What Do We Gain? An Alphabetical Primer for the Rapidly Ageing

Last week, my youngest child (a girl with mid-length, straightish hair; her name maybe starts with an S?) came to me seeking wisdom. Of course, I was deeply touched: despite my vast base of knowledge about world capitals and the lyrics of any Paul Simon song, my children seldom approach me for information other than how many vodka tonics I’ve had so far tonight, or whether I’ve gotten around to washing a load of laundry that includes socks.

“Mom,” she asked, looking up from her cell phone, “what are some of the things you gain as you grow old?”

A shiver of excitement coursed through me so strongly that it shook my drink: not only was she taking an actual interest in me, but here was a topic about which I was practically an expert! And unlike the plot of a movie I saw last week, this was a subject I couldn’t easily forget, since it was happening all the time, and usually on my face.

The most obvious answer, of course, was Weight.

“Especially around the waist,” I said. “For women, anyway. And your breasts, if you’ve had kids, though obviously I know nothing about that, ha ha!”

I was trying not to babble, but it was so gratifying to hold a conversation with her again that I’d nearly forgotten how it worked. “And you also get these jowl thingies, at your neck? And these fleshy wing things under your arms! And sometimes even your feet get fatter, or maybe just flatter, which is why you also gain a ton of extra money as you age, because you stop spending it on cute shoes that you actually like, and–”

“Mom, Mom, stop. I already have weight.”

What was she talking about? Whoever she was, she was ridiculously, enviously slender.

“It has to start with ‘G.’”

Now I was the one with the questions: “Wait. What? Why?”

“I’m taking a quiz. I already have Weight. And Money. I need something that starts with G.”

“Oh.” As disappointed as I was, though, I was still grateful to have been asked. I spent a minute thumbing through my steadily dwindling mental files. “I don’t know,” I said, finally. “Grandkids?”

“Already tried that. Thanks, anyway,” she said, turning back to her phone, her face once again lost to me before I’d had time to register its many distinctions, so that I might better remember who she was when next she looked up, probably in a month or so.

Still, the question stuck with me, suggesting that somewhere out there was a need for a sort of ABCs of ageing, like an alphabetical primer, only sad.

And here I haven’t had a blog post up in more than a month!

I raced to my computer and began to jot them down:


A is for your Age Spots, those freckle hate crimes on your face;

B is for your Bunions, which make it harder to give chase;

C is for the Consequence of youthful things that you have done

(like smoked too many cigarettes, while drinking, in the sun);

D is for Divorce and Date, and also for Denial;

E is for the Eyebrow Hairs you’ll have to draw and style;

F is for the Fabrics that you’ll now refuse to wear

(like anything that doesn’t stretch, or that makes you sweat down there);

G is for—what is it for? Not Grandkids, so it seems;

H is for the “Humor” you won’t find in Facebook memes;

I is for the iThings you’ll accumulate in drawers,

like dead iPods and broke iPads and useless iPhone chargers;

J is for the Jerks you’ll friend on Facebook, before you hide them;

K is for the Knees that fail (high heels, you can’t abide them!);

L is for the Lumps you’ll find in places where they weren’t,

like around your bra and down your back, an undulating current;

M is for the Memories you’ll—what’s the phrase? Start losing?

(those things you had before you sadly started all that boozing?);

N is for all the Numbers that you’ll no longer remember

(your zip code, say, or a child’s birthday, or the days hathed by November);

O is for real Orgasms, the kind you faked when you were younger

(what can I say? You tried to please. And you were so much dumber);

P is for the Pee you’ll make, an endless, rich supply!

Q is for the Questions that will begin to multiply

(like: Who are you? and: Where’s my keys? and: I’m in the kitchen; why?);

R is for the Regrets you’ll feel for your years of fashion no-nos

(that rope-belt dress with the shoulder pads? Were you a Businesswoman Hobo?);

S is for the Sunrises you used to long to greet

(you’ve been up all night, so shut up, all right? This is not a fucking treat!);

T is for the Teeth that start to Torture you, or crumble;

U is for Uttered Oaths you used to only mumble;

V is for Veins Varicose, and also for Veins Spider;

W is for the Weight you gain that makes your Waistline Wider;

X is for Xplethebid, a word I’ve just invented!

(it’s the sound you make when your techno things don’t go as you intended:

“’Xplethebid!’ the Crone exclaimed, when she accidentally sexted.”);

Y is for the Yearning you thought would build as you grew older.

You’re not what you imagined once, but in many ways, you’re golder;

Your big wish now is things stay the same; no ancient longings smolder.

(Wait! What about Z? And wasn’t this supposed to be a list of things you’ve gained?)

(Umm, who are you? And where’s my shoe? Did I tell you that it rained?)

(Never mind. It’s time to find a rhyme for things that start with Z.)

(You mean like Zebra? I’m gonna go with “Libra.” Now goodbye! I have to pee!)

(Things you gain, you jerk! How would “Zebra” work? Do you have more Zebras than when you were younger??)

(I don’t have fewer! Wait, what was it that you were saying about being dumber?)

(Hold up; scroll up! Don’t have a spasm. I think it was under O, for Orgasm. Xplethebid! Did you see what I did? I just deleted half the–


“Would you answer my question, please, Mom?” asked a child at my shoulder. It was a girl, with straightish, mid-length hair. My youngest, I think. She peered at the screen. “Oh my God, did you write ‘Orgasm’? Stop it! Whatever you’re doing. Stop writing that, right now.”

Suddenly, I remembered who she was: the kid who wanted to know what you gain when you grow older, that starts with “G.”

“Gray hair!” I said, triumphantly.

“What are you talking about?”

“Things you gain as you grow older? That start with ‘G’?”

She shook her head. “That was hours ago. I came back down to ask you if you’ve done any laundry that includes socks.”

“Grief,” I mumbled, reaching for my vodka. “You gain grief.”


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  1. Jolene McIlwain

    I loved every single entry.

    1. Heather Aronson

      Thanks, Jolene! I’m so glad you liked it.

  2. Susan Balee

    A wonderfully funny piece — I laughed out loud at the line, “Are you a Businesswoman Hobo?” Lots of unexpected rhymes and great frame narrative of the questioning teenager that engenders the riff. Amy Poehler ain’t got nothin’ on you.

    1. Heather Aronson

      Thanks, Susan! What a lovely compliment.

  3. Denise Nichols

    This is hilarious! And I think “Gout” might work for G?

    1. Heather Aronson

      Thanks, Denise! Yes, “Gout” most definitely works; it turns out that what the quiz wanted was “Grey Hair,” with the British spelling, which is why “Gray Hair” didn’t work. Sigh.

  4. Deb Gregerman

    I wish I could frame this but I have a fifteen year old daughter … so without elaboration about the particulars, you can why I don’t (yet)… will in an year. Can’t you market this brilliance?

    1. Heather Aronson

      Thanks, Deb! Yes, my youngest daughter is 16, and she’s not at all thrilled about this–no framing! No idea how to market this, but part of me wished I could illustrate, and turn it into an actual little primer with pictures. Alas!

  5. John Thompson

    Your Mother would love your talent as she was one herself. Great work Cuz

    1. Heather Aronson

      Why thank you, Cuz! Means a lot to me.

  6. Maureen McGranaghan

    This is great, Heather! I love the scenes with your daughter at the beginning and end, as well as Xplethebid!

    1. Heather Aronson

      Thank you, Maureen! I’m so glad you liked it!