Autumn of our Discontent...
Ageing comes with its pleasures and its pains; its pleasures are many, its pains, well, they tend to include men. Sounding bitter? I have recently experienced an attack of middle-agedman- ness, or MAMishness: in this case, a middle-aged male relative having a crisis about getting older.
No one wants to be bombarded with a full-blown rant on the degradations of vanished virility and the sudden appearance of man boobs in someone you used to happily stand at a bar and enjoy a beer with. It put me right off the chocolaty/coconutty/marshmallowy joy of a Snow Ball I was about to down with my cup of tea. Too much jiggling, white strips reminiscent of old-man chest hair and don’t even get me started on anything relating to nuts!
Usually, I spend quite a lot of my time laughing at my ageing relatives. It started with those first jolts of ageing behavior – the irrational attachment to a certain chair, the loud huffing and flicking off of lights, even when you’ve only left the room to get a snack – but lately it has progressed into a sad and sinking state of parental dysmorphia. And yes, like MAMishness, that is a completely madeup term. But while the word might be made up, the condition is not. Parental dysmorphia is characterized – by me, in my mind – by that all too common jerking sensation of the world having shifted while you’re not paying attention that occurs when your parents display ageing behavior that just doesn’t fit with the picture of them you have in your head.
My parents aren’t old, are they? They’re only in their sixties. That’s like the new late-forties, right? Shouldn’t they be out spending the kids’ (i.e. our) inheritance, grey nomading their way across flooded outback vistas they have neither the skill, experience or equipment to safely navigate or flirting outrageously with foreign waiters or waitresses in outrageously expensive restaurants with soaring cliff top views? I feel like a whole generation of movies of parents becoming free and ever so slightly cool as they move into their senior years have let us all down. Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Judy Davis, WHAT IS GOING ON?
I had a curious conversation with my Mum, not so long ago. She was reflecting on not living to see my kids have kids of their own. My Mum is still very much alive; it’s just that telling us all about the many events she won’t see because she will be dead is one of her favourite topics of conversation, along with the trouble with her nerves… She has more than a little of Jane Austen’s Mrs. Bennett about her. Her mother, my Nan, was of the keepbusy- and-don’t-complain school. She abhorred letting beans go bad on the vine, an untidy garden, unruly children and dropped crumbs. I’m not sure she was that fond of my Granddad either … She would always serve up coffee or tea with cake or biscuits and loved a chat about whatever had caught her interest. Normal then.
My Mum (and my Dad, for that matter) like to ring me when I’m in the queue at the supermarket/carwash/cafe to tell me the same story about the illness of a family friend (that I don’t remember) that they had both called me about twice the previous day. They tend to forget the little things, like time, dates and entire conversations. In a fit of peak (tantrum) recently, I told my Mum that the only reason my dearly beloved had stayed in Geelong rather than pursuing our careers interstate or overseas before we settled down to have kids was that our parents were so bloody hopeless that someone had to stay around and keep an eye on them. She calmly replied that she was glad something good had come out of her (chronic) illness. You have to laugh… we both did.
We did stay, and are both glad that we did. Well, not so much when we are stuck between work commitments and send out the call for grand-parental help. My Dad has a mortifying habit of picking my kids up from school (which is a rarity, unsurprisingly) in a faded and torn tank top that dates back to the mid-1990s with shorts that act as arrows for his varicose veins and Crocs. The tank top used to be my 6-foot 4-inch quite muscled brother’s. My father is 5-foot 5-inches and is built like Homer Simpson and has a moustache like a Victorian-era blacksmith.
My Grandma, Dad’s mum, had an unswerving dedication to Wednesday shopping day, shoes with matching handbags, checking plants had enough water and starching my canvas runners. But the worst part of all of this is finding that we, the dynamic duo of my dearly beloved and I, are starting to display the same rage-inducing behaviours (although I can only fervently hope that man boobs and the loud bemoaning of impotence play no part in our future!) I have my spot on the couch that even the cat knows not to sit in. I frequently forget who I have told what stories/event invitations/ imminent plans to and have caught that barely contained eye roll that heralds ‘I’ve heard this before’. I even went to the hardware store in paint-spattered old Uggs and none-too-opaque leggings. Aaaaugh!
From thinking that 30 was unfathomably old to gaining an increasingly clear picture of the kind of grandparent I might be (in 20 years’ time) doesn’t feel to have been much of a jump. Yet it’s happened. Surely it was only a couple of years ago that it seemed oh so unnatural, wrong even, for anyone over the age of 28 to venture into a club or bar on a Saturday night, and truly horrifying when it came with a shirt unbuttoned to their chest and/or wearing a mini skirt? When did our parents get old and we started to act like them? Meryl, Pierce, Judy, HELP! There are no guidelines for this gig we call life, but anyone who’s really looking and really listening knows when it’s being done well or not so well. My only consolation is the startlingly detailed picture we are getting on how not to do it well must stand us in good stead for our own retirement years. Right?