The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Second Act September 17, 2012

“Bankruptcy is not a dirty word” is followed by an image of a Staples-esque ‘easy’ button… “Considering Divorce?” is followed by a graphic of two browning, crispy roses shedding their petals… Been looking online for a local attorney to help me create a will – not that there’s anything except a few killer gowns and a handful of vintage keyboards to pass on – as I was reminded once again by my primary doc recently at my annual one-stop-shop-git-it-all-done visit that I really should, as a 49 year-old single mother, have a will in place. Yeah, made sense. After all I’d come to my doc’s to demystify my physical world, to break it down, to learn the things I must watch over more closely as I neared the half-century mark. To create the most personally important to-do list ever and to put it into action.  And if she had a sidebar tip about end-of-life planning, why not. Hey, it was a small personal success that I finally knew my cholesterol numbers, so I was ripe for more forward strides.  When she said the bit about the will, I immediately whipped out my date planner and wrote it down in the never-ending list. At least it was finally written down. A physical manifestation of my intention. A good start. It still must make its way into action, and that is why I find myself tonite, after having watched Oliver! with Elihu and finally putting him to bed, searching for attorneys to help me craft said last will and testament. Maybe not the best way to shop. But hey. It’s a start. And besides, I feel the need for an internet nightcap.

My shopping for an attorney reaches its conclusion, so I set sail for a little fun… I begin to torment myself, searching for “then and now” images of actors and musicians (as initially inspired this evening by me and my son wanting to learn more about the kids in the production we’d just seen.) Interesting indeed, heartbreaking too. I hardly remembered the chap’s name, but I can tell you that as an eight year old girl I felt the first, faintest tingles of sexual excitement watching Jack Wild on his crazy, high-70s adventures of HRPufnstuf. It was good that I finally saw him as Artful Dodger – else the poor man would had died with me only knowing the fluff that followed. I see he played football – but let’s just call it soccer – with Phil Collins, whose mom was a talent scout. Ok. I’m stuck at the idea of little Phil and even littler Jack playing soccer…I begin to imagine it… the future pop icon’s soccer mom says “Philip, sweetie, can you bring Jackie over here for a minute? His Mum and I need to speak with him about something…” Oh yeah, and that Jack Wild is even dead – that was sure news to me. You too? Just wait til ya Google him and see him looking like, to quote my son,” a ninety year old lady”. He had oral cancer, and it must have helped to shape his face in the final years. As I study the changes – the ones I hope so dearly people will overlook in me – I note how even the subtlest shifts result in a remarkably changed countenance. Tiny increments can result in a big transformation. Yikes.

I admit it; every so often I check up on folks to see how they’re aging. Lately – as in the past six months or so – I find myself thinking about aging a lot. I don’t mean this with any false modesty; I know that I don’t look bad for my age. I feel relief that I don’t – cuz in my younger years I fairly begged age to make an early home with me, indulging in hours on end of baby-oil sunbaths while sucking down Marlboros and hydrating myself with alcohol… Although that was several decades back, and it hardly seems like it should still count, I’ve heard the damage lasts. I dismiss that thought however with visions of regularly scheduled yoga classes, daily aerobic activity, disciplined portion control, and a robust daily intake of water. In this future life I also see daily meditation, an orderly, systematic approach to household chores, more delegation of such to my able-bodied son too. Oh, what a bright life this will be. This life that I will start just as soon as my house is clean and tiday. What’s that? Oh yes, my house is clean and tidy. Well then, just as soon as we get Elihu’s new violin and get him started on lessons. Then I’ll set out to get going on it all… Oh, but then there might be a day job… And I can’t possibly start drinking all that water if I have to sit at a piano all day, can I? And yoga – I can’t go because it’s too late and Elihu would need a sitter!

