Don’t mind the gap

We are in the grip of the inevitable, pre-birthday frenzy. Chloe, our precious grade 2 girl, turns 7 on Thursday, and we have a family dinner on Saturday night, with a huge party for her friends on Sunday morning. The excitement is intense, but what truly fascinates me is the guest list. As she has done every year, Chloe invited her class teacher to her party. She also invited her prep teacher (who she still adores), and a student teacher who recently spent two weeks in her classroom.

When she invited her prep teacher to her fifth birthday party, we were careful to prepare her for rejection. “Mrs F is a very busy lady, sweetheart, she might not be able to make it.” But Chloe was adamant that this was fine, she just wanted Mrs F to know that she loved her, and wanted to share her party with her. To our amazement, Mrs F came. So did her grade 1 teacher, Mrs A, the next year. And this year, the student teacher, Miss B, has said she’ll be there.

To add to this magic, consider the rest of the guest list. There is one year 8, Chloe’s beloved grade 6 friend from when she was in prep. Not her official buddy, although the school does have an excellent buddy program. Just a grade 6 girl that our little preppy loved to play with, and who was, and still is, a truly gorgeous friend to her, even though she has been at a different school since last year. Two year 7s, one boy and one girl, both of whom played with the younger kids a lot when they were grade 6s. Throw in a couple of this year’s grade 6s, several grade 4s, a handful of grade 3s, a bunch of preps, oh, and a few grade 1s and 2s from her own class. No-one from Grade 5 this year, but that’s only because I had to draw the line somewhere (at around 25 my nerve broke and I insisted she limit things a little).

Interestingly, there were some friends she struggled with, because they weren’t family, but they were a little older than her party friends (in their late 30s, for the most part). In the end they got invited to the family dinner, but it was a close run thing.

Chloe is clearly no respecter of age boundaries. In this I believe she has a lot to teach us. Human beings are very good at classifications – putting things, and indeed people, into little boxes, with nice, neat labels on them. What we’re not good at is remembering that people aren’t box shaped, and don’t always fit within these terribly neat definitions. Chloe collects people in the same way some people collect stamps. When she finds someone she identifies with, she bonds, and let me tell you, superglue has nothing on that bond. It is unbreakable.

We had some friends over on Saturday night for dinner, and the conversation flowed fast and enthusiastically, which I always think is the sign of a good friendship. These friends have grown up kids, and as they were talking about their 39 year old, part of me unconsciously put him in the “middle aged” category, to which I, of course, don’t belong. It was only when they mentioned his birthday that I realised he is less than a year older than I am.

It was an interesting wakeup call, and a reminder that we are not defined by our age groups, or our generation, however much marketers might like to rabbit on about generation X, Y, Z, and now alpha. One of my dearest friends was nearly 40 years older than I, and we had a rich and rewarding friendship right up until the day he died, because we were kindred spirits.

Forming a bond with someone is not age dependent, yet we are often quick to dismiss someone as way outside our age group, and hence uninteresting. Another good friend of mine is just 14, and she has a lot to teach me. She frequently ends her texts with “ily”, and she was deeply impressed when I responded “ily2”, because I had shown my dreadful texting ignorance many times before. I may be old, but now I can text like a teen.

Age is one of those stereotypes that tells you nothing about the person inside, yet gives you a quick reason for ignoring them. Challenge yourself. Next time you meet someone, look past their age, race, gender, height, marital status or whatever categories you have put them in, and look for the things you have in common, instead. Kindred spirits can be found in the most unexpected places.

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