The Magic Of Growing Old Together

by Kathryn Streeter
Originally Published: 

Memories surfaced of your own parents doing the math when asked how old they were turning as a birthday approached. How such a simple question—how old are you?—required time to answer was inconceivable. Now, you’re suddenly there, realizing that this dependable thing called “time” is performing its magic.

You reflect on the decades. They’ve churned with change. In 24 years of marriage, your family has moved 23 times, with international moves placing you in Germany twice and much later in London with a three-month stop in Dubai. One friend said you must be a swan, “serene externally but paddling like mad under the surface.”

Maybe so. You didn’t detect the worries, but your body did. Sleepless nights led to insomnia, when you should have been falling into a dead sleep like a normal mom in your late 30s. Instead, you’d toss and turn over frenetic planning accompanied by plenty of unanswered questions and concerns. When arriving in London, you felt ghost-like, moving in slow motion as if part of a dream. With sincere wide-eyed innocence, you asked the doctor what could be the problem. His mouth was tugging at the corners, gently trying not to smile at the question. This grandfatherly doctor reminded you that your body was manifesting what was going on inside—you had just made an international move—and to please avail yourself of some medication.

Your body was talking to you. You may have been subconsciously trying to silence the stress, but your body wouldn’t be cowed; it relentlessly voiced the internal turmoil you hardly recognized yourself. With greater clarity than ever before, you felt the fragility of your health. You’d never experienced the palpable sense of aging, but sleep deprivation undermined everything—your emotional health as well as physical well-being.

Every season requires stamina, but one week, your teens had five soccer games. Your dog had a bladder infection that resulted in messes around the house. That same week, three appointments reminded you again of the magic of time. A mammogram. An eye appointment in which you learned you’d been promoted into conversing about farsightedness, reading glasses and, thus, new contacts. Lastly, another hair appointment involving lots of color, a never-ending cycle expressing your absolute rejection of your mousy brown hair and, now, gray.

Your new normal also involves annual dermatology checkups. At one point you made one call for two appointments: “the his-and-hers mole-check appointments,” you quipped to your husband. You were not attached to your moles, except for one. The sacred mole on your arm that you called the “Mom’s Kissing Button” was now in jeopardy. It had lived a glorious existence—push it and expect a kiss! No explanation would quell the kids’ disappointment if you arrived home without your Button. But time was working its magic on them, too.

Today they don’t ask about it: They are teens. You overlooked their increasingly muted enthusiasm, the signs of their entering young adulthood and leaving childish games behind. It was too much to process aloud but the plea in your heart at the dermatologist’s was more about you hanging on. The Button remained, a greater relief for you than for the kids. Someday there may be grandkids to appreciate it.

After 24 years of marriage and your present life with teens, there’s a robust respect you’ve harnessed for hopefulness. The story is not about the past—intrinsic to any plot is that there’s forward movement. The journey is never passive.

Likewise, the whole person—mind, body and soul—is never static. You know that wishing to banish the signs of time on the physical body is perhaps as foolhardy as yearning to revert back to your youthful college days: That wrinkle-free face didn’t exist in a vacuum. It was part of your whole self. Just as there were no wrinkles, you also lacked the intellectual, emotional and spiritual depth time affords.

Yesterday, your husband caught up with you: He’s 46 too. As he left for work he mentioned that birthdays weren’t as exciting as they once were. You couldn’t disagree. Birthdays force the tension of change: the definitive goodbye to the past year with the arrival of a new, blank slate blooming with opportunity. There’s magic in celebrating well. You reminded him, too, of time’s best offering: the magic of growing old together. He didn’t disagree.

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