“OK, darling, I’ll pick you up at ten.” So said I in yet another chat message to dearest daughter yesterday afternoon. Closing the jaunty little messaging app on my phone – having made sure to include plenty of smileys, emoticons, kisses and hip textences lest I appear as uncool as I suspect I actually am – I was suddenly struck by the reverse-level life I am leading these days. Apologies for the terminology, but if you were currently house-hunting in a seaside town where every house is reverse-level living, you’d be regurgitating that guff as if it is normal too.
So; reverse-level, topsy-turvy, upside-down or plain tits up; whatever you want to call it, that’s what life has become. I’m not sure I’m enjoying this new “normal” – at the very least I’m resisting it inwardly so as not to appear to be growing old. Old? Me? Noooooo! *runs screaming for the nearest wine bar*
But it may unfortunately be true. I can’t fight the fact that my own mis-spent youth has been superseded by that of the kids now. When did it become the norm for the kids to be out later than the parents? How has it happened that I sit wistfully yearning for jim-jams and Horlicks yet denied, having instead to stay fully clothed, some form of alert and ready to fire up the old jalopy at a moment’s notice? When did my own weekends become slaves to my teenagers’ social lives?
I’ll be honest – after a day at work I struggle with anything much past 11PM. Living in a quiet Sussex village means not much goes on during a weekday evening in the depths of winter except a spot of dull TV and a nose around Twitter before bath and bed call me skywards. Throbbing metropolis? No, sir. Sometimes a distant neighbour trips over a wheelie bin and curses loudly, which is always amusing. Or a teen hidden in the dark smoking an illicit fag has his foot run over by a British Gas van in next door’s driveway lighting up the windows in nearby houses and requiring an ambulance. Very funny and completely true. But generally things are quiet in the vicinity after 9ish. Hence, having to hold my eyelids open with tweezers and sellotape so I don’t fall asleep open-mouthed and forget to collect a kid from some teenage hang-out at midnight is, I’ll admit, a bit of a struggle. (Tip: place a cocktail stick or two vertically in your cleavage whilst watching TV. Secure in place with more sellotape. That way if you begin to nod off, a sharp poke in the schnozzle will wake you up instantly. And – bonus – you get a free chest wax, which can only be a good thing.)
Have I grown old then? Did it creep up on me unawares like a stealthy stoat? Am I ready for botox, tight perms and a 6 week cruise around Croatia? Doomed to a Val Doonican soundtrack in the car and layers of chunky knits? Lord save me!
I don’t think I’m old yet per se. Not in my soul, for sure. I am hoping that this is just the natural progression of things. The ebb and flow, the tidal rhythm of life. My tide is out now (for out, read “I am temporarily dead”) while my fledglings spread their wings and explore their independence. I am, for now, not Sarah the Party Animal who likes one too many cuba libres and to dance inappropriately on tables but Sarah The Mother, a four-wheeled Moses basket driver that fetches and carries them, bears them safely home, never fails to be there when required. Albeit grumpy and tired with rising chest welts and spike marks on the end of my nose.
I have resisted the mother label, if I’m honest, never quite thought of myself that way. Mum is OK, I can do Mum. Mum is a matey sort of name that implies nurturing in a friendly haphazard way. A muddling through Mum. Occasionally an absent-for-an-altogether-irresponsible-amount-of-time-while-sailing type of Mum. Relaxed is, and will always be, my parenting style. We each have our own. But “mother”? No. That’s reserved for people much more responsible and demonstrably better at the task than me.
Sarah, the regular sort, will re-emerge eventually. I’ll probably don hot pants, go to gigs and festivals, maybe even plant a boob-shaped pampas grass flag on my front lawn in my early 50s, just as my offspring are settling down, sprogging up and going into their own quiet times. (Pause for silent evil chuckle.)
