Future Pefect

Being a mid-aged woman is a bit like being a nerd of the classroom – you do all the work, know you are smart, but no-one really takes you seriously.

Recently I’ve been coming round to the fact that as a single woman again, I am actually able to look at men and think about flirting with them.   This is a very strange concept after being married for so long.  Not bad strange has to be said, catatonically scary but good strange.

The worrying thing is that I eye up a lovely young man and then remember with a shock that I am in fact a 46-year old women with 3 small children, and the image I had of running to the nearest hotel skids to a noisy halt when I realise that I’m carrying 3 M&S bags full of wine and woolly tights, and am late for the school pick up.  So the young man that I eye up (because he was what I was eyeing up when I was last single) would most probably not be eyeing me up.  At least not while I’m holding a bag of woolly tights.

So right now I’m a little pissed off with ‘youth’.   And VERY pissed off with middle age.   Why do all the cliches have to be right?  (I guess this is what makes them a cliche…how I yearn for the loneliness of uniqueness).

As ‘youth’ we hear about the madly menopausal medley of issues that befall our already sagging shoulders once the candles have been blown out on our fortieth birthdays, the hangover beginning before we even finish drinking.

Our eyesight will diminish, our chin hairs will multiply. It’s harder to lose weight and even harder to stay the same weight.  Why should youth get the ‘get out of jail free’ card on drinking and eating what we want? 

It’s bloody NOW we need to be able to sink a bottle of wine after a long day looking after multiple people and multiple projects and not risk being so grimly groggy the next day we look our age and feel ten years older. 

It’s bloody NOW we need to be able to consume our body weight in chocolate and relax on the sofa instead of having to do pilates to keep our organs vaguely in place. As a teenager and 20 something I wasted hours of my life eating crap and watching crap and spending whole Saturday’s on the sofa.  But I should have been active and agile and healthy, so that NOW I can lie on a sofa and watch back to back Poldark and eat Doritos and wine for dinner.

doritosBut chatting with a pal recently, she asked me would I go back and do it all again? Would I go back to the before single (rather than the current singe), and I pondered over my Pinot and thought, actually, no.   I would only go back to that body and booty with my current brains and balls.   I love the fact that self-consciousness went out with candles on one of those 40’s birthday, and sense and sass came in with the reading glasses.  I might have to do more planks than parties, but I wouldn’t swap it for youth or money.   I’m also sticking with the Doritos and wine. 

My eyesight might be blurred but my wits are sharp.   The nerds always come away from the end of the movie smiling.   

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What doesn’t kill you….

There is that old phrase that is bandied about every so often – What Doesn’t Kill You Makes you Stronger.

I guess it means that if you survive the hard times, you’ll sometimes come out of it a bit better off.   What a load of crap.  What doesn’t kill you might make you stronger. It might also just not make you dead, but bloody and bleeding all the same.

I went divinsharkg once in the beautiful waters off Thailand. I swam around a coral column and came face to grin with a shark.  Somehow I kept my head before he took it, and did what we were trained to do, sank lower than the shark and waited for it to go away before using up an hour’s worth of oxygen in 3 minutes getting to the surface and screaming to be pulled into the boat.  This experience did not kill me and it did not make me stronger. It made me wet myself (we all do it in wet suits so don’t judge) and have a life long fear of swimming in the sea.

I’m entering the murky waters of mid-age, newly single and waiting to see what sharks might be lurking around the corner. I don’t think a disastrous marriage made me stronger.  It just gave me a life-long fear of being married. 

I’ve been on a few dates in this new shark infested waters.  I’m learning to swim and to keep breathing and trying not to rush to get back on the boat the minute I get uncomfortable. I’m not the age I was when I last dated. I’m not even in the same century!   My cleavage, which used to be my best feature, is still plunging, it just needs a little more scaffolding to not plunge to my knees during dinner.   It might be harder to see the twinkle in my eye for the ‘life lines’ (wrinkles) around them.  And I can’t read the menu without holding it out so far it’s in his lap, or I rummage for my glasses and let go of any attempts to show that all my bits are still in complete working order.

