I am slowly moving up the pecking order of campsite stereotypes.
I have been the child galloping innocently over the grass. I have been one of the teenages huddled in the toilets to chat where they won’t disturb people (these days, they can plug their electronic devices into the hairdryer sockets, too). I have been a student on a long walk with a backpack and one of a romantic duo watching the sunset. I have been one of a rowdy group of climbers, walkers, drinkers.
But now I am a mother: it is my turn to entertain the teenagers lurking in the toilet block with the conversations that come out of our cubicle:
‘What are you doing, Mummy? Is it a poo or a wee?’
‘What was that lady doing in front of the mirror?’
‘Mummy, Can I wipe your bottom for you?’
Away from the toilets, I can often be seen breaking into a run,
‘Don’t prod / eat / play with that, Tiddler’ or
‘I hope you two are asleep in there!’ or
‘Leave Mummy’s beer alone, please!’
I remember being the child that Toddler (3) is now, sitting on my red potty outside, unselfconsciously watching the world go by. I’d ponder questions that are now obvious to me: why do children have to go to bed so early? What’s with all the fuss about suncream? And hats? And why do people insist that you need cutlery for jelly?
It was about that time that I first remember seeing pictures of ‘Mummie and Daddy getting Married.’ Those pictures wouldn’t have been ten years old, but Mummie looked like a whole different person: beautiful, fresh and young. As for the stranger next to her with a seventies moustache, he couldn’t have been my Daddy because Daddy had a beard.
I experimentally showed our wedding photo to Toddler and her response was the same, beard and all. Never have I been more aware of my place on life’s conveyor belt. I have changed from being my mother’s daughter, friend and sharpest critic, to standing in her shoes.
For example, my definition of a successful day’s camping has shifted: it is when the kids have had a great time and are in bed, leaving time for hubby and I to say ‘isn’t this nice?’ and maybe pour some alcoholic beverage before the sun goes down.
The admiring glances I used to give myself in the mirror have been replaced with friendly, tolerant ones. I am becoming used to that ‘flabby muscle’ which so shocked me a year ago.
And it isn’t just my opinion of myself that has changed. My friend Becky and I found ourselves discussing the ‘Everyday Sexism’ website, in particular the bits about facing sexual suggestions from strangers.
‘Am I minger?’
‘Well if you’re a minger, so and I.’
While I agree that women shouldn’t get harrassed in the street, take it from us that not being wolf-whistled every time one walks past building sites can be a bit uncomfortable too.
When I saw an old friend who had been reading my blog, she was clearly disappointed:
‘You don’t look fitter or anything.’
The friend didn’t surprise me: she has always been shockingly honest. What surprised me was that I wasn’t offended. Perhaps it’s about feeling better in your body, not looking better. I might be blogging like crazy about self-improvement, but the biggest improvement is my accepting my skin.
Aging has other signs, too. Surely postmen will never look young but my Diabetic Consultant doesn’t look ten years older than me. I have always been tempted to ask shop assistants why they are not at school, but when I look closely now at these kids, they often display a badge marked ‘Manager.’
At the other end of the spectrum, I don’t find it hard to believe that the old men I meet in pubs were once teenagers. In the latest cycle of World War One reporting, I felt something I have never felt before: the scale and the loss of young lives actually meant something to me. These were not musty photographs of people who lived so long ago that I can’t remember: they were people younger, much younger than me with their lives ahead of them. People who, in another life, might have been my children.
Yes: I am becoming the sort of person who cries over war documentaries. Just like my Dad.
Which brings me to this:
It was my birthday while we were away. Thirty-two is inconceivable to my daughter, who can’t count that high yet. But she sang to me quite spontaneously and got so excited about the cake that I found myself enjoying it. Why the hell not? – it’s not something I can change. And in all honesty, when I look back, I might want the body from my twenty-fourth year but I wouldn’t want the arrogant, ignorant mind or the weak backbone I had just then. I might envy myself the freedom, but I wouldn’t want either of the two boyfriends and I wouldn’t be without my kids.
It would have been my mother’s birthday two days before mine. In a parallel universe where she did not get cancer, I’m sure she would have been celebrating on the campsite too. Making friends with people from all the stereotype groups whether they welcomed it or not, because she’d have strongly identified with most of them, ‘I used to do that’.
She and I would have been doing the same things: playing football with her grandchildren; putting candles in empty wine bottles outside the tent; eating birthday cake with gusto. She would occasionally have got a bit fed up because her joints creaked or her back was sore, or because she was not so slim or good-looking as when she was my age.
But it wouldn’t have got my mother down.