Growing On

We are put upon this earth without our consent. We are launched into a life incarnate without our choosing and by the time we’ve finally gotten our wits about us, many of us may come to realize that we might not have signed on for the experience if we’d been given an option at the outset.

This may sound deeply cynical, I know. But please understand that although I may often feel as if I don’t wish to be here, it’s not to say that I do not bear profound witness to the unfathomable marvel of this planet and the mortal life we share. Daily I am astounded by the complexities around me in the natural world. Daily I am fairly tortured by my desire to know more about my fellow humans and what motivates them to move through their lives and into their futures. Who among us is enthusiastically participating in life? Who among us is caring principally about advancement, who is working simply to avoid the pain, and who is altogether unaware that his or her own existence even merits examination?

From my privileged seat in a commercial airplane I can see vast tracts of land below me, all organized into human-sized portions. Suburban grids by day, cobwebs of light by dark, our handprint is ubiquitous. While I know there’s plenty of magic taking place here, I can’t help but feel the collateral despair. I imagine all of the strife, all of the heartbreak and loss. All of the fear, shame and regret. Perhaps it’s this way of thinking which has motivated me to live a more colorful life than some of my peers. I wish to avoid undue toil and discomfort in favor of the more pleasurable experiences. I am interested in reaching people and connecting. I am attracted to candor and insight. My goal is to bring comfort and witness to people. You can count on me to be the ice-breaker at a party, or the one who gets the silent old man in the corner to smile.

But sometimes, none of this is what’s appropriate or necessary. Today I learned that lesson again, and it has me stopped for a moment of reflection.

As I look out at the disheveled property that surrounds me, it cries out for me to surrender. This is the summer when it seems I will have to relinquish any illusion of control and simply let everything go….

The lawn is already up to my knees, the downed trees are becoming overtaken with vines, the retaining rock walls are tumbling down the hill, and my perennial garden looks to be nothing more than stinging nettles and goldenrod. The many hours of labor I spent tending to the garden last year appear to have been in vain. My arthritic hands hurt and my once-broken neck is becoming more of an issue each day; I just don’t see how I can wrestle the patch back into shape the way I’m feeling now. I honestly don’t think I have it in me anymore. And with a recent surprise turn of personal and professional events, my energy reserves feel even more depleted. As some might say, “I haven’t got the bandwidth” for it all. Truly, I don’t.

This will also be the final year for me at the helm of the Studio. It will conclude a decade of my hard and unpaid work. Work that was, at its core, a Sisyphean task. That’s not to say that it was a waste of time and resources – to the contrary, it was the birthplace of many great works and memories. Audiences leapt to their feet in applause at inspired performances, people of all ages danced, sang, acted and played music. Artists painted, writers finished novels, dance troupes worked out choreography, yoga teachers held workshops, kids enjoyed summer camps, elders convened to talk about death, people were married and neighbors drew into a circle to play drums together. There was even a workshop in which participants (of which I was one) walked barefoot over hot coals. Truly, a wide net was cast. I cannot say that it was not a success. In many ways it was an astounding success. But that era is over now, and I need to find something which better suits my waning energy and stamina.

I have to wrap while I can still feel the afterglow of the good things that happened there. If I stay at this too long, I’ll resent it. Time to stand aside now. Time to let things be.

What will come next is truly unknown to me. There will be music, there will be new gigs, new jobs. I know this. Just not sure where, or with whom. Not entirely sure I’ll even stay here at the Hillhouse. For now it’s where my piano is, so it’s where I am. But like the Studio, this place may have served its function in my life. Not sure. Much is yet uncertain.

The only thing of which I can be sure is that with or without me, the grass will continue to grow.

