By Lynn Paris
The other night my husband and I had grabbed some burritos at Chipotle on our way to our church group, and when we went to put our drinks in the cup holders in the car, we found them. The cup holders, I mean. Now on the face of it that doesn’t sound like much . . . in fact it sounds silly, but it sort of sums up how it feels to get older. The last ten times we’ve looked for our retractable cup holders, we’ve pushed and pulled on everything metal or plastic below the dash, and then agreed, laughing self-consciously at ourselves, that it was the Honda that had them, not the Chevvie. Which made us feel old enough. But this time, out popped the cup holders, which meant that they’d been there all along, and we’d both been too blind/incompetent/uncoordinated to locate them. And we laughed even harder.
But I couldn’t help reflecting on all the times I’d gotten annoyed with my mother when she seemed baffled by the remote control, or her VCR, and suddenly, I was filled with compassion. I guess you can’t fully grasp getting older until you’re already there, but I wish I’d been kinder just the same.
I actually thought that my mother was purposely acting like a dummy when we’d hand her the camera and say, “Take our picture, please,” and she’d stare at it like it was a nuclear reactor. “For heaven’s sake, Mom—just press the button,” we’d shout in frustration until she became too flustered to try.
She wasn’t acting, and we were totally insensitive. I ought to know. It took me so long to figure out how to “just press the button” on our new camera (First of all, which button? There are five of them in close proximity to each other, all with writing that’s impossible to read without a magnifying glass) that I missed a fantastic one-time shot of Jim and the dogs today. Of course, my problem began when I tried to look through the little hole into the lens to see what I was shooting and discovered that there WAS no little hole. Our old camera had one, but this one doesn’t; you just look at the screen and shoot. By pressing one of the little buttons. I eventually found the right button, but by then, I felt too dumb to take a picture.
The thing is, Jim and I are at approximately the same stage in our aging process, so we do understand, frustrated sighs notwithstanding. My poor mother was surrounded by people at least twenty years younger than she was, and none of us got it. Thank God I never had to teach her how to program her DVR or use a cell phone.
I’m actually quite adept on the computer and competent with the DVR, but the tinier the device, the more challenging. Thus, my cell phone remains somewhat of a mystery to me. Yes, I can make and receive calls. Retrieving my messages is something of a dilemma though; I seem to have to go through the process several times until I get it right, and as for texting; well, it’s laborious. I sent a picture once, but it took me so long to read through the instruction book and do everything in the correct order that I’ve given up on that. Basically, I’ve given up on the fifty other functions my phone can perform as well; it’s just not worth it.
But I admit that this is not so much an age problem as an eyesight and laziness problem. With regard to the sight issue, I already wear glasses, so no wise cracks about getting myself some glasses. The laziness, however, is definitely on me. I simply refuse to invest the time to STUDY UP on how to maneuver my way around this phone when everyone around me seems to be able to navigate his or hers with complete nonchalance, while also drying their hair or carrying on a conversation with me. They’re texting someone and talking to me, and making sense.
And not just on their own phone, but any model phone, as though it was something instinctive . . . like breathing. If I hand a teenager my phone, which I’ve tried in order to glean some bit of insight, their fingers fly so quickly over the keys, back and forth between functions, changing my ring tone to one they prefer in the process, and I’m so busy watching them perform their magic that I haven’t learned a thing. Except not to hand my cell phone to a teenager unless I want to feel inept. And get stuck with a weird ring tone.
Then there’s the memory thing. I wrote a column a couple of years ago about walking into a room and forgetting why I went there, and carrying the phone from the kitchen into the bedroom for no reason, and having to turn around and bring it back to the kitchen. Those things don’t get better, by the way; they just happen with more frequency. But knowing they’re going to happen sometimes causes me to focus; I’ll look at all the objects on the coffee table and take stock of which ones to put in the kitchen and which ones to bring to the bedroom rather than leaving it to chance.
Which is why, when I remembered it was my ex-husband’s birthday on December 4th, I didn’t leave it to chance; I wrote it on my wall calendar and put a big circle on it. He’s always been so good at calling me on my birthday, and I wanted to be sure I didn’t forget his. I look at this calendar every day, checking when a speech is due, or when I have a lunch date, or simply when I glance up from the computer, since it’s in my direct line of vision. Nevertheless, I forgot to call him on the 4th. In fact, I didn’t remember to call him until the 6th, despite the circled note. I don’t know how that can happen, but it MUST have something to do with getting older.
Still, I am grateful. Getting older can bring with it some minor irritations, but they’re nothing compared to what is gained. A half-step lost in memory is more than made up for by wisdom. A little less dexterity pales in comparison to more compassion, more patience. In fact, I rather enjoy getting older. I wouldn’t trade places with a texting teenager for the world.