I was the Peter Pan who was never going to grow up.
I drank regular Coke well into my 20s, loved roller coasters when everyone else my age turned green thinking about them, went back to camp as a grown up for five years, and preferred surprise birthday parties well past adolescence.
Then, somewhere along the way, I changed.
I think one reason I didn’t want to change was because, to me, the moment I stopped loving roller coasters, I was old. And by “old” I don’t mean mature, responsible, wise, or even physically less capable. I meant the kind of “old” I promised myself I’d never be: boring, pessimistic, jaded, Debbie Downer.
If I stopped loving roller coasters or the allure of camp eluded me, I’d be old and boring. If I started drinking Diet Coke, the practical me would replace the fun me. It was all so representational and metaphorical and carried so much weight (no pun intended). But my saving grace in all of this was my grandmother.
My grandmother is 84 years old (kinehara, poo, poo, poo, in case you are reading this, Babi). She is a Hungarian powerhouse. She lost eight siblings, her parents, and much extended family in the Holocaust. She does not even know their yahrtzeits since they all were rounded up at once and never heard from again. She went through the camps. Her first husband died of heart failure in his prime. Her son (my father) died of cancer at 30. Her second husband died of cancer. If anyone has reason to be grouchy, boring, pessimistic, jaded, or a downer, it is she.
Then she bought herself an awesome little condo in the city. Bounced back after hip surgery (her first question to the surgeon before surgery was, “How soon can I go to Florida?” “Mrs. Friedman,” he returned, “you are going to be just fine.”). Regularly keeps her nails manicured. Hops over to Manhattan for a bargain. Wears designer clothing daily with lots of gold jewelry (did I mention she’s Hungarian?). Goes swimming and walking. Loves to hang out in the lobby of her Florida condo complex so she can “see and be seen.”
She’s not old.
I want to be her when I grow up. Even if I go to sleep far earlier than I used to, ask to be apprised of any “surprise birthday parties” pending for my 40th, avoid roller coasters, am done with camp, enjoy my solitude like I never thought I would, and drink Diet Coke like a boss, I’m not old.
I will watch and emulate my grandmother. I will remember that life is fun, that no one can bring you joy but yourself, that lipstick goes a long way, that new friendships can be formed at any stage of life, that handing out compliments like chocolate chip cookies will take you far, and that the spirit of adventure simply takes different forms as we age.