"Are we old yet?" my husband asked the other night when neither of us could remember the name of a man we'd met recently.
"Are we old yet?" I asked him yesterday, as we both crawled into bed and felt our aching backs after a day spent doing heavy yard work.
In fact, we ask ourselves that question so often, it's like hearing our kids whine, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" over and over again on our drives to Wisconsin to visit extended family.
How will we know when we're finally old? Is there some definitive moment when you turn the corner and say, "Yes, that's it, we've arrived! We're old!"
I wrestled with this question in my new novel, THE WISHING HILL, by creating a character who is seventy and finds love again, after she has nearly given up on her life and settled for merely existing. I've thought about that character, Claire, a great deal, because part of me wants to know what it's like to be old. That's where we're all headed, after all. If we're lucky.
How will we know we're old, my husband and I?
It won't be the day we retire. My husband and I have put four children through college and have one more to go. We're so in debt, we'll be working 'til we're celebrating our century birthdays or lying in our graves. But that's fine. We both love what we do, and we'd choose to work even if we could afford to stop.
It won't be the day technology defeats us. We'll be online until we die, tumbling through the thorny brambles of phone apps and social media. We'll probably tweet from the Beyond and share our headstones on Pinterest.
It won't be the day we stop climbing stairs. Our knees may give out, but we can get new ones. Or we'll buy one of those stair elevators. That way we can read while we're headed to the second floor.
It won't be the day we stop driving. Cars can already park themselves, so it won't be too much longer before they'll be able to drive us where we want to go at the sound of our voices. Either that, or we'll move to a city and walk everywhere, just like we did in college. Bliss.
It won't be the day our children leave us. Our children, we have discovered, leave us and then come back again: for holidays, between jobs, to show off new cars and boyfriends. Soon, we hope, they'll come home and show us grandchildren, too. We'll spoil the babies and then hand them back, gladly.
It won't be the day our hair turns gray. My husband's head was silver by the time he hit forty, and me? I'll never tell.
I suppose, then, that we will be old when we take no joy in our work, our children, our friends, or each other. I suppose that day will come. When it does, we will be ready to move on, to float away, remembering what rich lives we led, for better or worse, together.
But not yet. Right now, we're thrilled to be here, right where we are, at this moment in time.