Claudia Sternbach still sees her husband, Michael, as the young, suntanned windsurfer she met decades ago.
(Via Claudia Sternbach)
Opinion from Community Voices

The secret to aging in Santa Cruz: Wear that tiny bikini on the inside

Lookout columnist Claudia Sternbach is sometimes surprised at the gray wave sweeping Santa Cruz. On her regular beach walks, she sees “more and more older folks out catching some rays.” Census data confirms the trend; the county’s 65-84 age bracket grew by 81% between 2010 and 2020. Sternbach, in her 70s, shares her thoughts as she grapples with her own age-related ailments and “being transported to this other existence.”

Editor’s note: We’re proud to launch Claudia Sternbach’s Aging in Santa Cruz, an occasional column we think many readers will enjoy. It’s our way of touching on the demographic shift happening in our community. Claudia, a longtime Santa Cruz writer, has become one of Lookout’s go-to voices in our Community Voices section. You can find all of her work for us here.

Lately on my Seacliff beach walks, I have noticed more and more older folks out catching some rays while getting some fresh air and exercise. And being that it’s summer, I also notice the youngsters, and by that I mean anyone who has only been enjoying life on Earth for less than four decades. There is, visually, quite a contrast.

The “kids” with their smooth skin and micro bathing suits (mostly the females), and the rest of us, slathered with sunscreen and wearing hats and sensible walking shoes.

I try to make eye contact with my fellow oldies and smile with encouragement. You know, “Hey look at us out here enjoying the day!”

Usually I will get a smile or nod in return. We are a member of a club most of us never realized we were joining. Yet we are happy to be part of it.

What the kids don’t realize as we try to make eye contact with them and they look right through us as if we are invisible is that other than our outer shells, we are the same as they are. We are simply wearing disguises. And these costumes, often a bit saggy, a bit soft, a bit wrinkled, might lead one to believe that our inner selves, our souls, are also a tad worn out.

Not true!

Yesterday afternoon, as I was strolling past the cement ship and listening to Willie Nelson, who at 90 is still touring and living the good life, I thought about how attractive he is. Really.

Oh, I know his face has taken a beating when it comes to wrinkles and creases, but the stories those nooks and crannies could tell would entertain me for hours. When I look into his eyes, I see the young Willie I first listened to decades back. He is still in there. He has not disappeared.

I love to watch Leonard Cohen concerts on YouTube, and I swear that as he aged, his music was richer, deeper, filled with accumulated knowledge that his younger self could never have achieved. So attractive! (Rest in peace, Leonard.)

Standing in line at New Leaf in Aptos to purchase, among other things, a bag of “super greens” to help keep me healthy, I admire the style gumption of the gentleman in front of me whose white hair is gathered in a ponytail longer than mine. I can imagine him in his earlier life with long hair not yet gray. I see his aging as an improvement. I wonder what his life has been like. What he has seen in the time he has spent on the planet.

Santa Cruz County’s 65-84 age bracket grew by 81% between 2010 and 2020, according to census data and as Santa Cruz becomes grayer and grayer, I fully expect to see more and more creative hairstyles in cloudy shades.

“Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be again.”

Smart lines from the ever-smart Eleanor Roosevelt. She said it decades ago, but it’s good to remember as Santa Cruz turns gray.

When I look at my husband, Michael, at first glance I see him as he is now. A handsome, gray-bearded, balding man a bit thicker around the middle than he once was.

Claudia Sternbach still sees her husband, Michael, as the young, suntanned windsurfer she met decades ago.
(Via Claudia Sternbach)

But if I give it a minute, I “see” the real him. The young man who joined me on my adventure living in the Yucatan more than four decades ago. The man who taught tourists to windsurf. Who explored Mayan ruins with me. Who joined me every morning to snorkel in the lagoon before breakfast. And for some reason, he still sees me as that brave, foolish young woman in a tiny bikini. He still loves the water, and when he and his buddies meet up at Manresa Beach to hit the waves on Sunday mornings, in my mind he is that young man I shared a hammock with in Mexico, only better. Seasoned.

Sure, there was a time when he would have had the energy to spend a full day in our coastal waters, but perhaps his time in the surf is more precious, now that it is somewhat limited due to aging. And yes, I can still share a hammock with him, but he will have to help me both in and out.

A few weeks ago as I was surfing the options for something to watch on television, I stumbled across a new series, “The Full Monty.” I remembered enjoying the movie 25 years ago. I think it was at the Nickelodeon, and I was curious about what the boys might be up to now, so decided to give it a go.

It has the same cast of characters, but two and a half decades have gone by and it does show on their faces. But I found each of the characters to be more interesting, more attractive, than their younger selves had ever been. They had history now. Stories were written all over their faces. And yet, inside, they were still those rascally younger men attempting to figure out life. The final episode brought me to tears. The good kind.

The author still feels like her young self, although she is in her 70s.
(Via Claudia Sternbach)

I don’t know about you, but I never pictured getting old.

I don’t know what I thought was going to happen as the years went by, but actually physically aging was not on my radar. I watched as my mother aged, but had no real understanding that I was on the same conveyor belt just a few paces behind. I don’t know if that is healthy denial or plain stupidity. But here I am.

I do not believe that my daughter realizes that she, too, is being transported to this other existence or if she believes it only happens to parents or grandparents. Let her believe that if it makes her life more enjoyable. Just like the kids at the beach who look at us as if we are a different species.

They do not know the secret we elders share. That we too are kids, hiding in plain sight. That when we look into each other’s eyes and smile we are saying silently, “I see you.”

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