This week my goddaughter is 18. She was 17 last year, obviously, and passed her driving test, so it shouldn’t really have come as much of a shock that she’s 18 this year, but it has! I remember her metamorphosis : an idea, a bump, a baby. Her mum, one of my oldest and bestest friends, phoned me from the hospital soon after she was born, and I can still recall with clarity her helpless, endearing cries. I saw her shortly afterwards, and can see in my minds’ eye, the nick on her tiny face where they cut her from the womb, less easily than imagined.
I don’t know what happened. She grew up, and I missed it I guess! Absorbed in my own changes and happenings, good and bad, a tiny girl has grown into a young woman.
The thing is, my own ‘coming of age’ (celebrated at both 18 and 21 – we hadn’t quite focussed on which to celebrate when I was that age!) only seems like yesterday. I don’t feel any older than I did then, inside at least. My body may give the game away, but my mind refuses to accept that decades, not weeks, have passed since then. I suppose ageing is like that. It creeps up on us, until one day we look in the mirror and realise we are officially ‘old’. I am not willing to concede the fact just yet, however! My father is 81 this year. He has always been a fit and active man, a semi-professional sportsman when he was younger; he’s never really stopped believing that he isn’t still agile and youthful. He attempts things that you wouldn’t sensibly expect an octogenarian to attempt. Thankfully he is still fit, has great reflexes, and is relatively healthy, but after heart surgery and a knee replacement, crawling about on roof tops isn’t necessarily the best form of staying active! Walking down a gorge last year, a little too close to the edge, I remember him saying that it would be OK if he fell, as he’d just grab onto the sides and haul himself back up! The thing is, he really believes that his reactions and strength are good enough for him to be able to do that. He still believes he is young and invincible. My response is ambivalent – I don’t know whether to applaud or chastise. I admire the fact that he stubbornly refuses to adhere to the ‘rules’ of ageing: he stays up late and sleeps in of a morning, his appetite is as voracious as ever, and his diary is as full as, or perhaps even fuller, than mine. I wonder if he feels like his 21st birthday was a few years ago, rather than over half a century away?
The point is not that we age, or that time appears to speed up as we do so, but that we ‘seize the day’ and make the most of the opportunities that come our way. At 18 you have an entire life spanning out before you: you can do anything, go anywhere, chose who you want to be and what you want to do. You don’t know, however, if your life will be short or long; whether you will be looking back at 50, or 80, and wondering where the time has gone and what you did with it, or whether your life will be cut short at 30 or 40, or even younger. I wish I could explain to my goddaughter how fast her life will travel, how soon she will be married with children of her own – if that’s the route she chooses. Of course, she wouldn’t pay me any heed. I’m ‘old’ like her mum, to be at best, politely ignored, and at worse, rebelled against and reviled. I wouldn’t have listened to me at her age either. I knew best, my parents knew nothing relevant. You can never put a wise head on young shoulders because it’s life’s experiences that, for the most part, makes us wise and sensible, although hopefully never too wise, or too sensible to ‘act our age’!
The most I can do is wish my goddaughter all the best for the journey ahead. I won’t ask that she has no pain in her life, but that she always has good friends and family to support her when times are hard. My life thus far has not been without tribulation, and at 18 I could not have envisaged the twists and turns my life would take, but I’ve survived the rough and the smooth, as most of us do, carried through by the joys and beauty and happiness we experience, and the safety net of good friends and family. She has had a supportive and loving family, and that will count for a lot.
Happy 18th birthday Katie!