I was talking to my mother-in-law the other day and we shared the epiphany that we are aging. Whereas logic dictates that moving forward means getting older, it’s rare than either of us often pause sufficiently to be conscious of the changes that moving through life brings. Both of us are dynamic girls.
More to the point, the foci of our phone call were not necessarily happy ones. I was reporting some long-term damage to both of my knees, problems that were likely rooted in my teens or twenties and that, at present, in my fifties, have fully bloomed. An MRI is my next stop. I hope I can pull a few more tricks out of the hat, per se, before I have to opt for surgery. I’m not sure; lifestyle (writers and professors tend to be less active, lifelong habits of exercise notwithstanding, than are, for example, dance instructors or pediatric nurses) and genetics seem to be working together against me.
As for my husband’s mom, she was talking about her increasing need to sell her second home. That off the beaten path getaway, located in the wilds of Vermont, is a dwelling for which she and her husband had saved and saved to purchase. Those two adults had returned to college long after their kids had graduated from the same, and had managed, despite socioeconomic variables stacked against them, to succeed in attaining great professional heights. Their humble retreat has been as much about assuring themselves access to affordable vacations as it is has been about gratitude for an upward turn in a challenging life. Nonetheless, after twenty-six years of ownership, it has become apparent to my mom-by-marriage that it is now time to let someone else replace the next roof, shovel the next snowfall, and call the plumber the next time someone has to get ladybugs or worse out of the drain.
At this point in our collective progression, my husband’s ready, himself, to become a grandfather (albeit we need to get our kids married off first), both of my in-laws are comfortably situated in their retirement years, and I’m no longer the eighteen year-old fiancée my husband brought home to meet his folks. We are not the young adults and midlife parents, respectively, we used to be.
This evolution didn’t happen all at once any more than the family matriarch, who died in her nineties, passed away suddenly, or anymore that the next generation, the ones we hope to shortly marry off, magically popped out of my womb. Over our mutual decades, my in-laws, my husband, and I lost relatives, saw babies come into this world and mature, experienced career changes, and, most, importantly, saw spiritual growth.
The same in-laws who accompanied my husband to the chuppah are the elders who bought my husband and I an oil-burning chanukia when my nuclear family became frum and who bought our oldest son Shas, the entire works of the Talmud, when our boy became bar mitzvah. While my in-laws did not travel all the way down this second aisle with us, they have been a consistent source support us in our evolved lifestyle, even so.
As for my husband and I, I hope we have advanced, too. When we were first married, speaking for myself, at least, like many other youths, I thought I knew all of the answers. Blessedly, I heeded my in-laws’ advice anyway and: did not urge my husband to buy the house literally edging the railroad tracks, always including physical activity in my weekly plan, and paused to realize that the childbearing and child-rearing years are both fleeting and precious. If only I had paid more attention to others of my in-laws’ wisdoms, my life might have been that much better still.
At present, as I’m getting longer and longer in the tooth (that saying comes from the way a smile looks when, as a result of aging, gums recede), I growingly recognize the value of my mother-in-law being sufficiently fit to attend, a few times per week, an aerobics class. I’m glad, as well, that my father-in-law returned to his love of the study of the aesthetics of art and that, thereafter, he enrolled in clarinet and then in saxophone lessons. Imagine the joy in life that can be expressed by a dude, in his seventies, swinging while puffing a horn! I’m thankful, too, that among the gradual developments I’ve experienced as I hobble through middle age, I have a new level of Kavod Av v’Em, of appreciation for my in-laws.
I don’t think I will ever attain the height of respect Moshe Rabbeinu had for Yitro. No parsha, and, fortunately, may my in-laws each live to 120 (!), no children have been named for my husband’s parents. All the same, senescent body parts needn’t be the only legacy of midlife; increased respect for the mother and the father of one’s spouse, too, can be part gleaned from getting older.