It’s still a shock to me when I realise that I’m sitting with a middle aged man. I still think of myself as, you know, not middle aged, somewhere just between young and not as young.  I eye up beautiful young men in the street and then realise they’re not in my dating range. Like the shark, I just have to drop my eyes until they pass by.

So back to the stupid saying. Do you have to go through fear, and loss and grief to be stronger?  I don’t think so. Can love, and success and happiness not make you stronger too? 

When I look at the last 10 years or so – by most people’s standards, an embarrassingly lengthy litany of ‘character-building’ crapness – four miscarriages, post-natal depression, difficult marriage, mum’s stroke and consequent care, marriage break-up, mum’s death – to name just the head line acts, I realise that they are not the things that made me stronger.   They’re the things that nearly fucking ate me whole like the shark might have done.

The things that have made me stronger during, and alongside some pretty death-of-the-spirit defying experiences are not the things that could have killed me. But the things that helped me survive.

It has been my three amazing girls, their births, their smells, their life and love, growing every day is like binge-watching a boxset that never ends.  Sure, the domestic drudgery of picking up knickers or the lack of sleep because they are still NOT SLEEPING ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE NIGHT EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE NO LONGER BABIES might kill me but it is their laughter, their humanity, their sheer aliveness that keeps me alive when all around me I duck and dive to avoid the boulders of hurt being hurtled at me.

It has been my writing career – the creativity that burns in me and drives me forward every day with hope and ambition is like being plugged in and recharged. Sure, the pressure of client deadlines, or above said domestic drudgery that prevents me writing when I want to might kill that spirit at times, but it is the thrill of the thoughts, the wonders of the words that I read and write that keeps my heart beating.  Exciting news (will be revealed shortly) about a new writing project that makes me want to dance.

It has been the love and friendship of family and friends, not the hostility of selfish people that have made me stronger.  It has been the random texts of support, not the ones of abuse that give me strength.  It is the loving touch of a friend, the smile of support not the lonely evenings that give me strength.

It is being loved that makes you strong, not being unloved.

It is the memory of what you had with someone that makes you strong, not the loss of them.  My mum’s love is all around me because it was so strong.

It is the days you get a helping hand that make you strong, not the days you feel alone.

cartoonAs I venture forth into the murky mid-ages, there will no doubt be plenty of shark encounters and ‘character-building’ crapness. But I will only stay strong because of the good things that happen. 

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Six years ago today was one of the happiest days of my life.  If there was a film made of my life in the subsequent years, I think today 6 years ago would be the opening scene.

I woke up full of expectation and excitement. I rubbed my big belly (baby inside thank you, not wine and pizza induced). My two little rascals jumped into bed beside me, and then my lovely mum popped her head round the door, her hair scattered in sleep, her make-up free face made up with a smile of love.  I was surrounded by my favourite people.

Then mum and I went to the hospital and she sat with me in the waiting room, and we laughed and we rubbed my belly.  My last fought-for baby would be emerging from there today, and we basked in the glory of that utter miracle.  To while away the time, mum patiently painted my nails. Ah sure, a bit of glamour was always a must, even when you’re about to have your belly sliced open!  But of course, as soon as she had finished, the nurse walked over with a bottle of nail varnish remover and a cotton pad. No painted nails while you’re getting your belly sliced open.

We laughed, and she promised to redo them after Ruby was born. And she did. It was one of the first things she did when I was safely in my ward room, my beautiful new daughter asleep in the cot beside me.  She painted my nails, and kissed my face, and loved me. Six years ago was the last time I felt that love. Her stroke 3 days later robbed us both of the next five years of her mothering me, and after she died in my arms earlier this year, the very first thing I did was paint her nails and kiss her face.  I had been doing it for the previous five and this was my last time.

Six years ago I was still married, although I was unhappy and confused and it would be another 4 and a half years before I found out why. That my husband should never have married a woman.   I look at the photos of this day six years ago, with me and my husband, my mum, my baby… and the only survivor of that is the incredible child who is now a force that rocks my world so hard, the ground shakes.  The last six years have been the worst of my life – I’ve been felled by grief, depression, exhaustion, pain, loss. But all the way through the spirit of this child has shown me over and over that even when life is at it’s toughest, it is also magnificent.  To watch her become who she is has been an extraordinary privilege, and I have a front row seat for the best ride I can imagine – the rest of her life.   Everyone who knows her, sees the special spark in her that will bring everyone she loves along on a shooting star adventure.

