Age creeps up on us like a cat stalking its prey. You don’t see it coming. And sometimes, it strikes so fast that you fail to recognize all of the warning signs leading up to it. Until it’s too late. Once old age has you in its grip, you have two choices: embrace it or deny it.
Sign #1: The Old Sound
Going from a prone position to standing…or a standing position to a prone position…produces a sound similar to what a baby makes when a baby makes in his diaper. It’s a grunt uttered unknowingly, unintentionally, and when you hear yourself making that sound, you try to cover it by clearing your throat as if you were ready to make a profound comment.
Sign #2: The Bird Song
For the first time, you realize that the birds have more stamina than you do. How can they possibly be up singing at 4:45 AM…and still be at it at 8:45 PM? And then it dawns on you why you are even noticing these irritating songs. It’s because the birds serve as your morning wake up call, and the same birds interrupt you when you are trying to go to sleep at night.
Sign #3: The Dinner Bell
You wait until you are starved half to death before eating dinner. And you realize that you shouldn’t eat within 4 hours of going to bed to prevent the meal from turning to fat while you sleep. Which means if you eat later than 4:30 PM, you’ll be up tossing and turning all night.
Sign #4: The Meat Market
When you go to the gym, you ask for a spotter to help you on the Nautilus equipment. And when you bring your teenager, he mentions on the drive home afterward that there were a lot of pretty women in the gym. You failed to notice because within minutes of your ride on the treadmill, you closed your eyes and focused all of your attention to stay on, as if you were on a mechanical bull.
Sign #5: The Waist Band
As the result of faithfully working out, your butt is as concave as a spoon, and your feet have shrunk from a size 11 to a size 9. But your midsection looks like you are wearing overlapping fanny-packs under your clothes.
Sign #6: The Reality Check
You realize that your teenagers don’t want to be seen with you in public because you embarrass them. You protest that you are the hippest, most with-it parent around. You remember your own father mowing the lawn on the weekends wearing a polo shirt, gym shorts, and black knee-socks. And on your way to protest to your children about their unfair, harsh criticism about how uncool it is to be seen with you, you pass a mirror. The bald, wrinkled man looking back at you is a stranger in your home. But you can’t help notice that he is wearing your stained, tie-dyed shirt, paint-splotched shorts, black socks and sensible footwear. You decide not to argue with your kids. Instead, you pour a stiff glass of prune juice and watch a rerun of the Antiques Roadshow.
Sign #7: The Digestive Track
You remember a class in school—maybe it was Latin or geometry—that laid out the 3 different states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. One example pops into your mind. When water freezes, it changes from liquid to solid; when it boils, it changes from liquid to gas. But what you can’t figure out is that while you only eat solids and drink liquids, the byproduct of both is gas. You make a note to ask one of your teenagers to log on to the internet so you can do some research later.
Sign #8: The Speed Trap
You get pulled over on the highway as part of a holiday speed trap. The police officer stands outside your window while you try to untangle yourself from your seat belt. Eventually, you figure it out, and after hitting the button that lowers the rear passenger side window, you finally find the one that lowers the one separating you from the officer. He gives you a warning and lets you go. But his words ring in your ears: “Sir, you have to keep up with traffic. There are just as many accidents caused by drivers going too slow than by speeding.”
Sign #9: The Doctor’s Office
First of all, you are at the doctor’s office. That tells you something. You haven’t been to the doctor since you got a physical before playing sports in school. You’re not sure what to expect, but you vaguely remember a repressed memory involving being violated while instructed to turn your head and cough. But this time, all you can think about is how everyone who is responsible for your care is 12-years old. You have a bottle of scotch that is older than the collective ages of your doctor, the nurse, and the person who is sterilizing some shiny probe, one they tell you that will be introduced to you shortly.
Sign #10: The New Awakening
Talking with a grade school friend you haven’t seen since 8th grade, you laugh when you discuss how that your own parents were younger the last time you talked than the two of you are today. It dawns on you that your own parents seemed very old when you were 13-years old, but they had all of the answers. They were self-assured, confident, unflappable. And you laugh about how glad you are that your own kids haven’t discovered the truth: you are just human. You have human fears, doubts, and insecurities. You project confidence when you feel none. You struggle with some of the same issues and doubts that your teenagers do, but you can’t ever show it. You have become a parent, an old parent, and somehow you stepped into the role seamlessly, if somewhat geekishly.
I have decided that I will “not go gentle into that good night” as Dylan Thomas wrote. I will not act old, even if the calendar says that I am old. I will hush the grunts that come out of me when I change positions. I will not eat dinner until at least 6 o’clock. I will have my teenage daughter pick out some stylish clothes to cover up the lump around my midsection. I will refrain from asking medical personnel to show me their diplomas. I will drive the speed limit. Heck, I might even try to get a speeding ticket. I will think young, maybe listen to some new, hip music like that Def Leppard or Guns N Roses. And I vow to become more youthful by the time my 44th birthday comes around this summer.
But first, a short nap is in order…