Aging Towards Perfection (October 2005)

by Dana Snyder-Grant


The post-summer rush is back. We’re all trying to get back on schedule again. I leave work to shop for a neighborhood meal. In a few days, I will help to cook the first community or “common house” dinner of the new school year. Forty neighbors are expected for curried rice, tofu, and vegetables. I’m thinking about this shopping expedition, but I haven’t yet cleared my head of work and my clients. Focus, Dana, I say to myself. One thing at a time. That’s my “almost fifty” mantra.


At the supermarket, I stare at the bag of rice in my hand, dumbfounded. If I need thirty-six to forty-five cups of cooked rice for forty people and this bag lists twenty servings at a quarter cup per serving, how many bags do I buy? I have no idea. My head wants to explode. Whether it’s aging, perimenopause, my multiple sclerosis, or a combination of all three, I can no longer hold multiple items in my head at once.


It’s getting worse. Five years ago, it was just my memory that I was losing. Now it’s my organizational skills that are fading. Maybe it’s not me that’s getting worse; it’s society. Everything is too fast. Email, cell phones, fax machines, instant messaging, all at our fingertips and racing us towards the finish. And we expect ourselves to keep up the pace.


Focus, Dana. Back to your story.


I decide to check out the frozen mushrooms and return to the rice later. In the frozen section, I’m pleased to find organic mushrooms. More pleased to read their portions and servings: three servings at one cup per serving. That’s more straightforward: three cups per bag. I need thirty-six cups, so I’ll buy twelve bags. In my cart they go. My legs feel weak from standing too long, and I look around for a place in the store to sit. Nothing. My eyes, which are also beginning to tire, well up with tears of frustration. Despite the return of humidity, I know that the sidewalk outside may be my only respite. But I want those cool September breezes back. Now.


I abandon my grocery cart in an empty aisle, walk out the door, and plunk myself down on the sidewalk to rest in the shade. I pull out my pocket calculator and again try to master the rice amounts. I suddenly realize that I don’t remember the correct proportion of dry rice to cooked rice. I throw down my calculator, paper, and pen, and lean back against the cement wall of the building, “I can’t do it all,” I cry out to myself. I close my eyes and breathe in deeply, trying to find a way out. Some moments of rest later, I decide to let go of perfection and just do well enough.


I know I’m not alone with these concerns about aging. My friend Nola tells me of her new pastime, Su Doku puzzles, that help her mind stay active and focused. I wonder if this new puzzle in our nation’s newspapers is the creation of some baby-boomer. A few weeks ago, another friend of mine drove to New Jersey, only to find herself in Pennsylvania. I guess she was confused.


I return to the store and am glad to find my cart undisturbed. I ask a fellow shopper about dry to wet rice proportions, and she casually says, “Oh, one to two or one to three. Either often works.” I grab a guesstimated amount of rice and nine sixteen-ounce packages of tofu. Ah, more ease. That’s nine pounds of tofu. Just what the recipe calls for. I spot an empty check-out line and walk up to the cashier. “You’re having a party,” he says, eyeing my very full cart. “Just a neighborhood dinner for forty,” I reply. “Wow. Nice of you to shop,” he adds. “Or crazy,” I say.


The dinner is a hit. It is only a few days later, when in the same store, I notice that the packages of tofu are really marked with a weight of fifteen ounces, not sixteen or one pound. But no one seemed to notice the missing ounces in their meal, including me. Letting go of perfection worked out. There’s a lot you can learn on a shopping trip.


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