My granny likes to stand on her head

My older grandson went into his nursery school not long ago and told the teacher “My granny likes to stand on her head”. And he was right.  Despite being in my mid-70s, I do like to stand on my head, having practised Iyengar yoga for over twenty years. I never heard what her response was, but I liked the sentence.

 The image of grandmothers

It made me think about the images that come to mind when we hear the word “grandmother”.  I suspect that many people, including myself, have two very contradictory ones.

On the one hand, we immediately think of our own grandmothers. From our childish point of view, they were old, wrinkled, wore sensible shoes and certainly didn’t get up to much. Something like the picture of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, who was additionally portrayed as very round and sweet.

And then we look at ourselves and our friends and the image changes completely.  We don’t feel or look nearly as old as our grandmothers seemed. We are active, we’re often still in work and some of us can stand on our heads. (I am not alone – a number of the women in my yoga class are grandmothers.)  Or perhaps we do other things – sports, dancing, travel. We are busy and we feel vibrant and young.

What is going on?

It may well be, as many people believe, that things have genuinely changed. They say that sixty is the new forty and we can be just as active as we were some decades ago. We look around at ourselves and see enthusiastic, engaged women, not remotely like that picture in our heads of our own grandmothers.

But it is also possible that our own grandmothers were not as un-engaged as we thought. Perhaps in their own way, and suitable to their own times, they were more active than we ever imagined. Undoubtedly, some were very conventional, but others were busy with politics or local organisations or even – for all we know – dancing!

First published by GRAND Magazine.

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