I’m turned 57 years old last week. Don’t panic, book editors. I look 47 and have the energy of 37, as you will see. My age is not the point—or is it?
If you had dropped by my house recently, you would have seen me shovel ice from the driveway and sidewalk, move 600 pounds of wood pellets, assemble and transfer a dog crate almost as big as I am from garage to car and back again, take the pellet stove apart and clean it, shovel dirt for two hours in my back yard, walk one big dog for a mile and turn around and walk the other big dog for another mile, pretzelize my body in yoga class twice a week, plant eight cement stepping stones in my back yard, scoop about a hundred pounds of dog poop, fix my own toilet, stand at the top of a ladder moving boxes, and arrange for construction of a new fence, plus all the girl stuff one would expect, the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.
When my mom, God rest her soul, was 57 or even 37, she could not do any of these things. She had no idea how, and she barely had the physical stamina to walk to the end of the block. My father and my brother handled all the “guy jobs.” With all her needlework, Mom probably had the nimblest fingers in California, but she never exercised the rest of her body, never really took good care of herself. She was too busy taking care of Dad and my brother and me. It was what women in her family did. If Dad had died first, she would have had to call my brother or a neighbor to help the “poor widow.”
I refuse to play that role, even though I’m alone now. My husband, who has Alzheimer’s, is in a care home, and I don’t have children because he had his share before I met him. When the job is truly too big for one person, I do call for help, but I’m smart, I have muscles, and I have no sons to call on. If I don’t know how to do it, I can learn.
Part of this comes from being my father’s daughter. At 86, he is strong and stubborn. But part of it comes from being childless. I think we have to be more self-reliant. Perhaps I have mentioned my Aunt Edna here before. She celebrated her 100th birthday on Dec. 29. She has been widowed for about 50 years and never had children. She was well into her 90s before she needed help from anyone, and she had already made arrangements to move into a senior residence. Likewise, her sister Virginia, who is 92, lived on her own until she fell last year and broke her neck, but darned if she isn’t up and ornery as ever, even though she still has some health challenges to conquer. In Grandpa Fagalde’s day, he would have called Edna and Virginia “tough old birds.” Well, that’s what I want to be, too. I want a big crowd like the one that gathered for Aunt Edna’s birthday to talk about how strong Aunt Sue was, not about how sad it was that she never had children.
Now I’m not saying that moms can’t be strong. Raising children is hard work, but some mothers just don’t learn to be independent or physically fit. I have a close mom friend who is my age and can barely walk. She says she’s “old.” I’m just saying there might be a connection.