“If you had to choose, would you rather be a child again, or a grownup?” my 8-year old asks me as we’re driving to school.
“Do I have to choose?”
She loves to throw all kinds of choice questions at me and, sensing they are meant to trick me into admitting something I’ll later regret, I usually try to avoid giving an answer.
Luckily, we arrive at school just then and the question is left unanswered as she jumps out of the car and vanishes inside the school gates.
The truth is that as a child I longed to be a grownup because I believed life as an adult would be a lot easier, and less painful. How wrong I was. With adulthood, of course, came other challenges and there are times when I wish, momentarily, that I was young again, free of duties and responsibilities.
But on the whole, I am happy to be in my mid-40s, and I rarely look back wishing I was still in my 20s or 30s, let alone a teenager. I’d like to think that as I age, I’m growing a bit wiser, more grounded and comfortable in my own skin. Best of all, the older I get, the less I care about what other people think of me. “Take me as I am,” I want to shout out to people I meet, “or leave it.”
Still, there are times when I forget I am 46; I don’t feel like 46, whatever that’s supposed to feel like. For while I’m undoubtedly growing older, I’m still waiting for the day when I’ll finally be a grownup. Sometimes, when I meet other people my age, I mistake them for 50-somethings, not realising that I have just as many wrinkles and grey hairs as they do. It’s only when I look at photos of me from when I was in my early 30s that I realise how much I’ve changed.
My first-born turns twelve this Saturday and has just started secondary school. One week into the term and she’s fully embraced her new independence, while my husband and I find ourselves still adjusting to the fact that our once so shy and gentle little girl has morphed into a hormonal pre-teen that oozes attitude and defiance. Now there’s a reminder if any that I’m getting older.
I sometimes fantasise about old age liberating me from the final constraints of conformity, imagining myself as the lady who wears purple in Jenny Jones’ fabulous poem, Warning:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.