My Broadway Bound class started Saturday. I had a little rush of interested BOYS (scarce as hen’s teeth in my theater world) so I let them all in even though we were sold out and now I have 35 kids, when my usual target is 24 and my stretched to the gills number is 32. As I said to one mom—I might as well have kept teaching grade school in Detroit! Because we are doing Fiddler on the Roof—a show they don’t know, their parents don’t know and a few grandparents don’t either—I felt the need to give more background than normal. We even got into pogroms. This history lesson likely made them antsy. They were there to sing and dance, not listen to me blah, blah, blah about religious persecution.
I say all this to make myself feel better about what happened next. I told them I needed a little old couple to do one song from the show. I asked if they could please try to recruit their grandparents. I said I needed old people with personality. They brainstormed some ideas, mostly grandparents who would be PERFECT if only they didn’t live 5 states away, and then one earnest little girl looked me right in the eye and said, “Why don’t you just do it yourself?” I managed to chuckle and resist the powerful urge to choke her while screaming, “Because I, my darling, am not OLD!!! I am still 18 on the inside. Can you not SEE that!?!?!?!”
I just read Dick Van Dyke’s latest memoir which includes a conversation with Carl Reiner. Dick is now 90 and Carl is 93. They both talked about the daily shock of seeing old people in their mirrors. How does this happen!?! How can the age of our faces be so completely disconnected to the age of our spirits?
I wrote a poem a few years ago entitled 58.
This is the year my left knee stopped turning sideways and my teeth started costing $2,000 each to repair.
I’m adding this to my list of questions for God:
Why do our bodies fall apart just when our souls are coming together?
Nothing so very new here. The saying has been around forever that youth is wasted on the young. Maybe I don’t feel too old now because I never felt very young then. I was way too careful, responsible, cautious and fearful to really cut loose and enjoy all that energy and stamina and strong young body. Jeez! What a waste!
But there are things to be grateful for. I am 61 and have only a handful of gray hairs—confined so far to my temples, where I can pull them out if they bother me. I have a 50 year-old friend who is likely going to need a new knee and another in his mid-60s already on his second. Most of my parts are working and out of sheer stubbornness I manage to both read and drive without glasses.
And after all, age really is relative. When I taught 2nd grade in Detroit I took advantage of my birthday to motivate the kids to work on multi-digit subtraction. They were dying to know how old I was so I put up the current year and then my birth year and told them to figure it out. The correct answer was 44 and when my brightest student had solved the problem he shouted out “DANG! She OLD! My granny ain’t even THAT old!” Sadly, he was right.
When I got pregnant at 45 I was sent for genetic counseling. I was put in a conference room with other “high risk” mothers and shown a power point on birth defects. The most memorable slide showed the risks of giving birth to a Downs Syndrome baby. The risks were very low in one’s 20s, increasing steadily into the 30s and shooting straight up in the 40s until age 44 where the graph stopped altogether. My risk was apparently so high it couldn’t even be charted! When I cried to my kindly OB he said, “Oh, don’t worry. At your age you’ll never go full term anyway.” He was sending me home to wait around to miscarry. And yet 15 years later my beautiful Alyssa plays a mean clarinet and takes AP classes and plays tennis and makes me laugh every day.
When I teach kids their first Beethoven piece I tell them that he may be the most famous composer in the world but that he is also really, really, super-duper, very very very DEAD. They think that’s funny, but one day a little girl asked with great sincerity if I had known him personally. I conceded that he had been my prom date but that now we were just Facebook friends. Since nobody has ever figured out who the Elise was of Fur Elise fame I am just going to start claiming that he wrote it for me and changed the name to protect my privacy.
So I guess I don’t really care if the kids think I could play Golde or date Beethoven or be the big sister of their grannys. I can still roll around on the ground with toddlers and touch my palms to the floor in yoga and make it (slowly) up the big incline on my favorite Leelanau bike route so screw age. It’s just a number and I prefer words—like active, happy, healing, fun, sunshine, all-expense-paid-trip or power ball winner. My 50s were my best decade so far and what are the odds of that? Maybe in the next decade this old coot will actually learn to paint and write a book and get better at music and maybe even accept that French nouns have genders (le livre, la table—ridiculous!).
DANG! She not done yet!