Friday, May 19, 2006

50 Is the New 25

I’ve come across “middle aged” twice in the past week—first in a novel, and again in a short story. On both occasions it stopped me cold. The term was being used to describe characters roughly my age.

I took offense.

No one wants to be middle aged, a way station for the Not Young awaiting final transport to Old Age. I suppose that’s why the phrase has been lying low of late. I suspect the Baby Boomers, given their obsession with perpetual youth, have been working diligently to scrub it from the language, replacing it with “50 is the new 25.”

As a member of the cohort immediately following the Boomers, I usually find them a distasteful lot, picturing a future some 30 years hence when I cash my $12 monthly Social Security stipend, stamped “Sorry. The Boomers were here. Sincerely, U.S. Treasury.” But if they have managed to single-handedly eradicate middle aged from the lexicon, well all I can say is “Jolly good show.”

When my Mom was 39—the same age I am now—I was 14 years old. I didn’t think she was middle aged, I considered her positively ancient. I have since revised my opinion: 39 is fine, 39 is prime, 39 is better than 40.

I don’t look middle aged. I think it’s because I’ve studiously avoided smiling most of my life, which has drastically reduced the appearance of laugh lines.

I don’t feel middle aged. In my teens, I couldn’t run a mile to save my life. Last week I registered for the Chicago Marathon.

I don’t act middle aged. What could be less mature than shopping at Old Navy and watching “South Park”? Although I do confess that when confronted with a pack of pale-faced high school Goths, I want to shake these girls and scream, “Your skin will never be softer or more elastic. Scrape off the pancake make-up—there’ll be plenty of time for that later.”

In short, I am not ready to be put out to pasture, to become demographically irrelevant, or to have sales clerks call me “ma’am.” For god’s sake, I just figured out how to style my hair. It can’t all be downhill from here.

And then I was confronted with incontrovertible evidence that 50 is not the new 25, and 39 is certainly not the new 12. My husband has high cholesterol. Nothing like a prescription for Zocor to shatter girlish illusions.

Birthdays used to be fun—at 16 you could drive, at 18 you could vote, at 21 you could drink. At 40, you’re rewarded with dietary restrictions and annual mammograms. At 50, toss in colonoscopies. Whoopee! How ironic that the very health care system that’s supposed to promote long life is the same one that makes us feel one step closer to the grave.

I remember the days of yore—the ’80s, I believe—when my dad discovered he had high cholesterol. Pre-Lipitor, my mom’s solution was to combat the condition with poultry.

Every night we’d gather at the dinner table for another round of “Beef. It’s not what’s for dinner.” There was skinless, boneless, tasteless chicken. Turkey burgers. Turkey hot dogs. Turkey meatloaf.

We kids weren’t playing. Did we want Dad to undergo quadruple bypass at some non-specified point in the future? Probably not. Were we prepared to suffer along with him? Hell no. Pass the King Dongs.

Now I’m the one scrupulously studying food labels, zeroing in on saturated and trans fats. I’m not sure how this happened. Worrying about things like clogged arteries and heart disease and stroke is what Old People like my parents do. Never mind that in the Turkey Era, my father was probably younger than my husband is now. (If this time-space continuum mind bender makes sense to you, enjoy “Back to the Future III.”)

Talk about feeling middle aged, entire conversations with my dad have revolved around the fact that Zocor isn’t available as a generic. When I complained that Dave’s drug plan charged him $40 for a month’s supply, Pops was not entirely sympathetic. “You think that’s bad? It costs my friend Chuck $120.” Dad and most of his golfing buddies lost their health insurance along with their jobs in a company merger a few years ago. They’re all under 65 and self-insured. I believe my father knows the precise number of days left until he’s eligible for Medicare.

So when Dave’s doctor switched him to Crestor right after he’d refilled his bottle of Zocor, we knew what to do with the unused pills. We’d donate them to Chuck.

Us old folks gotta stick together.


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