Too Much More

If someone else were to say the things I’m about to say, I’d tell them it’s not that bad. I’d be concerned for them, I’d want them to find relief. I know all of this, but I can’t help it. I’m even beginning to think there’s something rather manic about the way I operate in the world. One day I see the potential and promise of everything, and a moment later I’m wishing I could just kill myself and just be done with this stupid life – without all the fallout. It’s always my son and my mother who stop me from taking that thought any further. But I swear there are days where I’d give that option some serious consideration, were it not for those two people – that, and my basic cowardice. The same unfortunate trait which is causing me to think about such things in the first place. I’m so much more afraid than I’d thought.

The day started out with a sobering visit from a geothermal heating and cooling guy. The man himself, the owner of the company came out because his son, scheduled to visit, had thrown out his back. I’m glad that Senior came instead of Junior – he brought with him the advice of not only an HVAC guy, but that of a businessman, a property owner and landlord, and father to five kids. He had plenty of wisdom and advice for me, down to the smallest, most helpful details. I’m glad he showed up first, because he applied the brakes of reality on my fuzzy future. For one, he made clear that I faced a money pit. And that I’d not only need a business plan for potential investors or donors, but until that time came I’d need the Studio to generate some income. A lot of income. And I’d also need a loan. Because it was going to take a lot of money to get the place back to square, let alone ahead. He suggested I bring everything to a halt until I got that stuff figured out. Made sense of course. I’d seen my former parents-in-law throw money – hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions even – at dozens of projects through the years, little of which ended up paying for themselves, let alone generating cash flow. I’d seen what a hazy vision and a dash of romance could do. And it seemed I might be doing this myself – putting the cart before the horse, building a garage for a dream car that wasn’t even mine yet. When pressed for examples of revenue sources, I had lots of maybes but no definites. Lots of what ifs but no contracts, no leases, no programs to even consider. I wished I hadn’t sounded so lost, so unsure, but the truth is I am. I have a spark, a hope – and it glows so very bright sometimes – but it’s founded on very little. It’s not founded on studies or research, it’s founded on intuition and desire. And I just don’t know if that’s enough.

“This was your father’s dream” the man went on to say as we mulled over the pros and cons, “not yours, right?” I had to answer that it was. “And he realized it, he made it happen, right?” he pushed. I had to admit that he had, and that he’d even seen it to a satisfying conclusion. He cautioned me not to move ahead on sentiment alone. Not to follow my father’s dream, but to follow my own. But as I sat there taking it all in, I realized something rather surprising: I myself had no dream. At least no specific, concrete vision. What I did have was a feeling, a way in which I envisioned feeling in my dream life. While not a vision per se, it had some specifics. Just maybe not the nitty gritty bones of the whole thing, but nonetheless a general scenario…  For over a decade one thing has been foremost in my mind: I want a simple life. A life free of panic, a life full of friends and good food and hopefully travel. A beautiful garden, and a tidy, organized home to come back to at the end of my adventures. I’ve always been able to see it in my mind’s eye. The Studio simply rounded it out. Instead of playing with the musicians I missed so, I’d have them here when they were touring. Instead of seeing the world, I’d have the world come and see me. I’d be host to all sorts of people, and life would be full of impomptu late night jams and dinners around a big, inviting table. And I’d be hostess to it all. But in reality I knew that I couldn’t reconcile running a concert venue with a simple life. I’d spent years despising all the extra time and visiting required of my ex husband’s career as a non-stop working musician. And I’d hated the relentless nature of owning a nightclub. And while I loved having rehearsals, dinners and parties at our home, I would cherish the privacy in between those events. And I needed a lot of alone down time to refresh myself for the next episode. Plus as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I desire even more space and time – and quiet. So what the hell have I been thinking here? As I heard myself talk about what I envisioned, I felt a torturous mixture of excitement and dread. I can’t explain it, all I know is that this man’s real-world red flags had me putting all of my previously delirious thinking through a filter of reality, and now I was feeling sick to my stomach. And panicky. Great. Almost out of Xanax, and just entering the fire. Just fucking great.

