Sometimes, A Good Chinwag With People That Really Know You Is All The Therapy You Need

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Bonding with someone is ” Like sharing an invisible stream of consciousness with each other.” Those are the powerful words of Zat Rana in his piece The Subtle Art Of Connecting With Anyone on Medium.”

My connection to others has always provided me with the best therapy. I’m needy emotionally. I might even go as far as to admit that I’m emotionally unintelligent. I need the validation of others that I’m an ok person.

And those connections have become particularly pertinent for me recently as I plan a twelve-day visit back to the UK for the two-yearly family summit, when, once again, I find myself caught up in the guilt and inner turmoil of who I can’t see this time.

Unless you’ve done this migration thing, and only return periodically to your homeland as The Prodigal Child/sibling/niece/aunt or friend, you have no idea of the pressure these trips cause, and the painful balancing act between offending old friends and family duty.

Just prior to this trip – thirteen years since my defection – I had come to accept that family had to be my priority moving forward. Validation comes at a price, and it’s exhausting to travel the country for twelve days in search of it, no matter how needy I am. And yet, as much as I know that (practically-speaking) I should prioritize “blood” and downplay the importance of the transient friendships I’ve made during my journey through life, there is a culture and a history with old friends that it is impossible to replicate.

The other problem is, that the older I get, the more I veer towards an embarrassing need for nostalgia.

I could have booked a longer stay, I suppose. But then, there are work commitments to think about, there’s “life”, there’s the discomfort of my dad’s sofa bed and the health of my liver. Because, drinking, eating and talking your way through twelve days takes a toll  – particularly in view of the niggling doubt about what the point of it all is.

And yet, there is a point, because many of these people are the missing pieces of mine and the old man’s life puzzle. They are the people that shaped who I am; wiped away my tears, poured Champagne down my throat when I most needed it and made me laugh until I peed myself.

And this particular trip is particularly poignant because it has been driven by family illness, by death, anxiety and the underlying knowledge that none of us is getting any younger. With the looming presence of a rather nasty weakness on my mother’s side in the “ticker” department, it’s not a duty call exactly, but it is an ‘in case I miss you next time’ type of visit.

Without catastrophizing – which I suspect I’m wont to do – it might really be “goodbye.” Which is why I want to say my goodbyes to everyone; not just the ones that fit in with my ridiculously restricted itinerary. And let’s be honest: a good chinwag with people that have shared your “culture” and your history is sometimes all the therapy you need to take you through the next stage of life.

Memories, Friendship and On The Move Again

downloadI might have mentioned that we’re about to embark upon our fourteenth house move. Reactions to the move have varied:  the Princess has begun twitching so I will need to up her anxiety medication, and she and Kurt rock on her bed together whenever I pack a box. The old man has locked himself inside his office until our move date.

 

We’re heading back to where we started our journey in Australia, back to a community, a slower pace of life and (hopefully) a slightly slower rent, which means we have more options to do as little as possible. It’s not quite the downsize I imagined a few months ago when we first made the plan and foolishly assumed that if we moved an hour out of the city, the kids wouldn’t be able to leave home fast enough – no, we’ll be moving to a smaller house with two more adults than we thought we’d have – in other words, a typically, logical Simmonds plan.

 

So, not a sea change or a downsize exactly, more a move away from the Big Smoke back to old habits, in the arms of old friends as we grow old together. The area is one of many parts of Australia nicknamed God’s Country – all equally justified – a small piece of paradise on the tip of a peninsula, with the sort of stunning coastal beauty of the landscape in Big Little Lies, if you saw the series. With beautiful beaches that have golden sands evolved from the sandstone rock that the water washes up upon, its quaint little towns are packed to the brim with home décor shops, cafes and wonderful restaurants, and the only sound on a quiet day is the clanging of the yacht masts in the breeze. 

 

Our oldest friends have stayed put, so it’s where our heart beats the strongest in this country we have adopted as home. In the seven years we lived in the area, I carved more meaningful memories than at any other time of my life. The beach does that for me.

 

To access paradise, you have to drive along a stunning, winding road around the side of rock, known locally at The Bends, and it is a local custom to celebrate events and good news such as weddings and birthdays, on personalized banners along the route. What you have to imagine, though, is how dangerous the stretch of road is by foot. Often busy with local and holiday traffic, with sharp drops down cliffs to the beach on one side, it’s not the sort of place you stop to take in the view or have a pee.

