I’m going to be 45 next month, and the weather has changed, the first kid goes back to school tomorrow, and so it feels like high time for a September Stocktake. That’s a thing I just made up so that I can do a bit of an introduction for any new readers*/readers who are forgetful/readers who haven’t been paying any attention and then segue seamlessly into the story of why I cried last week quite so much at a restaurant in Turkey.
*there are never any new readers
Perhaps The Manifest? I don’t know. Anyway:
Me: I’m middle-aged but I’m also well, apparently. This is something I know because the doctor confirmed it after I asked for a series of tests in case I was perimenopausal and therefore in some need of those wonderful-sounding HRT patches. I thought I was menopausal because I don’t sleep that well and I often get worried about stuff that used to not bother me in the slightest. I have also been getting hot. The bloods came back; I’m grossly healthy. The sleeping thing is most likely because I lay my weary head next to a consistently loud snorer (and I’m fond of a glass or two of whatever’s going of an evening), and my anxiety has, upon reflection, settled down now that I’ve started work properly. The ‘getting hot’ thing was just…summer. The GP said all is well. My new job has some sort of health check component and I did a questionnaire and the algorithm said I was a bit too fat but I think that algorithm was probably not accounting for my new heavy muscles acquired through my once-weekly self defence classes.
Exercise: As well as self defence class, I do a weekly yoga class and run 20km every week. So there, cruel and judgey algorithm.
Kids: My children are getting old. They are 17, 16, 14, 12, 8 and 3. The Baby is still called The Baby but this is patently wrong. I have to start taking the small baby clothes that sometimes appear under a stack of old towels to the clothing bins. That part of my life is over and this grieves me greatly.*
*more on that later
Schools: From this week, the children will be attending five different schools – in Islington, Bayswater, and Pimlico. Luckily I am not a very engaged parent because if I thought I had to be involved in these different institutions I might have a total breakdown. Everyone except the younger two has to sort themselves out – they have to get there on their own, figure out timetables, sort out their clothes and books. Mostly this system works – but we shall find out this week for sure.
Holidays: We’ve just been away for two weeks to a glorious spot on the Turkish coast. We have one holiday like that per year and one week at Christmas in Devon with an indoor pool. The Christmas holidays are cosy and not much happens other than lots of swimming, films, trips to odd market towns and windy walks on deserted beaches. The Turkish holiday always involves high drama, intense heat, pools and beaches and private boats, restaurants and precarious drives over mountains and throwing ourselves into the sea from volcanic cliffs. The children think the Devon trip is just as nice which is great but makes me wonder about the cost-saving implications of this data.
Marriage: Mark and I have been married for nearly 25 years. This happened quickly. It turns out he is what you might call ‘A Good’Un’. Kind and fun though not keen on domestic duties. Luckily we have someone come in and do a giant amount of the domestic duties, because other than cooking, I don’t like it either. And we are both what we like to call ‘collectors of things’, though others might less kindly call us ‘slight hoarders’. In a pretty small flat.
Sometimes, of course, we don’t like each other and then when that happens we go along to marriage counselling. That hasn’t happened for a long time. I like him very much overall and would rather watch The Goldbergs with him on the couch that anything in the world, except maybe for going away on holiday with him. He reads, loves hanging out with our friends, makes a very nice G&T, looks after us all pretty well, does helpful manly stuff (like he got the glass stopper unstuck from my Chanel No. 5 bottle yesterday using a vice) and he never ever says anything about me buying clothes except for ‘that’s a nice dress’. He really loves my cooking and is not afraid to say so.
Jobs: Mark runs a property renovation company and I have just started fulltime as a content manager for KPMG. This is exciting and so far, so good. The work seems to be right up my alley as it were, and the boss is supportive and kind. It feels surprising to be working as a grownup might after years of freelance graft where you’re either working too much or not at all, and nothing ever feels particularly ‘safe’. I’m going into the office on Tuesday for the first time where I will have to wear an actual lanyard and book an actual hotdesk and WEAR A PROPER OUTFIT! I am a little worried about my nails and hair as these are not tidy aspects of myself, and also shoes are perplexing because I only really want to wear trainers but will probably settle for ankle boots so as not to look like I don’t care that I am working in the London office of one of the Big 4 accountancy practices IN THE WORLD. No idea how this has happened.
