On getting older

It was my birthday yesterday. Since the 11th September now has a meaning all over the world which is not just my birthday, the date itself has been hijacked, so the day after seems a better time to reflect on getting older.

It is a beautiful day here, the sun warm through milky cloud, the air very still, hanging between summer and autumn. The cats are sunning themselves outside on the path and the stonemason has started to build up the wall of the utility, slowly and methodically sorting the stone. I like the fact that this is the stone which grows here as surely as the trees, our own stone from our own land. It is the stone which prevents you from growing delphiniums or roses, but allows penstemons and salvias to flourish with cistus and helianthemum. It is good to see a building which so surely belongs to its place.

So it is a good day here to be alive. I am not working, the sun is shining, there is a lot to do in the garden and the day stretches ahead of me, my own time to do with what I wish.

And that, I think, is one of the big advantages of getting older. After a lifetime of looking after others, washing and cooking and helping with homework and ferrying children to swimming and cubs and parties and friends' houses they are grown and gone, and along with the sadness at seeing them leave is a tremendous pride in watching them build their own lives, seeing them take responsibility for themselves, looking at them and liking the adults they have become. And with that comes an indescribably precious freedom. This is the time in my life when I can sit with a cup of tea in the sunshine all by myself and watch the view. Because I don't work today I can get up when I choose (not in fact that much different from when I get up for work but that is not the point). I can breakfast slowly outside in the sunshine without the tyranny of school to get to, trains to catch, lunches to make, appointments to keep. I can take cuttings of salvia or move the echinacea or weed the cutting garden if I want to be outside and I can make marrow and ginger jam if I want to be inside, not that I would on a day like today.

So that is one of the big advantages of being this age, at this stage of my life: freedom.

Another is confidence. When I look back at my twenties and early thirties I see someone who was very keen to be liked, who was very inclined to say yes to requests however unreasonable and who struggled with the mothering of young children. I always felt that others were better at it than I was, that I floundered about, doing my best but often struggling, feeling that I had withdrawn from the outside world into one where I was an imposter, not a natural mother like those who surrounded me, a bit of a fraud. One of the great gifts of going through the separation and divorce from my first husband is that it made me do all sorts of things I might otherwise have not done. It made my earn my own living, live by myself, face my fears and find that I was more than just competent. I could speak in public, lead meetings, coach and mentor others. While I want my time for things other than work just now, I would not have been without the last twenty years of my working life for the world. Along with my family it has made me who I am. And I was one of those people who was better at mothering when I was working too. I might not have known that if I hadn't had to find it out.

And that is the other great thing about being this age: adult children. I know that you never stop mothering them or caring about them but they have got through the vulnerabilities of baby and toddlerhood and the more terrifying vulnerabilities of the late teenage and early twenties years when the influence of their peers is strong and you have to hope and pray that you have given them the roots to hold them against the flood, against drugs and alcohol and early pregnancy and lack of direction, when you have to trust them and let them go, the hardest, hardest thing. But for us, by about twenty three or twenty four, they had become adult rather than just thinking themselves so and you look at them and find that you like them almost as much as you love them. You let out a long sigh of relief and realise you have been holding your breath for around seven years.

And with such great upsides what are the downsides to ageing? They are mostly vanity. I wish I could have my neck back most of all. I look down at my hands and see they belong to my mother. When I am tired no amount of Touche Eclat will make me look radiant. When I get up in the morning it takes about an hour for my face to lose the creases of sleep. But I think perhaps it is good for you to face ageing, to look it steadily in the face and to accept that you have had your time of physical beauty, such as it was, it is time to let your daughters stand in the front of the picture. I don't mean to sound as though this is easy. It is not. But this is the way life is. I won't turn heads any more but my daughters do. I am growing into an invisibility which is not without its charms.

And there are other physical things: the slow failing of energy is a surprise and a pain; the fact that you eat as you have always done and your waist gently expands is another one.

