That getting old(er) thing

By Caitlin Kelly

Today is my husband’s birthday. Much as we are a bit gobsmacked by the years we’ve now racked up, better than the alternative!

It’s been a fascinating week for discovering some things that are really, really — mind-bogglingly — old.

Memento Mori with 17th Century human skull (2013)
Memento Mori with 17th Century human skull (2013) (Photo credit: failing_angel)

Like this human skull, estimated to be 1.8 million years old, found in Georgia, studied for the past eight years.

Or this meteorite, that streaked through the skies above Russia, and was lifted from the bottom of a lake. It’s said to be 4.5 billion years old, the same age as our solar system.

This week on PBS, I also watched — and loved — the latest instalment, 56 Up, of Michael Apted’s amazing series of documentaries, which began in 1964 with Seven Up, in which he interviewed and filmed 14 London children of varying social and economic backgrounds.

Every seven years, he has re-visited them and filmed them again, to see how they were doing — at 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 and now, at 56.

It’s a compelling examination of how people change, (or don’t), over time.

Today, “reality” television is so normal as to be cliche, an alternate universe in which people seem to think nothing of confiding to millions of strangers while staring straight into a camera lens. It was once quite a radical notion to broadcast people’s everyday lives, and their most intimate feelings.

Who were you at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 or 56?

I know many readers of this blog are still in their early 20s, so all those decades have yet to arrive.

Me, about age eight
Me, about age eight

I have few photos of myself as a younger person, most of them taken between the ages of six and 14. After that, it’s as though I vanished; my parents divorced and I spent most of my time divided between boarding school and summer camp.

I don’t remember anyone taking my picture between the ages of about 14 and 26, although I have one from my college graduation, which neither parent attended. In it is one of my then best friends, Nancy, whose last name I can’t even remember now.

Which is sad, as my life was a wild adventure in my early 20s — starting my writing career, traveling alone through Europe at 22 for four months, and then winning a life-changing fellowship in Paris at the age of 25. I do have, somewhere, some great photos of my visit to an Arctic village on assignment, being interviewed in a particle-board shack by a man speaking Inuktitut — the local radio station for the community of 500.

By 28 I had achieved my goal of being hired as a writer for The Globe & Mail, Canada’s best newspaper and, restless, would soon jump to Montreal where I met the man I married at 35. By 42, I’d been divorced for five years.

Ironically, my husband Jose is a professional photographer, who has taken many images of me in our 13 years together; the photo on my “about” page here is his. Some are funny, some lovely. With no kids or grand-kids to cherish them, though, it’s only a pile of memories for us.

I wonder how many years I’ll have left, of life, health, relative comfort and how many I’ll have to celebrate with Jose…

Many more, I hope!

Who were you at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 or 56?

Have you changed much over the years? How?

38 thoughts on “That getting old(er) thing

  1. Steve

    Sounds to me like you’ve had an interesting life already. The things that happen in our lives whether good, bad are indifferent are what makes us the individual that we are. Without the bad times all our other times are just happen stance. The bad times make us appreciate the things in our lives that are truly fulfilling and, important and give our life meaning. Things like a sunset, a full moon low on the horizon, like tonite, my grandsons smile, that little touch from my wife on arm as we chat with friends. I’m 57 now and looking back, I can’t think of too many things I’d change honestly. I’ve had my share of personal tragedies too but I choose to not dwell on them for too long, I know from experience that the next sunrise will be here before I know it and life will go on.

  2. themodernidiot

    Oh my gosh! Tell that beautiful man I wish him the happiest of birthdays! I personally hope you also enjoy many more. My world is so much more colorful with you two in it 🙂

  3. You were a very pretty eight year old, Caitlin. Isn’t it funny that what we were at eight, those personality characteristics which helped us through, are still there? Maybe stronger, maybe the edges are smoothed and wisdom has caught up with us but we still are what we were. I feel the years and experiences I’ve had have helped me be more tolerant – I was pretty judgmental when I was younger. I also think at this point I know who I am, still look forward to every day and the next steps I want to take. But I would love just one day of being 22 again!

