Hindsight is indeed 20/20; so is your vision, when you’re young— or for many of us, it is. It’s only later, much much later, that you start to look back on so many things, and say: Oh, now I get it. The scary part, however, is that by the time you’re saying that, it’s really too late. You don’t get it, you got it, and you’ve become a cliché. That is what I’ve been painfully realizing over the past year or two.
The awareness started creeping up on me, even before my kids started leaving the house; but, watching them leave— and watching myself react to their leaving, plunged me into a whole other world, full of irony and twisted logic; and, to my tremendous consternation, I’ve become some of the clichés I most dreaded, and in fact mocked.
A Mother Who Isn’t Sure What To Do Next: Frankly, I didn’t see myself as a mother who would need something to do, when her kids were gone. I never saw myself as one of those moms who is so wrapped up in their kids’ lives that they have none of their own. I had friends; I travelled without my kids; I had interests that were outside the home; and I was not a mom who was lost without my kids. If they were off at camp, or away for a while, I generally did a happy dance and my house stayed cleaner. Sure, I missed them, but not enough to worry about my mental health. Yet somehow, when first Principessa (my 23-year-old daughter), and then Middle Man (my 21-year-old son), each moved out of the house, I found myself tripping on my sense of loss, and started to see that I wasn’t sure what to do with myself or my time. I found myself in grocery stores, loading the cart with foods I’d been buying for years: Oh, there’s the gluten-free bagels (Principessa is GF), and wheat-free tamari; That would be a great source of protein (Middle Man’s been a vegetarian since 4th grade); etc. I would get two-thirds of the way through my shopping and suddenly realize that half my cart was filled with things we no longer needed. One time, I found myself sobbing in the middle of an aisle, and calling a good friend to come help me move. I was paralyzed by my grief. I did not see that coming. It’s gotten better, but the grocery store is still the hardest place, not my home. I’ve changed things at home, I’ve gotten used to their absence, but at the grocery store, so many things remind me and pull me back.
The shopping issues diminished over time; it’s gotten better. However, like a junky who gets an occasional hit, when they come home for a visit, I over-compensate and buy too much of the GF stuff, too many veggie burgers and fish. I’m left with pantries and freezers full of stuff I have to eventually throw away (GF donuts only last in a freezer so long, not to mention the space they take up)… which then puts me in a funk, as I accept again that I don’t need to provide for two of my kids anymore. And while the food issues have gotten better, there is that general sense that I’m more than semi-retired at this point. I’m closing in on that golden handshake. They come home less and less, and need little when they do. The realization that I hopefully have at least twenty active years still in me, begs the question: what next.
I am writing. I write every day. I hope to have my first novel published, and then, in that grand scheme that’s bubbled up from my depths, I imagine myself writing more and more. While this was always a deep down hope, a dream, I hadn’t really prepared for it, nor had I planned. What if it doesn’t pan out, I worry. What will I do next? Is it enough to have lunch with friends, and take spinning classes? Do I want to volunteer in areas that interest me, or travel, or just enjoy the free time? Yes, I know… life is tough. I am lucky, to have such quandaries. The point is, I have become that woman, that mother— the one I pitied, the one I couldn’t imagine being. I thought I was more complex than that, but I’ve become the cliché I dreaded.
Vanity: Oh how I hassled my mother, when she got a face lift and a tummy tuck, sometime in her fifties. The disdain I had, for her vanity. I plan to age gracefully, I told her, with more than a little condescension in my voice. I admit it, I felt superior when I told her that it was her smoking, not age she had to worry about. More than anything, the smoking ages you, Mom. I don’t smoke. I was sure I was right. But wrinkles find us all, and I haven’t found them as charming and sacred as I’d imagined. The fact that each wrinkle tells a story, frankly, bums me out. I have a lot of story-telling going on my face, my knees, my hands, my neck—which is collecting folds and doubling up on chins. I need the magnified mirror to see, but then wish I could un-see what’s there. The extra weight that snuck up on me, after years and years of being naturally, and easily, thin, is worse. Oh to look like I did in early pictures, when I thought I was fat. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted; I never worked out; and, I rarely gained weight. I may have thought I could still lose some, but when I look at those pictures now, I’m startled to see myself. How did I not see that I was that thin, then?
