They say getting older isn’t for the weak, so I’m gonna need to get tough

Aptos writer Claudia Sternbach.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Lookout columnist Claudia Sternbach has a succinct message: “Aging sucks.” Here, she humorously guides us through her sadness at the changes she’s noticed now that she’s a septuagenarian and offers a few bits of inspiration for those who, like her, struggle to hear in loud restaurants and order food on a computer, not via a human.

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Claudia Sternbach

When my editor — who is young and fresh and should be punished for it — brought up having someone write about aging, my first thought was, “Who do I know I could ask to write it?”

Then, I realized she had pitched the ball to me.

A curveball to say the least. I had forgotten I am now in my 70s — and that, my friends, is no longer young.

But let me ask for a show of hands: Do others out there of an advanced age still feel like they did when they were decades younger?

I don’t especially mean physically (I will never again run a half-marathon and then celebrate with pitchers of cold beer and a large pizza with extra cheese), but I mean emotionally.

There are days when I look out at the world and my perspective is that of a kid in her 30s, 40s or 50s. On my Seacliff Beach walks, I witness older couples out strolling together and I think, good for them, out getting exercise at their age!

Then, I realize we are the same age.

Part of the problem is that after years of COVID-19 caution and not socializing or traveling as much as I was used to, I feel like time stopped. Like I was preserved in amber. I did not notice the reality of time moving forward and aging taking place. Every day was the same.

A couple of weeks ago, I threw caution to the wind and decided to fly down to Los Angeles to see my daughter and grandson.

Before COVID-19, I traveled on my own all of the time. I flew back and forth to New York, took subways and cabs and felt confident in my ability to navigate the city with or without a companion. Trips to L.A. were as easy as a trip to the grocery store. Ain’t nothing intimidating about it. I was excited to book my trip to see my Darling Boy and his mom.

The night before my flight, I couldn’t sleep. My mind was abuzz with details I normally never worry about. What time should I leave the house? How will the traffic be on Highway 17? Did I remember how to find the long-term parking? And on and on.

Weird, I thought. When I finally did fall asleep, I had a dream that I had parked my car but couldn’t remember where. And of course, my phone went missing as well.

Claudia Sternbach and her grandson, Dodger, on the beach in Aptos.
(Via Claudia Sternbach)

I left my house with lots of time to spare and drove over Highway 17 without a hitch. When I arrived at the San Jose airport, I followed the signs to long-term parking without a problem. I took my ticket at the parking kiosk and remembered to put it in a safe place so I would have it when I needed to retrieve my car in four days. After a short shuttle ride to the terminal, I went through the checkpoint and found my gate and settled in.

But what was different this trip was how calculated every step was. I had to think hard at every move I made. It was not coming naturally. There was a feeling of unease.

The next afternoon, my daughter, the boy and I went to an outdoor mall to wander and have lunch. It’s a nice mall, always filled with people. There is a large water feature with fountains and music fills the air. People chatter, children laugh, or cry, depending on their moods. On this visit, I noticed how difficult it was for me to hear what my grandson was saying to me while at lunch.

I wear hearing aids, and all of the noise was jumbled. I became frustrated.

We then popped into a store so I could purchase some new sunglasses. The store was small and crowded and we, along with the clerks, were all wearing masks. Again there was loud music playing, and when speaking with the clerk I could not hear well and could not read her lips. My daughter could sense I was having trouble and stepped in to help. I was so grateful.

As we were getting ready to leave the mall, we stopped at a cupcake kiosk we have visited many times. After slipping a $10 bill in my pocket, I told my daughter and grandson to pick a table to sit at and I would grab the goodies. There was a long line, but I didn’t care. I knew the drill at this emporium of mini cakes.

Once at the window, you simply tell the person what you want and they hand it to you.

Finally, I made it to the front, but soon discovered the system had changed. No friendly person waited to take my order. Only a small computer screen mounted on a stand was there for me to converse with.

It took me by surprise. And I was wearing new sunglasses rather than prescription reading glasses, so I could not decipher what the screen wanted me to do.

Aptos writer Claudia Sternbach.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

People were lined up behind me waiting to grab their own treats. And this machine, it was obvious, didn’t take cash, only credit cards. My card was at the table with my daughter in my wallet in my purse. I felt so defeated. I felt so old.

Again my daughter rescued me.

I really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I am ashamed to say, I felt more sad than tickled by the event.

I’ve made an appointment to get my hearing aids adjusted. I’m going to keep up with my daily beach walks, weather permitting, and I have begun trying to prevent myself from worrying about things I can control, like losing my car in a big parking lot. I take a photo of it just in case. It eases my mind.

Aging sucks.

But I believe not aging sucks more.

I am now old enough where I am beginning to lose friends and family members. I miss them and know this is what life will be from here on out. I can recall a conversation with my mother years ago where she said, “All my friends are either sick or dying.” I’m not there yet, but now I can relate.

How much of this is due to advanced age and how much can I blame on being so isolated during COVID-19, I can’t say. A combination I suppose.

But I have started a new practice. Every morning when I wake up I look in the mirror and say to the white-haired-woman, “You will never again be as young as you are today. Make the most of it, girl.”

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