"Will you still need me? Will you still feed me? When I’m 64,” sang 25-year-old Paul McCartney on the Beatles’ “When I’m 64,” a tune on the Sgt. Pepper’s album in the style of a sprightly English music hall number of his father’s generation. It was 1967, when the average American lifespan was a mere 70 and age 64 must have seemed practically ancient to the youthful McCartney. Today, our average lifespan is 79, and many 64-year-olds are running marathons, remarrying and at the peak of their powers in second or third careers.
The song came strongly to mind recently when I celebrated my 64th birthday. Thank goodness, I thought to myself, that I’m still hale and hearty and don’t need anyone to feed me or take care of me in any other way. Nor do I want anyone to ever have to take care of me, no matter how long I live. During my 50s, I was the primary caregiver for my mother and stepfather and felt burdened by their needs. They were proud people who, in turn, resented being dependent upon me. At age 64 or 74 or 84, I don’t want to experience similar feelings by becoming dependent upon and a burden to my adult kids.
As I reflect on where I am at this point, though, I sense unwanted shifts are coming. Sure, my back and knees ache, and I now lack the physical vigor to pull all-nighters like I did when I was a tireless 20-something; those changes come with the territory. But there’s more. During a recent car vacation with our 30-year-old daughter, she did all the driving and I was consigned to the front passenger seat. It felt symbolic in a way, as if she were subtly directing my life when I had helped direct hers for so many years.
Our 27-year-old son, a very enthusiastic vegan, has been giving me information for the past year on how I can make my diet more plant-based so that I remain healthy as I age. While I greatly appreciate how much he cares and the expertise he has gained about nutrition, I am also feeling he is now the teacher and I am his pupil — when our positions had always been reversed.
Please don’t mistake me; I am extremely grateful for my children’s attention and kindness. But I don’t want them to be my family caregivers one day. Am I asking too much? I know I’m not superhuman. Is it even possible to grow older and avoid becoming a care receiver? Here are some ideas: