I was a rebellious teenager for about a month, I didn’t work and party hard through my twenties and my thirties were not about fine dining and expensive wines. It has only been in my forties that I have really started to feel comfortable with how I should be behaving. Being “middle aged” has felt easier, and as I enter my 50’s the cardigan clad, slipper wearing embrace of getting older is not something I fear, in fact I am loving it.
Rather than worry about what time I have left, I am looking forward to the opportunity to say exactly what is on my mind and do what I like.
When my daughter Milly was little she loved a birthday, she was always delighted to know what it felt like to wake up and be “another number”. Well turning 50 seems to be much like any other number so far. Given its a significant milestone, I have consciously used it as an occasion to reflect on what has happened to get me to this ripe old age. This is part of what I enjoy about getting older. Because you have been around for a while you have a whole host of memories and experiences that you can look back on. It’s also a great way to indulge yourself by reliving these and telling the stories to those around you. This in itself is the joy that old age will continue to give. Even if those around you may have heard it a thousand times its always worth another repeat. So as I embrace being another number, indulge me as I tell you one of our family favourites.
We have always traveled with our kids, the fact that Robyn’s forks are a 6 hour drive away and mine are a 22 hour plane trip means that they have grown up strapped into a seat of some sort or other. The trip that has gone down into our family folklore was back in 2005, when we headed back to England for a “proper” Christmas.
The girls were 5 and 3 at the time and were excited about the trip and going on the plane. The trip over is always a roller-coaster of emotions, excitement at the start, a blurry world of wonderment as you traipse around whatever foreign airport you need to stop off at and then a tense finish as extreme tiredness takes hold as you descend into Heathrow. I can’t recall the girls being too outrageous on the trip, no real screaming or carrying on, probably just the normal niggling and frustration that we all feel at being couped up for such a long time. The worst time is when you have landed and you are waiting to get off, as we waited there was an announcement for a family to contact cabin crew.
“Whats that for?” one of the girls asked
“They have probably won the Fantastic Flyer competition”, I replied.
“Well, Qantas award a medal to the best behaved children on each flight and that family’s children have won it”
Without any further discussion people started moving and we were soon heading to the door.
It wasn’t until we were safely back at my parents house that the Qantas Fantastic Flyer medal was mentioned again. Clearly this had made a big impression as the girls who were telling Grandma all about it and how they were going to be so well behaved on the flight home that they were going to win it. My mum thought this was a great initiative and asked me how long Qantas had been running it. Out of earshot of the girls, I confessed that it didn’t actually exist and that I had just made it up. Of course she tutted away at my insensitivity and that I shouldn’t be so nasty to her adorable grandchildren. Then it got Robyn and I thinking, Qantas may not have a scheme but it didn’t mean we couldn’t help them out, a plan was hatched.
Traveling with our girls when they were little are some of my fondest memoires. They see things that you have become desensitised to, each country has slight variations of the green crossing man on the traffic lights, each park has different play equipment and also it seems that there is no standard age for what constitutes a child.
At some attractions a child can be as old as 8, at others you only get in for free if you are 4 or under. On this trip Milly, being 5, sometimes qualified for free entry but at others we would have had to pay. Of course we were not going to pay. Now we all know how important your age is when you are 5. So we had explained to Milly that this was a game, where we had to pretend that sometimes you were 4 to see if the person could guess correctly. Once she bought into this she stopped being indignant that we kept getting her age wrong and was willing to play along. All was going well until we rocked up to Windsor Castle. We had decided to go early and were the first customers of the day. We stood alone in the empty reception as the attendant finalised their till.
“How old am I today dad? Am I 5 or do you want me to pretend to be 4?”, Milly asked in a loud voice that echoed around the ancient walls.
The attendant glanced up at me with a knowing look.
I smiled weekly and responded, “You are 4, like always”
“So 2 adults and 2 children under 5 is it?”, the attendant asked
When you look back at old pictures of these trips the memories come flooding back. It’s feels like yesterday, then you drop back into the reality of today you can see how much time has passed. A month on holiday with the girls at that age never dragged as we were always busy and often before we knew it we were soon on the plane heading home.
As we counted down the days to the return flight we had been reminding the girls about the Fantastic Flyer competition. They had started to plan their approach and had high expectations of winning the coveted award.
The girls were exceptionally well behaved, every time any of the cabin crew came past they sat upright, smiled and were the perfect passengers. A couple of hours out from landing in Sydney, Robyn executed the final part of our plan. She approached one of the air stewardesses and explained the situation and asked is she could award the medals to our girls. The stewardess was very happy to go along with our plan especially when we produced 2 very shiny medals that we had for her to award.
Back in the UK we had ordered 2 big gold medals with Qantas red and white coloured ribbon with Fantastic Flyer engraved on them. There was an announcement on the tannoy for the Reeve family to make themselves known to cabin crew and then the medals for the Qanats Fantastic Flyer on QF2 from London to Sydney were awarded with much pomp and ceremony.The girls proudly strode off the plane and walked up to customs with a swagger and their chests held high proudly wearing their medals. The customs officer asked what they were for and the girls explained how they had won them.
The Qantas Fantastic Flyer medals held pride of place in their rooms for many years. As the girls got older and we made more flights back we would talk about the time they won, we discussed if the scheme was still running and Robyn and I never let on. Over the years bedrooms were reorganised and the medals were put away with other childhood treasures and forgotten about.
I can’t recall exactly what was the catalyst for us to be discussing the medals again as we sat down one weekend for dinner. Maye we were reminiscing about our trips or looking at some old pictures but something had my now teenage girls disappearing to retrieve the medals from the rest of their childhood memories.
With great delight we confessed that we had made the whole thing up. The girls were not sure if they should be impressed or disappointed, after their initial outrage at our deception they had to admit it had been a masterful rouse and the fact that we had not confessed until they were much older probably saved us many tears.
The final chapter on this whole story happened on our last trip back to the UK this summer. Milly is now 18 and Alice is 16. Of course as we approached our departure date comments were passed about the Qantas Fabulous Flyer program and how they were probably too old to participate. Their ages now offered a slightly different challenge for me. As a Qantas Club member I can take one guest into the lounge with me and also any children under 18. I had researched this beforehand so knew the rules but had neglected to talk to the family about this. The nice lady on reception asked for our boarding passes. I thought I would be proactive.
“I know I am allowed one additional passenger, do my daughters qualify as well or will they have to stay outside?” I asked for full effect.
“How old are they?”
“Well Milly is 17 and Alice is 16”, I replied.
“NO, Milly is 18 DAD!”, Alice shouted out impulsively, “You always get our ages wrong”.
I looked into the eyes of the receptionist.
“This is awkward, isn’t it? What shall we do now?”
As the girls wished the ground would open up and they could disappear, the receptionist began to laugh, I said that I was very comfortable is she didn’t want to let either of them in, but she wished us a pleasant flight and we all decanted into he lounge.
So although being a certain number may not impact how we feel it does have an impact on what is available to us. I am not sure what I get for being 50, I think I am now entitled to a number of free health screenings, but apart from that it seems more of a symbolic milestone.
So as I embrace my mid life with optimism and a sense of contentment I have decided to use the Governments interest in my health as a catalyst to re-write our Wills. Its what keeps us old people busy these days and to my absolute joy I have had the marvelous realisation that now Milly is 18, she can have legal custody of her sister.
Oh the joys of being another number.