Archives for posts with tag: aging

In 1956, my parents bought the 2 1/2 acres on which their house was built for $2,000.  My dad was laid off so they had time to look at property. But they were taking a chance because $2000 was all of the money they had. They were investing in their future. In 1965, they built a house on it for $20,000.  My mom told the builders that they couldn’t cut down any more trees then were necessary to build the foundation for the house. Despite the fact that she had four children and was pregnant with me, she visited the construction site and pointed to the different stands of trees, little islands of forest still standing in the front of their house. “You can’t cut that down, it’s a Douglas fir! You can’t cut this down! It’s a Western Hemlock”.

I grew up in this house in what was unincorporated King County, about 12 miles from Seattle. Even when I was in high school my friends’ parents would say, “You live out in the Boonies.” We had three close neighbors who had horses. One even had a training arena. Another family had a horse who was the national and Canadian champion (English riding style) for a couple of years running. There were also cows, goats, woodlands, and wetlands.

As Seattle has grown, more and more people have moved to the suburbs. Seattle has become a very expensive city in which to live. I actually live in the city proper. My neighborhood is not fancy. I live in a two story ranch style house from the 50’s. Nonetheless, I spotted two houses this summer valued at a million dollars each. I’m sure there are more.

The house and the surrounding woods are my parents’ home. It was my home for many years. It is also a quite valuable piece of real estate. When my dad was retiring, he and my mom visited an attorney to discuss their estate. I remember my dad coming home from that meeting, pretty happy. He and my mom had also made conservative but consistent investments in bonds and CD’s over the years. My dad was happy because he felt that he and my mom were secure financially for retirement.

My mom turns 80 on Saturday. My dad turns 82 exactly one month from Saturday. They live in the same house. For the last several months, there has been a huge “Notice of Development” sign right next to their driveway. The neighbors asked, “Did you sell your property?” They did not. However, my dad, who makes sure he attends the development meetings and looks at specifics noted that the map of the proposed development included a road that went RIGHT THROUGH THEIR PROPERTY.

Although the design was later modified, the developers still have a problem. Without a road through my parents’ property, the development would be located on a dead end street. My dad attended another meeting this week. The fire department was not happy with the idea of a housing development being located on a dead end street. That’s not very safe. What if they have to get somewhere and the street is blocked? The developers argued, pointing to my parents’ property on the map, “That property is going to be sold really soon.” And they even kept talking about my dad by name, not knowing who he was or that he was at the meeting.

I went shopping with my dad a few weeks ago to pick out an anniversary present for my mom. My parents are practical, no-nonsense people. My dad was getting ready to spend money so it was only natural that money was on his mind. He was also thinking back to the 60 years he’s been married to my mom and the family they created. He said to me, “I got a lot of money. Dead.”

I knew what he meant but I don’t really like to talk about my parents dying with my parents. So I said, “Yes, you have a lot of non-liquid assets. Your house and property are worth a lot of money.”

According to my mom’s blog, which she posted today, the developers were thinking that my parents were worth a lot dead, too. And he’d decided that they were elderly and that would either sell and move or just die. And they also assumed that in the event of their death, all six of us kids would sell to them.

These assumptions could bear out to be true; nobody knows the future. I hate that my parents are being treated like they are a foregone conclusion and that my parents’ end with be the solution to their dead end. I hate that the beautiful woods that has been there for a long long time is being planned for dissection and demolition. I would say that it feels like vultures circling but vultures can’t really help themselves. People can.

I don’t worry as much as I might about my parents. At the end of the meeting, my dad approached the lawyer for the city of Renton, who had actually argued with the developer saying, “For all we know, Joe MacKenzie is 26 years-old!”

Dad said, “”I’m  82 and may not live that much longer but I’m married to a long living Italian, whose Aunt lived to be 106!”

The woods behind my parents' place.

The woods behind my parents’ place.

My parent's antique physician's buggy. My dad built the building for it as well as a number of other buildings on the property.

My parent’s antique physician’s buggy. My dad built the building for it as well as a number of other buildings on the property.