 

Several years ago, as we approached NC’s eighteenth-birthday, I tried almost everything in my power to cajole the old man to hang out some banners along the “road of death” to celebrate the occasion. Understandably, he wasn’t keen.  Neither of us is that impulsive type of parent prepared to flout the law for our daughter’s happiness, and we worried about being caught by the police, falling off the ladder, (necessary to climb the telegraph pole), and even writing the wrong words, hence scarring our child for life. In other words, we overthought it, (like most things), and eventually talked ourselves out of it like we do most decisions, apart from minor ones such as moving to the other side of the world with two kids in tow and no jobs.

 

It didn’t matter: we had other festivities organized and I knew that the last thing NC expected, (or perhaps wanted), was some awkward public declaration of her parents’ affection splattered for the world to see. Which was why it was such a shock, riding on the school bus on the morning of her birthday, for her to see first one banner, then another, then another, each engraved with her name, a big red heart and the number eighteen.

 

 

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Jaz and NC, still friends, and yes, Jaz is still crazy.

Now, I am certain that at no point did NC consider that we were responsible – which we weren’t, for reasons that are obvious.  And at no time either, did I think that the old man had manned the fuck up and climbed a ladder under the cover of darkness. In fact, it was NC’s best friend who donned crampons under cover of darkness and climbed those telegraph poles like a Ninja, risking life over limb, in a gesture of friendship that has become part of Simmonds folklore and symbolizes everything we have missed since our sabbatical down south.

 

 

‘Remember when Jaz put those signs up on the Bends?’ we still say, as incredulous as we were that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middle Age Is When You Finally Realize That You Shouldn’t Have To Chase True Friendship

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I posted this quote on my Facebook page a few days ago.

 

I realise that the words sound arrogant at first glance, as though I adhere to the belief that I can pick and choose the friends I want in my life – something that couldn’t be further from the truth. Nevertheless I like them, because they describe exactly how I feel about the truly important people in my life right now.

 

I was never the popular mum in the playground and with a naturally-introverted personality (although carefully disguised) and a less well-disguised introvert for a husband, close friendship has never come easy to me.

 

Added to which, we’ve moved around a lot as a family and where it was relatively easy to make new friends when the kids were younger, teenagers refuse outright to let you hang onto their shirt tails at school pick up. It’s even less easy to attract new friends when you’re the mum of a child with special needs and generally the class clown, although there are two sides to every story and some of my best friends are now the parents of kids with ADHD.

 

When I saw my oldest sister in the UK recently, she jokingly accused me of being a people-pleaser. And she was right, because I do get flattered when people take an interest in me, yet find it impossible to let them go even when it’s obvious to both of us that our relationship has moved in opposing directions.

 

Who doesn’t like to have friends and feel loved?

 

From a narcissistic, selfish perspective, one of the hardest parts about raising a child like Kurt was the closure of a whole avenue of potential friends that I felt entitled to, like the friendships I made with other mums through NC. It also meant that I had to have a strategy about developing new friendships and chase them down. Each time I’ve walked into a new office or a new playground, I’d set my sights on the group I wanted to be part of and worked at it, biding my time until things fell into place, no matter how long it took. And sometimes it took years!

 

I’m ashamed to admit that in my thirties I used to judge my success in life on how many friends we had and whether or not we were socially busy each weekend. Part of that was due to being a stay-at-home mum and in need of adult conversation by the weekend, but the bigger part was related to the reassurance I needed to feel valued.

 

I used to feel slighted when we weren’t invited to so and so’s dinner party, even though I hardly knew them. Fortunately for me I had the down-to-earthness of the man I married who always stood firmly by his principles of introversion and kicked me neatly into touch each time my insecurities threatened to get the better of me. He refused outrightly to see people on certain weekends and would score ‘KEEP FREE’ through them in the family calendar.

 

How things have changed over the past few years.

 

I’m not sure when I first realised I was happy enough in my own skin to look forward to a “free weekend” and was truly able to identify with the quote above. It has come with time and ageing, as well as circumstance. When you move to another country in your forties, the chase becomes much harder without the lifeline of school children to nudge it gently along and the people we met in Australia initially already had their “life” friends, just like we had in the UK. It was so much harder to infiltrate established groups and force them to adopt us – although luckily there are a lot of expats in Australia, and in the end we sniff each other out.

