We survive 30 crazy days. I’m trying to fathom English Summer exam regulations as a teacher. Prom-dress daughter is stuck in the middle of it as a stressed and strained A level student. The goal posts change daily, the assessments seem never-ending. But we keep going and, out of the blue, we get our reward.
I am driving home from work on Thursday when an excited voice bursts through on the hands-free
“Mum …I got into Edinburgh!”
Its her top choice and they have certainly kept us waiting! The UCAS form went in before Christmas, tomorrow it is May. But I push all this aside because they have finally given my little super star a (reduced) offer and she is over the moon.
We celebrate with wine and chips. We spend a joyful evening browsing Uni accommodation. And the change in my lovely girl’s spirits: her smile, her radiance, the light in her eyes…it is just beyond compare.
So farewell April 2021. You will ever have a place in our hearts…
It all began in Lockdown 1. As people, fearful to leave the covid-safety of their home and fortress, flocked to sign up for online grocery shopping, I, a confirmed devotee of the doorstep delivery was forced off the schedule for the first time in about 10 years. Yes a decade of whipping through the weekly food shop with a swift half hour of laptop clicks from the sofa … came to an abrupt end. It was simply impossible to get a slot unless I could foresee fluctuations in the food cupboard at least a fortnight in advance. So it was farewell to the time-saving lifeline my brother had signed me up for the week I became a single parent, and … hello to the supermarket shelves once more.
Was it terrible? Can I be frank; it really wasn’t. Let’s face it, there wasn’t much else to do! But, as I was often the only person to leave our house for an entire week, I found myself feeling duty bound to return to the homestead with treats to boost morale. We stocked up on alcohol, we groaned under the weight of endless snacks and I bought flowers. And long after, the unhealthy options have dwindled away the beautiful blooms have stayed, because…who doesn’t love flowers?
Van Gogh’sSunflowers, Monet’s Water Lilies, O’Keeffe’s White Iris; artists have been drawn to the beauty and evocative qualities of flowers for centuries. In poetry Wordsworth immortalised the daffodil and the poppies of Flander’s Field, so fragile yet so resilient, are honoured as our symbol of remembrance in John McCrae’s poignant verse. Flowers are woven into popular culture too, from the ‘Flower Power’ of the 1960’s to Portugal’s Carnation Revolution; today, in fact, marks the anniversary, in 1974, of the peaceful overthrow of the Estado Novo dictatorship, where carnations, placed into soldiers’ rifles became the enduring image of the movement.
As I wander happily around Tesco’s flowery displays however, I think I am mostly drawn in by my own fond memories of flowers? As gifts go, they are hard to beat! Its is many years since I turned eighteen and I do struggle to remember much about the day, but I can still picture my boyfriend appearing at the door with a bouquet of 18 red carnations. I know that I got married with white roses. The flowers on my desk the Monday morning after I dropped my eldest child off at university made me smile .. and made me cry. Because, of course, flowers are beautiful and it is undeniable that bringing the loveliness of the natural world into our home never fails to lift the mood or brighten the room. But I think flowers are even more than that. They say , ‘you’re special‘ ; they say ‘I’m thinking of you‘ ; they say ‘you matter‘.
And, during the craziness of this pandemic, that’s a message it’s been important to being home every week from my trip to the Tesco aisles. In fact, even as we thankfully start to return to normal, I think I might hold onto our new floral tradition. A lovely lasting legacy of this strangest of covid-years…
Week 2 of the Easter Holidays; the sun shines, at times the snow even falls, but the big news is that pubs and cafes re-open for outdoor hospitality. Our politicians and leaders caution us to be careful and ‘take this next step safely’, but it is hard not to feel just a teeny bit giddy…
In our household, we all get out to meet our friends! Lunches, brunches, take-out picnics, shopping trips and alcoholic tipples. Gosh it does feel great …. even though it is all in the fresh air. Because, I had previously dismissed the notion of ‘outdoor hospitality’ as a terrible concept when it was first muted in February. How happy I am to be proved wrong! Sitting outside – I’d venture that it actually adds to the experience. But why?
