So this is a picture my daughter drew of me, emphasising my ‘wobbly bits’ she calls them. I smiled with my lips but my eyes lurched to the gin bottle. I could try and explain that you know, middle age spread and all that, but I know I wouldn’t sound that convincing. We both know my running shoes have been growing mould over the last few months, and the glass recycling jangles a bit too loudly with clinking empty bottles of vino. My slight obsession with salted dark chocolate is also worryingly evident. Like a naughty child caught red handed with bulging cheeks and an empty sweet wrapper, I’ve been spied too many times with chocolate lips.
Her picture was meant to be funny, but it did give me a jolt. I’m not that bad… obviously…. but i’m definitely having a long-distance relationship with firmness at the moment. Firm thighs, firm arse, and firm resolve. Not so firm.
So once this summer holiday is over….(my only resolve this holiday is to enjoy wine, sleep late, and read books)… I’m getting my floppy arse in gear. This time two years ago I was the fittest I’ve ever been in my life. I was in training for the Dublin marathon, and the only rippling my body did involved muscles, not fat. I was 44 then. Now I am 46 and have entered the twilight zone of middle age (yet to be redefined because I am NOT calling myself that), and I am using this time to take a good hard look at myself in the mirror. I have two ways to go – up or down. The middle aged spread is an actual thing – another happy hazard of our hormones going haywire – so I’m not like my 20 year old self who could eat KFC for a week and still fit into a size 8 jean. Now it involves work, commitment and yes, firm resolve.
I’m the first to admit I’ve had a self-indulgent 18 months. I’m going to forgive myself for that. I’ve had a few knocks. My knocks have had knocks. Losing your husband, your mum, and nearly your sanity is definitely a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card on the chocolate front. But what I have learned in my half-life so far, is that no-one can pick me up but me. (I might need a hoist though, and my knees might creak). So in this mid-life crisis I find myself in, is also my mid-life opportunity. It’s a gift in many ways, and one that many of us are experiencing as perhaps the first generation of women to enter ‘middle-age’ and have the choice to say Fuck Off. I wrote about it here for the Irish Times. It’s the middle you see. Not the end. Just the glorious middle. It’s a period to look back at all the stupid mistakes we made but march forward knowing we survived them well. At times of reflection, we are often told to write a letter to our younger self, giving her advice. But she’s gone and I’m all about looking forward. So I think about my slightly older self…. let’s say 60 years young. If she was to write to me now, what would I want her to be reflecting on? In what ways would I want her to be proud of me? What would I like to have achieved for myself, my family, my career in the next 14 years? Where will I need courage, where will I need help, when will I need a good supply of gin?
What picture do I want my daughter to draw of me? Not the one she just did, so that is plan Number 1. To live well, I need to live well. So self-indulgent time is over, and self-love time begins. (I believe in moderation, so let’s not get too West Coast American about this – I’ll keep the wine habit, but throw in pilates and running again).
I have huge ambitions. Perhaps more now than I have ever had in all those years as a ‘career girl’. And that excites me more than anything. I want to write another non-fiction. I am writing a novel. I am building my career as a fundraising copywriter and freelance journalist. I want to do a masters in Gender Studies. I want to read, and write and teach and learn. Despite a varied and stimulating career, I feel in many ways I am only getting started.
And then there is love. Who knows if it is out there for me, but actually right now, I’m not too bothered. What was interesting though was the number of people who said to me once my husband left, “You’ll have to find yourself a rich man.” Sorry, I thought feminism had arrived and we’d found equality?? I do NOT need to find myself a rich man.
I want to stand on my own two feet! I don’t need a rich man – I would like a man to cuddle with, but I need to make myself rich (well rich enough to keep me in Bombay Sapphire and skin-firming night cream.)
Before I got married I held a senior management position in a leading charity, had my own flat, car and teeth. 13 years later I left my marriage with an extra stone around my waist, debt and a coldsore. (OK, and 3 glorious girls…. who will hopefully look after me in old age, or at least find me a nice home where they serve hot chocolate for breakfast and keep me in clean pads). So the ‘you need to find yourself a rich man’ was actually really offensive. Perhaps in time, I’d like a kind, loving man please, who knows how to do an Indian head massage and loves hoovering.
I’ll try and find my riches myself, and as I sit in the sun here in Donegal, the sun climbing Mt Erricle while I drink my first cup of Earl Grey, three sleeping children upstairs and a new puppy at my feet, my laptop on my knee and a head full of ideas, I know that riches aren’t all in my bank account. (That’s not to say I wouldn’t say no to a villa in Tuscany.)
And that’s what my mid-life celebration is going to be. Saying yes to everything I can get my hands on (and knowing that conversely, that for me to say yes to things that will enrich and satisfy me, I’ll have to start saying no to a lot of shit that doesn’t. I think houses can be too clean anyway. Bad for you I hear. I’m saying yes to Dirt is Good. See how easy that is?)
I’m going to ask my daughter to draw a picture of me every year, and no doubt they’ll all be insulting in the way that only children can be when they really love you. But it’s the picture I draw for myself that really matters. And the one thing I am sure of is that my adventures in middle age will not be middle of the road.