I remember when I was starting grad school in my 20’s. One of my classmates was from the sunny city of Miami. I noticed that although she was actually younger than me, she had crow’s feet, those wrinkles people get around the corners of their eyes. I figured that since she already had them, I would get them fairly soon. But I didn’t.

The first wrinkles I noticed were above my left eyebrow. I can lift my left eyebrow above my right, just like Spock on Star Trek. I did it A LOT as a teen and a young adult. My younger brother and I laughed about it a lot. It was something I did when I was being silly and having fun.

Wrinkles are signs of aging. The first time I looked at myself and thought, “I’m not young anymore” was in my late 30’s. I was looking at the backs of my hands. They weren’t as smooth as they used to be. In other respects I still looked young. I’ve done a lot of work with my hands over the years. Writing, gardening, knitting, cooking, and caressing loved ones. My wedding and anniversary rings are on my hands.

When I was putting on make up this morning I saw them. I have crow’s feet that don’t go away when I stop smiling.

I’ve done a lot of smiling in my life. And I’ve squinted at the sun when I was in the mountains, the tropical rain forests,  and kayaking on the sea. I spend a lot of time outdoors, which makes me happy. I spend a lot of time with people who make me happy.

The lines I have, by and large, are not remnants of the bumps in the road of life, the wrinkles we have to smooth out. My wrinkles are from the best bits. They show the happy and productive moments that I have enjoyed. If I am lucky, they will continue to broaden and deepen, I hope.

When I was young my face was smooth. Now the lines tell a story, one that is meaningful and full.

Life lines is what they are.

Warning: Smiling can cause life lines! (Also, I told you that my husband puts his camera close to my face.)

Warning: Smiling can cause life lines! (Also, I told you that my husband puts his camera close to my face.)

I almost always cringe when I hear someone who is not elderly, refer to their perceived decrepitude. “I’m soooo old.” “I hate getting old.” I compare it to my own internal tape that told me that I was fat for about 40 years. It was a harmful statement for me to make to myself and reinforces the pervasive negative view of overweight people. There are also pervasive negative views of old people. Our society, by and large, does not treat the most experienced of our citizens very well.

Puppies are cute. They are fuzzy and cuddly but they will also eat your shoe and poop on your favorite throw rug. Young people are also a bit like that. And during spring break, young people are EXACTLY like that.

My parents didn’t really complain about aging in the way a lot of people do.  They were happy and active people. Now they are happy, active, and elderly. In the fall, my mom will turn 80, my dad will turn 82, and the two of them will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on Thanksgiving. I know they have to navigate their daily lives differently than in the past and that this adaptation process continues. My parents are traveling to Yellowstone National Park this summer, a place they have gone many times over the years. This is the first time they are staying in a hotel instead of camping. This is a loss but they have found a way to visit and hike in one of the most beautiful and fascinating places on Earth.

My parents have been blessed with good health, this is true. And they do notice the effects of aging; they are not in denial and they have planned their life in a sensible way. But I wonder how different their lives would have been if they had proclaimed themselves old 30 years ago? I wonder what kind of limits they would have placed on themselves? Or how much time they would have wasted feeling badly about themselves instead of walking together every day, going camping several times a year, spending time with friends and family, and looking at the photos they both take of places and people.

Becoming really good at something takes a great deal of time. I am hoping to be around long enough to be an expert on living my life.

Joe and Martha MacKenzie, Thanksgiving 2010

Joe and Martha MacKenzie, Thanksgiving 2010. See, being as old as my parents looks like it could be fun!



As I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past, I am not a psychologist trained in dream interpretation and generally speaking, the area doesn’t hold a lot of interest for me. But in my own flat-footed way, I get information from my dreams at times. For example, when I have a dream that bad guys are chasing me, it tells me that my daytime anxiety has gotten high enough to invade my dream scape so I take it as a cue to get myself to “calm the Hell down”. (And when I used to have Gilligan’s Island dreams frequently as a kid I perhaps should have taken that as a cue to watch less television! I would ask the Professor, “What do you mean you can’t find civilization? There’s a big resort hotel across the water over there, within easy swimming distance!”)

