“You’re a sweet man. How old are you?” a random elderly woman asked one of my toddlers last week.
“73” he replied.
My children, like all children, are obsessed with being older than their two-and-a-half-years. “Teletubbies are for babies,” they decree solemnly. “Fireman Sam is for big boys, says one. “And Buzz” adds the other. Age is seemingly arbitrary but determines everything they do. They have two older siblings so they see the glamour a few years can offer – later bedtime, bedtime in actual beds (NOT cots), scissors, meat-not-cut-up-into-pieces-on-the-plate. The bigger issues.
I was discussing this was my 85-year-old grandmother the other day who was lamenting the indignities she is currently being subjected to by her local GP in a clumsy ruse to detect Alzheimer’s or dementia, we supposed. Doctor Frost drew three triangles on a piece of paper and asked me to copy them exactly, spat the woman who is a meticulous draftsperson and indeed once forged my bullet-proof fake ID.
We then moved on to discuss the fact that all children seem to be craving age when everyone else is craving youth. Suri Cruise’s high-heels and lipstick are but a high-profile example. We agreed, however, there must be a tipping point. There must be a few glorious years when age isn’t a consideration at all. Perhaps it’s in the very early twenties – somewhere between shedding school uniforms and yearning after a car – when one has a robust timelessness. And high metabolism. In fact, the twenty-first could be seen as a celebration of the very period where we can be free to be broke, unlucky in love, sleep in swags and suffer the indignity of shooting too many Jelignites. Of course I blew those few key years of age-freedom watching engineers skull beer out of plastic chickens, pursuing experimental German language theatre and shooting too many Jelignites. I hope my own children are wiser.
My mother insists that people don’t actually grow up until they have their own children. All these Peter Pan businessmen who spend their weekends paying paintball and spending their income on popcorn machines and Wii. All these career-women flirting with baby food diets and sporting Brazilians. There is a delicious freedom in not worrying about fertility, mortgages, death of parents and school fees. I can’t blame them. I was them. I remember returning to university to study. I quit my job in a law firm for which I had to account for every minute in my day, and bought a backpack. I had imagined it would be all brown-armed freedom as I drifted from lesson to coffee to lesson only to discover it wasn’t. I was too uptight. Perhaps it was because I actually cared about the subject matter, perhaps it was because I was in a solid relationship, but I could no longer just lie on the grass chatting, I could no longer take the time to wander 8km in to class.
I had been lamenting this over the last few days as I bought my ten-year-old step-daughter adult-sized converse, planned a close friend’s 40th present and wrestled with the twins over not driving the car when I was struck by the most horrible realisation: when you have a birthday, you’re already the age you were dreading.
Turning 29? Sorry, hate to break it to you, but you’re already 30.
39? Bingo. Hello 40.
49? Too late, your bum’s slipping down your legs for good reason.
I remembered that entire first year I spent with the twins in which I had to count their age in months. That year I watched them double in size, get teeth, hair, eat meat, say Mumma and their peers walk. That year counts. My children turned one at the end of that year. Chances are, so did yours. The panic I had about approaching thirty – the very panic which had me quit my job as a lawyer, that panic was tardy.
The funny thing about aging, though, is that apart from this loss of a sense of timelessness, I don’t feel fundamentally any different from the way I felt as a 21-year-old. I still blush at the same things, I still regret things I said and things I did. I thought age would bring confidence and really it’s brought very little except as my friend Lizzie says “the elastic’s gone”. I still feel like the same person and I’m always surprised when little kids call me “lady”. My grandmother? She feels the same. A little creakier, sure, a little more fatigued, but fundamentally the same youthful person in her little-old-lady get-up.
I’m not sure what this means other than regardless of how old we feel now, we’re bound to look back in a few years and believe we were young. Perhaps, I should be relishing my ability to sleep in a bed, eat meat-not-cut-up-into-pieces-on-the-plate and the freedom to draw as many triangles as I like without judgment. Any mid-life-crisis-convertible was going to be 12 months late anyway.
Kim Kane was born in London in a bed bequeathed by Wordsworth for ‘…a writer, a painter, or a poet’. Despite this auspicious beginning she went on to practise law. Five years ago Kim threw her materialism to the wind and started to write for children. She has written one novel, Pip: The story of Olive and two picture books The Vegetable Ark (royalities from which go to ovarian cancer research) and Family Forest. She is currently working on a further two novels and a picture book. In her spare time Kim is a mother (toddler twin boys) and a step-mother (boy 12, girl 9). She wears flat shoes and sobs in the bath.