My friend Liz and I are in that sweet spot between Menopause (been there, done that) and Medicare (not there, not needing that).
She called me the other day and said, “I have two things to ask you.”
“O.K., what’s up?”
Did I want to see a new movie she thought we would both like? That led to a discussion about possible restaurants to go to after the movie (if we could stay awake that long.) Which led us to talking about why she eats so much healthier than I do. (I like kale, I do, but really, 3x a week?). After several more stray conversational tangents, I asked her,
“What was the second thing you wanted to ask me?”
She replied, “I forgot.”
“Fine, no problem. Call me back if you remember.” I said.
Maybe she will remember, maybe she won’t. This happens to me often too. I like to think that we have all the time in the world to try to recall what that second question was, to get together with friends, to make plans. But will we have the time?
Getting older worries me. Specifically, it is the “aging” part of getting older that worries me. My Dad is 91 and Liz’s mom is 90. They are elderly. We see what aging looks like for them. It has its good moments and some not so good. My Dad, who goes into his office every day, is still quite sharp, especially when he remembers to wear his hearing aids. Liz’s Mom’s vision is failing but she enjoys getting a regular manicure. They both appreciate every birthday that they have.
What will aging look like by the time we get there? I’m not ready to be considered “old”, I told Liz recently, although more often I feel that younger people see us that way.
A few Saturday mornings ago my husband and I went to a small coffee shop known for its fabulous brew. It was packed with 20 and 30 somethings, as it is in a trendy neighborhood near new condos, pilates studios, wine bars and hot restaurants. We stood in line, I ordered my skim latte, my husband his espresso, one scone to share and then with the newspapers (the actual print kind) under our arms, we hunted for a place to sit.
Was it my imagination or did all of the millennials hunch even more closely over their laptops as we walked by silently telling us – hey look, Mr. and Ms. Oldster, every seat in here is taken, shouldn’t you be having a nice bland cup of coffee at the nearest generic place? When no seats opened up at the cool coffee shop, we had to leave, with our coffee in to-go cups, my husband grumbling that espresso is not to be served in to-go cups.
The next Saturday morning we reluctantly did go to the nearest generic Starbucks. At around 11 a.m., it was filling up with young families, the kids in their soccer uniforms, moms texting, dads checking email, chatting about their next activity on a busily over-scheduled Saturday. Looking at them, it seemed like it was only a few years ago that my husband and I were the ones digging through the front hall closet to find shin guards, soccer shoes that still fit and preparing the orange quarters for halftime snacks.
I thought – very briefly – about going up to one of the young soccer families in the Starbucks, and saying, hey, enjoy it while you can, it seems like this stage of life, this being parents of young kids, that it will last forever. You think that the new soccer seasons will keep coming around each fall, but they won’t. In a snap of an eye your kids will be teens, then gone, then grown. Oh sure, the parents would say to me, you are such an oldster. Go back to your coffees, you have all day to hang out, we are a very busy young family, this is a Saturday; you’ve had your prime time, leave us to our fun.
Has our time for fun passed?
I hope not. I heard an interview with Dr. Atul Gawande (surgeon, public health researcher, author of a new book called “Being Mortal”) on the radio the other day about how we should change the way we approach aging. We have “medicalized” aging, he says, putting far too much emphasis on keeping elderly people safe, rather than happy, by minimizing their risks in restrictive nursing homes to the extent that they have nothing to live for in lives with few pleasures. He suggested instead that we create places where the elderly can live with their own pets, their own kitchens, their own art, being able to eat and sleep when they want. Hey, I wanted to tell him through the radio waves, I am all for that. (and yes, I will send in my pledge donation to my nearest NPR station very soon.)
Last Friday night my husband and I went out to dinner to a neighborhood restaurant that serves “contemporary American food”, you know the kind with menu choices designed to please the old and the young. The dining room was filled with people of all ages, including young soccer families, maybe not the exact ones we had seen in Starbucks but close enough to be their cousins. Mom and Dad in their 30’s or 40’s, looking harried and hassled, squabbling with each other after a long work week, two or three bored looking kids in elementary and middle school, staring at their individual tablet screens, pushing their siblings just for something to do, everyone ready for dinner out to be over.
Then I saw (and I swear I am not making this up, this was not a hopeful mirage) in the middle of the restaurant a table of maybe five or six women. Just women, all old enough to classify as elderly, in full throttle aging mode, out for Friday night dinner together. Unlike the young soccer family, they were laughing, talking to each other with smiles on their faces, really enjoying being out and – dare I say it? – having fun.
Dessert arrived at the all-women, all-elderly table and I was close enough to see what they ordered. A giant white bowl with multiple colorful scoops of different flavors of ice cream. Each woman had her own spoon and they all reached in to the center of the table and eagerly dug in. More laughter, more talking.
I called Liz from the car as my husband and I were driving home.
“Hey, Liz, I’ve seen the future of aging. And it looks pretty good. We are all going to be sitting around a table together and eating ice cream.”
She, of course, had no idea what I was talking about it. She also has yet to remember that second thing that she was going to ask me. The future, assuming we get there, will have its fun times, I’m now sure. And I always thought soccer was pretty boring to watch anyway.