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Thursday, 27 March 2014

Cold Feet

Standing on the precipice, 39 in a few days time. Next stop. 40.  Life seems to be passing quickly, like the tube trains hurtling by my window. It barely seems moments since I left home at 18, yet now I’m surging head long towards mid life. 

Suddenly, I feel aware of it. What was once blurred and in the distance is now in sharp relief on the horizon.

Silver strands of hair gleam like morning frost in a thatch of honey brown; clues that that the autumn of life is approaching. Wearied from having children in my later years I am not as vigilant as I once was in disguising the evident signs of age.  My colouring is changing too, my skin a lighter shade of pale than it once was. Slowly, in the tiniest increments, I am changing, day by day. Creeping towards invisibility. 

My face, with skin once plump and smooth, now shows lines and creases that cannot be blamed on pillows.  Collagen infused face creams go some way to fill the gap, yet there is a limit to their problem solving abilities. The dark circles underneath my eyes show the strain of four and a half years of broken sleep.  I look at my reflection in the mirror and I find it hard to accept the attrition I see before me.  Mirrors have become a catalyst, drilling deeper than the surface of my skin. Frequently these days I find myself in a spiral of self doubt.  Where is the young, vibrant woman I once was? Who am I now?

In the past five years, life has changed completely.  Two small people are now dependent on me for their happiness and well being. Lie in’s are a distant memory, I can’t remember the last time I was up all night was to party; these days it’s merely to return my night visitors to their own beds.

Weekends are spent attending 5 year old birthday parties by day and 40th parties by night.  In some ways, they are not dissimilar. The common thread, I’ve noticed, that girls like to get very dressed up.  Princesses are not so different, at 5 or at 40. Most forty year old women with young children don’t get out much, a party, with canapes and champagne (paid for by someone else) is an excuse to don sparkles and heels, forget the mummy jeans with the elasticated waistband and to feel like the belle of the ball for an evening.  

At a few of the parties I have been to, there have been speeches; a few poignant words, reflecting on life’s journey to date.  Forty seems to be a time when people hold a mirror up to their life, reflect, evaluate. Measure milestones, achievements, career success, worth and wealth. 

For every celebratory smile that is genuine, there are others that mask sadness or disappointment. I look around and I see; single friends who never dreamt they would be on their own, friends whose marriages are struggling under the strain of money worries, stressful jobs, ill children, or just coping with the roller coaster journey that is life with small children. Friends struggling to conceive post 40; battling with the barren winter of infertility in later life, undergoing multiple rounds of IVF and the tsunami of emotions that come with it. Worst of all, the injustice of incurable disease; the hovering black cloud of impending loss. I am struck by the randomness of it all; that life is like the rolling of a die.

There’s no denying it. Sometime between 35 and 40, I became a proper grown up. Knuckled down to the serious business of life. Became responsible. Two young people to look after, bills to pay, a roof to (renovate), a mortgage, a marriage, all of which need care and consideration, the investment of time and energy. I am now a world away from the halcyon days of eighteen.  And sometimes I find, being a grown up is harder than it looks.

My friends and I slide along the timeline of life together, some of us faring better than others.  Facebook photos tell only half a story, the real picture is painted over wine (or tea and cake). Sharing other people’s pain isn’t easy. Sometimes I wish I could step into a time machine for just a day or two, take them with me, that we could suspend reality and return to the carefree days of our twenties.

‘Forty is not old’, I tell myself, not even ‘middle aged’ in this world of ever increasing nonagenarians. I still feel ‘young’. My hopes, my dreams are as alive as they ever were.  I’m like a clock; still keeping perfect time on the inside, but with a few scuff marks and the patina of wear on it’s outer.  And occasionally, the responsibility of keeping everything and everyone ticking over does feel like a weighty pendulum.

The most recent fortieth birthday celebrations took us to a central London venue. With a ringmaster, circus acts, cocktails, in a bijou cabaret setting. I dragged some vintage sequins from the wardrobe, some heels, rescued my only lipstick from the bottom of my bag, forced myself to make the effort. The place was full of beautiful, young people. At midnight, plates were cleared and the huge communal table at the front of the restaurant became an elevated dance floor.   I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to be cajoled up onto the table top, yet the wine helped me find my rhythm. I was tipping towards the upper end of the age scale, but I think I pulled it off. And I had a great time. Felt fantastic.  Dancing with friends I’ve known for years, people to treasure, who’ve been there through thick and thin and hopefully always will be.

