ten good things about middle age

IMG_9049As I sip a G&T after a lazy sort of busy Sunday, I’m feeling rather contented. I haven’t had enough of the G to feel the T yet, so I’m assuming my hormones are having a lazy day too and letting me off the hook today. I’ve shoved over the dog, and am sandwiched between him and the cat on the sofa, ignoring the fact that there is loud thumping and squealing upstairs despite it being ‘reading’ time.

I’m just happy all the windows are intact and familia relations are relatively calm at the end of a weekend with no plans. I long for weekends with no plans, but of course as soon as we’re in them, I remember that plans are good for keeping three children occupied enough to prevent full scale, fully charged bickering, yelling, stropping, slapping, mess-making.  That said, we did manage to get some things done, and allowed me some mulling time.

I’ve been enduring, writing about and talking about middle age a lot recently. It seems every conversation I have with my gal-pals is about hot flushes, weight gain or hangovers. So in the spirit of political equality I’ve decided to balance things out with the upside. Yes there is one. There are ten in fact.

10 good things about middle age.

1.It is perfectly acceptable to have a mid-day, mid-age sleep

This morning I took my girls for a family run.  It was painful, exhausting and felt like it would never end. But their moaning eventual stopped and we started running.  Afterwards, I suggested we all have an hour of ‘me time’ and I promptly had a snooze on the sofa.  I’m allowed and have not a single pang of 30-something’s angst. 

2.My failing eyesight means I can overlook the dust

I’m so over perfection. It was so last-decade (35-45’s). This decade (my 45-55’s) I’m all about being squashed on my sofa enjoying a G&T and pushing the stray cat hairs under the sofa with my foot.

3. I am far less judgemental and far, far less tolerant.

I couldn’t care less about anyone’s political preferences, I just care if they’re an asshole.   And boy am I having a field day in this world political climate.

4. We are expected to be mad menopausal monsters.

So I can be one. Guilt free.

5. I no longer have to worry about having an hourglass figure where my waist is a smaller clothes size than my hips.

My middle aged middle has spread around the edges, a sort of blurring of the definitions of waist and hips. More room for Dorritos I say.

6. We are officially fashion icons

Yes, I’ve read it in at least 2 websites and 3 magazines. Grey is the new blonde. Youngsters in their 20’s and 30’s are now paying (I’ll say that again, PAYING) to get their hair dyed grey or silver.  Oh, how the sweet justice of it all wants me to break my one-Gin-on-a-Sunday-night rule.

7. It’s ok to take drugs again

The clubbing days of our youth might be over, but taking mind-altering drugs to give you a high is back – and GP prescribed!  Don’t ya love intravenous oestrogen!

8.  It’s absolutely ok to shine the spotlight on ourselves.

We’ve done the baby-making, child-rearing obsession thing and now can do the child-rearing not quite as obsessionally with one eye on them, and one eye on our own Netflix playlist. I am officially turning my office / dump room into a Teen Den, and caving in to buying a second TV in the house.   I am giving my lounge an adult make-over and once the sofas have been re-upholstered there will not be child’s handprint allowed. It will be a child / food / dog free zone. I can almost cry with the thought of it.  I am evening considering installing a drinks cabinet. Am now having palpitations.

9. We no longer have to be fashion victims or outcasts

Thankfully fashion has caught up with the fact that women in the 40’s and 50’s don’t want elasticated waistbands (although it has to be said, there is an appeal), twinset and pearls and ugly shoes.  We can get way with wearing ‘comfortable shoes’ by living in our Nikes, and staying stylish doesn’t mean wearing thongs and belly tops. And let’s face it, the current trend for off the shoulder tops with a mini-arm cover is made for bat-wing arms.

10. I no longer have to be the ‘good girl.’

That ship has passed.  I am sailing freer waters now where I no longer feel like trying to be liked, or pleasing people who don’t please me.   I was brought up in a time when women were told how to behave – demure, kind, thoughtful and quiet. Fuck that. I’m a new age in a new age of femininity where my voice is loud and proud, and I’m kind only to those who deserve it.   The only good girl thing about me is going to be being good at this middle aged life.

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Time travel

tardis2Dr Who used to play every Saturday night in my house when I was growing up.  I would usually be crouched behind the sofa, terrified by the mere mention of a Dalek while the rest of my family enjoyed the height of sophisticated 1970’s / 80’s TV.

