Sunday, 10 August 2014

Getting over getting older. The absurdity of hating your age.

So it has transpired that in a few short hours, I will have been living and breathing on this planet for half a century. In celebration, I am consuming a last supper of Sauvignon Blanc and a bag of dates. I’m not sure if it’s all of that painfully acquired wisdom talking or more than likely the combination of fermented and dried fruits, but I realise that for a few years now I have been tormented by the rather irksome issue of age-guilt.

For most of my 5 decades, like many of us and in particular women, I couldn’t wait to be older and longed to be younger. I don’t recall a time when while basking in the numbers associated with my existence, that my self-esteem blissfully reclined on a chaise lounge of comfortable ageity (yes I made that word up – I’m 50 and I get to do crap like that now).

When we are younger we lie about being older and when we are older we long for those days when we were younger wishing we were older.

Am I alone here? I think not. And, I would like to help. I am conducting a little survey in the hopes of discovering how many people out there are just like me.

QUESTION: Do you think you, A) have been born at some point in your life, and B) are one day older than you were yesterday? If you answered YES to both, then congratulations and welcome to the ‘Being Alive Club’. Member privileges start at conception and involve coming into the world, growing older with each passing moment and then dying.

Roll with it people.

With that, I offer my birthday mantra; I am 50 years old and I really don't give two hoots and a barn owl!

Given that life as we know it could last anywhere from a millisecond to 100+ years, is it not a rather pointless exercise to be somewhere along that spectrum but always wishing to be somewhere else? So many ‘Carpe Diem’ tee shirts, so little money in mouths.

It’s like this, from infancy we are trained to propel ourselves forward. One minute you are born, and then suddenly without your knowledge or consent two annoying minutes have gone by and you are already getting old. Successes and failures begin dropping through your own personal hourglass determining a socially accepted perceived age ratio. This mainly breaks down to a cultural expectation that when you are young you should work hard to look, grow and act older and when you are older you should basically just lie about your age.

It begins during babydom, prodding the unsuspecting mite into submission with the normal calculations of weight, length, milk consumption, sleep.

Your doting parents, blinded by sleep deprivation and bored by the aforementioned mundane observations take it upon themselves to dig deeper and examine every detail from cradle cap to the all important poo hue. ‘Is honey mustard really the right colour for a 2 week old?’ (TOP TIP: Don’t go searching the internet in the middle of the night when you have not shut your eyes for two consecutive hours within two consecutive months. This makes you very susceptible to TMI Syndrome when the availability of Too Much Information will convince you that your child has all manner of diseases and disorders, probably leprosy or at the very least the Black Plague. TOP TIP #2: Don’t go wake your husband and try to persuade him of the same thing.)

As toddlerhood descends, so do the societal chastisements for behaving like a ‘baby’ and praises for ‘early’ achievements whereby the tiniest hint of progress warrant 10 zillion photos, a video uploaded to You Tube, a phone call to the grandparents, a Facebook status update and a tweet or two.

Soon after, you are whisked off to institutions designed especially for the swift growing up of little creatures. Writing instruments are tucked into chubby fists faster than they can say ‘fine motor skills’ and incorrect formation of letters or numbers furl brows of authority. Somewhere in the background, a mad soundtrack of ‘Keep Up’, ‘Get Ahead’ and ‘Do Your Best’ plays on repeat. 

All these milestone measurements are ticked off in a competitive and timely fashion. Grave concern descends if children do not walk, talk, eat with a fork and wear underpants right on schedule. Shortly after mastering shoe tying, it is expected that any self respecting parent will ensure their child acquire the skills to discuss the finer points of Existentialism, review an exhibit of the Pre-Raphaelites, double their pocket money on Wall Street, run a four minute mile, successfully navigate the instructions for any piece of Ikea furniture and give a Ted Talk all by the age of 10.

As a teenager you are forever being told that your one mission (apart from removing the items growing mold in your bedroom) is to grow up, be ‘mature’ and have a firm idea of your career choice by the second day of highschool. And yet, constantly being reminded that you are far too young for pretty much anything that looks even remotely interesting to you.