Housing: Ah yes, the flat. The flat is a biggish flat for London standards because it is in the basement of a Victorian building in a very, very lovely communal square. We have lived here since our third kid was six months old. The rent has only gone up twice. While it is biggish, it only has two bedrooms, so we have had to add bunks to the walls as our family has grown. We are at a kind of weird critical mass kind of point right now, where it is unlikely any more babies will arrive (I live in hope) but the existing oldest four children are all as big as weedy men. They share a room and while the staggered bedtimes mostly work, sometimes it doesn’t and they all kick off. They sort of hate each other quite a lot too, which is awkward. But we are stuck really – there’s no chance of affording a house or flat that would fit us properly, and anything we could afford would be so far away as to necessitate new schools, new working practices, new commutes, new social lives. And they will soon empty out, one at a time, so the crisis point just has to be endured. Which brings me to:
Crying in a Turkish Restaurant
It was the sixth night of our two-week holiday and our dear friends had arrived. We were all giddy with excitement to see them and ordered too many bottles of Turkish red wine. We were feasting on 24-hour lamb and crunchy lemony salads and crusty bread and Mark was tending to the charcoal BBQ, the kids all running around under the grapes and in the heat. My darling friend Joan and I were talking about our housing situation and specifically about how the 17 year old had mentioned to me his plan to move out a year earlier than he needs to so he could ‘get away from his brothers’. The plan, he carefully explained, was to live at the hotel where he works, and his wages would go towards his room. The hotel apparently does do this for staff, as well as feed them and do their washing. When he had originally told me this, I was pierced in the heart from the sadness. He seemed to quite enjoy his piercing of my heart at the time, (I remember his eyes glittered with the power of it all) and so I just kind of gave my pierced-heart sad smile and took the news into my bleeding inner ribcage and sat with it. Mark thought it was a brilliant plan and pretty much everyone I have told this plan to agrees that it is clever and would work very well considering our small flat, the brother situation, etc. The hotel is only one street away and he would presumably come home sometimes. How brilliant. How resourceful and practical.
So we were discussing all this and I feel the pierced-heart get all freshly activated and then the red wine-related tears came. And they came and they spilled and they came and they spilled some more, as I snottily and incoherently tried to explain that I am so sad to be at the beginning of the end of my mothering because I have loved it so much, and the moving out stuff just feels too sad and too awful. The next point that I tried to express through the noisy tears was that I feel like everyone leaves and never returns, basing this, I think, on my family history because my father’s four brothers all took off early on and never came back ‘home’, living in places such as Papua New Guinea, Canada and different ends of Australia, while my mother’s sisters spread out throughout New Zealand, and now me and my own siblings live very far from ‘home’ both geographically and emotionally. I left home at 18 and never really returned. My brothers and sister and their kids all live abroad, far away from my parents. We don’t get together as a whole family and probably won’t ever again. I haven’t been back home to New Zealand in 12 years and can’t see a time when I will. Meanwhile, everyone is getting older and more entrenched in their lives and there is very little holding any of us together and it is really, really sad.
Luckily Joan is a psychotherapist and she patted my arm and said “I didn’t realise you have abandonment issues” which made me cry even more. Then my big boy came over (surely mortified but also kind) and patted my arm and said he would come back. That he would always be a part of our lives, that he didn’t hate our home, that he just needed some sort of space. All of which was entirely reasonable but in my addled state I wasn’t having any of it.
“But you’ll never come home!” “I’ll lose you!” “I’ll miss you so much!” “I just want to be your mum!” “Everyone leaves me!” “You’ll get married and your wife will hate me!” “I’ll probably hate her!” etc etc
waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah sniff choke sob cry eat some lamb wipe tears waaaaaaaaaaaah blow nose start crying again ignore waiters sip wine try some bbq’ed lamb chop cry sniff feel tired go home get embarrassed send whatsapp messages the next morning apologising for breakdown but still feel sad
That’s why I cried in a Turkish restaurant.
Here’s me jumping from a cliff`:
Here’s my heart-breaking kid who I love so much that I might die:
These two now hate each other:
Here’s me jumping from a boat:
Youngest and oldest loving each other (actually wading through water and probably concentrating more on feet placement rather than familial love but bear with me):
I’ve worked myself up into another weepy state but this too shall pass. Any questions for the imaginary new readers? Did I leave anything out of the Inventory? Is this weeping part of the imaginary perimenopause?
Oh Jodie! I know exactly how you feel! My oldest boy left home when he was 17 to move to the next stage of his life, which was to study in another city. It broke my heart, especially because, in the month or two before he left, he kept making comments if I annoyed him, along the lines of “Well, I can’t wait to leave this house!” I cried many tears and felt that I was going to lose him forever. He was a bit full of himself at the time!
BUT he has never stopped visiting home and has matured into a lovely 32 year old man, and as for his girlfriends (there have been several over the years!) they are delightful young women who have brought a welcome female element to the household (I have three sons) I even heard one of them call me “adorable” although admittedly she was a bit drunk at the time. So my message is:
a) they will always be your boys
b) their partners will love you!
Oh thank you for this! That’s a lovely message to get….I have to have faith in them as well as me, I guess xx
We want them to grow and flap their wings and launch. But it is not always an easy process for those involved. New relationships with your off spring develop in the process. Your crew loves and that bond will carry everyone through the process.
THANK YOU SO MUCH for writing. Such a lovely gift of family realities, vacations, grounding.
And, want to say congratulations on your employment. Hope it works really well for you, I think they are lucky to have you on staff.
Cheers and please keep writing!
Oh this makes me feel weepy. Life never feels like it stands still for long and sometimes you just want to bottle certain stages up. I’ll look forward to the next update on your journey with family and new job.