We just got home from a mad dash back to the town we grew up in (as opposed to our hometown, where we live now). The principle purpose of our trip was, of course, to visit our respective aging parents who have assorted medical problems, and are approaching the time when we don’t know when/if will be the last time we see them.
It was a very odd time, and we were taken aback by how old they’ve become while we weren’t looking. How frail their bodies have become, and how disconnected they are from the things we see as common and normal. Not in the sense of cognitive impairment, but a lack of connection to the day-to-day details of being alive in modern times. It’s partly the big modern things like computers and all the associated devices, programs and hacks we youngsters use all day every day, and partly the little things like the latest government policy, tv show/band/movie/book or natural disaster.
I know it seems quite laughable, but it is also quite unsettling and thought-provoking. We were revisiting our past, and seeing our future – like looking into a mythic mirror that shows you what will become of you. Our parents (if they were looking properly) were seeing their past, and perhaps feeling the end of their future approaching. (How weird must it be to see your child looking “old and fat”? And why is it that some parents can’t stop themselves from making those kind of comments?)
But we have also had the very great joy of spending time with the next generation; learning about emoji code, Lego Death Stars and catching the bus home from school. It was delightful to spend time with these bright, confident and precious children. And very interesting to see how our childhoods have affected the way our siblings parent – the different kinds of emphasis and de-emphasis. I imagine they’re doing their best to avoid recreating their own traumas, but creating a new and different set nonetheless. The children seem very well-adjusted at present.
We were quite busy catching up, but I took some pictures, updated to Instagram, made random comments on Twitter and dropped in on Facebook. It’s a more or less chronological collage of surface thoughts spread across the aether, and it occurred to me that if any of our parents kept up with this stuff they would know what we were up to. But having said that, it’s all superficial – none of it really deals with what we think or feel about what we’ve seen and done. It doesn’t capture the strange dislocation we felt in a town where things look the same only different. My favourite beer garden is now an actual garden bed. The travel agency where I booked my one-way ticket to London is a lingerie store. The best place for a toasted ham, cheese and mushroom sandwich is a shoe shop. Best workplace ever(!) a hotel. The café where I learned to drink “proper” coffee had been replaced by a franchise version of a different place where I used to enjoy a snack on the way to the best workplace ever(!). It’s weird. I’ll say it again, it’s the same but it’s all different.
A while back, when I talked about the virtue of friendship, I mentioned the continuum of families, and my need to constrain and manage our family relationships. This means we don’t speak with our parents as much as some others do, but I imagine if they were on social media we would hardly talk at all. We would probably all assume that the surface turbulence they see there would be an adequate substitute for participation in our actual lives. But would it be better than nothing? I don’t know the answer, perhaps you do.
Having observed our older, younger and own generations, I am reminded how important is to learn to deal with change and keep up with technological advancement. So here are five things I learned during our visit:
1. Include renovation and redecoration in your home maintenance schedule.
It doesn’t have to be big, it might be just updating taps and light switches, installing LED lights, repainting walls and replacing carpets. Among other things, up-to-date technology can save you money in operating costs, but houses that are on trend can also be worth a great deal more than those that require substantial upgrades. I am going to be taking another look at the push button light switches while I do some more research on home automation. More on this in my book Minimally Viable Housekeeping.
2. Include updates in your wardrobe plan.
I’m not sure about you, but I want to look like the girl that danced on the bar on VE day, not the old woman she grew into. I confess I have always been a bit dubious about keeping up to date with fashion (still am) but I can now see that when your clothes are out of date they really do suggest you might be too. You can still dress like the girl you were, but it must be a modern reinterpretation of the trends – that will be slightly different clothing shapes (e.g. thinner collars), fabric colours, patterns and fibre blends. And I think this has to extend to periodic upgrades of hair cut/colour and makeup application. I cover this in more detail in my book Signature Wardrobe Planning.
3. Embrace technological changes as they come.
We will never get our pre-internet lives back, and the times we currently live in are pre-next-big-thing-days. I’m not just talking computers and programming, but household, vehicle and food technologies as well. Early adoption might be good, but you don’t want to get stuck with the next Betamax, but you should probably get on board before you have to grapple with iPhone 76.
4. Keep your home and garden as neat and clean as if THE QUEEN might drop in at any moment.
It probably won’t be The Queen, but it would be nice for whoever it is to be able to touch the taps without wondering what they’re going to catch from them. Another good reason to live in a small house/apartment (less to keep clean). I really need to get over the dread of domestic duties…
5. Develop and maintain peak physical, mental and medical condition.
No ifs, no buts, no procrastination. Stop eating processed food and start eating home cooked food, prepared from scratch with good quality fresh produce. Move more. Sleep better. Keep working on the cryptic crosswords. And when your resolve fails you, visit an aged care facility to remind you what the potential costs are and refocus on the benefits.
As I say, it’s been an interesting trip. It’s been hard work and it’s made me think. It seems that mismatched direct marketing is the least of our ageing issues…
Do you have any plans for keeping up with the march of progress? See more in my book Planning a Life Worth Living.
Photo of three Generations c. 1880-1900, via State Library of Victoria