We sit amongst frothy-topped coffees and comment on our ailments. We are the beleaguered mothers. There’s self-deprecation in the morning confessional; we know it’s not the done thing to admit impediment. Yet a string of non-specific, self-diagnosed symptoms emerge: migraines, muscle tension, throat constriction, heartburn, abdominal pain, palpitations, teeth-clenching (my personal favourite). We laugh at ourselves, admonish our frailty and say in unison: ‘it’s the stress!’. That seems to cover it, the catch-all explanation for so many physical manifestations that afflict modern mothers.
It’s not the stress of the new mother; the sleep-deprived, life-curtailed fog that descends after you take the baby home, and lodges for the first year. It’s not the stress of shepherding them through toddlerhood; the fingers in plug sockets, falling down stairs, drinking bleach phase. Nor is it the middle years, where mothers face the reality of not being able to fix everything; no-one to play with at playtime, not being picked for the team, not taking to a sleepover. No, what affects my mother friends is something else. We are now veterans, we have been mothers for many years and are even starting to focus on that empty nest, somewhere discernible but hazy, on the horizon of the distant future. Parenting teenagers offers up a new type of stress. A vapid version of its predecessors; we are on the sideline of our children’s lives, looking in but no longer able to influence, wondering why this all feels so damn weird. Worrying as a job. Professional worriers.
There’s an obscenity to it and that is not lost on me. Here we have a group of women most of whom have not faced real hardship, not real stress, although for each of us there has been a fair share of challenge. No one is exempt from the reach of the conversation that continues, staccato, as we sip too-hot drinks and wonder how long we can steal away together before we really ought to get back to our lives, our commitments, our jobs.
We discuss the need for self-care and tell each other about obscure supplements (Slippery Elm and Ashwagandha), making a mental note to read up on, or acquire said pill. I inwardly fret I’ve shared too much. I suspect we all do. There’s that curious British need to maintain the stiff upper lip. We all say it’s been a great summer and lament the new school term, but secretly love it because it means we can function/work/socialise/be free again. There’s nothing like a group of school mums come September. Those first weeks of term – the freedom! The knowledge that your off-spring are where they are meant to be, learning, and being cared for by other, fully trained adults.
I sit and observe. It is this group of women in whom I am interested. It is these about whom I wrote my novel; the forty-somethings trying to make sense of the mid-life crevasse they find themselves avoiding. The sandwich generation who, once they stop discussing their teenagers, start right in on discussing their older-generation parents. Or the affairs of our peers. Oh the irony! But of course we are also the ‘grateful’ generation. We acknowledge that we have it all. We are the women who were brought up to smash the glass ceiling and many of us gave it a good tap, and still do. It’s just that the stress involved in doing so causes migraines, tense muscles, throat constriction, heartburn, abdominal pain, palpitations and teeth-clenching! Haha!
It seems that what it all boils down to is ability to chill out and not take ourselves all so seriously. We look to each other to see who has mastered this. The ideal reaction is to not react. We agree to work on that, until next time…and enjoy the solidarity of not feeling alone. We are a tribe.