Here in the bracing North of England, we are a perfect stomping ground for your ‘good muddy walk’, but are not traditionally associated with alfresco dining, so is it just the novelty? Very possibly. Re-thinking, re-invention and innovation are very much part of our 21st Century world and the phenomena of falling a little bit in love with the pandemic driven pavement culture has been seen in other urban areas too. In December 2020, in his Guardian article “Outdoor dining has been a Covid bright spot. Let’s make it permanent”, Gene Marks reports on the decision to extend outdoor permits in New York and the drive to address some issues so that this can be replicated across other US cities too. Marks recognises that eating outdoors isn’t actually new, rather, like ‘like work from home, e-commerce and virtual meetings‘ it is a trend that has been accelerated by lockdown restrictions. Additionally, it offers cities a chance to re-invent themselves as we emerge into the ‘new normal’
“As we begin a long-term recovery, we’re proud to extend and expand this effort to keep New York City the most vibrant city in the world. It’s time for a new tradition.”
City Mayor New York City
In an era where we have been drilled to ‘follow the science’, the glad tidings are that scientist too support the benefits of the outdoor culture. Countless articles suggests that being outdoors boosts our mood, our creativity, our vision and our immune system. It makes us feel better and also be better! The Huffington post, in its article ‘Here’s proof that going outside makes your healthier‘ finds that exercise feels easier and is proven to be more motivating when outside. An ‘Ask the Scientists‘ summary by Sydney Sprouse, claims that it can even help us to live longer!
A 2015 study followed 108,630 American women to determine the relationship between nature and longevity. Women who lived near parks, lawns, trees, and forests had significantly lower mortality than women living far from nature.
And it doesn’t have to be about venturing far or extreme physical challenges, bringing nature and the outdoors closer to us, via gardens plants and even views of the natural world from a window will also bring benefits. Essentially there seems to be no right or wrong way to get outside, so as it is currently our only way to start re-connecting with all the people we have missed for so long I say what better combination than fresh air and… delicious refreshments?
Yes, chinwagging over an alfresco latte, can be a touch chilly at times, but for me it’s a big thumbs up to digging out the layers and popping a pair of mittens into my handbag. Feel a bit continental! Feel the outdoor glow on those cheeks. Feel a frisson of excitement as you balance those sunglasses on your head once more. Outdoor hospitality – I am a definite convert…
Lockdown – it does strange things to a person who likes to be busy!
Week one of the Easter Holidays and I make it my quest to sort out the mess with my daughter’s covid-19 vaccine. I reach the first step of the complaints procedure for our GP practice, receive a very nice call from the practice manager and we have a Pfizer clinic date in the diary before tea-time on Tuesday. And that leaves the rest of the week free. Dangerously free. I am very tempted to start on a mountain of paper work for school, but sternly tell myself that I need a break. And thus, for reasons I can only attribute to Locked-down madness, I find myself tottering up the stairs towards my bedroom … armed with rollers, tins of paint and dust sheets. Why did nobody stop me?
The daring ‘feature’ wall is painted without incident and I move confidently onto the rest, sloshing generous amounts of ‘Magnolia’ into a fresh tray. In my defence, how was I to know that there was a hole in the thing? I do wonder why there seem to be growing puddles of paint on my expertly strewn dust sheets, but put it down to a little initial over-enthusiastic pouring and roller on with vigour, blissfully unaware of any issues. It is only as I move the tray from ground level to the top of my ladder, in readiness for those final tricky high bits, that the leaky tray is unmasked. Paint drips from the bottom of the tray onto my hair, my surprised face and my long suffering ‘painting shirt. In the blink of an eye, albeit not my gunked up lashes, I am a Magnolia mess!
Fortunately I do have a spare tray and use it to stem the flow. Less fortuitously, alas, in all the confusion, I have failed to register the fact that I am also standing in sticky, spilled paint. I’ll be frank, the paint-covers are now so sodden with the stuff, it would have been impossible to avoid. As I potter off to find a sink to clean myself up, I leave a trail of magnolia footprints in my wake. The rest of the afternoon is spent in the company of ‘Dr Beckman Carpet Cleaner‘ scrubbing the floor and stairs! I decide to abandon my decorating for the day in favour of a very large glass of red!
