle of the night, the bass pounding from their tricked-out Mustangs. And there are the lead foots of the world at whom I shake my fist as they speed recklessly through my neighborhood. Inevitably, they bottom out at the dip in the intersection, and even as the blood pressure pulses in my carotid, I admit to a quiet gleefulness at the sound of metal scraping across asphalt.
Then, too, there are the hot flashes my doctor says I’m too young to have, which—note to future internists of the world—doesn’t make them go away. And there’s the new exercise-to-maintenance ratio I’m required to live by if I have any hope of hanging onto the ghost of what was once a taut and toned figure, the same one I insisted on loathing instead of realizing that that bod was as good as it would get and it was pretty damned good. Foolish girl.
There’s the memory loss, too—that’s a biggie. It’s disturbing to not remember the names of the close friends you’re introducing. Also, who goes to Atlanta and leaves her cell phone in her car? Perhaps Cloris Leachman does that, but not me.
OK, so I did that. It was scary. And then I used an actual payphone to call home and tell my husband how scared I was. (Yes, there’s a pair of these relics in Terminal 2, on the wall just past Jamba Juice. Cost me 50 cents to make a call, and I felt like an old lady as I picked through my coin purse for nickels, cursing inflation). “At least you remember where you left it,” he said. “That should make you feel better about losing your mind.”
It didn’t. Imagine the mental torture when I couldn’t tweet during the two-hour diversion spent on the tarmac in Huntsville, Ala. I had to actually talk to strangers to get information. I had to ask them for the time.
Time really is deceiving. Last week, I watched a sculpted demigod compete for a spot on the U.S. men’s Olympic diving team (are they making the Speedos smaller nowadays?). Turns out, the guy was born in 1998.
Nine. Teen. Ninety. Eight. Kid is only legal to drive the go-carts at Disneyland, and yet he’s a graceful mass of twisty-bendy-nearly-naked manly perfection. I could have a hot flash (the good kind) just thinking about it except I really don’t need to have a Mary Kay Letourneau moment. These references are dating me, aren’t they?
One day a few months ago, I woke up in a manic state, as determined to own a crockpot as Nancy Grace is to be indignant. And there was the night at a cocktail party recently where some of my favorite people and I propped our tired selves against the kitchen counter tops—it was after 10—and one-by-one, recounted our ailments. My friend Brian might look better with gray hair, but I feel better without his sciatica.
The defining youth-is-wasted-on-the-young incident for me was being put on a special diet by my cardiologist (I rest my case). Cholesterol too high, very bad, heart go kaplow! It’s legumes and egg whites for me, and boy did Nora Ephron have it right about egg whites. You might as well warm up a little Jell-O and put some sea salt on it. Which is to say nothing of what the substance resembles when you pour it into a non-stick pan.
In addition to the egg blahs, I have to eat a smoothie twice a day, a combination of fruit, almond milk, one scoop of MetaFiber and two scoops of UltraMeal Plus, aka “medical food,” as defined on the label. I ask you: What could be more youthful than that? Larry King, perhaps.
I used to naively sing along to Bob Marley’s prophetic words, “Once a man, twice a child.” But now I truly get it. Inevitably, we go back to the cradle. We end as babies, quite possibly with someone else changing our many (disgusting and seemingly endless) diapers.