As each new stage of life rolls round, I recognise the same period in my parents' lives, and I see it with fresh eyes, and understand my parents better.
Right now, I'm remembering how my Dad used to complain all the time about his aches and pains. He took to groaning and sighing loudly when he had to get up from his chair. He'd heave himself up, bent double, face furrowed, rubbing his legs for intolerable minutes on end. You couldn't look, it was so irritating. You never asked, 'What's the matter?' or you'd get a long, sorrowful account of each ache and pain, its history, and most particularly, its mystery. What could have caused it? And why did nothing he ever did seem to help?
Mum had no patience with it at all. Sometimes she'd ask him to go for a walk with her as they'd always used to do, but he'd shake his head and say his legs hurt too much, or just that he was 'full of aches and pains.' She really didn't believe in his aches and pains, she thought he was putting it on, although now I don't know why she - or we - thought that. If it was a play for sympathy, it was spectacularly unsuccessful.
I'm remembering about this now because of the arrival in my life of the same stage -the stiffening of muscles and tendons, the soreness of feet, the consciousness of moving carefully, the general slowing down of everything. My right leg aches, (femoral artery being irritated by old back injury? ligament damage? - there are varying opinions); I have an intermittent shooting pain in my left arm, (old bike accident); my fingers and toes seem to have lost their flexibility and become stiff and sore, (arthritis?); and my lower back pain has returned after years in remission (bending double with garden shears snipping edges for a couple of hours). You move more slowly, because something hurts, or you're afraid if you not careful, it will.
But there are only so many times you can tell people about it. With most, probably once. Your aches and pains are a very, very boring subject for other people. Adult children in particular want you to be upright, mobile and conscious, and showing minimal signs of mortality. As with my father years ago, people can be impatient about what's causing the problem, and what you're doing about it. There's an implication that there must be a remedy, you can't keep on complaining about the same thing. But the remedies have very little efficacy, because the cause really is just getting older. Things are simply starting to wear out.
Once, I could walk really fast, leaving everyone behind, long, sturdy strides, firm, solid steps. I could walk for miles and not get sore feet or aching legs. I could climb mountains. I could pick up children, and not only carry them on my hip, but pack a lunch box at the same time. I could push a shopping trolley through a car park without endangering life. I could ride a bicycle, paint a ceiling, and jump - literally - in and out of a car.
Now, I can garden for several hours at a stretch. I can walk down to the river, and back up the hill. I can sit on the floor and play games with the children. I can cook dinner for fourteen people. I can write, shop for birthday presents, and sew a quilt.
In his last years, my father seemed to get a new lease on life. He bought himself a brand new car, made new friends, and learnt to shop and cook for himself. He took to exploring the country roads around the city, and investigating old pubs. He complained very little. Perhaps he had learnt to live with the aches and pains. Or perhaps he just finally took my mother's advice and started counting his blessings.