It was still good to hear. It was all stuff I needed to seriously consider. Absolutely valuable input. And then came the chimney sweep.

A well-known local peace and renewable resources activist, he had been recommended by a friend for his advice on my situation – and he had his own list of considerations I might make in my process. And being a firm believer in looking towards a responsible way to provide for the future energy needs of the planet rather than beating a soon-to-be-dead horse of dirty fuel-burning, I really wanted to hear all he had to say. Here was another take on things – a perspective that while not entirely at the other end of the spectrum – certainly one that represented a different way to approach my situation. And his way made sense. Equal sense. As he spoke I began to feel that signature out-of-body sort of sensation that precludes panic attacks, and although ironically he was a man of great heart and compassion, I began to squirm, to feel the inner terror beginning to build. He was clearly giving more good advice;  keep things simple, do only the repairs absolutely necessary, don’t overdo. Yet still, I continued to feel the pre-panic sensations building. I stared at my feet, I feigned things to pick up and examine from the floor, I created the pretense of searching for a bottle of water in my car in order to distract myself from the fear that was welling up inside of me. I was trapped in this goddam situation, and I had no one to save me now. My brother was ill, my mother was old, and I was a single mother with no savings, no resources, and now, no job. What was to become of me? I felt it all becoming my burden alone. And I am in no place to bear such a burden. Most people think I’m strong and resilient. Hell, I’ve never even had a real fucking job. I might be capable of many things, but apparently making a decent living is not one of them. And it’s becoming ever more highlighted by the shit that’s sitting in my path.

What now? I know what I’d do if I had money – but what even then? Is having a state-of-the-art facility enough? I imagine myself enticing already-existing programs to my gorgeous little space in the woods, but in reality, who the hell will want it? I imagine renting the space to yoga instructors, to after school programs, leasing it out for recitals, concerts… but I know the reality of this all, one-time events are not a reliable stream of income. I can’t be assured that they’ll cover my costs of running the place. And certainly, if my mom uses the rest of her savings to make the upgrades, I can’t be assured that she – I or my brother – will ever recoup the costs. And I still have to live. Maybe another forty years. Good Lord help me if that’s the case. I haven’t a fucking dime to my name, and my electric bill is still behind five hundred dollars from this last brutal winter.

I’m ready to go to bed. To forget that the raccoon stole the bait from the humane trap and escaped, as did the chipmunk in the kitchen just now. To forget that I have eleven baby chicks running wild, chased mercilessly by the grown flock and flung far and wide over the yard… to forget that I’m twenty pounds more than I was last year at this time, to forget that I haven’t kissed a man since I last kissed my husband, more than six years ago. Having Elihu gone is making things feel more dire, I’m pretty sure of it. And it’s much easier to contemplate ending things when he’s not around. But he’s coming back, and I need to be his cheerleader in life, not the other way around. How can I be? I admit, this time I’m not sure how to turn things around. Secretly (or not so secretly, as it’s here now) I consider a life off the map, anonymous and forgotten. Might I just drop out? Secede from Facebook, stop returning emails, fail to have my piano tuned, or show up to volunteer at school? What would happen then? History is full of once-famous people disappearing from society, going bankrupt, crazy or just plain missing… Could I pull it off? Seriously, who the fuck would miss me? I have no real life here; my only social life is a virtual one, and I seldom relish waking up in the morning. I scold myself as soon as I begin to think like this. I’m not being tortured, I’m not hungry (look at my waistline), I’m clothed and have a roof over my head. And a piano. And the internet. I’m ahead of probably 90% of the planet. So what the hell is with me??