The thing about getting older, is you have more to remember. Memories become friends that keep you company as you stride out to make more, and keep going. Six years ago today was a day that will stand out from the multiple humdrum days that don’t.  My beautiful baby girl was born.  And my beautiful mum was alive and well and I felt waves of love for and from them both this day.   My mum is gone, the happy family picture is gone, but my baby girl is six and magnificent and while I am only 6 years older, I’m a life-time wiser.


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Letter to me

In a previous blog post I wrote about the prospect of my older self writing to me. What would I want my 60 year old self to say to me about the next 14 years and how I should be living them?  

So here is that letter from the future me to the now me..

Dear me,

Having a hard week?  Well, no better woman to deal with that. You’re a gold medalist in hard weeks.  You can get through it no problems.  Have faith in yourself. You also have a gold medal in great weeks, so remember that.  It’s tough because you’re tired and overwhelmed and adapting to being a single parent, so take 10 minutes to be nice to yourself.

swing chairI’m sitting here in my garden swing seat having a lovely glass of chilled wine.  I like take a few minutes for myself at the end of every day… I know you can’t imagine having that just yet, but I promise you, the girls are going to grow up and you will get more time for you. In fact they are already growing up and I know you are in that funny place where you’ve had 10 intensive years of babies and young kids and you are desperate to get some life back, yet are also horrified that they are growing older (yes, you will be the mother of a tween next month)… but they are growing up and they will and they are going to be as glorious as you imagine. Know your evenings in the swing seat are coming and try and enjoy the 3 hour bedtime routine. Advice though:   You have to cut down the 3 hour bedtime routine! You can get a bit harder on them.  They know how to play you, so set the rules and make them play by them. Don’t let them take every minute from you. I know they’ve had a rough ride, their world has been turned upside down, but you are building a new world for them.  Have faith you are doing ok, and make sure they know the boundaries of that world.

I’d like to tell you that there won’t be any more hard weeks. Sorry, but life ain’t like that and over the next 14 years you will have plenty of shit weeks.  But that’s life. You’ll have plenty of great weeks too. Plenty.  Because you are that kind of person. You always make the good things happen. Keep doing that.

I’d like to tell you that your face will stay the same if you just keep buying that expensive cream that has been tested (with an * only for the small print to tell you *on 3 women).  But I hate to tell you – all the damage is already done.  All those years of exotic travel, all those days with your face turned to the sun with your mum, all that holiday reading without factor 50…. no matter what you do now, you’re fucked. Better to buy a decent cream and exfoliate properly and either buy a good concealer or learn to love the natural contouring that age spots give you.

I’d like to tell you that you’ll loose that half stone and firm up those thighs so you can find a smidgen of a thigh gap (yes, *sigh*, its still a thing). So I will. But girl, you’re not 20 anymore.  You don’t get as thin as a wine bottle neck, by necking a bottle of wine.  You need to make an effort. Get back out there running, start your pilates (yes, osteoperosis is a real juggernaut coming your way – so start taking the fish oils now while you’re at it), stop eating quite so much chocolate and avoid the bread counter in the supermarket.  Two years ago you ran a marathon. You’re not going to run another one but you are going to do a few half-marathons and keep fit and healthy. So get your running gear on NOW and start again.  Nowhere on a bag of Dorritos does it say ‘Goes well with a thigh gap  (By the way, many women are just genetically built not to have a thigh gap so try and attain something a little more worthy please. Try and aim for being fit and fun, and looking the best you can, regardless of a measuring tape.)

