I sprouted to unusual heights at an early age. As a result, teachers, baby sitters and forgetful relatives often assumed I was older than my years. Often, when I tattled, cried, pouted or poked a classmate, an adult would say, “Shame on you, Janet, you’re big enough to know better. Act your age.”
I didn’t mind the reprimands; I usually deserved them. I did think it unfair, however, when smaller classmates escaped unscathed after we took Ed the turtle to recess or when I was sent to my room after Barbara swung on my ponytail before I twisted her ear.
My childhood critics would be silenced now because acting my age is no longer a problem. Unfortunately.
Recently, waiting in the car while Joel completed an interminable errand prefaced with “This will only take a minute,” I watched a friend park her car across the street. A lady of approximately my age, she parallel-parked a car’s length behind the only other vehicle in the block. She then got out, eyed the situation thoughtfully, got back in and moved her car forward just enough to make it impossible for another vehicle to squeeze in between the two cars.
I knew what she was doing because I’ve done it myself: by moving forward, she guaranteed herself an easy exit when she left — no need to back or maneuver while twisting her head like an owl on alert.
My friend and I have arrived at the age when avoiding an annoyance outweighs all other concerns. I now routinely take precautions that never occurred to me when I moved through life pell-mell, bouncing among work, play and responsibilities.
When younger, I never carried tissue in case my sinuses rebelled, I smudged my teeth with lipstick or the greeting cards in a gift shop made me cry. The last time I cleaned out my purse, I discarded a dozen rumpled and unused Kleenex products.
I never took two pair of prescription glasses on extended trips in case I lost or sat on one.
I scoffed at those who carefully counted pills into containers marked with the days of the week, an activity that now takes the better part of my Saturdays. And when planning for a road trip, I count out a few extra in case the car breaks down and I’m stuck at a truck stop.
I used to walk eight blocks to and from the school where I taught, moving quickly along snow-packed, icy sidewalks, thinking about students, lesson plans and what to have for dinner. Now, I strap on Yaktrax before I venture out through the slightest skiff of snow. It’s not that I fall more often these days — I’ve always staggered, stumbled and plummeted — but I now think about the dire consequences that could result if I bounced about on hard surfaces.
For most of my working life, my bedtime was 10:30 p.m. — later if the TV snared me. Now, I begin to anticipate bedtime while I clear away dinner, and during the long days of summer, I struggle to stay awake until dark; it’s embarrassing to be in bed while the sun shines and toddlers romp in backyards. As Joel remarked, we now go to bed at about the same time he used to go out and get up at about the same time he used to head home.
I try to forgive myself for my fuddy-duddy ways: collecting items at the bottom of the stairs so I only have to make one trip, choosing a seat in someone’s home based on the ease of withdrawal and removing my trifocals before I step onto an escalator.
I’m not lazy, phobic or timid. It’s just that I’m finally acting my age.