Lucy Lemay Cellucci

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The Five Second Rule of Aging

Five_second

Aging, it would appear, is no laughing matter. Despite the fact that there have been numerous comedies based on all stages of its progression – coming of age, middle age, old age – it would seem that, generally speaking, it is perhaps one of the largest anxiety-producing circumstances of the human condition. Many of us are prone to bouts of emotional turbulence as each of these milestones approach. The cosmetics/beauty industry in particular has done a remarkable job of capitalizing on the insecurities of women, selling us products designed to diminish the physical signs of aging. What is it about getting older that many of us find so displeasing? Why do we insist on treating getting older as if it were a chronic health condition that can be overcome if we work hard enough? Though I see this with alarming clarity, I appear unable to completely disentangle myself from this particular train of thought. My inner, authentic grown-up has spent much time analyzing my bizarre behavior, but has not returned with an answer as to why I feel uncomfortable to look my age. (Actually, I’ve just finished sorting out why I don’t act my age. That took a really long time.) I used to comfort myself with the idea of age bringing wisdom. Ironically, however, the older I get, the less I realize I know about anything. But for the purpose of filling my monthly blog quota, I will attempt to assemble what I feel has been the highlight of each of the decades of life that I have, thus far, been blessed with.

CHILDHOOD:childhood

The first decade of life is the most magical of all of life’s stages, if one is fortunate enough to be raised in circumstances that permit such indulgences. Here in Western civilization, if you are raised in a middle-class family or higher, then this decade of life is largely centered around you (the child) and the things that bring you happiness. Children are wide-eyed explorers of the world and are seeing things for the first time on a daily basis. Like tiny, vigilant scientists, they want to know how and why the world works in the way that it does. They pepper their parents with endless questions and shamelessly wear their favourite clothes every day. In this decade of life, we play hard, cry loud and dream big. We beam with pride at our accomplishments. We love letting people see who we are. We are preoccupied with birthday parties and Christmas lists. Our hearts are open. Our minds are malleable. We believe in the people who are raising us. We aren’t afraid to eat food that has fallen on the floor.

ADOLESCENCE:adolescence

For some, the next decade of life brings much turbulence and emotional upheaval. Armed with awkward, growing bodies and veins flooded with hormonal influx, adolescence can be a troubled time filled with angst and insecurity. On the cusp of young adulthood, many teens are learning to navigate situations that require maturity, restraint and forethought. Now that you’ve figured out how the world works, your next task is to decipher how you will work within it. Most of us acquire our sense of identity through a series of good and not-so-good decisions that yield a variety of results. Though we don’t realize it, every choice is an opportunity to learn. Of course, we don’t see it like that in the moment – we already know everything. At this stage, hearts and minds are not the open books they once were. We learn to hide our feelings. We fear letting people see who we really are. We are preoccupied with the concepts of social acceptance and rejection. We strive to look older. We have little to no patience for the people who are raising us. Some of us will still eat food that has fallen on the floor if we think nobody is watching.

TWENTYSOMETHING:twenties

Depending on which era you came of age in, the decade of twentysomething can look very different. At one time, being in your twenties meant that you were holding down a full-time job, paying a mortgage and were most likely married with a family to provide for. Today, being in your twenties usually involves studying for a career or vocation of some sort that has you in the position of still being financially dependent on your parents. Known as “the throwaway decade,” many young adults are slower to launch into this next phase of growth than their predecessors. As a by-product of having parents who have worked so hard to make our lives better, many of us in this stage of life struggle to stand on our own two feet and meet our own needs, allowing a misguided sense of entitlement to stand in the way of reaching our goals.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we may work tirelessly to push away that nagging sense of insecurity that all those dreams we held for ourselves as children may not come true, after all. What if we aren’t any good at our chosen professions? What if we fail in our education? What if we never find the right relationship? This is a period of pursuit. We chase our dreams and are greatly pre-occupied with finding a partner, establishing a career or finding adventure.  We don’t yet realize that the things we want so desperately for ourselves in this stage of life may not necessarily reflect the desires that our post thirty-five-year-old selves will hold. We have little tolerance for the shortcomings of others. Like our adolescent selves, we still think we know better than most. By now, most of us have a few people in our lives whom we treasure. We have learned the importance of letting some people see who we really are, but the social mask is still at the ready, to be worn when the perceived need arises. It’s considered a personal victory when we are not carded upon purchasing alcoholic beverages. We are glad to finally have some space from the people who raised us, though we are getting better at remembering to call for special occasions. By now, we’ve stopped eating food that has fallen on the floor – unless we’re drunk. Then all bets are off.

