What I Know About:
I know about middle age, or better yet, I am learning about middle age. Maybe it can’t be known until you go through it. Middle age isn’t like being a teenager, which is easily defined by a number–a teen, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. When does middle age begin? In one’s thirties? Forties? Or if you die at 50, was it 25? Maybe you don’t know until you are dead.
Well, I have decided my middle number in life is 44. I plan to exist until I am 88 years old. I graduated from college in ‘88 and was married in ‘88. Meijer, where my husband worked, had printed t-shirts which read, “Great in ‘88,” so jokingly that was a motto that year.
88–That seems like a good, long life. Although I have noticed that “older” is a moving target. Now when someone dies in his seventies, I think, “Oh, he was so young.” Longevity also runs in my family. My 94-year-old paternal grandmother is doing quite well, especially after her quadruple bypass ten years ago, so 88 should be quite achievable.
At 46, I like to think I am on the downhill slide. You know, the old life if a hill thing. I always thought this phase of life would be easier. I’d know who I was and where I was going. After all, my parents always seemed put together. But I am still 18 trying to decide my college major.
At the dollar store, I saw a book title, Going Gray. Somehow I was too cheap to buy it, and secretly aghast that someone’s published efforts, hard cover no less, were on sale next to the 50 cent cards and China-made 3/$1 note pads. Apparently, the book is about a woman who is 50ish and stops coloring her hair. Again, aghast! Yes, my neutral light brown hair, number 7N comes from a box and is refreshed every four weeks out of necessity–not vanity, mind you. So many of my girls, my teenage students, color their hair. I ask myself, why? They don’t realize soon it won’t be a fun thing, but a chore.
I ask myself, “Can I teach teenagers and be gray? When do I go gray? After I retire? But is 60 to old to be brown headed? Will people treat me differently with gray hair? Will I be different? Freer, maybe?” You know you are as old as you feel, which is pretty darn old sometimes. Then there is my 66 year old mother. Can I go gray before her? I have tried to talk to her about lightening up, but she’s a brick wall. So dad is white and she is dark. Hmmmm.
Somewhere in here, the doctors have changed too. Now they say things like, “It is expected at your age?” or “No, there is no cure, only a treatment. Yes, it will get worse.” I start to look at my parents and older relatives’ ailments and realize they will be my own. I am no longer laughing at my dad’s trifocal glasses as I navigate my progressive lenses. There is nothing progressive about only being able to see out of the top or bottom portion of my glass’s lenses. With a slight tilt of the head, everything can become blurry, and stairs become spongy and elusive, especially with teenagers whipping by me two stairs at a time.
I think some of the sting I feel about my age is heightened by my work. A character is a short story I once read called a teacher’s students “perpetual youth.” The teacher ages each year, but the students do not. They are perpetually the same age—forever 17. Twenty-five years ago when I started, I was 22 and young too, turning down dates from students and reminding them I was married. Then I became their older sister or favorite aunt. Now I am their mom, or as they like to put, older than their mom. Not grandma yet, though.
That’s another thing. Grandparenting. When did my friends become grandparents? Just today on Facebook, one was wishing her grandson a happy tenth birthday! Tenth! I told her she was old, and you can imagine what she told me! Yes, I was a little of a late bloomer, but also more educated and stifled by infertility. But, it it all works out, when I retire, Karlee will be 29, and I’ll have grandbabies to coddle, a second chance. A second youth in my second summer.