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Aging with Grace

This past week I went to Chicago to spend time with my mother and stepfather. My mother is 80 and my stepfather is 93. About fifteen years ago they moved to a 100-unit apartment a block from the house where I grew up. They have a vibrant community of neighbors and are wholly independent.


Flying to Chicago was my first time traveling since February 2020, the last time I saw my parents. The travel part of the trip was a harrowing experience. Sitting in a packed plane for two four-hour stretches was the most exposed I've been to the world in over a year; it was a physical and emotional challenge to be around that intense infusion of humanity.


But my time in Chicago was relaxing, easy, and calm. Every morning I took a long walk around my neighborhood, a dense square mile on the south side of Chicago. Having been born and raised there, I know every square inch. I walked south and west, then north and back east to Lake Michigan before turning south again past the Museum of Science and Industry to my parents' apartment.


No matter which streets I took there was a memory. On every block, there was the apartment building where a friend had lived or the park where we used to hang out as teenagers or the bank where I got my first money order. As familiar as the neighborhood felt, it has changed too. With every recognizable sighting, there was something I hadn't seen before. The space of the bar where my friends and I hung out on our visits home from college was now a yoga studio and the bike shop where I got my first bike was an investment firm.


Every day I walked the block of the home where I grew up. Because my mother never loses contact with anyone, she is still friends with everyone on the street. Most of the people who lived on the block when I was a kid four decades ago have moved on. My mom is still in touch with those who are still alive and can tell me a little bit about what the old families are up to. Mom is also friendly with all of the new families with young kids who've moved in.


During my morning walks my memories were constant, like the Small World ride at Disneyland where you travel all over the world seeing different sights. Like watercolor brush strokes, I remembered a little bit about a lot of people, places, and experiences. Walking by my elementary school, I passed the apartment buildings of two friends. I was reminded of the days when I'd go to Jorie's basement apartment after school or to Meredith's sun-filled third-floor apartment to have lunch during fourth grade.


Every day my parents and I would eat our meals together. My stepfather Al, mostly quiet, would ask a few questions about what my mother and I were up to for the day. He savored every bite of food, eating huge quantities and commenting on how delicious it was. His body has become very small and it was a surprise each meal to witness how much he consumed. My mother, a fount of energy, would sit patiently next to Al, craning her head to listen to a comment or a question. Often Al would forget that he'd already asked the same question five minutes earlier and ask it again. Mom calmly responded as many times as he needed her to.