Does a Tattoo Ward Off Old Age?

I’m calling Nakana, my new cat, Kana more often than Nakana. She’s been having some tummy and ear issues, so the vet gave her a full work up and thinks she has food allergies. She also said she thinks she is probably older than the eight years the shelter suspected. She might be 10 or 11. So not just a senior, but definitely an older cat! She’s a sweetheart, no matter what age she is. She also has a very bad spot of arthritis mid-back, probably caused by an earlier injury. I am so glad that she’s now part of our family so I can take good care of her.

But does it mean anything that she isn’t just barely a senior, but is instead, an old cat? She’s actually in a different stage of life than I had thought, although I recently had begun to suspect she might be a little older. Or it could be because of the arthritis. She is more stiff, less flexible, and more fragile than a younger cat.

I can’t help but relate the life stages of cats to . . . me.

When I was in my early 30s and in grad school, a professor referred to me as middle-aged. I had an idea that I looked a bit on the young side for my age, plus I still thought of myself as young. My children were little, I felt I was still too identified as my parents’ child, and I hadn’t even begun to do what I wanted to accomplish in life. I was shocked and spoke up. She said, “Well, you’re in the middle of the average life expectancy.” She was figuring that the average was 78 and 36 is half of that and that I was within a few years of 36, so hence I was middle-aged.

I actually hated hearing her say that. I didn’t agree at all that that was what middle-aged meant. And I still don’t agree. But what does middle-aged mean?

And what does elderly mean? I saw a news story once where the 69-year-old victim was identified as an elderly woman. I have never in my life considered a woman in her 60s as elderly. And now that I’ve crossed the decade threshold, I sure don’t. My mother is 80, and I’m not sure she’s elderly. Her community does have a lot of elderly people, but my mother in her red sports car and cute, trim appearance doesn’t seem elderly.

I asked Wikipedia about elderly, and it was no help, conflating elderly with senior citizen which by some accounts I am. Interestingly, museums and events I bought tickets for on our trip did not consider me a senior citizen. That way they could get more $ from hubby and me.

What do you call life before middle age? Is it youth? My son is 31 now, and he no longer considers himself young or youthful. Youngish, maybe. But squarely in the thirties decade where he will accomplish a lot and his life will become more “set.”

When you hear the words youth, middle-aged, senior citizen, elderly, old person, kid, child, teen, do you conjure up standard images? My elderly image is stooped and frail and in need of help from others.

Am I, at sixty, a senior? Not according to the Chinese Garden.

Middle-aged? Not according to people who think middle-aged is 40.  Am I approaching being elderly? Am I an old person?

I saw a couple on a ferry-boat that caught my attention. Their physical bodies were nearing elderly. They weren’t frail, but starting to slope over toward being stooped, with thin white hair, and heavily wrinkled faces. But she was wearing white jeans and a cute sporty top. Did this mean she wasn’t planning to be elderly?

Are all the 20 to 40 somethings covered with tattoos going to still give an impression of youth when they are 90? 95? just because they are tattooed?

Is it about what we think of ourselves? Or do our bodies decide?

Or are these stages of life set at certain ages, no matter how fit or frail one is. No matter how youthfully one dresses or how maturely one styles one’s hair.

Forget what you think you ought to think. What do you really think about identifying with the stages of life?

By the way, I’m not making myself into a tattoo gallery, no matter what.

Neither is Nakana.



Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

53 responses to “Does a Tattoo Ward Off Old Age?

  1. I never use the phrase middle-aged. Who knows what that is, really, unless you know the ending. To me, elderly is old and also, unable to live without assistance. My parents are 65-75 and they’re not remotely elderly. I lived across the street from a woman who was in her 90’s and she was NOT elderly.
    My kids think I’m old. I ate and orange and some walnuts for dinner last night, so I can see their point 😉
    I will identify as my mother’s daughter until I no longer have her.
    I had a roommate who said she wouldn’t get married until she was really old like me and HME. I was 24, HME was 21.
    Age is so relative.
    Young people are people younger than me, and older people are people older than me, although, probably not actually old. I tend to prefer older people. I’ve never really felt young inside.
    I think with pets or people, our level of respect for the years behind them grows. Maybe in some weird way, Kana is even more fortunate to have your love and devotion. She’s clearly seen some things.

    • Hah, that’s a good point! If you don’t know the ending, how can you find the middle? Unable to live without assistance is a precise definition, and it makes sense to me, although I’ve seen people who seemed elderly who did live alone. Of course, in each case they seemed to have a diminished life in some way. Kana has a lot of stories in her. I so wish I could reach them! If only cats could learn sign language like primates!

