My Story: Don't Call Me Sweetie

In the space of one week, three store clerks called me “sweetie” or “sweetheart.” As in “What can I get you, sweetheart?” or, in the case of the young hair stylist, “How do you like your hair cut, sweetie?”

My initial reaction was ambivalent, but mostly horrified. “Sweetheart” is an affectionate term and one that, when I was younger, I enjoyed hearing from waitresses in rural towns while driving through Nebraska. But in hip Boulder, that’s not the norm. Was I emanating some kind of helpless vibe? Was it the broad-brimmed embroidered hat that perhaps seemed old-fashioned, that framed my face to look endearing (not an adjective most people would apply to me), especially now that I’m wearing glasses?

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We Need to Talk

What most of us have learned about aging is by watching our parents go through the process.  Yet our generation (most specifically, the baby boomers) faces different challenges than our parents. Just as we’re slowing down, the world is speeding up. Just as our brains are slower to learn new things, technology requires us to grasp new processes that are essential to our daily lives. While our aging bodies and minds might require more help, the world seems to be less caring than the one in which we grew up.

We’re in new territory, especially for the generation that, in our 20s, sang along to The Who’s “I hope I die before I get old.” My aim in starting Aging Journal is to share stories about what it feels like to grow old in a culture that doesn’t belong to us anymore and doesn’t especially want us around.

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My Story: “Someday, You’ll Be Old”

I was with my father, then 92, in southern California, where he and my mother had come to escape Chicago’s brutal winter. But it had proved more difficult than he had imagined: being in a strange house, with an unfamiliar routine, and new people around, including nephews and nieces whose names he no longer remembered. It was exhausting, and he was sleeping 16 hours a day, nodding off during breakfast, in the middle of a conversation, or next to the Pacific Ocean, with pelicans flying over his oblivious head.

One day in La Jolla, as we were leaving an oceanside park, he stood up from the bench where he had been snoozing and announced that his legs wouldn’t move. My two siblings and I panicked, rushed to hold him up on either side, as we slowly made our way to our rental car. He managed to shuffle along, as I helped support him on one side. As we got to the car, he looked at me: “Kathy, someday you’ll be an old woman.”

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