When it comes to aging, we're all amateurs but are nonetheless expected to take it on like seasoned professionals. Lately, I find myself passionately debating with friends, like Lincoln and Douglas, over who has the worst pain.
We Baby Boomers were raised by the "Great" generation whose one true goal, it seems, was to sacrifice everything they had, not unlike the Giving Tree of Shel Silverstein fame---which personally is a book I have long despised because the lesson is so boneheaded wrong. In fact, the whole thing is ass backward.
You should not give away every inch of the real estate of your being in order to parent well. You should prosper and replenish yourself until you have a bountiful of fruit and shade to offer your kids. You needed to be rooted and as confident as a mighty elm to get through it all, especially when it comes to dealing with teenagers. Stump my ass. Here boy, go screw yourself.
My folks toiled the blue collar concrete fields of New York from dawn to dusk until the only discernible, lingering scent that was left in their wake were the sorrowful fumes of pure exhaustion.
Every day they started out, optimistic and cheerful, and neither rain nor sleet nor heat nor gloom of suburban night stayed those couriers from the not so swift completion of their appointed rounds.
My dad was Willy Loman, quite literally a salesman, who banked on his natural ease, cheeky charm and congenial warmth in order to pay the rent. My mom was June Cleaver if June Cleaver was Jewish and from Brooklyn.
We lived in a tiny, two-bedroom garden apartment in Hollis, Queens which is known for not being known for anything. In fact, Hollis was the name of an erudite Brit who had nothing whatsoever to do with my little town which was really strange given that there was plenty of American Revolution landmarks and statues all over town. So, we were named after the bad guys?
Although we were not as well off as virtually all of my friends, somehow my parents managed to cobble together one hell of a childhood for me and my sister.
Thanks to my dad's clever bartering system with his other Loman buddies in the clothing business, he traded high-end, deerskin and mink-lined gloves for say, cashmere and mohair sweaters for us.
I went to summer camp too. For 13 years. I'm guessing that my folks paid it off week by week, day by day, not only without complaint but without us ever knowing how they managed to pull that off.
We went on family vacations to Washington D.C. and through all the New England states. Sure, my friends had their own bedrooms, fancy cars, and even fancier parents. But we were a solid clan who actually had a secret whistle that we performed whenever one of us was approaching the gathered troops.
My sister and I got measled and mumpsed and it seemed like we could out-puke your average just docked Navy vessel.
But here is how it went:
We got sick, our local pediatrician/smiling mortician house called on by to both simultaneously diagnose and terrify us (while smoking a long-ashed Lucky Strike), we took our medicine, we sailor-puked some more and then we went to school, sometimes still spotted like someone just did a spit take on our face and we lived our lives fully until we got sick all over again, which frankly, we did so often, that our house could easily have been mistaken for a Charlotte Bronte orphanage bursting with consumption.
Now fast-forward to today and here I am, a parent times two, who is now faced with all kinds of aches and pains. Evidently, the disks in my neck and lower back enjoy telling me to go fuck myself by the minute and lately I've developed a mean case of radial tunnel syndrome which is probably from doing what I am doing right now. Ow. Ow. Ow. Almost done.
Now my inner child, my little David, is still very much alive and kicking and I sense that no one has informed him that both my parents, Murray and Ina, have died, by virtue of the fact that I can feel him yearning for them. In fact, I often hear him calling for them in the darkness of his own night.
Personally, I think this is the simple story of our lives:
Right out the mom shoot, we freak out over the sudden detachment, then, as hormones rain down on us like WWII blitz bombs over Britain, we get FURIOUS at the attachment and then once we become orphaned, we find ourselves aching for that attachment all over again, hoping that we can find maybe find a Match.com mate who is more or less our mommy or daddy avatar.
I know that I often find myself secretly staring longingly at older people in airports or in department stores if they have even a passing resemblance to my mom and dad. One time I thought a statue of Buddha looked so much like my dad, I bought just so I could take it home and ask it if I can borrow the car.
The hardest thing for me is not my diminishing return hearing, but rather the not being able to remember how my parents actually sounded. I can hear, ever so faintly, a few of their octaves and the long ago dispersed notes and pitches that they sang and whispered to me.
But I can no longer hear a complete song.
I love older doctors because they feel so parental.
Frankly, the younger ones make me feel like they are the kids so I feel obligated to take care of them.
When it comes to all this age-related discomfort, the best I can do, I suppose, is remember the selfless acts of my great generation parents, and simply get on with it, while quietly chanting my mom's oft-repeated refrain:
"This too shall pass."
Or as I like to call it: Omama Care.