The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven't changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don't change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion. Doris Lessing
I’ve often said that I knew I was getting old when everyone under thirty began to look gorgeous to me: vital, tight-skinned, wobble-free creatures positively bubbling with beads of potential like a chilled Veuve under a cerulean sky. Dazzling— every one of them.
Soon after that, I started to sound like my mother.
And just lately, I’ve been emitting undignified grunts to accompany the ugly wincey faces I make as I lift the shopping into and out of the car.
But over the past month, I’ve developed a whole new sense of my relative state of decrepitude. And yes, I do understand that age IS relative.
For one afternoon per week, fifteen Year 9 students have been ‘working’ with me as they clock up their community service hours at the museum where I, too, am a volunteer. Usually, I’m the youngest adult in the place. Don’t laugh. It’s true. Some of my co-workers even think I’m a groovy young tech-savvy chick with ideas and energy aplenty. Yep, I know, perceptions are relative too. Ours is a volunteer-run workplace that’s decidedly un-PC, bereft of funds, and filled with potentially dangerous items. So,
herding coping with entertainingmentoring a tribe of teenagers in this environment was always going to be one of those euphemistic challenges.
Naturally, having fifteen adolescent assistants ensured that I accomplished none of my own tasks. In fact, I lost more than twice the actual time of their visit because I had to plan, set up and then clean up after activities that I hoped would: a) engage them for more than two minutes, b) teach them something, c) be useful to the museum, d) vaguely fall within the expectation of the museum’s OH&S officer, and e) minimise any damage they might do to the collection or my delicate psychological state.
To be honest, it was more like sixteen adolescent assistants. The track-suit-clad teacher spent most of his time either chatting on his phone or bouncing around the museum punctuating his selfie-taking with ‘Awesome’ or ‘Wow’ or ‘This is soooo cool’. His enthusiasm far out-stripped his knowledge. I wondered how he was going to assess the museum-based assignment he’d set the kids when it was all news to him too.
Anyway, on the last of the student visits, the museum was also host to a group of two hundred Vietnam War veterans and their partners. When I told the kids this, they looked decidedly sans-gruntle. You see, the week prior, I had organised for one of the regular museum guides, a volunteer in his sixties, to come in and address them about topics in their assignment, and to show some of his photos of the era they were meant to be researching. It was a disaster.
As much as he wanted to share, they did not want – or were unable— to listen. They giggled and fidgeted and doodled on their books. They yawned and rolled their eyes. They texted each other: OMG DILLIGAS…like really...WTF… IMHO borrrrring...like when is this old guy gonna STFU ? One even put his head down on the table and went to sleep. And the teacher said nothing. He was too engrossed in what he was hearing and seeing to even notice. Grrrrrrrr
Me? An old-school-educator? You bet your dried-up whiteboard markers I am. My decrepitude factor elevated to such a hazardous level that I was in serious danger of uttering a sentence that began with the stultifying words, ‘In my day…’.
So, for their final visit, I had nervously set up a work area for my young charges that was highly visible, but tucked safely to one side of the building where they wouldn’t block the traffic of two hundred geriatrics with associated walking frames and wheelchairs. The kids were cleaning and labeling artifacts, and hand-painting small display easels. They were, indeed, happily engaged. They were also unaware that they were attracting a great deal of attention from the other guests. Before long, my fifteen assistants became a living exhibit.
An old gentleman wearing his war medals asked one for help with a digital camera. A conversation about the medals followed. Another asked a boy if he knew how the old telephone set he was cleaning operated, and then explained how. A woman in a hand-knitted cardigan sat down beside three girls who were working with fine paintbrushes and asked if they thought it was sexist that they were doing a delicate job while the boys worked with large objects. It was magic. Facades crumbled…No need for concern, nor even vague hesitancy. No confusion at all. Just people. Talking.