My whole life I wondered at what age it happened – that phenomenon where once cool, hip adults turned into old fuddy-duddies longing for the way things used to be. I know now that 40 is the magic number because I noticed it happening to me a few years ago when I hit that mile marker.
It began subtly. At first, I just found myself completely annoyed with the morning radio shows. The conversations seemed trite, stuff like, “Is it cheating if you are with someone and flirt with someone else in a bar?” Hadn’t we all rehashed this a million times already? I’d switch to NPR just hear something new. Then, on the way home from work, the music seemed too jarring for my tired brain. I’d switch again to NPR for soothing voices reporting the news for the day or the softly inquisitive Terry Gross and her Fresh Air. So, I had become that adult that listens to talk radio instead of music. I also became the adult with a low tolerance for loud music. There are stores in the mall that I stopped going into because the music is too loud. I can hear the dudch, dudch, dudch, coming from the storefront’s faux windows, and I pass by quickly because I can’t take it. I am so out of touch I can’t even tell you the store’s name. I am annoyed when restaurants play music too loud. And I have no desire to see a live band play, unless maybe it’s a small outdoor venue and the audience will be the sort of people who sit in their ticketed seats quietly and listen.
These are the little things that have changed without me really noticing. Then, more recently, I noticed that I started getting really pissed about the way they were bagging my groceries at the checkout. I suddenly cared very much about this and would actually get angry watching them throw my food willy nilly into the bag. Don’t they know that you’ve got to make a square bottom? Square off the bag with aluminum foil, cereal and a box of crackers. Fill in the middle with heavy, but small jars and cans, and then fill in the nooks with fruit and paper goods. Balance the heavy with the light. Put soft stuff on top. Why is that hard? I need my bags to sit squarely on the floor of my hatchback and they won’t do that if you throw yogurts and apples on the bottom. Plus, you’re stabbing my tomatoes with sharp edges. This was the kind of thing that could ruin my good mood. This was clearly an old person’s kind of peeve.
The area in my life where this change is most alarming and depressing to me is in my career. I find myself longing for the 90’s and early 00’s, which of course were just last week in my mind. It was a much simpler time back then in public relations. The media were well defined and still held all the cards. Corporate America was very credible, and being an expert actually meant something. Now, everyone is an expert and instead of reaching out one-to-many, we talk one-on-one or many-to-many. I really wonder whether anyone is saying anything worthwhile and whether they’re even reaching the right people with their worthless message. Loud and frequent doesn’t make it important. The game is so different and I find myself hating it. I long for the days when email made things easier but not less formal. I have lost my compass and my footing in this new paradigm, and I actually find myself wondering whether I can do it anymore. I feel old and set in my ways because I don’t just dislike the new tools and our new way of ugh – engaging – with them, I find myself confused by them, not smart enough for any of it to feel natural to me. That makes me frustrated, just like my dad would get, white-lipped and yelling at me as he watched over my shoulder while I set up his AOL account so many years ago. It got to the point where he and I couldn’t even be in the same room together with a computer. That anger and frustration was there because he was a smart man (a Harvard grad!) who suddenly didn’t understand a business tool. I get it. I am there now. I had been shrugging all these feelings off as something else other than my age. I was blaming the complexity of technology and my scattered motherhood brain, but that wasn’t it.
One day recently at the gym it hit me. First, you have to know that me and the gym go way back. In my twenties, I was a gym fanatic. I worked out six or seven days a week. One hour of cardio, two to three hours lifting weights, two body parts per day. I was a certified aerobics instructor, a weight trainer, and had a subscription to Muscle and Fitness, which I read monthly, cover to cover. I was completely at home in the gym. Marriage, child bearing, then child rearing, reoriented my interests away from the gym and twenty years later here I am, 30 pounds heavier, and a novice in a place where I was once an expert. Do you see a trend?
I was having a free training session, and this trainer, who is about 28 years old, was working me through a series of circuits doing things I had never done before. No cable curls. No lat rows. No Smith Machine or dead lifts. I don’t know the names of anything I did. Twenty years ago, you picked two body parts and did about three sets of four exercises for each part, with a few minutes rest in between to get a drink of water and chit-chat with friends, then go back to your set. This new workout was a full body circuit of yoga moves, cardio and weights all rolled into one. There was no rest. All body parts. New ideas. New tools. It was the damned Hoot Suite of workouts and I didn’t like it one bit.
Yet another familiar beloved thing was stolen from me and replaced with the strange and new. There I was, down on the floor planking with a skateboard thing beneath my feet so I could roll my knees up to my chest and back to strengthen my core, when I realized, I am not bugged because the world around me is changing. I am bugged because I don’t want things to change. And there’s how you arrive at the 40-something fuddy duddy.
Forever the optimist, I see some good in the aging. I appreciate what I know more. I may not see all the Oscar-nominated movies in the year they came out, or be able to tick of the top five Idol or DWTS finalists, but I know the headlines for the day, I am an informed consumer, and I understand a little bit about what I need for retirement. Things I used to take for granted now seem like small wins to me like when I remember whether this is the week I need to change my contact lenses or whether I turned off the gas grill after dinner. Plus, I have found delight in the little things – like how life changing and wonderful the right sized garbage can can be, or the thrill of a parking spot near the entrance to Costco.
Best of all is, though I may no longer be hip, I no longer care that I am not. I have other fish to fry as they say. Now, please excuse me while I go learn this @#$%^& Hoot Suite thingy so I can still do my job. Sigh.