  2. Welcome to the ‘bloggers ponder middle-age’ conundrum 😀 You expressed it well, Luanne, and I think every day – sometimes every hour – I’m a different age. I go with that (except when it comes to senior discounts, then I’m a little old lady).

    • Hahaha, yes, there is a little of where have you been in this thinking, Luanne. Did it just occur to you now? Well, I think turning the big gulp 6-0 did make me think about it even more, but also seeing my mother without my father around and how she is choosing to live her life. Do you know that I have not been good about senior discounts because I have avoided AARP. I keep saying I will join and then I don’t. And I’m wasting money this way, no doubt.

      • 😊 i usually forget to ask about discounts. We just got $180 off a new refrig cuz Hub asked about senior discount. They didn’t have that but they had Vets discount! Hooray for Hub’s time as an active Marine👏

        The 60 was a shocker but I’ve made a practice of thinking of the ‘0’ turn-of-decade birthdays as clean slates and brand new horizons. That’s made a positive difference at 40, 50 and 60.

  3. I don’t like labels, especially as I age. It’s shocking to be called elderly when I’m in my 60s, but I suppose I must look ancient to someone in their 20s. I think the main thing is to keep thinking young, and keep up with what’s going on around us.Don’t worry about the number. Nakana is a beauty. So sad to think that she didn’t have affection like you’re giving her all her life, but at least she has that now.

    • Anneli, I was just staying above that I can tell that Kana has a lot of stories inside of her. I wish there was a way of hearing them, but of course, there isn’t. I might be a cat whisperer, but they don’t whisper back haha. About labelling: you and me both. I have never liked labels or any kind of “box putting.” It’s not that I live so much outside the box that I just don’t like to feel as if there is a rigid grid all set up that we all have to fit into.

  4. PS I think it’s really sad to see so many young people getting tattoos. When their skin stretches and sags as they age, those pretty pictures will probably look hideous. Ah, the optimism of youth….

  5. For me old is always, ALWAYS 20 years older than me!

  6. I think in some ways our bodies (and minds) do decide our label. For example, my stepdad is 82, yet he has great posture, flits all over, and does things you don’t normally expect an 82-year-old to do (like ski). Despite his number, I don’t think of him as elderly. Not in the least!

    • Yes, I know what you mean. That’s how I felt about my dad who was doing all manner of active things right up until he got so sick near the end. He was NEVER elderly until he was sick and his body was broken and then suddenly there he was. And he HATED it. Just hated being elderly. He hated it worse than knowing his cancer was incurable.

  7. Luanne, I much prefer the term mid-life to middle-aged. Middle-aged is well middle age!
    And elder to elderly for Elder is often used in Native traditions to mean a wise person. Anyway, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. 🙂
    Hope your cat is all well.

    • Thanks, Carol. Nakana is a sweetie. She’s been keeping me company this morning. Mid-life is an intriguing term. If you notice what Joey above said, it’s impossible to know when the middle of life is when you don’t know the “ending.” But to use mid-life rather than middle-aged seems so hopeful, and isn’t that a positive thing and an incentive to remain youthful and healthy?
      Some people become wiser as they age. Others, I’ve noticed, do not.

  8. The label one attaches to an age changes as one ages, I thought my grandmother was ancient when I was 5 and she was 54. She was 9 years younger than I am now. Oh, to be 54!
    Am I am old lady now that I get Medicare?
    I’m feeling perkier due to recent weight loss and exercise. So am I younger than I was two months ago?

    • WJ, that is so true. I once thought of 60 as an ancient and important age–more so than 80. Now it’s kind of eh.
      When can I get Medicare, by the way?
      Good for YOU with the weight loss and exercise! Maybe you are younger. Or healthier. Oh, I need to do that. Please inspire me with daily emails of encouragement.

  9. Your sweet green eyed Nakano does seen relaxed and calm. Hope she is happy since I know you love her, as she is.
    I have used my senior discount card at our local movie theater since I turned 50 and I use my AARP card for discounts at hotels, museums and at restaurants, Luanne. At Walgreens my AARP card is linked to their shopping card so I get personally chosen coupons in the mail and earn points. I don’t have to print them up, like Kohl’s and Subway now have you do.
    I have had my Dad’s label of an,”old soul,” while of my 3 children, my Dad labeled my youngest Felicia the same as mine. Maybe he could tell her joints were arthritic before she was diagnosed at around 13? I do feel he chose this to be a compliment. She has always listened and absorbed before doing or saying anything. I like the label of senior citizen. I don’t mind “old lady” or “old friend, but warm up inside and smile more at Nana label. 🙂