The idea of time travel appealed though… a bit like that other 1980’s TV show Mr Ben – where you could enter a small squashed space and emerge into a different place and time. I would imagine myself in Jane Austin’s lounge while she scratched out her words with a quill and ink; or sit in Dickens’ study as he pondered Pip’s journey; or move forward to the shiny future where everyone seemed to wear cat suits (as they did in Buck Rogers and Star Trek).  My childhood imagination was fired with possibility. Little did I know that time travel was a real thing.

How else can I explain the fact that every time I’m asked my age, my brain says 32 but then I am whooshed forward in an invisible Tardis to the point where I am forced to say 47?

How come I’ve only just come back from dropping my eldest daughter to play school, the screams of separation still ringing in my ears, yet somehow I entered the wardrobe and found myself last weekend taking her around to see her secondary school, her nonchalant too-cool-for-school mask now firmly in place?

How come Facebook popped up a memory picture into my feed of my beautiful mum surrounded by her grandchildren, yet today I bought a bunch of wild flowers from the farmer’s market for her birthday, even though she is no longer around to receive them?

How come I only feel I became a mother and am still trying to figure out the instructions in Greek, yet my second daughter hits double digits next week?

How come time travel is a thing, and no-one told me?

But as I delve deeper into the mid-life experience, and research lots of its aspect for my next book, I realise that time travel is a constantly evolving thing and it can go back as well as forward.  (If only someone would tell my face). We can stand still and we can go back in time, we can relive loves and lives and moments by simply closing our eyes.

Facebook and Instagram might be maligned for being some intrusive, altruistic self-promoting spotlight, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to keep us connected to the present and the past. I keep track of people on Facebook that I would never ever get the chance to do without it, and with that am able to keep connected and time travel back to the me I was when I shared real time with them, be them my school pals, my travel friends or family members I rarely get to see.

But we can also keep living our younger selves, albeit it in an older body. I am in the place where I can time travel back to a space where I am single again, with all the terror and excitement that brings. I can go travelling again, learn to dance, and do many of the things I did at a different space in my life.  It’s not time travel I realise. Time is not travelling. Only me. I am flexible but time is not.

So I step out of the Tardis of Life and realise I need to catch up with the time I’m in. I don’t want to time travel, I want to time absorb. According to the stats, I have reached mid-way. But here’s the rub. I’ve no idea if I am mid-aged. I might be. I might live to be 90.  But I might live to be 115 so still be in my relative youth. I might not make it past 60 and am now in my dotage. I just don’t know if I’m at the early-years, mid-age or end-stage of my life.

I’m just at this stage of my life.  Last night I went clubbing. Yes, you read that right. This is the woman who will only go to a pub if I can be guaranteed of a seat.  But I ended up going to an amazing alternative dance venue (no drugs or drink) where I literally danced myself into a sweaty mess until the small hours.  Despite the fact I had to down a quick G&T before I went in just to reassure myself that I would have alcohol pumping through my system while I danced, by midnight and 2 hours of solid dancing I knew I didn’t need it.  I was high on life.  The place was as seething mass of limbs belonging to people in their 20’s right up to their 60’s.  It was like a festival without the mud.  I danced in a way, and for longer than I have since I was into the London club scene in my early 20’s.  Time hadn’t travelled. I have. And I can go anywhere/ anytime I want.

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Bondage, burritos and balance.

So it seems I don’t actually have two left feet.   I have two glorious dancing feet. Who knew?    Ok the last man I danced with probably wouldn’t call me glorious as I think I took out three of his toes, but last week, leaning tango in Buenos Aires, taught me again that I can do something I never thought I could – which is my new mid-aged mantra.

It’s said that the dance of tango is a metaphor for life. That when you learn to dance it properly, you learn to live properly.  I have to say I was sceptical. But, like the steps seduced me, I am converted to believing that if I incorporate what I learned about the tango into my life, then my life will be a better song to dance to.   There is a beautiful moment – I actually just keep wanting to use the word exquisite – at the very beginning of the dance, whereby you have committed to the embrace, and you sway together, barely perceptively, as your weight shifts onto each foot until both dancers are in synch.  Only when balance is found, can the dance begin. This slow rocking together is called the cunita – the cradle – called such because it feels like a mother’s safe embrace.   Every so often during the dance, you pause, still embracing and connected, and sway until your balance is found again. If that ain’t a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.

As I am struggling to learn, you cannot dance the tango with your mind. You can only dance it with your senses.   For a control-freak like myself, this is a major head-fuck. And so it should be. Learning to live life with other parts of me is an important lesson.  Sometimes I need my brain to be in full throttle (menopausal mental pauses notwithstanding) but sometimes, you need to live on the seat of your flaming pants. 

I learned my mid-aged cliches keep coming, like errant hairs on my chin, this time fancying my 20 something tango instructor.  Not sure that’s a metaphor for anything other than giddiness.   But that’s allowed too.

But that aside, this really was a week of learning. And all it took was a few lessons, a bit of bondage and some me time.

Tango is so linked to healing that there is a specific branch of psychotherapy that uses tango to provide therapy.  Hence I ended up in bondage.

So it wasn’t real bondage. Obviously. But dancing blindfolded teaches you to dance by feel, not sight. I had to learn to sense when and where my partner was going to move.   It’s very nerve wracking… and very liberating.  To dance with only the music to give me a vague idea of speed, and only the minute shifts in his body weight and positioning to commit and move so that we danced as though every move had been pre-choreographed is an incredible experience and one I am only beginning to grasp.   When you watch a couple dance the tango it is like one person is dancing with four legs.   Well, it’s supposed to.. mine still looks a bit like two bodies and eight legs.

IMG_8372This all sounds very intimate, and it is. I danced with lots of partners over the course of the week, at lessons, practicas and milongas, and each time I had to learn to commit to the embrace, and find our balance and trust myself to listen and read his body.

Like when I began training for the marathon a few years ago, even though I never really believed I would finish it, I embarked on this experience not really believing I’d be able to dance. (And when I talk about dancing here I just mean being able to move around the dance floor without injuring someone, not the exquisite moves that professional tango-istas can do.)

But from my first lesson I discovered that while I am not rhythmically blessed, I can learn to overcome that.  But I need to make my damn mind be quiet. I need to embrace the moment of finding balance, and trust myself and what I am feeling.

I am home again now, my tan glowing and my feet itching to move. Thankfully I am unwrapping my tango shoes tonight for a new lesson. I know I am only at the beginning of this tango dance, I’m still fumbling and bumbling my way around, trying to shut down my mind and listen to my instincts.  But I know I am in the right dance, and that all I need to do is commit to the embrace and let go. Just like life after all.

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Don’t cry for me, Argentina…

……because I’m delighted with myself.  I’ve had my first day in Buenos Aires today, which, after nearly 24 hours of travelling, was spent mostly unleashing my needy skin to the warmth of a hot sun, and luxuriating in the highly strange concept of having a day off.  Yes, that also involved sampling my first glass of Argentinian wine (in said sun, but if you can’t be irresponsible on holiday, when can you?).

Given that I had planned this adventure months ago – to fly to the tango capital of the world to learn the sensual dance of dances – it was a little late in the game to realise mid-13 hour flight from London that in fact it’s an awfully long way from home.  It was as my little TV screen showed the plane endlessly flying over Brazil that it hit home how far home was on the other half of the world. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve done a long-haul flight.  Then I was young and carefree and the panic was in leaving my mum. Now, it felt so disquieting to be getting further and further away from my girls.

It was other-worldly.

A big part of me panicked. What if they needed me? I was literally at the other side of the world, across the hemisphere, out of reach.  It is wrong for a mother to be that far from her child.  The space and distance is vast. Ireland can fit in a city dot on the South American map.  Sitting on the plane, on a no-turn-back 14 hour flight, I felt lost in space and time, unable to contact anyone I love. As a single mum these last two years, my connection to the girls has veered on the leech-like. Now I felt wrenched away, bleeding.

But, like it takes two to tango, that panic was mingled with a delicious thrill that you can only get from the anticipation of a new adventure. I was flying to a vast country on the other side of the world, where nobody knows me, and I can be someone else entirely. Or me entirely.   A stranger among strangers.

And that is the constant struggle in my life – teetering on the beam, balancing the pull of them and the push of me.   And that is life.. so I will live it the best way I can, in a tango dance between the two. Earlier this week I took them glamping, and we had the best fun with their cousins.  We didn’t wash for three days, and barbequed bacon and sausages for breakfast.  Bliss on a stick.  But as life is one big constant schizophrenic sashay from the ridiculous to the sublime, I ditched the glamping for glamour and will now dance my socks off (oh wait, too hot for socks) in Buenos Aires. First lesson today… wish me luck!

IMG_8343

Me, waiting for my first glass of Argentinian wine after a 20 hour journey.

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groovin’ and movin’ in my comfort zone

Hear that noise?  It’s the sound of me stepping, or even shimmying, out of my comfort zone.    This time next month, I will just have landed in Buenos Aeries, the ‘Paris’ of South America… about to embark on a week of self-discovery.  Well, I’ll be discovering if my feet are actually connected to my hips anyway, as I learn to tango in the tango capital of the world.

