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Just Eat the Cake! Secrets of Aging Gracefully… with Humor

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I’ve been retired from the corporate world for nearly 15 years. As I nudge toward 70, my new job is twofold — to squeeze in the countless activities and opportunities that present themselves daily… and to figure out why this thing called aging has such a bad reputation.

Although some of the changes that come with growing older are unwelcome, aging brings a tre­mendous appreciation for the good days and all they contain. Being lucky enough to have a sense of humor helps, too. What savvy seniors know…

AN OBJECTIVE EYE

One welcome facet of life that only the passage of years can supply is perspective. The over-50 set is more likely to accept bad news philosophically than young ‘uns. Strengthened forbearance against the hard winds of life is a major achievement.

Aging lets us see ourselves objectively and stop comparing ourselves to others. As our values have matured, what once mattered greatly may now seem trivial.

Example: I recently prepared dessert for dinner guests from a store-bought cake mix — something I wouldn’t have dared as a young wife, believing only gourmet fare would do. I hastily frosted the cake before it cooled, causing it to fall apart.

Thirty years ago, if my cake had crumbled, I would have cried in despair, trashed the thing and rushed to the bakery in a panic. This time, I scooped the tasty mess onto each plate, then passed the empty cake mix box around the table to help my guests identify what they were eating. Dessert and entertainment in one!

IRONY SMOOTHES OUT THE WRINKLES

At our age, we grasp the evanescence of youth and beauty, the upswings and downswings of luck — in short, reality. Having lived through tough times and watched friends and relations do the same (or worse), we know that we can survive almost anything.

We develop an amused gaze in later life. Example…

My mother was physically and spiritually beautiful. Even in her 60s, heads turned when she walked by. She laughed sardonically as she noted that the heads she turned now were 60 to 90 years old.

At the beach, my mother would say, looking at a distant woman with a lovely figure, “Enjoy your looks and energy now, honey, because they’ll be gone before you know it.” Then we laughed — she ruefully, I with superficial understanding. Boy, do I get it now.

STAYING OFF THE SUBJECT

As young adults, my friends and I spent our get-togethers chatting about our children and husbands. A few decades later, the main topic had become our aches, pains and hip replacement surgery. Boring!

Solution: Now, we allow designated whining time at the start of each gathering — then proceed to more elevated topics. Favorite topic: The lifelong interests that we finally have time to pursue. Sally leads a choral group in her senior housing complex. I have become a published writer.

Until retirement, our dreams were on hold. Now we live our dreams.

PERILS OF FREEDOM

Thrilled to pursue long-postponed goals, dizzy from choosing among countless activities, retirees can become giddy with liberty. With work pressures and child rearing behind us, we’re free, free, free to live some version of the life we always dreamed about. We’re like kids in a candy shop. We want more than what’s good for us.

I wish I had a hot fudge sundae for every invitation to which I said yes but (an inner voice told me) to which I should have said no. I’ve had a hard time accepting that I can’t do everything the way I used to.

Monkey wrench: We’re still coming to terms with our age-related limitations, running in circles until we fall down. My friend Adrienne remarked, “Who says retirement is a time to sit back and relax? It’s more like re-tiring — getting tired again.”

As energy wanes, I keep hoping that mine will sustain me through the endless parade of barbecues, parties and trips I have every intention of attending. I’ll try not to push myself too hard. Instead, I’ll make a point of enjoying every minute of what I can do.

JUST SAY NO

Many retirees wear themselves out attempting to keep up with children and grandchildren scattered here and there. Efforts to see them all, especially when kids have divorced and remarried, can quadruple the number of households to visit, holidays to organize and cards and gifts to buy and mail.

To have the time of our lives without letting it kill us, we must pick and choose. Some solutions…

  • Plan downtime. On your planning calendar, write FREE on the days before and after trips and other high-energy activities.
  • Relinquish your reign as Designated Host/Hostess of All Events and Holidays. Tell your grown children that you’re retired — and tired. Help plan the menu and guest list. Cook or bake family favorites… and then cart them to someone else’s house.
  • Use leisure time efficiently. Occasionally, dine with groups of friends instead of one on one.
  • ALWAYS NEW BEGINNINGS

    Aging needn’t be the end. Often it is the beginning.

    Example: I always wanted to be a motivational speaker, but fear held me back. Recently an opportunity to speak on the excitement of aging presented itself. Although I worried that I had made a terrible mistake, I pushed myself to do it.

    To my amazement, my talk was well received and I loved every moment of the experience. Do it again? You bet I will.

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    Source: Laverne Bardy-Pollak, author of the humor column "Laverne's View" for 50 Plus Monthly, a regional New Jersey newspaper, and a columnist for the nationally syndicated Senior Wire news service. Her essays, articles and poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. A resident of Newton, New Jersey, she has compiled a book of her columns and is writing a novel. Date: August 1, 2006 Publication: Bottom Line Tomorrow