On Growing Old(er)

By Icy Frantz

I woke up old.

Just yesterday, in my mind, I was young; not quite a girl in her teens or twenties or even a young bride, but maybe a new mom toting little children, strollers, and car seats, with the capability of balancing a toddler on one hip, a coffee in a free hand, and looking great while doing it. Or Perhaps I am closer to the more seasoned mom of teenagers, sometimes ornery, dressed in yoga pants and running shoes, cheering on the sidelines of an athletic field.

But this morning, when I woke up in a home eerily quiet save for a snoring dog, I suddenly realized that something had shifted. Surely, it didn’t happen overnight, but it felt that way.

I have always had a number in my head – an age that would confirm that I am indeed still young, and although I have moved that goalpost a few times over the course of countless birthday cakes with candles that have given off increasingly hazardous heat, this morning there was no ignoring it.

Now, one could say that age is just a number, or that relatively speaking, I am still younger than some (and of course this is true; I am sure at 65,70, or 75, if I am so lucky, I will think I had no business writing this piece), but there comes a time when the warning signs are deafening. And although my hearing is not what it used to be, I can hear them, and I am forced to accept the inevitable.

Instagram algorithms have determined that content including anti- aging miracle creams promoting radiant wrinkle free skin and garments that hold in unwanted bulges will increase my user satisfaction. It takes me longer to scroll through the years to find 1965 in the drop-down menu on applications. Seeing a sign for senior parking- I had to ask my husband – does this apply to us? The signs, both physical and abstract, are there.

I was reading a magazine at the doctor’s office (a place that I now frequent more often – not because I am sick, thankfully, but because as we get older our health demands more time, more tests, and more attention) and landed on a piece about middle age. The author, a newly minted 40-year-old, was complaining about becoming middle-aged, and I wanted to scream, “Not at 40!”.

I was 40 when I gave birth to our daughter. I was 40 when I ran a marathon. I was also 40 when I started to wear readers – 0.25 strength! – that I needed at night because, as my ophthalmologist told me then, my eyes are perfect, but the muscles that help them focus are weary after a long day of everything that a 40-year-old does.

These days, those muscles are weary when I wake up, and it’s not limited to those around my eyes. And where I once needed very weak readers, I now have an entire restaurant routine that includes stronger ones, the flashlight on my iPhone, a magnifying card, and – worst case scenario – an offspring that can read the menu to me.

I have spent the last month in physical therapy; as we age, our muscles need more too – more planks, more crunches, more stretching – and we need to be more aware of the mechanics of sitting at a desk or driving a car. In essence, we need to do more for less return (if we were a stock, our future would be questionable.) And it turns out my mother was right: posture does matter. And, as I have learned, we can even tweak our back while sleeping –that just doesn’t seem fair.

Perhaps it is a good thing that we no longer have small children to watch over, because being older takes an enormous amount of time. Not to mention- tough on a back tweaked in slumber. Note to my children- such back will be sacrificed for grandchildren.

I told a friend I was writing a piece about growing older and she made me promise that I would mention the mysterious advent of chin hairs that accompany aging, so here you go…chin hairs. This is for you, friend.

And while chin hairs are living their best life, the hair on our head begins to retreat like an army in the throes of defeat, and if you are like me – not gifted with a thick mane to begin with – it’s important to hold onto what we’ve got (even if it’s thinning).

And though our hair may be thinning…the rest of our body is not.

Now, the physical part of getting older has its challenges; it can feel like we are running on a treadmill that is increasing in speed with the bright red emergency kill switch tempting us, but the emotional part requires deep reflection.

When Kristie Alley died at the age of 71, a friend told me she saw this headline – “Kristy Alley Lived a Good Long Life” – and thought, 71?! That would mean 15 more years for me, and there is just so much still to do.

We begin to think of our bucket list and realize that, where we once kicked that can of dreams down the lengthy block, there is now less block. So, we take action.

And knowing that there is less time, we can hone into what is personally important – people and places we love – and learn to let go of the rest.

At the age of 95, my rebellious grandmother let go of the laws that no longer applied to her. She would park her car anywhere – in front of a store, the beauty parlor, in the no parking and tow away zones – it didn’t matter. In her mind, she had earned the right to break a few rules.

I may not be 95, but age does give us some freedom to buck the system. Some constraints and guardrails we felt when we were younger evaporate. We care less about what others think and lean into what we want. I mean, if we ruin our reputation, we have fewer years to live with the shame, right?

I had a coach in high school – an older, wiser man I adored – and he used to say, “Age before beauty,” and walk onto the squash court in front of me. Well, Ronnie, I’m first in now, too. You taught me how to enjoy that honor.

Thankfully, I can look back on my youth – and hold tight to those awesome memories. When I could stay up to midnight and wake up spritely the next day or get out of a low-riding sports car with my knees intact or walk into the pantry and recall exactly what I set out to find.

I saw a quote in an article in the New York Times and I think it is applicable here. “Expiration dates are not expiration dates.” The piece was about food, but it made me think. Do we ever become irrelevant, past our prime, bruised and forgotten- I think not, in fact there are many foods that simply improve with age- time is what is needed to enhance flavor, to allow for the many facets to blend and marinate which ultimately results in an exceptional and enriched dish.

So, together with the soups, stews, sauces, cheeses, and wine, I am on my way to becoming an exceptional and enriched dish. And that is not so bad.

“Wrinkles only go where the smiles have been” – Jimmy Buffett.

Icy Frantz
Read more at the Icing on the Cake

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