    • Nakana is a really sweet cat. She has something bubbling just under the surface, though, and I do feel that it is the stories she has from her past history. It’s as if she wants to tell me and keeps asking me, “Will it be different here? It seems nice–can it stay this way? Will you keep me?”
      OK, I have got to get my AARP card. This is just stupid of me. I know it’s come up before, too, but I still have not gotten my card.
      Yes, I used to know a couple of people I thought were old souls. I don’t think I’m an old soul, but a person who was pretty immature in some ways until I was fairly old and who has gradually matured throughout motherhood and also the past decade. In fact, I’ve gone from being kind of naive and innocent to being wiser.
      I’m sure you do love that Nana label!!!!! xoxo

      • I noticed I accidentally wrote out your female cat’s name as “Nakano,” Luanne. I do feel bad for this since in many languages she is precious Nakana or Kana. Her “tales” would be quite interesting but hoping not harrowing, Luanne.
        I think I shared with you about Mom but she is doing much better. She had those puzzle pieces when her hip shattered put together with titanium beads on a post? I honestly don’t quite picture this and don’t want to even open x-ray pictures either. I was able to head up on the same day and stay a few days while she was in the hospital. She spent Sat. until Thurs. and then released to facility where her apt is in, her room in the rehab center. (4 – 6 weeks) She was lifting her body up and down with an overhead and over bed gymnasium on Wed. and Thurs.
        I was needed to watch Sky and Micah over weekend so Carrie could do overtime. She was facing back to school expenses, orchestra bass instrument, football and to pay annual Boy Scout fees of $150 for two boys together. So I will head North on Friday and spend until Labor Day afternoon. Just recapping here and trying to not write a post about it. Thanks for your hugs and best wishes for her. xo

  10. It wasn’t until my parents died, in their seventies, that I thought of myself as ‘grown up’. I think all the time you have one parent, you still think of yourself as someone’s ‘little girl’.

    • That makes sense to me, Jackie. What is so different in experience is people who lose their parents at a very young age and those who are quite old themselves when both parents are gone. There must be studies on the effect of that. It seems to me that losing your parents in your 70s was way too young for them but allowed you to come into your full adulthood.

  11. Have you ever seen a tattoo on wrinkled, sagging skin?

    • Derrick, I just admitted above to Anneli that I really want to see this! I’m serious. Not just a little army tattoo on the arm, but a big tattoo that mushrooms all over with lots of colors. What will those look like when the tattooed are old enough to have “wrinkled, sagging skin”??? I’m so curious haha!

  12. I’m seventy-eight and have a few dings and scratches. Actually I could be mistaken for old with my white hair and the strange shape I now occupy. On the inside I feel like a better and wiser version of my younger self. Life is amazing!

    • I love that “strange shape I now occupy”–boy, can I relate to that! That is so cool that you “feel like a better and wiser version of my younger self.” You have a wonderful outlook on everything, Viv. I too feel much wiser than I did even 10 years ago. Far far far from where I ought to be, but still I am an improved version. On the inside. We won’t talk about the outside.

  13. Oh what a beauty she is! I’ve always felt older than my age, which is fine. I suspect you never feel old, so it comes as a shock when you realise you’ve been living longer than you’re likely to live. Interesting about tattoos – I have them, they don’t make me feel any younger, but they’re so popular now that there’ll soon be a whole generation of ‘elderly’ people with lots of tattoos.

    • Andrea, do you have little tattoos or lots of big ones? I would love to see the generation of “elderly” people who are really tattooed and see what I think. I’m thinking of tattoos like the ones that Danielle on the TV show American Pickers has.
      They look so pretty with the way she dresses to showcase them, but I can’t imagine thinking about how I am dressing all the time. That proves I guess, that I’m getting older haha.
      Nakana is a darling cat. So sweet. In some ways she looks like lots of other black cats, but in other ways she is so unique and as I’ve mentioned above, holds a lot of stories in her!

      • I have a few small ones and a couple of big ones Luanne, including two butterflies on my chest – I’m certainly not covered, but they are addictive, so I wouldn’t rule more out – they do fade and blur over time so I’m sure they won’t look as good in twenty years time, but I do kind of forget they’re there so I don’t think I’ll be bothered by then 🙂

        • I’m sure they suit you. Have you shared them on your blog? Do you dress “with” them, like Danielle?

          • I haven’t – they’re mostly hidden under clothes 🙂 My chest tattoo usually does peek out from my clothes – I tend not to think about what goes with it (it’s blue and black) but a lot of my clothes go with it by default!

