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What it Is Like Growing Old Alongside Your Parents

With a mom and dad, I simply don't feel my age.

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illustration of mother and daughter walking together, growing older
Jon Krause
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At 62, I have formally entered the senior citizen stage of life. I am entitled to Social Security benefits. In three years I will be entitled to Medicare coverage. I’m already offered senior discounts from my local grocery store, and I am well into my postmenopausal stage.       

But that’s crazy talk because I can’t possibly be senior when I have parents who, at 87 and 91, are feisty seniors themselves and are still very much an integral presence in my life. I still see myself as someone’s child. There is still a generation above me that is unconditionally there for me.

I still refer to my parents as “mom” and “dad” with the same inflection as I did as a kid.  I’m still someone’s baby girl. I still receive birthday cards and gift-wrapped packages signed “With love, Mom and Dad.”

I still have a safe harbor with a door that never closes. I still have parents who will boast about me and to whom I can boast.  I still have someone who will take me shopping. I still have parents, who, by their mere presence, continue to teach me something new every day. This alone has preserved my youth. And I am certainly not alone.

My generation of baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are experiencing extended longevity like people at no other time. There are now 97,000 individuals who have reached their 100th birthdays in the United States, a big jump from the estimated 72,000 centenarians alive in 2000.

When our parents produced children in their early 20s, as they tended to do post–World War II, as evidenced by the 20 percent boom in birth rates that began in 1946, they set themselves up to easily become grandparents by their 40s.  

In stark contrast, I had my first child at 38 and my second at 40. This was not dissimilar to many of my peers, who, on average, waited until their late 20s and early 30s to marry.

Whereas our parents were having three, four and five children, we were pushing the boundaries at two. This postwar era of procreation produced 76.4 million boomers in the United States, a sharp contrast to the 50 million produced by the previous generation. Thanks to medical advancements and increased attention to physical fitness, our aging parents are now experiencing their own “boomand watching their children grow old. I do not expect to see my children enter their senior years — unless science comes up with something spectacular.      

Aging used to be about numbers that define us. In the past, my own number of 62 was considered old and close to expected retirement age. Today, all of us know someone, or are the children of someone, who is moving through his or her 80s and 90s with spunk and agility, often still working and living independently.      

At 62, I am growing old with my parents, and so is my 68-year-old brother. Since leaving for college we have received almost daily calls from them for no other reason than to say “Hi, what did you do today?”

At 62, I still call my mom for advice on what to wear to an event or what dish to bring to a potluck.

At 88, my mom can still take a quick look at me and know if something is wrong. She is my beauty adviser, who swiftly reminds me when it’s time for a color touch-up — I am not in just-go-gray sisterhood. At 91, my dad is still competing in golf tournaments and painting portraits. After 69 years of marriage, my parents still have date nights and hold hands.

I’m not blind to my parents’ inevitable aging process: their slower stride, their diminished hearing, their declines in memory. My dad had a heart attack 20 years ago; my mom has a chronic bronchial condition.

What’s more, I’m certainly not denying my own accumulating birthdays. My wrinkles are becoming harder to conceal, and though I’m still a competitive tennis player, I know those days on the court are not forever.      

The crucial thing I have learned from my parents is that how we age is our choice, if we are fortunate to dodge killer diseases. Their gift to me is the inspiration to keep a hopeful state of mind.

I know that their health and spirits will wane, though that’s not what frightens me. After six-plus decades of having a mom and dad, it’s the unimaginable loss of those visits, those calls and those hugs that I fear the most.

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