I’d like to tell you that you’re hair will eventually find its mojo.  It won’t. You’ve been going grey since your thirties and not in a Silver Foxy sort of way. More of a Dirty Ratty sort of way. So make a decision.  How do you want to age?  With grace or a grimace?  I still dye mine, but I’ve let the colour start to merge with the natural. So give yourself a treat every so often. Cover up the greys because they make you feel better, and try and find a good conditioner. Your hair is going to thin my love, not thicken, so you’ll just have to find a style for thin hair and stop asking for a Jennifer Anniston haircut every time you go to the hairdressers. Friends just celebrated it’s 35th anniversary – you need to move on.  Your hair has (most of it down the plug hole).

I’d like to tell you that you’ll find love. But why take all the surprises out of life? You have love now. Amazing friends, amazing family, beautiful girls, and a whole (half) life ahead of you to live and adventure and love. Here’s my advice as I sit on the swing chair sipping wine with a knowing smile. Be bold. Be sure. Be yourself. You’re going to make some mistakes – but they’re the ones you laugh with over wine and a few good girlfriends. Let go of the baggage of the past, and step out into the sunlight. Have fun!

I’d like to tell you that you are not going to be defined by some out-of-date label that you are now out-of date.  So I will tell you. You are not middle aged. You are mid-aged. Big difference. I’d like to tell you that you are part of a generation of women redefining what that means and I will tell you.  Don’t ever let age be a factor in your decisions about adventure or love or ambition. I’m 60 and still swinging (in my chair). Oh I wish I could tell you all the amazing things that are going to happen for you in the next 14 years – the dreams you’ll achieve, the places you will go, the people you will meet.   But I don’t want to spoil the ride for you.

I’d like to tell you that when you make it to 60, fighting fit and raring to go, I’ll meet you on my swing chair and we can share a glass of chilled wine and watch the sun set, as you put your head on my shoulder and tell me about the shit weeks you will have had, but how we quickly leave them behind and laugh about all the good weeks. I’d love to hear all your stories about how your girls have amazed you and how proud you are of them now as young women. But I won’t be there anymore.  I’ll be 74 by then and hopefully off sipping a cocktail in the Serengeti watching the elephants and gazelle gather at some water hole.

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Mid-Age is the New Year’s Eve of Life.

IMG_6326Me and my pals and most of the other mid-aged women I know, have officially (according to statistics and the Oxford English Dictionary) entered the silver era of our lives.  I’d like to tell whoever thought that little (golden) nugget up that I’ve been dying my hair since my early thirties, so white whispers through my roots are nothing new.

But silver hairs can be covered up, and my generation of women are free – for perhaps the first time – to reject wholeheartedly the middle-aged manipulation that wants to put us on a silver plinth.  Maybe it’s the Olympics, but I have no intention of settling for second place. I want the GOLD plinth and nothing less.

I am just back from a week in Iceland, trekking up, and camping in, the shadows of volcanoes and glaciers. The sky is so vast it takes your breath away more than the cold, or the rotten egg smell of sulphur.   I was there with my brother and my dad, to celebrate the latter’s 80th birthday (stick THAT old-age definition up your pipe and smoke it.)

On the first day, I went for an early morning run in the stunning light of an Icelandic sky. I had woken early and enchanted by the might of the horizon, I put on my runners and ran.  I ran, and I sang. I jumped like an eejit. I waved my arms around like a teenager at a Taylor Swift concert. Something about the light. Something about the spectacular view of volcanoes and mother nature’s creativity at it’s best as I ran past tranquil water hiding a turbulent underbelly (the ground is so hot here in places the water is constantly at boiling point). Something, anyway. I felt alive. I didn’t feel defined by age, or circumstances, or labels or all the crap that has pelted me for the last few years.  I felt young (and this is before I had swum in Iceland’s hot natural springs). 

And because in my new-found mid-aged don’t give a fuck mentality, I ran down the coastal path not caring who saw me singing at the top of my voice as Spandeau Ballet pumped that life-affirming mantra into my ears:

Gold.. always believe in your soul!

You’ve got the power to know you’re indestructible.

Always believe in, because you are Gold. Always believing.

(All the natural hot waters in the world can’t make you feel as good as singing Gold at the top of your voice, and you know it!)

