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. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Not having a wobble

IMG_5718So 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. 

IMG_5790I’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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

M is for….?

Quite soon after I became a ‘single lady’ last year (it sounds so much better when Beyonce puts it like that) I changed my bedroom around. I got rid of the ‘extra’ bedside table so I could move my bed to the wall and make more space.  I got rid of the ‘extra’ wardrobe and bought a gorgeous vintage writing desk on ebay. (it sound so much better when we say we buy things on ebay).  I bought a roll of vintage wallpaper and covered my chimney breast in the beauty of blossomed hummingbirds (it sounds so much better to say just one roll as if it is a show of design restrain, but it’s really because I could only afford one roll.)

It is MY bedroom… even though the children very much see it as an extension of theirs.. they sleep in it (when oh when will this stop??), get dressed in it, do their hair in it, and occasionally raid my wardrobe and prance around the place in high heels in it.  So perhaps it’s ok that despite the hankerings to be a grown up private room, it is cluttered with the chaos of childish things: painted pottery of unicorns and pigs that I was given as mother’s day presents, notes and cards of love and devotion, hair bobbles, their dirty knickers, and even a mouldy apple core (found the other morning behind my curtain). 

One of these child-centred things is a large fabric M that hangs on the wall beside my bed. It made complete sense of course to a child who wanted to give me a present, as the M represented everything I am to them – Mum.  It didn’t oMccur to them to get an A……a person with a name, a desire to sleep and a growing collection of books that never get the attention they would love. M is what I am to them, as it should be for now.  So sometimes as I lie awake in bed, sleep swapped for gazing in wonder (and irritation) at a sleeping child beside me who kicks me at regular intervals, I stare at that M, wondering what word it means for me that day.   It’s surprising how many things that M can represent.  In my twenties it meant Magic and Mystery and Men and Mistakes. In my thirties it was about Marriage and Mortgages, and Maybes and Babies. And then into my forties it’s all about Motherhood, Mayhem and Middle Age. Wait, What???   Arrgghhh!   How did I go from Martini girl to Mid-aged woman?  And one M leads to another. The M word that makes me pause. The M that is creeping up on me and making me mentally measure my morphing body and circumstances and mindset.

M can mean Monster (sleep deprived or otherwise). Or Mad. Some days I want it to mean Mutiny and Must I (really, another meal?) and when a little person sneaks in at 1am, a Must You?   But it also probably means the other M word.

Menopause. I’m not there yet, but things are afoot. Yes, the rogue chin hairs, the random periods, the curry and wine belly that won’t deflate like it used to after a day of Nutribullets, the extra vicious hangovers, the saggy bits, the waggy bits, the baggy bits… all those things wrapped up in the other M of misery – Middle Age.  Somedays I feel like putting an F up there beside it. With three asteriks.

M is for middle age and menopause.   Ho-bloody-ray.

I’m 46 with a close peer group ranging from 40 to 60 and so we’re either waiting for it, stepping our toes in it, plunging right into it’s depths, tentatively drying ourselves off, or have marched back up the beach, defiantly stretching out our new fertile-years-are-over-how-exciting-I-can-dedicate-all-that-energy-to me wings. I thought I was very much in the first bracket, but I think my toes are wet without me realising.

I’m not afraid of the menopause – it’s just another part of the hormone rollercoaster that starts at puberty.  In fact, there is a part of me delightfully anticipating a few decades of not being controlled by haphazard hormones and not having to apologise regularly for my moods.  If I’m going to be a plate-throwing madwoman, I’d like to take full responsibility for it. I have three kids, and absolutely don’t want any more (lovely as they are, I feel obliged to add) and to be alive at this stage of the game is exciting enough. 150 years ago, I’d be knitting myself into the grave.  But it is a confusing time. I’m still young at heart and mind, but my body is showing signs of wear.   And it’s so much harder than it used to be to patch it up.

In the last month alone I have downloaded a 21 day Yoga body transformation course, bought running socks and even worn work-out gear on several occasions. But the only working out I’ve done is working out how many glasses of wine I can drink of an evening without triggering the oh-fuck-why-can’t-I-drink-anymore hangover. I mean really?  You give us wrinkles, chin hairs, saggy belly’s, monthly madness, bad eyesight, hot flushes AND an inability to drown our sorrows without paying for it?? Mother nature is a glorious woman, but damn, she can be a mean bitch at times.   Maybe she’s having an M day.

A bit like life, I never quite know what’s going to happen next with my body. I try to treat it like a temple but more often I still treat it like a supermarket trolly: chuck everything in it and hope I can make something that looks good out of it at the end of the day.   I buy the creams, I download the yoga course, I swear off the wine, but you know, some times I look in the mirror and just see Me.   Merry, manic, mercifully too old to give a shit, muscle-challenged, motherly, mentally stretched, mindfully overwhelmed Me.  A good reason to open the Merlot.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Can’t see the writing on the wall.

