Monday, 15 August 2011

Mum's 80th: defying ageist expectations

My Mum's just celebrated 80 years on the planet.

Nobody can ever quite believe she's 80. She's never adopted a one-size-fits-all blue rinse. She's never decided it's time to talk down to anybody younger than her, or say "In my day..." as if she's already turned up her toes.

She thinks young. She's full of gentleness and wisdom that has won her friends of all ages all her life.

So it's no affectation that she genuinely listens and tries to learn from every new situation, idea, sound and development in the world around her. She has a real taste for adventure, mixed with a healthy dose of circumspection, too, and has been up in a helicopter and the back of a Harley Davidson in her 70s.

In fact, to go on a motorbike again, the chosen mode of transport for her and my dad when I was a child, was one of her dearest wishes. A friend from her church fulfilled that dream for her, lending her his wife's helmet and leathers. She went speeding along with the wind in her hair and rolled back the years with her delight. This was an exhilarating joy she enthusiastically embraced and enjoyed with every fibre of her being.

She chooses to be herself, not to play at being elderly.

A few years ago, in 2004 when They Might Be Giants played the Leeds Irish Centre, she was there in the mosh pit at my side, vying to stay close enough to keep our place near John Linnell's keyboard and see his every facial expression and catch his every word. What fun we had that night. Mum not trailing along as a passenger, but just another happy fan in the audience.

So it's no surprise. When their long-awaited latest album 'Join Us' finally hit my iPod last month, Mum has been eager to learn the words, enjoy the lyrics and sing along to the irresistible tunes. She also eagerly devours news of the Johns from interviews and appearances, such as reach us via the web here in Yorkshire.

'They' are one of those bands who have no cut off age at either end of the demographic, from toddlers to seniors, but Mum's tastes also embrace many other bands, as well as classical and folk. We share so much! She reads and keeps abreast of current affairs and strives to understand enough about new technologies not to be uninformed and pushed into ignorance which might stop her getting alongside those of different generations.

All this after 20 years spent in turmoil, when, at the height of her powers and possibilities as a young wife and mother, she had to look after my Dad after his severe stroke and tackle every job and awkward, demeaning situation thrown her way with all her usual grace and humour when inside, she was filled with panic and hidden terrors. All this, and bringing up a young child to adulthood. I was that child, and saw at first hand what a remarkable job she did, in spite of her retiring, humble and self-doubting nature, on all these fronts.

To see her flourish now, in her golden years, freed from earlier crushing duties and her own ill-health when she was my age, to discover herself, is a privilege I'm thankful for every day. Not least I'm so grateful how she is so selflessly here for me, now I too have been stopped in the midst of my career by an illness that pulled the carpet from under my running.

So how did she spend her birthday? Earlier in the week, there was a surprise tea party with her friends from her own fellowship in her home village, with much laughter and new happy memories being made. Then there were many visits, cards and flowers from those who know her well, and others who she has made friends with later in life but who love her just as well.

We had lunch at a local pub with another friend, and the topics of conversation and laughter went on, as this feisty, generous lady proved that 80 is a notch on a gatepost as you pass by, not a sticky label to fasten you into a box!

Later we listened to music (yes - of course, including TMBG!), sang and hooted with laughter, and communicated with friends and family all over the world. We ended her big day watching another of her lifetime heroes, the beautiful Gregory Peck on DVD, one of my presents to her.

Another friend knew that scented hankies and knitting patterns don't really float Mum's boat, now or at any age, so gave her a jokey knitted octopus, a leg for each decade, which she wore on her head for some photos to make her friends of all ages smile.

Happy birthday, you lovely lady, beautiful inside and out! I'm so proud to have been able to celebrate your life on your big birthday this week. Long may you go on defying ageist expectations, and radiating your wisdom, insights and love into the lives of those of us blessed enough to know you! XXXX

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