Most of my older relatives warned me, "Enjoy your life. It goes fast." My great Aunt Beth, who was old even when she was young, drove it home to me whenever she came to visit: "Go have some fun. You're going to be an old lady before you know it." She depressed me. If I did go out to play, it was generally to get away from the gruesome thought that I would ever be old like she was. She had wire-rim glasses, a shorn dishwater-blond perm and corrective shoes. I remember thinking, "Wow, is she old!" Now I've done the math and she was 50. I just couldn't relate to her message until recently.
When I look at photographs of my parents at my current age, the faded sepia toned images suggest two old people up past their bedtime. Dad's in an over-stitched leisure suit and mom rocks the eternally floral muumuu, girdle firmly underneath, working overtime. Her hair was in a perma-bouffant, always within arm's distance of a can of Aqua Net. Dad's Lucky Strike cigarettes were practically velcroed to his front pocket. They were the parents and you could tell; they dressed like it. We were the kids and that's the way we liked it.
I remember a cartoon my mother had taped to her aqua refrigerator. It was a caricature of an old lady holding her drooping boobs, with the caption, "Old age ain't for sissies!" It was there for decades, in fact, it outlasted the refrigerator and eventually it outlasted my mother.
I paid it no never mind, thinking it was just some joke that made my mother laugh since I was young, and old age seemed oh so far away. Way, way far away. To me, old was for the adults, like scotch, cigars and jobs; it just didn't seem to be about me.
I think I was pampered into the delusion that I'd never age. I'm a baby boomer and we were just that special. We were eternal kids and we'd be forever young. The word "baby" was even in our generational title! Then we adopted a generational mantra to support that notion, "I hope I die before I get old." Oh, perhaps some years would pass and we would be less young, but still younger-ish. But when our youth came and went (so quickly), nobody dared uttered those nasty words again. The line for "old age" has definitely been pushed back a bit. At this point, 70 doesn't even seem so heinous. In fact it looks … "Super!" (Yeah, 70 is super! Maybe on Planet Denial.)
I remember the day I became concerned about getting older. Although it still seemed far, far away I was always one to plan ahead for my disappointments. I was 21 at the time and I had asked my grandmother what it felt like to be old. She thought for a moment and said, "Well, I'm just tired a lot. I have no gumption." Again, it made little sense to me until now. My grandmother then wrapped her handmade fringed shawl around her plaid polyester pantsuit, put her hair net on and hobbled off to bed. Again, I do the math now and she was 61.
I personally never wanted to be an adult. But here I am, at the dawning of the old age of Aquarius, flipping out while chanting our generation's other mantra of "Hell no I won't go!" I haven't even copped to middle age yet. Like many of my fellow boomers, I'm in denial. I am as ill-prepared for this phase as I was for the previous. First of all, I don't have a thing to wear! How long can I sport my denims? I have a drawer full of them in all sizes. Thank God, they've begun to make jeans in stretch denim, so they can grow along with me. Hoping I die before I get old is a sentiment that has faded away like the tie-dye T-shirts in our closets (which we still wear). We boomers are the ones whose rose tattoos have also faded and sagged into rotting cabbages and we hang them over our bra line like we're still 40!
Yes, I'm in denial—and thank god for the other 70 million boomers, who are co-signing my bullshit. We're reinventing ourselves faster than most of us can say "Howdy Doody," to stay relevant and to squeeze out every inch of life we can from this time we have on earth. We invented the reinvention! You're welcome.
I'm too young to be this old! Sometimes I feel like I'm still crazy dancing at a Grateful Dead concert in 1978, wondering when the drugs will kick in. I'm even hoping I'm still at that concert and that this here life is my acid trip. More denial? Perhaps. Maybe even double secret denial.
Yes, it's true that most boomers are not prepared for this period of our lives, emotionally, psychologically, or financially—we're just plain old ill-prepared. I personally don't even have extra rolls of toilet paper, and if there's one thing I've learned about aging is that no matter how many times you go to the bathroom, you will have to go again in 20 minutes.
Why is aging so shameful to us? Our ancestors did it with grace, wit and their own fashion! If you look at pictures of my great-, great-grandparents, the women are all holding axes, sneering and wearing bonnets. (Hey, whatever works.)
I'm tired of pretending that 50 is fabulous. Who alliterated that one? Most of us can think of another F word that could go with 50 a bit more fabulously! Sixty is still sexy? And they are already starting to chant, "70 is the new 50." How far can we go? I guess as high as we can count.
My generation is rejecting numbers and aging like a sick body rejecting a kidney transplant. It really isn't so much we don't want to die before we get old, it's that we want to die before we look old. I need to come out of shame and denial about my advancing age. And on the bright side of this, there's much to look forward to in getting older, like, I can finally add that new wing onto my medicine cabinet that I always wanted. So what if my neck now comes with its own drapes, I'll just get a sofa to match!
It's time for me to write that book I've been lugging around in my head since 1982, dance like I'm on "American Bandstand," sing like I have a fan club. Time is getting short. It's late, 60 isn't the new 40, no matter how good you look and feel. It's still 60 (not that I'm admitting I'm 60).
Let's all come out of double secret denial together. Denial is so yesterday, and yesterday is so yesterday. Old age may not be for sissies, but if anyone can handle it, we can. But I'm going to say it here: I will NOT wear a denim muumuu!