I swear, I was a complete idiot. I thought people got old by choice. All those old people I knew? With the extra weight, the extra skin, the stiffening joints, the graying hair? They all made those things happen, right? For some reason they wanted to be old.
It seems that I was in error.
I don't mind growing older. Although the speed of time seems to increase exponentially with each passing month, so does the knowledge I acquire. (Of course, I forget much of it, but that's another story.) And I know a number of talented and engaged older people, so I'm not afraid of being put out to pasture.
I do mind the physical-ness of it, however. I mind the extra weight, that's for sure. When I first started blogging, my journal was called Unload! and referred to the pounds that needed to go. I had this fantasy that by being publicly accountable in an anonymous kind of way, I could make them disappear.
I mind the aches and pains. A couple of them are worrisome, especially since I have three friends, two male and one female, who've had hip replacements in the past several months. As I've been talking things over with friends, I realize that over the years I have gradually compensated for various physical ailments while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge them. When my twin pregnancy (13-plus pounds of babies) did in my back, and produced endlessly repeating bouts of bursitis, I just made a few minor adjustments. Now I automatically arrange myself in a nest of 4 or 5 pillows to sleep -- not giving my needs a second thought except when I go away, as I did this past week, and forget my pillows and have to scavenge every cushion in the living room.
But here's what I really mind -- and sure enough, just as Tess suggested in her comment that they would, the thoughts are emerging slowly as I write -- what I really mind has nothing to do with the slings and arrows of advancing age. What I really mind is that I am not living the life that I want. I am not outdoors as I want to be, and that's more a product of family patterns than creaking bones and missing cartilage.
In our pre-kid years, my husband and I did a lot of backpacking and birding, and I always looked forward to sharing those activities with my someday children. However, we were stopped dead in our tracks by organized sports -- in the form of soccer. Evenings, week-ends, and vacation weeks melted away as we drove long distances and spent long days at tournaments. My husband became involved as a team manager, coach, and club treasurer, all of which ate up more time. I never minded the soccer per se -- but I was amazed that so many people were so little interested in anything else that they were able to spend all their free time at ball games.
We managed to carve out exactly one free week-end for backpacking with our kids when they were all in middle school. And then there were the week-long canoe trips in Canada organized by my father -- but that was it. I suppose we could have done more in the outdoors as a family had we not sent the kids off to camp for three weeks every summer, but I'm a firm believer in the value of experiences for children completely independent of parental involvement. Summer camp was practically mandatory. (And let's face it -- they never would have gone rock climbing with us.)
I'm not complaining about how things worked out for our offspring. But I am realizing, with them gone, how much of what I loved went by the wayside. And how accustomed I have become to their absence. And how easily I postpone enjoying them now, because I have gotten so used to taking care of all the other things I need to manage in their place.
Cynthia has a wonderful entry today in which she talks about how easily she (by which she unwittingly means we) postpone engagement by spending so much time getting ready:
"That's really what organization, cleaning and creating order are all about to me -- getting ready. I have the urge to clear the deck and get on with the real work, the fun stuff, the activities which mean something to me and truly help define who I am. I just need to make sure that I don't get hung up in getting ready. "
And that's exactly what I do now. I work on almost anything besides the main things. I am reminded of an analogy that Stephen Covey uses in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He notes that if you want to fill a jar with large rocks and sand, you can't start with the sand, because there won't be room for the rocks. You have to start with the rocks -- the big, important things you want to accomplish -- and pour the sand -- the minutiae that tend to consume our lives -- into the spaces left over.
When I started my first journal, I wasn't just trying to lose weight. I was hoping to get in shape for bigger and better things -- outdoor things that require energy and strength and flexibility. I forgot about those things pretty quickly, but it's time to reclaim them.
I don't have to look like Jennifer Aniston to die happy. But I do need to be doing the things I want to do, and I need to become more in touch with what those are.
At the Christmas Dinner we hosted, I overheard one of my friends say, "I know that doing this makes Robin so happy." I stopped in my tracks between dining room and kitchen and thought about that for a second before I hauled out the desert plates. "That's not true," I thought. Or rather, it is true, but not entirely true. I do love seeing all my friends together, happily enjoying a meal and good conversation in the candlelight. But I am no longer wedded to following the same ritual year after year, especially one that no longer nourishes me personally. The truth is that, as beautiful as my great-great grandmother's china and silver looked, I would rather we had been having a picnic on a beach.
I may not have a choice about aging, but I certainly have some choices about where and how to proceed. Perhaps this needs to be the year of exploring alternatives.