I think I’m getting old. No, really, I am. Oh, stop sneering. I know I’m only 40, (emphasis on only), and still have a good few months to lay claim to being that young.
One recent Sunday on a lazy drive contemplating another five-day interruption of my weekends, I had a moment of clarity. A revelation. See, I listen to talk radio on weekdays but on weekends they play crap music so I switch stations. This particular Sunday I quietly hummed along to a Rick Astley song, followed by Marvin Gaye’s “What’s going on”, Mike and the Mechanics and so on. At the end of my 30 minute drive I realised I had enjoyed seven songs back-to-back on a programme dubbed the Golden Oldies, and it hit me, OMG, I’m old. I listened to a Golden Oldies show on a talk radio station on a weekend, and enjoyed it! Death. By aging!
Look, I know some youngsters who listen to ‘adult contemporary’ music. But this was different. Enjoying seven Golden Oldies in a row is inconvertible evidence that Mother Nature has caught up with me.
Growing old creeps up on you, it doesn’t just happen. No. It starts with little things like that newspaper vendor whom you thought of as being in the same ballpark as you age-wise thanking you for a tip with the words, “thanks Malume!(thanks uncle!)”. The poor guy didn’t understand why I did a double take when he said those words, he had no idea he had gone to my core and made a tiny but visible crack on my fragile ‘youthful’ ego. When the petrol attendant does the same you know something about is not the same anymore.
Not that I’m in denial and think being twenty four forever is cool or anything, No. I just didn’t think I was “uncle” material just yet. It’s one thing to be excluded from applying for that business subsidy for the youth because you are over 35 but to be placed in the “uncle” category? Damn, that’s something else. Some bones in my body don’t take kindly to being “uncle” material.
The aging process is really sneaky. You stand a better chance of catching a six-year-old peeling off that one sugar crystal from your tea saucer than you do of catching the aging process in action. You don’t go to bed one night being young and wake up old in the morning. No it’s a process that’s eerily silent, insidious in a way.
Look I’d be lying if I told you the aging process leaves no clues along the way. You get plenty of clues. No, I’m not referring to 21st birthday invitations drying up. That’s not growing old, it’s just growing growing up.
I’m talking about realizing that current fashion trends are skinny this and skinny that, and if like me you’ve sworn you would never be caught dead in skinny jeans and pointy shoes, you’re in trouble. You know something’s not right when that clothing retail store that you were so loyal to in your twenties and thirties stocks nothing but skinny jeans and pointy shoes. As if that’s not bad enough, the shops on either side of your once-favourite shop stock even more skinnier jeans and shoes so pointy you can walk right into a circus act.
And it’s not as though I own vinyl records or anything. I’m trying to stay relevant you know. Honestly, I try. It’s not my fault that I don’t think pointed shoes and skinny jeans look funny on a grown man. But the more I look around me, the more I realize that I have to hunt down that special shop that still keeps “normal” fit jeans. On the bright side, the aging process does give you clues.
The clues, just like the aging process are there for everyone to see. If you suddenly develop interest in mature activities that require a lot of patience then Father Time is announcing his presence in your life. Take going fishing for instance, at twenty-five I would have never given the activity a second thought. Recently I’ve taken to spending a whole Saturday trying to persuade very elusive fish that their interests lie outside their natural habitat. The fish haven’t taken a liking to me so far but I still get home to announce proudly that “I spent a brilliant day out fishing with the boys”. I suspect the lack of evidence in the form of fish makes it difficult for anyone to argue against suspect aging-related afflictions.
Some clues are just direct. I’m talking real life clues like your little sister saying to your face, “Damn, my brother is old”, and having a good old chuckle for effect. Or suddenly realizing that staying awake past 10pm takes a lot of effort and planning. That 10pm World Cup game will cost you plenty in the days ahead.
I thought something was not quite right when people whom I thought are my age always took a reverential step backwards for me at weddings and funerals and always seemed to have this little uncomfortable looks on their faces if I stayed beyond the greeting stage. Being politely offered a chair a respectful distance away made me a little suspicious, and when the young man said, ” there you are groot maan(old man), no need for you to stand like these young people”. The crack on my youthful ego widened.
