A Balancing Act

It all started at birth! After being held by our heels, slapped around a bit and then given a bath we were nurtured with love. The nurturing seems to fall into three. The first stage is to make us cry. That’s what that slap on the bottom was for. The next stage is to teach us to say something, instead of just bawling – which wasn’t our idea in the first place, anyway! The first spoken word seems to please everyone, but the real family rejoicing kicks in when we master the circus skill of balancing on two feet.

Somewhere along the line, however, the reverse process gets underway. Of course, we never forget that circus trick they taught us, but staying up there seems to get more difficult as we age. The toddler steadily improves, but somehow we get steadily worse. The proper balance between sleeping hours and waking hours also goes into reverse. Now, we can’t seem to stay awake, whereas our parents had trouble getting us off to bed at night when we were kids. When we were very young, we could never get enough to eat; then we got older and fretted about eating too much. Nowadays, our big problem is to find the appetite to eat enough. Balance, balance, balance! We always seem to be losing our balance.

I think you’ll agree a spoon full of baby food in the hands of a toddler is also a balancing act, and a very messy one at that. You never quite know where the food will end up. Chances of it landing in between the youngster’s lips on the first pass aren’t too high! Eventually our brain learns how to eat passably, if not properly, and the muscles in our hands and fingers seem to get the idea as well. But again, that fine balance gets challenged as we age. Not only is getting it “through the door” getting harder, but the balance between solid food and liquid food seems to be retracting back to childhood levels. Bowls and spoons come back into vogue, and those muscles we trained all those year s ago don’t seem to do so well nowadays. Like us, they want to retire too!

And remember when you carried two or three full plates of hot food to the dinner table? How often did you drop one? Not often I bet. You may not have been as good at as the waitress at the local family restaurant, but you were a star balancing act in your own kitchen! Funny though, as you get older one plate can sometimes be too much, especially if it’s heavy and hot. Trouble is, you don’t really realize it until you had one of those messy accidents, like a plate of spaghetti or lasagna all over the kitchen floor. Even so, that’s still all in the nuisance and annoyance category, unless of course you spilt some of that hot food over yourself or someone else.

No, the real troubles start when you start to lose your balance standing or walking! Do you remember how thrilled you were when you learned how to ride a bike? Now, there’s another great balancing act – right up there with walking. Gee, some us could ride it standing on the pedals, and some of us (but nor me) could even “pop a wheely”. Of course, in those days there wasn’t as much traffic, nor as many car drivers who consider every day open season on bicyclists. It’s true there are helmets, elbow pads and knee pads nowadays, but the trouble now is just getting on the bicycle and staying on it. Pretty soon you give up on two wheels and go back to balancing on two feet. However, you realize it’s a step backward in that circus routine you learned so long ago.

It’s not so bad in the summer. You do have to balance the time you spend out in the hot sun a little more carefully, and you can’t break into a sprint to get out of the way of that car bearing down on you. That’s true enough! (Where did he come from, anyway?) But if you keep it short, and stay away from the steep and not-so-steep hills, you can still get by.

But winter! That was a time of the year when you used to laugh and play in the snow; when you skied downhill and danced through a fresh fall just for the fun of it! Oh, boy, those were the days. The year was a happy balance of warm, hot, cool and cold seasons; something for every mood and never too much of anything, especially if you were between the ages of 10 and 30. But you get to retirement age and that old question of balance rears its head again. Never mind trying to ride a bike! Now, it can be difficult just staying balanced on your feet. What was once simple in bare feet is now impossible without shoe support, and then preferably something with Velcro fasteners! Larry said it’s an old-fashioned dance called the “Senior Soft-Shoe Shuffle” which comes from wearing slippers all the time.” Apparently, it’s danced to that 70’s song by Paul Simon, “Slip Sliding Away”. I didn’t know that!

That little slope in the walk from the car to the house which you hardly noticed in earlier years seems to have steepened. You notice it when you first fall there on a patch of ice. And, another thing, how come every type of surface, concrete stone or grass feels so much harder these days than it did when you were younger. You can’t just jump back up, dust yourself off and carry on as though nothing had happened; getting up off the ground is a balancing act in itself, and that’s without even getting bruised or breaking something on the way down!

You don’t even need icy or uneven ground to get into trouble. If, like me, you like your “before dinner” drink or an occasional beer, you find they too are connected to this whole balance issue. Whereas when you were younger two or three drinks went down smoothly without any noticeable effect on your balance, retirement seems to introduce its own “Time gentlemen, please!” limits. Add prescription drugs to the mix and you become an immediate “cheap drunk”. At one time I would hardly notice the first two rum and cokes, but nowadays one alcoholic drink at dinner is enough to put me to sleep by 7pm. (I admit, the medication does warn me, “Don’t consume alcohol….!”) More than one drink and I would lose my balance and have difficulty making it up the stairs to the bedroom. As for driving, I wouldn’t even think of taking the car out of the garage after having had a single drink. And that in itself is a major change from my younger years!

The moral of the story? Try to stay balanced – you’ve had a lot of fun along the way; yes and some heartaches, too, I’m sure. But now you have to settle down and stay balanced: mentally and physically. The wobbles and the falls can ruin your circus career! Instead of a high-wire act, the ring-master may reclassify you as a clown act.

I wonder how those retired accountants manage when they become seniors? Their whole life was dedicated to keeping things in balance – I guess they just lose it altogether! And what about the high-wire acrobats like that fellow who walked across Niagara Falls? Any slip on the ice for them must be a terrible loss of face. And, of course, for those who live “on the edge” one more ounce of trouble would have the same effect as one too many ounces of food in the falcon. Once down, it may take a while before they can they can get back up again.

On balance, I would say the Golden Years can be a very shaky time of life! The scales are not tipped in a senior’s favour. Perhaps its nature’s way of slowing us down, I don’t know. But many an otherwise healthy senior has had their life seriously affected by a simple fall. If you can’t manage the balancing act on your own anymore, don’t let pride stand in the way. (Proverbs warns pride goeth before a fall!) There’s lots of available help out there; just keep that in mind!

Goodness gracious, although you have always managed a tumble on the hard ground, nowadays it could end up being a painful fall from grace! So, stay light on your feet and keep your balance! You still have your memories!

Gerry Wood Jan 14, 2015