This week, I had my usual lunch with Mom, but with an added treat. Both sisters joined us and we all had a fabulous visit.
We usually space out our visits on different days, so my mother can have lots of company, but being together this week was a treat for Mom too. She always mentions to me the pleasure she gets by seeing how we all love each other.
(We also had the youngest great grandson, not quite two, so we even had someone to lavish all our attention on – making it a special delight.)
It occurred to me that my sisters and I have had crazily different conversations of the 65 years I have been a part of the family.
From mastering the tricycle, to homework, to boyfriend strategy, to work dilemmas – we have had every conversation three sisters could have. And now we discuss retirement and Medicare options.
And during our Medicare conversation, it hit me.
My mother is one of us too.
We are all senior citizens – with pension checks, Medicare cards, and the search for comfortable shoes.
So now the generations have merged. My mother is still our mother, but time has also made her our contemporary.
We are all old together.
But my mother has been in the ‘Old’ business quite a bit longer than my sisters and I have.
And I’ve learned a lot about aging well from her.
Most importantly, I learned this:
Getting old is about Balance.
And yes, superficially Balance means just staying on your feet without falling over – and that is the fundamental trick to Old Age.
But I also see that how my mother succeeds in her nineties is by another kind of Balance.
She balances two undeniable aspects of Old Age:
- Accepting your limitations.
- Pushing past them.
And understanding where that line is – where the Balance is – is where you find the joy in being old.
I see my mom – every day –
Finding the balance between caring about appearance and enjoying the freedom of not fussing.
Mom still wants to look nice, with neat hair and makeup, and fashionable and pretty clothes. But then she says:
“This is the best I can do for today, and I look good, or at least good enough.”
“No one cares anymore what I look like anyway. Sometimes that’s depressing and sometimes that’s really nice.”
“If I don’t have any food stains on my clothes, I’m well-dressed.”
On the other hand, a few weeks ago my sister took Mom to a shoe store that specializes in orthopedic shoes, as my mother’s arthritis has played havoc with the shape of her toes. Mom tried on a few pair, and then said to the salesperson:
“I’m not ready yet to wear shoes this ugly. Maybe next year.”
Finding the balance between staying active and recognizing physical constraints.
Sometimes we (mostly my sister – thank you, Chris) take her grocery shopping and sometimes she gives us a list. Sometimes she goes to Claudia’s for Sunday dinner, and sometimes she just asks them to bring her the leftovers. And sometimes I help with the laundry, and sometimes she just throws the towels down the cellar stairs to take care of it later.
“I can push the cart around the supermarket because it’s almost like a walker, but I don’t think I’ll go to the other end of the store today for milk.”
“I have decided not to drive anymore. I hate always needing a ride, but I know my reflexes are way too slow, and I could never hit the brakes fast enough in an emergency.”
“Don’t call me before ten. I need several hours just to get my parts moving.”
“I don’t mind going to the doctor and having that pain checked out. But I am not promising I’ll do anything about it.”
Finding the balance between being an active member of society and just letting go.
“I am definitely voting this year. But I may need an absentee ballot.”
“I am the oldest person in my retirees’ group. So I don’t go to the luncheon every time, but once in a while I say yes.”
“I need to cash this ridiculously small dividend check. If I don’t cash it, the company may think I’m dead, and stop paying me.”
“I know what’s going virus on the internet. They show it on the Today show.”
Finding the balance between worrying and laughter.
“With all this time alone, there is no end to the stuff I worry about. I have to continually tell myself to just stop it and go to sleep. Things will be better in the morning.”
“It doesn’t matter that I can’t reach up to the top shelf – I just keep stuff in the oven – I don’t use the oven anymore anyway. If you’re looking for the cookies, just look in there.”
“I try to clean the house a little every day – but you know something? When your vision is not so good, it doesn’t really matter, because you can’t see the dirt anyway.”
And most important:
Finding the balance between simplifying life and indulging oneself.
In the grocery store last week, my mother put the cookies that I like in her basket. But before we checked out, she had me run back to the cookie aisle and put them back. And get the ones SHE likes instead. Good for her.
And she enjoys scratch-off lottery tickets. She buys 6 a week. One each for Chris and her. And one each for Claudia and her. And one each for me and her. If we win a little, we buy more tickets. If it’s a medium win, whoever has the winning ticket keeps the cash. And although it has never happened, she always promises,
“If it’s a big win, we split the money!”
And more on treating yourself kindly:
“What I like best on TV is the romantic movies on Lifetime. I’ve seen them all a dozen times, but it doesn’t really matter, because I never can remember them anyway.”
“I haven’t got much for entertainment anymore, but I like when you show me the family pictures on Facebook from your phone.” (So I scroll through during every visit and she sees all the photos.)
“When your dad was alive, we always used to have a drink and some crackers and cheese while we watched late night TV. And I still do. I get in my pajamas and turn out the lights, and I have a little plate I make ahead of time with crackers and cheese, and a glass of wine. And to tell you the truth… sometimes it isn’t wine.”
And then she whispers,
I love that we are now contemporaries as Senior Citizens.
She is the old lady I want to be.