 

Then, when we started to go through the tough years with Kurt, I isolated myself for a while because I didn’t have the energy to socialise, entertain and pretend to be happy, nor did I want to douse everyone’s enthusiasm for their lives with our problems – although I’m sure I did.

 

Whenever I sensed a connection with someone new in the past, it was like a personal challenge for me to get them to notice me, but recently I’ve become much more reticent about my old ‘look at me!’ puppy dog approach. Why? Is it because I know now how much effort it takes to procure a real friendship, or is it because I’m more confident in who I am and no longer need numbers on my Facebook page to prove my worth? Perhaps it’s because I’ve finally recognised what a wonderful, eclectic band of friends we have that I can rely on to be there, indeed have been there even when I’ve been depressed and as boring AF.

 

The realisation that you don’t need to chase friendships or popularity is not about arrogance; it’s about maturity and understanding that the best friendships come from some luck and a lot of hard work, which is why not everyone can sit at your table.

 

One piece of advice I always give NC is that you have to service your real friends.

 

People who need to be chased never stop running.

The Curse Of Anxiety, Dogs and Teenage Commitment

The dog has decided to upstage the rest of the family in the anxiety stakes. I am reliably informed that part of her condition can be blamed on her Poodle heritage, in which separation anxiety is a common issue, but the other part is either a question of osmosis ie. living with us, or a result of the shocking level of pampering she receives. We’ve created a pathetic city dog, vulnerable and basically unable to exist on her own. 

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The Curse of Anxiety, Dogs and Teenage Commitment

 

As a psychotic nail-biting worrier myself, I would never trivialise anxiety, but it comes to something when you can’t leave the two kilometre safety zone around your apartment to take your dog for what is meant to be a treat to Centennial Park. The wailing that ensued in the car was tantamount to a two year old tantrumming about screen time on her parent’s iPad and at several points during the fifteen minute journey, the old man and I questioned our choice to have another one.

 

Part of the problem is that The Princess doesn’t visualise herself as a dog and so she was appalled to find that our walk coincided with the weekly social gathering of our Eastern Suburbs canine cousins – posh neighbours – one of whom was unfortunate enough to be named Boris and who had so much unspent energy and tenacity he took a liking to her at the dog park. Our refusal to carry her to protect her virtue was rewarded by an hour-long sulk.

 

Kurt experienced a similar bout of anxiety when he had his birthday ‘gathering’ last weekend. We’ve all suffered that horrible predicament, or party remorse, before our guests arrive when we wish we’d never organised the event in the first place, rather than expose ourselves to the horror associated with public rejection. Unfortunately, it’s only once you open the cage door do you understand what a prison fear can be.

 

At one point he admitted that he would prefer to phone up all fifteen of his friends and cancel. I understand that feeling only too well, although it is something that gets easier with age, mainly because you’ve ticked off that part of growing up where you learn to respect other people and finally have a secure enough band of friends to rely on, who understand the value of loyalty. Most importantly, they understand how miserable it feels to be let down at the last minute. 

 

It’s something Generation Y could learn a thing or two about.

 

As a loyal Leo, (and much to the old man’s chagrin), once I commit to something I always turn up. We always turn up. I don’t know who was more relieved by the ring on the doorbell that evening when it finally came, myself or Kurt; needless to say it caused the Princess to rock noisily in the corner only to be enticed out of her cell by the promise of pizza.

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child…I Hope

Some people believe it takes a village to raise a child; in our case it will probably take a whole fucking city.The lengths you go to, to prevent your dysfunctional, magnet-attracting-trouble teenager, from creating havoc while you’re away. team-386673_1280

 

When Louisa Clare shared a post from Revolution From Home entitled In The Absence Of The Village, Mothers Struggle Most this week, she reminded me of the idea of the ‘village’ and the way many of our parents raised their children; with support from family and the local community. If you read the post, I’m certain that many of you will be able to identify with Beth’s list of the problems modern parents face today, that stem from not having the same life-line.

 

As she says, ‘In the absence of the village, we’re disadvantaged like never before. We may have more freedoms than our foremothers, but our burden remains disproportionately, oppressively heavy’.   

 

It often saddens me that we so rarely have a ‘village’ at our disposal to help raise our offspring. That extra support that so much of us go without today might be the missing link to premature burn out, mental health issues and divorce and certainly shouldn’t be ignored as one of the root triggers of the entitlement issues manifested by Generation Y today.

