Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Aging Out

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 22, 2016] © 2016 
Both my husband Olof and I will turn 69 this year and for the first time, we’ve started talking about “aging out” – just being too old to do things.
It’s not as though this thought hasn’t occurred to us before. For example, we decided some years ago that we’d aged out of hang gliding, which was fine since we’d never aspired to do it anyway.  But what about the stuff we might actually still want to do?
The issue first came up when the last of our cockatiels died last year at the age of 21. Our older son, Rory, decided to breed cockatiels back when he was nine. He’s now in his mid-thirties and married to a cat person in Santa Cruz but we still had the cockatiels. Those little guys can live to 25. As I’ve often counseled parents of elementary school age kids: never let your kids get a pet with a life expectancy greater than yours.
Over the years, our outdoor aviary has also acquired parakeets (often neighbors’ kids’ ill-considered bird buys). Somehow – we’re not sure how – we’ve become an avian social service agency. Our tiny grandkids love the aviary and they especially love naming the birds when new ones show up. When we were down to our last cockatiel, they suggested that we get another one to keep it company. But Olof and I realized: we’ve aged out of cockatiels. We decided we probably still have enough life expectancy for parakeets as they tend to live to be only about seven. We like to think we’re good for that long.
We ran into the aging issue again when we had to replace the beautiful 35-foot tree in our front yard which succumbed to some un-named but pernicious borer. As I wrote a few weeks ago, we did everything we could, hiring expert after expert, to save it.
We finally had to admit that our beloved tree, under whose welcome shade we had spent hundreds of hours, had gone to the big forest in the sky. We really wanted some sort of tree there but were hit with the realization that unlike its predecessor, which we watched grow over the last 43 years, the replacement was not going to be that big in our lifetime even with bionic fertilizer. We’d aged out of the possibility of 35-foot trees. Or maybe we were just financially ineligible for 35-foot trees (this is, after all, La Jolla). But might we still have the life expectancy to see, say, a 15-footer?
The kids, of course, accuse both of us of spending too much time doing what they call “rehearsing for death.” But Olof is the first man in his family to ever live to 65 (nasty familial affliction) while my mother died at 54 and my grandmother at 48. Actuarial tables? Bwahahahaha. It’s hard not to feel like we’re on borrowed time. Every birthday we do our little happy dance around the table singing “Woo-hoo! Against all odds!” (In our circumstances, fun is where you find it.) We really wish the cremation people would stop sending us mail.
We’ve been confronting the aging-out issue yet again recently after our beloved bulldog, Winston, died recently. We inherited him from our younger son (see birds, above; are we seeing a pattern here?) but fell totally in love with him and have been completely heartbroken since his very unexpected passing this spring. Frankly, at the moment, the only dog we want is the one we can’t have but many people have encouraged us to transfer the profound heartache we feel about Winston into love for another dog, preferably a rescue. But while Winston died prematurely, dogs live to 15 years. Have we aged out of dogs?
Well, puppies certainly. Besides, we still have Winston’s teeth marks in the furniture from his puppyhood visits. Given how much time and money we spent dealing with Winston’s endless allergy problems, taking on an older animal with health issues wouldn’t be our first choice either.
“So,” I queried Olof the other night at dinner, “what age dog have two people who have already outlived their genes NOT aged out of?”
Olof pondered this. “A fourteen-and-a-half-year old with cancer?”
Our biggest concern, of course: what would happen to the little guy if we crumped before it did.
Our friends say that there is an easy answer to that: leave the dog to the kids in our will. After thirty years of birds and one problematic bulldog, they wouldn’t dare say no. (Would they?)  Still, we’re loath to take on an animal whose reasonable life span we couldn’t see through.
Meanwhile, we recently channel surfed into a Motocross competition on TV. We looked at each other. “Definitely aged out of Motocross,” we concluded. And we couldn’t be happier about it.
Parakeets “Green Bean” and “Banana” (named by the grandtots)

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