One of my girlfriends recently celebrated her 70th birthday and it got me thinking about my own 70th milestone. As one of the older members of my baby boomer group of friends, I was among the first to hit the big 7-0 . . . and it affected me profoundly. Hitting 30, 50 or any other big number really had no effect on me as every year of my life that passed just seemed to be getting better. There really wasn’t a downside.
But, the day I crossed the threshold to 70, the world shifted on its axis. Somehow, I realized I could no longer overlook or deny the passage of time. I’m now officially everything those ageist clichés imply. I’m elderly, senior, old, retired, a pensioner. I’m a demographic with all kinds of connotations that tend to be more negative than positive, although not necessarily true.
There’s a lot of negative thinking around aging. Ageism is a form of discrimination with all sorts of unpleasant implications. While it’s tempting to focus on our aches and pains and being on the descending bell curve of life expectancy, on the whole, we’re the luckiest people in the world. I found myself contemplating this when I read a piece in the paper this morning about how the baby boomer demographic bulge is going to strain our social services. It’s an old and worn out refrain that I have no time for.
Even as I start my day, I’m aware of how great life is and how lucky I am to be part of it. My day starts with reading The Globe and Mail while I eat my breakfast and consume two large mugs of strong tea. So far so good. I have a hair appointment at noon. I’ll grab some sushi at the food court in the mall afterward while I people-watch and pass bitchy judgment on the good and bad fashion choices of fellow shoppers. Then, I’ll pick up some groceries on the way home, have supper with my honey, then read and watch my PVR’d television programs. How is that not a perfect day? The only reason I’m able to live this blissful life is that I’m retired and to be retired you have to be a) old, or b) young and extremely rich. I’m a).
I’ve never understood the eternal quest for youth. It’s the benchmark for all advertising and the holy grail for many people who no longer qualify. I wouldn’t want to go back even one single day in my life as it just gets better every year. We have so much to be thankful for, the most important being that we’re still here to enjoy life. Being an old lady comes with so many benefits and I think it’s important to remind ourselves how lucky we are. These are just a few of things I love about being an old lady:
- I don’t have to go to work every day. I’m the boss of me and there’s no one to tell me what to do—no deadlines, sales quotas, reports to be submitted or late nights and weekends spent doing something I’d rather not be doing.
- Being an old lady means I’m pretty much off the radar for sexual assault and harassment.
- We get lovely discounts at movie theatres, certain restaurants, and retail outlets.
- Public transit is cheaper. While Toronto Transit Commission charges slightly less for seniors, the Mississauga Transit Authority (where I live) charges seniors only one dollar, one mere looney to ride their buses. How’s that not a good thing?
- I’ve accepted that my waistline is long-gone and will never return. I sent 34 belts to charity recently and sighed with relief that I no longer have to waste my time on situps that will never change a thing.
- Our circle of friends is proven and loyal. They’ve withstood the test of time.
- Being the boss of and the last word on the use of my time is one of the biggest advantages of being an old lady. I can be as productive on any given day as I wish, or I can sit and read a book all day if it’s too nasty to go out.
- I recognize that my happiness is no one’s responsibility but my own. I’m the arbiter of my own day.
- Interestingly, I’m also relieved that I won’t live long enough to see the results of the damage currently being done to our planet. I’m doing the best I can in terms of recycling and being environmentally conscientious but that’s all I can do. It’s now pretty much out of my hands.
I’ve now reached a point in life when function supersedes form. Comfortable clothing and shoes have now replaced the latest fashion. Instead of worrying about whether all the trappings of my physical life are coordinated and aesthetically pleasing, I’ve opted for comfort. My LaZgirl chair is probably the world’s best invention since the Guttenberg press. The fact that it’s ugly is not important. My decorating gurus definitely wouldn’t approve, but it elevates my tired feet, supports my wonky back and provides the perfect landing spot for my lazy brain when I fall asleep reading.
There’s a reason birthdays are celebrated. They’re a gift, a reward for another year of being part of this vast universe of life. But turning 70 is a sobering reminder that the gift of life now has a time limit. This recently hit home with me personally when a few days before Christmas I fractured my hip. That’s something that only happens to old ladies, right?
About ten years ago, I had both hips replaced. That experience alone made me so glad I reside in Canada where we have universal health care, and I was taken care of without cost. So, when I heard a loud snap, crackle, pop in my left hip as I went to turn around in the shower, I was afraid I’d broken something that would have grave consequences. Fortunately, the fracture did not require surgery (like a broken rib) and with the aid of a walker and time, I’ll gradually heal. My artificial hips are intact and structurally sound.
That incident was a reminder that as boomers, we now have to “act our age” and make sure we conduct our lives in a way that is conducive to longevity. We’ll be installing grab bars in the shower and following up with the doctor about bone density issues. Many of us no longer drive at night and we only partake in sports with minimal risk of personal injury.
Whoever thought we’d come to this? While we don’t have to orchestrate our lives around “being old”, we do have to become more cognizant of our limitations. We now come home from parties at around the same time we used to depart for a night out. We’re opting for pickleball and guided coach tours instead of downhill racing and backpacking around Europe, arch supports instead of stilettos, and a night of cards instead of drinking ourselves blind with the gang at the pub.
Simple pleasures now provide as much enjoyment as expensive vacations and designer shoes used to. We enjoy our everyday routines and rituals, our friends and family, activities we choose that have not been foisted upon us against our will. As we move into our eighth decade, we celebrate everything that we’ve experienced in the decades prior and look forward to in our years to come.
Boomers now get to determine what kind of day we’re going to have when we wake up in the morning. We have the wisdom, the experience, and the intelligence to chart happiness in the context of our own lives. If anything, turning 70 reminds us of how truly blessed we are. After all, we’re in great company. Don’t you agree? “One” may be the loneliest number but we’re not alone. We have an entire demographic to see us through. Rock on mes très chères.