Like this land, bubbling with boiling water from the earth, scarred and pockmarked with the layers of angry lava, wrenched apart by teutonic planes beneath the surface, smothered in miles of glacial ice… beauty in the wake of chaos, calm in the light of frenzy, it is indestructible. It can spew hot lava, it can freeze inhospitable areas, it can blow torrents of weather and then be as peaceful and more beautiful than is imaginable.  A bit like life. And that is why mid-age is the golden age.  It is the calm from the turbulence, but the caution to know things can still rumble ahead.   It is the result of being marinaded in all the life events and feelings that have got us to today, slow cooked and now we are tender and tasty.  BUT. It’s also time to pick out the bay leaves and other spices that may have helped make you what you are, but you don’t want to eat them. Time to take them out of your tasty dish. They’ve done their work.  They helped make you, but you need to ditch them now.

Sometimes you have to remind yourself how indestructible you are.  I remember once, in probably the first time I had my heart really broken, collapsed on my kitchen floor (it’s always dramatic in your 20’s) crying, thinking I would never be able to get up again.  How many times have I been back there since?  A few. For various reasons. And I have always been able to get up. Eventually. The difference then, and the difference now, is I know I will get up, even if my knees creak a little, and while I’m down there I scrub at a stain I have spotted.

Have I forgotten more than I know?  Will I learn more than I knew? Do I know more than I thought? Do I think less than I did? Do I care anymore?   There is lots of disparaging talk about losing one’s mental faculties once a certain again kicks in.  All those rip-roaring birthday cards about blowing out your brain cells with the number of candles you have to blow out.   All those moments of you know, what’s his name, in that thingy, the film, what was it called? You know there are certainly days when I can barely remember my children’s names. But I’m reluctant to put that all down to hormones and happy hour indulgences.   You know, getting to mid-life is like reaching the eye of the tornado – it’s one of the busiest times of your life.  Sandwiched between parent-care and child-care, frenetic responsibilities of keeping children from falling off the straight and narrow and keeping parents from just plain falling, career is usually hectic, the word ‘balance’ a laughing joke me and my gal pals all hysterically giggle down  with a bottle of wine.

On-going research into the effects of age on brains and memory are starting to show that the slippery slope of mental disintegration from middle age is actually not such a slope, or so slippery. In fact, research is proving that the middle-aged brain is one of the most flexible, accurate and intelligent machines going.  New research has discovered that middle agers are actually the most flexible of thinkers…. we can use an accumulation of knowledge and crucially, experience, to come up with solutions.

One of the reasons I was able to run and shout with such abandon this morning in Iceland, was that I had recently been freed of some of the poisonous plagues that had pockmarked my self-esteem for many years – the disease of distain that I had taken into myself from others. Two in particular.  Funny how you never hold onto the good stuff that people tell you?  You only continue to wear the bad like cheap jewellery that tarnishes your skin.

So I let go of two things that tarnished me.

My marriage ended because it wasn’t what I thought it was. Not in a ‘I can’t believe he doesn’t know how to hoover’ way, but in a fundamental it wasn’t what I thought it was.   I spent many years doubting my sanity. I sent many nights crying because I MUST be a bad person that this other person can’t see me and love me the way I would expect a normal partner to see and love their wife.   I literally thought I was going mad. And I was certainly gaslighted to believe that too. And then the truth came out and I found out I wasn’t mad.  My gut had been telling me for years something was wrong.  But I had put it down to indigestion.

Years ago I went out with a lethario who I thought loved me.  He did.  He also loved a few other women at the same time. But again, for some reason – oh perhaps because he told me – I thought I was bad (I did spectacularly throw all his clothes out of the bedroom window during one magnificent row. God that felt good.)  I found out recently from a mutual friend I haven’t seen in a long time that in fact HE is bad, and has treated every women since in exactly the same way to the point he had to leave town. 

In both cases I had allowed myself so easily to think I was bad, and I allowed myself so easily to think I was mad..  But no more. That was my mad, bad sad fad.  It wasn’t me, it was them. One is bad and one is mad…. and I survived!

Being indestructible is not about covering yourself in armour to protect yourself. Being indestructible is about realising you can get yourself off the floor, over and over again. But it’s also about not taking on the damage from bad or mad people.   

