The Bella Chronicles, Part IV: Middle Age

February 14, 2012

by Mark Dunning

This is a picture of a cartoon of a doctor and patient interaction that reads "I must be in the autumn of my life. I feel like a pile of wet leaves."

I'm 43 years old and smack dab in the middle of middle age. I can tell you from experience that middle age stinks. I don't see as well as I once did. I had the eyes of a hawk when I was younger. Now I need glasses. When I take Bella to one of her frequent ophthalmologist appointments, I have to squint just to read the same lines on the eye chart that she does.


My hearing isn't as good, either. I find myself turning up the volume on the TV or the radio. It's not all the time, just certain voices or sounds. Some frequencies aren't as clear.

And I have come to love a good nap. Actually, that's not true. I've always loved a good nap. No, no. I've come to need a good nap. I just get tired more easily than I once did. A good walk, some yard work, a long day at work, a long drive, or even just some fresh air and I need an hour on the couch. I've started to plan my weekends this way. If I do X in the morning, I'm going to be too tired to do Y in the afternoon unless I get a nap.

I think I noticed middle age the most in sports. For most of my life I improved at sports. At some point in my twenties I plateaued physically, but my ever improving knowledge of the games meant that I still played better even if I wasn't getting faster or stronger. Around thirty-five, though, my body started to decline faster than my mind could improve. I knew what I should be doing but I couldn't get my body to do it. 

I eventually gave up organized sports, but I did not quit because of my declining physical abilities. It was the frustration that got me. I felt like I was disappointing the players who had known me when I was younger. I was no longer meeting their expectations. And I felt embarrassed in front of the players who only knew me when I was older. I wanted to explain to them that I wasn't always this way. I used to be a better player.

If I sound like I'm whining about this, I'm not. It's just part of life. All my friends are experiencing the same things. Joints ache, bellies bulge, hair recedes. I tell Bella she's the reason I'm going gray, but it's not really her. It's middle age. We complain about it, we joke about it, but we accept it. It happens to everyone.

Usher syndrome, as we know, does not happen to everyone. And unfortunately for a thirteen year old girl, at times it can seem a lot like middle age. Bella has never been big on team sports. She likes to ride horses more than anything. But she used to take gym and this year she does not. The exercises have gotten more challenging and the other kids are bigger. They move faster and throw harder. Suddenly gym is more about avoiding getting hurt for Bella than it about physical fitness. So the other kids go the gym and Bella goes to the library.

The school work is harder, too. There are fewer pictures and more words. The subject matter takes longer to explain. The homework is dense. It's challenging for everyone, but especially for the kid with Usher. The other kids adapt more quickly. They can hear the teacher and read the materials at the same time. Bella cannot. They can take their own notes. Bella has to focus on the teacher so she can read lips. She gets the notes after class. They can read the photocopied worksheets. Bella needs them enlarged. It's all just easier for her peers than it is for her. 

Bella gets frustrated. The other kids don't ask for help. The other kids don't ask the teachers to give them the notes or to repeat what they said or to make second, darker, larger copy of the homework just for them. The teachers expect her to keep up. She feels she is disappointing them. And those new kids, the ones she doesn't know, she wants to explain to them that she is really just like them. Last year she didn't need feel like she interrupted class as much. She wants them to know that. She used to be just like them.

All of this is exhausting, of course. Bella is more tired now than she used to be. The other kids keep going, but she's out of gas. She wants to go ride her horse, but some days she's just too tired when she gets home. She's disappointing the riding teacher, too. She's sure of it. And the homework. There is so much of it now and she's already so tired. She just wants to sink in to the couch and rest. It didn't used to be this way. She used to have so much more energy.

It all sounds familiar to me. It's a lot like middle age. The difference is I knew it was coming. I was a mature adult who had already experienced life. I say things like 'when I was younger, I could do that.' But Bella IS younger. She still expects to do be able to do that, whatever that might be. Her expectations are different than mine. I expected to be dealing with this. She did not.

I've learned to accept my situation. It's hard to advise Bella that she should accept hers. She's too young to be old. She shouldn't accept her situation, but she does need to adjust. And that starts with advocating for herself, which is what we'll discuss in the next post. 

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