Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

The Joy of Being Older


I have been spending time with a friend who has an adorable nine-month-old baby. I love this baby for her cleverness and charm, and the sweetness of watching her discover the world. Being with them has brought home to me how my childrens’ baby time is over, and, while I loved it, how grateful I am to have moved on to the next stage. I am 40 and my youngest is four. I’ve just traveled with him to South Africa and Greece, and didn’t need to pack any special equipment – no prams, no special food, no nappies. He pulled his little roll-on suitcase and walked with his sisters the length and breadth of many airports.

I have spent the last ten years in dedicated service to small children. I adore my kids, and now I especially love their growing independence from me. I am no longer essential to their physical survival – any other kind adult could do my job. As they grow and shed their extreme neediness, I feel as if I have also emerged from a chrysalis. Their independence is perfectly matched to mine.

I spent all of last year in preparation for turning 40 in December, and then spent the next six months celebrating that birthday. It was a huge psychological turning point. I turned my mind to fitness, healthy eating and writing – doing things for me, my body and my psyche. At the risk of sounding smug, I feel as if I have arrived. I am not becoming, but being. And the best thing is, I have got at least 40 more years ahead of me to feel this way.

Today’s Observer has a brilliant focus on old age. The people they report on are extraordinary – a 98-year-old marathon runner, a 71-year-old yoga teacher, an 85-year-old sculptor – and what comes across is the fun they have in living. Of course, what  they share is the luck of good health, the fortune of living in the privileged West, but even so they have survived world wars, epidemics and economic disasters.

Here are some quotes:

For Mary, aspects of growing old are met with relief, even joy. “In a way, emotionally, you change back. I am freer now to feel intense excitement like I used to as an adolescent – being out of doors, for example, or listening to music. I somehow didn’t have time for that when I was bringing up my children and working full-time. I have been able to spend much more time with my youngest grandchild than with the older ones, and that’s been wonderful, too.” Jean Crossley, grandmother, 100

“Yoga can have a tremendous effect on you, whatever age you start,” she says, “but I find I don’t need to do much practice to keep supple, as my awareness of my body posture has become second nature over the years.” She reveals that yoga has a more meaningful message, too. “I’m aware of the fragility of health and that it can change without warning. So I always retain a sense of detachment – I’m not pleased with myself if I do a complicated yoga pose, I’m pleased for myself. You’ve never got life cracked. Yoga teaches you that.” Pam Horton, yoga teacher, 71

The key to a healthy old age, he says, is continuing to work and “doing something you like doing. You’re so much more likely to go on living if you’re happy, and making art makes us both happy.” London, where he has lived since he married Sheila 60 years ago, has been another important factor. “Old people are really a pain in the neck and one of the joys of living in London is that you see young people. You could isolate yourself and be less stressed, but one of the pleasures is seeing what’s going on.” Sir Anthony Caro, sculptor, 85

And for Fauja age isn’t even a consideration: “I do not consider myself to be old. From the moment I do that, I would lose everything, because age is a state of mind – as long as you’re positive you can do anything.” Fauja Singh, runner, 98

Apart from luck, the common denominator amongst these amazing people is joy. I’d risk saying that their wisdom, joy and pleasure in life has been partially responsible for their health and longevity. Their stories increase my belief that I have every chance of being a joyful 85-year-old yoga-practising writer.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

27 thoughts on “The Joy of Being Older

  1. I turn 40 soon too – not sure how I’m going to take it but I long ago decided to try and enjoy each age for what it is, and try not to waste the present by mourning the past. Easier said than done.

    This will get harder as age advances and positives become harder to find. I think my 40s are going to be cracking though … I’m looking forward to it!

  2. I agree with you on it being so much easier when children are school age. I love your positive attitude. We’re all going to age if we’re lucky, so the choice is to age gracefully or not. I love to see old people’s faces. Their lives are written on it, in the shape of wrinkles, preserving their most enduring expressions.

  3. I am turning 36 in January and consider myself ‘too old’ to have more children, but obviously that’s untrue. I’m just not sure that after having spent the last 16 years being a mom, if I want to relinquish that bit of independence that I’ve gained to fall back into the nappies. At the same time I miss having that one little person who is entirely dependent on me. Maybe I should get a cat?

    I don’t fear ageing except with respect to frailty. I don’t want to be old and have a walker/walking stick/wheelchair. I’d like to be 90 and using my own two feet to get around. I think if you have mobility you have independence. My gran was 98 when she died and she only started to falter when she stopped being able to get around.

  4. I had my last child at 46 years. Totally shocked myself, family and my family doctor. She has been a precious gift that I have never regretted receiving. I do notice that I’m raising her a little differently than I raised my other children as I have learned more since they were little.

  5. I’ve and been thinking about aging a lot too. I’ve also been getting over turning 40 and the aunt that I’m closest is about to turn 70 and has just moved into a retirement village. What I fear is alzheimers or dementia but what I think/hope is likely to happen is that, as I have through all the transitions in my life to date is that I will still be me. When I became a mother I didn’t suddenly metamorphise into a caricature of a stereotypical mother. I changed, yes, but I didn’t turn into a one dimensional being with only the qualities societally ascribed to mothers. And I suspect it will be thus as I grow older too.