Years ago, when I broke my neck (C6 and C7, which subsequently fused and created what I like to call a C13), I was confined to a bed for several months, while tongs, stuck into quarter inch holes in my skull held me in place and stretched me out while I healed. I’d been experiencing horrific panic attacks just before my car accident, and yet when held down in place in bed – in what might have looked like a torturous position in which to live – my panic ceased. I was too concerned in the beginning with my very survival to even notice, but a few days after I became stable and began to understand my situation more fully, I did notice it. I hadn’t had a single panic episode. And man, if ever there were a reason to panic, breaking one’s neck and being told by one’s neurosurgeon that you might never walk again might be legitimate cause for alarm. But I came to realize something… that when the real shit hit the real fan, my body knew what its priorities were. It knew the situation was for real – unlike that self-induced, self-created panic attack bullshit. It was revelatory. Here I was, with every reason to panic for real – and yet I wasn’t. I’m not saying I wasn’t concerned – I was – but it was a sober, alert sort of concern. It made all the sense in the world. Yet when my neck was healed, and I was better and finally off to college… the panic attacks returned, worse than before.

I know what’s at the root of the panic. That’s easy. It’s a feeling of being out of control, of having lost the power over your life. It’s a physical manifestation of fear and uncertainty. Maybe what I need is a real illness or injury to get my physiological priorities in order again. Hell, I don’t know. I don’t. What I do know that it will either take a mountain of focus and energy for me to get my life in order, or it will tank on its own. Christ, at a time when most of my contemporaries are looking forward to retiring, I’m only just beginning to figure out what it is that I’m supposed to be doing here on this stupid planet. Hell, even when I did have a job it hardly paid eleven bucks an hour after taxes. Before the panic returned it was worth it – I saw my kid every day and got paid to do the only thing I actually kind of know how to do. But now, with the Studio, the time it’s going to demand of me and now the element of pure fear that it’s added to my life… I remind myself again that the burden outweighs its worth. And besides, the little extra income I made disqualified me for food stamps and even Medicaid. Crazy, but it’s really safer to stay living in controlled poverty than just an inch above water level, gasping for air. Shit. I never expected to be in such a place in my life at my age. Never.

Obviously, this is a situation that’s far from being resolved. Somehow, in my slightly manic state, I will pull myself up for a bit, knock out a few more tasks and make an inch of progress before doubt and panic consume me again. My cellar is full of water and moldy boxes, I guess I can spend a few hours working on that. At least there can be some tangible results from my efforts, which would sure feel good. Because right now, no matter how much more I do, I just don’t see an ending to things. For the moment I cannot begin to picture my future. There’s still too much more in the way.


A happier post-script to remind myself of what we did at the Studio only a few years ago.

Drawing Class at The Studio

I gotta remember that we can do this again… this past run of bad luck has just been a detour, we can get there again… Right??

That Old House

Feels like I’m banging my head against a wall. Just when will my mother stop making excuses, and when will she stop making this into a bigger deal than it is? Just what will it take for her to get one lousy in-home nurse to come out and do an interview? Make one call, make one appointment. Then sit back and wait for the person to come to her. Seriously, just one phone call. But no. She can’t seem to get this done. There’s got to be more going on here than meets the eye. I suppose it might be hard for me to give way too if I were in her position – after all, I do like my personal power. I like having control over my little world. Yeah, I guess I understand. Seems I’m just a chip off the old block I guess. Man.

Had felt there was some progress being made, but now I’m not so sure. Although my mom’s been adamantly denying her need for outside help with the household and with my dad’s care for the past year, she’s recently begun to acquiesce. And I felt some relief at this; it seemed we would finally make some progress. But it doesn’t seem so from my vantage point in this moment. She seems a bit stuck. Not sure why, exactly. I really don’t know what’s in my mom’s head. She and I might talk for hours about things that need to be done in my home and what project is next on the list, but at the end of it all, we don’t talk about her own future in any real detail, her own plans or expectations for the near future. We talk about wills, yes, and how things will work after she and dad are gone, how Andrew will be provided for and our property divided, but we don’t much discuss that delicate nether world that comes in between now and then. I have no idea what her personal hopes are for her future. I just don’t know what’s going on inside her head. For we have never, ever been a family that talked about such things. It’s probably at the root of the reason my marriage failed; I didn’t address head-on issues that I knew were brewing under the surface. Yeah, the Conants are really really good at acting like things are just fine. Does my mother fear my father dying? Does she fear him moving to a nursing home? Might his death actually give her relief? Does she wish for dad’s own relief? Or would she experience relief if he simply no longer lived in the house with her? Or does the prospect of him moving out frighten her? Does she envision a solo, late-in-life travel chapter? Does she secretly wish she had more freedom from her job as caregiver so that she might do things, go places?