Being mid-aged is about a long New Year’s Eve. A time to reflect, but shed.  A time to make plans but celebrate the moment. A time to take charge, take a deep breath, and in many ways, start afresh.   It’s like we know what we want for a long time but we get to Mid-age and we know we really want it now, and now is our moment.  It is now or never.  It’s live well, or die slow.

I don’t want to come out of a damaging marriage and say I never want to love again.

           I want to say I can’t wait to love again!  And be loved. Properly.

I don’t want to come out of my torturous sandwich years and the loss of my mum and say I feel bruised.

         I want to say death is shit, I really want to live.  Properly.

I don’t want to cry into my gin after a gruelling day of juggling single parenting, work, house, writing and DIY and say I’m too overwhelmed to go on.

         I want to say Phew! Survived that, and aren’t I lucky that my life is so full, but let’s take a moment to breath.  Tomorrow is another day. And I will try to live it. Properly, overwhelmed and all.

Life is like those Icelandic glaciers and lava that keep creeping forward, changing the landscape, alive, progressing, the earth adapting, but always, always moving forward.

I always saw my life as a series of adventures. The last adventure of marriage had it’s ups and it’s down. Admittedly I might not keep the souvineer tee-shirt but it’s over and I have 3 amazing little people to take on new adventures with me.

This next phase of my life – as a mid-ager- is a whole new adventure. I have absolutely no idea what my life will look like in the years ahead, but I know enough to know that it will be great if I chose to, and tough because that’s life, but I know now I can  always get up off the floor. 

No time for self-sabotage. No time for guilt. No time for thinking I’m bad or mad because someone else gaslighted me, or I just plain let them.  No, the golden ere is about owning my own badness and madness should I decide to be that occasionally.  If I’m going to be mad, let it be me that decides to be mad (and let it involve a random act so mad it changes my life, and maybe involves a tropical island?)

I’m throwing away the cheap tarnished accessories and I’m wearing the gold I have taken through my life – my mum, my family, my friends, my daughters.  I’m gold.  Singing loud and proud. 

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Going Tits Up.

I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with my breasts.  Always rather liked them, they’ve never caused me too much hassle, always given me a decent cleavage when I wanted one, not too big, not too small.  There, bouncing happily along with me in life.  The recent furore over the ‘Free the Nipple’ campaign has got me thinking about the fact that sometimes though, I have been frustrated that my boobs are seen as an extra bit of me – a sexual bit of me when the rest of me might just be doing the shopping, and I must be ‘covered up’ or that I can’t just release them into the wild whenever I want.

Just like men can pee in public, they can also take their tops off and get a full tan in public. In parks, playing football, on the beach, by the swimming pool.  In most places however, women can’t.  Now I love the sun, and am known to rush outside with my laptop whenever the sun glitters free from the clouds to get a good bronzing, even for ten minutes. But as a consequence that my breasts are somehow different to men’s breasts (and I can tell you, on holiday recently I saw some man-boobs that would put mine to shame) I’ve had tans so two-tone that when I got naked at night, I didn’t need a bedside light as the two bright white lamps shining off my chest were illumination enough.

So recently Irish musician Corina Fitzpatrick took her top off at a liberally minded music festival and got arrested, yet the plenty of men dancing and prancing their man chest hairs around the place didn’t. (In fact she was evicted and 2 women were arrested.) Yet there IS NO LAW TO SAY THAT WOMEN CAN’T TAKE THEIR TOPS OFF.  The law refers to indecency only, which by implication seems to mean that a woman’s body is indecent but a man’s is not?   I’ve seen many a man’s body and would hasten to disagree. It harks back to a whole slew of times and cultures where women are hidden because men can’t be distracted by them.  Men are not deemed able to control themselves when confronted with a woman’s body part, and so women must be controlled.

Yet, in other cultures and other parts of the world, breasts are as every day common as elbows and knees, and as far as I know, men aren’t rampaging in uncontrollable lust.