Can’t read the writing on anything much to be honest.  Especially labels on small containers.

So I was in the chemist perusing the face cream shelf, hoping to find that magic pot that costs €20 but does the work of three botox sessions. Failing, obviously, I asked the assistant what she would recommend, since despite squinting, I couldn’t read any of them. I told her my age, 46, smiling, hoping for a slightly startled reaction, and a “Oh, you don’t look it” giggle.  But instead, she sighed wearily, pointed to the heavy duty glass pots and said. “There, those are the creams for middle aged women.”

I looked over my shoulder to see who she was referring to, but there was only my reflection in the lipstick stand mirror. Fabulously furious 46 year old me!

My heart lurched in direct comparison to the rising price tag (how come ‘youth’ get tight skin and cheaper creams?)

Taking a jar and my horror out of the shop, I immediately googled ‘middle age’ only to discover that the damn woman was right. According to Wikepedia, the Oxford English Dictionary and Collins, I am middle aged.   How the hell did that happen?  Last time I looked, which was actually only that morning, I was still young(ish) and trendy(ish) and energetic(ish) me. Say the words ‘Middle Age’ though and a frightening array of images from my childhood sweep before my eyes of purple perms, elasticated waists and shapeless cardigans.

I might be plucking rogue hairs from my chin at a frenzied rate, and holding food labels out on a selfie stick so I can read them, but that is definitely NOT how I see myself.

It used to be that most women ‘of a certain age’ became invisible once their clear role as a Mammy diminished, and they were left to congregate together, knitting and complaining about their men (or other women who made the social faux pax of being mutton dressed as lamb).  But I look around me and that is not what I see now.

If I was Bridget Jones, this would  be my pre-journal summary count:

  1. Life/skin/energy/eyesight boosting nutrients: handful of spinach, half a mango and a kiwi (I can’t be arsed to calorie count, so replacing these with ‘how many green veg and yellow fruit can I cram into a NutriBullet per day’)
  2. Wine content. Obviously: 1 glass. So far.
  3. Rogue chin hairs to be plucked: 1 (and a squeezed spot)
  4. Hot flushes: haven’t a clue – am constantly in a sweaty state of panic that could be menopause, ozone-wrecked weather schizophrenia, or sweat from multi-tasking home, children, work and Facebook.)
  5. Chocolate: 4 small squares of my new addiction (Dark Milk, by Chocolate & love)

Now, I’m not normally a fan of labels, except the ones that show a rare shopping indulgence or indicate a high coco content. I’ve been lots of labels for lots of years – a teenager (a term, that if spoken by my mother, was accompanied by rolling eyes); a student (bank manager now rolling his eyes); career girl (lots of rollings – in hay, of cigs and rolling home); wife (rolling along); mother (rolling over). I didn’t particularly like being labelled any of these things although I thoroughly enjoyed each phase to a lesser or greater extent.   So it’s a little disconcerting to discover that I am yearning for a label to describe myself now, because it seems society has mislaid a whole sector of us. Losing one person is unfortunate. Losing a whole generation is downright negligent. By us, I mean women who find ourselves in the uncharted waters of being labelled in a middle age that does not reflect our lives.   Society hasn’t just mislaid us, it hasn’t actually realised we exist.   

I’m having a mid-life identity crisis. 

I know I’m young at heart but I’m also young at spirit. I’m mid-life and I really believe the best is still to come, rogue chin hairs and hot flushes notwithstanding.  I’m older yes, but let’s call that experienced. I’m a bit more wrinkled, yes, but let’s say that shows a lot of laughter.

So as I buy purple mascara instead of a purple rinse, I laugh in the face of comfortable shoes, sling on a pair of toIMG_5481tally impractical but totally gorgeous killer heels and step out into the unknown (partly because I can’t see a damn thing close up).

Just don’t call me middle aged. I’m only getting started…

Oh and just because I feel like cheering everyone up…. this is my new baby…..

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Putting the Good in Goodbye

gin-and-tonic-1I’d like to start by saying that I’m delighted to hear that – according to one lady who has reached the ripe old age of 100 – the secret to a long life is Gin.

I knew something so good, couldn’t be so bad.  I may not stretch to her 6 a day, but I do love my little glass of sparkle at the end of a day.

And it’s fitting too, that gin will feature heavily in my new blog… yes, it’s time to say goodbye to The Sandwich Years.

As I have written a lot about, one of the things I have been forced to learn (kicking and screaming and tearing my hair out at times, admittedly) is how life is a constant change.  Sometimes those changes are thrust upon us, and sometimes they are a natural progression – either way they take courage and care to step out into new land.  A nice wedge helps too.

