Here are words I never imagined myself saying: When you get to be my age.
Of course, there was a time when I never imagined myself saying a lot of things. Finish that homework. Turn that music down. Watch your tone of voice. Eat those beets. Stop punching him. Stop feeding the dog under the table.
There was a time when I believed I would never utter such admonitions. I would be a natural, intuitive parent who would lead by sterling example and govern with such easy grace that the souls in my care would want nothing more than to delight me with their exemplary behavior.
And now you’re asking: How did that work out?
Not as planned. Not even close.
So I guess it should come as no surprise that the A word is rolling off my tongue these days, despite any fantasies I may have entertained about eternal youth. Another birthday is a few weeks away, and I feel as though I’m stuck in one of those old movies where the passage of time is marked by pages flying off a calendar. Whole decades wheel and swoop around me. The ’70s in New York, the rush of being a full-time resident instead of a suburban visitor. The ’80s swirl past in a blur of impressions: moving to Knoxville, hating Knoxville on sight, making peace with Knoxville. The ’90s and college graduations and the empty nest. The new millennium, a new house, two new jobs, two weddings, four grandchildren. History summed up in bullet points and the changing landscape of this small town masquerading as a middle-sized city.
When you get to be my age, you can remember those old metal awnings on Gay Street and the old newspaper building on the corner of Church and State where I used to pound out copy in a smoke-filled room and watch stray cats sun themselves in the windows of the defunct Knoxville Business College across the street. Now one place is a vacant lot and the other is high-end condos. Sic transit gloria mundi.
“When you get to be my age” sounds like something old people say, gray-haired, creaky-jointed, go-to-bed-early people. It doesn’t sound like the Woodstock generation. It doesn’t sound like mini-skirts and psychedelic posters and protest marches. I watched a documentary about baby boomers the other night. The past and present photos were daunting. When did the bell bottoms and shoulder-length hair become mom jeans and zero-maintenance bobs? Somewhere in those flying calendar pages drifts a 20-year-old with a vast sea of future tense before her. Wait, I want to say. Not so fast.
The plus side of the high-number birthdays is supposed to be wisdom born of experience, and when you get to be my age, you’ve got plenty of that. Experience, that is. The wisdom part is still a work in progress, sifting through the layers, examining the shards of good intentions, small triumphs, inevitable defeats.
But now that I’m beginning sentences with this geezer phrase, there had better be some payoff. The next words can’t always be “spicy foods are pure poison” or “you’re just glad to wake up every morning.” I need something more upbeat, something edgy, something unexpected. Like, when you get to be my age, the one thing you can’t live without is a Harley. Or, when you get to be my age, tattoos suddenly make sense. Or maybe, when you get to be my age, the only days that matter are the days you are too busy living to notice age at all. m