To prepare me for this little adventure, I’ve been taking salsa lessons, which reaffirmed my life-long held belief that my dancing hips got left in the shop when I was put together. A trip to Cuba a decade or so ago cemented this in stone…. which is about how fluid my hips feel when my feet are counting out the steps. Except, at my last class, it finally came together, and gasp!  My hips moved in the same direction, and to the same beat as my feet!  Now I won’t be slavering myself in orange tan and investing in diamante encrusted bras any time soon, but I think, with more lessons and a new-found mid-aged don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, I’m going to at least look like I’m resembling a Latin dance rather than a Morris dance.

I’m delighted with myself, and my new found talent hobby.  I’ve changed a life-long held view that I can’t do something into a second-half-life-long belief that I can.  It’s all part my promise to myself to undo a lot of the restrictions I, or others, have put on me, and to spend my mid-age exploring myself as much as I spent my youth exploring the world.  I also plan to learn to swim properly and achieve an open-water mile by the end of the year among other things because I’ve always believed I can only swim like my mother, and I hate swimming in the sea – all about to change. (Oh, and making the perfect Gin cocktail just because who wants to spend the second half of their life drinking anything but perfection?).

But stepping out of my comfort zone isn’t quite the backpack adventure into unknown territories it once was. I’ve reached that age when I have spent much of my life trundling outside my zone of comfort without a map and proper footwear, just because life is never a walk in a sunny park.   Sometimes life is great and as you expect, and other times it comes along and gives you a smack in the face.  I’ve had the life-smacks –  miscarriages, parent care, finding out my husband is gay – to name just a few, but I’ve also had more than my fair share of life-hugs too. So when I survive the unexpected, when I’ve walked out of the discomfort zone of grief, or loss or chaos and shock, I have been able to dust myself down and look back at my footprints and think, WOW, I did not expect to go there, but while the view might not have been great, I’m fitter for the trek.

Yesterday was the first time I haven’t spent St Patrick’s Day with my own children. Another zone of discomfort toIMG_8159 navigate. And this Easter will be the first Easter I won’t get to be the Easter bunny and leave eggs outside their bedroom and hide eggs in the garden. Someone took those experiences away from me, so I will create my own. I will take that discomfort and raise it a tango dance. I bought my dancing shoes and my lovely pal bought me a matching tango lipstick and I will spend Easter trying to make my hips connect to my feet, and heart connect to my soul and dance my way into the comfort of this mid-age state I have found myself in.

And maybe the hot flushes will be happening not just because I’ve reached a certain age, but because I’ve reached a certain stage where I can go dancing even though I’m crap, and I’ve reached a certain phase where adventures are available to me and I will sweat and grin my evenings away dancing, and flushing and knowing that wherever my steps in life lead me, I will own them

.. one salsa step, one freezing swim, one gin cocktail at a time.

 

 

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Saying sorry….. not.

sorryThis morning I found myself about to apologise for my appearance.  I have been fighting an infection, and I hadn’t bothered to ‘put my face on’ as my mother would say, I was in my pilates gear and looking, how shall we put it, like me. Without the effort. And as I rushed to meet someone, I was thinking in my head how I’ll apologise for my appearance as if I was somehow offending them by looking like myself (without the effort).  WTF? Yesterday I was caught off-guard when I thought I was about to meet one of my ex’s partners. I felt I wasn’t looking my best as if I should have to prove myself to them.

Why the hell should I apologise to anyone for the way I look? With or without effort?

And I thought about all the times I have apologised for being me – the way I’ve looked, the way I’ve felt, the way I’ve behaved.  Girls are brought up to be good, kind, pleasing and – my pet hate – to smile. Why do men always tell you to smile when you walk past?  What have YOU done to make ME smile I wonder?  Why should I give my smile away for free?

Why should I say I’m fine when I feel like shit? Why should I excuse my greasy hair and make-up-free face when when I’m not well?  Why should I feel bad because I get angry when I have plenty to be angry about?  Why should I say sorry for being cross when THEY are the ones who have behaved badly?

Because that is what is expected of us good girls.   Well this is one woman who is going to be good at being myself and not apologising for it.  I have three girls to raise, and while I want them to be good at stuff, I especially want them to learn to be good to themselves. Not good pleasing others. Not good keeping their anger, or madness, or ideas, or ambitions or desires muted in case they appear too loud or brash or unfeminine.

I am no longer going to apologise for my age, or my tired face, or my anger, or my madness, or my sadness, or my gaiety, or my humour, or my hormonal horror moments, or my happiness, or my giddiness, or my frivolity or my seriousness.   I will apologise for being late or rude. But not for being myself.