We talked about it for the next week (or two); what fun we’d had. How good it was to forget the pressures of the day to day and live only in the moment - for that evening.  We concluded we all felt better for it.

Life might feel serious sometimes, but a little light relief can go a long way.  The best medicine for cold feet is dancing - especially if it’s on a table.

14 comments:

  1. Oh how wonderful to read of you dancing on a table top! You encouraged me as I hit 50 and I shall do the same for you. My 97 year old nan felt 30 inside until very recently when real old age is actually creeping up on her. She's too worn out to hold it back much longer! I have such empathy with your tiredness with two young children (and the simultaneous massive renovation) - and can assure you that (forgive me saying this) but when littlest starts school, you will be able to recover yourself to a degree you cannot imagine possible right now. I find myself breathing for the first time since my eldest was born (over eight years on!) and didn't realise how far I'd come until reading this now. You will get there. You are marvellous! This time next year you'll be in your lovely new home and feeling and looking younger than you do now. You have the heart and soul of a wonderful young lady - and are still her inside. Happy Birthday!

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    1. Thank you Anya for your words of encouragement and your nan is a real inspiration. I really do hope the time comes when I feel I can breathe again - like you. xx

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  2. Loved reading this.... wonderfully written and very reflective, and before I carry on with my waffle I have to say that I loved this description in particular, 'Silver strands of hair gleam like morning frost in a thatch of honey brown.' Perfect. I remember when I turned 39, it actually felt worse than actually turning forty (29 felt worse than thirty too).... and it is a big leap - you really are no where near your twenties anymore #fact. BUT I have found turning forty and moving up the middle-age-mometer a bit of fresh air, so far this is turning out to be my best decade so far - more wisdom, more maturity, emotionally stronger, understanding myself in ways I couldn't have done in my younger shoes.... I think these last five years for you have been a bit of a whirlwind (that is the impression I get) especially this last year; time now (after the move) for a little more calm in your life.... where our twenties (and thirties) were held on the dance floor, our forties are a never ending picnic - calmer, more chilled, with a bottle of chilled bubbly on the side. You rock Plum! X

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    1. And p.s. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! X

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    2. I love the fact you say your forties are you best decade so far. I am hoping I will feel that way too. And thanks for saying I rock...(although I don't ...really, I really don't!). x

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  3. Such a beautifully written post Mummy P. I hope the impending move goes well and that life will start to settle down a bit more once you're in your own space. Happy Birthday!!

    That party sounds amazing by the way! I get the impression you know some pretty cool people xx

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    1. Thank you very much. It was a lovely birthday. x

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  4. Happy Birthday, beautiful post-sounds a great party and child free night! xx

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    1. Thanks - child free nights are great for buoying one up occasionally :0)

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  5. This is a beautiful post. So eloquent in its writing and purpose. I am approaching 35 and was starting to get a bit Mandy about it but this post has actually made me think maybe I should be looking forward to it. It sounds like you have enjoyed the journey of the last five years and I like the idea of feeling like a real grown up! Thank you and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment Lynsey. Don't know if you read Older Mum's comment also some wise words there too. x

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  6. So relate to this post, even if my kids are a tiny bit older (9&7) and I'm a tiny bit older (43). So beautifully and poignantly written, as usual. Loved the line about struggling to accept the 'attrition I see before me". So true. In fact i tend to either not look properly, or live in denial at how wrinkly i'm becoming (i blame it on too much sun as a kid without suntan lotion and my gap year in Africa where I wore none an entire year!). I also threw off the daily seriousness of life as a grown up at my 40th and jigged about with old friends. Sadly, it was short lived as they had to return to babysitters at 11, and for the one and only time in my life, I wished i was 50 (!) as our kids would be older by then! Crazy I know. Enjoy these years, I really do think its a good season. We still have (just about) enough energy to do what we want but also have enough years behind us to be happy in our own skin and no longer feel the need to prove ourselves. Well, I think so anyway....S

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    1. Ah, the joys of youthful ignorance when it comes to suncare and aging! I like your comment about the forties being a good season - I shall remember your words next time I am feeling old... Thank you for your comment - and apologies it took me so long to publish - I found it in the end though!

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  7. Just found this post and I want to squeeze it in a giant hug for being so absolutely how I feel about life - I turn 38 in a fortnight and am definitely feeling it yet wanting to hang on to as much life as I can. I think I'm finally feeling more content in my own body though, which is helping, even as the grey hair and wrinkles are becoming more visible. I love that you danced. We should all dance as often as we can!

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