Reclaiming Elderhood

By / Posted on February 25th, 2016

Andrea Tyck is the Wellness Director at Mt San Antonio Gardens, a Life Care Community in Pomona, California.  She is also a Green House Educator and helped to open the first Green House homes in California.

Andrea Tyck, Green House Educator, Mt. San Antonio Gardens, Pomona, CA

Andrea Tyck, Green House Educator, Mt. San Antonio Gardens, Pomona, CA

In Jerry Spinelli’s book Hokey Pokey, Hokey Pokey is a place where there are no adults. Kids are in charge and free to roam.  The main character, Jack, is the de facto leader and is loving his life until things start to change.  A tattoo, present on the bellies of all the inhabitants of Hokey Pokey, begins to fade.  When his bike, the symbol of his power and influence is stolen, he oddly begins to adjust to its absence. And what’s worse is that his enduring disdain for girls and a girl named Jubilee, in particular, is beginning to lose its grip.  She might even become a friend.   In addition Jack begins to sense that he is going to be leaving Hokey Pokey although he doesn’t  know why or how.  Jack tells Jubilee he thinks he is leaving that night.  When she asks “How do you know?” he replies “I don’t. It’s like” – he stares up into her eyes – “I’m on a bike I can’t steer, can’t stop.”  “So….,” she says, “Where to?”  He hangs full weight from her eyes.  “Beats me.”

The book cover explains that it is “a timeless tale of growing up and letting go, of reverence and remembrance of that moment in childhood when the world opens up to possibilities never before imagined.”   Ever since I read it I have been thinking of how the process of children becoming adults might be similar to the process of adults becoming elders.

Dr. Bill Thomas makes a case that elderhood is a distinct part of human development and that part of the process of that development is leaving adulthood. In very broad terms that means moving from a primary focus on doing and generating to embracing the “being-rich responsibilities of making peace, giving wisdom, and creating a legacy.”  In the land of Hokey Pokey, Jack’s transition out of childhood is perceptible but vague.  The reader has a sense of what might be happening to Jack (he is growing up) but the steps are still somewhat confounding.  Might that be similarly true of one’s growth out of adulthood and development into elderhood?  Are there signs that the purposes in your life and the mechanisms by which you enjoy, ponder and resolve things have been transformed?    Are there treasured parts of you or your life that you no longer have (like Jack’s bike) that you realize you are ok without?

The book ends with Jack back in the “real world” preparing to redo his bedroom with his dad to make it less childish.  There is a sense of hope, that all is right.  That the magical world he left behind wistfully has been left for “possibilities never imagined.”  Perhaps the journey into elderhood can also be hopeful, that leaving adulthood is as it should be, and that it is , per Dr. Thomas, a “complex ripening, a richness that is unavailable to those who remain in the fevered grip of adulthood.”