The idea of “procedures,” and creams and efforts to turn the clock back are much less offensive now. There is waxing and zapping for those hairs that threaten to connect lip to chin. There is lifting and sucking and camouflaging, to distract others from the inevitable effects of gravity and time. If I paint my toes blue, will you ignore my crows feet? It’s a slippery slope, for sure. How much would that hurt? How much does that cost? I don’t look at myself in the mirror and say, Gee, I’m glad I’m growing old gracefully. I am kicking. I am whining. I am glowering at myself. Vanity, the vain older woman— another cliché I arrogantly dismissed in my youth, has found me.
The Older Person… Who Talks About Health Stuff: Shit. I mean really, shit. When our whole family recently went on a vacation to Barbados, I looked around the table one morning and realized that we— my siblings, our spouses, the parents of the youngins’— we have become the older folks. When I married my husband, I was twenty-four. My daughter is twenty-three now. I remember looking at his parents, who were only in their forties, and thinking they were pretty old. I looked, back then, around at the aunts and uncles, and we laughed quietly behind their backs. They compared knee problems, and things that grossed us out; retirement plans; issues with their parents (our grandparents)— they all seemed pretty old to us. They had personalities that we, the younger generation, chalked up to age and decline. The idea that we are becoming the “grumpy one,” or the “funny one,” or the “chubby one,”… oh, that stings.
Sitting at that table, and at more than one meal with friends recently, I listen to the conversations, and realize that we are them. We are our parents, our aunts and uncles, the older folks. My nieces and nephews look at me, the way I looked at the others, then. I may be the fun aunt… but I’m the fun, older aunt. I’m the aunt that’s a lot softer in the middle. I’m the aunt who had knee surgery in January, and can’t do some things because both knees hurt, when I do. I think about all of those old relatives very differently now! If they were alive, I’d have to apologize. “Hey grumpy, it’s me, lumpy.”
There are bodily things that just reek of decline, my decline—our decline. This, too, blind-sided me. When did I become my mother, Grammy? When did my knees get creaky, and my body begin to sag. When did dairy become a problem, or certain spices. When did I start saying clichéd things like: Man that Miley Cyrus is out of control! She is really crossing the line. Maybe I would have thought it at thirty, but I wouldn’t have found it so offensive. One more cliché that has tied me in knots, and left me dazed and confused, and flatulent, if I’m not careful.
The Person Who Thinks Things Have Changed… For The Worse: I found myself arguing with my son, over multi-tasking the other day. It happens more and more lately. We debate who had it harder in school? We debate whether playing too many video games is bad for you. I say yes, he has lots of science to support his theory that it isn’t, but there’s plenty to support my argument that we used to play outside more… and that was better. I scowl at parents who are on their cell phones, while they push their kids on the swings. We didn’t have cell phones when my kids were little. We pushed them, and played with them. Sure, we go tired and distracted, but there was a lot less multi-tasking, because we didn’t have all the
cells bells and computers whistles. When I learned to drive, there were no cup holders in the car, let alone phones and food. I’ve become that lady, that older lady who finds herself kvetching about change, and how it’s all going to the dogs. Dogs who were not so designer, back then. What a cliché!
Years pass, age happens. Hindsight is more 20/20 than I ever would have imagined. Even that is a cliché. Of course time passes; and, I have used that phrase for years: hindsight is 20/20, but not until I had enough hind to see, did I realize how much of it was true. I’ve started to see that what my parents said, and their parents before them, back and back, isn’t all that different from what I have to say now. I thought I was different, but only the small details change; the big picture seems pretty much the same. I’ve realized that some things—so many things— just take time, lots of time. Now, I see it all through new filters. But, it’s too late; I’ve already become so many of the clichés, I most dreaded, the very things I mocked in my elders. Perhaps, it was inevitable. But that’s a cliché too.