Last weekend I spent Passover with longtime friends and their bright and determined five-year-old daughter, Stella, who is my goddaughter. While Stella and I were playing with her dolls, she asked me to put her Barbie’s glittery party dress on her baby-doll. I told her the baby-doll was not allowed to wear a dress designed to show so much cleavage. Just joking. I explained that the dress wouldn’t fit on the baby-doll, which was larger than the Barbie (and smushy with no hips or bust). “Please,” she entreated. I showed her that the shapes of the two dolls didn’t match, and the small Barbie dress wouldn’t transfer to the bigger baby-doll. It would have been a good Sesame Street sketch about things not being the same. A few minutes later, she asked me to take the rubber band out of Barbie’s hair. That rubber band was as tangled in Barbie’s hair as a shoelace sucked into the vacuum cleaner rollers. I told Stella that I couldn’t get the rubber band out of Barbie’s hair. (I was proving to be an abject failure as a playmate.) “Please,” she begged. So I asked her for a pair of scissors, which she brought, and I cut the rubber band out. I soon discovered that Stella’s “please” was a common refrain. Stella used it to implore others to meet her demands. I liked it. I imagined that Stella was encouraging me to try harder, to be more resourceful, to have more gumption, and to consider that maybe there was a solution I had overlooked. She wasn’t willing to let me give up easily. She sure didn’t.
After dinner, Stella and I retired to the living room, where Stella said, “Now you crawl around on the floor while I sit on your back.” Nice try, Stella. Even though I work out at the gym three days a week and walk two miles every morning, I still have lousy knees. My days of crawling on the floor ended at the turn of the century. If I didn’t know better, I would suspect that my knees were a casualty of Y2K (remember the dire predictions of doom packed into that acronym). But since all the computers didn’t flash the word “Armageddon” and then melt down at midnight on January 1, 2000, I can’t get away with blaming anything on that event. My knees don’t even have a computer chip in them. Armageddon aside, there is no possibility that I would crawl around on the floor either with or without a child on my back. I informed Stella that I can’t crawl. She took my hand sympathetically, gazed deeply into my eyes, and said, “Please. Please try.” For a fleeting moment, I considered giving it a shot. I did. Then I told Stella that I really, really was not going to crawl. My adult children can’t fully comprehend the limitations of my aging body, so there is no chance that a five-year-old would be able to make sense of it. Young people can’t fathom.
I am often astonished by the physical feats youth can accomplish. How quickly I have forgotten the resilience of a young body. A few days ago, I was on my morning walk. The temperature was about forty-five degrees, and it was blustery. I was bundled up with a scarf, gloves, boots, and my winter jacket. I walked past a house just as a little girl emerged. She was about Stella’s age. She wore a bright pink bikini, red rubber boots, and a snorkel mask. I came to a standstill and watched in bone-chilling horror as she proceeded to run gleefully through the lawn sprinklers watering her yard. I nearly froze to death just seeing her hit the first spray of water. Had we sailed on the Titanic together, I have no doubt she would have swam 400 miles to Newfoundland and survived the disaster while I turned into a popsicle at the mere sight of the villainous iceberg that sunk the ship. Sigh. The aging body is so disappointing. It requires so much upkeep for so little return on investment.
But Stella’s “please try” set me thinking about what I will call the capability gap. By this, I mean the disparity between what I think I can’t do and what I really can’t do. I expect I could do more than I imagine if I just tried harder. For instance, half the workout machines that I use at the gym appeared beyond my capacity when I first started working out there. Now I use a lot of machines I never thought I would use, like the Stairmaster. I can’t climb the Empire State Building on it (the number of steps is pictured on the front), but I can do 100 steps. In August I could only do 10 steps. If I live long enough, I’ll make it to the top of the Empire State Building, even if I have to drag the Stairmaster into the elevator to do it.
Stella has inspired me. I can’t read the microscopic print on the vitamin supplement label with my naked eye. OK, please try. We do this. My husband takes a picture of the writing with his phone (because I don’t have a Smart Phone), and then he enlarges the print, and I can read it. Let’s do another one. I can’t pack a suitcase that is under 50 pounds for air travel. OK, please try. I won’t take any spare food, nothing grown in my garden, no kitchen appliances, no rocks, and no more than two books. I can do this. I can put my suitcase on a portion-control diet. Here’s another one. I can’t go to the movies because my hearing has deteriorated so much that I need subtitles to understand what the people are saying on the screen. OK, please try. My husband suggests that I ask the manager if they have any assistive devices and I actually take his advice, even though I cynically doubt there will be anything that works for me (I have tried headsets and they amplify the sound beyond recognition), and to my surprise, it turns out there is now an astonishing gadget called “Sony Subtitle Glasses” (because, duh, they were invented by Sony) that reveals closed captions for the wearer. I’m not making this up. Using holographic technology, this nifty device subtitled the new Star Wars movie for me and I understood the jokes and the dialogue and how people were related and what planet they were on. [Spoiler alert.] I will never understand why Harrison Ford had to get killed off, but that has nothing to do with my hearing. I think he will be back, though, because when people die in sci-fi they aren’t necessarily permanently dead. I had no idea the Sony Subtitle Glasses were a thing until I asked, which I would not have done if my husband had not urged me to do it. Sometimes he earns his keep.
When I moved to this house, I discovered that people in my neighborhood don’t grow peach trees because they are ruined by peach leaf curl (the peach trees I mean, not the neighbors). I really wanted to grow peach trees, so I did some research. I learned of a fungicide, recently introduced to the market, that kills peach leaf curl. It is made from clove oil and rosemary oil and is completely organic and nontoxic. I spray this clove/rosemary oil on my trees every spring and it makes a big dent in the peach leaf curl. It also makes my yard smell like a Hindu temple. Delightful. This is another example of the difference between “I can’t” and “please try.” The leap can’t always be made, of course. I know that. But I think it can be made more often than we imagine. So, because I played with Stella, who reminded me to please try, I’m going to look for more ways to make that leap in the future.
Sony Subtitle Glasses
[If you don’t see a new blog post from me for a few weeks, it’s because I’m taking a vacation. If I can find the time, I might post something, but no promises. I hope you’ll tune in again when I return. Thanks for reading.]