In this, International Woman’s Day I want to celebrate being me. With or without the effort.

A friend bought me a lipstick recently, for those va va voom moments we all love to have.  Admittedly today I’m not feeling very va va voom (and am not going to apologise for that). But when my next va va voom moment comes, I will smack my lips and pout in red  and smile -not because I’ve made the effort for someone else, and not because someone else has asked me to smile. No, I shall put on my lipstick and smile for me and no-one else. Sorry.

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Love is…..

Dark chocolate caramel, Gin, Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Gin, the smell of a new book,

Oh wait no. Those are the things I love.

No, after a week of shops dripping in blood red hearts like a bloody A&E after a particularly chaotic Grey’s Anatomy episode, I have been pondering what Love actually is.

This was, bearing in mind, while I spent Valentine’s night on the sofa with my dog, not a bleeding heart in sight, sipping red wine and watching the Valentine First Dates Special.  Yet I wasn’t feeling all excluded by the couples collusion that love is a single red rose on a single day of the year.  I was quite content.  My daughters had given me a big box of Butlers chocolates so my Phenylethylamine (otherwise known “the love drug”, because it arouses feelings similar to those that occur when one is in love) and serotonin levels (known as a mood-lifter) were covered.

When I was younger, growing up as a teenager in the 1980’s, there was a love bombing of cartoons with a cute (and naked if I remember rightly) couple in a variety of situations, with the words Love is….. written underneath. Each cartoon had a different answer to what love is, be that something as inane as doing the dishes or as saccharine as loving every little thing they do.

love-isIt was a moment in time, an innocence I might even have bought into for a while; the idea that love is that simple. Handing someone a red rose, or taking a wet plate from them and drying it while smiling.

Then life happened and the cartoons faded from fashion and the innocence faded with them.  Or I realised that love is much more complicated.  Love is rarely being handed a solitary and forlorn red rose. Love is complex and tricky and comes from the strangest of places….and for me anyway, rarely come from the textbook romance of the cartoons.

They rarely came from ‘The One’ – not that I remotely believe in The One. And not because the one I married turned out to be some one completed different.  We focus on the love of romance, but the loves that have – and do – sustain me most come from much deeper sources.

Love is… my friend who turns up at my door even when I never asked her to, because she knew I should have asked her to.

Love is…. seeing the first snow drops of Spring and feeling my mum smiling down at me.

Love is….. my friends making me smile every day with their contact and humour

Love is…. my girls, and everything they do, even when they are literally tearing chunks of skin out of each other and screeching like banshees and making me feel as if I am going mad.

Love is…. that exquisite scene in La La Land when Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s hands touch so tenderly

Love is….a neighbour calling me the other day just to remind me that she’s there

Love is….. a friend coming over to put my youngest to bed because she knows it’s exhausting

Love is….. laughter and Gin, and good books and warmth and the sun on my face

Love is…… my dad trying his best to figure out the chaos of my life and not be an asshole about it

Love is….. my brother sending me a teapot cosy for my birthday

Love is….. so many things…. and it is rarely a single red rose. It is a single rosy reckoning where we feel we belong.

Love is…. the little touches that make us feel better in a day of challenges.   So how delighted was I to find out I was receiving a little gift to make me feel better in a day of challenges.  I’ve said before how much I struggle with parenting alone, how much I miss the presence of another adult in the house to help mitigate the tsunami of rage, emotion, anxiety, exuberance, defiance, boldness, coldness, attention-seeking, love-needing, craft-loving, mess-making, fun-fanning, energy-exploding hormones that are three young girls.  It’s two years exactly since I heard the front door slam and my new life as a single parent began.  I’m not going to sugar coat it, (because frankly there is enough sugar going on in this house and most of it is in my stomach) it’s been so fucking hard I have sat on the bottom stair endless times and cried in the frustration of trying to raise three confident, charismatic daughters with the energy levels of a dying battery.

So how lovely an idea is this?  A box of love and goodies just for mums. (But I think for anyone really that we love and who needs a little lift..I know mums of cat and dogs who would love this just as much, because life is hard, whatever and whoever we are.)

Sharyn Hayden writes the brilliant Raising Ireland blog, and is author of the very funny book ‘I Forgot to Take my Pill.”  And now she brightens up days.  I can’t wait for my box to arrive, filled, I am promised, with surprise beauty treats with a side order of much-needed giggles thrown in.  If anyone fancies sending one (or making it a monthly treat) you can order them here.

It’s the little moments, the first snow drop, a surprise shot of sun on your face, a call, a text, a box in the post.

Love is….. never The One and never one thing.

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