Friday, September 9, 2016

THE NEW 'OLD' AND THE NEW 'ELDERLY'


I find it quite grating that our local journalists and reporters often use the terms 'old' and 'elderly' to refer to people who are still vey much alive and kicking, and far from approaching the end-of-life phase. I suppose to these young media folks, anyone aged above 40 is definitely old and elderly.

The above newspaper clippings remind me of one of the earliest letters I sent to The Star in October 2012 on the topic of new labels for 'old' people. The Star had changed the original title to "The World At Our Feet". Frankly, I don't think it's appropriate. The online version has a different title "When Does Old Age Begin?" You can read the original version below.

When I started my community blog in May 2008, I had come up with several tentative names for the blog. Unfortunately all of them were rejected when I signed up for an account with Blogger. Every single one of the names I keyed in had already been taken. I must have tried at least 20 names. In frustration I gave it one final go with 'Seniorsaloud'. The name had popped into my mind at that last minute. To my surprise, it was available!

Both my daughters didn't like the name at all. They felt that with a name like Seniorsaloud, the blog would attract only old people. Of course, I went on the defensive. What did they mean by 'old'? I was about to turn 60 at the time, and didn't feel at all a day over 40. Neither was I frail, and definitely nowhere close to being senile and decrepit.


The new 'old' - Prof Emeritus, Dr Khairuddin Yusof, 76, 
enjoys extreme sports. He spoke at our Seniorsaloud 
event on "Retire Healthy" in July 2012.
Let me ask my readers, does the word 'senior' have a negative connotation? What sort of image comes to mind at the mention of 'senior citizen'? I have good friends who would cringe with horror at being referred to as one, even though they are 60+ and retired. To them, that's as good as sounding the death knell.

The problem with labels is they are generic. 'Old' people are painted with the same brush, and in the same grey colour. But there are so many different shades of grey. Author E.L.James will give you 50! If the 50+ and 60+ are not quite ready to be called old, how would you address them? The 'young old'? That doesn't work either. And are the 70+ the 'old old'? What other terms of reference do we have? The pre-war and post war generations? Equally cumbersome and inadequate.


Dr Yusof's book on active ageing
Quite often the media is guilty of mislabelling. "Elderly man falls victim to snatch thief", says one headline. You read the news report and find that the victim is only 60! I turned 68 in June this year. I can deal with being called a senior citizen as that is what I am. But 'elderly'? Not by a mile. The problem is, young reporters are incapable of making that age distinction. To people in their 20s, 64 is practically ancient, if not pre-historic!

So until we come up with age appropriate labels, I suppose baby boomers like us will have to forgive the young for addressing us as 'old' and 'elderly'. 

If numbers don't matter, and chronological age is not an accurate indicator of physiological age, what are we left with? How would you like to be referred to? 'Older people' seems to be the least disparaging and most neutral. With people now living much longer, there is a need to come up with new labels for the old (pun intended) that do not smack of ageism, and that is acceptable to all.


Photo taken in 2014 when my mom was 88, and I was 66. A generation apart but young reporters would lump us together as 'the elderly'.

If the 60s is the new 40s, you can understand why labels like 'old', 'elderly', 'frail' no longer describe the active, independent and fun-loving baby boomers of today. By the time we reach our 70s, 80s and 90s, we will be re-defining the face of ageing.

There is a world of difference between growing old and growing older. And it's a lot to do with how we look at ageing - positively or negatively, with anticipation or dread. To take it one step further, by changing how we view ourselves, we can change how society look at us.

Adnan Osman, 70, cycled all the way to London for the 2012 Olympics. Inspiring role models like him show us that growing older doesn't have to mean the end of fun and adventure. The world is still there for us to explore. There are new things to learn, and new friends to make. Indeed, growing older can be an exciting new chapter of life.



Postscript: I have always wanted to have a column in the newspaper to write about topics and issues of interest and relevance to senior citizens. If that ever happened, it would be a dream come true for me. Maybe I would call it 'Silver Threads'. It would also be a channel to share information and personal insights on matters that involve this demographic. Our numbers are growing. Other than writing letters to the newspapers, we don't have an avenue to voice our concerns about a host of issues that affect us, including healthcare, cost of living, public transport, affordable housing, re-employment, age-friendly public facilities, retirement planning and end-of-life issues.

It's about time to speak out and be heard. And that's why I have a new tag line for SeniorsAloud's FB profile picture: 'A Voice for Seniors'.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

ARE GRANDPARENTS BEING TAKEN FOR GRANTED AS CHILD-MINDERS?


It's been a long while since I wrote about grandparenting ("Grandparenting - Pleasure or Pressure?"). Given the changing role of women in the last two to three decades, it is inevitable that the role of grandparents will also undergo change. The switch from full time mothers to full time career women has left grandparents increasingly taking on the role of child-minder and ersatz parents.