  14. A great post, Luanne.
    I don’t think there’s any answers to your fascinating questions because people and peoples are so different.
    I just love the picture you paint of your mother. She doesn’t have a blog by any chance, does she?

  15. I love Nakana and I hope you have many loving years together.
    I’m seventy seven and I certainly don’t think of myself as elderly.. maybe getting to middle age..!!!
    And I don’t ever intend to be old….

    • Valerie, I don’t know how I’ve been your blog posts! I see that there are some I want to go back and read in more depth as I just skimmed to get an idea of what I missed. I LOVE YOUR ATTITUDE. I think it’s an attitude that will take us far in health and longevity!!!

  16. Yesterday my friend and I were talking about age. I was saying how I picture myself one way, and it’s always a bit of shock when I see myself in a photo–even though I know I’m in good shape. She agreed. She said once she saw her info at a doctor’s office with the notation that the woman was 60, and for a moment she wondered who they were referring to. 🙂

    My husband’s grandmother (who died years ago) was about the age of my mom, but she always seemed so much older to me. She always seemed like an old fashioned grandmother while my mom was having an active life.

    I guess my mom is elderly now, but maybe she wasn’t until she was well into her 80s.

    Nakana is a cutie. One of our cats likes to stretch his arms out like that, too.

    • Nakana is always reaching for somebody. For me, for hubby, and now for Tiger, our calico. It’s so cute. That is so true about previous generations. I saw a pic of a relative I remember from my childhood and thought, yes, she was old, like I recall, but not ancient. But on the old side. I checked her age on my family tree. 60. Ahem. hahahaha
      Your friend’s story about the doctor’s office is hilarious! And one I completely relate to!!!

  17. Luanne, what a beautiful senior citizen Nakana is. I believe with aging its a bit of both, your mental state, with a dash of optimism can help. You also need the luck of the draw with the body. My Mum is 81 and she says in her mind she forgets some days that she is in her eighties, but then her body reminds her again that she is no spring chicken.

    • Ah, I’m so glad your mum has that attitude! Wonderful and it will keep her young! The luck of the draw comes with not getting certain health problems that come with genes or bad luck or even environment, I’m guessing. Thanks re Nakana. She’s a sweetie pie :).

  18. Age categories are moving targets these days. My mom will be 93 in October and aside from being a bit hesitant with her balance, you’d think she was just a young thing in her 70s 😉 I don’t know how to parse age. I see my skin aging: wrinkles, dimpling, sagging as it loses elasticity. But I’ve also seen better or worse skin on other people in my age group. My husband and I complain about our aches and pains but we don’t take medications compared to a couple of same-aged friends who could stock a pharmacy.

    Since we are living longer, on average, middle-aged feels more like one’s 40s or 50s, but definitely not 30s. Our bodies might try to tell us the opposite, but I do think our mental states are better indicators of the age we are. Some of us just never grow up.

    As for Kana: first, she’s lovely. Second, no surprise that she might be older than you all originally thought. Wasn’t she abandoned because her original caregivers were moving? Who knows. They might have lied about her age and her health issues. Or the allergies might have developed through staying at the shelter for so long. I feel very bad that she has an arthritic back. Poor kitty. But she’s in excellent hands now. We suspect that two of our cats (RIP Mikey and RIP Luisa) were pushing 20 when they died. Elodea was just a month shy of 18. I love old cats. They can be very snuggly and content, and they don’t go racing through the house knocking over glasses and the like 🙂

    • Old cats are great! Kana did take off after Tiger but I think the impending storm caused it, plus I had left her out with the others far too long. What a dummy I can be! I need to always be aware of their delicate feelings! Nice to hear about your mom! and you and hubby, too. It’s always good to feel you are doing “better” because it gives one a hopeful outlook and also because you know you are on the right track with how you take care of yourself. The downside lately for me is that there are times hubby and I are both acknowledging we can’t do certain things like we used to. We have always tended to wear ourselves ragged and we need to rethink some of that thinking LOL.

  19. My uncle was the victim of a repeated victimization that escalated and wound up being covered in the newspaper. He HIGHLY objected to them appending the adjective “elderly” to him in the story–he was only 78 after all. 🙂 For me, it’s a look-back situation. I realize now how young I was at 40, when, at the time, I thought of myself as OLD. I try to remember that and appreciate the stage of life I’m in currently.

    • Oh, I’m sorry your uncle went through something like that. And then they added insult to injury in the paper! Hah, I know. I thought I was at the top of the hill at 40. hahaha so I know what you mean!

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