The Post-Youth Years

Remember Gail Sheehy’s Passages? Passages is a study of life’s stages and the typical crises that come along per stage. Since it was first published in 1984, it’s sold more than five million copies. My guess is that my mother alone bought a sizable percentage of those copies, one for her, and one for every one of her girlfriends. It was that time of the century, when women like my mother, raised to marry, keep house, and raise children, were facing the empty nest without having prepared for it by the rigors of premarital sex, underpaid jobs, light or not-so-light drug use, and an expectation that if you listened to enough Joni Mitchell you could skip the dreary stuff.

Not so, smarty-pants! I can say this with conviction, because at present I am not only older than my mother was then, but also, inching ever closer to a very special birthday, the same one that many of my peers celebrate in the usual style of our cultural moment: by posting clichés on Facebook. That said, all the cliches do indeed apply: where does the time go, how did I get to be this age? etc. And we – meaning me – aren’t even old! Not compared to, say, my father. My father’s actually old. He’s so old that he should have long since become soft in the head, but instead is in Tel Aviv as I write, making business deals and shmoozing. The point being that, if I have a goodly enough share of my father’s longevity genes, I too may, one day, be truly elderly.

But until then, I and all the my-age people in the world are all but stateless, by which I mean that there is no age-category to which we belong, where we might fly our own flag, concoct our own mottos, and perhaps start a fashion trend.

According to historians, childhood itself didn’t exist, as a separate, definable idea denoting the time between birth and full physical and intellectual maturity, until the 18th century, sparked in part by the writings of Jean Jacque Rousseau. Since then, though, we humans have been slicing and dicing the human lifespan up into smaller and more exact bits until, as of now, we not only have “infancy,” “toddlerhood,” “childhood,” “adolescence,” “adulthood,” “middle age,” and “old age,” but the fairly recent categories of “pre-adolescence,” “tween,” and “emerging adult.” So what do you call someone—me—who is well past child-raising, perhaps thinking about retiring, but not yet old enough to so much as consider selling the old house to move to something on only one level, preferably in the sunbelt?

This has all been made more vexing, at least for me, by the blue-jeaning of the entire Western World, including Israel, minus the Haredi. From tenderest youth on up to the golden years, pretty much everyone in America adheres to the fashion trend of my teens: blue jeans in all their various permutations, with various tops, depending on the season and the depth of one’s wallet. Maybe not at work: at work adults tend to wear grownup clothes, suits for men; sober-trending dresses, slacks and skirts for women. But the rest of the time, we conform to the anti-establishment fashion trend of my own youth, which on top of everything else, is probably the worst fashion trend ever. At least when my mother and her mother were having very special birthdays, they got to wear clothes that denoted their older-and-wiser status. I can’t so much as imagine either of my smart, opinionated, and self-aware grandmothers pretending that they were anything other than what they were, which by the time I came along, was well beyond the vanities and self-importance of youth. Nor can I imagine either one of them wearing blue jeans for any occasion whatsoever, including weeding the garden or taking out the trash. But me and the fifteen-year-old next door? We could swap wardrobes, and no one would much notice.

Along with the sartorial confusion that I and my peers face, there’s a musical one. The soundtrack of my life is not the glories of Bach or the soulfulness of Sam Cook or even the swinging, jet-set croons of Frank Sinatra and company, but “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. Speaking of which, what’s up with Mick Jagger? He’s almost eighty, a great-grandfather, and still prancing around in the same pixie-cut and too-tight jeans that he favored forty years ago. Perhaps like me he hasn’t yet accepted the reality of time.

But the realities of time are not to be messed with. With this in mind, I return to the question: what am I to call myself? “Old” isn’t right, but then again, neither is “middle-aged” or even “late middle-aged.” “Pre-geriatric” misses the mark. “Post-menopausal” is both too broad a category and too narrow, applying, as it does, only to women. Maybe “the silver decades”? (My own hair went that way years back.) “The hip replacement years”? “Not old yet”?

Coming near the end of the Eshet Chayil, sung before the Friday night Shabbat meal, is a line that made my kids, when they were little kids, crack up. Come to think of it, my husband, reciting it in English, cracked up too:

Grace is falsehood and beauty is vapid; a woman who fears God is the one who shall be praised.

Perhaps it’s time to refer to my stage of life as the “Valor” years. Except people might hear it as “velour.” In which case it really would be time to retire to Florida.

About the Author
Jennifer Anne Moses is the author of seven books of fiction and non fiction, including The Man Who Loved His Wife, short stories in the Yiddish tradition. Her journalistic and opinion pieces have been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Newark Star Ledger, USA Today, Salon, The Jerusalem Report, Commentary, Moment, and many other publications. She is also a painter.