(This was first published in Le News 25 September 2014)
‘How much longer do you plan to go on living?’ the seven-year-old asked me the other day, after giving me one of those long, appraising looks that children are so good at.
I like to think that this question had nothing to do with greed for her inheritance (which currently stands at: my wedding ring; a nice pair of earrings; and several drawers full of denim jeans in assorted shapes and sizes).
No. I think she asked because I’m turning forty-four next month and that seems so old to her that she can hardly believe I’m still tottering about on my geriatric legs.
That’s okay. No offence taken. I remember being in my early twenties and thinking there really wasn’t much point in living past thirty because the people I knew in their thirties were incredibly boring. They never went out at night; they just got together at each other’s houses. And they were obsessed with cooking! They’d start planning that night’s dinner sometime in the mid-afternoon, instead of – thrillingly – waiting to see what might be in the fridge when they got back from work. In my case that was seldom more than a bottle of vodka and several nail polishes, but I had a string of takeaway restaurants on my route home, and absolutely no gastronomic standards. Life was good and forty wasn’t even on the radar.
Then I met someone and … well. Here we are. That’s where fooling around on the first date will get you: married, with two children and a house full of noisy pets.
So now I have all the trappings of adulthood: a lounge suite that sort of matches; a fridge with real food in it; insurances; wrinkles; a compression bandage for my left knee. But deep down inside … I don’t feel like I’ve ever really grown up. The real me is still a twenty-something, skipping around Joburg without a care in the world (except being mugged or hijacked, of course, but you know what I mean. No other cares in the world).
I don’t think I’m alone in this. My mother, now in her seventies, once told me that she’s never felt a day over twenty-five. And I suspect that most people feel this way, to some extent: inside the most buttoned-up of businessmen is the hairy youth they used to be, playing air-guitar like it’s an actual instrument that they actually know how to play; inside the most professional of businesswomen there’s a girl going crazy on the dance floor; buried deep in the most responsible of parents is a younger, wilder version, who once did things that they’ll never tell their children about. Or, maybe they’ll tell their children about these things as cautionary tales, but they’ll never admit how much fun they were.
Anyhow. Back to birthdays. I do believe I’m overdue for a mid-life crisis, which I was intending to have as soon as I could clear my diary. And for it, I was planning to get a really big tattoo, increased surface area being one of the benefits of ageing.
‘Vraiment?’ asked the seven-year-old (a phrase and teenage tone that she recently picked up from her Furby).
I was just starting to defend myself in a considered, grown-up sort of way (‘Don’t tell me what to do! You’re not the boss of me!’) when the smaller child burst into noisy tears.
‘You can’t be in the middle of your life,’ she sobbed. ‘You have to live forever!’
So there we go. It seems I’m too old for youthful high-jinks and too young for an Indian summer.
Happy birthday to me.