Breasts do have a life of their own.  Any woman running for the bus in the wrong bra can attest to that. They give life, and they can take life. They give pleasure, and they can give pain. They can be a nuisance, and they can be a trophy.  But mostly, they are just a part of our bodies. Sometimes they can be a weapon of mass seduction, and sometimes they can be a pillow for a sleeping child and sometimes, they just hang there, minding their own business, being a part of the rest of you.

My girls will all develop breasts over the next few years and their size and shape will play a significant part on how they view themselves.  One wants big ones, one wants small ones and one doesn’t care as long as she doesn’t get called Booby Ruby.  They see mine all the time, and usually make a disparaging comment, and I try to normalise them as much as I can. They’re just boobs at the end of the day.  Yet for many, there is still a really sad titillation when it comes to tits.   A hundred years ago it was ankles. Then modern sensibility won out when it was realised that men would not go on a sexual rampage when they saw a naked one. Then it was legs. Then it was mid-riffs. Bikinis???? Women have been burnt at the stake for less. And now the final frontier – the breast.   I want my girls to be proud of their bodies. A man takes his shirt off and he’s a stud (or at least, allowed). A woman takes her top off and she’s a radical slut.   I don’t want my girls to go around with their tops off, but I do want them to have total and absolute control over their own bodies. And never, ever be shamed by them.

I wrote an article recently for the Irish Times about sex ed at school and how for many in my daughter’s class they still giggled at the word breast.  They were practically hysterical at the word vagina. Really?  Are we still there? Now, I get that breasts have that split personality. I get that a lot of the time breasts are seen as a sexual. Goodness knows I have used mine to good effect when needs be. My mum spent my teenage years (and 20’s and 30’s) pulling up whatever top I was wearing as a matter of course.  Didn’t matter if I was wearing a polo neck, she had to cover my ‘modesty’.   Not because she was ashamed of my boobs, but because she didn’t want people to ‘get the wrong idea’.

I used to get the odd sexist remarks when I was younger – “get your baps out for the boys” and the like. You know, mature stuff.  To be honest I’m not sure I’m insulted or relieved I no longer get asked such a thing.   Get your baps out for the boys. Well I say no.  My breasts are for me, thank you very much.   I’ll be getting my baps out for the girls actually – to prove that my tits are not solely for the titillation of men – that they are just a part of me.   When I had my first baby I breastfed her for the first few months. On the whole this was fine, and I went out and about as I normally would. But one day I was in a popular middle of the road restaurant chain and I began to breastfeed my baby.  Now, before I tell you what happened, let me explain that not only was I doing an extremely natural thing, but at no point did I stand up bare-breasted, jiggle my jugs and do the Macarena.  I simply released one boob from the special boob-releasing top I was wearing, covering my ‘modesty’ with a cotton cloth and fed my beautiful baby.  And the man at the table next to me tutted loudly, shook his head and deliberately moved his seat so he had his back to me. He then said loudly to his (female) companion, “Disgraceful.”

I replied just as loudly, “yes, you are.”  But it shocked me and it shamed me. I left quickly.  But I’ve reached the stage in life now where I will not be shamed by the narrow mindedness of someone else. That’s the really great thing about reaching mid-age. I’m done being young and scared. Now I’m young-ish and strong. I’m not about to go prancing down Grafton street exposing my knockers in a pair of knickers. But I am going to defend my breasts in whatever way I can, and my right to show them, hide them or just plain have them without the judgement of anyone else.

Just like me at this stage of my life, my breasts just want to be free to be themselves. Free from censor, free from judgement, free from assault, free from unwanted or uninvited attention, free from narrow minded sexism that dictates that MY breasts are offensive and less acceptable than a man’s. 

Right, I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest.


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Drunk on Life

witchAs I write this post, I look more Middle Ages than middle aged… haggard and close to death.    No, at 46 I haven’t reached the end of my lifespan, but I may have reached the end of my alcohol-tolerance life-span it seems.

There are many good things about getting to this age with all my teeth intact. In the Middle Ages, being 46 and still alive meant you were probably considered a witch and burned at the stake. Now in the modern age, being 46 and still being alive means we are probably considered just a bitch because we no longer care about what people think, and they can burn in hell.   Yes, one of the benefits of mid-age is not giving a rat’s arse about a lot of things anymore… more on that in a later post.  Oh, yes, my tolerance for fools has diminished.