  4. A Happy Belated Penblwydd Hapus to Jose. Like most people Cailtin I have a few regrets at turnings I took when younger, but had I not taken them I wouldn’t be on the road I am now.
    I’ve felt, and I hope given great happiness, given good service,and thought about my attitude to others. My aim is to make the world a nicer place in the time I have left since it’s been nice to me on the whole. The least I can do is be nice where I can and to help others. I hope to end my life as nice as I probably was as a child. I’m sure the 7 year snapshots would have shown a difference though but I hope not i the basic person. My next snapshot will be next year at 63, here’s hoping I’m still on course.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  5. great pic and sad about ‘the lost years’, there was so much to document in a photo, i had a very similar experience. lucky you found jose and happy birthday to him.

  6. Love the pic! I too have an entire 11 years where there was no one to hold the camera. Yet, those years I blazed a fabulous trail of accomplishment. (Two degrees, raised 3 kids etc)
    Love your posts!

  7. You had a great face! Well, you still do. I have a picture of myself taken by a friend’s mother, back when I was nineteen. She came outside with the camera and said that I probably would have no pictures of myself from this age, so she was going to take one and give it to me. I still have it, and I love when I look at myself looking through the lens into the future at myself–the thought I held when she snapped it.
    I was going to say — I loved being a kid, and I fought growing up, but I got married and did everything (I thought) I was supposed to do, and now I’m retired and I feel like I am resuming my “real” life, and I feel like a great big wrinkled kid. So, no, I haven’t changed too much, ultimately. Just that interlude, which left me intact but a little more self-aware, which is, I think, all you get.

    1. Thanks!

      You description is to apt. I feel the same way…although I did not have kids. I’m not yet retired but am increasingly wanting to do my own thing, money be damned. Have to keep my nose to the grindstone a while longer.

  8. I really like that you pose questions at the end of your entries. I may have to follow the format. I’ve tried, but it hasn’t been consistent.

    I don’t remember 7, except a vague memory of lots of cartoons and being picked on in school for being extraordinarily scrawny and having glasses. My parents tell me I was a joy of a child, but they MIGHT be a little biased.

    At 14, I was distinctly unhappy unless I buried my nose in a book. My best friends were Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Robin McKinley, and Piers Anthony. I remember being extremely excited about Drivers’ Ed. and wondering why adults wouldn’t listen to me, even (and perhaps especially) when I was right. I hated school and did the bare minimum. I should have gotten straight As, but I was too busy wishing I was a rebel. I attended my church youth group, but only because there were cute girls there. My best friends were the kids that were labeled “stoner” by the popular kids, even though only a few of them smoked pot. I was naive, angry and busy daydreaming most of the time. I was close with my Dad, and I was a bit of a momma’s boy (that hasn’t changed). I listened to hair metal and rap, and pop music if it were sung by girls I thought were hot. (I was a teen. The hormones made me do it.)

    At 21, I was living an adventure. I was stationed in Kaiserslautern Germany with the Army’s 5th Maintenance Company, 51st Maintenance Batallion, USAEUR. I learned to WORK, as our unit was extremely backlogged in repairing vehicles and I often worked 12 to 19 hour days, depending on what was going on at the time. On the weekends, I played roleplaying games (Dungeons and Dragons, RIFTS, Marvel Superheroes, etc.) with fellow soldiers or went to the Pflamenbaum to drink heffeweissen and flirt with exotic German women. I listened to mostly metal, especially hair metal, with some techno, Euro-pop and alternative mixed in.

    At 28, I was dealing with my son’s imminent birth out of wedlock and about as stressed and depressed as I’ve ever been as an adult. His mother and I had gotten the pregnancy started and then she’d promptly broken up with me. I was still trying to figure religion out and was freaked out at having to tell my parents about the situation. It all worked out and he was born on April 17th. Being a father has been wonderful and rewarding, if a bit stressful. Fortunately, his mom and I get along generally and we work together, for the most part, to make sure he’s happy and healthy. I was fresh out of the Army and working for BAe Systems (formerly British Aerospace and Marconi Aeronautics) as a repair technician fixing the “little black boxes” that go into fighter jets. I was proud of my job and still geeking out with roleplaying games and reading fantasy novels. I listened pretty much exclusively to Heavy Metal, with odd bits of techno and grunge thrown in.

    At 35, I had been married for about two years to a wonderful woman. I worked for the State of Texas as an administrative assistant, having gotten exceedingly tired of layoffs and stress in the roller coaster of a tech sector career. I was good at it, but only using it as a means to make a living while going to school looking for a journalism degree. I’m now motivated in regards to my education, and with the exception of math, I get straight As. Math ranges from a B+ to a low A, but we can’t be talented in everything I suppose. I enjoyed listening to heavy metal and had gotten decidedly set in my ways regarding what I’m willing to listen to. Metal is generally the only music that doesn’t irritate me to this day. I was often referred to as a badger, due to being gruff and perhaps a bit overprotective of the people I care about.