Honestly, I don’t think she thinks any of these things, but I can never be sure. I personally suspect she’s comfortable with things as they are. With her doing everything, with dad at home, with things getting just the smallest bit more challenging as time goes by, in increments that she can still stay on top of. Regardless of my impressions, I won’t leave this conversation unspoken – I certainly intend to ask her about her true feelings, but not right now.  Recently, she’s been quite upset with me. She feels I’m on a jag to get her to move faster than a pace at which she’s comfortable. (When I’d move a bit too fast as we tackled the attic recently she’d cry out “I’m not dead yet!” or “You can do that after I’m gone!” The martyr meter was peaking to be sure.) My God. It’s kinda like dealing with a hoarder. Things go at a snail’s pace. Can we please get moving here?  She understands this is a conversation started a few years ago, but only now is she beginning to even accept that she needs to do something about it. I’m trying to get her to make an action plan. To consider the landscape of the next few years. Look, I know it’s not as easy as I make it out to be. These are the final years of her life we’re talking about here, and although not a one of us will ever say as much, we all know it. Can’t be easy hearing a conversation that involves the end of your partner’s life – and ultimately, the end of yours, too.

I will give her props for tackling the attic a little while back. She went ahead and had a roll-off container delivered, and even paid for a few extra days as we sat on stools and waded thru stuff that had remained in storage above the garage for the past 25 years since they moved here from Chicago. It was a good ninety degrees in that attic, and a good ninety percent of the stuff there was covered in cat pee which had been reduced through heat and time to a sticky amber goo…. I tried not to find fault with her housekeeping – or rather her keeping of five cats – but the pee was so prevalent and so vile that I found myself getting slightly angered as I worked. I had to tell myself it was no one’s fault, this languishing, forgotten, smelly mess… I reminded myself that life gets busy, things out of sight become out of mind, and cats, well, they pee on stuff that’s outdoors and covered in dust. How can the cats possibly tell that these are decades-old family treasures? Hell – how can we even tell? I talked myself out of a bad mood more than a handful of times, and found that the heat and stink were worth it when we’d unearth something with a story or a memory. I knew it was good for mom to do this herself, to see these things again. No one would ever dare say such a thing out loud, but it was a form of closure. This was a process that was enabling mom to go forward from here with some renewed energy. I know personally a good bit about taking stock, assessing the inventory of a house and how invigorating it is to know just what you have and where it all is. It is empowering. I kept this forward in my mind as I toiled in the heat, in order to be as present as I could for mom; to witness her things, her life, her keepsakes, her stories and rememberings. This was important stuff. I know I was a bit crabby, and I hope I didn’t ruin the whole experience with my mood. And at least I took pictures. So we’ve still got those. Plus some nice little mementos. That should help.

