Sunday, November 30, 2008

Little Indignities

The other day a student rushed up for a hug. Then she looked at me and asked, "Why do you have two different shoes on?"

I looked down at my feet. Sure enough, the left foot wore a blue shoe, the right one a brown. I have taken to wearing Crocs since a bout with plantar fasciitis so at least I was wearing the same style shoe. They were just not the same color.

I grinned at her. "It's weird shoe day, didn't you get the notice?" I asked. She shook her head. Then she took off down the hall to ask her friends if it really was weird shoe day. I ducked into my classroom. Later in the day I saw the same student in the hall. "I think you're the only one who got the weird shoe day notice, Ms. Clarke," she confided. "No one else did!"


J burst out laughing when I related the story to her and told me about the day she went to work with her skirt on inside out. If anyone noticed they didn't mention it. Finally a student asked her why she had those funny threads on her skirt. J looked down. Sure enough, all her seams were showing. She hustled into the women's room and righted herself. "It was dark when I got dressed," she made excuse. I know. It's dark in my closet, too.

As if looking foolish wasn't enough for the day, that night I got out of bed to use the facilities. I caught my foot on a basket of magazines that I've avoided on my nightly trips for the past 8 years. My balance, never good since an inner ear infection, deserted me completely and I fell. Fortunately a chair stopped my body and the china cabinet stopped my face. I crept painfully into the bathroom to inspect the damage, fully expecting to see the beginnings of a black eye and a split lip. I thought I detected some minor swelling and two red spots on chin and forehead but the next morning there was not a mark on my face. You'd think I'd at least have had a bruise to show for all the pain, some swelling and a shiner to brag about.

"That's how it starts, Memere," my daughter-in-law said ominously when I joked to her about being old and falling. "I was able to get up by myself, though," I reminded her, feeling suddenly much older. While we spoke, I moved the offending magazine basket.

I am not yet, nor do I want to be, at the emergency-call-button-night-light-on-clear-path-to-the-bathroom stage of old. J says we just have to take these things in stride. At least, she reminds me, we're still laughing at our mishaps. I just wish I wasn't laughing so often!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Signs Everywhere

J & I were discussing general decline the other day and she remarked, "There are just no red flags. You can be driving down the street and suddenly you can't remember where you were going."

I know that feeling!" I exclaimed. "Just yesterday I was on my way somewhere and I found myself in town rather than on the road home. I thought, 'Where is my car going?' It took me a moment to remember that I wasn't on my way home."

"Well, wherever it is that I'm going, I'm not sure I want to get there," she said, looking down at her hands. She held them up for me to see. They looked just like mine - used hands full of aching knuckles, age spots and wrinkles. "But, apparently I'm going despite myself." We both sighed.

The next day, a particularly warm one for late October, she stopped by to chat. I was out on the glider swing in my yard, basking in the sunshine. I was dressed in the shorts I kept putting away and taking back out as the weather see-sawed through early autumn. She laughed when I stood up.

"Look!" she cried. "You have gnome knees, too!"

I looked down. Sure enough, my knees looked like they belonged to the Saggy-Baggy Elephant. I thought wistfully of the ultra-slim me of years before. I went inside to put on the kettle (and a pair of concealing jeans.)

"It seems like our ends give out first," J said over tea. "My feet ache, my hands ache, even my hair hurts. And look at it!" She pulled a hank of it forward. "It has no body, it won't hold a curl, it isn't even a color anymore."

We consoled ourselves with a piece of pie. Chocolate cream. I'd had a craving the day before. "At least my end is plump," I observed. "And it matches my knees." Pie does wonders for all things saggy - including self esteem.

Speaking of decline, if there is one book you are going to read this year, make it Peak Everything by Richard Heinberg. It might scare you (he talks about inevitables) but it also might make you take a look at our society as you would your aging body and start now to make what amends you can and plans around what you can't fix. For this decline, we've had plenty of red flags.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Falling Apart...

It’s that time of year when nothing in my closet is appropriate for the weather. It’s too cool for my short-sleeved cotton blouses and too hot for a sweater over them. It’s too cool for shorts, too hot for corduroys. It’s too warm for a hat, too cool to go hatless, too chilly in the mornings for sandals, too warm at noon for shoes. It’s also that time in my life when clothing that fit just fine when I packed it away last spring no longer fits my ever changing shape. Things are “settling” as the doctor so gracefully put it.

