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.