The Old and the Restless

My right knee doesn't always work right. Sometimes the pain in my lower back is so unbearable I swallow an Aleve/Advil cocktail to sleep. My eyes burn most of the time from squinting at a computer

My right knee doesn't always work right. Sometimes the pain in my lower back is so unbearable I swallow an Aleve/Advil cocktail to sleep.

My eyes burn most of the time from squinting at a computer screen. Second-hand smoke sends my sinuses into a tizzy, and fits of hay fever send me to bed.

Because I'm an insulin-dependent diabetic, I sometimes spend more time with my doctor than I do with my own mother. Also, because of my diabetes, I'm supposed to annually upgrade my eyeglass prescription. The lenses are growing so thick that, after my last visit to the optometrist, the technician chirped how surprised she was the lenses fit the smallish frames at all.

"Usually lenses this thick hang over the frames so much that the lab won't even build glasses like these," she said.

Oh. Thanks.

Then there's the insomnia. Always the insomnia. I sleep so little now that I don't know which came first — the sleeplessness or the hot flashes aggravating the sleeplessness.

But, hey, I'm not complaining. Really, I'm not. I'm just sizing it all up.

It's the eve of my 37th birthday.

Birthdays have that sinister way of forcing contemplation upon us. I never thought I'd be one of those people who equates the breakdown of my body with age, but here I am.

Actually, I can blame my body's resistance to age on my formative years as a human Jungle Jim. Children of every age, size, shape, color and physical agility have swung and flung themselves from my limbs. All those years of babysitting countless hellions has caught up to me, and now my knee and back say, "Oh no, you don't" whenever I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

My two nephews, God love 'em, still ignore my graying hair, breasts and muffled pleas of "I'm not a girl, I'm your auntie!" Yeah, right.

They jump from their mother's sofa and land on my back, my head, chest or any part of my body sufficient for a human landing strip. They karate chop and punch me, chase me and wrestle me like I'm some kind of Black Auntie Action Figure and I let them, all in the name of love. It makes me feel like I still can tussle with the best, despite the hot shower and pain pills I'm imagining when I get home.

Age is like that. It's a liar. It fools us into doing and saying things and going places an otherwise secure and sane person would have no part of.

I know. You're thinking: 37 isn't that old. I agree. It isn't.

I'm a recovered manic/depressive precocious child who couldn't picture my life beyond the age of 20. For me, then, turning 37 is like what turning the corner toward the twilight of retirement might be for others. I'm now obsessing over so many life-altering questions that 40 is bound to be anti-climactic. I just might sleep through it.

Come to think of it, I'm probably now in the throes of a mid-life crisis in reverse that, according to my wacked-out math, should've happened two decades ago when I was 18. I'm always a day late and a dollar short, but I'm old.

Does this mean I get a Get Out of Menopause Free Card?

With age comes, of course, wisdom. But just because we're older doesn't mean we get wisdom as a party favor. I know a lot of old, stupid people hardened and hostile by the repetition of their stupidity.

As for myself, I listen and I've tried not to make the same mistakes twice. And that, in turn, takes us to self-preservation.

I feel for young people. I really do. Poor things. They don't know they don't have to go with the Flo's.

My mother's voice is coming out of my face right now, but she's right: It takes age to realize that my comfort is of the utmost importance. So peer pressure is out. By that I mean I'm old enough to know I don't ever again have to do anything I don't wanna do or be any place I don't wanna be.

Old people can do absolutely nothing, look good doing it and don't have to apologize to anybody for not doing anything. They can be demanding because they were born before e-mail, DVDs, cell phones and electricity, and we all oblige because, well, because they've lived.

Living is worth something. The curmudgeonly old people around to tell the tale are the ones I'm drawn to, the ones people clear a path for. That's the kind of old fart I'm shaping up to be. I'll stop driving when my reflexes say so, I'll take my nephews to Amsterdam and I'll still make booty calls. Meantime, I'm cool with the aging process, because the alternative is death.

And that's soooo final.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

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