Possibly, I’ve spent too much time on Instagram, scrolling like I am demented, looking for something to entertain me. I’ve caught myself, over the course of this summer, (which has been an awesome summer, with some certifiably Instagram-worthy moments to it), becoming immersed in the social media lure. I tell my teenagers to get offline, then I try to do the same, because, y’know, practice what you preach, and I fail. I read articles entitled ‘break up with your phone’ and I wonder: how? My phone is the method through which my day, my kids, my husband, my friends and my work functions. Within my family, it’s how we communicate, plan, evolve, argue, apologise, share. So instrumental in the day to day, the hour to hour, that I wonder: can a mother of teenagers ever really break up with her phone? My mind telescopes back to my own teenagehood, aged 16, evenings spent on the landline, not even cordless, but tethered by the phone cable to the wall, in the room downstairs, by the kitchen. Now, I challenge myself to stop scrolling, but this summer was spent, when not away on holiday, in a kind of maternal half-life of waiting to take on whatever plans had been made, and who needed a lift where. My phone becomes someone to chat to whilst I wait.
Note to self: never, ever chose a rurally located house when you have small children. No matter how charming you think it will be to hang a piñata on the tree in the garden, and have frolicking children gambol beneath. You can’t possibly imagine a time when they are grown up teenagers, and said rural house is not on a bus route, is miles from town, and every step from the front door (virtually) is along a treacherous, blind-cornered, country road.
I drove a lot of miles in July and August.
So, my status quo has been in place for a few years. I am a housewife, who is also a writer. I can cook and clean to a standard beyond Apprentice Level. I am an Advanced Level housewife, and in recent months that has taken centre-stage, and the writer in me has had to wait, hold back, knowing it’s not her time. I get panicked thinking: when will it ever be my time?! I bet Beyonce doesn’t have this problem.
I read my contemporaries as they discuss their own ambition, and I nod in agreement. But where does social media fit in the landscape of ambition? What is Facebook and Instagram to the middle aged woman? Why do some have a natural compulsion to post pictures, like the teens, whereas others will have no part to if? Do we compete to be seen? Is it a way for us to remain ‘current’, to say, ‘I’m still here! Look at me!’ I observe women much younger than I, who are newly married, childless, or building their own empires, and they discuss how they manage their time, and share hints and tips for how to ask for a salary increase, or how to manage a freelance work schedule, or how they arrange their shelves. I find myself thinking, yes, but are there fewer requirements of you at that time in life, other than to be 25, and fabulous, and to have Instagrammable shelves? They perhaps don’t have the self-consciousness my generation has.
I’ve heard it said that a woman’s ambition can make her ugly, especially when it is played out, vicariously, through the lives of her children. This is why competitive school mothers are such a recognisable cohort. This week, an extravaganza of ‘back to school’ pictures flood my feed. I wonder if in years to come, our children will feel duped that their photos were posted without their consent? It’s the equivalent of your mum getting a family album out when your boyfriend visits, but it’s there for the entire world to see, forever. Even with privacy settings.
Whilst scrolling, I happen across the work of a photographer, and she’s selling her photos as prints. I want one instantly, it’s called ‘Breath’. This is the side effect, the other power of Instagram. We direct message (DM, to the uninitiated); it’s done, I’ve bought one, and she’s putting it in the post. I tell her I want the image as it shows, in a glance, what a relationship should look like; see above (and note the air bubbles). What love can look like, if you’re young and free. I want to hang it in my house.
Meanwhile, the pictures persist on Instagram; things to covet, things to consider, concepts to absorb, stories to post.
It’s possible I have become a cliché, or a foregone conclusion. A version of myself I might have lamented, dare I say, ridiculed, in the past? This, especially when I was building my corporate career, and had little time for the contemplation that is now my daily activity. Have I lost my way? In the past, at times where I lost my way, I was unable to see how and where, and it was only with the passing of time that I could recognise what had happened. Now – and by that I mean nowadays, as my status quo has been static for some time, – there is awareness. A personal surety that I can attribute to life experience. This is what it feels like to be the other side of 40, and liking it.
I’ve become one of those women who knows her own mind.