lt’s obvious we’re all getting older, but I’m not sure we ever, actually, feel our age, writes GH columnist Susan Hayden
‘Whether you’re 11, 46 or 73, you’re still trying to figure out life and relationships’
My mom, who at 73 is completely gorgeous despite only ever having used Lux and Pond’s on her face, regularly says two things about getting older: one, that it’s not for sissies and two, that you never really feel your age. And while I don’t have the aches and pains she refers to, I totally get the latter thing. Last weekend I took my teenage daughter and her friend to watch Bishops play Rondebosch at rugby. She doesn’t give a hoot about the game, of course – she was there to watch the boys.
As we walked into the school grounds a group of handsome matrics passed us Ω just the kind of boys I would have gone for at her age. ‘Wow, nice-looking guys!’ I remarked, and no sooner had the words left my mouth than I realised how horrifying that must have sounded. Someone’s mother, on the wrong side of 45, finding 18-year-olds good-looking. I endeavoured to shut my mouth for the rest of the morning. The trouble is, I don’t feel 46. I know some stuff, but I still think I’m pretty clueless. I definitely don’t know how this house I live in is mine, nor how people think I’m up to the responsibilities I’m routinely given. But, like everyone else I suppose, I manage to wing it, pretend and get away with it most of the time.
But when I walked around those school grounds and saw the girls huddling and conspiring and the boys being loud and macho, I remembered that time in my own life so well. It doesn’t feel anything like 30 years ago. When my best friend sends me a screenshot of something silly a schoolmate has said on Facebook, I am instantly 14 and smoking menthol cigarettes behind the BP garage in Somerset West. It’s bizarre to me that I’m a wife and a mom with a car and a (sort of) job.
And when my own mom and her best friend are in the mood for reminiscing and start talking about their days as young nurses at the Mater Dei Hospital in East London and the crazy things that happened on their ward, the years fall away. In their shared memories and laughter they become 16-year-old girls in starched white uniforms, nervous and giggling at the grumpy old men in their care. When my 11-year-old gets in the car after school with a worried look on her face and tells me about the problems she is having with a friend, I listen to the latest
It occurs to me that maybe we are no age and all ages at the same time. Within us is every person we have ever been. Sometimes we feel young and ill-equipped; other times, old and travel-weary. Life’s challenges never diminish, they just become different. I see myself in my daughters and also in my mom. Once I was them, one day I’ll be her. I hope, in our seventies, my oldest friend and I will also laugh at what we got up to as teens and our grown-up kids will get a glimpse of who we were back then. And who we still are, deep down. version of the saga, then say a version of the same thing: these issues never go away. Whether you’re 11, 46 or 73, you’re still trying to figure out life and relationships. And I remind her that she probably knows as much as I do about how to resolve it.
At a certain age your parents stop being your parents and become people, just like you, trying their best to be happy and make good decisions. You see the context of their lives and from the perspective of being a parent yourself, you understand the challenges they face and forgive their misdemeanours. My children are still young enough to think I have all the answers, even though I regularly tell them I don’t. And sometimes I am struck by how very naive they are, which tells me I must be older and at least slightly wiser.