I was griping about this to J who declared, “I know! Even things that fit don’t fit.”

Not only do we have nothing comfortable to wear, we’ve both discovered a newfound inability to cook. (The fact that we both had our first failure with brownies may have a direct link to our clothes not fitting properly, but we’re ignoring that on the basis that life is currently more uncertain than ever so we’ve opted to eat dessert first.) Anyhow, giving in to an urge for chocolate in the form of brownies, I opened a box of mix, followed the directions, and produced a pan of something akin to brownies but, well, crumbier. It was impossible to cut the baked result without having the bars disintegrate into a mass of sticky crumbs. They were delicious crumbs, mind you, but they were impossible to pick up without a fork. I took some over to J’s.

“I can’t cook anymore,” I told her, offering a pile of brownie crumbs to her on a plate. Her husband snorted. “We still have our teeth,” he said.

“I don’t know what happened,” I said after he stopped laughing. “Who can screw up a boxed mix?”

“You?” he ventured.

J took the brownies, forked a few mashed crumbs into her mouth and pronounced them delicious. “We’ll just eat them with silverware,” she said.

A few weeks later she called me on the phone. “Remember those brownies you made that came out all wrong?”

I hooted. “Have you topped that?”

“Well,” she said, “I made the mix according to the directions but when I poured the batter into the pan, it seemed awful thin. So I checked the box and realized I’d put in a cup of water instead of a ¼ cup. I thought, ‘I can fix that,’ so I grabbed the container of flour and added some. Only it wasn’t flour. It was pancake mix.”

I could hear her husband hoo hoo-ing and ha ha-ing in the background. “I’ll bring you one,” she said. (You know what they say about paybacks…)

The brownie was surprisingly good, especially with a scoop of ice cream to ease it down. Still, if these two examples are anything to go by, we may both be changing our shapes once again. I understand raw foods are really healthy. Why just last week a headline exclaimed that a woman who went raw lost half herself. I hope if I lose half of myself, it’s the half that can’t fit into my current clothes.

photo credit:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

We Can't Because...

We just can’t…

Finish that sentence with
1. clean the house because it’s too big (J) or organize it because it’s too small (P).
2. mow the lawn, rake the grass, bag the grass, distribute the grass in the garden rows because we’ve worn ourselves out thinking about cleaning.
3. weed the garden, pick the ten thousand ripe tomatoes, can the ten thousand ripe tomatoes, or eat one more zucchini because the garden is just about done producing anyhow and besides, some of those weeds are supposed to be edible.
4. do both loads of wash in one morning because to hang two loads on the line requires twice the energy.
5. iron those blouses that have been hanging around waiting to be ironed because once they’re worn just one time, they’ll need washing and ironing again.
6. make a big dinner because cereal and milk is just so much easier.
7. clean the porch (or the garage or the closets) because next year they’ll look exactly as they do now.
8. entertain because the thought of making large quantities of food and then cleaning up large quantities of dishes make us think of napping.
9. make the bed, because, speaking of napping, it’s what we like to do best in the middle of the afternoon and what’s the point of making a bed THEN?
10. do much of anything. It’s just too exhausting!

J and I have discussed this lack of energy a LOT. J has proposed the theory that now we’re at this age, we understand that we’re perfectly capable of doing all these things so we don’t have to. We don’t have to prove anything or demonstrate our abilities. So, though all these things need doing constantly and unendingly, there’s no need to really DO them because we know, should the need arise, we could rise to meet it.

I like that theory but I’ve put my lack of energy down to, well, a lack of energy. It’s not boredom based, it’s not based on laziness, it’s tied to everything else we talk about on this blog – body deterioration. It’s like our bodies are saying, “I know how to do this, I just can’t right now.”


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Missing Grace

Growing old gracefully is somewhat of an oxymoron. There is nothing graceful about wobbling behind a metal walker or hobbling with cane in hand. J and I have not yet, thankfully, reached that stage but there are other things that come to mind as particularly graceless.

Getting Up And Down. Getting down is not as problematic as getting back up, which requires much forethought and a new kind of dexterity. I often get down on the floor to play with the grandchildren. I’m fine sitting cross-legged or sprawled on my side but it requires both of mine and all four of the grandkids’ arms to get me upright again. I can lean on one hand, push myself onto my knees and from there manage (with a boost) to stand. Or I can grab onto something sturdy and haul myself unceremoniously to my feet. Neither way exhibits grace in any form, especially when accompanied by various grunts and whistling breaths.