At some mysterious point we begin to dabble in the ‘harmless’ practice of age shifting. Most of us have lied about our age as teens. The rewards always just out of our reach, to drive, to drink, to vote, to buy cigarettes, to be taken seriously by a potential boyfriend/girlfriend who certainly wouldn’t be seen with someone sooo young. Or, to be allowed by our parents to do certain age associated things that always seem to have a relative value attached to them based on how ‘cool’ your parents are about stuff like staying out late or having holes punctured into ears, noses, belly buttons and other more painful unmentionables.

After the age of 20, birthdays with zeros are meant to make us dive head first into an expensive vat of face cream. The dreaded ‘signs of aging’ wag a finger of warning at us from ad land. We are consumed with the fear that we too just might do the one thing people have been telling us to do all of our lives, but are now being told to avoid like that plague we nearly contracted as babies, and that is…get older.

At 25 I lived in fear of the number 30, the benchmark for being married with 2.5 children and publishing my first bestseller. At 35 I trembled at the thought of Over the Hill bras and that ‘still losing the baby weight’ was no longer a viable excuse. At 45 I spent five years trying to complete my ‘Before 50’ list so that my Bucket List wouldn’t be too long.

Looking back, I can’t actually recall the mystifying point when I reached the socially acceptable moment of perfection as the moon and stars lined up, deeming me to be exactly neither too old nor too young. There must have been a tiny little break in the clouds but I couldn’t quite catch a glimpse while looking over my shoulder into the future.

At 49 years and 364 days (give or take a few time zone hours accounting for the fact that I was born in an entirely different hemisphere), I made a startling revelation: Being 10 years younger is only desirable when we are 10 years older.

So at this holy juncture, I chose not to spend my transition from 40 something by googling nearby Botox clinics and crying into my bowl of regrets. The 60 year old me would be ecstatic to be sitting in my place right now still fitting into these leggings.

Today I am grateful that my Lessons Learned most certainly Runneth Over with an array of duplicities and realities.

I haven’t lived under a rock but wanted to crawl under one many times.

I’ve felt like I've got it all under control and like I haven’t got a clue.

I’ve been strict with my children and have also let them get away with murder.

I’ve scrupulously cleaned my house from top to bottom and, nah, who are we kidding here, never did that.

I’ve been single, a wife, a widow and a wife again.

I’ve been a twenty something who wasn’t going to have children and then I had a homebirth and then another and another and another and another.

I’ve been bossy and been bossed around.

I've been ecstatically happy and incredibly depressed.

I've been pleased and fulfilled, guilty and ashamed.

I’ve had peaceful times and VEERY stressful times.

I've been a scantily clad singer in various bands for many years and a mummy in my big comfy jim jams falling asleep into my cup of tea on my nights off.

I have a two Degrees but need to summon the children or husband to help me work out how to turn on the stupid television (Whatever happened to 'on' and 'off'? #toomanyremotes).

I’ve been a runner, a swimmer and a yogi with a healthy diet and well, let’s just say that if chocolate turned people blue after consuming it, I would by now be the world’s tallest Smurf.

I do not have the body of a 25 year old. And, the reason for this is because I AM NOT 25 YEARS OLD! Sheesh.

Things I’ve gained: perspective, patience, weight

Things I’ve lost: weight, patience, perspective

My Ups and Downs: Bank Account, BMI, Confidence (as a parent, wife, lover, singer, writer, teacher, learner, woman-living-in-the-real-world).

So, back to my point. When one reaches the sought after age, why do we desire nothing more than to go back to the age when we were wishing to be at an age, that when we reach that age, makes us want to go back to that age again? Let’s do the age warp again.

Or not.

I am sailing into the future with a new attitude. I urge you to join me. Give yourself permission to be ok with your state of being. Honour your day of birth. Embrace your true age.

Accept it. Shout it. Tweet it. Text it. Blog it. Vlog it. Vine it. Write it in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. Get over getting older. It’s what we do.

I AM 50!

Have I said that already? Ah yes, I’m repeating myself now. A sign of my age I’m afraid.