 

I was fortunate to have a ‘village’ to support my parents when I was growing up – a tight family network that rallied around when my mother became the first woman in the family to get divorced. We all lived in different suburbs, but congregated to the matriarch (Granny’s) at the weekend to be indulged and reminded about the importance of respecting our parents, taught how to share via rough play with cousins, forced to eat beetroot and salad cream – a lesson in managing our expectations, I assume – and treated with Space Saucers on our way out – something I now realise was probably a bribe for good behavior for the following week.

 

I know from my day job when I talk to my clients, (who come from all different cultures), that having a village to raise your child still happens in most third world countries, but it might surprise you to know that many European cultures still employ some of those traditional child-rearing methods, too. In Italy, the kids rarely leave home until they marry and once they do get hitched, they take on the responsibility for looking after their ageing parents. The majority of Asian countries follow a similar circle-of-life policy.

 

Could this be why many western kids are floundering now? Because they haven’t had the support and protection of close family around to help shape them – the only people close enough to be honest with them, to teach and incorporate within them the right values in their lives?

 

As you already know (here), the idea of relying on other people to look out for our own child is very pertinent for us right now, as the old man and I swan off to distant shores together for the first time child-free, removing some of the scaffolding that has supported Kurt up until now. Rest assured, I’ve been through every stage of guilt about this trip – the early ‘mother-guilt stage’, the stage where I told the old man he couldn’t possibly go after the latest Kurt-fuelled crisis, to this point, where I’ve finally reached a measure of acceptance, and we’re re-writing our wills.

 

And although I may not have the traditional ‘village’ to be ‘our eyes’ while we’re away, I have a bunch of wonderful surrogate family members who have offered their private detective/childcare services to protect the local community from our child.

 

In fact, it has really touched me how many offers of help we’ve received; especially when so many of those offers have come from people who read my blog. It has made me realise how much we Kurt needs this – in fact it could be the making of our boy.

 

So thanks to that friend who advised me that Kurt will be fine… but I might want to take a photo of how the apartment looked before we left, as well as to those friends who are Kurt-sitting for the middle weekend to give NC some space in which to restore her sanity, vocal chords and patience. Thanks also to those many girlfriends who have offered up their middle-aged husbands as bouncers in case an emergency extraction is required when the concierge realises that it is indeed our apartment on the roof terrace, that is hosting the newest live Sydney music festival, and all hell breaks loose.

Shopping, Friendship and Embracing Your New Middle Aged Body

I am usually a lone shopper. I take my shopping habit very seriously and can quite easily waste an entire Saturday trying out new styles that I would never actually buy in a million years. I enjoy the beauty and creativity behind beautiful clothes, fabrics and home accessories – I like looking at them, touching them, trying them on or imagining them in my home. The benefit of my impulsive nature is that sometimes it leads me to try on wildly different styles than neither my wallet or body can really take, but even on those days I come away from the shops empty-handed, shopping is always a delicious stress-buster. buy-1299519_1280

 

And I have built up good brand knowledge as a result of so much active research in the field. I know which brands are shockingly under-sized and make me feel like I’ve eaten all the pies, and which ones are more accurate for older women. Interestingly, I have a far calmer approach to buying clothes now that I’m officially middle-aged, whereas in my forties I stressed out when nothing fitted or looked right, or when I couldn’t find the appropriate style to suit my increasing age and girth. I’m much more chilled about the process now; finally, I know what suits my body and can appreciate that rare experience for what it is, when something… ANYTHING…fits. If all else fails I console myself with lingerie and shoes.

 

Although, that approach may also have something to do with my meds, too…

 

Not so for one of my besties, however, who up until recently avoided shopping malls like holidays in the Middle East. Just as I’ve been forced to discover a new pleasure for buying underwear in middle age, my friend has transferred her shopping affections to the purchase of super-expensive cosmetics, such is her fear of trying on clothes that don’t fit or flatter her new body shape.

 

So much so that occasionally when she reaches rock bottom or has a major ‘nothing to wear’ moment, she’ll reach out to me in desperation for some guidance – I assume to boost her confidence. 

 

I agree that at our age clothes shopping can be about as as much fun as having your eyebrows threaded; not like in our younger years, when everything looked good on our pre-baby/menopausal bodies. Whenever NC and I shop together, I take a perverse pleasure in admiring just how good everything looks on her, as though it was designed for her fabulous, lithe, young body, whereas statistically I have about a 10% chance of getting the zip up on a good day.

