Now I know
When I was pregnant, I asked my parents separately at which age they liked children most. My mother was swift to answer: At around 7. They are still little and innocent, childlike, but they can dress and feed themselves, and take themselves to the bathroom. Well that makes sense. But was it all downhill after that? No, my mother assured me. But you asked about my favourite age. I did indeed.
My father, on the other hand, gave the question a deep thought before answering: Every age. They all have their charm, pros and cons. I rolled my eyes at this diplomatic non-answer and that was that.
Until recently when I was jolted into revisiting that thought.
Last week my daughter was telling me about her hopes, plans and dreams for her future over a bun and hot chocolate. It was a perfect, rare mother/daughter cosy moment. I’m so excited for her, so proud.
But when we were done she said, ‘But Mom, how can you be so interested in my future when you have no interest in your own?’
Stunned, I refuted that accusation vehemently. I’m very excited about the novel I’m writing. I want to pat a lion. Become a grandmother. So I’m dreaming big dreams too, I told her.
‘Well in that case,’ she said, ‘why can’t we celebrate your birthdays?’
I’d never previously understood the mid-life crisis phenomenon among folks with a home and family, a job they enjoyed, and seemingly successful in other ways that were dear to them. But as my Big 50 Bday approached, panic suddenly set in to the point of manic denial. I don’t know why. I tried to be grateful for life and reaching 50, I really did. I had two dear friends who didn’t make it that far and I felt terribly guilty for resenting it – yes, resenting it – when they had missed out on so much. Platitudes such as ‘well, it’s better than the alternative’ stung and incensed me, so by the day itself my nearest and dearest had received the message loud and clear: Mention it at your peril! I’d even found a word for it: fragapane phobia. So there! I was validated. I knew for sure that birthdays as far as I was concerned were a done deal. Finito.
Until last week, when my daughter was looking at me with her beautiful, uncomprehending eyes and waiting for an answer. I was at a loss.
And that’s when, after all these years, I suddenly heard my father’s voice speak to me once more: Every age. They all have their charm, pros and cons. And I realised, right there and then, that applies to life in general too.
The secret to age inner peace must lie in recognising the unique charm and advantages of each life stage at the time.
I couldn’t, for example, have written the novel I’m currently writing 10 years ago. I was too busy happily mothering two 6-year olds. And looking back, that’s how it’s always been. Each age has had its charm, but undoubtedly pros and cons.
Being a teen rocked but I was too young to taste true independence. My 20s meant graduation and a pay packet, but finding my own roof was a nightmare. 30s were a blessed blast of wedding and children, but on the other hand I was permanently exhausted. Then my 40s were a total hoot, if you disregard weight gain and the onset of other aches and pains.
And since 50? Well. It’s been a time to dream new dreams and prepare for the next stage of life between applying more teen-induced anti-wrinkle cream and joining a gym to stop the sag.
My 60s, of course, lie in the lap of the Gods. But I hope and pray I’m here to experience them. After all, it’s better than the alternative, right?
It all seems so obvious now, hardly blog-worthy to be honest. And yet at the time it was huge and all-consuming. I wasn’t afraid to die, I was afraid to live as an older member of a society that caters so much for the young, without giving a serious thought to the perks of being a pre-pensioner in the upcoming decade. I was a twit. But now I understood how people with seemingly everything to live for can have a mid-life meltdown. Although I imagine the whys are different for everyone.
I cannot ask my wise old Dad which age he enjoyed most for himself. He’s no longer here. But I strongly suspect he would pretend to give the matter the same deep consideration and then reply with the exact same answer. Because he knew.
Now I know, too.