Letter to My Senior Self

Until midlife, my exposure to seniors was limited to my grandparents and occasionally grandparents of friends of mine.  Seniors were people who bought candy for their grandchildren and made them waffles on an ancient waffle iron.  I never really considered their circumstances, health, lifestyle, etc. until I entered my thirties and had the context to better understand these things.

Seniors are great, of course, and I know more now than I ever did — or at least I know them better.  But, sometimes I hear about some strange logic, unshakable habits or inflexibility that has created some sort of impass in a senior’s life, and I think about how they might have made different decisions at a different life stage.

People love that old expression — “Hindsight is 20/20.”  But what about foresight?  I mean no disrespect, but I think that some seniors could benefit from advice given to them by their midlife self.

So, I’ve come up with this idea — my letter to my senior self.  Although some of what will be included are mistakes that I’ve witnessed seniors making, several things are pieces of advice that people have learned through their own experiences as seniors.  I haven’t put it to paper yet, but it will look something like this…

Dear Senior Self,

If you have the same doctor you did when you were 40, it’s time to consider a new doctor.  Chances are, any doctor you had at age 40 is approaching the senior stage of life themselves.  Experience is great, as long as your doctor keeps an open mind about new practices and developments.  Remember, you’ve witnessed too many “seasoned” professionals who miss things because they were over-confident with their past experiences.

If you are taking medications and spending time away from home, bring more medication than the exact amount for the days you planned to be gone.  Perhaps it is an excuse, but you’ve heard people say too many times, “Oh, I can’t stay.  I only brought the exact amount of medication.”

Let people take care of you.  Independence is great, but you aren’t keeping any of it by refusing help.  You might get more mileage out of it if you do accept assistance.  Keep in mind all the times you had a 102 degree fever with two children under three at home and you had to decide between bundling everyone up to get to the pharmacy for Thera-Flu or waiting eight hours until your husband came home because no one else was there to help.

If you can’t come for at least a week and help with your newborn grandchildren, hire a post-partum doula for them.  You know that they will forever worship you. (I will likely be a senior when my kids have children.)

Yes, you need a cleaning service.

Love & Best Wishes,

Midlife Self

Time Has Spoken

A few weeks ago, I was cranking Asia’s “Only Time Will Tell,” reflecting on how what I vaguely remember was the theme for the video… or at least what I think was the theme for the video.  Actually, I was under the impression that this was the theme of the album in general — age and the surprise Baby Boomers felt at life’s midpoint.  Of course, the specific lyrics of this song are less broad, but this is my interpretation of Asia’s general message.

And, I was thinking about how I am currently middle-age, driving along, listening to a band that formed when I was a teenager, and the irony of how that band sang about the angst of lost youth at a time when I had youth, and now I don’t but I am still listening to them.  I thought about how their videos were in heavy rotation on MTV, and yet their lyrics had little to do with the lives of the MTV viewing audience at the time. But we all still listened and purchased. My husband even had a massive Asia poster in his bachelor apartment, though it was there to cover up a hole in the wall.  And now their music has far more relevance to me.

As I pulled up to the stoplight at Irving, Lincoln and Damen, a beggar was walking by the cars, and I rolled down my window to give him some change.  When I looked at his face, I saw that he was probably the same age as me.  This guy may have graduated from high school when I did.  Though his skin was much more tired and weathered than that of your average forty-something, this was one of my peers — not an older man, not a young person.  He was my age!

Why I was so shocked, I have no idea.  Maybe the song rendered me too reflective to handle this exchange of charity with my normal indifference.

When I was a teenager, I only thought ahead 10 or 15 years to where I would be in life. Aside from some very driven people, I imagine that the future is a mystery for many.

I wondered if this guy knew that he would be doing this when he was listening to Asia on the radio back in the 80s. When I was a senior in high school, I did my term paper on homelessness.  I had no idea that someday I’d be handing a couple of quarters and a dime from the change holder in my car to a guy who could have sat next to me in study hall.

Belated Goodbye

I was recently cleaning out my closet, sorting through a pile of t-shirts I set aside last year.  I hadn’t worn any of these tees in quite some time, but each time I cleared my closet of worn out or unwanted clothes, I could not part with them.  Last year, I put them in a pile at the back of one of my shelves and said, “If I don’t disturb this pile for a whole year, then I need to get rid of these next summer.”

Again, this collection of t-shirts sat untouched for the remainder of the year.  Having every intention of honoring my commitment, I looked through them one last time.

There was the “This Is Spinal Tap” anniversary t-shirt kindly given to me by a former client.  Despite my love for the movie, an ill-fitting black t-shirt with the cast of Spinal Tap on the front just didn’t need to stay in my closet.  Perhaps it would find love somewhere else.

Beneath that was the burgundy MGD t-shirt from 1998.  Burgundy, MGD, 1998 — enough said!  I couldn’t remember why this was even in my “hard-to-let-go” pile, but I suspect it had something to do with my vanity over getting too old to wear a beer brand.

At the bottom of the pile, I unearthed a t-shirt from my former employer, featuring what was at one time the company’s new logo.  Now, I regularly tell my husband to chuck all of his logo polos, but this one has been around far longer than any of his.  I absently mindedly began to fold it, and as I set it in the give-away pile, I had a flash of emotion that reminded me why it was still even here.

