Nothing will hammer home the approach of a new decade of age quite so adeptly as a teenage girl. It’s Sunday, December 11th, I’ve acquired enough shopping to elongate my arms at least another two inches (which I am to feel mainly in my neck and shoulders for the next week) and I’m standing in the queue at Primark in the centre of Reading. In front of me tower two smooth haired, leggings-clad teenage girls of an indefinable, wilderness-angst age. One of them notices one of the impulse buys lining the queue walkway, a handbag organiser that I may or may not have been surreptitiously admiring. She snorts and says, “Oh for god’s sake, what a Grandma thing to buy!”
And there it is. Mortality.
It’s been a suspicion of mine for some time that I’m no longer quite ‘down with the kids’, possibly because I still think of it as ‘down with the kids.’ This suspicion was confirmed when I felt the need to write myself a ‘to do’ list on Monday and then happened to glance a rather jaded eye down it.
That’s right, my memory has reached the stage of degradation whereby I need to have ‘de-flea bedroom’ written down in order for me to actually remember to do it. You’d think being bitten alive on a nightly basis would be reminder enough. You really would.
But, you know, there are benefits to getting older. I wouldn’t want to go back. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back 15 years. Every year brings new experiences. I had a baby, I got married, I wrote two books, bought, sold and bought another house, got promoted to editor of a magazine. I’ve done a lot for 30. And every week brings more new experiences. For example, this week I learned that the secret to de-fleaing one’s house requires a great deal of pure, unedited, incanfuckingdescent rage.
I’ve learned new words. I’ve learned to feel other words. Love. Grief. Joy. Pride. Labour. Words that, at 15, only spun and drifted from the tips of my fingertips, just as they should.
And, sometimes, things don’t feel all that different at all. Standing there in Primark, with presents for my loved ones digging grooves into my fingers, the queue shuffles forwards as the two girls began to discuss a party. “I don’t want to go to Alex’s ugly party,” one exclaims in a fit of pique. “I don’t even like him, he’s a ginge!” Ah. That old chestnut. I’ve certainly changed since I was 15* – I wouldn’t dream of allowing some bigoted, overgrown child’s comments to embarrass me these days – but perhaps the world of 15-year-olds hasn’t, that much. That bothers me. But it doesn’t surprise me.
Maybe that’s the saddest thing about getting older. When the surprises begin to fade into cynicism and innocence becomes a hard-eyed search for faults and cracks. It’s hard to be an optimist now. But not impossible… There’s so much still to look forward to – all the things I haven’t done yet. House renovations. Wedding anniversaries. More books to write and, hopefully – one day – publish. Family holidays. More babies, and guiding them through their own wilderness-angst years. Perhaps these are the sad, past-it ambitions of a handbag-organiser-admirer. I’ll take them any day. Cynicism hasn’t totally consumed me yet. After all, I’m only 30.
*Perhaps my new year’s resolution – or new decade’s resolution, if you will – should be to drop the whole “that’s the same as racism” response I came up with at 15 and launch into song instead…