The Bitter Pill of Aging

Two dollars and forty-nine cents. That’s all my most recent depression cost me. Lately, I’ve been down. The reason? I’m starting to feel old–I mean FEEL it.

Ever since I turned forty, my stance has been, “I love getting older. It gives me more of a perspective. More wisdom.” But now that I’m forty-four, I’m not so sure.

I dodged feeling sad last year when my eye sight changed. Maybe because they now call them “progressives” instead of “bifocals“, and technology has erased any trace of a line within the lens, my shift in eye sight seemed like just the latest change to my prescription.

And despite the fact that my now-favorite co-worker Bev called me a baby on my recent birthday, I feel I can’t hide from this aging thing any longer.

And that’s why I ended up buying this:

photo (41)

I only take one prescribed pill a day, but I also take some vitamins and supplements, like fish oil to fight high cholesterol. And sometimes I’d forget to take my medicine, and a few times I took it twice. Other times, I would mess up and mistake a vitamin for my prescription… I was careless and clueless.  I’ve needed this for about five years now. I knew it would help me avoid any mix-ups. But I put it off. Getting a pill dispenser meant I was old. O-L-D!

Yet, the reminders just kept coming.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to some younger teachers at work, both in their twenties, and I started to say, “Just wait until your middle-aged like me.” And I had a mini-panic attack. As the words were about to roll off of my tongue, I realized that I had never actually called myself “middle-aged”. My lips became stuck and I  actually stuttered when I started to say mmmmmiddle-aged. Awkward.

Another day, while food shopping, I had to crouch down to get a box of crackers on the bottom shelf. My left knee locked and pain seemed to cement my leg in this position. I could not stand up. I could not straighten my leg. “This is it,” I thought, “I will now have to live in aisle five for the rest of my life.” Luckily, the hurt subsided. But since then, I avoid any crouching tiger positions–although there’s no avoiding aisle five.

Then, I decided to grow a beard for Movember to promote men’s prostate health–and it came in mostly white! One of my students even called me Santa Claus. “I think you mean Santa’s younger, skinnier brother,” I replied.  I wanted to shave it off right away. Damn you beard-for-a-good-cause.

And last week, I had my first migraine. I used to be one of those people who could say, “I don’t get migraines.” Oh, yeah, old man, well now you do. A friend told me that her doctor said that migraines can come on during shifts in one’s life cycle. “And, you know, maybe you’re getting them now because…” Pause. “Because I’m mmmmmiddle-age!” I yell back at her. “Well, maybe,” she says softly.

Then there are the boys. My sons are getting so big. Too big. I know they’ll be taller than me by middle school, and lately they walk around the house like they are auditioning for the role of sullen teenager on next year’s answer to Modern Family. They are content to play on their own. They watch TV and wrestle. I’m more of the guy who brings them Chex Mix or announces when dinner will be. My babies are now young boys–nine and seven.

Recently, several friends have announced that they are expecting. Great news. Yet, soon after learning it, I found myself sad. I’m done having babies. I no longer spend time in the rocker dozing with a drooling child snug in my neck. Everyone uses a toilet successfully (for the most part). Nothing in my house says “Fisher Price“. I am barely able to carry the boys in my arms–not that either of them begs to be lifted. It’s going too fast!!

I knew it was bad, when last week I actually toyed with the idea of having another child. I have adamantly held firm to the idea that two kids is plenty for me. Being one of seven, I like the balance and order that two children (seemingly) affords. Pam and I have always talked about adoption, though, even before we had the boys.  All week, I daydreamed about having a baby in the house. I mused about having a girl this time, and furnishing the now-guest-bedroom with borrowed items from friends and neighbors.

But then I did the numbers. Our youngest is seven, we’re forty-four, I haven’t had to get up at 2 a.m. for a feeding in 5 years. And I would be sixty-two at little Charlotte‘s senior year Back to School night. I’m already tired–now Lottie was beginning to exhaust me.  In the end, reality won over fantasy. Yet, one thing became clear. One of the reasons I’ve been feeling old lately is because it seems as if my kids don’t need me like they used to. They are more independent and I’m a little lonely. Sure, I’m their chauffeur, their human calculator at homework time, and number one fan at Saturday soccer, but it’s not the same as cradling someone you love in your arms, or holding someone’s hand just because, or singing them to sleep.

The other night, when I was being drill sergeant in the bathroom about brushing teeth, the boys and I were thinking of words that rhyme with “brush”. I said, “hush”. Then, I began to sing Hush little baby don’t say a word, papa’s gonna buy you a mocking bird...  Hayden looked at me wonderingly. “I used to sing that song to you when you were a baby,” I said. He nodded, toothpaste foaming in his mouth. A few moments later, when his older brother had left the bathroom, he tugged my arm and whispered, “Could you sing that song to me tonight in my bed?” “I sure can,” I whispered back.

And that’s exactly what I did. I curled in next to him and sang him that song, then a few others from my repertoire from his younger days: “Molly Malone“, “Feed the Birds“, and “Shenandoah”. I think he was asleep after two songs, but I didn’t care. I wanted to linger. Then, I crept out of his room and down the stairs. In the kitchen, I went to the cabinet and opened the W on my pillbox. More certain about things than I’d been in weeks.

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23 comments

  1. So much good stuff here, I don’t know where to begin. So, instead of beginning I’ll end with the fact that my youngest, who turns sixteen in three days still wants hugs from me (and gives the most incredible hugs to me) and songs sung to him and books read and all of those little things.

    Well done, Dadicus, well done.

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  2. Come now, Dadicus, you know aging is a “bittersweet” pill, considering the alternative (of not aging). You live your life well and it just ends up being a life well lived. If only we could put a stopper on time sometimes, though. I regret to inform you that it (okay, our perceptions of it) just keeps passing by more quickly as we age (why did I read that research?). May the minutes slow to a glorious halt, and may your boys always appreciate lullabies. I share in your sorrows. And your joys. Life is grand, isn’t it?

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    1. Since I read this comment a few days ago, “A life well-lived” has been a refrain in my head. You are right, it is bittersweet. And even though I can’t slow it down, I’ll do my damndest to appreciate it every day:)

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  3. So if you bought that at 40 and feel that way, just imagine how I felt last year when I bought one… AT 30!!!!! Just saying… 🙂

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  4. One of your best posts, IMHO. I laughed, I sadded (I was in line at the bank for God’s sake). I got a laugh that we were just talking about this very topic the other day and how true it is. However, when I call myself middle-aged, it is only with hope that I’m STILL middle-aged at 44 and haven’t yet passed that mark. Don’t worry, good things are ahead. Anyway, Dadicus, try not to fall and break a hip at the Acme.

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  5. So beautifully paced. At least you have your boys to help you mark the passage of time. Those who don’t have this sort of measure wake up at 50 or 60 something, realizing they completely skipped middle age and ended up just plain OLD. This is really a great piece, Michael.

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  6. Great Essay Mike. Believe me the pain is diminished when you get to watch your kids succeed on their own and you realize you did something right,,,,,,,,,, or more likely Pam did something right! Seriously good work!

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    1. Thanks, Adam. I consider myself lucky to watch the kids in our neighborhood grow into such fine young adults. It gives me something to aspire to as a parent. I appreciate the comment. Happy Thanksgiving!

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  7. I so know how you feel Michael. Thanks for sharing this – it made me feel less alone in my own crisis! Whenever I feel depressed about ageing, I recall my grandmother (a feisty and no nonsense 84 year old) telling me, ‘you’re either old or you’re dead, now which would you prefer?’ Unfortunately, those are our choices! So let’s embrace our pill boxes. 🙂

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    1. I hear you, Michele. And after reflecting on that post, I was reminded of a poem I taught years ago called Lucinda Matlock, wherein the speaker–a very old woman– chastises the young with the following:

      What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
      Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
      Degenerate sons and daughters,
      Life is too strong for you–
      It takes life to love Life.

      It’s from Spoon River Anthology
      – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16077#sthash.CYTbpbIs.dpuf

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