That t-shirt was like a necklace from an old boyfriend.  I had had a hard time moving on from that job in the way that sometimes people have a hard time getting over broken relationships.  Like many relationships that aren’t really about love at all, that job represented a time filled with good friendships, exciting work and accomplishment… the proverbial “right place at the right time” situation.

When I left full-time work to pursue a part-time career after having my children, I was shocked by how difficult it was for me to disassociate myself from my former life.  I had always prided myself on my mature perspective that there was more to life than professional accomplishment.  I was “above” judging people based on their employment.  Yet, living without that kind of daily success at the office proved much more difficult for me than I had ever imagined.

What hurt even more was that others seemed to be moving on themselves.  No one else seemed to have the same feelings I did.

I was finally able to let go of that t-shirt this year.  And as I dropped it in the paper bag destined for the Salvation Army, I felt relief.  It’s been a couple of years since I’ve felt that twinge of sadness for the old me. Mom was right… time heals all wounds (or at least most).

As for the pile, it is much smaller now.  Pretty much the only thing that remains is my Puffalpalooza t-shirt from the mid-90s.  How could I possibly get rid of that homage to children’s television pioneers Sid & Marty Krofft?

It’s All About Perspective

The other day, I was stopped several cars back from a stoplight at an intersection near one of our city’s selective enrollment high schools.  As usual, the kids paid little attention to the crosswalk and floated among the stopped cars, choosing whatever crossing spot was most convenient to their starting point.  It was one of those times when I realized how “grown up” I had become.

A group of six boys, likely about 16 years old, walked in front of my car.  Among the guys with pimply faces and awkward fashion was one very cool kid.  He was the most confident among them — with a smooth walk, clear complexion and chilled out demeanor.  And, he was the only one smoking a cigarette.

As a teenager, that cigarette would have essentially been invisible to me.  I would have admired all of his coolness and ignored his short-comings.  I didn’t smoke as a teenager, but there was no way a bad habit like that would get in the way of my admiration.  My impression is that these days, with decades of additional warnings about smoking health hazards and, now, stigma, people perceive smoking as a far greater offense than they did in the mid-80s.

And, from my grown-up perspective, that cigarette was a concerning flaw.  This is probably a kid with the charisma to set an example.  What a missed opportunity it is for him to set this one!

And a few years from now, when my daughter enters high school, will this guy be something else all-together?  Will my daughter see through the charms of a teenage boy who can pull off wearing capris when he is smoking a cigarette?  And is he such a bad kid for doing so, or just misguided like so many other young guys from previous generations?  In the words of the supergroup Asia, I suppose only time will tell.

No Longer Naive… Or Naive Again?

I wish I had the same enthusiasm for the mundane that I did when I was in my 20s.  It’s not that I was a boring person, rather, I was not challenged by the boring.  I understood that some of these mundane tasks were part of a bigger picture in a way that I do not today.

When I had my first apartment, I cleaned it every week.  Granted, it was smaller than the patio in our back yard, but I dusted, vacuumed, cleaned the kitchen, wiped down the bathroom every single week.  And I enjoyed it.  I was charged up by the idea of taking care of something that was my responsibility.  I paid the rent.  I earned the money to pay that rent.  I found and interviewed for the job that paid me the money to pay the rent.  It was all me – all my responsibility and completely my accomplishment.  As small as it was, that apartment – and my ability to pay for it – was a major source of pride for me.

It’s the same thing with the boring work that I was given at the temp jobs I had over the summers during college.  I liked temping because I often found myself in an air conditioned environment.  The fact that I didn’t need to wear a uniform was a bonus too.  Being a temp, I’d get “projects” like typing written lists into a document on the computer or filing huge stacks of purchase orders.  I’m sure these were the kind of things the permanent assistant would put at the bottom of the To Do list.  But, I would do these things gladly, accurately and quickly.  My temp agency’s clients would be big fans of my work by the end of the day, and I’d be pumped from the praise.  It didn’t matter that just two years prior I had graduated from high school in the top 10 percent of my class… I was proud of my temp work.

These days, I’m not so naïve… or maybe I am suffering from a kind of reverse naivite that affects people when they become so jaded almost nothing impresses them about themselves anymore.  I often feel that way, sitting in my not-cleaned-weekly house with a back patio that is larger than my first apartment, avoiding transferring almost twelve months of photos from my computer to my online photo site.  These things just don’t inspire me enough.  Where has my sense of accomplishment gone?

Because I work only part-time, my professional life doesn’t provide when it comes to a steady stream of ego stroking.  And, when I see my former colleagues from my office-with-a-window days, I can tell that their good work doesn’t give them the same boost it used to.  And, I have no interest in making my children’s accomplishments mine.  That is a slippery slope I hope to never go down.

Despite my four decades of living, it appears that I need a little more wisdom when it comes to having a sense of accomplishment.  Maybe I need to take some risks.  Maybe I need to admit that I have more to learn than I ever thought.  Maybe others my age feel this way too.  Maybe I should grab the vacuum or take care of that pile of filing that has been sitting on my desk for months… get back to the basics.