But one of the downsides of hitting mid-age is my tolerance for alcohol has diminished too.  There probably is a scientific reason , and no doubt it involves hormones** but I don’t really care.  I’m just wallowing in self(inflicted) pity.

I was listening to some music with my girls in the car (pre-hangover) and a fab song came on about getting ready on a Saturday night and it reminded me of those good old days when getting ready involved a glass of wine, a good loud stereo, a dance in my bedroom while I applied perfect eyeliner.  It took an hour, tops.

Now it takes an hour just to find the right light so I can see my eyes well enough to apply wonky eyeliner, and no hint of a dance as it’s hard enough to see what I’m doing without jigging everywhere.

Now getting ready for a Saturday night out is actually a two day event.  It involves advance preparation.  You have to make sure you have downloaded a really good movie, bribed the children to get up quietly in the morning and make breakfast for themselves (this can involve chocolate) and watch said movie, QUIETLY, downstairs without waking mummy. (Super advance planning is preferably ensuring someone else takes them).

You also have to forgo all snobby issues around only providing home cooked Sunday dinners and make sure you buy a chicken in a bag from Tesco and a tray of pre-prepared roasties coz there is no way you’ll be fit to cook the next day.

A night out now requires a day to prepare.  An afternoon nap essential but often unlikely, so at least get a good night’s sleep in the night before.

Rogue chin hair alert at all times in the 24 hours before hand – they can appear at ANY TIME.  Pack tweezers in handbag in case one appears during the evening.  The venue is important as I will only go out now if I know there will be seats and I set the pint of water beside my bed before I go out.

It is also VERY important to keep the diary free rest of week.  I recently had a big night out followed by an all day girlie lunch. It was actually unbearable getting the bus to the lunch and when I arrived, while everyone else (who had had the early night, see point above) had Prosecco, the only fizzy thing I had was a beaker of burping Barrocca and a glass of deoraliyte.

This is a very alarming state of affairs and it really pisses me off. Have I not built up enough bonus points in this Game of Life to enjoy a little gin guzzling when I want?   I’m not even talking about rolling down the road in my bare feet, clutching high heals and a donor kebab.  I’m talking about a few glasses of wine at my book club!   Sod L’Oreal.  Every bottle of wine should come with a label that says ‘Are you worth it?’  Or better still, Is this night worth it?   

Because it has to be worth the pain the next day or it’s not worth doing. 

Forty might be the new 30, and 50 might be the new 35, but what does that actually mean when our minds stay young but our kidneys keep ageing? 

There is no longer a template for my age group of 40 and 50 somethings. My breeding years are done, my boobs need more help to stay upright, my eyesight is failing me, but my courage is not.  In many ways I feel I’ve just passed the exams and am ready to start actually living.  I want to celebrate getting to the end of a day with the same number of eyelashes I started with, with a nice glass of wine.  I want to kick back with friends without the kickback of a shotgun headache.   I want to finally emerge from 10 baby years, and get back to living and laughing and loving without singing Wheels on the Bus.

So as I prepare for the end of my fertility years I just don’t feel an urge to curl up and lament my soon-to-be non-functioning uterus. I feel an urge to grab my life, defunct uterus and all, and start dancing.  I want to turn the energy I gave to egg production into a production of me.  I’m want to sling my defunct uterus around my neck like a sexy french scarf and rush around with my busy life, flushing hot if needs be, and brush off any thoughts that this is the beginning of the end. This is merely the end of the beginning.  And damn it I deserve a night out here and there.

Admittedly it was a book club, but my book club has such a great gang of gals that it is also one of my favourite social events.   I only had a few glasses of wine, but the next day felt like I’d been to Boot camp, not book club.

Was it worth it?   Absolutely;  it will always be worth the pain to share time, tonic and conversations with fun women.   But please, Mother Nature, give me a break. 46 is the new 26, so hold back on those hangovers for another few years yet please.

** actually it’s worse, it’s to do with increased levels of body fat that inevitably comes with age. Oh just shove your science and pass the gin.

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