Next morning I am up early and back on the case, with waning enthusiasm but a stoic acceptance that there simply is no way back. It’s the wall behind my bed. There is limited space to pull the bed into and so, for the higher parts of the wall, I cast aside my step ladders and elect to balance on the bed itself. Within moments, my left leg is slipping through the gap between the bedding and the headboard. I grab onto the top of the board, and wrap my arms around it to stop the slide but then I am completely stuck, jammed in by the mattress, pillows and several slightly soggy dust sheets. It is not at all dignified. It is far from my finest hour, but I am unable to move and left with only one option,
“Help!” I call into a silent house of sleeping teenagers
After 3 minutes which feel like a lifetime and several plaintive cries, a groggy Small Boy arrives, looks appalled, deals with the mattress and I am yanked unceremoniously back to freedom.
Tonight, I am recovering with at least one full bottle of wine. My leg is very sore. My back aches. The room is, thank the Lord, all but finished. Any final touches can, I vow, most definitely wait until 2022. I have paint in my hair, all over my feet (and my knees?). There have just got to be better ways than this to take a break from work… even in a national Lockdown!
Meeting friends on park benches? Early morning rounds of golf? Outdoor actual swimming pools (in March)! You can forget any of that – I am just counting down the days until the car washes open again!
Yes, poor old Windsor, my trust Toyota, is in a very sorry state after 3 months of national lockdown. Everyone needs one luxury in their life …. and mine is the car-valeter. As the only parent in the house, I do almost everything else. I launder, I clean, I shop, I try to cook, I mow the lawn, I experiment with DIY and I put out the bins. I just never clean or vacuum the car. In consequence, Windsor has just festered in mud and grime since January 2021. And he is not pleasant sight or smell any more. But my resolve to see it out, until the automobile washers and waxers are able to start us their businesses again, is unflinching.
I claim that it could …maybe… make financial sense, too. Windsor’s predecessor, Big Bertha, was always scrubbed and sluiced, by hand… my weary hand… and it did not end well. On a memorable, sadly fraught, final trip to the ‘We’ll take any car.com’ traders they scorned her faded, patchy paintwork worn away, it transpired, by my liberal use of washing-up liquid in the car-wash bucket. Noble Bertha, the vehicle that brought my children home from hospital, drove me up and down the M5 and M6 when my Dad was ill and transported me to a new life in the North West, when my marriage fell apart, was exchanged for a desultory three figure sum. She also had a dodgy exhaust and questionable head gasket, but no-one seemed to notice this. For those forecourt financiers, it was all about appearances. So when I bought my new car, I packed my squeezy liquid away and decided to let the professionals take charge. And once you allow someone else to clean your vehicle, there is just no going back!
Whether it’s the local hand car washers or, on my more decadent days, the pricier outfits who buff and polish your vehicle while you lunch or shop, it’s farewell to sloshing buckets of water through the house. Adios to endless rinses to get rid of those darned bubbles. So long to soggy jumpers and jeans and red freezing hands. And no more tangling and tripping myself up in the cord for the hoover. Above all, it is protecting a few precious minutes in my day from yet another task of sheer drudgery. I think I definitely deserve that!
And so I am prepared to wait just a little bit longer. Can’t say I have heard much about car-washes in Boris’ road map out of Lockdown but maybe that’s a good thing. Let them re-open quietly, without fanfares and fuss. Let’s divert the crowds with the lure of alfresco cafes and groups of six in the back garden and leave me (and Windsor) to be at the front of the queue…
Vaccines, vaccines, vaccines! Is there any other topic of conversation these days? Who should be jabbed? Who shouldn’t? Vaccine side effects, vaccine efficacy, vaccine passports. I even hear a radio presenter debating ‘what to wear’ for his vaccine!
At work on Monday, as the PC begins its reluctant crawl into action, knowing I have 5 minutes to fill, I too launch into a vaccine discussion with one of my classes,
“So vaccines for football players? What do you think? Think I’m mostly for it. It’s a bit of a strong analogy ,Year 11, but like the gladiators of Rome, we have sent them into the arena to entertain us and they probably deserve to be protected?”
” Oh Miss no! Terrible idea!” chirps up us a football fan on the front row, “At times this season, it has really helped us to have half the opposition’s team taken out with covid!”
Well, that makes me laugh out loud, but then he adds,
“And I’d just rather my nan got her vaccine…”
And then others join in and there are some incredibly sad tales of the misery that covid has brought into their lives over recent months. What is humbling however it that, for this room of teenagers, their only vaccine concerns are for others and usually family members.