And so it is with this blog. It started out 9 years ago as Mummy Mania, where I cut my blogging teeth as my babies cut their milk ones at my feet. I found my voice as a new bedraggled and frenzied mum, and an awestruck and bowled-over-by-love mum and wrote about this amazing and confusing time as I adjusted from being an independent person to one that couldn’t go to the toilet alone.  I wrote some crazy stuff about my crazy life and that blog made me some friends from the blogosphere that are still my cheerers and shoulders today, as I am theirs.  That blog also got me some magazine commissions and helped me develop a sense of regular writing as my career as a writer developed.  I had a little Gin to celebrate my survival through those mind-and-body-altering years, where the responsibly of caring for little lives often felled me in ways trekking alone across SE Asia never did. I might have swum with sharks but wading through the toddler years are much more dangerous waters.

I was sad to see that Mummy Mania blog go, but when I entered a new phase of my life, I knew it was time to bid it farewell and evolve into something new. I took down the banner, and the photo and I replaced the image and the name, and The Sandwich Years was born.

For five years I wrote about the struggles and stresses, the love and laughter of my life as I cared for my mum and my babies, and ultimately the end of my marriage.   Many of the blogs posts became very serious, as I dealt with some of the most difficult episodes of my life, including the death of my lovely mum. But that blog too served me very well… and from it’s pain and poetry came a book deal, and a bestselling memoir emerged from it’s premise (available on Amazon!)

Motherhood is still manic, and my sandwich years still exist to an extent (although I can hardly say I ‘look after’ a dad who has already made me my Christmas cake and who mowed my lawn last week) but I am taking a step in a high heeled glitzy sandal into a new phase of my life, and like a trusty old friend, I’m bringing my blog with me.

Together we will stride out, Gin& Tonic in hand, to embark on an exiting new journey.. as a mum of course, as a single women embarking on the dating scene, as a mid-aged woman about to start a hormonal odyssey into the unknown, as a writer playing with lots of exciting projects, and as a women navigating a new life.

So this is the last time I will write under The Sandwich Years banner.  You have served me well but I will have a little Gin & Tonic now to toast all that we have been through together, and to celebrate what you have given me… a voice when I often didn’t have one, a book deal and a lifetime dream of being published and friends who have responded with love and support (apart from a particularly crazy one who makes up email addresses to insult me… hey ho. I’m amazed that someone who is so irritated by my blog continues to read it!).

So it is time to let go of this phase of this blog, and this phase of my life.

Salute as they say…..and to those who read these pages thank you. Thank you for staying with me through these tough times…. I hope you stay with me now for the good times, the haphazardly hormonal times, the good, the unbelievable and the challenging… because one thing the posts of this blog show over 9 years – you get them all, sometimes in one day.

I wrote recently in the Irish Times about my peer group of women redefining what it means to be middle aged.   We just don’t fit the stereotypes, and we are probably the first generation of women to take advantage of the extra years we have been given. 150 years ago out life expectancy was 40. Once children were reared, women retreated into the background to knit away their remaining days. Now it is 83. Women today find themselves with an entire extra lifespan to enjoy, and for the first time we are beginning to shed the image of grey-haired, elasticated-waist-wearing has-beens. Those extra decades aren’t added to the end of our lives… they have been inserted into the middle and Middle age is being redefined by a new generation of women not ready to hang up their high heels.

I am so excited about my new blog… it will no doubt contain dating disasters, puberty potholes as my home becomes the House of Hormones (three daughters heading into puberty and one single woman heading into menopause… it can’t be good), highs and lows.  My marriage is over, my parent-care years have eased and after 10 years of babies and toddlers I have three school children.  I have reached the statistical mid-point of my life, but when I look in the mirror, I don’t see ‘middle aged’. I see a woman with a whole life still ahead of her.

My mid-life crisis is a mid-life opportunity.  And I’m not alone.  All around, I see my generation of women refusing to disappear into the mists of middle-age as silver hair becomes the new golden age.   

So my new blog is going to explore this time…. I am having to embrace certain physical changes as menopause madness looms (eyesight failing, boobs needing more support to stay up, and rogue black hairs appearing spontaneously on my chin) and enter scary dating territory (was told by one dating agency that 46 is the least popular age for women to be selected… thanks), raising three girls to be empowered, confident feminists who will tackle all kinds of issues in their teenage years, and striving to fulfil my creative dreams as a writer, whilst trying to pay the bills.

So I hope you join me as I hot flush into the Grin & Tonic blog years, tweezers at the ready. It’s going to take courage and friendship and laughter and heart. Goodbye The Sandwich Years…your job is done.  As Beyonce pointed out with her new album Lemonade (when your life is handed lemons, you can still make it sweet)…. even a bitter lemon can be made to taste good when mixed in the right ingredients.   So I hope you enjoy my new blog Grin & Tonic, a slice of lemon in a glass of sparkle.  Onwards and upwards… always.



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments