Let's be perfectly honest. There are lots of things about getting older that are just not very pleasant. When packing to travel now, my biggest concern is making sure I have enough of my prescription drugs to get me through the trip.
Getting older means there are more days behind you than ahead of you. It means that the sounds you once mocked your parents for making when they rose from the couch are now coming out of your mouth as you get out of your car. Getting older means that going to Vegas and staying up until 1 a.m. -- not reading in bed, but actually being up and out in public with a bra still on -- causes friends and family alike to gasp in amazement.
Perhaps most disconcerting about aging is realizing that when that nice man at the front desk says, "You're next, young lady," you don't move because you just assume he isn't talking to you.
Yep, old age, as that adage states so succinctly, is not for the faint of heart.
Then, every once in a while, you get to have an experience that shows you the other side of old age -- the side where you get to reap some good things that you've sown, the side where you can see the results of some of the efforts you made in your younger years. And that is a good thing.
So when I go to visit friends whose children I watched grow up into such beautiful young people, I smile and think that this has to be what the rewards of parenting are really all about. And despite never having had children of my own, I can share that joy because I did my best to be one great crazy old bird lady in their lives. Quite frankly, I worked very hard to be their favorite aunt, honorary though the title might be.
I was in Las Vegas for a "girls' " weekend recently with some of these friends. It turned out to not completely be a girls' weekend because my friend Kate's two sons showed up with their lady friends. We all went out to dinner and a show on Saturday night. As we walked to the restaurant, I marveled at these two tall, handsome, kind young men who had once been little tow-headed boys coming down to give their momma a kiss good night when we played bridge at their home.
The girls looked the way someone dressed for a night in Vegas should look -- a look, quite frankly, that takes much more effort than I'm currently willing to make. More important than their beauty, though, was how kind and thoughtful they were to us. It never felt like we were divided into old and young. We were just a group of people out having a wonderful time.
After leaving Vegas, I went to San Diego to visit another friend and her children. All three grown-up young ladies had once been the little girls I took to the Imaginarium. One is a mother while the other two are embarking on their adult lives and exploring all the opportunities now available to women -- something my generation can take some credit for accomplishing. They too were happy to spend time with an old aunty, engaging in lively conversations those of us of a certain age should seek out in order to keep our brains alive and active.
In a world where things can sometimes seem so grim that I find myself grateful to be on the declining side of life, I look at these young people and think that while my generation can be blamed for many ills in this world, and for not fulfilling so many of the promises we once made, if we raised young people like this then we must have done something right. Not only did we do something right, their very existence is our best hope for a brighter future for this world.
Old age, it turns out, can be quite a joy if we allow ourselves to spend some of it with the young people who occupied our young and middle ages. If I'm very lucky, these kids will continue to want to spend time with their crazy bird lady who now creaks getting out of the car.
Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," her memoir of 28 years in Barrow. Website, www.elisepatkotak.com.