Grey Nomads choosing Bordeaux over Play-doh
She checks what the time is in their far-flung time zone and then looks into the distance. It is so long since they have been back in this city, back at home. What exotic locale are they exploring today? Who are they spending time with? Are they safe?
These could well be the musings of a parent surveying a nest emptied of backpacking children. But they are in fact the reflections of a child, a middle-aged child left in the wake of the fastest growing class of traveller – The Silver Mobility. The Silver Mobility are superannuated, silver-haired (underneath) and they’ve got very itchy feet. It’s not only pneumonia that hits seniors hardest - wanderlust is just as bad.
The Silver Mobility sweated it out for over 40 years. They sent more of us than ever to private schools, supported more of us than ever through tertiary education, funded unprecedented material comfort, and then they waited for us to move out. And then they waited some more for the ones that moved out, and then moved back, to move out again. But finally, we’re gone. Which means it’s time to dust off the suitcase, fill a few prescriptions for Brufen and Lipitor and get the hell out of there.
Even in my twenties, carousing around the world, with the most challenging part of the day being the choice between an Amstel and a Grolsch, the potential injustice of the situation was apparent. At the same age my parents had children, a mortgage and a weekly salary that would make you want to reuse tea bags.
But now it’s payback time. While septagenarians flit through passport control or roll into wine country in their hire cars, their grown children are stuck at home with the babies and the mortgages, hugging their parents’ Powers of Attorney for comfort and checking for intermittent emails.
Avant-garde, globetrotting grandparents have discovered the most painless form of engaging with grandchildren in the history of man – Skype. You’d have to have the EQ of a lizard not to enjoy looking at a photo of grandchildren, and Skype is, afterall, just a talking photo – with an off switch.
Distant grandchildren have similarly embraced the technology. No need to be scrubbed and polished for a staid visit. They simply pause their computer game for a few minutes when a photo of that old person they see at Christmas pops up in the corner of the screen. Grandpa is online and ready to Skype.
Traditionally, the idea of saving your pennies to leave a legacy had a strong hold on our collective psyche, but the end of that era is nigh. The new mantra seems to be there are no pockets in shrouds. Perhaps this is one ramification of a welfare state. Because let’s face it, even if you do drain the last of your potential legacy in the south of France, it’s not like you’re leaving your descendants at the mercy of Dickensian England.
You’d be leaving them to bounce on one of the springiest social safety nets in civil society.
The fact is that retirements are getting longer and healthier and there is only so much Sudoku one person can do. After decades of tending the vines, the Silver Mobility are ready to eat grapes. However, it’s not always about an urge to travel. Staying put at home leaves you a sitting duck for childcare.
Looking after grandchildren may be a dream come true for some grandparents, but for others small children are a tour of duty they have already completed. I know septagenarians who would rather dine with a ferret than look after a slavering toddler for 24 hours. When the time comes, if it’s a choice between Bordeaux or Play-Doh - I know what I’d do.
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