But I would not wish myself back. If the price of a smooth neck and a slim waist was the loss of today's freedom and confidence and adult children (both natural and step) it is, as they say at work, a no-brainer!

So welcome to the next year. Now I am going gardening.

Comments

  1. This is such a tranquil blog. Like you my birthday is ratheran unfortuante one as it is the anniversry of a rather sad family event and I suspect will always be remembered as that. I don't mind though . I actaully enjoy getting older and feeling I am finally fitting into my skin, I think it is because I have far more of it than I did in my youth but I don't really mind about that either!

    Happy birthday!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Happy Birthday dear girl. What a lovely blog which gives me great hope. I fear the passing of time, the aging, the dwindling, the sense of loss and disappointment (never quite enough to force me into doing something, sadly) but you draw the positivies from the next stage beautifully.
    I have been gardening today, tussling with brambles and nettles. Everything throbs and I look like a self-harmer. Why is gardening thought of as somehow genteel?

    ReplyDelete
  3. That was a lovely blog. Unlike you I'm still railing against the ageing process but gradually accepting that I'll never be a size 12 again. That's so right about grown up children. L is 26 this year and has turned into a lovely woman, and yes I've been holding my breath too.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Elizabeth i loved this blog . Tranquil is the word which sums it up and wise and i'm really looking forward to the day when i no longer have to hold my breath.. xx

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for verbalising so perfectly your feelings. I'm just at that letting go phase and it is painful. Although I'm so proud and fiercely feel its right for my chicks to fly off, I'm at the same dismayed that I may not have taught them everything to protect them from all those nasties out there.Thank you again for giving me a glimmer into the next phase. Penblydd hapus, cariad mawr xx

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh Elizabeth, I feel as though I have been holding my breath forever and will need to do so for quite a while yet. You describe it all so beautifully. Their is such pride in seeing them set up on their own - my eldest has just moved into a lovely flat with his girlfriend and the excitement they are feeling is wonderful and yet reimnds me of what has gone. The worry of some of the younger ones who have not yet sorted themselves is sometimes all-consuming, as is the worry of the littlest and their mini-traumas. I would change not one ounce of any of it. As you say, it is what makes us who we are. Thank you for such a beautiful blog xxxx

    ReplyDelete
  7. You sound in a calm serene place for your birthday. Reflective, unruffled and content. My very best thoughts and wishes for the coming year – and who knows, we may even meet. I’d like that.
    It’s Robert’s birthday on Sunday and he hasn’t reached that acceptance of growing older – I think it may take a while yet.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yes, a lovely, tranquil blog. A shame to have your birthday hijacked. There were many beautiful parts of your blog to empathise with, not least the part about "struggling with the mothering of small children", which is pertinent to me now. I'm also quite keen on "growing into an invisibility which is not without its charms". Happy birthday.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I seem to have all the stages at once, just now. My eldest son, 25, has set up home with his fiancee, they are planning their wedding. Second son just started 3rd year at uni, my lovely daughter leaving home tomorrow for uni and still a young one (14) at home. All still to worry about, but you do give me hope that all will be well.

    Là breith sona dhuit a'graidh! (more Gaelic for you!)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Happy Birthday for yesterday Elizabeth, and a wonderful year ahead. Such a beautifully written and thoughtful post, too. Thank you.
    Diana x

    ReplyDelete
  11. happy birthday elizabeth! love your words... enjoy the day in the garden and sunshine!

    hh

    ReplyDelete
  12. Your blog calmed me down - so thanks. We came home from holiday yesterday and found Rescue Dog had been mortally wounded - we had to take the final decision.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Happy birthday. I'm in my 50s but as the sixth youngest of seven and the youngest daughter, I'm still the "baby" of the family to my 87-year-old mother. She may have a point....

    ReplyDelete
  14. Happy birthday, sweet Elizabeth. You still turn my head with your writing.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hello Elizabeth,

    What a lovely blog, and so beautifully written, and such wonderful photo's.

