| Musings |

Growing Old Graciously

There’s no longer any need to keep up


“Bubby, what do you do all day?” asks my eight-year-old granddaughter. This is the same child who, when I told her I hope to dance at her children’s weddings, told me in no uncertain terms, “You won’t be alive by then.”

For a moment, I’d been taken aback, but I’d quickly regained my composure. “How do you know?” I countered. “Maybe I will!”

Realizing that perhaps she had overstepped the bounds of propriety, she backtracked. “Well,” she said, “you’ll still be too old to dance!”

I didn’t tell her my dancing days are already rapidly fading. “So I’ll sit on a chair in the middle of the circle and you’ll dance around me,” I said.

She thought about this for a moment. “Okay,” she said agreeably.

Phew! Saved by a chair! But what do bubbys of middle and advanced age do all day when they’re supposedly retired, don’t have much to cook, much to clean, or much of anything to do?

Welcome to the world of advancing age. It’s a new stage in our lives. You will definitely be challenged, but not to worry. Unless chas v’chalilah burdened with serious health issues, most of the mature (i.e., older) women I know seem to be living full, happy, productive lives, even if they carry an assortment of pills in their purse.

Still … have you noticed that nowadays everyone talks too fast and the music is much too loud? That the kids seem to have their own lingo and you’re not always sure you understand what they’re saying? Do you find that everything takes a bit longer? Why is everyone in such a hurry? Sometimes you just want to sit down and catch your breath.

Then there’s the matter of names. Last month at a wedding, I met an old acquaintance. I remember precisely where I had first met her and when, what she wore, what she said. But when I turned to introduce her to my daughter, I couldn’t remember her name. Sarah? Sima something? Sheila? I knew there was an “S” in there somewhere. In the end, I made do with introducing my daughter to her. (Thank goodness I still remember her name!)

Two weeks later, I met a neighbor at the dentist. For 20 years we lived door to door. Our children grew up together. We borrowed and lent, sat in the park, went shopping together. When I came home, my husband asked where I’d been.

“At the dentist,” I answered, “and you’ll never guess who I met. It was … umm….” Who was it? For the life of me I couldn’t remember her name, although I did remember her phone number.

But doesn’t everyone forget a name once in a while? It’s no big deal. And if everyone does it, what can be so bad? Personally, I think it’s a media-induced fear and I try to ignore it.

What I cannot ignore is the lack of something to wear. Where are all the normal clothes of yesteryear? I don’t want to wear what’s “in style.” I have my own style, but I can’t find it in the stores. And if on a lucky day I happen to find something I like, it only comes in sizes six through ten. Must a mature woman squeeze into a size ten? I wasn’t a size ten when I was 20, and I’m surely not one now.

There are a few other problems associated with advancing age. Like wrinkles, which appear with frightening frequency, or the loss of lovely, smooth-from-birth skin, or thick, curly hair that sheds by the day. Smile marks that no longer smile, bags under eyes growing like mushrooms under trees, and supple skin that isn’t so supple anymore.

And health issues are definitely a concern. When I was a young girl (a few years back …) we used to laugh at the old ladies in shul who ended every sentence with “A bi gezunt — We should just be well!” Foolish youngsters that we were, we wondered what were they so worried about. Today we don’t laugh about matters of health. A cryptic Yiddish saying says, “You have two choices in life: either you grow older or you don’t....” Growing older requires maintenance, but if you want to mature gracefully, you maintain! A bi gezunt!

Yet despite these minor annoyances, lovely new freedoms await us as we march down the road to Eternity. To name but a few:

  1. Dirt no longer has the power to unnerve us. A good balabusta remains a good balabusta forever, but housekeeping is easier when there aren’t so many people running in and out, dirtying our premises on a daily basis.
  2. We can finally forget those 15 or 20 pounds we’ve been trying to lose for the past 15 or 20 years. A pound a year is not There are those who say they’ve earned every wrinkle; I say I’ve earned every pound. Besides, by now you might as well admit you’ll never lose them anyway, so why waste time trying when you could be doing something more productive?
  3. Another myth whose time is over is the “mothers in the kitchen” tale. Everyone knows that today’s grandmas are younger, active, vivacious, out there doing things. Nonetheless, the myth persists that grandmas, bubbys, and savtot are supposed to be cooking, baking and sewing. (Some are even supposed to be knitting!) Recently, after 50 years of cooking and baking, my good friend Faigie hung up her apron and proclaimed, “Enough! For 50 years I ran a hotel complete with restaurant. From now on, I’m only running a coffee shop!” She is indeed a woman of valor. (And if you need an emergency meal, she’s still a good lady to call!)
  4. We’ve finished educating our children and thankfully, we’re not responsible for the next generation. Chances are they wouldn’t listen to us anyway because “things are different nowadays.” So save all your wise advice unless specifically requested to share it. Even then, don’t expect to be heeded, just heard. Pure, unadulterated, grandparently love is the way to go. Accept them as they are with all their foibles and follies (after all, we have a few too) and b’ezras Hashem, they’ll turn out fine — even without our help.
  5. The time comes (hopefully) when all the kids are married, busy with their own children and grandchildren, and, if you are fortunate, there you are — great-grandparents, just the two of you, like a newly married couple just starting out. Think of all the wonderful things you can finally do — like spending more quality time together. (That is, until you discover that your husband has been waiting years to be left alone to learn uninterruptedly. Or perhaps he’s the one who wants to spend time with you when all you want is to be left alone to study the Kuzari or play the flute.)
  6. We can finally wear whichever shoes feel best on our feet. Even to a wedding. Even when a granddaughter says, “Bubby … you’re not going to wear those, are you?” The answer is: Yes, I am. I don’t really care what anyone thinks. If I don’t know Anyone, what she thinks isn’t important. And if she’s a friend, she won’t think anything at all. (Only my granddaughters “think” about my shoes!) Today everyone is “doing their own thing,” so why not me?

The Golden Years present a new world waiting to be explored, and conquered — if we have enough strength. They can be satisfying or frustrating, rocky or smooth. It all depends on us. We can only pray that we choose wisely and well.

These are the years to sit back, view the landscape and reap nachas. To downsize and get rid of all the heavy, extraneous baggage we have collected. The set of china for 40, the extra tablecloths, all the silver and knickknacks, the extraneous books. Who needs all these things — especially if they have to be polished or cleaned?

And who needs the grievances, hurts, and angers we have accumulated in the past? Why should we allow them to take up precious room in our hearts and minds? It’s time to forgive, or at the very least, to forget.

The time has come for us to finally stop running. There’s no longer any need to keep up. Not only because our feet hurt, but because we’re marching to a slower drummer. So buy yourself a pair of comfortable shoes and get ready to dance — from a chair if need be — at your great grandchild’s wedding.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 816)

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