It’s interesting how different threads in one’s life sometimes seem to come together and create… I dunno, a plait or something. That’s happened to me this week. I waste a bit of time on Facebook. I keep in touch with a number of friends around the country and around the world through that medium. And I often spend a few minutes fact-checking some of the shared memes, but that’s another story.
This week I accepted a challenge to share a photo a day for ten days, pictures that meant something to me. They were supposed to be shared without explanation but I quickly came to the conclusion that pictures are not always worth a thousand words, so I told viewers what the photo was about. Yesterday’s image was taken on our wedding day (it’s the one above). We got married on the closest date we could get at short notice to my fiftieth birthday (eight days after). Facebook has a ‘memories’ function which shows you what you posted on this date over the years. You could have knocked me over with a feather when today’s memory included that wedding photo! (We were married in November) Cue spooky music.
One thought led to another and I realised that by the end of 2020 I will have reached seventy years of age and been married for twenty years. And, as it happens, it will be twenty years since my brother died in a plane crash.
I was chatting online with an American friend. We started with politics then it all went downhill and we moaned about how bad things were in the world today. And that reminded me of my mother. She was born in 1913 when the world was a different place. She was married during the Great Depression aged nineteen, by the time she was twenty-seven she had five children and the Germans had invaded the Netherlands. The youngest was born in 1940 and they all survived in occupied Amsterdam until liberation in 1945. Then, after the war, she had three more children (one died at two weeks). The youngest was ME. After all that, Mum and Dad decided to pack it all up and emigrate to Australia, where they both had to learn a new culture and a new climate and a new language.
I remember a day in the late 1980’s when I went to visit Mum, who was by now in her mid-seventies, and we were chatting about this and that. The Cold War was in its last phase with Gorbachev in power in the USSR. Bob Hawke was fixing up the Australian economy, and all was pretty good in the world. Mum didn’t agree. All those drugs and promiscuousness and the way young people behaved – it was dreadful. She certainly wouldn’t want to bring up a child in these times. She was deadly serious.
The Greek philosopher Socrates (470 – 399 BCE) is supposed to have said “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” You recall I mentioned checking sources? It seems Socrates didn’t say that. Here’s the real story. Never mind. The philosophy is correct – every generation says the same thing. The generation gap is real.
And me? Is that what I think of ‘youngsters today’?
Yes and no. The world is yet again a different place. Computers are everywhere, in all facets of our lives. Kids live on their smart phones. Anything they want to know is at their fingertips (literally) and if they didn’t take a photo it didn’t happen. Knowledge is expanding exponentially. We’re likely to see a moon base in the next couple of decades and maybe even a Mars landing. Health-wise, people will live longer (provided there isn’t a Black Death or a global war). There’s a wealth of opportunity out there in many areas.
But there’s a down-side. There are few opportunities for a person without skills. Education doesn’t seem to be about learning anymore. All that information at everyone’s fingertips isn’t necessarily true. The Australian dream of a house on a block big enough for a backyard cricket match is becoming unattainable for most. The climate is changing whether we like it or not. The world is becoming dangerous with anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head in too many places. Extreme fundamentalist and neo-Nazi organisations are becoming all too common. Politically, the Middle East is a basket case, ready to explode at any time. China and Russia are aggressively pushing themselves onto the world stage. Dictatorships are everywhere.
Today’s youth has its own challenges – challenges I confess I wouldn’t like to face. But then, I had my own, not least being born female at a time when women were still second-class citizens. Things have improved in that respect. At least I didn’t have to resign my job when I got married, or have my father or husband (AKA ‘responsible male’) sign my application for a bank loan. Unfortunately, too many societies (including the US) are returning to conservative values, where abortion is illegal, yet having a child outside marriage is immoral.
That said, I don’t agree with all the Facebook and email memes extolling the virtues of the fifties, sixties and seventies. Sure, growing up was good. We could go out and we weren’t expected home until before dark – or before Dad got home. We played outside because there wasn’t much option. We knew everybody in our neighbourhood. Hot cross buns were only available just before Easter and the Christmas decorations didn’t appear before December. Great.
But it wasn’t all great.
Do you remember the washing machines? Putting the wet sheets through the wringer by hand? We didn’t have clothes driers so in winter getting the washing dry could be challenging. We had to light a wood fire to cook even in the middle of summer. We slept outside if it was too hot indoors because we didn’t have air conditioning. Everybody smoked. I can recall going to work in a bus with windows closed because it was cold. All the men were smoking – and a lot of the women. Our version of google was a card index at the library and exams were always three hours at the end of the year. Nobody ever got marks for turning up.
All in all, I know I’ve been fortunate to get to sixty-nine-and-a quarter. Too many of my family members never got anywhere near that far. But at this time in my life, I’m echoing my Mum. I wouldn’t want to bring up a child in these times.