Wednesday, February 06, 2008


I am about to become a great-grandmother again and the whole process is exciting, but nerve-wracking, taking me back to the days when I was of child-bearing age. I have learned not to offer advice, because each birth is a unique experience for young parents and they don't want an old duffer giving them directions on which way to go. In fact, when I did offer a word of advice, my grandson told me, "Grandma, you had your kids forty years ago. Things are different now!"

Is that so? As far as I know, pregnancy comes about following the same procedure, and babies emerge from the same places, an enthralling adventure, but none too pleasant at times. However, I presume that medical procedures have hopefully improved since then, and medications have done the same. The difference is that now doctors schedule births in a way that they can get some sleep at night and are not awakened by a frantic call from a worried father. This usually occurred in the wee hours and involved a little time before the doctor could get to the hospital, which often involved a delayed delivery, with frequent damage to the child.

The reaction of my grandson to my words of advice brings to mind a condition in our country. When Hawaii was settled and the Orientals came there, the Chinese mother was the matriarch of the clan. Her children worked hard and brought home the money, which the matriarch then invested in property. These families ended up being very rich, and the credit goes both to the laboring children and to the wise old matriarch.

It is also said that, in countries like France, the elderly are admired and respected. They are the voices of experience and the French people listen, acknowledging the wisdom of the years. They do not relegate a woman of middle years into a vacuum, but consider her beautiful, fashionable and alluring.

In our culture, the middle years are the turning point. All knowledge, all experience, all wisdom that may occupy the brains of the middle-aged are tossed into the trash bin, as the younger group takes over. What parent hasn't heard "Mom (or Dad), this is 2008! It isn't the Dark Ages any more!" So, while they may desperately need your financial help, they kick away any suggestion that worldly ways have anything to do with your experiences in life.

Then, as you are relegated into ancient times by your children, you pass middle age and slide into the years of old age. Your body slows a bit, but your mind can remain the same, your memory slipping a bit, but not severely unless you suffer from a dementia or Altheimer's.

It is then that you jump from being slightly moronic as a Middle Ager into a complete idiot as a Senior Citizen. This country wants no part of being Senior. As I write this, researchers are studying genes and cells, trying to figure out a way for the human race to stay forever young. If you drive down any street, you see them on the sidewalks....people huffing and sweating and pumping, keeping their Abs and other parts of their body in shape. We live in the Exercise, Collagen, Botox, Cosmetic Surgery Era and our younger citizens start chasing Youth at a very early age and continue the race against time until they collapse into their wheelchairs.

This antipathy toward age is the reason my Grandson objected to my advice about the birth of his baby. It seems that, one minute, I was the backbone, the oracle, the firm and demanding Voice of my family. Then, in a flicker of a moment, I became the helpless old dud without a brain in her head, annoying at times, cute and slightly amusing, but no one worth listening to. Jerry Seinfeld described it perfectly, "the Quack Quack Syndrome." This is when your parents cease to be human beings and become ducks. They can't cross streets by themselves, but must be firmly herded, usually with a gentle and guiding hand on their arms, "Come on, Pop, this way!" and "Watch out for the car!" and "Don't fall over the curb!" Quack! Quack!

Thus, your years of having any sense at all are limited to the time before you are forty. After that, your senses are diminished and the grim claws of old age are robbing you of your senses. I can remember living with my sister, Helen, who was thirty to my twenty. I thought of her as being old, not bad looking for a Senior Citizen, holding together quite well. Then, all of a sudden, I was thirty and I considered thirty still young. At forty, I had a moment's pause, but managed to live through it. At fifty, there was a time of panic, then I accepted my role as one of the elderly. My hair started turning gray. I saw a wrinkle or two running like little rivers on my face. My children started selecting their opinions over my own. I was being introduced to Limboland. At sixty, I no longer expected anyone to listen to me. I was like a prisoner kept in solitary seclusion for years on end, my world limited to watching an ant in the corner of the cell.

Then I turned seventy and became a duck. Let me tell you, a duck's life can't compare with being human. A policeman stopped me for speeding, took one look at me and said, "Oh, no!" He gave me a verbal warning instead of a ticket, which is about the only plus I can see in growing older. My words of advice are just so much quacking and clacking, ignored by everyone, just more clatter from the duck that hovers on the dreaded and horrifying old age. Like most ducks, I sometimes go south for the winter, then fly home to my pond to socialize with the family. Life as a duck is not easy, but floating on a rippling pond reading good books and quacking around with other old ducks might just beat the alternative.