    I vex over time, days go by so swiftly, whereas in my youth there was all the time in the world somehow.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY Elizabeth, and happy gardening.!

    xx

    ReplyDelete
  16. Dear Elizabeth

    I have just been catching up. Was in need of a little bit of calm. Your final blog was just the tonic!

    Loved to read your take on ageing...like UPL I am finally fitting into my skin (like that saying)

    Love your outlook....

    and btw-love your main photo of your welsh hills-I hadn't seen that blown up large before-looks wonderful. Look forward to seeing you for real soon
    take care

    xx

    ReplyDelete
  17. Another belated happy birthday to you, my fellow virgo.

    Isn't it sort of interesting, and even fun, to discover how we are affected by reaching various stages of the decades that life may grant us?

    I still lament that I never had any children, but also know that status gave me other opportunities. Not an equal equation, but a realization that age does bring.

    I was joking with someone yesterday that I have a south-facing window in my bathroom that casts a light on the mirrors in that room that is very helpful in plucking eyebrows, but also very honest in showing me every crinkle of my skin. I don't mind seeing those crinkles occasionally, but have to admit that I am very glad that, on most afternoons, I am at the shop multi-tasking and enjoying the freedom to "act" my age the way that I wish.

    xo

    ReplyDelete
  18. A belated Happy Birthday, Elizabeth. Ironically, 9/11 is also the anniversary of my wedding to my former husband. It would have been 27 years, but who's counting now? Still it resonates with me.

    I loved your post. It says everything I feel about the passing of time. The gifts and the letting go. I do so agree about the silver lining that surrounds the break down of a marriage, that it forces you to become truly yourself and to seize life with both hands.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thanks for your message on my blogg. I'm useless aren't I, too busy reading everyone else's blogg...

    ReplyDelete
  20. Happy Birthday belatedly. Unfortunate that your Birthday WAS highjacked, but you were there first.
    Your blog I could identify with, completely.
    A lovely read.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Happy belated Birthday Elizabeth! I love your words about getting older,or growing up. It isn't easy to look in the mirror and see my Aunt, Mom, and Grandmothers looking back. When in my head Iam still the 25 year old, and not a grey hair in sight.
    Oh well, Iam stronger, smarter, and more focused on my art and who Iam as a woman.The many challenges along the path make us who we are,stimulate us to new growth and strength. BUT It doesn't make it any easier to roll out of bed and feel a million years old, sore and tired.
    In October I turn 43, and still cannot believe it..sigh..

    ReplyDelete
  22. Happy Belated Birthday to you!
    Such wisdom surely comes with age too, I'll be happy to swap the peace and self-knowledge for the self-doubt of the thirties you talked about. I've been going grey since I was 23, and I'll happy go along with a turkey-neck if I get the assurity and wisdom of age. One can always wear polo necks or a jaunty scarf!

    ReplyDelete
  23. ElizabethM, what a beautiful post. So encouraging to read how you have come thru the other side of children and living your life for them. And to see how delicious that time for you is. I hope i get to that point!

    Happy birthday, your part of the world looks incredible by the way!
    Pigx

    ReplyDelete
  24. What a fab post. And Happy Birthday. I keep saying that possibly the only thing you can do nothing about in your life is the day you were born, so just chill. And it sounds like you're doing just that.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Happy Birthday! I do so agree about ageing. We have to rise above it and keep going. I try not to look in the mirror (or at my waistline) any more than I need. Another advantage is that we have a lot to look back on and enjoy the memories. My pet hate is how stiff I am on getting out of bed in the morning - but I exercise and it goes away. Best wishes.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I hope the rest of your day was lovely.

    ReplyDelete
  27. What a lot of really lovely comments here! Thank you. I did think on rereading it that it makes me sound ancient and I have just been fifty four but it is really since I hit fifty that I have been particularly aware of growing older. Beats the alternative as they say.

