I’ve noticed that with each grey hair, people take me more seriously. And for the first time ever, I have felt that my age really does give me some advantage. I am not talking about people giving up their seat for me on the tram or the bus – that would be alarming – but the first symptoms have started to appear.
Just yesterday, when I was saying more or less the same thing as today, I was interrupted more often and people were less willing to listen. But now this has changed. As if the mere fact that I am now 40 automatically makes me speak from experience, or as if I had something important and interesting to say. As if now that I am older, I am also wiser. And yet, logically, the opposite should be true – after all, we lose brain cells as we age.
People read our maturity from our outward appearance and start seeing us in a certain way. Sometimes they’ll say, reassuringly, that we look young. In the past, when we really looked young because we were young, nobody had to reassure us about it.
Another thing that is disturbing about maturity, more important than appearance, is the fact that I will never really be able to get to know my parents.
Of course, in many ways, I got to know them too well, but that’s not the point. My earliest memories of them are from a time when they were roughly the same age as I am now. Anyway, when I looked at my 40-year-old parents then, it seemed to me that they were so mature that they were almost finished.
Now I look at photos of them from that time (the early 1980s, we are sitting at the kitchen table, I am on my father’s lap) and I find it hard to believe, because they look younger than I look today.
It is not fair that children don’t get to meet their parents when they are still young; that they always have an incomplete, partial, mature picture of them. What we remember are the serious and responsible adults who picked us up from our friends’ birthday parties at the best moment or told us to turn off the lights when we did not feel like sleeping yet.
I wish I had met them sooner – laid back, youthful, and immature. Fortunately, there are black-and-white photos of them looking carefree and brash (maybe that’s a nice definition of youth, or at least immaturity?). My father, in Cybulski-style sunglasses, is dropping off my mother, wearing a short skirt on a Lambretta moped, to class at the Warsaw University of Technology. A few years later, her in a white dress and him in a suit, they are riding the same Lambretta again, this time to their wedding. Despite their serious outfits, they look very cool, just like today’s hipsters.
In another photo, also from the 1960s, they are both drunk at a party. My father holds my mother’s belt in his teeth, pretending to be her dog.
Immediately I begin to wonder how my eight-year-old sons see me. I get up from my desk and go to their room to find out.
“Listen,” I ask. “Am I mature?”
“Yes,” they answer without hesitating, without taking their eyes off the iPad screen.
“What does it mean to be mature?”
“It’s simple,” says Roman “To be eighteen and not be stupid.”
“And for you, Emile?”
“To do super things, go to work and earn money. Being able to live alone, without parents.”
At that point, I felt mature. Since my kids see it that way. They don’t know a different me – youthful, cool, and more laid back. Maybe someday they will find photos from when I had long hair and played the electric guitar?
Meanwhile, I have to come to terms with this maturity. Especially since it is actually convenient. The undeserved authority based on the simple fact that time passes.
It’s worth remembering that this is only a request stop. The bus carries on, on schedule.
What can we do about it?
Be sure there is something new for us at each stop. Unknown sights.
My parents, who are exactly twice my age, assure me of this.
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Figiel