As I've struggled with getting older, I have also struggled with my pets aging, particularly Tess. I hadn't really thought about it much until her ninth birthday this past March, when it suddenly hit me that Tess isn't going to live forever, and nine is the equivelent to about 50 or 60 in human years. Tess is a senior citizen, while I am still middle-aged. True, I'm on the wrong side of 35, but since beloved and gorgeous actresses like Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz have taken 40 by the balls and dragged it kicking and screaming into the 21st Century as the new sexy, vibrant, desirable woman, it's not bothering me so much. I much prefer a Jennifer Aniston to a Miley Cyrus or a Selena Gomez anyway. Thanks to the new science of aging putting a new spin on 40 and even 50, 40 has become the new 30. My "scary age" was actually 34. Once I hit 34, hyperventilated, drank a bottle of wine, and cried, 35, 36, and even 37 were a piece of cake (literally as I made sure to eat a lot of cake on all of those birthdays).
Through all these birthdays in my thirties, Tess has been a true and faithful companion. I define my thirties by owning Tess because I adopted her right before my 30th birthday. We share a birth month. I picked her up right after her birthday and a couple of weeks before mine. She was my thirtieth birthday present to myself.
Still, even though I know Tess is getting older and she is nine now, I haven't worried too much until the other morning when I took her for a run. If I take Tess for a run in the morning before work, it's early enough that I can take her to the dog park and there is no one else around. She likes to chase the cars through the fence. We haven't gone in awhile because I've been taking her on different routes and letting her run loose along the river, but she still remembers racing the cars and trying to beat them to the end fence line. That particular morning she started her usual race and made it two or three times before she trotted unsteadily over to me, huffing like she was about to explode. She actually sat at my feet for a moment to catch her breath. My dog does not sit when she's outside unless I instruct her to. She is always moving, always has her nose in a clump of grass, and as long as I've had her, I've never known her to take a rest while she's on a walk. Resting is for in the house at night or on the porch in the backyard when I'm at work.
That's when I realized my dog is old. She is slowing down. While her spirit is still willing to run and jump and play, her body isn't quite so forgiving anymore.
Percy and Puckett are both eight. Puckett might be older, but since I have no idea what her true age is, I'm going with eight, like Percy. Willow is around six. The cats are still in middle aged territory like me.
The car, my little green 2004 Honda Accord, is reaching senior citizen status as well, and the other day I panicked when the starter had issues, thinking I might have to buy a new car. If that's the case I"ll be devastated. That car has never given me an ounce of trouble which is more than I can say for the pets. I love that car. It's paid off, it's cute, it runs well. I have never had to take it in for anything more serious than an oil change (and body work when idiots run into me). It turned out the starter issues were just a bad battery and once that's switched out, the car will be fine.
Age is a funny thing. Logically it's just a number. I'm 38 but I don't feel "thirty-eight," whatever that feels like. I remember being eighteen and thinking thirty was old. I still feel like I did in my twenties. My energy level is the same, I look the same, and other than some bouts with depression and loneliness, I feel mostly the same. The things that have changed since my twenties are mostly my own perception. For example eighteen-year-olds irritate me to no end now, where I used to be quite tolerant of them. People in their twenties amuse me with their "have it all figured out" attitudes when I know that really, they haven't even begun to scratch the surface. I have a much lower bullshit tolerance than I used to. I own a house and I no longer take shots or go on weekend party binges. Now when I date, I'm looking for potential long term mates so I assess men differently than I did. In my twenties, hot played a pretty large role in whether I'd go out with a guy. Now, kindness, honesty, and how does he make me feel are more important. Don't get me wrong, he still has to be able to give me the shivering fits, but I'm not looking for Brad Pitt here. Things like whether he makes more money than me, does he wear socks with sandals, is he taller than me, and does he look like a great big dork don't really factor in. I kind of like great big dorks. I think geeks and dorks are sexy.
That old cliche of knowing the things you know now when you were much younger is alive and well. Had I known then what I know now I probably could have spared myself a lot of heartache. But I would have passed on some fun experiences too. I spare myself a lot of superficiality now. I no longer have the patience to wear a lot of makeup or spend a lot of time on my hair. I'd rather walk my dog. I also know now that what I put on my body and in it makes a huge difference in how I feel physically, so I watch what I eat and I use natural skin care products (coconut oil and avocados are my favorite). I may still be vain - I will make damn sure I look like this until I'm fifty - but I don't have time to be superficial. The more I worry about stupid stuff that doesn't matter, the less time I spend with my dog, enjoying every precious moment I have left with her.
That's another thing that aging changes. Sure, I look the same, feel the same, and mostly act the same, but now I am well aware of the hourglass. The sand is running out. Thirty-eight is still young. I still have a few years left to have a baby, but that window is shrinking. When I was in my twenties I thought I had loads of time. Now I know I have more like three years. I have time left to publish those novels. I have time to travel through Europe and visit Hawaii. I have time to find a husband and get married. But my time with my dog is limited, my time with my parents is limited, my nieces and nephews are no longer babies and growing up, and while time marches on, we eventually stop. We don't think about that in our twenties. The experience and wisdom of aging tunes us into that feeling of "Where has the time gone?"
Let's make the most of the time we have left. More walks with the dog. More phone conversations with the parents. Visits to my nieces and nephews. Telling people what they mean to me and making amends if I've wronged them. I've already started. Nothing lasts forever. Let's have no regrets.