For me, winter break was a welcome change from the pressures of maintaining a facade of youthfulness — an opportunity to embrace the 80-year-old woman within, who I could feel just dying to burst free.
My foray into the life of an octogenarian began when, wanting a little activity to keep myself occupied while listening to some new CDs, I started a jigsaw puzzle. But instead of listening to Sufjan Stevens and Neutral Milk Hotel, I ended up sitting for hours at a time — in my bathrobe, no less — doing a jigsaw puzzle in utter concentrated silence. Day after day, I sat for so long that my hip ached when I got up, the CDs still in their shrink wrap on my dresser.
Next, I learned how to knit, an activity which, though super-trendy, is at its core still just sitting and winding yarn around needles. At least it proves that I don’t have arthritis. Yet.
I drank tea instead of coffee. I wore my glasses all the time — when I could remember where they were. I displayed a strange predilection for grandmother sweaters: big, cabled, utterly comfortable, and utterly shapeless and unflattering.
I made peanut brittle.
I saw movies, alone, in the middle of the day. Other than movies, my other main source of entertainment was going out for long walks, again by myself, in the hills.
And I was unbelievably happy. Not just relaxed, but really, genuinely happy. I didn’t want to think about going back to school, about having to get a job and a career and have a family and a husband before I’d be able to return to the glory of simply sitting around.
My life had all the benefits of old age with none of the incontinence or memory loss. It was glorious.
Or was it?
On a rainy day towards the end of break, I went to a matinee screening of “Harry Potter” at my local movie theater. It was two blocks away, so I didn’t have to drive and deal with all those crazy teenagers behind the wheel. My old, crotchety soul was happy.
But as I sat and waited for the movie to begin, cheerily knitting away, I watched senior citizen after senior citizen file in; I was knitting at an early bird screening where the average age was at least 60. And I realized something.
I may have taken the whole early retirement concept a bit too far.
That night, a friend came in to visit, and we spent the next few days doing appropriately youthful activities: sunbathing, shopping, driving too fast, and going to bars — a kind of warm-up for life back in the Yale fast lane. And, though I spent my first night back knitting and watching “Sleepless in Seattle” on TBS, I spent Sunday night at Rudy’s, surrounded by beer and frites and good company.
And that’s when I realized that it’s possible to strike a balance. That it’s okay to act ironically (or unironically) young or old, that sometimes wanting to be in bed before midnight (after a tall glass of Metamucil) doesn’t make you a traitor — or an 80-year-old — but just a self-aware (and normal) person.
I have my whole life to sit and knit by myself, but I still haven’t been to a good number of the bars in New Haven (Sidebar? Where the hell is that?). It might be time to kill a few more brain cells and truly act 21 before graduation.
Or, on the other hand, to just sit around and drink tea with my friends and reminisce about the days when we had the energy to shop 30 classes.
Claire Stanford will be leading “Introduction to Water Aerobics” at Payne Whitney Natatorium every Thursday — it’s good for aging joints!