“You’re growing up too fast!” I heard myself saying to my youngest grandchild recently.
Seems like a normal response from a granny to her youngest grandchild. But as I heard the words and saw his somewhat shy and maybe embarrassed look, I wondered what I was really trying to say or what I was feeling when I said this. Did I really mean I was sorry he was growing up?
It sounded as if I thought he was doing something wrong, that he shouldn’t be growing! But in fact, he was right on schedule, growing taller and stronger each year and slowly turning into an adult…just like he was supposed to do, just like I wanted him to do.
It sounded like I wanted him to stay a baby, that I was disappointed that he was growing, maybe even that I liked him better when he was little and younger.
Unless you’re a cheese or a wine, growing older isn’t much valued in our Western society. We are told by marketers and advertisers everyday that we need to look younger and feel younger, indicating looking our age or feeling our age is unacceptable.
Even the word “aging” is used when someone is showing signs of defectiveness. “My, how she’s aged over the last few months!”, meaning she’s rapidly decaying, or not-so-good any more.
And here I was unintentionally adding to this cultural message that bodies must always be cute and pretty, young, small and un-pimpled.
Without consciously thinking about my intention and what I value, I slipped into an accepted cliche and popular response. Maybe I can magically change reality if I don’t acknowledge aging out loud and everything will stay the same and the fairy tale of happily-ever-after will truly happen…these beloved babies will always be babies!
Every once in a while, I too have been the reciprocator of this kind of magical thinking when a lovely soul says something like “You don’t LOOK 74! I would never have guessed you are that old.” And I blush and take it as a compliment, like as if I’ve done something wonderful, and say “Oh really? Thank you!” But in reality it only makes me more aware that I shouldn’t be aging, that I should try to look as young as possible, that it isn’t good to be 74 and look 74!
Besides when I view the process of growing old with realistic eyes, without magical thinking, I agree with Michael Caine: “To me, growing old is great. It’s the very best thing – considering the alternative.”
I’m not saying that I want brutal honesty or rudeness. But a more authentic evaluation of age would be welcome. Maybe something like, “My, you are aging well…such a vibrant 74 year old.”
I want my grandchildren to know that growing up is a good thing. I want them to know that each age and stage of life is good and something to be valued. I want them to know they are wonderful right now, just as they are, and I will love them at every age and every size.
But, one thing I know is I’m ready for the next time I see one of my grandchildren. I’m ready to say, “My goodness! Every time I see you, you’ve grown some more. And you are doing such a good job of it!”
What are some other ways we inadvertently contribute to the magical thinking about age? How do you feel about this?