The most conclusive evidence that I am old came from my own flesh and blood. It all happened one morning before our trip for school. We were running a little late and as I hurriedly dressed up in the bedroom I overheard the following most painful conversation between my four-year old daughter and her six year old brother. And you thought they were just innocent little children, ha!!
“My brother, you are six years old, right?”
“Yes, and you are four years old”, my little boy responded with confidence.
” Do you know what I’m gonna do when I’m very old, when I’m twenty four – ”
“You want to be twenty four? I don’t want to be twenty four. That’s grown up”, my wise six-year-old boy said. I could only imagine the look on his face.
“Don’t you ever want to grow up, like mommy and daddy?” His little sister asked.
” No, I don’t want to be grown up like them. Do you know what happens when you grow up to be as old as mommy and daddy? Do you know? You have to look after yourself. Just like the teenage mutant ninja turtles do. Do you want that?”
My little girl is silent now. Obviously considering the ramifications of looking after herself should she grow up.
“Ok, I won’t grow up. Do you know how old mommy and daddy are?” She asks.
“They are very old, very old – ”
” They are so old we’ll never know how old they are”, my little girl adds.
I was mortified. Listening to this serious exchange between the two little people who are the apples of my eye reaching the conclusion that I’m so old it’s beyond their grasp shattered any remaining notion in me that some people could view me as looking too young for my age. My own flesh and blood consigning me to that group of people who’ve ‘been there and done that’.
At that point I walked out of the bedroom before they got silly notions in the head of taking over the house because their old man’s past it. Not on my watch. Wait till you are ten. Me, very old, ha!
See, I’ve always harboured this silly belief that I look good for my age and I had ‘proof’ of this. Last November at the beginning of a 10k race I got into a conversation with a 50 year old lady. I know her age because we exchanged ages for the purposes of our discussion on ultra marathons.”F…k, you don’t look that at all, I was guessing you’re in you’re in your early thirties”. See, I told you I had proof. Sadly I had no camera to record the look on her face to cheer myself up every time I’m reminded that “youth” is not a category I should tick on application forms.
But as with all traumatic processes, acceptance comes after denial. And with acceptance, peace.
With acceptance came new realizations. Realization that there are a few things that I’ve seen that some youths haven’t. I got to watch tennis before the ladies outfits came to resemble the Rio Carnival in terms of colour, way back when Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova always wore white and there was nothing to distract you when watching tennis. You know, when Andre Agassi’s hairdo resembled a drummer from a heavy-metal band. These days a tennis player looks odd when they wear all-white.
When watching soccer I can excitedly shout to my wife during a game, “see that guy there, yes, the one in the suit, yes yes the Manchester United team manager, Ryan Giggs, I watched him make his debut, today he’s managing the team”. Come to think of it, most of my childhood heroes are now team managers, balding or TV soccer pundits.
It’s ok to age gracefully though, to look your age. It’s ok to be part of that generation of people whose childhood heroes and megastars are now into their golden years or have passed on, without making any “reality” shows on TV to hang on to their fame. That tells me I too can lay claim to having seen a thing or two in my time.
Although I have accepted my fate in aging gracefully, I refuse to understand that a normal human being can wear sun glasses indoors, carry on a conversation with headphones stuck in their ears, chat on their phone whilst sending that all-important instant message on their smartphone. When I see a “youth” carrying on like that, then I get a warm fuzzy feeling in my tummy that reassures me that it’s ok to be “uncle” age.
The other day I sat watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles with my six-year old boy. I could see the awe in his eyes. He thinks the world of those mutants and their Mutagen Gel that solves all their problems. And that’s when it hit me. When he said to his little sister that when you are old you look after yourself like the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles, that was the highest sign of respect he could accord to his “very old parents”, so old that he could never possibly know our ages. So old that they can look after themselves and their kids, without Mutagen Gel.
I suddenly like being old. I am a Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle.