There's been some discussion in the news lately about the new definition of old, and what to call someone who's over 60. It seems that referring to adults as elderly, old or older can sound wrong, regardless of how accurate it is.
At 52 years of age, I know where I stand -- I'm old to a 20-something, slightly older to a 40-something, a teenager to an 80-something. Not yet elderly, but an elder nonetheless. I also know about the old adage that age is not just a number -- it's how you feel that counts. And I agree. Trouble is, I often feel old.
It's not unusual to hear me poke fun at myself and say, God, I'm getting old or When did I get so old? Sometimes I say it when I'm bending over to pick something up off the floor, sometimes when I realize I'm eating overcooked vegetables, apple sauce and cottage cheese in tiny cups.
When I hear or read terms that describe the period of life after 40, I don't have a problem with them. But there are other people, perhaps people who don't feel old, who read those same terms and interpret them as opinion -- opinion with which they disagree.
I drive by billboards every week aimed at baby boomers and that advertise surgeries, lotions and potions that will deliver wrinkle-free skin, plump lips, and firm buttocks. I also read People Magazine. They love to group celebrities by age -- celebrities with tremendous resources to help them look and feel young -- to show you what 20, 30, 40 and 50 looks like, and then they usually stop. Nobody actually likes the aging process apart from the way we get smarter (and we do). And nobody ages quite as well Sophia Loren whom I heard is fond of slathering Vaseline on her neck, and do you really want to as well?
So what's the secret to not only looking young but feeling young? I'm glad you asked, because I've got a newly hatched theory: It's not about the age. Or about making lots of money so you can hire a personal trainer and chef and have whatever cosmetic adjustments you want, though that sounds pretty good too. It's about looking in the mirror and seeing life as a continuum -- a series of stages, not ages. And telling yourself that when one stage ends, you'll fully embrace the next.
And therein lies the problem. I've been looking at myself as a number, a number with physical changes, with a parenting job that is being phased out. Of course I feel old. If I were in a reality show the producers would be sitting me down to say, We need someone younger, with perkier breasts, who doesn't groan every time she stands up.
My grandmother lived to be 107, and she went through dozens of stages in her life. Her early childhood in Austria, escaping Austria, her arrival in New York, becoming an American teenager, making friends, falling in love, getting married, owning a home, volunteering, having children, becoming a grandmother, becoming a widow, becoming a great grandmother, making more new friends, starting an exercise program, becoming a Scrabble Queen... It wasn't until the very last stage of her life, when she moved into a nursing home, that she seemed old, or elderly, or older to me. And even then, she was happy.
My grandmother was ahead of her time. She never went to college but she was smart. She knew instinctively, that the key to a happy life, a life that doesn't make you feel old, is to live it in stages, not ages.
My new goal for my new stage of life is to be more like my Nana -- ageless, fearless, and wise. And maybe to get a bucket of Vaseline.
Join me next Monday for another installment of The Pre-Empt Chronicles, as I transition from full house to empty nest.
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