posted on: Wednesday, 21 September 2016

When I turned forty I must have written ten (fifteen?) blog posts about how it felt. Never had a birthday spelled such introversion and consideration. How did I feel? Well: incredulous and marginally crazed and exhilarated. I felt like there would be a changed future. My turning forty coincided with various other life events so it took on mythic proportions; all hail the new me. Of course now I am a couple of years in I can report - it's not all that different really. There was a sizesmic shift in my self-perception but outwardly - same ole same ole, right? A few more wrinkles.

All in a good way. Getting comfortable in one's own skin is a life long endeavour.

When I say 'self perception' what I mean is I became acutely aware about how I came across to the rest of the world. No longer a career woman but a full time mother, no longer thirty-something but over forty. No longer a young woman with a gaggle of blonde toddlers but instead a seasoned parent with a teenager and a pre-teen. No longer so carefree but weighed down with the responsibilities that we had readily taken on - house, kids, jobs, money worries, the rigmarole of family life. It's a curious phase. Having a teenager in the house exaggerated how I felt. I witnessed a young girl/woman thrive and grow as my life shrunk down to the monotony of routine. I don't begrudge it, but I recognise it. I felt like after the age of forty, little decisions became more loaded; what sort of parent was I? Should I really wear those clothes? Was I measured in my response to others? How does my life experience affect how I think? How many times in a day did I wipe the kitchen surfaces? How may hours in the car? The burden of care shifted from young children (physically exhausting) to older children (mentally exhausting).

But on a much wider scale I looked up and started to notice the women around me. Owing to the school drop off (my twice daily commute) there is a close-up view of my contemporaries over each academic year. The ones nearing the end of schooling, the ones who've just started and still have babes in arms, young brothers and sisters in the wings. Women of all types who are conforming to a societal norm of 'modern mother'. Do they seem happy? How are they doing in their forties? Meanwhile, I realised that every single outing outside my house constituted book research. And so I observed.

I have to say the results were mixed. Some looked fine and said they were fine. I noted some women who were clearly deeply unhappy. Some seemed lost, even with all the trappings of marriage and family to guide their way. Some said they lacked focus despite all outward signals of contentment. Some were bored. Some were too busy and hadn't had a good night's sleep for a month.

I found myself pondering whether women of my age are happy? Is this an abyss of middle age? I looked around for reassurance. I asked some questions, I was met with a barrage of self-promotion; 'everything is fine'. Yet outwardly the behaviour of some of the women I saw didn't seem fine. Old friends of mine would text me: 'is this it?' Educated clever women who seemed stuck in a vortex. Contentment an elusive thing.

I thought don't overthink it: don't sweat the small stuff. Do more yoga. Stop watching the news. Worry less about your kids. Trust the process. See friends. Share. Oh no, wait; share less. Everyone overshares, baulk the trend.

I have no conclusion. But I do note that there is a vacuum in your forties where you contemplate all of this and more and the mid-life crisis rages on inside. I am heartened when older women leave me comments saying it goes this way, it will be OK. And I then feel like I should point out that it's not as if things are bad exactly; things are good, great actually (genuinely 'fine'). It's just that it's a strange time. Maybe with all of the oversharing, of which I am surely guilty as I type this and send it out in to the internet, we are too tuned in to moods. After all, I can sense from the tone of a Facebook comment how someone is feeling.

I see now that my forties is the time where I look around and decide if I made the right choices. My thirties did not feel like this AT ALL. I was so in the moment; I've said before there are great swathes of my thirties that I don't even recall. I mean can anyone recall anything significant that happened in 2003? Not me. I feel like in the haze of small children I missed out on five years of world events!

And as for those wrinkles...yea, they are there. No denying that. Got to embrace it, live it and see what wisdom comes.

Juliet said hey it's Romeo...

posted on: Friday, 16 September 2016

A few things of late, little shifts and changes to note. I read  - well actually listened to - Amy Schumer's 'The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo'. It was on a bit of a whim, I haven't really followed her work but I heard her interviewed and thought she sounded interesting. The book, can I just say, blew my mind! Not necessarily because it was a cerebral read, it's very basic and honest in style, the writing is not complex but the content was so unlike anything I have read.

To be short; it made me feel like I was an entirely different generation to Amy Schumer and she is only 7 years younger than me. It underlined to me how women's perceptions have developed since I was growing up and was utterly refreshing in her 'f*ck it' attitude to everything. There is a lot of swearing and a lot of sex and I felt torn about whether I should recommend it to my daughter and her friends.

To put it it simply Amy does not take any shit. Amy gets it. Amy stands up for what she knows to be right. It is this inherent belief in her that surprised me. And the book is peppered with very insightful and painful glimpses into her family situation, her father's degenerative illness and her fairly complicated relationship with her mother. Fascinating. I was obsessed and read it in a day or two. It's stayed with me after - always the sign of a good read. Perception-altering.

This week I had a small operation; it was an elective one and I am fine and it's all OK. The process was enlightening though, I have thought about it (and been scared of it) for years and finally decided I should go ahead. I had a month to carry the knowledge round with me and it made me feel all out of sorts, I couldn't put my finger on it but I was worried in that generic way, feeling slightly off. Of course it went well and I needn't have been anxious but I was nevertheless.  Dear friends helped me out and made sure I was well looked after. I am not good with the unknown. I learned that general anaesthetic is the ultimate in the unknown - the unconscious - and despite the fact that I understand what happened to me when I was under, I can not comprehend how that all worked! It was bizarre!! The most strange experience. But I have to admit, although my relief to come around was palpable, I quite enjoyed the oblivion. Does that sound strange?!