When I get home, with my pupils’ voices still ringing in my head, I find my vaccine letter on the mat and it brings a family problem I have sharply into focus. Someone on my household needs this vaccine far more than I do. One of my children is a severe asthmatic, ticking all the JCVI boxes for a higher category than me. Our GP practice have informed me of this but have not, despite me checking several times this month, been able to organise an actual vaccination date. There is always some vagueness about time frames or some new reason why her invitation is yet to appear and it has been incredibly frustrating. Re-inspired by my pupils, however, I push my letter aside and, once again call the GP. They respond 2 days later and this time the news is more positive
” She should definitely be hearing this week!” they assure me
And, even though they have let us down so many times before, I foolishly believe them. With hindsight, it has been such a long struggle that I think I am just too desperate for it to be over. With my lovely girl finally ‘in the line’, I feel able to book my own appointment with a clear conscience.
Alas, by Friday, we have heard nothing and I have to call again.
“Our supplies are a little low. We are expecting more next week. So can you call back then?”
Do I call them? Do they call me? They seem unclear and, dare I suggest, unconcerned, about which way it is organised and I realise that, as is so often the case with an asthmatic child, it will be down to me to make anything happen here. With a jolt of maternal guilt, I wonder whether because, unlike the majority of the population, I do not work from home and am ‘on duty’ between 8am and 915am every day, that others just call and grab any available appointments. Her dad has tried on occasion, but life hasn’t taught him the need to be quite as relentless as me . I add ‘call GP’ to my gargantuan list of jobs for Monday and realise, with a heavy heart that I have failed and will in fact be getting this jab before the only person in our house who needs it.
So how do I feel this evening? I know that I should feel ‘proud‘ and ‘grateful‘ and ‘full of hope‘, because the countless selfies and social media posts, tell me this is the expected reaction. But I am afraid that I feel none of this. I feel embarrassed and downright ashamed to have leaped ahead of my own child, my vulnerable child, in this vaccine queue. A tad over-dramatic I’ll concede but, what kind of mother pushes her own child off the lifeboat to clamber aboard in their place? Tonight I feel like a parental disappointment and my vaccine, for someone the world has happily sent unprotected into a covid-hot spot of a high school for most of this pandemic, seems a pointless price to have paid…
As the sun sets on Mother’s Day 2021, the saddest of events in the UK has left me wresting with a pretty challenging maternal dilemma…
The death of Sarah Everard in London, murdered as she walked home from a friend’s house, strikes a terrifying chord with most women this week. And I am not only a woman in my own right, I am also a mum to two wonderful daughters. What advice do I give them that allows them to live their lives, freely, boldly and with adventure but also keeps them safe?
In a midweek call, my Eldest wants to talk running shoes. Let me re-phrase, she want to talk about me paying for running shoes!
” You’ll be so proud of me mum! I am taking up running!“
I am pleased, but one question, screaming in my head that I try so hard not to ask, is not about distances or training schedules or Strava….
“Who will you be running with?”, I eventually blurt out
“Mostly just on my own… like you do mum!” comes my daughter’s cheery reply
And my heart goes cold. Do I now have to tell my lovely girl how I run by myself: always in daylight, always on a busy main road, never through a park, a wood or a country track, never with headphones… the safety measures go on and on and on. Do men have these thoughts? I just don’t know. What I do know however is that I have been having them since the age of 13.
Thirteen was third year at school and coincided with the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror. Our teachers spoke to us about it in lessons. Some girls had sisters at Leeds Uni and we prayed for their safety and courage for their families. Although 25 miles away, we were also told to be careful. And I was petrified. Haunted in sleepless nights and dreading… just dreading each day, the long, dark and lonely walk from the bus stop to home. When he was caught, I thought I might feel safe again. But, once planted, the worry and fear never goes away completely.
Even now, the walk back to the car, on my own in the dark still panics me at the end of every rehearsal and concert. I no longer use the car boot, but instead have perfected a technique of hurling my oboe, stand and myself into the front seat as quickly as I can before hitting the locked door switch. My first solo rung on the property ladder, at the age of 28, was a flat, because it felt safer than a house with a garden and rear access. If I do have to head out, on foot, in the dark for any reason, I walk in the middle of the road and with keys firmly gripped between the knuckles. It is very sad and what shocks me to the core this week, as I listen to various radio phone-ins, is the sheer numbers of other women who also live like this.
