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The Maintenance Trap
By Gloria Hanson

Have your automobile serviced twice a year to maintain it in good condition for a long road life. This is the message of the car dealers and the mechanic. No such message is given to the newborn or her parents.

At first maintenance is taken care of by mother, grandmother, father, grandfather, and babysitter, usually in that order. We all know what this involves: drooling, diapering, swaddling and the inevitable rocking, cooing and cuddling.

The parental total care contract begins to unwind when the child turns 3 or 4 as mom and dad attempt to shift a little responsibility to the kid, asking her to brush her teeth and dress herself. The shoe tie task that used to take years to master has been alleviated by Velcro.

Of course, there is still the zippering, bundling up, boot tug routines. Slowly the child learns the art of self-care so that by 10 or 11 she could survive a parental breakdown or trip out of town.

During adolescence all systems either break down or rev up since gender differences and hormones become the major influencers. Boys can forget they have teeth or waists while girls can't resist the pull of Hanna Montana or respond to the advertisements to color their hair in stripes and show their belly buttons.

The parents stand by helplessly and wonder where they went wrong. Mother guilt is particularly high at this time and can require years of therapy or a flight to some spa or women's retreat house.

Young adulthood arrives, and the heavy, deep and serious maintenance tasks kick in. Tans for the fair-skinned, hair straightening for both white and black curly headed youth, shaving, plucking, deodorizing and primping. No parent would dare get near the "child", that once sweet morsel who has turned sour over the years.

Pregnancy brings its own set of maintenance and upkeep schedules. For the future mom, it means valiant attempts to show off the belly without looking like a tent or a whale.

She tries to waddle through her daily routine and put on the good, "I'm so happy to be pregnant face" while the future Dad hopes and prays that he will get his wife back in one piece with few stretch marks and a return to the lusty woman he fell for before the flannel pajamas and middle of the night requests for snacks of pickles and chocolate.

The twenties and thirties offer some relief for the married but no respite for the singles. They must learn to cope with the subtle signs of thinning hair, fat around the middle and dimming eyesight while trying to ignore the signs and live in the moment.

It finally hits in the forties. Time is catching up. Now the routine includes vigorous flossing and brushing, dyeing the hair when one sees the first few grey strands, manicures, pedicures, Retin -A for those little brown spots and lots of cream for face, eyes, legs and hands. Small veins show through the skin as if the roadmap to old age is being written in blue ink.

Turning fifty is a joy. The new forty, some say, but one sees the writing on the wall. Those warm feelings begin, and soon these burst into hot flashes. The pretty little thing at the gym suggests we add weight training and balance exercises for bone health while suggesting walking as a good cardio exercise for "someone your age."

Sex, when it does happen, now involves its own little tube of lubricant cream. Girlfriend talk begins with health chatter as women try to figure out what the latest research is on hormones and Fosamax. What vitamins, minerals are you taking? How about probiotics? Aspirin, anyone?

Some even resort to chemical peels, face-lifts, tummy tucks, Botox to reduce the amount of time needed to make one presentable and younger. Men, wanting to delude themselves in spite of the bulging waistline and balding pate, turn to a sports car or a younger female model to brush away the ravages of time. Unfortunately, this leads to even more time spent primping, crossing over or planning the right timing for the popping of the Viagra.

The sixties involve more of the same. Pills, crossword puzzles, Pilates, flossing at least twice a day-brushing three, slathering with moisturizers, drinking prune juice or some natural alternative, cutting out fluids after 7PM, checking the scalp and back for those little raised spots, attending endless doctor and dentist appointments. And it does not get any easier.

With each succeeding year the maintenance list for different body parts grows longer as you add eye cream, hearing aids, blood pressure checks, hammertoes and kneepads. The routines and rituals add hours to the time to get ready for bedtime at 10. PM, that is.

There just aren't enough hours in the day to keep the car humming along the highway of life.

Gloria Hanson is a retired clinical social worker living in Cleveland Heights

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