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Aging Out or In: Musings on Ages and Stages

By Renee Burns Lonner

My grandsons are about to age out of day camp, my kids have aged out of “young” and are now credibly middle-aged and I have aged out of my peer group — next steps, anyone?

Worse yet, my peer group has retired or has the countdown to doing so on a huge wall calendar that they salivate over every day, with a sharpie in their hands. I love my job, have always loved it and have zero intention of retiring. I am grateful that friends and family have stopped asking me when I intend to retire, having finally tired of the same response from me for years now — “and do what?”

As I look around, many older folks look and act nothing like our parents did at these ages. That said, my parents were quite a paradox, which is maybe where I get my weirdness from: though they considered themselves “old” by 55, my father retired from a long-term career as an executive for a major corporation and immediately turned around, at age 65, and nailed a consulting job as an independent contractor. And he did that in the 1970s.

I’m starting to think that my current state also may be the counterbalance for my childhood and adolescence, much of which I spent reading and studying and reading and studying. Yes, I went outside and played with other kids, and no, I did not have social phobia, but I did spend an inordinate amount of time being a nerd. So maybe I should think of this as the balance for that — the other kids are retiring and I’m loving my work and, at the same time, spending more time on my other interests. Like writing and gardening, both activities that nourish the soul.

And to say I am happy with my life at this point would be an understatement. My conclusion as I have observed the struggles of women over the last umpteen decades is that yes, you can have it all — just not at the same time. Show me the woman who has a full-time career and children at home and I’ll show you one exhausted female. Ask her what she does for herself and she is likely to laugh uncontrollably — or cry. When I was at that stage, I always said “fine” to the meaningless question “how are you?” but the real answer was “tired, anxious, guilty — aren’t you glad you asked?” I loved my career at that point, too — it’s just that there was too much day and never enough sleep.

In addition to fatigue, there were the normal but often preoccupying thoughts and worries many of us have during those years: in my case, the frequent crystallization of clinical meaning 10 minutes after my patient left my office instead of 10 minutes before the session ended; the usual parental anxieties when my son was 0-18 years old (ok, so maybe 21 or 25 or 35); the insidious guilt that nearly every working mother has; the concern about my own parents’ health; and the rest of life that seemed to be in hyper-speed during those years.

Then, if you are very lucky, one day you wake up and your children have grown into lovely young adults, your career is stable and rewarding and you are in decent health. Your anxieties have given way to actual space in your head and psyche for the next phase of your development: making some new choices for yourself. It turns out that age and stage do not always line up in the way they did for many of our parents and grandparents. Thank goodness.

A couple of months ago I read that renowned architect Frank Gehry’s 15-year project in Los Angeles called The Grand is nearing completion. As he led a tour of the mega-project, he mentioned that he plans to collaborate on a future project with one of his Grand partners. Gehry is 93. Wow, I’m just warming up.

— Renee Burns Lonner

Renee Burns Lonner is a consultant for television newsrooms and a licensed therapist based in Los Angeles. Prior to the pandemic, her published work was serious; the pandemic created the need for comic relief and last fall she published her first humor book, If You Give A Man a Tesla: A Parody.

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