 

THIRTY SOMETHING:thirty

For many people, women especially, this is an all-consuming and exhausting decade. By this stage of life, many of us are established in careers or paid work that take up a great deal of our time. The career-minded generation is also hit with a double-whammy, since this is also the decade in which many of us start our families. We dangle precariously on the precipice of work/family obligations, overcommitting and overextending. Many of us try to be too many things to too many people during this phase.

Women strive to be both breadwinners and homemakers. We fear saying “no” to someone. We are pre-occupied with parenting philosophies and developing the talents of our children. We sacrifice weekends to catch up on work or ferry children to hockey tournaments. Each day is a race against the clock to get things done. Many of us will also be vulnerable to experiencing an identity crisis of sorts as we try to tease out who we really are away from our work and families. One of the greatest sources of discord during this stage of life is not being able to answer the question of who we are without having other people to define the answer for us. By this point, many of us are beginning to realize just how clueless we really are.

The realization that there truly are no “grown-ups” in life brings a mixture of resentment and relief. You think about the last decade of your life and wish you could go back and give yourself a good, hard slap across the face. Coffee and wine become the staples of your life. You begin to react to the shortcomings of others with a little more softness than you did ten years ago. You’re too tired to put the social mask on for people – not that it would do you much good –  you can’t even find it anymore. You suspect that it’s buried under all that crap in your garage. You treasure the people who really know you (that means all the folks who don’t judge you because your garage is such a damn mess). You’ve stopped eating food that has fallen on the floor, since you want to set an appropriate example for your children (and husband). You think a lot about the people who raised you. You see them in a new light. You catch yourself saying or doing something that reminds you of your mother. You call her – even though it’s not Christmas, Mother’s Day or her birthday.

 

FORTYSOMETHING:forties

No longer pre-occupied with crafting a social image, finding love, procreating or being at the top of the work totem pole, one of the greatest offerings of this decade, I am thrilled to be learning, is the ability to simply enjoy being alive. By this stage many of us have made peace, in one form or another, with our families of origin. Accepting our own imperfections has made room in our hearts for the imperfections of others. This is a decade for purging –unused housewares, outgrown children’s items, the collection of garden gnomes you never used (Hey, is that the garage floor?!?!) and the negative emotional baggage you’ve been carrying around –all of it is no longer needed and gladly discarded. A newly acquired appreciation for quiet has taken root. I find myself seeking solace on the front porch, back deck, a walk alone … I am learning the value of enjoying my own company.  Accomplishments are lovely but no longer mandatory requirements for contentment.

My social circle has narrowed, yet at the same time, it has grown richer. I look around at all the things that make up the core of my life – marriage, parenting, teaching, writing – and realize that none of these things defines who I am, but rather the people and the things I love. I define who I am with my thoughts, words and actions. One of the most delightful symptoms of growing older, I am coming to realize, is the healthier and richer relationship that I am beginning to form with myself. The best part about it is watching it spill over into my relationships with others. And, most surprising of all, when I find myself inclined to socialize and enjoy an evening of entertainment with others, it is often the company of my siblings that I enjoy the most. There is much to be said for the comfort that is drawn from being in the company of others who share not only your DNA but also the same warped sense of humor. Neurosis is best enjoyed when you don’t have to explain it to others. Realizing that a little dirt won’t kill me, I’ve developed a systematic approach to food drops: the five-second rule may apply only to dried goods such as crackers and unpeeled produce. Foods such as meat, soft cheeses, yogurt and poutine require an immediate “cut my losses” response and get tossed. And it goes without saying that spilled wine gets soaked up with a paper towel and squeezed back into the glass, obviously.

In the end, I suppose I can conclude by saying that although age may not necessarily bring wisdom, it does bring peace. True contentment is not something that is reserved for the very young or the newly retired. It is something that is cultivated gradually, over time, surpassing the milestones and the five seconds that it takes to evaluate food that has fallen on the floor. 

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