Getting Caught. Not the old standbys like getting caught in a zipper or getting trapped in your car. Getting caught on the toilet seat is NOT the same thing. J recounts the time her mother slipped unannounced into the bathroom. Moments later there was a tremendous crash. J ran for the door and called out, “Mom, are you ok?” Mom walked out, adjusting her clothing.

“Of course I’m all right. I just got my jeans caught on the toilet seat.”

J looked at her.

“Well,” demanded her mother. “Hasn’t that ever happened to you?”

“Ummm… no,” said Jan. She was just 42 at the time and it hadn’t happened to her. She tried to imagine such a thing.

“You sit down and your jeans are around your knees. And when you lean forward your jeans hike up in the back and get caught on the edge of the seat and then when you stand up, the seat falls down behind you.”

“Oh,” said Jan.

Now she’s 63 and guess what. Today she slipped unnoticed into the bathroom and moments later there was a tremendous crash.

“Are you all right?” called her husband.

J didn’t even bother to answer. How do you explain such a thing? She did think to herself, “Oh my poor mother. NOW I understand.”

Getting Uncrossed. When we were young ladies we were taught to cross our feet at the ankle when sitting down. Then we learned to cross our legs at the knee, showing off our stockinged calves to boys at dances. Now we can’t do either because of the excess flesh we’ve acquired. Where did it come from? We have lumps and bumps and bulges and it all jams up when we sit down. Nothing crosses anymore; not our flabby arms over our bulging chests, not our chubby knees, not even our puffy ankles. However, we’ve both noticed that our toes are beginning to cross, probably from wearing the wrong shoes all those years. Now we know why native peoples go barefoot.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Chronology of Deterioration, Part I

P learning to control lip leak and J with her own invention of the nose tampon.

SOMEWHERE after fifty-five-ish one reaches the Stages of Deterioration, also known as the big D. One morning you wake up and you can't read anymore. You rush off to the eye doctor and he says, "Well, that's what happens."

That's what happens?

Uh huh, that's all they can tell us. And it's a hot ride downhill from there. You not only can't see as clearly as you did yesterday, you can't hear as well, or get out of bed with the same vigor, or get up off the floor without getting to your knees first and heaving yourself upright. You look in the mirror and it's as though you've just washed your face and can't do a thing with it, all of your vital parts have headed south on the express train and in the process certain body parts have doubled in number—chins, for example, or butt cheeks. Yesterday you had one chin and two buttocks; today you have two chins and four cheeks, three side grips, two distinct belly rolls, and upper arms that look like balloons with slow leaks.

You have pains in places you know shouldn't hurt, patches of itchy skin, spots of various colors in previously unspotted places. Your memory isn't what it used to be and besides that, your memory isn't what it used to be.

All things being equal, (this blog is not for those who die suddenly), the years from fifty-five-ish to when you're finally OLD are a series of little degradations. One word of advice. Hang onto your sense of humor. You're going to need it. When all the things you've taken for granted—your figure, your teeth, your eyesight, your control over bodily fluids (see photo above)—and your need for all those things that you (and everyone else) have mistaken for identity markers disappear, it's just you and whatever makes you belly laugh. And if you can't laugh, you'll just get depressed and either rush off to the first plastic surgeon that your fingers walk to in the yellow pages or you'll stay home all the time because your nostrils leak.

Don't think you are not going to deteriorate. You can't cheat it. But relax, it doesn't happen all at once, just mostly all at once. We (J and P) are here to share with you all the things our mothers never told us (or maybe they did but we didn't listen to them) about the aging process. We're both in our 60s, both gradually turning into people we don't recognize on the outside but still hanging on to our prime 40s on the inside. We compare notes constantly.

P bewildered: "I blew my nose this morning and I got this wicked sort of scraping pain in the back of my throat."

J in commiseration: "I know. It's like you blew your nose and you missed and the air got sucked in from the wrong place."


J in dismay: "I've discovered you have to put your bra where your boobs are. Even if you tighten the straps and try to haul them up to where they should be, they just fall out from underneath and you're constantly having to make adjustments."

P sighing: "We need to invent bra strap extensions."

We thought it might be helpful for those approaching the big D to be aware of some of the pitfalls of the aging process. We’ll post them as they happen to us and figure you can either sympathize or empathize, depending on how far along the geriatric path you are.

P & J