I just celebrated one of those milestone birthdays. The ones that you aren’t necessarily looking forward to but others feel obligated to recognize. I do remember most. 21 was the largest party I had, as I married my dear Joe that day. At 30, he surprised me with my first “professional” camera and a pair of Linde Star earrings. At 40, he hosted the surprise “Over the Hill” gathering where my friends and loved ones gave me tubes of Ben Gay, Poli-grip and a walker with a horn. At 55, together we held a huge “Mullet’s Rock” party which featured a hog roast, live music and a raging thunderstorm! Here I am, the big SIX ZERO, a new season of life.
As I reflect on the previous generations of my family, there are significant differences in our life journey. At 60, my beloved maternal grandma Bertha was widowed, working as a live in nanny during the week, and sharing a bedroom with my sister on the weekends. Her husband had died suddenly in his sleep at 58. He had worked hard and long hours in the steel mills of Pittsburgh where they rented an apartment. Grandma was left with no home, no savings, a meager pension, and limited social security. Domestic work and living with family became her only option.
My mother Shirley was busy raising children at 60. She committed her life to creating a home for her husband and kids. At age 37, her family grew with the adoption of three sons and over time she became a foster mother to 45 more kids. She lived the post- World War II dream life, beautiful home, beautiful children, secure income and prepackaged foods including Jello.
Now, here I am at 60, an empty nester, working at a job I love. My life is even fuller with family, travel, and hobbies. I enjoy this stage of my life. I set goals and relish when I accomplish them. So why did I recently tell a sweet, teeny, tiny white lie when I told someone I was 59? Could it be that even I, (one who has dedicated a career to serving people over the age of 62) am an AGE bigot?
In 1969 Dr. Robert Butler, coined the term ageism when he provided an interview to a Washington Post reporter. “Ageism can be seen as a systemic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish this with skin color and gender,” Butler said.
Many scientists and social researchers have studied the topic of ageism. W. Andrew Achenbaum, in a recent article of the fall 2015 edition of Generations states, “Much since 1969 remains the same about ageism. Then as now, older Americans were a variegated group; their circumstances remain divergent in terms of financial resources and employment opportunities, mental and physical health, educational attainments, cultural diversity, marital status, religion, region…whereas most of us live long enough to become old, ageism is the only prejudice that can diminish EVERYONE’S quality of life.” As our world faces unprecedented population aging, we must actively address ageism.
Where can we go to find strategies to combat ageism? JoAnn Jenkins CEO of AARP in her new book entitled “Disrupt Aging” reminds us that first, we (the aging) need to look within ourselves and change the way we view ourselves and our inner lives. Collectively as a body of people, we must change the idea that aging is a time of decline, and prove to others through our actions that aging is an opportunity for continuous growth. It is imperative that we exhibit purpose, positive self-image and stake our claim as an integral part of society.
So how did I spend my sixtieth birthday? I hosted a sleep over birthday party with my two gran-girls. We wore Japanese kimonos, ate sushi and drank tea with our cupcakes. And I taught them how to make origami cranes, an art I learned in 1974 when I was an exchange student in Japan. My husband surprised me with five different courses from The Great Courses to support my love of learning and foster my interest in the bible, photography, nutrition and guess what, AGING!
Ok here goes…..I AM 60! There I said it, and I even have a smile on my face.