This is forty

To my younger self, forty always conjured up images of no-nonsense mother-types, ensconced in track suits and devoid of style or glamour.  The forty year-olds I knew had sensible, greying hair, and were really into cleaning, gardening and watching the tele.

When my mum turned forty, I was thirteen years old, hormonal and often insufferable, I imagine.  In my eyes my mum was generous, dependable, a bit daggy, and perpetually exhausted. Who could blame her, with three teenage kids to deal with?   For a while there she sported an eighties perm, and when my friends remarked on how young or pretty she was, I scoffed and mumbled.  In my worldly teenage eyes, mums didn’t qualify as pretty.

Mums went to work, ferried us around to our various activities, and mine took herself off to lie prone on the bed for twenty minutes, each and every afternoon, around four thirty. Mum invented the power-nap, before it actually became the Power-Nap.

And now, all of a sudden, I find I’m forty.  How on earth did that happen, I wonder?  I’ve been booted out of the mid-to-late-thirties club.  Politely but firmly shown the door.

Part of me wants to cling to the furniture and make a scene, as they drag me out.  I can’t be forty!  I don’t have particularly sensible hair!  I’ve yet to submit to the neat bob, or the lob (that’s the long bob), even if it would shave hours off my weekly grooming regimen.  In fact, I’ve recently had my locks dyed red.  I imagine the name on the tube was Deep Denial Red.

I am finding more grey hairs these days, but it’s not the fine silver ones subtly appearing in my regrowth that bother me.  The ones that strike fear into my soul are the alien, wiry white hairs that suddenly announce themselves by standing to attention on my part line.  These albino follicles appear from time to time, seemingly overnight, and I dutifully yank them out in a ridiculous show of defiance.  Take that you horrid impostor.  We don’t want your type around here.  And tell your friends!

I garden from time to time, albeit begrudgingly.  And I now know that late afternoon fatigue that forced mum to have to lie down.  The kind that rolls in like a fog, until sometimes you’re so shattered, you think you may just vomit.

Okay, so there are times when I do feel forty.  A frazzled mother with permanent frown lines, lecturing the kids over toys not put away, knees up at the table, and starving children in Africa.  Last night, I believe I used all three in the space of our dinnertime conversation. It seems that my mouth just clicks into autopilot, and starts trotting out the same old gems we were all lectured about as a child.  I’m not your servant you know.  I wasn’t put on this earth just to cook and clean up after you.  I see the kids’ eyes glaze over, and realise with horror how sensible and old I sound.

The frown lines I blame on my frequent utilisation of my ‘Are you kidding me? Do you I look like I was born yesterday? and Are you sure you want to go there?’ stares.  I enlist these expressions when I’ve run out of calm reasoning, or simply haven’t the energy to sum up another reprimand (which means that they’re pretty big in my repertoire these days).  I’ve also noticed that I subconsciously frown when vacuuming, typing, or washing the dishes. It makes for a rather unflattering reflection in the steamy kitchen window.

I know some swear by Botox, but I think I’d rather stave off those furrows in my brow by investing the money in a housekeeper.  That way I could take a rest from the vacuuming, but would still have the ability to pull out the ‘Do it again, and you’re dead meat‘ stare, when the need arose.  Yes.  I think I’d like one of those housekeepers who irons the shirts, mops the floors and thoughtfully leaves a frittata cooling on the kitchen bench…


{slaps self around the face}

What?  Where was I?..

The part of turning forty that I wouldn’t trade, even for a supernanny-gardener-housekeeper-cook dynamo, is watching my kids growing up to become real little people. Little people shaped by me, and for now, still a part of me.

As mind-bendingly monotonous and draining as some days can be, they are invariably interspersed by moments that stop me in my tracks, and turn my heart to jelly.   Simple things, like my daughter’s lean, strong little arms surprising me from behind, as she catches me at the school gate for one last hug.  I suck in that moment, while she buries her head and takes a big breath, before galloping off across the mod grass, back to the classroom.   Being floored by the frequent, spontaneous, unconstrained declarations of love from my four year old son: I think you’re the loveliest mummy in the whole world, and I’ll never stop loving you.  Not even when I’m a big daddy.  Gulp.

Somewhere between those heart-melting moments, and the dinner table lecturing, I decided I needed to have a party.  It didn’t feel right to let my birthday come and go last month, without an indulgent, glamorous, defiant night.

And so that’s how I came to find myself, ordering another daquiri at 1am, taking to the dance floor solo, and being at one with my tiki dress and maracas.  Trying to save my friend from a slow, hilarious, inevitable tumble as we hobbled over cobblestones to Supper Inn.  I was never going to be much help there.  Befriending fellow diners and ordering suckling pig with my husband at 3am.  On that night (in our minds at least) we were pretty cool for forty-somethings.  We even slept through breakfast the next morning, and right on until lunch.

A few weeks later, I’m counting up the ways I’ve celebrated turning forty.  There was the party.  There was the dinner.  There were lunches.  And this weekend, as the closing ceremony to my birthday festival, I was charioted away by my two best friends, for a surprise spot of theatre and a long, decadent dinner.   Very fitting, I felt, for someone of my age.

And now, blog entry included, I think I’ve milked turning forty just about as much as I can.  I best get busy.

That frittata isn’t just going to make itself, you know.