Ninety seven percent! That, in research by UN Women UK, is the staggering statistic, giving the proportion of women aged 18 to 24 who report being sexually harassed. Surely unbelievable? But, as I look back, I do recall episodes from my own past. Running for cover, as a teenager in France, when man exposed himself to me and my friend and ‘pleasured himself’ all over our picnic rug. In my twenties, followed back to the hotel in Portugal and bombarded with calls to our room, from the reception desk throughout the night. Chased by a group of young men in a car and then on foot, when a friend and I once did cut through a forest path a night. And I am sure of this. We didn’t report any of these incidents to anyone. We didn’t expect anyone to protect us. We admonished ourselves and expected to modify our behaviour. Only go out in groups of four or more. Stay closer to the hotel compound. Keep to the busy main roads. I now realise that this cannot be right. Cannot be fair. Cannot be acceptable. But how will it ever change?
And what to tell my daughters right now? Or, as some commentators suggest this week, what to tell my son? For me however, it seems far easier to bring up the subject and find the words for a chat with Small Boy. Hey, he is currently reading ‘We should all be feminists’, he’d probably be able to offer me a few pointers! Plus I remember the lovely men I grew up with. Such as my boyfriend’s pal J, who would walk 18- year old me home every Saturday night from our Metro stop. It was about 30 minutes out of his way, but at the start when I’d bravely say
“Oh you really don’t have to – it’s such a long way!“
He would laugh and make light of it,
“I know I don’t have to, but you are doing me a favour! Mum –I did know his mum- will kill me if I go home this drunk! The walk will sober me up!”
“You say it a long way, but it’s still nowhere near long enough for you to explain how on earth you think The Style Council can ever compare to The Jam!“
And later, when I was honest enough to just say ‘Thank you’ he replied,
“It really is nothing and it stops me worrying about you all night !”
Yes, he was worrying too. And I am sure that many dads, brothers and good male friends also find this situation intolerable.
But is still leave me wondering, what to tell my daughters. The national debate, demands that we aim to re-educate and change our culture completely. But I decide that I cannot wait that long. Many authors have described violence against women as the ‘hidden pandemic’ and I certainly fear it more than I fear covid-19. Abhorrent as it is to accept that my daughters too may face a life of caution and unease, the thought of them coming to harm is even more chilling.
The balance between freedom and safety makes a fateful tip. I hit the facetime button,
“So, running on your own is fine but you might want to think about these few pointers….
The covid lateral flow test – nobody mentioned that on my PGCE course!
Our esteemed PM hails tomorrow’s return to school as a positive move back to normal life,
“It is because of the determination of every person in this country that we can start moving closer to a sense of normality — and it is right that getting our young people back into the classroom is a first step.”
Boris Johnson March 2021
I must confess, however, to a slight hesitation in sharing his optimism. But maybe that’s a good thing, because back in September I was bursting with excitement about the re-opening of schools and honour at contributing to the rebuilding of education and well-being for our young people. And I was very wrong. In fact I was breathtakingly naive and foolish. Within days, the Autumn term of 2020 turned into a living nightmare. The devastation and disruption of endless cases of covid and the requirement for staff and pupils to isolate repeatedly was on a scale none of us had anticipated. Classes were sent home. In some weeks staff absence resulted in year groups being sent home. Desperate to reduce bubbles and pupil contacts, we lost PE lessons, we lost lessons in Science labs and pupils literally spent 5 hours a day confined to the same room for all subjects. If they were in school at all. The Education Policy Unit in their report, ‘School attendance and lost schooling across England since full reopening‘ , found that across the country Secondary school attendance dropped from 95% to between 80% and 90% in many areas, with the worst hit seeing figures fall as low as 71%. Is that education? Is that inspiration for life-long learning? Is that back to normal?
Well for 2021, it probably is. Tomorrow we re-open with all the same restrictions and curricular compromises but we throw in several thousand tests and policing the latest DFE brainwave, the mandate that teenagers wear face masks from 9 until 3! There is a difference of course, we now have a vaccine and daily we hear the rapidly ramping-up figures trumpeted by the Government as a symbol of national pride and achievement. But is the vaccine is for school staff or any other front line workers not in a health-care setting? No it is not. The jabs are currently triumphantly wrapping a halo of safety around a population of stay-at-home locked-down adults who are not required to mix with thousands of pupils, or shoppers, or members of the public in Mr Johnson’s ‘back to normal’ world.
