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The Price of Aging Well

It's worth the effort ... most of the time.

by Rita Ayers
April 19, 2006

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The Price of Aging Well
I was at the pool yesterday, about to jump in for my regular regimen, when it struck me how much I actually hated the jumping in part. And then, the first half-lap really isn't my favorite part either. After that, I find a peaceful rhythm which is soothing, relaxing, wonderful. I learned quite some time ago that I could just check my progress by the clock and forget about counting laps. Without that bogging down my mind, I am free to think of all sorts of things as my brain is lulled ever so gently by the water.
This time, though, the contemplation of how significant a deterrent the jumping in part was to my continuation of this routine played over and over in my thoughts. Why, I asked myself, do I do this? The answer, of course, was that I hate myself if I don't. I want to be counted among those elegant women who are said to be "aging gracefully," and I am only now coming to realize exactly how much effort that takes.
It's not the monetary costs which serve as an impediment to this goal. Rather, it's the ticks of the clock, the true currency of our lives, that interferes with my ability to take care of myself as I should. I was never a girly-girl, and therefore never learned to spend my time flipping through magazines at hair salons or studying my face in the mirror to determine if the Sun-kissed Bronze or the Just Peachy shade of blush would best create the illusion of Audrey Hepburn cheekbones. Now I find, with my disappearing youth, that it is most difficult to deliver myself to all the proper caregivers so that I won't scare colleagues, neighbors, and friends.
My grandmother once said to me, without considering the way my literal mind works, that she wished she could just take her arms off at night because they got in the way of a good night's sleep. I was horrified at the thought, reflecting that if she had no arms, she couldn't hold my hand as she took me from store to store to buy all the clothes that my mom had already vetoed. 
Now, however, I think my grandma may just be on to something… removable body parts. If I could do this, I could simultaneously send my hands over to the manicurist and my teeth to the dental hygienist for a good cleaning. These are two personal care chores that really make me crazy, because I'm trapped completely. If the manicurist takes my hands in hers, I can't flip the pages of a good book, or tap my stylus on my Palm, or even pick my teeth or my nose should the need arise. And my dental hygienist, she of the flawless teeth, incessantly asks me questions while she has both hands and four instruments in my mouth. I try to close my eyes and listen to the piped-in Muzak, just to give my mind something positive to do, but her insistent queries interrupt the tranquility and I nearly choke to death as I attempt to gurgle a response. Trapped!
Detachable limbs would let me send my failing knees over to the orthopedist for the quarterly shot of cortisone that allows me to walk without flinching, too. The benefits of this should be obvious to all. If my legs aren't attached to my body while my poor knee receives the injection, the signal telling my brain that it hurts can't reach its destination. I could be better spending my time watching my daughter play softball, suffering angst only if her team suffers defeat. And what a huge time-saver it would be if I could simply remove my hair and send it on over to my hairstylist for its every-six-weeks shot of Autumn Brown. I had to quit yanking the gray ones out when I realized it was better for them to turn gray than turn loose. And my eyes!! I love my optometrist, but those shots of air straight to the pupils, and the wonderful dilating solution that renders me blind for half a day, could best be administered while I'm tucked safely in bed for a nice afternoon nap. After all, I wouldn't be able to see to drive, read, or clean house at the moment, right?
There are others, of course, some of which are relatively positive experiences that I wouldn't choose to opt out of, such as the rare pedicure I treat myself to (feels great when your feet are sloshing around in the little baby hot tub while your aching calves get rubbed with sea salt). But I'll send the appropriate body parts over to the mammogram technician, thank you very much, as well as the dermatologist who whacks off little parts of me anyway to make sure I'm not a victim of skin cancer. Trying to stave off the inevitable facial wrinkles isn't bad, because the facial is accompanied by serene music, as well as lots of lotions and rubbing and gossip. But, since it is sometimes followed by having all the little extra hairs from around my eyebrows yanked out by the roots (ouch!) with that lovely treatment of hot wax and yanking tape, I think I'll just send my entire face – a la John Travolta in "Face Off" – over to the skin care expert.
Okay, Scientists of America, I've issued the challenge! Figure out how to take me apart – painlessly of course – so that I will be all put together without sacrificing my enjoyment of the precious moments of life I call my own.

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Janet Johnson from Lynchburg VA writes:
April 20, 2006
Dear Rita,

I very much enjoyed your article about aging. I liked so many of your excellent turns of phrase and thought. The idea of ticks of the clock being the true currency of our lives particularly struck me. I also identified with your grandmother's comment about arms getting in the way when you're trying to sleep. And finally, I especially loved your clincher - take me apart... so that I will be all put together - clever. Thanks for writing!

Janet Johnson


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