'Age Ain't Nothing but a Number' and in quoting this song title, I possibly give away an approximate idea of mine. This tune by 90's R & B Princess, Aaliyah, was one of the soundtracks to my youth, along with Jodeci, Brandy, Mary J Blige and Toni Braxton, amongst others. I shimmied to this music whilst Miley was busy learning to crawl and eat solids, not twerking. These tunes ran alongside the other side to my musical personality, Pulp, Blur, Oasis and all things Britpop. Yes born in 1977, I am now 40.
As a tween, before the term was coined, I looked at 40 year olds and they seemed old. They were proper grown-ups. They celebrated wedding anniversaries in double figures. They complained about mortgage rates, also in double figures. They had wrinkles and grey hairs; danced to the dance-floor at Dos and went on a family holiday, not their mates' divorce celebration jagerbomb fest in Benidorm.
My close friends range in age from around mine to 60 and they are all, without exception, feisty, bright, opinionated, funny, insightful women. They all work hard; have mortgages; care for a family member whether a child or another; occasionally drink more than their allotted weekly units; travel and take an interest in the world. Some barely have a wrinkle; there is rarely a grey hair visible and none are old, at least, not to me.
'Perception is all', an old boss of mine used to say (I use old as in a long time ago, she was only in her late thirties therefore, was not old). So, my perception is this, I used to think I should be out Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights or I was missing out. Indeed, the frantic rush to get into a good pub by 9:45pm on a Sunday in the days of 10:30pm closing, felt heady and exciting, if a little stressful. But now, I can happily enjoy a glass of good wine and a chatter with a friend in a pub on a Wednesday and curl up with 'Countryfile' on Sunday and am secure enough to not fret that there is some new drink, club, bar or event that I am missing. I blithely abandon books. If I start to read and they don't engage, I don't assume it is me that isn't 'getting it', that I'm 'failing to understand'. I just think, that's not for me and move on, after all, the world and indeed my own book shelves are groaning with stunning reads that I am yet to discover.
I was never comfortable in towering heels. I have walked home barefoot clutching shoes that have shown me as much affection as a really bad, inappropriately chosen but devilishly handsome boyfriend, on many occasion and now feel no shame in living in comfy vans and ballet flats with the occasional boot based affair.
I used to buy magazines and tried to work fashion intended for tall skinny minis around my curvy hipped, 34" frame, both soul destroying and ridiculous. I now pick and mix so if it is an 'on trend' TopShop tee with a not 'on trend' style of jeans, if it suits my shape, style and mood I feel better and look better for it.
I used to concern myself with what people thought of me and this is a tricky one, as I still do, but not to the extent and not in the way I used to. So, I care if the parents at my children's school talk to me, which wasn't a consideration in my pre-parenting twenties and I care about being kind and getting along with people because I like people and I don't like rudeness or upsetting anyone, if I can help it. But I also don't feel I have to become best friends with and impress everyone I meet. Firstly, I have learnt that this isn't possible and secondly it isn't practical. If a third were needed it is because I am already incredibly secure in my friendships. I value them so highly that at my recent and rather extended birthday celebrations, I could've burst out crying at just how much I love and respect them. If that sounds gushing, I will not apologise, because another thing I have realised by my age is that true friends show their metal through the difficult relationships, unfulfilling careers, worries about family, money issues, illnesses and deaths and not just when they're holding back your hair after one too many bottles of Diamond White or Castaway (or whatever the modern day equivalent is), although that is a true friend duty too, thankfully not often required, not at my age.
Again, perception is all and a Millennial may look at me and see the wrinkles that I don't dwell on, think my ballet flats make me look stumpy, think my attitude a tad delusional and see me in the way I used to see 'old people'. Maybe it is all wonky perception on my part because there are issues and difficulties around ageing and many will experience problems with some or all, including poor health, finances, career options, loneliness and myriad more and I don't dismiss the seriousness of any.
But maybe the thing to cling to about ageing comes from recognition that time is marching on and we have to make the most of it. Much comes down to attitude, I have a particularly sprightly 80+ year old aunty and yet have met those many years younger who can mug my mood and sap my strength with their hunched shoulders and moans.
I think the thing that I've acknowledged as I age is that life is short, it is moving pretty fast (to misquote an '80's classic) and that we had better jolly well make the best and most of it whilst we're here, because the one thing that we will never know is what our final number will be and when it will be called up.