We never get over having firsts

By : 
Dr. Jan Meyer
Biker's Diary

Much has been studied and written about how as we age, we switch roles with the next generation. We diapered them, and eventually they diaper us. While I am not that far along yet, I have noticed some other trends, or stages of change, as we get older.

At the beginning of our existence, life is of course full of firsts. There is the first smile, the first time we sleep all night, the first word, the first step, first birthday party, first haircut, first tooth. There is the first bicycle, first day of school, first best friend. The years whiz by, and we note the first car, the first date, the first kiss (not necessarily in that order, I recall!), the first job. There is the first time we can vote, the first time for sex, the first place we live away from parents, the first house we own. Somewhere along the way, we quit celebrating those firsts, but we still remember them.

Time never stands still, and the years whiz by. The number of firsts we experience definitely slows down, maybe even stops if we let it. Then we start experiencing the firsts at the other end of our lives. I think those started for me when the first time a doctor told me “It’s common for people your age,” or worse, “It’s just your age.” That’s just the beginning of the times we will actually hear those words or something like them. I actually see that phrase as the great wake-up call.

So far I have not experienced too may of those firsts. I do have to make a rigid routine of taking medications, especially the eye drops, to make sure I never forget. Forgetting in itself is a big problem, although I can’t remember the exact first time I experienced the kind of forgetting associated with aging. Perhaps that is good, because unlike the firsts at the beginning of our lives, we don’t celebrate the firsts at the end.

All of this takes a lot of time, especially if we are going to be gone overnight or for a period of time. We have to make sure all the “stuff of aging” goes along. And it is actually at that point that we need a checklist, much like airplane pilots use before takeoff. I say things like “OK, I have my eye drops, my medications, and the cellphone. Do you have…?” We developed this because we have been known to have to return home because something very important was left behind.

Things like clothes, shoes, makeup, or a swimsuit are not critical because usually they can be purchased somewhere along the way. But one time (before the first checklist!) we went to my cousin’s in New Mexico for Thanksgiving, and oops, I forgot my critical eye medication. I knew I could not go the whole weekend without it, so rather than return home, on the holiday my cousin and I stopped at the local hospital’s emergency room, and somehow convinced a sympathetic doctor to give me a prescription for that medication. Then we drove the hour or so to the only drugstore that was open and got it filled. That doctor and my cousin became my heroes for that trip, and that might have been the occasion that necessitated the first checklist. New firsts along the way have required additions to the checklist.

Then there are the lasts. I may have celebrated when I got my first checking account, and checks with my name on them. But I just experienced a last when I ordered check blanks for what I am sure will be the final time. This event was likely hurried along by the computer, because with the ability to pay bills online, I no longer write many checks at all. So, this final order will last a lot longer than I will, I am sure.

Some things are not necessarily a conscious decision that they will be or are the last. When I broke an ankle, I thought I was simply taking a recuperative leave from racquetball. But it has turned into years, and I guess the two unopened cans of balls, racquetball shoes, and the racquet can now go to a new home somewhere. I didn’t necessarily quit cross-country skiing, but since the skis have not been used since about the same time as the racquetball equipment, I guess there was a last time that I went cross-country skiing too.

We don’t celebrate lasts, and it would be easy to lament them. But I think it is a better exercise to keep finding firsts to replace them. When I was making notes about firsts and lasts, I was sitting in a cafeteria. It was pretty full, so I sat down at a table which was also occupied by a couple. The husband got up and went to get something. When he came back, he surprised his wife by handing her an ice cream cone. She took a couple of licks, and then said, “Wow, I’ve never had an ice cream cone at 10 in the morning before!”

That’s a first worth celebrating. Maybe they are fewer and farther between as we get older, but they are still there. We just need to be sure to appreciate them when they come.