Another popular theme for my dreams has been pregnancy. I remember having my first pregnancy dreams when I was a teen and they continued for many many years. As I teen I thought of what my life would be like, would I be married, would I have children, what would my career be? I think a lot of those pregnancy dreams were about how my identity was shaping up as a woman and since a lot of those dreams involved me giving birth to lots of babies at once, I think I was perhaps more than a little concerned about how I would establish a work/home balance. When I was pregnant, I had birth dreams. My husband had one, too. He said that I gave birth to a baby who looked like a softball with one eye. Not wanting to distress me (thoughtful even in his dreams), he casually asked the obstetrician, “Hmm, so when do you think the baby will get a SECOND eye?”

Now I have middle-aged pregnancy dreams. On more than one occasion, I’ve realized in the dream, “Wait a minute! I’m not in my thirties anymore. I am 47 years old! Good Lord, how did this this happen? This is a very high risk pregnancy!” No one else in the dreams seems to worry about this. And I try to be as excited as I can be for the birth. Even if this cancer mess had never occurred, I would have a very low chance of getting pregnant at my age. And as long as I take Lupron shots, I will be infertile. Eventually, this state of affairs will become permanent as a natural consequence of aging.

So what’s the deal with the dreams? I guess an obvious explanation is that in losing my fertility I am thinking about it. (Yeah I know, “D’uh!”) The only thing I’ve noticed in my attitude about losing my fertility is that it doesn’t really seem to bother me that much. In contrast to much younger cancer patients, I was done having children quite awhile ago and was in peri-menopause when I was diagnosed. I had never planned to bear any children past age 35, anyway so I think I’d pretty much processed the probability that I would never get pregnant again, already.

I think part of this is just the realization that although I am not old, I’m not young anymore. Unlike my historical hang ups with body image, beauty, and weight, I am surprisingly less concerned about getting older. But I do notice it. My father-in-law, Don, a very fit and physically active man in his early 70’s, tells me that it shocks him when he looks in the mirror. Inside he feels much younger and the person looking at him is old. My Great Aunt Blanche had uncorrected vision problems for a number of years. Once they were corrected, she was shocked at her aged appearance because she had not seen herself clearly in quite some time. She died at age 105 years. She was still living by herself and in her own home, tending to her magnificent garden until she was 103. She was extremely fit and good looking for a centenarian.

But we don’t start off life as 100 year olds, do we? And we develop a view of ourselves over the years that changes over time but perhaps not as quickly as we change externally. I imagine that youth has always been prized due to its association with fertility and reproduction. Our culture, however, has gone incredibly and irrationally overboard with youth idealization. Some people decide that they are old when they are middle-aged, that this is a bad thing, and then they interpret the advancing years in a negative way for the rest of their lives. I sometimes tell people that Aunt Blanche chose her burial outfit when she was 80, only to live 25 more years. My grandmother also chose her burial outfit, a decades old pink and black peignoir set, which she used to wear on special occasions. I think she was trying to set her sex appeal setting to Ava Gabor in Green Acres. But it might have just as well been Esther Williams, since Grandma also used to wear an authentic 1940’s era gold lame bathing suit while she was watering the garden. But I digress…

When my father-in-law was a teen boy he asked his grandfather if there were things he missed about being younger. His grandfather replied, “Every age has compensations.” Don told me that he has carried his grandfather’s words with him throughout his life. As for my own life, I am not as fit or beautiful as I was when I was younger but I am a whole lot happier. I don’t sweat the small stuff so easily. I appreciate each day more fully. Finally, I know a lot of cancer survivors say this but I look at aging differently now. Aging is more life. I can’t be old unless I live for a long time. And that sounds pretty good to me.

Christmas at Johnny and Katie Torlai's house. The boys are my brothers. I am the girl. I am guessing the year was 1969.

Christmas at Johnny and Katie Torlai’s house. The boys are my brothers. I am the girl. I am guessing the year was 1969.

For those of you who didn't get the Ava Gabor in Green Acres reference, here she is.

For those of you who didn’t get the Ava Gabor in Green Acres reference, here she is.

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