A Baby Boomer’s New Book Highlights the Ups and Downs of Aging
Baby boomer Jackie Becker is getting older. She has more aches and pains than she used to. She needs to wear orthopedic shoes. She’d rather eat and go to bed early than be romantic with her husband. Is this what aging is really like?
In her debut book, “Raging Against Aging,” Becker explores the ups and downs of getting older, putting a hilarious and heartfelt spin on everyday situations.
The Long Island, New York-based wife, mother, and grandmother said she wrote it to help her come to terms, “with my own aging, as I hope it will help others. It is a terrible thing to feel that you cannot talk about the process because, in our society, we have no patience, no use for the elderly. I saw the humor in the process along with the pain. I did not shy away. I think I wrote the book because I wanted to stay relevant.”
“Raging Against Aging” originally started out as a blog. Becker began writing following a melanoma diagnosis, which came six months after she retired. Though she caught the disease early and is fine, one of her colleagues had died from it. It got Becker thinking about her own mortality.
“I have always relied on art and writing to help me cope when life becomes unbearable,” she said. “I drew a cloud over my head on a bright sunny day. I wrote cancer poems as if cancer deserves poems.”
The initial story Becker wrote, “8 Hammertoes and 2 Fallen Arches = Orthopedic Shoes,” became the first chapter of her book. It’s all about how she had to buy special shoes, and an incident in which two teenagers gave up their seats on the bus for her and her husband, Philip.
“I turned to look behind me to see who the lucky old people were, only to realize that those seats were meant for my husband and me,” she said. “My visceral feeling of outraged surprised me. I managed a thank you, but the whole ride back to our hotel, I was preoccupied. What gave me away? Was it my gray roots? No, I had colored my hair. Was it my wrinkles? I was using day creams and night creams. Was it my new orthopedic shoes that I had bought the day before?”
“Raging Against Aging” was not only cathartic for Becker. She said it is relatable for baby boomers going through similar situations as well. “My target audience is middle-class 60-plus-year-olds. My book is steeped in Jewish culture and takes place in New York City, but it is as universal as ‘Fiddler’ in its approach to aging.”
When people read her book, Becker said she hopes it will validate all those mixed feelings that come up about aging. “I hope it will make the reader feel less lonely. I hope it makes the reader laugh and perhaps choke up. I hope it helps readers come to terms with their own aging.”
Here is a sample chapter from Jackie Becker’s “Raging Against Aging.”
Love is not enough. Discipline is not enough. My father would say that you needed “a little mazal, a little luck.” I have been in dire situations, situations where I could have lost my life or gotten really, really sick. I have had a few close calls, a few near accidents on the road, a hiking mishap or two. I have struggled emotionally and financially.
Phil says I created my luck. Maybe I did, to a certain extent. I have learned from the school of hard knocks that I am resourceful and capable. I am tough like my mother. But I put kids first like my father. Phil had intuitively known that the way to my heart was through my daughter. He simply likes children, and he is at his best when he plays the “father knows best” role. My daughter loves him. Her children adore him.
There is nothing like children to either bring two adults together or tear them apart and nothing like grandchildren to bring two aging adults back together. Phil and I came together. There is heightened tension and focus when the grandkids are around. It makes you feel alive. There are so many more problems to solve minute by minute.
“Mine, mine, mine,” the little one is screaming.
We are but a split second away from an event. Can we deflect it? Should we ignore it and let the two kids work it out? We are in the other room on standby. We are on call.
I am a lucky one. My daughter lets me be involved in her kids’ lives. She allows me to have an influence. She asks me to stand in from time to time. She allows us to play the parents-once-removed role.
“All hands on deck,” I call, and Phil comes shuffling.
My daughter knows her kids are keeping our vitality fresh.
We were on our way back from vacation with the adult children and the grandkids. There is nothing that beats taking a vacation with them. There are four pairs of adult hands on deck. There are four pairs of watchful eyes. There is the sun and the pool. There is the sand and the beach. Food and drinks are served. Everyone is at their best.
It was late at night when our plane was circling in the holding pattern before it could land. The children were tired and hungry, and vacation was over. The children were nudgy.
“Take him.” My daughter handed me my grandson.
When we first met, Phil and I had no money. Divorce had left us poor, but Phil told me that he felt rich inside. I, who needs glasses both to see from distance and from close up, did not need any glasses to see what Phil was talking about. There is rich, and there is rich. It is nice when they coincide, but I know that I needed to feel rich, even if I could not actually be rich.
“Look.” I pointed out the window. “From the heavens, New York City must look like a jewelry box. See the green lights? Don’t they look like emeralds? See those red lights? They look like rubies. The white lights? They are strands of cultured pearls. Those sparky blue lights are sapphires. And those clear sparkling lights— those are diamonds,” I told my grandson.
