There is a difference between aging and growing. Aging is what we see in the mirror; growing is the vital ingredient mirrors don’t show: the saucy verve, the sculpture, the adjustments.
Growing up is what my seven year old grand daughter is doing. She tells me about reading books and drawing pictures. She wants me to know she’s bigger, smarter, and faster than her little brother whom she adores but must surpass as it is her responsibility to him, to lead, and teach and boss around.
Once upon a time I grew taller and taller and finally stopped at five foot five. I’ve shrunk; gravity has had its way with me. All that pounding on my joints from walking around on this ol’ earth has ground down my softer skeletal tissues. No matter how much I hold in my tummy or stretch to the skies, I am today five foot four.
Once upon a time I also had a little brother to boss around and teach. What a bogus exercise is lording it over a sibling. Today the man, my little brother, is six feet tall, a father, a husband, a business man, and one of those respected individuals none of us would wish to be without.
Sometimes I grow too much. I am not a dieter. I eat, usually three times a day. I also enjoy wine. So I carry at least ten or fifteen pounds more than my imaginary image of myself. I can weigh between 135 pounds and 150 pounds any given year depending upon whether I drink wine once a week or twice a day, or eat sandwiches or half a salad for lunch or skip desserts altogether or indulge in a chocolate cherry cheesecake on my birthday, everyone else’s birthday, or for breakfast.
My skin grows — actively, vitally, egregiously– reminding me I’m still very much alive with hundreds of skin tags and a host of subcutaneous keratosis, brown crusts mixed with soft freckles. My bones are growing: bunions and calcifications of tendons. I also have a growth with a fancy name on my left hand and which I am told will eventually prevent my hand from making a fist. I think my ears are bigger. My nose seems longer as well. There is this loose flap developing under my chin. I’m a little afraid of what might happen to me around thanksgiving. I might be misunderstood as fowl. And sometimes when I go to brush away a hair from my lapel I find it is attached to my chin and must excuse myself from polite company in order to pull it out with pliers.
So you see I am very much alive and well for all to see– and hear.
Behind my friendly smile and kindly ways, I have strong opinions. Just get me started. I’m against all manner of things: intrusive noises like the torso thumping bass from passing cars or my neighbor’s mind numbing, after midnight hard rock; I am against cities without sufficient sidewalks and bike paths, like my own city; cable TV monopolies; unqualified political candidates; greedy wealth; dirty clothes and messy rooms; stacks of paper; weedy yards; waste; inefficiency; war; gluttony; meanness; and opinionated people, like myself, so I try to be quiet. It’s not easy. I am known to some of my friends as “Bossy Pants,” a nickname truly and proudly earned.
I can’t believe I am seventy-two. Inside me is a silly child who loves ice cream and bright colors, striped socks and bling; who enjoys snuggling and teasing; who feels like running on the wind across a ridge, picking flowers in a meadow, and splashing across rocks over a stream. All the roles I imagined as a child, those unaccomplished ones — flying like a bird, being an orchestra, painting like Mary Cassatt, or winning a Pulitzer Prize — I still aspire to despite the obvious futility.
Yesterday I hacked away at the soil with a spade, pruned rose bushes, divided perennials. I told myself not to talk to myself as I worked. That’s what old people do, talk to themselves while they garden. Don’t be old, I say. I had two hours, three at best, before my right foot would give out and I’d need to head in for a shower, an ice bag on my ankle, and a snack with Naproxen.
In the evening I dressed for dinner, in slimming black and a dotted pink silky blouse and pink crystal and gold jewelry. Not too bad, for seventy-two, still upright, still stepping out, still growing. Just be kind, I reminded myself. Not too bossy. Not too caught up in yourself. Your problems are nothin, Honey. Not yet, not today, not tonight.