    Now, I’m 38. I still listen to metal, pretty much exclusively. I like watching well written TV like The Walking Dead, Arrow, and Lost. My wife and I are separated but working on fixing it. My son is 11 and similar to me but way more positive than I vaguely remember being at that age. My education is progressing well, and I expect to graduate in the Spring with my Associates in Journalism, then in the summer with an Associates in History, then move on to Texas State for my Bachelors in Journalism with a minor in Government. I still work for the State, but I’m now a Program Specialist, helping manage my program and ensure that minorities and veterans get a fair chance at state contracts. I’ve started applying for jobs at the various media companies here in Austin, and I hope to soon change careers. I’m still a bit of a badger, but I’ve got a lot of close friends that appreciate that. My friends are diverse. I hang out with a variety of people, from Conservative Christian Republicans to Liberal Atheist Libertarians and the adamantly Centrist. My hairline has receded and I now shave my head in an effort to concede to my receding hairline with grace. I do miss the hair that went down to the small of my back when I was 18, but there are more important things in life. — Also, according to my Wal Mart receipt, I’m now addicted to chocolate…

  9. 7 – Shy with a lisp
    14 – A budding athlete
    21 – An Emergency Medical Technician
    28 – Starting a new career in Finance
    35 – Unemployed for five months
    42 – Just finished the hardest twelve months of my life! Thankful to be alive!!
    49 – Life was on cruise control but worked for a real #**hole
    56 – ? A couple years to go.

      1. It’s been a relatively long and storied life. Didn’t want to take over your blog. 😉 It’s funny how we label ourselves sometimes, either by our career or illnesses. I will say that the 50’s are the best! it used to scare me to be getting older. Not so much anymore.

  10. I’m on the young side of things, but couldn’t resist responding to this. My friends and I are all in our senior year of college, and, at some level we can’t help but compare ourselves to the people who entered college. In some ways I’ve changed. I’m a little older/wiser and I have a better idea of what kind of person I am/want to be and what I want to shape my future.

    On the other hand, we recently dug up my old preschool report, and I am still the same girl — the one who likes playing with others but is independent enough to go do whatever she wants on her own. The kid who gets along better with adults than people her own age, and is pretty artsy with a lot of love to give. 🙂 Some things never change.

    1. I think we’re pretty much who we are throughout life…The Seven Up TV show began with the Jesuit expression — show me a boy at seven and I will show you the man.

      I’m def. still the girl from my third grade photo — messy hair, sneakers, big grin: creative chaos.

      This is a big year for you, missy! 🙂

  11. At 7 I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Fourteen – I was attending writing courses, outside school. twenty one I had an honours degree and was going on to post-grad study. At twenty eight I was working in publishing and PR. Thirty five…same, with a lot of freelance journalism stirred in. Forty two – published my general history of New Zealand. Fifty six – a while off, but I’ll let you know how it goes when I get there… 🙂

    I don’t feel much different to what I did at 21. Wiser perhaps. Certainly more cynical.

    1. I hear you on the cynical bit. It’s really hitting me harder in the past year than ever before. Sadly.

      I’ve wised up quite a bit since 21. The challenge now is retaining that sense of optimism.

  12. It was around the age of 47 that things started to go downhill for me; weight gain, terrible discomfort due to hot flashes that are still going strong 9 years later (I think I’m used to them now & don’t feel them as intensely as in the beginning), then came the sore knee, the swelling, the sore joints, and this year a pain that shoots up the back of my leg and also affects my buttockless! It’s not horrible pain, but annoying enough that it’ll really start to bother me after walking 1 hour or more…I know I have to stop and take a rest otherwise it ends up hurting my hips!
    Of course, I make an effort to get out every day on my bike (causes me less pain, but it’s a pain in the butt!), and then there’s the flab – how I hate it!
    Yes, of course I try to remain optimistic, even though this comment doesn’t reveal that…Getting old is like finding a pot of gold…for the arthritic treatments, I guess!

    1. The slowing of one’s metabolism is a real challenge. And weight gain places a lot of additional stress on aging or arthritis joints, so getting as much weight off as possible can make a real difference. No impact or low impact activity — swimming, biking, yoga or the elliptical — are all helpful.

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