Have you noticed that more and more people look younger and younger? And people of an age that used to seem old are suddenly not so old any longer?
My father said that old was something people were if they were more than halfway between you and your parents. If you are 6, high school graduates are old. If you are 40 and your parents are 70, people 55 and up will appear old to you. Once you get to 55 yourself, that is really no age; not like those over 70 – now, they are old. At least if your parents are still around at 85.
Who were the first seriously old people in your life? Did you know your grandparents? Or great-grand-parents?
My paternal grandmother was, although objectively old, very spry. She lived to be 100 and was still ocean bathing at 91. Consequently, my idea of what old means, what an 80-year-old is supposed to be capable of, (and by a couple of decades’ inference of what I am supposed to be capable of,) is on the active side.
Research shows that when our expectations are positive, we behave one way, while if our expectations are negative, we behave differently. Expectations include our stereotypes for what old is, and that is influenced by how we were primed in childhood on the notion of old. If we had an infirm grandparent living with us, we might get a different idea about old age than if we went ocean bathing with our 91-year-old grandmother. That is not to say that we shouldn’t take care of our infirm parents out of fear of harming our children – but we might make sure they are also exposed to elderly people who are not infirm. And help them understand that their grandparent was not always infirm.
This whole notion came to me because Diane Wyzga (who else?) prompted me to think about jumping off the garden shed as a kid. And then she asked if my children knew this side of me?
They do. I am not very secretive about the stupid things I have done in my life. More lessons can usually be passed on from the stupid things, and our mistakes make us more approachable. (Besides, they saw me reroofing part of the house and regularly blow the gutters clean, so they know I have a thing about walking around on top of buildings.)
But the kids have only really known their grandmother after she no longer could run around. They wouldn’t expect her rock climbing and would have a hard time imagining her as a tennis champion. Yet, their grandmother was once that person.
As a present for my mother’s 60th birthday, I brought her to the sports paradise I have described in “Chariots of Fire”. It was an interesting trip where I began to see that there was more to my mother than I had imagined.
A very nice English doctor invited us to play tennis; he would play one end of the court and the two of us could guard the other. My mother didn’t look like she could run around a lot, so he expected an easy win. She couldn’t run, but she could hit. Low and hard and right between his feet. Or down the lines. She didn’t need to run because with the force and spin he had to parry, he needed to play safe to the middle. And that was where she had planted herself. I hardly touched the ball but had a great game all the same. I knew my mother had been good; this was the first time I saw the shadow of how good.
Unfortunately, I caught a bad cold and couldn’t speak for several days. When we went out to dinner, I got a pen and would write on the paper covering the tablecloth. And that is how I discovered that my mother still remembered to write shorthand. I was 24 before I learned that she could write shorthand.
While I miss my father so very often, I am grateful that I have been given this time to get to know more about my mother. She stood in his shadow for much of her life / all of my life. There are so many stories I had never heard before, that she tells me now.
Do you know your mother’s stories? Did you ever ask?
Diane’s question, whether my kids knew of my youthful endeavors, was spot on; not for me, but for the generation that came before me. And I wonder if that was characteristic for the greatest generation not to talk about themselves? Perhaps particularly for the women?
I don’t know whether I have told my kids all the stories I have put on BizCatalyst 360°. Perhaps they need to be older to appreciate them because, after all, when I was their age, I wasn’t as interested in listening as I am now.
My mother is 98; it has been a while since I stopped taking for granted that I could hear her stories the next time we met.