“What the hell is that?” I said to no one in particular. This was last summer, and though I had been swimming that day with my mom, she’d gone inside. I returned to the pool after visiting the kitchen, reached across my face for the doorknob and was struck dumb by the offending sight. When you’re in a wheelchair, you’re in the unique position to notice these things. I had just discovered my bat wings.
These droopy bits of arm flesh begin to drip off most women of a certain age and I was proving to be no exception. They were baby bat wings to be sure, new in their formation, but bat wings nonetheless.
When my mother came outside to join me, I was still there, poking at the doughy tissue with my finger and waving my arm about to see if it would jiggle. I held my arm up to my mother to demand an explanation. “What the hell?” I repeated.
My mother shrugged. “It just seems to happen.”
This response wasn’t even remotely reassuring. I’m reminded of the line from the movie, This is 40, where the old woman, by way of a birthday greeting says, “One day you’ll blink, and you’ll be ninety.” Is this how it happens? Signs of age just magically appear?
“At least it’s not too late for you. There’s still time,” my mom said, unwrapping her towel to display herself in nothing but her undies. This was clearly a woman for whom time had run out. She didn’t trouble herself with tricep exercises. But there was still hope for me. I put down the box of cookies I had brought out with me.
Mom had long ago dispensed with the formality and hassle of a bathing suit top. One of the last times she wore a top in the pool at all, she had come to me for help. I had turned her on to one of those comfortable, over-the-head, pull on bras with no wires or clasps. A perfect swim top. I started swimming in one of these bras and my underwear when I realized how much time could be saved by simply stripping down and getting in. I didn’t realize how much flexibility and dexterity were also required to get into one — until she came to me, bare-chested, raised arms encased like sausage in the fabric. “Can you pull this damn thing down?” she asked, giving me her back, her voice muffled by the material that covered her head like a ski mask. The sight was a cross between a bungled burglary and a striptease gone wrong.
Now she just runs around our very private backyard like some kind of ancient tribeswoman of the bush. Only instead of a basket on her head, she wears a wide-brimmed straw gardener’s hat with a drawstring cord fastened under her chin. I live in fear the actual gardener or pool guy will stop by unannounced and find us in these varied stages of undress, but Mom says I worry too much.
And before any of you start feeling defensive on behalf of my poor, written-about mother, please know she has a sense of humor as self-deprecating as mine. We don’t mind making fun of ourselves for the sake of a good laugh. Well, I guess I’m the only one making fun. But I’m exercising my first-amendment rights. I’m against censorship.
Needless to say, age and aging have been foremost on my mind as I approach my 45th birthday. And you’ll be happy to know I’ve decided to make the best of it. After all, I know people that would love to be 45 again. And you know what they say, you’re as young as you’ll ever be and what’s the alternative? When I’m 70, I’ll look back longingly and lovingly at this 45-year-old’s body and these miniature bat wings.
I’m especially pleased about all the new material. Aging is like having a lifetime supply of funny things to write about, a humorist writer’s gold mine. I’m thinking Nora Ephron and Erma Bombeck. I don’t feel bad about my neck yet, so just think what I have to look forward to!
And I can already sense it happening, this coming into my own. As you get older, you really do care less what people think and more about feeling comfortable in your own skin. My guess is you won’t want to be poolside when I’m 60 and Mom’s almost 90. We figure we’ll both be cantankerous and wearing mismatched socks. And I’m excited about all the elastic waistbands. I think middle age is the time to really think about what makes you happy. And you know what? You should be doing whatever it is that makes you happy. It’s good for the world. So yes, some parts of me are getting softer. But along with my bat wings I’m also sprouting wings of authenticity. Aging may be like going back to caterpillars on the outside, but we become butterflies again on the inside.