Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Transition to 50

I've heard it said that 50 is the new 40 these days. Then again, I've also heard it being said that 60 is the new 40. 40 must obviously be the old 40 and can now be completely disregarded.

However for me there might be some truth in it, in so far as I don't remember ever being so concerned about reaching a particular age before now.

40 really didn't bother me - it just felt like a smooth continuation rather than any kind of transition.

But 50?

50 has been looming.

50 has felt a bit too scary.

50 feels like it's come way too early - by at least 10 or 20 years.

Although it hasn't overly helped that the majority of people I know are already over 50 and so have no sympathy for me at all.

But this is the first time I've ever been worried about my own ageing process. Up until now, I've always seen birthdays as a celebration of life - a mark that I've survived another year whatever the gods have thrown at me.

Perhaps it's the strong whiff or mortality. The full realisation I definitely have less time left in front of me than I've already experienced. A sense of regret at things I haven't achieved that I thought I would have by this age. Fear of the idea that there are things I never will.

There's a flavour to the intensity that reminds me of how I felt in the time following the death of my mother, nearly 14 years ago. An increased urgency to the sense I need to find, or create, more meaning to my life.

And therein lies the the problem and the solution.

I've been coming at this with a victim mentality - turning 50 is something that is being forced on me whether I want it or not, and that feels brutal and unfair.

So the answer is to rewrite the narrative; retake control.

I need to embrace it, make it mine, and use that intensity to propel myself forward to make change happen, rather than drift aimlessly towards the grave.

On Friday I'm having a celebration with friends, food and music.

My 50s will be my best decade yet.

Me at 50 - taken this morning

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Do you really want your child to be happy?

"I just want my child to grow up happy!"

How often have you heard this phrase from parents, or used it yourself?

In fact, a study done by banking giant HSBC showed the vast majority of people list happiness as the biggest thing they want for their children, above being successful in their career or being healthy (unless you are in China, where health was the number 1 desire, or in India where a successful career was most important).

I raise this point because recently I've been hearing different debates surrounding the issue of Down's Syndrome. October is, after all, Down's Syndrome Awareness Month, so it's not too surprising. On a programme on Radio 4 last week (Moral Maze) they were discussing the notion of a world without DS - something that could become a reality. A new non-invasive prenatel test for DS is now available with 99% accuracy results. In the UK, over 90% of people who are tested terminate the pregnancy, and in Iceland 100% of DS pregnancies are now aborted.

Listening to medical professionals who advocate this line of action, their rationale was, more often than not, to prevent suffering. There's no doubt that having DS increases the chances of a whole range of physical and mental conditions - although none of these are exclusive to DS. One person referred to DS as a disease that needs to be erradicated. Occasionally a drain on resources was mentioned, but for most it was a quality of life issue.

But then I look at my daughter, Meg, who was born with DS.

We did have a tough time in her first year when she had to have open heart surgery to patch up some holes in her heart, and in her teens we discovered she had thyroid problems (which are now balanced by a daily dose of thyroxine), and that she has coeliac disease, making her gluten intolerant. Fortunately these days there are plenty of gluten free foods, ingredients and alternatives that make it a perfectly manageable condition. Indeed, Meg's home made gluten free chocolate brownies are by far and away the best brownies on the planet - infinitely superior to those that use flour in the making.

But the main point I want to make is Meg is actually the happiest person I know - by a long way. She finished school this year and is now at college 2 days a week. Another 2 days a week she spends as a trainee at a cafe called The Usual Place. And whenever she gets home from college or work, I ask her if she had a good day. Without fail, she always answers, "I had a really, really good day today!"

And she means it.

Meg loves people. Meg loves helping people. Meg loves having a laugh with people. College and work both give her plenty of opportunity for these things.

That's not to say Meg is never grumpy, ill tempered or upset, but she rarely stays that way for long. Meg's default is to smile, laugh and be happy.

And it's infectious.

Feedback we've consistently had over the years from different groups she had belonged to, is Meg always raises the mood, and everything runs more smoothly and in better spirits when she's about.

I want you to pause for a moment and reflect on that point.

This isn't just some poor disabled kid who chuckles to herself but is a drain on society. Meg actually has a positive effect on those around her. She brings out the better side of most people's nature.

When we are constantly bombarded with news of wars, terrorism and psychopathic presidential candidates and global leaders, then what we need more than ever is a reminder of the better side of humanity.

We need more people who make us smile, laugh, and bring out our better nature.

I don't know how much Meg's DS contributes to her positive outlook on life, but it would seem she's not alone. There are many tales of people with DS who have an emotional intelligence way above average.

An alternative narrative that challenges the idea people with DS are "less than" is they are just a different form of human.

And I'm one who advocates not just tolerance of difference, but the whole-hearted embracing of it. Difference creates the richness of life and affects how we can learn and develop - as individuals and as a species.

So what is this blog post about? Basically I was just struck by the contradictory facts that the vast majority of parents want, more than anything else, for their child to be happy, and yet, the vast majority of would-be parents would terminate a pregnancy of a foetus with DS, despite the potential for hitting the jackpot in the happy child stakes.

Meg and I were out for a walk in the woods at the weekend and we had fun as I took photos of her swinging her hair back in a stream of sunlight