Here is what I used to think: that I would always feel 26. Or even 35. I rejected the relentless march of time. Blessed with good health and a family tree of vigorous, long-lived women, I figured my odds of reaching an advanced age without visible signs of decrepitude were better than average. And for a while, they were. Married at 20, a mother at 21, I enjoyed a long run as the youngest parent on the playground bench and the PTA board. When my oldest child started college, I was still on the fair side of 40. I had energy to spare. I had years to burn.
Let’s just say it was great while it lasted. The biological clock seems to be catching up with the calendar. The obliging body that used to thrive on neglect and roar symptom-free through 18 hour days has started to rebel. The steel-trap memory that never forgot a lunch date or a password is showing signs of wear. Witness the Post-it notes waving like tiny flags from door frames and refrigerators. Witness the woman pushing the elevator button instead of bounding up the stairs.
Witness the grandmother who can’t figure out the car seat buckles.
A long-awaited visit last month from our two ravishing toddlers was everything I had hoped it would be. We read stories, baked cakes, attended festivals, ran through sprinklers, splashed in pools, discovered new playgrounds, and dined out on pizza. We rose at dawn and rarely paused for breath before 1 p.m. nap time. We went to a lot of places toting a lot of equipment and clambering in and out of the car like those clowns at the circus.
Getting there was not half the fun. Between the canvas carry-alls full of sippy cups, crayons, and emergency rations and the car seats invented by medieval torturers, hitting the road felt like the Iron Man Decathlon. And that was before we even left the driveway.
Arrival at our destination signaled the next challenge: the search for a clean bathroom. The law of averages decreed that it would be at least a half mile away, uphill, and locked when we got there.
What’s the big deal, my inner 26-year-old asked. You used to do this with three kids in New York City. You used to take two subways and a bus to the Bronx Zoo carrying a picnic basket and a folding stroller. Shape up.
That was then. Now, muscle groups I didn’t know I had protest at every turn. Knees wobble. Hips that willingly accommodated 20-pound 2-year-olds threaten to give way.
I’m not that old. People much older than I am are running for president and leading Fortune 500 companies, jobs that require nearly as much stamina as caring for small children. I’m not ready for Geritol and bingo, but there’s a reality check here, and it’s written in flashing neon.
Maybe it’s the collision of expectations and limitations. Time was on my side for so long that I counted on boundless energy as a kind of birthright, a permanent entitlement. Even now, I find myself fantasizing that a month at a spa and a brisk course of weight training is all I need to restore me to strong, lithe, non-creaky splendor.
But the truth is that my days of toting that barge and lifting that bale are numbered. I can play Ring Around the Rosy with the best of them; I just need a hand getting up when we all fall down. Count me in for the trip to the zoo, the water slide, and the bounce house. I’ll even carry the folding stroller. Just build in a little time to sit on a bench and breathe deeply.
And get someone else to fasten the car seat buckles.