The other day I noticed that my husband's 2003 car has 195,000 miles on it. It used to be my car when it was younger. Back then, it was new and dent-free and didn't have a half-inch thick layer of dog fur on its back seat. The car still has a lot of life left in it, despite its advanced age, and there are no plans for its retirement any time soon. But seeing the odometer reading brought to mind a malapropism that my daughter used to always use when she was about five: She called it an "old-ometer," which if you think about it, is kind of spot on.
On the same day that my eye caught the Honda's odometer, a younger colleague remarked that she couldn't believe I was 63, which, she noted, is even older than her parents. I silently gave thanks that I wasn't quite her grandmother's age and took her comment as the compliment that it was intended to be. I didn't point out its back-handed slap: What would be wrong with looking 63 anyway, even if I don't happen to? No, I didn't ask her that.
What young people don't realize is that we all come with odometers -- or old-ometers as the case may be -- and mine has just clocked more miles on it than theirs. So far. Eventually, we all become high-mileage vehicles and our parts wear out. It's just how it is and there's nothing wrong with it -- and little you can do about it.
But there are a few ways to roll back your old-ometer:
1) Remember that just because something has been around for a while doesn't make it worthless.
I grew up with parents who shunned the new and frequently said things like "they don't make them like they used to." I grew up in a time when if the washing machine broke, you called a repairman and didn't automatically check the ads for new washers in the Sunday paper. I also grew up in a time when the Sunday papers were fat and thick with ads, and everybody had at least one delivered to their driveway -- but I digress. And yes, it was a long time ago.
But old things -- and old people -- seem to be devalued today. Nowadays, we replace; we don't repair. New and shiny trumps old with patina.
OK, I'll grant that appliances today may be manufactured to become obsolete (timed perfectly to the month their warranty expires) but people aren't appliances. With regular maintenance, we can enjoy long fruitful lives and not be relegated to the junk heap before our time.
2) Remember that just because something has been around for a while also doesn't make it superior.
Older people shouldn't assume that we know it all -- nor should it be assumed about us that we know nothing.
Yes, some of us are guilty of romanticizing the past -- we talk about the "good old days" like we have amnesia about their rough spots and hard edges. I remember my own teen-age eye rolls when someone older tried to tell me how things used to be done.
Today, post 50s need to allow room in the conversation for new ideas and new ways of approaching things. A person my age may come with some wisdom, a lot of experience, an institutional knowledge of the world, and a perspective on life that many are too young to possess but should be old enough to value. But in a nutshell, in many cases that's our total contribution. It shouldn't be dismissed, but neither should we assume that it alone is enough to get us hired for jobs -- or give us a lock on the prevailing opinion.
Older workers have a hard time getting hired and think it's discrimination. I think that's right some of the time, but it's also our unwillingness to let go of the past. My unemployed friends who struggle the most are those who only want to recreate the jobs they lost and for the most part, those jobs don't exist anymore. If you are 50+ and want to work, figure out who's hiring for what. If I was 50 and out of work, I would be enrolling in nursing school instead of writing about it.
3) High mileage aside, we still start and go like many younger models.
I'm sure my younger colleagues would be shocked if they knew how completely and how often I totally identify with them. When they share their worries, their insecurities, their fears about change, I am right there with them.
The one area I feel more relaxed about is the life choices I already made that they are still debating: Having kids and buying houses are the big two. Funny thing is, I don't recall agonizing about either decision. Both just happened when they happened. And that may be the biggest generational difference of all.
If I have any wisdom to impart to my children, it's this: Happiness doesn't come from planning out every detail. It comes when you learn to handle the stuff you didn't plan for.
4) Know that one day will be the last day, no matter how expensive a model you are.
No, I don't plan -- or want -- to live to be 120. Personally, I want to check out sometime after all my grandkids have been born and I've gotten to know them or when I can no longer get to the bathroom without someone helping me -- whichever comes first. I'd like my grandkids to have good strong memories of me because I hope to live on in their hearts, and I never want to be dependent on someone else -- especially someone I love.
I want to live as long as living is fun, and not a day longer.
5) It ain't over til it's over, even if your paint is peeling.
Years ago, my husband took me to visit his childhood home in Virginia, Minnesota. We stopped by the town's visitors center where a docent -- a retired gentleman -- told us about the community's history and highlights. As we left, I asked him if he had lived in Virginia his whole life.
"Not yet," he said.
I'm guessing his car had even higher mileage than my husband's.