This is forty This is also forty

We are Family

It is Sunday evening, and I have taken up residence in my husband’s man-cave for the next hour or so, while he puts the children to bed.  Not a bad payoff, I feel, for cleaning up the veritable mountain of dishes left over from today’s lunch with friends.  There are two reasons that I’m quite happy with this transaction:

a) I do a much better job of the dishes.  It’s my thing.

b) He is somewhat merry after our long lunch, and has been revving the children up with frenzied tickle fights, to the point that they are now behaving as though they’ve snorted a few lines of coke and followed it up with a red cordial chaser.  Good luck with getting them to bed, sucker.

I have my cup of tea, my computer, and that’s pretty much bliss, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s so quiet in here!  And experiencing the man-cave from within, I can appreciate it’s magnetic pull, which often causes my significant other to go missing in action.  It is here that we eventually discover him, after one of us notices his prolonged absence following simple tasks such as putting out the rubbish.

If I turn my head, I can look out of the window and catch a glimpse of the house, as a small nude body goes streaking through the sun room.  I can faintly make out high pitched shrieks (hilarity or injury? – It’s often difficult to tell the difference) and the thud of their stampeding feet.  And is that Dancing Queen he’s playing?  Christ, he’s had more to drink than I first thought.

The thing is, I now realise that I really do need to go to the toilet, but I fear that if I go back inside, the magic bubble will burst.  The children will instantly remember that they desperately needed me, to help them find the green Texta, or to make them a crumpet, or to referee their current argument about who’s turn it is to play the kazoo.  Maybe I could sneak inside without them noticing?  Nope – too risky – I’ll just hang on.  If I need to, I could always use my teacup, I suppose.

The studio used to be one of those old-school, dirt-floored sheds, filled with rusty tins full of nails and utterly creepy spiderwebs.  But my ingenious father worked his magic a few years ago, to turn it into a proper room to house Cam’s vast collection of old vinyl and electronic equipment, which he amassed throughout his former, pre-reproductive life.  It now also houses a ratty fold-out couch and our old refrigerator, elevating it’s status to fully-fledged man cave.

It provides a sanctuary from the crazies who rule our house (the children, not me of course), and doubles as a snoring retreat, for those nights when the red wine has been flowing a little too freely.  I also suspect, just quietly, it may be the place of some covert rum-drinking, from time to time.

The desk is littered with a colourful array of tiny wires, bulbs, screws, a soldering iron and something with wheels on it.  I think these are the contents of the mysterious padded post-packs addressed to him, which have been arriving on our doorstep with increasing frequency of late.  If you’re wondering – no – I don’t think he’s building a bomb (I’ve checked, and can find no trace of suspicious liquids or timing devices).  It’s just that when it comes to late night online shopping, we both have our vices -mine being fashion, and his being robotics.  Whatever floats your boat, I suppose.

My escape to the man-cave this evening is something my husband and I have come to refer to as a ‘free period’ (as in, the free period you had in high school, when you were supposed to engage in private study).  In my friendship circle, they are also known as a ‘spare’.  They can be a single (typically a few hours), double (the full day), or a full-weekend spare.  The latter are a rare beast – highly negotiated and desperately coveted.  I have one coming up in August, and the mere thought of it always elicits an impromptu happy dance.

Spares are allocated on the basis of need, and are run on an honour system.  It is usually quite evident when a spare is required.  For example, when I came home from work last weekend, I could see that Cam was losing the good fight.

At first glance, it appeared that the house had been ransacked by a very thorough intruder, leaving no stone unturned.  It also looked like someone had detonated a rice-filled device in the kitchen.  It was icy outside, the rain hadn’t relented all morning, and as a result, the kids were in stir crazy, difficult-to-please mode.  The gourmet fried rice he had prepared for their lunch just wasn’t right – they wanted a sandwich – and I could almost see the steam coming out of his ears.

And so, having the perspective and patience of the one who had been out of the house for the morning, I granted him an on-the-spot free period, banishing him to his cave for the remainder of the afternoon.  I felt like a (slightly underdressed) fairy godmother.  If I remember correctly, I think I added that he should really do his tax, but honestly, who was I kidding?

The very next day, I’d had to call in the favour, after I spent a particularly long morning at the park, attempting to wear the little beggars out.  Back home only thirty minutes, Cam caught me.. well… hiding from the children, behind the wardrobe door, as they roamed the house endlessly calling my name.  ‘Mumma? Where is she? Muuu-meeee? I can’t find her! She was here a minute ago…MUUUUUMMMMMMEEEE!!! WHERE HAVE YOU GONE???’ Man, they just don’t take a hint.

And at this point start to I feel a bit guilty, a bit ungrateful, for wanting to flee their unwavering love and neediness.  Why do I feel such joy in escaping those sticky little clutches for a bit?  It’s because being a parent is utterly exhausting – that’s a universally accepted concept.  I know for a fact that after a few hours to myself, my patience stores will magically regenerate, and I’ll be a much better parent.  I’ll also be less likely to be sporting ‘that cross look’ (as my children refer to it), which has caused some fairly permanent frown-lines between my brows.

So tomorrow morning, during my few hours off for the week, you’ll find me revelling in my own space.  I will be enjoying my coffee without having to explain why we shouldn’t lick the table, or pick our nose in public, or wresting the salt shaker out of someone’s little mitts. To the casual observer, I might appear to be reading the newspaper, but I’m generally not taking the words in.  I’m simply doing nothing in particular, by myself, and loving it.