It was my most recent visit to the house that pushed me over the edge. As I sat idle for a few moments while waiting for dad to sit up on the side of the bed so he could stand, then finally let me assist him in getting on his robe (which he asked me about three consecutive times each less than a minute apart. Talk about short-term memory loss!), I began to look around. There was a layer of dust and cat hair covering every single surface within my gaze. Truly, every last item and inch of space was coated in grime and grit. It’s no wonder my kid needs two benadryl just to make a thirty minute visit! Just like I had in the attic, I began to get angry. Why the hell couldn’t my mom just ‘break down’ and call someone to help her clean? But more importantly – how was is she didn’t even notice it? I do understand how it’s hard to be objective about things you’re around every day, but come on. At the very fucking least think of your grandson! Wouldn’t you like him to be able to visit for more than fifteen minutes – and without having to leave in an asthmatic episode every time? My mother seems to have all of her wits and discretionary powers fully on board – except when it comes to the filth in which she and dad now live. And I don’t get it… or do I? Maybe her pride won’t let her fully accept that things are finally beyond her ability to fix. Yeah, I guess that’s got to be a crappy and powerless way to feel. If she even realizes she’s feeling it. Her generation winces at such self-inventory. Part of the problem as well, I think….

It began to strike me as selfish that she should realize this and yet do nothing. I thought of her ‘to do’ pile on the desk downstairs; the desk she tells me she hasn’t managed to sit down at all week, but which is overrun with things she must get to. Her ‘urgent’ business? To wade through the dozens of appeals for money from native american groups, animal shelters and campaigns to fix cleft palates for children in far-away countries….  Thank-you gifts from past donations litter the office; silly miniature dream-catchers, cat magnets, calendars and more useless stuff that stays where it is because of course to simply throw it all out would be wasteful. ! It’s all crap that nobody has room for, let alone a person with almost eighty (sorry, seventy-eight) years of accumulation on her hands already. A foot-high stack of envelopes sits waiting for her attention, and she feels its pull. Yet somehow, arranging for a nurse come out and help out with dad for two hours a week doesn’t compete with the pile. Nor does calling a cleaning service. And while I’m capable of doing such things for her, she gets angry and frustrated should I bring it up. My hands are tied from helping. And if I begin to think about it much, I too get very upset.

Thankfully, with my son’s allergies, I don’t have to actually face this dilemma in person too often. Sadly, Elihu and I have long since given up the idea of coming over for regular, weekly dinners. Too much cat dander to battle with. And with school, homework, music lessons and life in general – all that plus dad’s late waking in the day (he’s usually just getting up as we’re having supper) it doesn’t always work out too well. Today, after Elihu’s first bass lesson we did pop over for a visit. Elihu sang to dad, and told him about the lesson, and the two banged out some fun rhythms on the counter together, but with little to say, homework yet to do and the allergies mounting, we were gone inside of fifteen minutes. I think back to just a year ago, when it might still have been possible for dad to get out for a visit. I think two years back, when he himself walked over to our house to say hello. And now he’s hard-pressed to get from the island to the couch. His spirit is recognizeable, and even more so when mom’s not around – but any real-world level of functioning I can now sadly recognize is gone. I feel the pall of regrets sneaking in on me, and I have to remind myself that I’ve always done what I could. Perhaps I could have done more, been a better daughter, lobbied harder to get him in the car and out into the world, but my own life has been full these past few years. So I try not to go there. Rather, I try to give dad our love and good cheer when we visit, and Elihu and I are both sensitive to our role as carriers of delight and entertainment. We haven’t much to share, but a new song or story from our week seems to lift dad’s spirits. Beyond that, I don’t think there’s much we can do. I think we’re doing the best we can, and it’s done with love. But still, it’s just so sad.

I remember when my parents built their new home. A post and beam, passive solar beauty of a house with hand-cut pegs joining massive, exposed timbers. They had a lofted living room long before two story great rooms were the rage. Filled with harpsichords, art, oriental rugs, plants, cats and guests, it was always a comfortable, earthy home to visit. There were post-concert parties in the summer, wood-stove warmed holidays in the winter. The front door has never once been used by a single guest, save a confused visitor or a Jehovah’s witness. Everyone had always come in through the garage and into the kitchen. For years it’s been a house well-lived in, but these days not so much. Thankfully the tv is on much of the time and does its job of keeping the airspace filled with an energy of some sort which downplays the emptiness. Without it the house rings with silence. Not even the Bob and Ray CDs or the recent harpsichord recordings of a colleague are listened to anymore. The technology of a boom box is beyond my father now, and when my mother comes home the tv becomes the soundtrack to the busyness of the kitchen. But it’s what works for them, and that’s what matters now. God bless Turner classics. Those old movies keep them comfortable. The movies remind them of a time in their lives in which they ceased to grow older. And who could blame them for insulating themselves like this against the coming changes? I can’t blame them for staying with what’s comfortable, and I can’t begrudge them for not trying to keep up with the rest of us.

