I tossed and turned in the hotel bed last night. And the night before. You’d think vacation would bring sweet rest but turns out my mind wasn’t privy to that plan. It is hyper-focused on a topic I’ve avoided for most of my life—aging.
Maybe it’s because my eldest is soon to depart for the U.S. Army’s basic training, a grueling nine weeks in which I’ll have no contact with him. Followed immediately by six weeks of advanced individual training. And then, on to a college that doesn’t believe in summer breaks. He is launching, in a very real sense, despite the fact that I somehow forgot to teach him how to properly price car insurance or check a suit for the right fit.
Perhaps it’s because my youngest is headed to high school and—with the departure of my eldest—I’ve realized that in the blink of an eye, I will be kissing him on the forehead all too soon while telling him to call early and often.
It could be because, as I watch the 20-something blonde in her running tights sashay down the airport concourse, I note that the smile the police officers give her is a smile I used to get. When I was blonder. More svelte. Less wise.
I pass shop windows and wonder who that middle-aged woman is, seeing a thicker middle and wild hair—a careworn face. And then, with a slight shock each and every time, I see it’s me. Sigh. I was going to age like Audrey Hepburn, wasn’t I? But that was a lifetime ago. A plan for another time.
I never envisioned aging alone. While always an independent spirit, I assumed I’d meet another male version of that spirit and we’d take on this adventure called life together. I may still. But I don’t seek it. It’ll have to happen by kismet, I’m sure.
Last night, as I finished my meal in the hotel restaurant, a tall, elderly gentleman walked in with a purposeful stride. The beret perched jauntily on his head should have seemed incongruous with his black suede running shoes and track pants. But, he pulled the ensemble off with aplomb. I thought of myself 20 years from now.
I hope I’m an eccentric nuisance in the most delightful way. I hope I live in a college town and take classes alongside the 20-somethings. That I go for coffee or wine with them after and hear all the stories about their young lives. The drama. The risks. The requests for sage advice they will ask for but won’t take.
I hope, like the older couples I recently saw at Long Pond in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, that I wear a bathing suit without shame. That my wrinkles and well-used body are a badge of honor, not an exercise in embarrassment. That sometimes, in the off season, I leave my suit and sunglasses on the dock, diving into the cold water with abandon.
I hope my grandchildren and I have a secret, unspoken pact—made before we entered into these lives—to be partners in crime, just like I was with my Nana. We will exasperate their parents with our antics, bake chocolate chip cookies at midnight, watch old movies together.
I hope someday my boys look back and see that although I was scared s#*tless, I got us through the hard bits. Kept the house. Paid the tuition bills. Lost my marbles once in a while. But overall, did all the things I’d hoped to do as a family of four—minus one—with them. That I would have worked fewer hours if I could have. I hope they find themselves uttering the parenting phrases I said to them, rolling their eyes in disbelief that they now repeat what I said to them so many years ago.
This vacation has been so good for me. I unplugged. I remembered the value of me just being me—not me as a journalist, not me as the bill payer, not me as the chief cook and bottle washer. But it’s also been a reminder of all the adventures I’ve not yet had—and that time is moving so freaking fast. While I will attend to my future, the spotlight for new and hopeful and what-will-come-next is now shifting to the next generation.
I must admit that makes my stomach flip. Partly in fear and partly in anticipation of what’s to come—for all of us.
I guess that’s as it should be.