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Home > Magazine > Features > Humor: THE ACROBATICS OF AGING



By Lakshmi Palecanda Email By Lakshmi Palecanda
February 2018

Half-a-century of living is a peculiar place to find yourself in. It is when your parents think they are wise, because they were told that with age comes wisdom. On the other hand, do your children think you’re wise? Oh, no, they don’t. And they think that it’s their mission in life to let the whole world know that truth. Even, Shakespeare, who wrote about the seven ages of man, could not have conceived the trials and trauma of turning 50 in these modern times.

When I was young, my view of elderly folks was vague. I mean, I hardly cared much about them to have a view, one way or another. But one thing was crystal clear to me—they were on Death’s doorstep. One-foot-in-the-grave, need-to-make-a-will-right-now kind of situation. The 70-pluses, I revered, because I thought they had cheated death already.

This state of a mix of nonchalance and hyperbole towards the aged continued well into my late thirties. With the approaching middle-age, only God knows what I thought would happen on my fortieth birthday. In a way, my fortieth birthday turned out to be a shocker. Nothing happened. I was in the throes of adjusting to our family’s move from the U.S. to India. My husband and kids “wished” me, I had a cake, a few gifts, and that was it! It wasn’t a falling-off-the-edge-of-the-earth experience.

Now I find myself at the end of that decade, staring down a precipice…

Yes, I’m going to turn fi…

Just a little problem, let me try again. I’m going to become fi…

I’m going to do it this time. Next birthday, I’ll be fif…

Well, I can’t say it. Hope you understand.

However, now that I’m older and wiser (Ha!), I understand that being 50 is not the sum of the years from the date on your birth certificate. It is a state of being. It is the experiences that make a person a 50-something. Therefore, someone may find themselves being 50 on both sides of the decade. If you pardon my grammar, you don’t “be” 50, you feel 50.

Now, à la Jeff Foxworthy, I’ll try to tell you “You are 50 when….”

• First of all, something Indian: When grown men and women touch your feet, and really listen to your BS, thinking you are wise, you know you are in your fifties. You know you really don’t know much. All that separates you from your clueless early adult years is a few years of experience. But people want to know how you ‘succeeded,’ so that—get this—they can follow your example! This same group was thinking you were out of your mind just a decade ago. By the way, if you truly believe in your BS, it is too late—you are already in your fifties.

• Next, if you know a lot more than you did when you started out, but still know way less than your junior, the one with a fresh-off-the-press college degree who just joined your place of work, the writing’s on the wall—you are in your fifties. Damn the knowledge revolution and the internet; now, everyone knows more than you. Your insides tremble as you hope no one notices that your one asset is that you know how to unclog the coffee maker—but then, dang, they just bought one of those new-fangled machines that doesn’t clog!

• Speaking of knowledge, if you believe in the importance of general knowledge, you are so 50, man! In fact, if you know the words ‘General Knowledge,’ you are 50-plus … and an Indian. These days, there is a single word for that stuff—Google. While you are deep into the act of knowing little and acting wise, there are folks who know you know nothing. The holders of this truth are the ones at home, your family. Your spouse is occupied with his/her own age-versus-knowledge mental gymnastics, being close to your own age, so we’ll leave spouses out of the reckoning. Incidentally, they may be the only people who understand your predicament.

• Your parents think they are wise, because they were told that with age comes wisdom. Believing that wisdom is something like indigestion or arthritis that arrives like clockwork without being sought, they see no problem in propagating myths made out of thin air as universal truths. If you find yourself doing things that you don’t understand, don’t fully believe in, and don’t really want to do, believe me, you are 50-plus. Furthermore, you’ll find that your parents are still dissatisfied with you and are not shy about expressing their dissatisfaction.

• On the other hand, do your children think you’re wise? Oh, no, they don’t. And they think that it’s their mission in life to let the whole world know that truth. Like most people, you reproduced during your twenties or thirties, and you pay for that sin in your forties (or fifties if you’re an older parent), when your kids become teenagers. There you are, chugging along, trying to balance a shaky career and family, even believing that you have the perfect work-life balance. Suddenly … KA-BOOM … your children explode into existence—their existence, that is. Sweet little Bunty, and cute lovely Chintu are now werewolves, vampires, and crusaders, rolled into one. They are mean, and they are aggressive. Worst of all, they know all your weak spots. And like the good learners we taught them to be, what they don’t know, they find out through keen observation of you, coupled with trial and error.

It is through your teenage children that you become perfectly clear about how little you know. You can’t teach them algebra or biology or just about anything—they are studying in school what you couldn’t understand in college. You can’t have a proper birds-and-bees talk with them because you’re afraid you’ll find out how much they really know, which is way more than you. You don’t know fashions, the music gives you headaches, TV shows give you heartaches because they are overstepping every moral and ethical threshold you ever had.

• As a result, you can never do right. Everything you do is wrong, and every conversation is a minefield without a map. Heck, there is no need for a map, because there are no safe spots in the field at all. In fact, forget teen years—the fifties onwards are the years when your parents don’t understand you and your kids don’t understand you. So you are being yelled at by both your parents and your children; and yelling back, to no effect whatsoever.

• Another sign is if you hanker for compliments from your children. Yes, if you ever tried on an outfit in front of a store’s dressing room mirror and thought, “What will my child say?”, you must be in the fifth decade of your life. The truth is that your child will never compliment you, and even if s/he does, it will not be a direct one. The best compliment you can ever hope to receive from your teenaged kid is this: “My friend thinks you’re cool.” This will generally be accompanied by a look that plainly says, “For the life of me, I can’t see why.”

• Yet another sign that you are getting on in years is when your best friends are those who give you phone numbers … of the best doctors.

• You are no longer interested in the best spots to party, or getting the phone number of the hottest looking guy/gal. You know you have to get to bed by midnight, or you’ll be a pumpkin the next day. As for the hottest pick-up, honestly, reliability has replaced dazzle, in your eyes.

• But if you perk right up and your eyes light up when someone mentions the name of a good orthopedic surgeon who can make that nagging knee pain go away, or a good gastroenterologist who can restart your digestion, you can have the press conference, for it’s official.

• One more sign is that you are able to recognize the mistakes you commit. Not that you will not commit them, but by now you are able to recognize them. But, not to worry. When you get into your sixties, you’ll be able to write a book on how not to fall into a bad pattern of behavior. You’ll even be able to plug it with a straight face.

Yeah, you see the signs now, don’t you? But hey, just because you’re feeling 50 now, there is no call to be depressed, because with luck, you can have yourself a couple or so of great decades. You may work all the way up to retirement without people recognizing your basic incompetence. Your parents may get dementia, may forget what you look like, and actually praise you. Your kids may leave home and recognize the truth in most of what you said. You may have an epiphany (or 20) and learn that acceptance is your secret to happiness. Yes, you still have a lot of good years ahead of you.

Humorist Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana to Mysore and is still adjusting. Besides being a regular contributor at The Deccan Herald, she is a published novelist.

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