Draw a Clock

Draw a Clock

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly of Aging

A friend of mine recently retired. She was a well-respected computer science professor. After she and her husband retired, they moved to another state. When you move, one of the royal pains is having to deal with finding new doctors. 

My friend is articulate, funny, savvy and still caring for her aging parents. When she went to her new primary care physician, the man looked at her age, and to assess her mental capacity, he asked if she could draw a clock. 

The Good

I’ve had my fair share of adventures, climbed mountains, slid down hills on my skis, sometimes on my butt, ran a business, traveled the world, lived and trained on an Alaskan glacier, and owned and cooked in a restaurant in Italy. Motherhood. Grandmotherhood. You know, the usual stuff. I don’t have to sweat the small stuff anymore. Having to make big decisions doesn’t happen quite so often. 

The body has held up fairly well, thanks to getting good replacement parts. New knees, some weird suspension bridge thingy that lets me still have use of my opposable thumb, and wildly wonderful, new lenses in my eyes.  For the first time since fourth grade, I don’t need glasses. It’s a fucking miracle. 

I love my family. We get along. My family has blended with my husband’s family; we go on vacations together and have a great time. Yeah, there’s drama…we are a family after all. New babies are showing up, making everything even better.  This brings me to Nina, our granddaughter.  She’s six now and when we are in Philly, we live together in a family compound. Saturday mornings she gets up and dresses Lola the dog in one of her tutu skirts and a frilly top, then Nina pounds on our door asking to be let in and asks if I could make them breakfast. It doesn’t get better than this. 

Being retired means I can do what I want creatively. Would I like to write a best-selling novel? Hell yeah. But do you know what the marketing would be? Something like “Old woman miraculously writes her first novel.” As if I woke up one day after I turned 65 and I’d suddenly lost the ability to tell a story, swap out the operating system on my computer, or dance to Bad Bunny in the kitchen. That I can no longer draw a clock. 

The Bad

I became invisible. It was gradual and I almost didn’t notice it happening. Unless you are Nancy Pelosi, no one notices you enter a room. A waiter will forget to take your order. Meeting new people and having to work a little bit harder to have them remember me. Sometimes it’s a  blessing. I don’t feel the need to trot around in high heels. Although I still love to wear that slinky snakeskin dress I bought on sale at Bloomingdales.

You have to stay on top of working out or things go to flab real quick. It doesn’t seem fair. I always fantasised that if you worked hard, and were in good shape, you should be able to plateau and stay in good shape. Not have to work so damn hard for it. Every single day. 

Your skin wrinkles in ways you never thought would happen to you. I’ve been very good about using plenty of moisturizer and sunscreen, but it looks like those products have their anti-aging limitations. At least I’m not a man sprouting hair from places that don’t need it (ears) and losing it from places that do need it (heads). 

In the U.S. it’s considered normal to segregate living and doing stuff by your age. “Adult-only” communities are arguably the worst idea ever. (OK, that’s an exaggeration, because there are a lot of very bad ideas floating around, but I’m going to willingly die on this hill.)  Why on earth would you want to live in a community where everyone starts talking more and more about their doctor appointments? 

One of the beautiful things about living in Italy is watching how each generation depends on another generation. In the village where we live for about half the year, we have a week-long festival and everyone participates. Some days and nights, I’ll be working alongside Iva in the pop-up taverna. Iva is in her 80s and we’ll make 300 portions of pasta on a busy night. Most of the kids have grown up working in the tavernas, so it isn’t unusual to see a nine-year-old bring you your order.  Everyone pitches in, according to their abilities, and everyone’s contribution is valued. Having friends of different ages means you can see the whole world, not just your little slice of it. 

The Ugly

The ugliest thing is when your friends die, pass away, become late, or cross the rainbow bridge (why should only pets cross that bridge?).  When somebody you’ve known since you were kids together is now only a memory. That’s ugly.  

It’s ugly watching the world change in ways that frighten me. Will Nina know snowy winters? Will she be able to play outside in the summer, or will it be too hot to go outside? How will she get a well-rounded challenging education in this country? 

There isn’t much use to dwelling on the ugly because I can’t make people stop dying. I can conscientiously compost and recycle. I can bike instead of driving a car and let my clothes dry outside without owning a dryer, but none of that is going to save our planet. It might help, but we’ve got bigger fish to fry and mountains to climb before our planet is healthy again. 

I have to learn to accept that I will not achieve everything on my To-Do list. Maybe I’ll finish that novel. Maybe I’ll master the art of making Spanish croquetas. The fun part is that I still have all the parts and pieces to keep trying to do the stuff I want to do. And for that I’m grateful. And, I can still draw a clock. 

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  1. Alicia on February 16, 2023 at 2:35 am

    This is beautiful, Judith. I don’t get the whole concept of American retirement facilities, either. Intergenerational is the way to go! It’s so much healthier that way.

  2. Russell Smith on February 17, 2023 at 1:46 am

    Jude! I love this piece! Yes, I agree with you and Alicia — what the eff is up with old people’s communities? So much of life’s beauty involves the mingling of generations!

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