 

Yesterday this friend joined me in the city on impulse, and although I only returned home with one purchase (much to the old man’s delight), in the form of a beige trench coat that was reduced by 50% in the Gap sale, meaning I actually saved money, it gave me the fuzzies to see how excited she became in what is normally a terror zone for her, egged on by a little help from a friend. It’s not that we necessarily share the same taste in style, (hence there was no in-store fighting over the last pair of Cue sale trousers), all she needed was a boost to her confidence; someone to push her to try things on, tell her when an outfit looked good, be firm if it looked shit, to surreptitiously steer her away from her comfort zones and force her to embrace her new figure rather than resenting it.

 

We’ve both gone up a size since our forties, although we suffer from different body issues, but we shared a mission yesterday, with trips booked back to the UK in a few weeks time – mine for Dad’s third wedding and hers an overdue trip to catch up with family and friends.

 

So we want to look our best.

 

By the end of the day, I had even convinced her to buy three new bras – once she’d finally conceded that she might have gone up a bra size since her previous purchase at Marks and Spencers in London three years ago.

 

It’s a new world out there, and we need to feel brave and empowered, not anxious. It’s a time where it’s important to draw our true friends closer, and embrace the physical embellishments of a good life lived thus far.

Alcohol: Time To Farewell A Dear, Old Friend?

I’m feeling old today; certainly older than I should feel at fifty, although my kids may argue with that. shoes-402257_1280

 

I look at the recent family photos we took at Easter and although I understand that we women of a certain age never like how we appear under the scrutiny of the lens, the cost of two days of celebratory over-drinking (and I don’t mean ‘water’) has had a very obvious toll on my face.

 

On days like this, I’d love to be able to turn back time and control the seismic shift in mood that hormones and alcohol in partnership together have on my body now that I’ve reached (what should be) the maturity of my fifties. I wake up and still feel like a Spring chicken after days of sobriety, whereas days after I’ve burned the candle at both ends, I’m tired, crabby and full of self-remorse.

 

I can’t keep ignoring the fact that alcohol and me just don’t get along anymore; we’ve outgrown each other, and are ready to move on now to our own respective pastures new. Our relationship has become toxic – these days drinking makes me feel more miserable than good about myself.

 

But how to let it go? I’m naturally an introvert, you see, so I’ve relied on this liquid crutch since I was sixteen when I supped my first illegal Vodka and Orange down at the local pub. Worse, I still like the way drinking makes me feel – up to around the third glass – when from thereon in it’s always the same down-hill debacle.

 

Alcohol is such an easy friend to be around. It’s unassuming, doesn’t judge me, makes me appear far more fun than I really know how to be, puts a fake shine on my normally reserved personality like the one on black patent shoes, and when you can function relatively normally on it, (which I have done up until now), where’s the problem?

 

I’ve been drawn to posts from other bloggers and writers recently who have given up the booze, and swear they’ve never felt better, even though the decision has required more changes than they anticipated. It’s not simply a question of avoiding the bottle shop; a need to to redefine who you are in sobriety and society appears to be a common theme.

 

Which is daunting, because all my best relationships thrive around drinking.

 

But the negative impact of this friend of mine, to my self-esteem and creativity, is no longer worth the minimal gain. The depressant effect it has on a mind already vulnerable to erring towards negativity, not to mention the guilt associated with being a role model to a young adult who is already fighting his own drinking demons and the risks of elevating my chance of all manner of horrible cancers, means it’s time.

 

I’ve used the excuse that I don’t need to drink every day, for so long, it bores me. While at the same time, I’ve come to detest those predictable weekend mornings ‘after’, when the hangover invades my body, egged on by my self-hate for not having the discipline to stop, forcing me to waste another Sunday that I’ve looked forward to all week.

 

You see, the real problem I have with my relationship with alcohol is my body’s poor recovery from its effects, since I’ve aged. It’s how quickly the deterioration from fun-time, party animal to hung-over hobo in yoga pants happens. Self-disgust is not pretty, and I now resent the reliance I have on something so puerile to make me feel good about myself, when there is so much else that should work.

 

But then there is the fear that if I remove this loyal, close friend who has stood by me for most of my adult life, will I become an uninteresting shadow of the person I was?

 

To be continued…