But hearing some of the comments from pupils last week, makes our profession push aside the hurt and anger, at being forgotten by central government,
“The testing? I am a bit worried- do I have to do it in front of other people?”
” I just feel anxious about the thought of being sent home again!”
“ I’ve given up on the exams – I know I am going to fail them all”
Yes let’s hope, even pray, that I am wrong to be worried and that we do, after a hectic week of testing, actually manage to stay open this time and restore some much needed stability into the live of of young people. Even better, that we take away the ‘track and trace’ and the distraction of masks and actually are allowed to get back to our job of educating. Because I don’t worry so much about the loss of a bit of Shakespeare or the fact that we may have to do some after school revision of trigonometry. My worry is that if schools are not freed up to get back to our version of normal that some of our teenagers will soon lose all confidence, trust and hope in the future.
Anyway, time for me to get back to practicalities. School uniform, Sunday night ironing and topping up the dinner money for Small Boy. Good luck next week to all our wonderful schools and the amazing work they do…
This week, a couple of friends make wobbly returns from lock down maternity leaves. Gosh how incredibly tough the last year must have been for isolated new mums! My ‘mum friends’ and toddler groups were essentials in the ‘first-time parent’ survival kit, even if this did all begin with the baby massage class …
It is true to say that I didn’t find new mother hood the easiest of times! I was exhausted, frequently frazzled and struggled to stop my Eldest from crying for, what seemed to be, the entire day! In hindsight, it was probably a desperate appeal for help from my poor daughter. Maybe, if she made enough noise, somebody capable might appear to rescue her from the clutches of the hapless amateur who had brought her into being!
Anyway, feeling pretty useless and fearful of the judgemental public gaze, I began to avoid leaving the house at all, until my Dad arrived. Sensing my dwindling confidence, he booked himself aboard the direct train from Manchester Piccadilly on a quest to get me to re-join the world. And he wasn’t taking no for an answer! He dug out the programme of post-natal classes and told me I was going. The session that week… baby massage.
Managing to leave the house on time is a true logistical challenge for any new mum and on the morning of this fateful day, it was one that I was veering dangerously close to failing. Just about time to skim read the reassuring guidance for the class; ‘all you need isa towel and your favourite oil’. Simple enough you’d think? But I was now on the last minute? ‘Oil, oil, oil?‘ I muttered furiously, flinging open the kitchen cupboard to survey my options. The olive oil seemed my best bet. ‘A bit more sophisticated than sunflower’ I told myself, as I zipped the flagon into my baby bag and raced out of the door.
Fortune, oh how it smiled on me as I rattled up the hill! My daughter actually fell asleep in the buggy! I arrived at the local community centre in a rare moment of calm and was able to nod and smile at other participants. A tranquillity that was, alas, to be sadly short-lived! The class began and with reluctant dread I woke my sleeping child and transferred her to the towel. She was already beginning to squirm.
“Time for the oil ladies,” beamed the session leader
The other mums, reached for their bags and brought out dainty phials of … jasmine or lavender oil and my heart actually stopped for a moment. As the woman next to me rubbed a few drops of beautifully scented lotion in to her hands and then began to expertly massage her child’s tiny feet, I hoped no-one was looking as I fumbled a litre of cooking fat out of my bag, trying to half hide it under my coat. The cursed olive oil gushed from the bottle like a torrent, coating my hands and arms right up to my elbows. In growing panic, I slathered it onto my Eldest and she was quickly gleaming from top to toe, like a basted turkey ready for a roast in the oven! Understandably, she was not impressed. As other infants, cooed and gurgled with contentment, I saw her mouth open and heard her screams beginning to fill the room. I tried to intervene and pick her up but, by now, she was a slippery as an eel and I fumbled about powerless to prevent her building up to a full crescendo. It was a living nightmare. My mind went utterly blank, my throat too dry to speak… until I remembered the towel. I just about held it together long enough to wipe us both free of grease, return my daughter to the buggy, stuff all my belongings underneath and head for the exit. It was then I felt the tears begin to well.
Out in the cool corridor however, my Eldest immediately drifted off to sleep again. And in the sudden peace, I had the chance to gather my thoughts. Pretty silly to go home when I had got this far… and I’d have to face my Dad! Gulping back a sorry sob, I realised that it was time to be brave. I took lots of deep breaths, dried my eyes, gave my cheeks time to calm from a mortified puce back to an acceptable pink and slipped back in. We swerved the rest of massage and just sat quietly at the back of the hall. But we stayed for coffee and cake at the end. And that was the start; the start of mum friends! A supportive circle of also-new parents, for trips to toddler groups, play dates and eventually nights out .