All joking aside, whether the hitches are mild or severe, there truly are some blips in the road that seem to make my ‘new lifestyle’ a little less than practical. I was able to do the yoga thing for a while a couple of years ago, but it just got too expensive. So I’m hoping with the little extra cash from playing piano for Waldorf, I can afford them again. But when? If not working, then it’s mom duty. No subs for mom. Grandma has to tend to Grandpa. No budget for babysitter. See? Taking action can be tricky. Still, there must be a way to live well. More research will be needed on this one.

And this aging thing – I just can’t lie down and let it take me without a fight. But that’s essentially what I’m doing. I think I’ve got a pretty healthy mental/spiritual/emotional thing goin on, and I do believe that helps to mitigate the signs of aging (cosmetic or otherwise)… but the physical part of the equation has me a little worried. Just tonite, after sitting for an hour to watch Oliver! and then getting up and trying to walk down the hill to the compost pile – OY! did I feel like a little old lady. Sheesh! Hand on my lower back, unable to stand up straight… A real mess, and just because I sat ‘wrong’ for too long. Yeeps. Now that feels old. My core muscles were hardly able to help. I slipped from right to left, each side taking the shortest turn possible in keeping me erect. I can honestly say it was kinda scary. Cuz I can tell you, just one short year ago my body never felt like that. I haven’t been using it much, and well, we all know what happens ‘when you don’t use it…’

I once found and contacted Jaye P. Morgan’s most recent producer and was this close to getting an interview with her for my radio show. This was a good ten years ago now, and back then the woman must have been in her late 70s. I’d been fascinated by how she, as a career diva, had dealt with aging. She’d even written a comic song about west coast plastic surgeons and the everyday trials of her glamorous, aging peers, so I knew she was at least able to treat the subject with some humor. But I wasn’t persistent about making the interview happen, and deep down I think she didn’t really want to get into it. And maybe I myself felt that it was too intimate a territory for me to breach. So I let it go. Besides, at a mid-thirty something, what the hell did I know about aging yet? Nothing! These days, however, I bring some experience to the table. Just this afternoon I even removed a pure white hair from my eyebrow. A first. Sigh. Miss Morgan, if you’ll indulge me, I think I’m ready for that interview now.

Years ago, I asked Fareed if he was at all worried about getting old – and ugly. He said no, because he’d always been unattractive, so getting more so wouldn’t be much of a shock. People wouldn’t treat him much different either way, he supposed. Me, however, having started out as a pretty young thing, and enjoying all the power that went with it, he proposed that aging might well hit me a lot harder. He postulated that I’d likely see changes in how people responded to me as my looks changed. Once, shortly after I’d had Elihu and was quite large, I went to the grocery store. I was exhausted, unkempt and fat. And I can tell you this too: I was invisible. I knew well what it was to be an attractive, well-dressed young woman who drew people in. And to experience the absolute opposite just these few months later – it truly blew my mind. I learned instantly and unequivocally that in youth and beauty there is power. Never did and ugly old man inspire the same feelings of warmth as a pretty young woman. Never. And yet within the outer shell of that man lives a person as complex, as human, as needing of love – if not in more need of love – than the pretty girl. How unfair is life. The moment I realized people were not even noticing me was stunning. I got it. I realized how lucky I’d been. How much love I’d been given by strangers just because of the way I looked. My heart bled for all of those who never knew that kind of immediate acceptance. Truly this is a cruel, cruel world.

I’m not doing this aging thing with a lot of class. Really, I’m not. I’m uptight about it, I’m continually surprised by it, I’m offended that age should drag me along with it… As light-heartedly as I may live my life, deep down I’m wondering how this is supposed to work. Oh, I can be happy here on my back forty with my son and my chickens, but I can’t hide back here forever. Maybe til my kid graduates from high school – but what then? I need to find this new life, this new person I’m to be. It used to be about the tiny-waisted cocktail gowns or the platform boots, but those things are never coming back. So what’s next? I find myself with thirty pounds on my frame that I can’t simply ditch the way I used to. My upper arms move in two different directions. I have no jaw line anymore, and what were once slight, temporary laugh lines are now permanent contours. Although it might sound it – this is not about knowing that I’m truly, legally divorced that’s bringing this on – I’ve been keenly aware the last few years that I’ve been walking through a transition time of sorts. The past four years here in New York my son has grown a foot, and my hair has become undeniably gray. And I just can’t seem to understand it.