It wasn’t what I said. It was the way I said it that captured his imagination. I like feeling rich, and I want my little Graham to feel rich, too.
I always tell my students that words are like money in the bank. Deposit them in your brain. We are in the enrichment business, after all. As the years pass since retirement, I am obsessed with passing culture on. There is so much culture to pass. There is American history, Jewish history, our beliefs, customs, traditions, language. There are the classics, Aesop’s fables, the Greek and Latin root words. There are the prefixes and suffixes. There is art history. There is music and science and cooking. There are the arts and sports that can save teenage souls.
Our favorite holiday is Passover. The Haggadah, the book that tells the story of the Jewish people in Egypt, says that in every generation, every person must regard the Exodus from Egypt as if he or she is experiencing it for the first time. But how can one experience five thousand years of history when life expectancy is only eighty-seven years long? We need the abbreviated version, and we need to allow space for innovation.
My daughter does a lot of enrichment. My son-in-law does a lot of enrichment. We do our share. And we get naches.
Naches is a Yiddish word. Yiddish is a dying language, yet we keep some of it alive because the words are so on target and irreplaceable. It was a made-up language full of onomatopoeia. Naches means pride and gratification, especially derived from the achievements of one’s children. Shep naches means to derive that pride and joy. I think it literally means to draw, or drink, to drink from the well of pride and joy that the children’s accomplishments bring you.
Naches is the word I use to describe the sheer joy I get from watching my daughter parent. She pulls off the road to reprimand her son who is too raucous in the back seat.
“I cannot drive with that noise,” she explains. “It is too dangerous for me to drive because that noise is too distracting. So let’s sit here for a while. We can either continue on our way quietly, or we can sit here for as long as it takes,” she tells my grandson.
My daughter was three when I said those exact words to her. We were driving back from a week on the shore in Connecticut. It was a long drive. She started screaming. I pulled off and explained the situation, lovingly but firmly.
At the time my grandson was being toilet-trained, my daughter hit a bit of a rough patch. The daycare only accepted children who were already toilet-trained. My grandson was fine with number two but reluctant when it came to number one.
When I was parenting my daughter, I always tried to make the punishment fit the crime. But these days, we have all bought into the rewards program, not unlike the credit-card companies who “reward” its users for good behavior (i.e., shopping—a lot). My daughter, like me, does not believe in rewarding good behavior just for the sake of it. Children must learn to behave properly simply because they must. However, my grandson is very strong willed, and he, willfully, did not pay attention to his toilet training.
When he was getting trained for number two, Graham spent an awful lot of time playing with Play-Doh. That made a lot of sense to me. Graham did not want to run to the toilet every time he had to pee. My daughter made a chart. He earned one sticker if he needed to be prodded or reminded and two if he initiated. As a teacher,
I was so proud of her for differentiating between those two behaviors. There is nothing as wonderful as recognizing that initiating an action is more significant than following directions. He had a choice between two kinds of trucks as his reward. (Kudos to my daughter for limiting his number of choices.) She placed a picture of what he chose at the top of his chart, and he had to place and count the stickers himself. (My daughter threw math skills and elementary financial planning in to boot!)
For controlling and mastering his urinary urges, my grandson chose to reward himself with a fire truck, one that was fully operational with a hose that squirts real water. He may or may not have learned the early concept of symbolism, but I was so proud of my daughter. She is my daughter, only one step better.
Never mind all the catfights my daughter and I had, have, and will continue to have. When she has an agenda (and doesn’t she always have an agenda) and I do not live up to her agenda, she has a temper that flares and explodes within seconds. How dare I question her! How dare I ignore her! How dare I not jump on board! How dare I simply say no! Everything is fine until I ask (not even demand) something of her that she has not expected. Then she turns on me, ready to chop my head off for a crime I did not even know I was committing. She accuses me of things that were never my intention. I am surprised you have not heard our screaming matches. I am surprised you have not heard me crying my eyes out.
Never mind that my grandson is a little passive-aggressive and does not hear what he does not feel like doing. Never mind that my granddaughter is a little out of control, and no matter how hard you watch her, she is fearless and sometimes ends up in the emergency room.
“The well is deep,” I keep telling my daughter. “Our hearts are full.”
Naches comes from the Hebrew root word: Nachat. Nachat in Hebrew means “calm rest.”
“Be assured,” I want to tell my daughter, “I will be able to rest calmly when it is my time because of the naches you give me.”
Because she is a good mother, who is raising children who are themselves pieces of work, and still she keeps trying.
To buy a copy of Jackie’s book, visit Amazon.