Developmental psychology is packed with research studying the ages at which children generally learn various skills.
The appearance of these new achievements, at least in our house, were inevitably preceded by protestations that “I can do that!” No matter that using a spoon to actually get the food into ones mouth, the first unassisted steps, learning to tie ones shoes or buttoning ones own shirt appeared at age-appropriate ages. These triumphs were always met with cheers suggesting that surely this is the most intelligent child yet to be born.
Now I am at the other end of the developmental road, and the inevitable protestation is not “I can do that!” but “I can still do that.” Or even increasingly “Can I still do that?” or “Should I still be trying to do that?”
But the waning of capacities with age is not quite as tightly determined by age as it is at the beginning of the life cycle and that’s the problem. If you don’t tie your shoes at the age of two, it is quite clear to everybody that you haven’t yet learned. Now, it’s true that if I can no longer carry at 40-pound sack of manure from the car to the back yard, it’s quite clear that I can’t do it anymore and should stop trying. But if I should no longer be standing up and giving university lectures or handling my own finances and tax returns or getting behind the wheel of a car, is a lot harder to recognize. Some people should stop in their sixties, others are still brilliant lecturers and safe drivers at ninety. And so many physical, mental, and psychological factors determine whether one can still reasonably participate in these more complex activities, and whether, in fact, one can recognize the objective reality about ones own changing abilities.
I have a deep admiration for older people who can recognize that they are no longer able to do what they once could and who step aside gracefully and with a full heart. On the other hand, younger people often dismiss older people (defined in their minds as shockingly young from my present perspective) as decrepit and pretty dumb. It’s a lot harder to find where a seventy-year-old really belongs than it is with a two-year-old.
All of which casts little light on who is right about our roof. I have recently been alternatively scandalizing and thrilling the neighbours by climbing onto our roof to clear off the accumulated moss. Some people seem to think that being someone who qualified for early retirement a decade ago, by definition, I should not be there. Others express admiration and cheer me on.
Either attitude irritates me just a little. My clearing the roof is remarkable only because I am considered elderly. (Well, okay, perhaps it is made a little worse by my not only being elderly but also being a woman instead of a man. But look, I’m only scraping moss off the roof tiles. It’s not much more challenging than scraping food of plates before loading the dishwasher.) I’m finding it confusing enough to keep tabs on what I can and cannot, or at least should not, be doing as I grow older without these uninformed stereotypes being foisted on me.
But as I’ve said before about growing old: I am finding it an incredibly interesting – and even stimulating – trip.
Good thing, I suppose, since there is only one way I’m going to get off this train.