    • I think what was so great about the Observer’s piece, Ms Make Tea, was that their interviewees were so whole and not one-dimensional. They were fabulous and interesting.

      • Oh dear! Just noticed all the typos in my comment. How embarrassing! In my defence when I commented I hadn’t had my first morning coffee yet and wasn’t properly awake.

  6. Beautifully put, although I just turned 40, I do not consider myself completely in my skin. I am still on that journey, in transition. But I admire your sense of ‘arrival’. Nice.

  7. Well, I’m terrified still of getting old, and watching the people I love get old. You’ve got a nice patch now with your children, but mine’s heading into deep teenage territory and then he’ll have adult problems like the rest of us. I admire your positivity, Charlotte, and yet I sort of want to put in a vote for worry and melancholy and anxiety. They ease from us sometimes, which is a relief, but they keep us in touch with something, too, humility and compassion, perhaps, I’m not sure. Am I sounding like a grumpy old witch? Sorry, if I am.

  8. Never a grumpy old witch, Litlove! Not possible. You have reminded me in the past that a bit of melancholy goes a long way, and I don’t forget that. However, I do think it’s possible to be positive while also being humble and compassionate. I don’t see them as mutually exclusive.

  9. You know, thinking about Litlove’s comment, I feel as though I’m becoming more aware of how hard it can be to grow old, but at the same time, that awareness makes me more likely to truly enjoy the benefits of youth I have now. I know it won’t last forever, and I want to make the most of it while I can.

  10. I have an 89 year old mother-in-law who is my inspiration! She is still working as an Anglican priest in the Karroo ( she was the first woman to be ordained after a career as prof of politics) and is so busy looking after the needs of others that she has no time to worry about herself, apart from eating sensibly and exercising regularly (walking in the mountains every morning – at 5.30am in summer!).

  11. Ooh I just did very intense yoga this morning. Right now I feel about 98. 😉

  12. Slowly Wee One, my youngest who is 20mths old\, is starting to be a little more independent from me and even that is bliss! I have started to feel that I have time to concentrate on me, my body and my interests again…. can’t wait till I don’t have to take the ‘Mary Poppins’ bag filled with snacks, juice bottles and nappies around!

  13. This fall I will have both kids in school all day, as they have been most of the summer so far (well, not in school, rather summer “adventure” programs). Part of me feels guilty that I am so glad to have them out of the house all day — I read a lot of homeschooler blogs, you see. But then another part of me acknowledges that this is who I am: someone who needs time alone, who needs to do adult work, and someone who loves her children madly when they come home in the afternoon.

    Besides, if I didn’t “follow my bliss” and totally subsumed my needs into my kids’, where would I get all that joy that will help me live a long, good life?

  14. Wonderful post. And very encouraging for a 36 year old who’s trying to get pregnant for the first time!

  15. What a wonderful post, Charlotte. Turning 40 is interesting – you do tend to take stock of your life up to now and pay some extra attention to where you want to go from here. But for me, the biggest decision was to SIMPLIFY. Stop trying to live in two countries. Stop trying to be an absentee landlord. Stop storing most of your worldly possessions – be reunited with them. Say no to some invitations and stay home, enjoying your new house and your husband. Don’t join Twitter 😉

    I hope to come to your yoga classes when we are both in our 80s!

  16. I was fine about turning 40, but I still have to come to terms with getting glasses. The trouble is that I can now see my wrinkles in the mirror. I used to have a nice soft focus illusion of youth!

    I agree with you though about getting your life back and discovering a new version of yourself once the children become more independant. I’ve got a long way to go before I feel I’m there. The journey might last me until I’m old, when I hope I’ll finally get round to taking up yoga again

  17. The only part I don’t like about growing older is the need for glasses. I simply cannot keep track of them, it’s ridiculous.

    However, I am not convinced that good health is due to luck. If that is true, then all the care I have been taking to eat clean food, drink pure water, keep my body and mind flexible and in shape are a waste of time. I believe that we create our health, and if we lose it it most likely can be traced to genetics and/or exposure to disease organisms or toxins. But it is so much easier to attribute good health to luck, that way we aren’t taxed with responsibility if it all falls apart.

    I notice the elders being interviewed talk about joy, being interested and involved, attitude, continuing to work; not about being lucky.

  18. I read that article and felt quite humbled! I’m torn about wanting to move on – but then I haven’t had ten years of small children yet! Must admit that I’ve noted our dudelet’s increasing capacity to play a supportive, contributing role in the family with a lot of relief.

  19. Pingback: Always Look on the Bright Side « Make Tea Not War

  20. Charlotte, getting older might be a source of joy if we know how to deal with it.

    I always recall Mark Twain’s quote: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”. Hence, every age has it’s own flavour; being in my 20s is totally different from being at 30s, 40s and so on. Anyway for me, I am in my 30s and I think the matter of it’s not about aging only but about growing up.

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