On a family vacation in Phuket with Max, 6, and Reiya, 6 months. Photo taken in 2006.
Where the extended family used to live under one roof, today's nuclear family structure means there is no one to care for the children when both parents are out at work. So who do young married couples turn to to look after their little ones? Their parents, of course, especially if they are still active, in good health and, most important, retired.

I recall when my first grandchild was born on 28 August 2000, my younger daughter was at the time helping her husband build his company. After three months maternity leave, she had to return to work. She had no choice but to approach me for help with the baby. Fortunately for her, it was the start of the Nov-Dec school holidays. I had two months to enjoy re-living my parenting days, this time as a brand new grandma.
My four grandchildren taken in 2006. 
But it was a different story when the new school term began in January 2001. I had to start teaching again. My daughter and I didn't trust a maid or anyone else to look after four-month old Max. In the end, to my daughter's relief, I decided to take care of Max full time. The school principal was understanding enough when I requested to teach part-time. I asked for three hours of classes from 7.30am to 10.30am, Mondays to Fridays. My request was approved, and thus began my first year of grandparenting which would continue till today, albeit in a different capacity.

For Reiya, Max is the best big brother a sister could ask for, very caring and loving. Of course, like most siblings they do bicker every now and then. Picture taken in October 2012.
My weekday routine for that whole year began with the alarm clock going off at 6.20am. I had to be in school by 7.25am in time for the first class. As soon as the bell rang for the first recess, I would hurry over to my daughter's place so she could leave for work. On most days she would return home with her husband after 8pm. There were times when there was so much work in the office she would be back well after 10pm. By the time I was back in my own home and in my own bed, it would be close to midnight.

Max today, a towering 6-footer and still growing. He is among the
top triathletes in his age group, regularly competing in regional triathlons.
I was often tired and stressed out from teaching in the morning and looking after Max the rest of the day. Changing Max's diapers, feeding him, bathing him and taking him out for walks in the stroller became the order of the day. In between I had to find time to mark assignments and prepare lesson plans. Whenever she could, my younger sister would drop by in the afternoon to help out. I remember looking forward to her visits. They were the highlight of each day.

A 2011 picture of my other two grandchildren, sisters Hana and Allie. 
They are now 12 and 13.
In 2003 and 2004 my elder daughter gave me two grand-daughters, Allie and Hana. As they were both born outside Malaysia, I wasn't able to help take care of them. My daughter had to quit her job to be a stay-at-home mom for Allie's first few years. When she had her second child, the family had settled in Singapore. She was fortunate to hire a very capable maid who doubled up as a nanny for both the girls. In 2006, my family welcomed baby Reiya, sister to Max. Reiya made me a happy grandma for the fourth time.

Allie and I enjoy playing the ukulele
Looking back on those years of babysitting, I can honestly say I wouldn't trade a single day of it for anything. Of course, now that my grandchildren are of school-going age, my time with them is spent mostly on fun stuff. It's a different kind of bonding altogether. I make it a point to attend their school functions, to support them in competitions and to help with their homework. I make sure I am available to babysit should the need arise.

Feeding Ryder. Photo taken in 2015.
Children grow up so fast. Max celebrated his 16th birthday two days ago on 28 August. At 6 feet, he towers over everyone in the family. Allie is 13 and Hana will no longer enjoy children's privileges when she turns 12 next month in October. Now 10+, Reiya has another year and a half to enjoy her pre-teen status. Then there is Ryder, who is two and a half years old. He still has a long way to go to catch up with his older siblings. But he is a sprinter as far as IQ goes. Very smart for his age.

There will come a time when all my grandchildren will prefer to hang out with their friends than with their grandma. Indeed, it is already the case now. I will miss hearing the pitter-patter of little feet, of hearing my grandchildren squeal with delight and run to hug me when they see me at the front door. I will miss their excited cries of "Grandma is here!" It's the sweetest music to my ears.

So back to the question - "Are grandparents being taken for granted as child-minders?" Put another way, are grandparents being exploited to care for the grandchildren? I can't answer for other grandparents. For me, my answer is obvious. It makes me feel good to know I had an important part to play in my grandchildren's growing up years. My two daughters have shown their appreciation many times over, in a thousand and one ways.

Allie, Ryder, Reiya, me and Hana. Max was away at boarding school. Photo taken late 2015.
Would I do it all over again if either of my daughters decided to have another child? In a heart beat. I would be in my 70s. I might not be able to run after my sixth grandchild like I used to with Max. But I would have enough love to give in equal amounts to each and every one of my grandchildren. They are truly my joy and my blessings.

(This article is an update of an earlier one posted in 2012.)