Ebb and flow. Flow and ebb. It’s how it is supposed to be. Now, if I could only stay awake until then……
Photo credit to: http://scrapetv.com
I’m including here today a couple of the beautiful paintings created by my friend, Pippa. She moved to France a few years ago, and we got to talking on email one day about life, the universe and everything, as you do. Turns out that, while France has been great and renovating a lovely little farmhouse, raising three gorgeous boys and learning an entirely new language has been fun, frustrating and immensely challenging in equal measure, she was struck by the same sense of something not quite right that affects all of us mums at some point.
Another friend wants to start a business, buying and renovating old furniture. Using craft skills she has, but cannot use in her day to day life.
Yet another wants to learn to water-ski. Whatever floats your boat, I say, pardon the pun.
The fact is the “What about Me?” moment comes to us all – even if you don’t, can’t or won’t admit it. Something about motherhood, and in my case working motherhood, takes us over and we become like an escalator, constantly pushing and carrying other people forward to their destination, but somehow always ending up behind them, back at the bottom again, and wondering when is it our turn to get off?! And don’t say you haven’t thought it, because you have. Even if you then felt guilty for thinking it, like I have.
In truth, thinking it is nothing to feel guilty about. Thinking that there is something you would like to do – just for you - is not saying that we are not grateful for and enjoying the lives we have. Being wives, partners, lovers, mothers, workers, businesswomen and all of the other important elements of our lives does not preclude doing or wanting something that no-one else in the family does.
We most certainly do enjoy our lives. Even when its difficult. Even when the 3am high-temperatured and vomiting child is upon us and we have to get up for work at 6am the next day! Even then, we are not unhappy with our lot necessarily. It’s just that somewhere along the way, at least in my case and that of some of my friends, something got forgotten. Put on the back burner. Left until later. But just when is later in this busy life?
So one day Pippa, like me and so many others will before and after this blog, woke up and decided to start painting again – something she enjoyed and trained for in her past that had got buried in the mists of time passing. And as you can see, the results are amazing! Although I am not sure about the chicken theme, but peck – what would I know? The best part of all is that it appears to have brought a sense of fulfillment to my dear friend, and it does not at all detract from the rest of her life and achievements, which continue along their path in much the same way.
In my case, I took off on a madcap sailing adventure – learning to sail from scratch and then undertaking a 6,000 nautical mile journey across the Atlantic in a racing yacht. Six weeks away from home, and a million miles from the day job. I’m not alone – roughly 400 people do it every two years, and frankly, I thoroughly recommend it. I did not realise it at the time, but it was the first time since I was a teenager that I was a) by myself, and b) able to spend the time thinking about my life and more importantly, me. A little mid-life health-check , if you will.
I discovered, much to my great happiness, that there is not a lot wrong with either. Yes, I yearn to live by the sea (the subject of another blog which I will reveal to you shortly) and yes, I would like to stop commuting 3 hours a day to work that can sometimes not be as fulfilling a job as I would like it to be. But in general, despite niggles that arise and problems that have to be overcome, I am happy with my relationships, friendships, lifestyle and enormously proud of my children. Pretty pleased with the direction in which everything is moving. Without being horribly smug, I hope!
BUT, there was something which had bugged me for a long time. The thought that arose while administering Calpol at 3am in the morning. The wish that crept up on me while throwing a roast dinner together. Long ago, when I was a young girl (!) I had always thought I would go to university and study English literature and learn to write; had perhaps even toyed with the idea of a degree in journalism or similar. Circumstances conspired to make that impossible, but still I have always wanted to do something with writing and have never quite found the time. Now I am doing something about that, and like Pippa, I feel good about it. It’s not selfish to take a little time for yourself in this crazy merry-go-round we call life. And I am convinced it will make me a better person – broaden my horizons, give me an outlet etc.
So watch this space. Because that novel wants to be written (and Pippa will provide the jacket cover and illustrations although she doesn’t know it yet) and I want to do it. Lasagna will still get made, kids will still be cared for, the dog will get walked and sadly, work will still have to be a priority – but that bit, that little bit of satisfaction in a page written one day soon, a start made - that bit will be just for me.
If you would like to know more about Pippa’s pictures, just comment and let me know! Thanks!