Exit, pursued by a bear….
We’re doing an awful lot of gadding about lately. I only realised how much when prompted by my mum’s chippy comment recently that she’d not ‘seen us properly’ for weeks. I huffed a bit, obviously, because that’s what daughters do, citing trips to Sainsbury’s various, plus a day trip to Oxford, but the damning evidence of our neglect was laid there before me – in the four copies of the Mail On Sunday’s Event magazine, which she always saves to give to Pete on Sundays.
Most, but not all Sundays. Because we’re so often away now. C’est la 21st century vie.
And so it goes. This is modern life for the modern ageing parent. (Me, in this case. Not my disgruntled mother.) Gadding about. Hither and thither. Seeing our own kids.
I know some would say (and you know who you are, so I won’t name you) that we’ve been gadding about for most of our lives. And, to an extent, they would be right. We have indeed, because we’ve always lived by a simple philosophy – one rooted in Pete’s toiling at the sobering coal-face of serious illness, and which can loosely be described as the instinctive prioritizing of ‘doing’ rather than ‘owning’. Of making memories rather than improvements to the house.
Yes, we have a house, but, as had been said here more than once, if it’s a straight choice between a mini break and a new appliance, the mini-break wins. And that’s not just because a childhood is gone in an instant. On a more serious note, so is a life.
But life has stages and this is definitely one such. A stepping back from the pit marked ‘job done, slide to sloth now’ and a stepping up of miles on the vehicular clock, as our kids spread their wings ever further. And, more broadly, for society, this is something quite new. Something attributable to greater wealth and mobility, yes, but much more, to my mind, to the very modern phenomenon of one in two kids (give or take) now finishing their education with a stint away from home, in university.
Time was (1960) when it was a miniscule 4% of people, rising to a still modest 14% in the seventies. Since then, for all sorts of complex anthropological reasons, higher education has gone through the, ahem, roof.
These days, almost half our children attend university, which has meant parents, en masse, being released into the wild. But while you might imagine ‘gadding about’ as a vaguely dissolute middle-years activity, involving cruise wear, escorted tours, and spending the kids’ inheritance, it’s actually (if you enjoy your kids’ company, which we do) more of a post-modern necessity.
And I’m not complaining. If I had the means, I’d have a PA dedicated to the logistics. As it is, I spend much time on apps. Booking.com. Easyjet. Trainline and Tubemap. Tripadvisor. Travel news. BBC weather. (I keep track of all sorts of locations for weather. Cardiff, the Gower, plus Birmingham, plus Oxford, plus ‘wherever in the world Georgie currently happens to be working’, which has been half a dozen places just since finishing her degree.)
My diary might be light on orthodontist appointments and PTA meetings these days, but it fairly bristles with pencilled-in potential family gatherings, plus alerts, pre-alerts and pre-alert alerts, to arrange kitty-care and/or restaurants and/or bike hire and or tickets. Or to find time to buy ingredients for some celebratory cake or other, offering cake being the one madly maternal act I have left to me, now no-one wants me to do their washing any more.
And we’re not alone in our newly peripatetic lifestyles. Far from it. Almost all our friends, give or take, have offspring far-flung now, which means a get together among mates has a markedly new tone, as, instead of comparing notes re our last communal family beach trip we now exchange run-downs of absentee weekends. We’re not so much ‘like’ ships that pass in the night, as actual ships that literally DO pass in the night. Or in trains, planes and automobiles, whizzing past one another on the M4, en route to or returning from bonding with our children – and with just a sliver of late-weekend time still available to pop on a wash and eat sardines on toast, because our cupboards, bar cake mix, are bare.
Just as they were when we were our own children’s age.
We are Jack Kerouac’s generation. On the road.
First published in the Western Mail Saturday Magazine 29/9/15