Have you ever notice how children, from babies to teen, agers own their aging? Babies obviously delight when they discover that their fingers can pick up cereal tidbits on their trays and then that they can drop things. What fun! They find that arms and legs are great for waving about and playing with. But on the floor they can be used to crawl about—on their own! That standing, though teetering, is better. And soon even walking isn’t enough. They can jump, and gallop. In their twos they discover that saying “NO!” with vehemence gets adult attention in surprising ways. Aha! Words can be powerful. And as they gain capacities and competence they seem to own every stage of their childhood. Not always easy or pain-free, but it’s theirs! And all along the way, most babies and children have the encouragement of their own cheering sections. As they grow older, there are schools, teams and clubs to foster their development. Advertisers cater to their needs and demands. They are encouraged to “Grow up!” “Act your age!” There are formal celebrations at different stages.
In the adult years, capacities continue to mature and settle in, becoming increasingly taken-for-granted. It becomes clear in society and job markets that capacities affect status, reputations, positions, and rewards. There are real incentives to sustain, grow and own them. And there are disincentives to having observable signs that aging is changing them. Now, the advertisers’ focus is on products and services to mask or delay evidence of aging. No one is urging them to, “Grow old” or “Act your age!”
Owned or not, aging implacably marches on. And, just as children learn to live with maturing bodies that require them to adapt to “more”, agers have no alternative, but to learn to live with maturing bodies that require adaptation to “less” or at least “different”. But living-with and owning require different mindsets. Aging and its effects don’t seem to be a status one might delight in, but there‘s good reason to own it with whatever emotional response is feasible.
During my own middle years, my profession included learning about age related changes (ARCs) and caring for ill aged; so ARCs really didn’t present any surprises. But “knowing about” though useful, proved to be distinctly different from my insider “living with” and “owning”. And as aging progressed, I discovered that even learning how to live with aging intuitively was not enough
Over a period of decades, my ARCs demonstrated to me, persistently and sometimes vigorously, that I was going to have to live with their impact on specific aspects of my daily living. Repeatedly, I dropped objects, had difficulty picking up and manipulating items. I couldn’t cut up the meat or tender-crisp vegetables on my plate. I became increasingly insecure in moving about without my walker. Words were there when I didn’t need them, but not when I did. I didn’t want to own any of these. But with ARCs inevitable progression, I realized my intuitive, take-for-granted approach was not working. It was time to adopt the old saw, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ’em”. So I set about owning and engaging with them. They were and are my current “me”.
I found that my approach changed from focusing on the loss experience to a more neutral approach of exploring the basic elements of each ARC as data, facts. Sometimes I started with the ARCed capacity. How was it changing? What were the specific activities in daily living it impacted? What was the impact? At other times, my starting point was unhappiness with some messed-up daily living element, and then working backward to the ARCed capacities causing it. With either starting point, I found myself dealing with concrete, specific elements in each and the linkage between them.
What a difference this “working” perspective and approach made! Eureka! I was gaining some control. I was triumphing in little, but significant ways. Not the unalloyed delight of childhood, but mature, quiet joy! I had created my own incentives for owning my aging self. I could say, “Grow in your aging!” “Act your age! “ “Own it!” It’s you!”