Not long ago, I was rather taken aback by my 10 year old daughter’s enquiry as to whether I’d prefer to be buried or caramelised. Once I’d established that she was in fact referring to cremation, I was forced to confront my mortality yet again, something that preoccupies me more than it used to, as 50 and beyond hurtles towards me at breakneck speed. In common with many people (I assume), impending death isn’t something I enjoy examining too closely or too often, although if I came to a sweet and sticky end, it would be a small but satisfying consolation.
The irony that my children’s hormones are ramping up, just as mine are in terminal decline hasn’t escaped me. I’m going through puberty in reverse and at times it’s hard to decipher who’s more irrational, them or me. As far as I’m aware, “It’s a difficult age” was said about 47 by no one ever, but there are days when I don’t recognise the person I’ve become. My harassed and middle-aged inner self has made a bid for external recognition and so I can be found either making chutney or guzzling soya milk like nobody’s business in a bid to harness oestrogen through any means possible. When your reading matter is ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’ (Nora Ephron), and you identify with it strongly on a deep and visceral level, you know you’re in trouble.
My hair, along with my neck, had been causing me heartache until, in desperation, I had the frizz-fest reconfigured into a short bob. I was rather pleased with the result until, not content with killing me off and cremating me, my daughter decreed that my more manageable hairdo made me look like “a Karen”. Later that day, and performing a form of dance that I felt could easily be misinterpreted, I kindly requested that she refrained from pole-dancing in the kitchen. At bedtime, still indignant, it was explained that she had in fact been experimenting with an interpretive form of “ball-ay”. Maybe it was sour grapes on my part, but I reminded her that she’d been less than complimentary to me earlier on, so perhaps we were now even. She wasn’t buying it and the mood was only lightened by her older brother jovially yelling “Goodnight Karen!” to me as another day in paradise drew to a close.
The realisation that pondering what to do with the rest of your life is helpful in some ways but pointless in others and therefore a double-edged sword, because this is the rest of your life. So while I’m completely down with carpe diem, there are now experiences requiring physical bravery that I shall never do or never do again. During the summer I was unable to summon up the courage to demonstrate a cartwheel to a young friend who was keen to learn, for fear of snapping what I perceived at the crucial moment to be brittle-boned wrists. Similarly, a bold, not-to-be-repeated foray into body boarding with the children only led to stiff shoulders and the very real fear of relinquishing my bikini bottoms to the Atlantic forever. The view could be put forward that maturity is learning to quit while you’re ahead, preferably hanging on to the last remaining shreds of self-respect and dignity as you do.
If it was only me that was suffering from age-related troubles, I’d be worried, but it isn’t. Tangling with a mop put my husband’s back out for days recently and rendered him practically immobile, although the less said about his body’s extreme reaction to the unfamiliar act of mopping, the better. We were entertaining friends on our terrace later that same day, when the theme song from Dirty Dancing came up on Spotify. In these circumstances we’d usually attempt some form of lift in honour of Baby and Johnny, but on this occasion it evidently wasn’t going to happen. It might have been a blessing in disguise because a previous attempt some time ago had led me to being twirled head-first into a solid stone pillar. As a result of this incident and any consequent brain damage, I have often commented that I could literally be a ticking time bomb.
All this being the case, it might be opportune to state my final wishes. When the time comes, I’d like to be played out to ‘I’ve Had the Time of My Life’ and it goes without saying that, naturally, I’d prefer to be caramelised.