Swathes of our society seem hell bent on defying the visual signs of their aging. While this has doubtless been driven by the cosmetics industry, this trend also has to do with the development of different societal norms and expectations. We frequently associate such behaviour with women, although there are any number of skincare products now aimed at men too. I read an article the other day about the increasing number of economically active ageing men resorting to nips and tucks in order to maintain a more youthful and vigorous look. Believe it or not, this is not necessarily to make themselves look attractive to women, but to retain a semblance of respect in the workplace! Seriously?
I still clearly remember the start of the year in which I would turn six. The significance of this is that I would be starting school, despite the hurdle of being the only English-speaking child there for about a year. It could well be that experience of being immersed in Afrikaans, and being tasked with teaching my fellow Grade Ones to speak English, that sparked my life-long passion for education. I could clearly identify with A.A. Milne’s Now we are Six:
When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six now
For ever and ever.
I was a bit older in this photograph, yet it is typical of my childhood: long hair held back in a ponytail, clips always falling out, nearly always barefoot – and wearing dresses, which my mother used to sew for me. Dresses for a tomboy?
The next milestone we looked forward to was turning ten. Not only did this mean moving into double figures for the first time (I’m not sure why this felt so important), but it marked the year we moved into the ‘senior’ classroom (there were only two classrooms in our primary school).
Becoming a teenager, turning eighteen and then twenty-one were also important milestones – all rather low key for me as I was either in boarding school or away from home at university. It was while I was a student that I was astonished to discover how many women in particular seemed to dread growing older. When I was invited to a thirtieth birthday I couldn’t understand why the hostess wept and felt she was “getting old”! Years later a neighbour mourned her thirty-sixth birthday so much that I approached mine with a degree of trepidation.
Somehow, that taught me to embrace the age I am. Mind you, I recall being appalled at being called ‘tannie’ (an Afrikaans term – aunty – of respect towards an older person) by a young girl after I had rescued her four-year-old brother from drowning in a public swimming pool. I was only fourteen then!
I loved turning forty and invited friends to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. Some of us were still dancing in our lounge in the early hours of the morning! Becoming sixty was so liberating! It is wonderful being bolstered and emboldened by so many years of experience, a wealth of accumulated wisdom as well as being strengthened by the love of family and friends.
Some time ago, I spent a weekend in the company of an eighty-five year old woman who impressed me no end with her positive attitude towards life and the interest she showed in her surroundings. Her sense of adventure is still strong. “You must have an interest,” she declared, her eyes sparkling with delight. “You need to keep busy, to look after yourself, and you must love.”
Later she offered this sage advice: “Too many people think themselves old, even when they are in their fifties, and that makes them old!”