I watched a TV programme last night called 'Inside British Vogue' in which an irreverent journalist followed the Editor of Vogue, Alexandra Schulman. It was frightfully British and faintly embarrassing to behold at times. I remain conflicted by high fashion. There's something marvellous about it; elitist and beautiful but there is also that seeping desperation to be one of those girls working at Vogue. Just how connected would one need to be to get to sit outside Schulman's office and call oneself her 'gatekeeper'? I found myself wondering how they all decide to get dressed each day and how exhausting it must be. I recall the days of my corporate life, when the biggest bosses would arrive in the office and we would all be poised, ready to make our mark. How much my life has changed.

Speaking of which, there have been another spate of drop-outs on my Masters course. This makes me sad, what a shame that people decide to quit. They all had their reasons but still, it's disappointing and will make my experience in my second year quite different. Funny isn't it how you come to rely on others to form a critical mass? I face my next academic year with some trepidation therefore. This is where I have to really do the work. I see that completing the first draft of my novel lulled me into a sense of security, as if the job was done. I realise now it is not done, it has just begun!

My children are back in the rigour of their school terms and life has become a series of scheduled events again after the freedom of the summer. Despite my internal protestations, I like the rigour, the order suits me better. Knowing where I am and where they are. I am a creature of habit.

Oh and as an aside I really want these shoes...

The weekend beckons, Autumn looms. I am looking at winter coats. Who can believe that we are here again and a year has passed since I last typed that sentence?!

images via grace spain tumblr

Make it happen...

posted on: Sunday, 4 September 2016

It's September; time for a bouquet of sharpened pencils and post-summer introspection. To say 'out of sorts' to describe me is an understatement, everything feels like there's a fresh start just around the corner but that I can't quite reach it! I have read so much about adjusting mindsets - about challenging established thinking patterns, about retraining the brain to look at things differently - I am just finding it tough to put into practice.

That deep-seated part of me that has 'pessimist' written on it is not giving up the fight easily! So frustrating. I want to be positive about the future but there are elements of it that feel way off. I'll start with this:

There's a shift going on. It's one I have glimpsed on the horizon for a while but have studiously ignored. I noticed others going through it and pondered from the sidelines, curious but dispassionate. But now it is upon me so I have to focus and look it in the eye. I'm talking about my children growing up. I don't mean the normal kind of growing up - as in needing new clothes every six months because they have shot up another inch - I mean they are getting older, getting independent, getting ready one day to flee the nest. I know I am slightly premature to consider this; at 11 and 15 my children are hardly adults. But there is a distinct change nonetheless. This summer is evidence; the eldest particularly is at friends' houses all the time. Their arrangements do not generally include me (unless they want a lift). She comes home to chill, eat, regroup and head out again. The poignancy hits me - this is the whole point - this is what motherhood is all about; preparing them to leave. All rather odd. I observe family and friends who have children I still consider to be 'little', they need care and feeding and nurturing and still cry if they scuff their knee. Then they get older I notice that they quieten, They brood instead and are less needy. At 11, my son is on the cusp of adolescence and I can still sense in him the innocence of childhood. He is not there yet. But my daughter; she is there with bells on!

It has made me turn inwards to think about what I will do, who I will be, once they are done with needing a full time Mum. I chose to be a full time Mum three years ago and I have thrown myself into it with abandon as this blog has borne witness to. I have carried the tiny details in my head; I have been there for every match and recital, every make-up and break-up, every meal and every kiss goodnight. I don't regret for a moment that I gave - and give - so much of myself, but I see that there is a very real consequence. The empty nest now terrifies me! Much more so than when I had a career. I say that in the knowledge that it makes me sound like a 1950's housewife whose 'reasons to be' have disappeared like vapours. I know it won't be like that exactly; I know that they will stay for years from now, seeping in and out of our lives. Family is a big deal for us, we raised them that way, so I am not expecting them to run off into the sunset to never be seen again. BUT...I do acknowledge that I will need to roll with it and not cling and make myself new again when the time comes. I think this is vital as frankly there is nothing worse than a mother who won't let go - whether the child is four and on their first day of school or they are 21 and starting their first proper job. I am determined to be the mother who is ready, ready to support but also ready to retake the reigns of my own life. I mean, I was in my twenties when I had my first child, I managed many years of independence, I am sure I can do it again?!

She says...falteringly...

I also note the gulf widening between myself and those mothers who are having babies now. Having a baby has become an alien concept to me, nap patterns and milk feeds are something I recall loosely (filed away under 'sleep deprivation') and now it's about a whole other set of challenges. This is how life goes and its regularity doesn't surprise me but it is bittersweet nonetheless.

The Masters degree, the book, these are things that will propel me back into my own independence. As will the freedom that comes when your children don't need babysitters, when popping out becomes a possibility again. When weekends away can be something realistic not something fantastical. I look to my contemporaries who have not had children, and admittedly (ashamedly) there are few in my circle of friends. I seem to solicit the company of others like me. I am curious about what it feels to be facing middle age without the bind of children; to have had these parameters all along.

As ever there's the over thinking. I ask my husband: what do you worry about? What is the plan? How will it be? And he says (maddeningly): 'I don't know, but it will be OK.' Therein lies the difference between he and I. Optimism runs deep in that one.

The days start to draw in - I think I write that every single year - but it is so stark a reminder of the end of the summer to look outside at 7.30pm and see the light darkening. Evening dog walks less of a possibility, the prospect of Autumn abruptly a real thing. Boots! Coats! Scarves! It's all going to be OK...

Oh and while I think of it - after all that procrastination about long hair vs. housewife hair, I just had four inches cut off mine. Change is good.