A decade or so ago, my husband Mark and I were driving through town when we saw an older man carefully sweeping the dirt off his blacktop driveway.
“Hoo boy,” we laughed. “You know you’re old when not only do you have time to sweep your driveway, but you actually think it matters.”
Well, time has passed. And, as embarrassed as I am to say it, I’m starting to feel an affinity with that old man. My priorities are changing.
It’s not about being tidy; I’m not. It’s more about me overcoming my careless ways, and finding myself with a growing need for things around me to be just so.
In other words, I’m getting old.
Not decrepit old, but old in the way that I look at younger people and wonder why they don’t make lists. Or leave enough time to get to the airport. Or pack a snack, just in case.
I’m becoming my mother.
A few days ago, I saw a YouTube video of a senior citizen, surrounded by college students, doing a keg stand. They held him upside down and he gulped beer from the tap while they cheered.
It went viral because old people just don’t do stuff like that.
With good reason. When they put the guy down, he teetered for a second, and then fell over into a stack of lawn chairs.
While the bros cheered, I cringed. There may have been a time when I thought keg stands were cool — even if I didn’t possess the upper body strength to do one myself. But now, with age, I see that they’re actually stupid. College kids might not know better, but adults should.
I’m not sure exactly when I stopped seeing kegs at the rare parties I go to. But nowadays, the gatherings I attend are more likely to feature cake and coffee (decaf if it’s after 3 p.m.).
Wow. I’ve changed.
This all came to mind this morning when I was hand washing some wool sweaters. Me. Hand washing. It’s crazy.
As a young adult, much to my mother’s chagrin, I managed my wardrobe along Darwinian principles. I would throw everything into one load — darks, lights, delicates, hand-knits — with the full expectation that the weak and sickly items that couldn’t take the agitation would get weeded out. So be it.
Now here I am, years later, a different person. Without thinking, I separate clothes according to color, hang-drying anything liable to shrink, and, yes, hand washing the things I don’t want to get pummeled in the washer. Why wouldn’t I?
It’s almost like I’ve started to develop a grown-up attitude about life in general. Quaint old aphorisms like “a stitch in time saves nine” and “a place for everything, and everything in its place” suddenly mean more to me than the one motto I lived by for decades: “Whatever.”
After Sunday night’s snowstorm, for instance, I shoveled several miles of paths to the chicken coop, bird feeder and woodpile. This goes against my long-established and time-saving habit of just tromping a path into the snow and letting the tracks ice over until, after a few freeze-thaw cycles, the trail becomes an ankle-twisting agility course that lasts until spring. (Look, Ma, I’m showing forethought!)
I used to think only tightly wound losers took their time, planned ahead, and stuck to routines. But these days, I fill up the gas tank before the light comes on. I scrape ice off the whole windshield instead of just scratching a 4-inch circle on the driver’s side. I put the dog leash in the same spot every day. I weed out the junk mail before I stack the bills, which I then pay — on time. Heaven help me, I carry a tape measure in my purse.
Who am I?
I always thought I’d stay the same forever, but I’m realizing that, with a few exceptions (I’m looking at you, keg stand guy), we all mature and evolve in a predictable way over the years.
Whether we like it or not.
Now I find myself, one hand-washed sweater at a time, turning into someone who prefers schedules to spontaneity, order to chaos. Without any conscious effort, I’ve become the kind of person who keeps extra AA batteries on hand — and knows where they are.
I wonder: Will I continue to grow more methodical and fastidious as I get older? Consider this: I’m only 48 now.
So, yes. At the rate I’m going, it’s safe to say there’s a well-swept driveway in my future.