The Age Thing (Part 1)
Let's debunk one myth right away. I have lost count of the number of people who said to me, before The Lads were born and throughout the first year, that having kids will 'keep me young'. I have never felt so old in my life. My knees hurt. My left elbow no longer functions thanks to endless hours of cradling. Sleep - unnecessary in your 20s - is lacking but sorely needed. If I sit on the floor to play with them, it's touch and go whether I'll get up again.
I'm reminded of that great Ronnie Corbett line: 'You know you're getting old when you bend down to tie your shoelaces and wonder if there's anything else you can do while you're down there.'
When we first knew about the pregnancy, age really was an issue and I struggled with it. Not so much the idea of looking after babies in my late 40s - it was clearly going to be exhausting but not impossible - but more when they are at school, particularly as teenagers, and when it's time for university (assuming, of course, that they want to go to university or that there will even be any universities by then). Old dads can probably be a bit embarrassing. They can't convincingly join in the modern-cultural-reference banter outside the school gates (who the hell is 'The GC'?). They definitely can't - or shouldn't - compete in the parents' races at Sports Day, however fit they think they are. And what about money? Just at the point when most people are thinking of taking it easy and possibly even retiring, I'll need more money than ever before. But I'll be struggling to find the energy to acquire it.
Early on, I sought the advice of an old friend - of similar age - who had recently had a child himself. This was very unlike me. I've always tried to deal with things, particularly deeply personal things, myself - a failing. But I really needed to get my head around the Big Event and know what others had considered - if at all - when having children late in life. Talking about it to someone other than the OH was a great release; a free therapy session full of relief that I wasn't the only one worried about the Age Thing. Inevitably, I soon discovered that there are a LOT of older dads (and, indeed, mums) who have got on perfectly well, often without injury. With a bit of life experience behind them, having a child hadn't seemed so bad - another project to work on.
But all I had were numbers going around in my head. My grandmother was 47 when I was born. When my Dad was 47, I was 22. Many of my contemporaries' children were just starting university.
"Age is a state of mind" they would tell me. Great. I felt 70 before all this.
But actually, having some experience of life - indeed, having almost an entire career - before children does have its advantages. Uppermost is that they are not the whole of you, they are not the only thing that defines you. Obviously, children become the biggest thing in your life; they take over, they're all you can talk about. But once you get over the novelty of it all, at least you have SOMETHING else to refer back to - the experiences in your life pre-kids; the holidays, the work, the people, the places that filled your 40+ years before all this happened. I've found that so valuable and it's been striking to meet so many young (in their 20s) parents who cannot think of anything else to talk about, because hardly anything else has actually happened to them.
Age and experience also give you perspective. I think I'm fairly philosophical and calm about things when the Lads kick off, especially in public; where perhaps young parents might feel more embarrassed or panicked. I'm also fantastically and fanatically aware of what other people are thinking in, for example, restaurants, when my two are screaming their heads off wanting more bananas. I spent 40 years complaining about noisy children in public places; I'm absolutely determined not to be one of those parents who doesn't care or - worse - hardly even notices when their children are being a pain in the arse. There will always be the couple who politely ask to be moved to another part of the cafe, or preferably another cafe entirely, to be out of earshot of loud kids. That was us. But the revelation for me was discovering that most people - usually those who've had kids of their own - are pretty understanding and tolerant. Because they've been there. They know what it's like.
Once, in our favourite cafe, I was sitting with the Lads who were in their high chairs enjoying an Ella's Beefy Stew or something (they practically lived on Ella's Kitchen when we went out, they loved it) and a young couple sat down on the next table. This was 2020, so distancing was in force and although it was strictly-speaking the 'next table' it was some way away. After only about 3 minutes they changed tables, moving to literally the furthest table from us. Bit odd, I thought, since the Lads had been on their very best behaviour and weren't making a sound. Perhaps they were simply anticipating the inevitable chaos after their lunch, which would have been fair enough. I popped to the loo briefly, leaving the Lads safely to their lunch, and when I returned the distinctive aroma of Leo's nappy was there for all to smell. I simply hadn't noticed before. That was obviously why the poor couple had moved and who could blame them?
Also, how bad can it be anyway? This is what age-related perspective can help you with. You are bound to have experienced something challenging in your life already. I certainly have; events that have tested my resolve and nearly beaten me, often with catastrophic, personally-wounding results. So if the Lads kick off in a restaurant, or poo for the fourth time in 20 minutes just after you've put on their second pair of clean trousers, or scream for so long that you just can't take it any more - how bad is it really?
Experience - age - can help work that one out. Being older is certainly not something to be afraid of. And you can't do anything about it anyway, so you might as well get used to it!
The Lads will run me ragged. My knees will give up eventually. I'm 50 this year and the Lads are the best reason for me to embrace it.