Did any of them even notice my massage mayhem? I am not sure that they did, because, poised or fraught as any of us may have looked to each-other, I realise that we were all just pre-occupied with our own version of new-mother hell on most of those early days! The challenge of navigating parenthood for the first time, united us and the companionship would be a life-support mechanism to see us through both joyful and tough times with laughter, empathy and … plenty of alcohol!
As for baby massage, well there I had learned my lesson. When, in later years, the class popped up on the schedule for Prom-dress daughter and Small Boy, I made sure we had other plans…
Buoyed by birthday money, Small Boy is updating his wardrobe. My lovely son has his own style and very definite ideas about clothes. Yes, alas, the halcyon days of kitting him out for the season with a trip to Sports Direct, and still having change from a £50 note, are very much a distant memory. Today, I reluctantly concede, as a disappointing generational stereotype, to committing that cardinal parental-sin of looking a little startled by some of his choices. I find myself rightly subjected to a volley of indignation,
“Why are you looking like that mum?“
I can only hold up my hands in apology,
“Oh just ignore me. What do I know anyway? Look at the state of my dowdy outfit!”
And it is true. I guess you could blame lockdown but my current style is beyond frumpy and dull; it more or less says ‘given up on life.’ With my own birthday just around the corner, my shopping-mad offspring sense an opportunity,
“Mum – why not let us pick some new clothes for your birthday?“
I decide to agree. Yes, it could be fun to spruce up my ‘look’. In fact, I actually start to feel quite excited. Until that is I see Small Boy rapidly typing this into his search engine,
“Middle aged mum fashion”
ARGHHHHHHH! There it is! Out in the open. Not ‘sassy mum‘ not ‘sophisticated mum.’ Oh no! It’s the double edged sword of style derision for me, mumsy and … middle aged! Now, of course, at a personal level, I am only too aware of my advancing years. But hearing it from someone else, now that is a very different matter. Because it means that, if I did dare to think or hope that I was fooling the rest of you about being quite this old… I was sadly mistaken!
Middle-aged. Gosh what is it about that word? Well firstly, for those of you still in your thirties or forties, I bring glad tidings! The Huffington Post, claims that Middle Age does not actually start until you turn 53. But, as I read their entertaining article ‘40 signs you are Middles Aged’ , I’ll confess that I could have ticked off several indicators from list in my mid-forties! And I think this is the issue. It isn’t a particular age that you reach, it is a gradual realisation that you are no longer young, with life stretching endlessly before you as a blank canvas of opportunity. Some of your mental speed has gone. Some of your fresh-faced bloom has gone. Time, well that has well and truly gone. And, in place of all that youthful hope and energy, comes, for many of us, the judgemental misery of ‘taking stock’. In the grimmer works of Josh Cohen in the Guardian,
“The middle-aged person is liable to look in the mirror and see someone who could have done better, who has failed to fulfil their hopes and ideals.”
Cohen’s article, ‘Why is midlife such a lonely time?‘ addresses serious concerns about the impact of a culture of consumerism and competition on our mental health, a climate which has resulted in loneliness affecting 1 in 7 of those in the 45 – 54 age group. And it is certainly true that on my lower days, I can sit in a meeting with younger colleagues, or wander around a trendy dimly-lit clothes stores, feeling a little bit invisible and isolated from the world. As I prepare to wave a second teen off to University this Autumn, I can wonder where, or even if, I fit into society any more. I can find myself asking the question ‘What exactly have you done with your life?’
But, the truth is, I am very definitely not alone in this! Lisa Stein’s article for Scientific American, ‘Midlife Misery: Is there Happiness After the 40s?‘ find that a bit of a ‘blah’ is universal and all completely normal in your 40s and 50s. Even better, it does not last forever.
“ …by the time you are 70, if you are still physically fit, then on average you are as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year old,”
Now I do find it all very comforting to learn that some moments of pondering, even gloom, are a common reaction to middle agedness. But seventy… now that is a bit too long to wait. I turn back to Small Boy’s screen. Do you know what – those middle aged mums are rocking the fashions! Time to place a few orders and embrace the mid-life, before that is over too …