    ReplyDelete
  28. A belated happy birthday to you. I believe we must be of a similar age as I recognize what you wrote about so eloquently as it is my stage in life too. My children are perhaps slightly younger, but two are away at Uni and the third is in his final year of 6th form. The semi-freedom I have is very enjoyable, after those years of sleepless nights when they were babies and toddlers.

    Enjoy life while you can - that's what our grandparents told us wasn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  29. Just another voice adding thanks for such a serene and beautifully written post. I too am still at the holding breath stage, and it is pretty dicey - early pregnancy and drugs in our family, despite all that playdough and farm visiting... At least the garden continues to grow and be beautiful all by itself.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Oh, another Virgo - I do like Virgos. And I do understand the pleasure of ageing, the leaving behind of the silly, awkward years for a comfortable, contented middle age (though not sure I will ever feel completely relaxed about my wrinkles). Have yet to get to the seven years of breath-holding myself, but how lovely to find your children are people you like as well as love. That was a most wise and beautiful blog, Elizabeth.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Such a reflective blog- there is always a serenity about you that explains why you were a good mentor. I never give ageing a thought: as the only available alternative is an early end ageing is definately the best option! But I always used to think life would get easier.......THAT hasnt happened!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Well said, no need for me to say more.
    I just found your blog today and will be back. I hope you will visit mine: http://arcadianadvocate.wordpress.com
    See you soon.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Elizabeth, I am sorry that I have missed this. How come? Well, should you still be reading the comments - Happy Birthday. And such wonderfully sensible reflections about age. I do wish that at school they had taught us about ageing, how we should look and feel at various ages. Because it is a trueism that youth is wasted on the young, (though sometimes I think that age is wasted on the old, too.) So many people lose all ambition, all fun, use age as an excuse to do less and less. That annoys me. Mostly the body will repair itself given half a chance. Half the time it is the extra weight that most of us carry that slows us down. (Though why is it so difficult to lose?) When we were children we didn't have wined poured into us and had to eat sensible food that we were given, I suppose. Still you haven't lost your ambition and that's good.
    All ages are fun except perhaps the very first and the very last and there are always new frontiers to conquer. But why does time have to go by so fast? Do hope you had a very happy birthday.

    ReplyDelete
  34. A very belated Happy Birthday from me too - I began to read your lovely blog on my phone whilst on the Hydrafoil to Paxos - and then the signal gave out. Your words transported me effortlessly to Gwenoldy and it was quite a surprise to look up and find myself surrounded by the turquoise Ionian.

    A beautiful reflection of life.

    ReplyDelete
  35. A very belated 'happy birthday'.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Happy belated birthday, Elizabeth, and I'm glad you are back unscathed from last night's horrible journey. Your post was full of wisdomosity and reflects so much of what I feel (I would like a new neck though, is that shallow??. You described this stage with the children so well (mine are in the same bracket). Let's enjoy that sense of fruition before they start telling us what to do!

    ReplyDelete
  37. What a beautiful post Elizabeth, and so very true.
    Warm regards
    Karen

    ReplyDelete
  38. This is a lovely posting and I perceive so much of what you say...not least of all about the jolly old Touche Eclat!!

    ReplyDelete
  39. A belated Happy Birthday! You are so wise, Elizabeth....I fear I rail and rage against ageing....don't like it one little bit. But then maybe that's because I still seem to have all the insecurities of youth alongside the wrinkles! jxxx

    ReplyDelete
  40. I so enjoyed reading this. You expressed very well what many of us are feeling and living these days, even some things I hadn't really considered. I felt like I had met a kindred spirit when you wrote about holding your breath. Why did I think no one else felt this but me? It's interesting because just this morning I was walking around thinking of doing a blog entry on the semi-retirement of an at-home mother. And then I happened here (from a comment on Mountainear's blog). I thank you for your words.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Comments are the best thing and the conversations they produce are the whole purpose of blogging for me. Do tell me what you think!

Popular Posts