by Renée J. Lukas

You don’t wake up one day and become forty or forty-seven. . .but it feels like it.

Your age sneaks up on you gradually, like one of those slow-moving, creepy ice walls in the Midwest—the ones that make little crunching noises and move toward people’s houses like The Blob.

medicine-Aging is a slow, creepy process of struggling to read the line of letters in the eye doctor’s office—you know, the respectably large enough line. Your once quick ‘n breezy dental visit becomes more complex than a cleaning, and there’s talk of payment plans. Words on the computer screen grow smaller, and if you go out dancing one night, you wake up in the morning with a weird pain or a stiff neck. If you eat your favorite salsa, you’d better have some Tums handy. Bodily functions are now an acceptable topic of conversation among you and your friends. It’s not unusual to spend an hour diagnosing a friend’s mysterious rash or toe fungus.

So now it’s not just older folks who complain about aches and pains. Now I know what’s it’s like to wake up with a fifty-fifty chance I’m going to feel like crap for one reason or another.

I got to thinking about all of this lately because actors and singers I grew up with are looking older and/or dying. When some of my favorite celebrities are talked about, it’s accompanied by terms like “heyday,” or “back in the day.” How far back was it? Is it wrong that the 1980s don’t seem so long ago to me? I recently saw the reunion tour of Boy George and Culture Club and was struck by how much of the audience had gray hair.

Guys I went to school with are now bald and fat. Places I used to live are now darkened with giant trees. My medicine cabinet is so full, stuff falls out every time I open it. Your doctor or lawyer might now be younger than you, with a name like “Josh.” And for those of us who grew up in the 1980s: Today, you think it’s stupid how kids’ pants fall off their butts, but you forget that you wore pants that were so baggy, another person could’ve fit in there with you.

I see my parents getting older, yet to me, they’re still the vibrant forces of nature I grew up with. Heck, they’re in better shape than I am. They take a lot of vitamins. That has to be it.  Oh yeah, and they walk, swim and overall just move more than I do.

My sister is a little older than I, but she’s practically a tennis champion so that negates any chance of her being in bad shape. It’s either the tennis, or she takes age-reversal pills.

Cousins and nephews I’d seen recently in diapers are now towering over me, boys with deep voices and hints of mustaches. . .what the hell is happening? I was always on the shorter side, but now everyone is taller than I am! I need this damn claw thing they advertise on TV just to get stuff out of high cabinets. Who do they make kitchens for anyway? Giants? You have to be seven feet to reach above the refrigerator and get anything out of that little cabinet.

Anyway, somewhere down the line my kids and nephews stopped wanting toys for Christmas and now it’s all about gift cards for video games so they can spend even more hours in their rooms. Not that I’m annoyed or bitter. . .

eye-chartMy kids don’t care what it was like for me in school. I was sure my stories would seem fascinating to them, and I could help shape their minds. HA! They seem to think I started out at this age and have absolutely no history. And there’s very little curiosity about what came before them. They ask questions like, “Who was Prince?” Or “Who is Olivia Newton-John?” It’s blasphemous!

For a few seconds I was able to shop for all the kids in my life in the baby and toddler sections of stores. Now I know what people mean when they say it all goes in the blink of an eye.

When a reviewer said my book, Southern Girl, was set in another “era,” it freaked me out a little. The 1980s is another era? No, the word “era,” to me, is the time when people lived in black and white, said things like “swell” and “golly,” when the second world war had just ended and there were sexist ads with housewives holding ketchup bottles because their lives revolved around making dinner. . . “Era” can’t possibly refer to the time in the very recent past when I grew up. Can it?

I also now understand the expression, “Youth is wasted on the young,” especially when I hear a younger person say something really stupid. All I can think of is “You have NO idea.” Now I get why my grandparents probably thought I was an idiot. When you’re young, you ARE an idiot. You think you have all the time in the world, you don’t need to plan anything, and compulsive flossing is something only weird people in dental commercials do. Your money might as well be thrown into a swiftly flowing river. You give yourself hangover headaches from drinking too much and being stupid, not because you have a real physical problem. You spend your time with too many people you don’t really like for dumb reasons. You care too much what others, who are also idiots, think of you. You believe you know everything, even though you haven’t really done anything yet. And you’re sure that older people have nothing important to tell you except stories about the good ‘ole days before “that damn Internet.” Or walking to school in the snow, taking responsibility, blah, blah. . .You never understand why they want to tell you their stories about rotary phones, or why they keep repeating some of those stories. Grandpa is just the guy who smells funny and says strange expressions that must have been popular in Medieval times. You think you’re so original until much later when you find out that people who are long since dead once thought the way you do about things. It’s a little depressing and funny at the same time.

It seems to me that middle age is a time that you can look at two different ways: 1) the first half of my life is over, and I’m marching ever closer toward death, or 2) I’m embarking on a new chapter with more wisdom than I had before, so I can do some really cool things. I fight between a mixture of the two.

When I think about where I am now, there has already been a lot of good stuff, which would seem to indicate that more good stuff may be on the way. I’m starting to see some of the fruits of my labor, getting published and being able to write my stories and actually get paid for it. I’ve been able to reconnect with old friends I thought I’d lost track of. I have two wonderful, if not sometimes ungrateful, kids who won’t listen to a thing I say. I’ve been able to do some of the things I used to imagine doing as a younger person, from having my own car to traveling. . .

So, if you’re approaching middle age, or let’s just say the candles on your birthday cake are starting to eclipse the cake, just remember that this is not necessarily a worse time, but a new time. It’s a time when you can do the things your younger self had no idea you could do. Now, if you could only find the right pair of glasses to read this, it might be entertaining. . .