I’ve identified this window of age in which everyone shifts from their ‘first act’ selves to their ‘second act’ selves… (The third act seems to occur in a wider range of years, and has within it some subtle differences, as in there’s ‘old”, then there’s ‘slack-jawed-in-the-nursing-home-wearing-a-diaper’ old. Those would be the last couple of pages – and I’m not thinking about those for now, although let us open our eyes to this very personal possibility. That may be us one day – although I pray we all die sweetly in our sleep before our kids ever have to choose that fate for us.) This transition phase seems to occur sometime in the mid forties. Don’t know quite when the threshold is crossed for sure – but I can tell you from my own experience that I felt ‘ok’ and ‘youngish’ still in the first few years of my forties, but this last year I no longer can claim those feelings. I don’t necessarily feel old, but I no longer feel young. I can much more easily see over the rise ahead. Or perhaps I might say that I’ve reached the rise in the elevation and can now see the grand plateau before me…

Personally, I was never one to look forward. Never once dreamed of ‘my’ wedding, a house, a career. Knew I’d be a musician and that was pretty much it. Knew I wanted to travel, have a beautiful home and be a mother one day. But ‘one day’ never existed in real, calendar form. It existed in a far-off, fuzzy dimension I never took a moment to envision. For all my lack of energetic homework, I feel lucky to have landed in such an idyllic situation. There are times when I lament my lack of planning, wondering where instead I might have ended up had I indeed bothered to plan it all out a bit better, but in the end I know that regret does nothing. Sadly, it doesn’t even burn calories. ! I’m in a good place from which to go forward. I’m still without a social life, and my friends seem to be mostly back in the midwest, but I’m a bit more hopeful than I’ve been the past few years about our life here continuing to improve. The past four years have been my transformation time, and the process is now gently lifting to reveal a wide-open future.

There’s much to come, I’m fairly sure of it. Intermission was refreshing, but now I’m eager to see what awaits in this next act…

 

3 Responses to “Second Act”

  1. Gene Burnett Says:

    I think that one of the best things a person can do to improve their health and age more gracefully is to improve posture. It’s a good idea in general and allows everything to circulate and breathe, but especially before starting a more vigorous exercise regime. So many people dive into that stuff with bad posture, injure themselves and then exercise even less, eat more, gain more, etc. Yoga and T’ai-Chi are great ways to do that, if you have a good teacher, or I should say, the right teacher for you. But even simple adjustments like sitting up straighter when computing or watching TV are helpful. And you don’t to be a posture nut or vigilant 24-7. I have an ap on my computer (mac) called “Time Out”. It suggests regular “time outs” from the computer. For instance, I have mine set to suggest a “time out” every 10 minutes for 30 seconds. It does this by having the screen slowly go opaque and the message to take a break comes on the screen. I don’t actually take the break. I click on the “skip break” option. I just use the message as a reminder to sit up straighter and get my elbows back a bit. I’m sure if you search youtube for “posture tips” or “improve posture” you can find some great info free. I would say improving posture and drinking enough water are two of the very simplest and inexpensive things we can do improve our aging process. If I lived out there, I’d trade you T’ai-Chi lessons for some eggs any time. Best of luck to you in your next half century. ;~)

  2. Yes, aging is much more tumultuous for the beautiful. Beauty for me has always drawn people in, and kept them away, too. I just turned 45 and have noticed a difference as well, in these last 2 years. Absence of love, perhaps? I do know I am more acutely aware of it because of the fact that I am single. Then I chastise myself for being superficial and vain. Really, as a woman, one can’t seem to win.


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