The author's mother-in-law, Roz, had a Santa Cruz skating party for her 60th birthday.
The author’s mother-in-law, Roz, had a Santa Cruz skating party for her 60th birthday.
(Via Claudia Sternbach)
Opinion from Community Voices

I think my mother-in-law has discovered the Fountain of Youth

Juan Ponce de León never found the Fountain of Youth. In fact, he never even looked for it; that is just a weird rumor. But Lookout columnist Claudia Sternbach, who often writes about life in her 70s, believes her 93-year-old mother-in-law, Rozzy, holds the secret many of us crave — the recipe for longevity. Rozzy is coming to California next week and is still wave jumping and making airport runs and hard to tire out, even in her ninth decade. She is also making Sternbach rethink her attitude about aging.

It is kind of a chicken/egg question. Does frolicking in the ocean keep you young or is it that when one is young at heart, even at the age of 93, you just naturally enjoy waves washing over you while bobbing in the surf?

I just got off of FaceTime with my mother-in-law, Roz, who lives full-time in Florida, but is in New Jersey right now visiting her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The day before, she was looking out the window, and as she stared at the Atlantic Ocean just steps away, she decided she wanted to go for a swim. Again, she is 93.

She loves waves. She adores being tossed and rocked and then finding herself close enough to shore that she can stand grinning in the surf. Before she ventured out, my sister-in-law, Donna, warned her there was an undertow and the current was stronger than it looked.

Did Rozzy chicken out? No she did not. She went for it without hesitation. Because she does not give much weight to the number 93.

At 93, Roz still likes to jump in the waves.
At 93, Roz still likes to jump in the waves.
(Via Claudia Sternbach)

OK, she did get pulled out a bit farther than she had planned, and the undertow was stronger than she thought it might be and yep, there was an unexpected sandbar and she washed up on it and was surprised to find herself standing/sitting so far from shore that she ended up needing to be rescued and ferried back to shallow water. But, boy, did she have fun!

I know there is luck involved with how our bodies age.

And I know nutrition plays a role in keeping healthy, and genetics can’t be discounted, (Rozzy’s dad, Grandpa Max, lived to almost 100) and exercise can’t be ignored, either, but even taking all of that into account, what the what?

Last fall, Roz lost her husband of seven decades. We worried about how she would adjust to being alone.

But, she had the “gift” of his lengthy cancer and knowing what was coming, so when Seymour died, she realized they had had a long and fruitful life together. And after caring for him during his bout with cancer, she found peace in knowing their lives together had been rich and full.

But her life wasn’t over.

So she began to travel once again. Not in search of the Fountain of Youth, though. She seems to have discovered that years ago.

Honestly, I should have seen this new era coming.

For Rozzy’s 60th birthday, the entire family flew here from the East Coast and we rented the Santa Cruz Roller Palladium to celebrate her many turns around the sun with many turns around the rink. She wore us all out.

Now I have spent time with her in Florida and been amazed at her spunk and energy. She still drives, even picks us up at the airport when we fly in.

I try to sleep on the plane so I can keep up with her once we land. This is a woman who does all her own grocery shopping, going to multiple stores according to what coupons she has stuffed in her wallet. Even Costco doesn’t overwhelm her.

Costco overwhelms me.

Last week she flew to New Jersey (where she got stuck on a sandbar) on her own and, in 10 days, she will fly from New Jersey to California, again by herself, to spend a week here with me and my husband.

When we spoke on the phone before she began her travels and I expressed concern that she might be tired when she gets here, she laughed. “What?” she said and then she explained to me why that won’t be a problem.

“I sit in the car going to the airport. Then I sit on the plane. Then I get picked up and sit in a car again. What could make me tired?”

Let’s look at the facts here.

I am a person, a writer who often writes about aging. I have shared with people how challenging it is to deal with hearing aids and creaky muscles and skin that seems to sag in new places every day. And then I think of Roz and wonder, have I jumped the gun? Am I really a senior citizen? Perhaps not?

When my friends and I gather it is impossible to deny that we have gotten to a certain age. I see folks my age everywhere and it has begun to feel as if Santa Cruz County has many more gray-haired residents than than most places.

I’ve heard projections that by 2030, close to one third of residents will be over 60. And the Census data shows in the past decade, the number of Santa Cruz residents who are 65-84 grew by 81%.

But are we really old? Maybe it is just a mind game after all. Maybe, as long as I have Rozzy in my life, alive and kicking, I am still a kid. At least I am to her.

Now, excuse me. I believe I’ll head down to the beach and go for a bobble in the water to see if I might find that youthful fountain.