I also can’t help but indulge in a moment of poignant reminiscing whenever I visit. I still think of this place as mom and dad’s new, post-retirement home… the place where they were to start their new life after Chicago… and in my heart it almost seems like only a couple of years ago. It’s hard to understand that this place isn’t mom and dad’s new house anymore. It’s hard to imagine all the life that’s transpired since then. And it’s hard to understand that my parents – as well as their beautiful home – are finally getting old.

Age Appropriate

Years ago, when I lived in Chicago and rode the train nearly everywhere, I’d always make sure to get a seat that allowed me to put my feet up and rest them on a bench perpendicular to me. If I couldn’t find that sweet spot, at the very least I’d hunker down and prop my knees up on the back of the seat ahead of me. I remember getting on the train with Elihu once, when he was still tiny and in his stroller, and very naturally doing the same thing as I always had. And this surprised me. Why? Because I’d always just known that one day I’d become a real grown up. And how would I know that day had come? When I no longer put my feet up on the seat in front of me, of course! Surely real grown ups don’t behave like that, right? Honestly, I just thought that one day I would ride the train in the normal way, feet planted on the floor. And in that rite-of-passage moment, it would finally become clear to me that I was a fully-fledged, responsible, clear-headed adult. But yet here I was, married, living in the suburbs and shuttling a baby around – and clearly, I still hadn’t made that leap to maturity. That moment surprised me. It had me pausing to reflect more deeply on what it meant to grow up. I’d ticked a bunch of the boxes for sure, but this ‘feet on the seat’ thing had me.

I went back to Chicago year before last. Easily put my feet up on the first available seat I could find. Made myself comfortable. I remembered my self-imposed ‘real grown up’ test of years past and checked back in with myself. Did this feel correct? Did it feel silly? Might I look silly to others doing it? Happily, I felt just fine with my feet up. Still didn’t feel it to look suspicious or titillating on any fronts. I’m going to Chicago in two weeks’ time… I’m a bit curious as to how it’ll feel now. I do look a little older, so maybe it’ll be different. But I’ll be with a ten year old boy – and I think it would look entirely natural to see mom and young son sitting together in the same way. Buddies riding the train. Enjoying childhood and its casual freedoms. Fast forward ten years and remove the kid. Then would it still look ok for a sixty year old woman to ride the train in such a posture? Or will I simply be too stiff to sit like that?! (I often wonder if it’s not just physical limitations which dictate what behaviors seem appropriate.) I once watched an eighty year old lady run uphill back to a restaurant to retrieve her purse. I offered to go for her, but she waved me off and started to trot… I was impressed. Had a peer of mine done the same thing, not so much. But go Shirley! Highlights the different standards we hold for each other at different times of our lives. Interesting, huh?

