I was looking back over old blog posts. I have been writing here for a long, long time now; nearly seven years, so it’s an interesting little jaunt down memory lane to see what I used to think about stuff. I happened across this post, written in 2010, which has had, over time, a gazillion hits (one of my most popular ever) and I thought: wouldn’t it be funny to see if I still agree with myself?! For those who knew me then; have I changed?
Five years away, when I was the other (right?) side of forty, I thought I knew what I felt about ageing. I mean I knew in principle; I was not for surgical intervention, I was generally speaking happy with how I looked. Then, I did not face the point of comparison of having a smooth-faced teenage daughter who can rock every fashion going! I did not lament the loss of my youth. I knew I was ageing, but I see now that I did not start to age truly until I hit forty! It might have been coincidental, it might have been that I recognised the deterioration when I could associate it with an age that was, as society dictates, ‘older’ or ‘mature’. I would say that the difference between then and now is that then, my preoccupation was with how I looked and now it is with how I feel. There is this stark awareness that the decline I have seen in my skin, my joints, how stable my weight remains, how grey my hair would be if it weren’t dyed; there has been seepage in these things. I look older, I have more wrinkles and sun spots, I ache when I don’t do yoga. If I wear high heels I know it the next day. But emotionally I tread a different line. I think a lot about being well and how long that lasts in later life. I think about mobility and health and being able to live life fully when I am old. I ponder whether I will wear head-to-toe beige and not mind. I suppose it’s a whole deeper understanding of all of the elements. So to age gracefully – yes, but with caveats. I don’t want to look boring. I don’t want to look old and asexual. I want to maintain vibrancy. I figure I will do this with clothes, good hair, a healthy demeanour and a sense of humour…
Shopping as favourite?
Yes, absolutely no change here. I still love clothes (see aforementioned statement on ageing gracefully) I still shop. I always will. I will never wear head to toe beige.
Should mothers work?
Mothers should do whatever gets them through the day. I have evolved my thinking on this issue to a significant degree, I have studied what mothers do and how they feel about it and I would say that of all the themes in my book, this is one that features most persistently. I worked for years – all through the times when my children were small, through the tricky illness-ridden years when a sleepless night and a bad cold would spell disaster for my working day; no childcare! I then stopped working and did the full time mother thing and that was an equally as challenging process. Neither is perfect, both are flawed. This fact angers me sometimes, I wish it were easier for mothers, per se. I find myself saying to other mothers – usually over coffee – ‘why must it be so hard?’ in an exasperated tone and I think they look at me and think: ‘get over yourself!’
Once the status quo of ‘career mother’ has been in place for let’s say ten to fifteen years there are those who occupy a space in motherhood that one must earn. When I meet these mothers (and arguably I am one) I find they exude something of a sense of panic as their children grow up and leave. Sometimes they have more children, sometimes they put so much in to the curation of their existing children and their accomplishments that I note a disproportionate preoccupation. An unhealthy focus. When I experienced this I felt like I was circling the drain as the bath water spirals around; it will all drain away eventually and what you’re left with is an empty bath and a scum mark round the edge! One to consider…
The medical profession?
I know a lot of doctors. Hands down they do one of the hardest jobs and they certainly don’t have all the answers. The thing I wish though was that there was more trust, more encouragement to people who are unwell (and by this I mean have ailments; persistent colds, bad backs, stress and anxiety, I am not talking serious disease) to take ownership of their status. The answer is, generally speaking, not from medication or surgery. There is an overuse/abuse of antibiotics, bad backs are often postural, habitual, muscular, anxiety can come in phases and is linked to how you live, what you think, how you react to events. I see now the endless fascination I had with chronic pain and the treatment of it. I can ascertain now that the requirement was for me to change. The solution was me. It was not with the medics.
Since I wrote my last missive on this I have seen pushy parenting take on a whole different gear. As children get older and as mothers with disproportionate interest start to sense the stakes are high, there is a ground swell of pushy parenting that frankly has taken my breath away. It’s tricky. Children need pushing. But children don’t need bulldozing. And most importantly I have learned that parenting can not be conditional; love can not be conditional. It’s not right to make success in exams, sport selection, friendship groups conditional on parental support.
Cooking a meal from scratch?
I am a fully paid-up subscriber to this. Family meals, as I have said before, are the lynchpin of much goodness in my daily life. Good food and caring about good food is one of the self-help skills that should form part of what we all do. If you don’t care what you eat, how can you expect your body to work properly? And as for ready meals? Over time and as my repertoire has extended, they don’t feature any more…
Going to bed at 8.30pm?
A distant memory I am afraid. With a teenager in the house, 10pm is considered an early night. But I am ruthless about getting her to bed by that time. Something ironic: I don’t think I would ever go to bed unless I knew my kids were in bed. It’s a mental block.
Having the right shoes?
Making a good cheese sauce?
Less important; I guess I have deviated into different foods. I blame ‘Deliciously Ella’. I think the focus of diet has changed and ‘clean eating’ has come to the fore. Incidentally I read a brilliant article in the Times that argued that the clean eating movement had facilitated the development of ‘acceptable’ eating habits that were infact not acceptable. Young women or girls who fixate on chia seeds and cashew butter or cacao nibs and spirulina may be harbouring the same tendencies as those with eating disorders but the Instagram-fuelled clean eating obsession gives a face to the behaviours and makes them cool. One to ponder. For me, clean eating has meant that I try harder to include raw stuff, we eat endless salads and kale and generally if I make a cheese sauce I feel an unwelcome modicum of guilt as it usually accompanies a stodgy macaroni cheese. What five years can do…
So what have I learned?
We all do our best. I do my best. It’s not easy, but then it’s not that hard either. I am always staggered by the extent to which we humans get hung up on the small stuff and think we know our own minds. Only to find that in fact the contrary is true. Go figure.
Here’s to the next five years…