When I first moved away from home I found it very difficult to be away from the places and people that I had grown up with and loved so much. Consequently I went home on a pretty regular basis, which went down like a rat sandwich with my new wife. Every time I went back, nothing much really changed. Certainly some of the more ill conceived businesses (often exotic pet shops) failed, and a few distant acquaintances moved away but on the whole, it remained much the same.
After four years, Mrs L. and I decided to move from England to New Zealand. Visiting home from here is considerably more challenging than the trip down the motorway we used to make. It is a very long way and it is also prohibitively expensive, especially now that we have three children to pay for too. Since we have been living in NZ we have only been able to make the trip home twice, but on both of those occasions I noticed just how much has changed.
I’m not really sure why I’m surprised by this though. I’d been living my life on the other side of the world, and I think I expected everyone and everything I knew, just to go into suspended animation, waking up just long enough before I got there, to make sure that horrible mothball smell was long gone. This however, was not the case. The thing that I found most unsettling was that my brother had a whole new set of friends, none of whom I knew (although that was quickly remedied), and that his old mates were barely to be seen.
Less troubling, but causing a slight increase in my blood pressure was the arrival of a gigantic shopping mall. Not only was it a truly ghastly sight to behold, and was the source of most of the traffic congestion for miles around, but, rather predictably, it had a terrible effect on local businesses. Gradually, people moved away from the shops who had served generations of locals, and were instead, drawn to the Mega mall, like moths to a flame. Sadly many of the local high streets became visions of a dystopic post apocalyptic wasteland, the only inhabitants; booze fuelled zombies, and tourists who think that these alcohol addled strays are the local village idiots (“Quick get a photo, before he’s sick again…Oh too late!”). I’ll admit that this was a difficult adjustment to make, and seeing only snapshots of people or places, years apart only makes it more difficult to stomach.
I get the same bizarre sensation whenever I (infrequently) talk to my youngest sister who, I am sure, in my mind will forever be about 8 years old. Having conversations with her about drinking and boyfriends (or more usually cats), is I find, quite a distressing experience.
So you can imagine how confused I felt, when we had a visitor this week who the last time I saw him, was about to start University. Mrs L. and I had got to know him over the four years before we left to go to New Zealand, and it really was a pleasure. Yet when I got home from work, instead of the teenager I had known, there was the man he has become was sat in our lounge (don’t worry we had invited him). It turned out that he is a very well mannered man too. Although I’m sure his first impulse was to say something along the lines of “Your hair has got thinner, while the rest of certainly hasn’t” he actually said “You’ve barely changed at all”.
Over the course of the evening we discovered that we have several similar interests, and we amicably disagreed on some points too. It was really good to see him, and also fantastic to see that change isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I have written before about how I am grumpy old man, and I have come within spitting distance of harking back to the good old days. But this meeting has made me happy. Happy that young people can still be decent and thoughtful, and can be capable of knowing their own minds, even if it contradicts what I believe. That despite all of the doom and gloom we are being sold in the media, there is the potential for a bright future for our planet.
What is clear is that he and his siblings has been very well brought up by his parents, he has been able to form his own opinions which are sometimes at odds to his parents’ but they love and accept him never-the-less.
What an inspiration this is to me as a parent.
As a younger man, I often assumed that folk more advanced in years didn’t understand life and the struggles that “us youngsters” go through. The truth of the matter is that there is very little which is new. Technology has come along apace, and the media has a far greater influence on our lives than it ever did, but I suspect the challenges our kids face, are things theirs, and our grandparents can probably identify with. The circumstances may have changed but the problems, probably not.
As both mine and Mrs L.’s parents both live on the pther side of the world, we aren’t able to share as easily with them, the struggles we have (and we have had them in spades recently).I really wish that I was able to adopt a parenting mentor, as I do not, as I had always assumed, know it all. In fact when it comes to parenting, I’m in the same boat as the vast majority of parents.