I work at my son’s school in the recess yard. My job is just to keep an eye on the kids, be there in case somebody gets hurt, settle minor disputes, make sure everyone gets a fair turn on the swings. And I do all this just fine, only I can’t help but wonder if I’m not crossing that invisible line that I see most teachers – and adults in general – keeping firmly in place between themselves and littler people. I can’t put a finger on it, but I respond and interact with kids a bit more as if I were a kid myself. I don’t always feel like a teacher or a mom, and my feeling is that the children sense this too. When I was younger, I was known to many as ‘the cool babysitter’. Not sure if that’s cuz I arrived on a motorcycle, because I was in bands, or because I just hung with the kids almost as if a peer. I can’t impress ’em with a bike these days, but I still enjoy a really good relationship with all of the kids in my life. It’s with no small amount of pride that I can report I’ve been told by several that I’m a ‘cool mom’. (Don’t worry, my kid reminds me I’m not that cool.)  So I have to admit to some mixed feelings about acting as a role model. Somehow a tiny voice inside me wonders if they’d really have me in this post if they knew how much of an ‘un grown-up’ I was. It’s not a real concern though; I do my job and follow the rules. And I know quite definitely that I’m not a kid myself… only I don’t think I’m a grown up either. Hanging out somewhere in between.

When I worked as a jazz singer in my twenties, I lamented that audiences didn’t quite get me. I had this feeling when performing that they just didn’t believe what I was singing. Can’t describe it any better than that, but it was my experience many times over – I wasn’t just pulling the observation out of thin air. It seemed I was too young to be a reliable narrator. The songs conveyed stories of an older, more seasoned and experienced woman than I perhaps appeared. Then some ten years later, as a woman in her mid and late thirties, something changed, and audiences became more accepting, more yeilding. I just felt that they finally believed what it was I was singing about. And I think it had everything to do with my age. Finally, my personage matched the material. How can a twenty four year old girl sing about all the loves she’s lost – or wax sentimental about her years-gone-by love and be taken entirely seriously? If one’s being honest about it, it doesn’t really work. But take a gal who’s been around the block a time or two, and you’re more apt to lend an ear. Oh, how well-seasoned I am now! Somebody, get me a gig! Oh how I’d like to sink my teeth into “Ah the Apple Trees” or “Where Are You” now! Ha! Not a dry eye in the house… For me, I suppose this particular phenomenon is a real marker for aging. While as a sixty year old I might raise eyebrows if I were to put my feet up on a seat in the train – if I instead donned a gown, some false eyelashes and a sparkly cocktail ring and started singing about all the loves I’ve lost – I’d have  a roomful of adults nodding their agreement. Crazy. The dos and don’ts, the things that work and the things we think are taboo.

And that bit about ‘age being just a number’. Yeah, right. I know what the phrase is intended to mean. Yeah, I get that on the inside one feels much the same way all throughout life. Ok. But then one day, in a split second it kinda hits you, that is, if you’re old enough, and you realize that the number of years you’ve been on the planet sounds a lot longer than actually it feels. You do some really easy math and see quite clearly that you’re closer to the far end than you are to the the beginning. But you know that your spirit is still just as bright these days (if not even brighter) and then you think that hey, that’s really too bad, because that stupid number marks you in this culture as diminishing in value, when you know damn well that’s not true! So you comfort yourself by saying, ah phooey, who cares. And maybe you really don’t. If not, you have my deepest respect; you are much closer to your God-self than I! Myself, I know that your age isn’t really ‘just a number’. Your age is a number that helps define you to the world, and to yourself. It’s a quantity, yes, but in our culture it speaks to a certain quality of your life too. Sure, some things improve with age, but let’s be downright honest here. Our bodies certainly don’t. Aging is tricky on a human being. On the knees, the ticker, the skin… the ego. And your number is very much a part of that equation. Alright, so maybe you look and feel pretty good for your number. Enjoy yourself! It aint gonna last forever…

I apologize if I sound dark about this whole aging thing. Just working it out, like everybody else. I am confident that I am not the first person to think any of the thoughts I’ve expressed here. Maybe just the one brave enough to say it all out loud. But just for the record – I’m not entirely bummed with this new chapter. I feel good these days. Granted, I should get yoga back into my life. I should walk a half an hour a day. I should meditate regularly. But on the whole, I’m feeling good about things, gray hairs and all. It’s kinda nice to relax a bit. Not to sweat looking killer every time I go out. Looking good is good enough. And at the end of the day, looking good and feeling good are always age appropriate.