Forgiveness And The Ability To Say Sorry

valentines-day-3135789_1920 (1)Ask any member of my family and they will confirm that one of my biggest faults is my lack of forgiveness and more pertinently my inability to say “sorry.” It is not something I can deny, and neither will I apologize for it – obviously.

 

Perhaps my absence of empathy in this regard has something to do with my star sign – because Leos are renowned for their arrogance – perhaps it is a defense mechanism that I have developed over the years to prevent myself from getting hurt, or perhaps it is because I lack any spiritual influence in my life.

 

Don’t worry, I’m not the sort of crazy that scratches cars with sharp knives or sews out-of-date prawns into curtains. No, my punishment of choice is much more evil. It is the punishment of silence and eternal banishment to another kingdom, never to be heard from again – so, as you will appreciate, not an attractive quality, and not one that I am not particularly proud of.

 

The old man has certainly experienced the brunt of my anger on many occasions and once NC and I endured a four-day sulking match when she was still barely out of nappies. However, maturity and the loss of some dear people in my life has taught me that we don’t always get the chance to say “sorry” – which is something that terrifies me, particularly when my grudges, (in hindsight), are particularly shallow. So, while in years gone by I could justify ignoring my father for years, these days I force myself to thaw out quicker and extend the olive branch, ever-conscious of the fragility of life.

 

That being said, the attitude of the father of the family killed in the murder-suicide last week astounded me. Because I’m certain I would struggle to employ the word “forgiveness” in the same sentence as the alleged murderer’s name, a matter of days after my four children had been murdered in their beds. As you know, I am the staunchest supporter of mental illness, but I cannot condone or excuse murder or domestic abuse on any level. Perhaps, I might muster some small sense of pity on my own deathbed, but in no situation could I see myself forgiving such a heinous perpetration of my family’s human rights and trust in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy. As the police have confirmed that the father is not a suspect in the tragedy, I can only attribute his quick response to shock, medication or faith. Yet…if he has truly managed to find forgiveness, I have to commend him.

 

It is important to remember that ‘just as important as defining what forgiveness is, though, is understanding what forgiveness is not. Experts who study or teach forgiveness make clear that when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses.’ What it does do, however, is ‘bring the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger.’ (Greater Good Magazine)

 

The wisdom and clear-headedness (!) of age confirms the futility and danger of anger to both our mental and physical health and offers us the alternative solution of removing toxicity out of our lives completely, rather than trying to maintain the perilous ties of a damaging relationship. I am an expert in this field. From British stock – hence, over-apologetic and terrified of confrontation – whenever I have found myself tested and unable to handle the emotional fallout and consequences of relationships-gone-bad in the past, I have either stuck my head in the sand or walked away and severed the tie completely.

 

However, the problem with that approach is its capacity to leave us very lonely, which is (fortunately) when that wisdom of age can step in again to remind us that some relationships are worth egg on your face and fighting for, and to stop acting like a dickhead.

 

 

 

 

 

My Kids Will Be Able To Say A Lot Of Things About Me, But Never That I Didn’t Love them.

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A friend asked me the other day about how I felt about Mothers Day, and I knew that the question was loaded – you see, I haven’t had a mother for a long time. And for the first time, it struck me that I don’t view the celebration from the perspective of my own mother. I lost her too young to remember her as a real person, so my only association with the day is as a mother to my own kids.

 

There are times when I would love to be able to recount stories of our time together. And in those fourteen years, we did make stories  – on family days out, cheap holidays, when we grew vegetables together at the end of the garden or searched for our runaway tortoise – and yet most of those memories are clouded by her struggles as a single mother, her battle to keep working to provide for three small children, to keep the car running, to keep the smile on her face.

 

Perhaps, that’s why I’ve never allowed myself to fully commit to Mothers Day, with no mother to spoil, to take out to dinner, or to have a monthly spat with – which I understand is very common. And perhaps that’s why I can be somewhat cynical about these ‘special’ days, which can throw up all sorts of pain for those that are excluded or feel isolated – mothers that have lost children, children that have lost mothers, adopted children, mothers that have lost connection with their children. And Mother Day, in particular, sugarcoats a biological responsibility that is not necessarily ‘the best thing’ EVERY woman has ever done. The day can highlight shame and failure for some, as well as the smug gratitude of those women lucky enough to have cultivated perfect relationships with their children – if they do, in fact, exist.

 

Relationships between parents and their children are not always Waltons or Brady-esque. Sometimes, they are not straightforward, as Nikki Gemmell exposes in her book, ‘After,’ which I picked up recently as research for my manuscript. Nikki’s story covers the ways she handled grief after the death of her mother, and yet for me, the greatest comfort I took from the book is her honesty about her tricky relationship with her mother, because it forced me to recognize similarities between her mother’s behavior and my own.

 

Sadly, only after years of distance between them was Nikki finally able to make peace with her mother, only to be shattered a few years later by her mother’s suicide – perhaps, her final act of revenge, in Nikki’s eyes. Personally, I can’t imagine the guilt attached to losing your mother to suicide. Can you imagine the questions you would be forced to ask yourself, even if you knew that chronic pain was at the root of her reasoning? Can you imagine the sense of betrayal? That the person that gave birth to you should choose to leave you in such a way?

 

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: relationships are complicated –  particularly family relationships, where the blood connection can force us to continue with toxic, destructive alliances. Anyone who has produced a child that went against the grain will recognize the sense of shock and the grief for the child you expected to have.

 

The death of my own mother, along with the distant relationship I have experienced with my father at various periods of my life has affected my relationships with my children. Not necessarily for the worst. At times, my insecurity has made me cling too hard and suffocate them; at others, my aloofness, lack of empathy and lack of a filter have left them feeling confused and unloved. I am not a perfect mother; and yet I am the only mother they have. And in the end, when they describe to my grandchildren the ways I fucked up their lives, they won’t be able to say that I didn’t love them. Just like I can’t about my own mother.

 

Why Every Parent Needs To Watch Lady Bird

Described by Empire as ‘A coming-of-age story like no other, Lady Bird is smart, emotional, funny and completely original. Rarely has a directorial debut been so assured, so singular and so heartwarmingly affecting,’ the movie Lady Bird has been critically acclaimed worldwide, and as a sucker for any movie that offers the secret to parenting, it was a must-see for me.

The best part about Lady Bird is the lightbulb moment as you leave the cinema that there aren’t really any secrets to parenting. The truth is, every parent and every child comes from the lucky dip of genealogy and we all end up just doing the best we can.

Every parent of teenagers needs to go straight to the movies to watch this movie. I’m not saying it’s the best film I’ve seen this year, but if you are in denial about what really goes on in the head of your soon-to-be adult child, it offers a formidable apprenticeship.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to learn the truth that love isn’t always enough – not without communication or being able to put yourself in each other’s shoes.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to better understand the limitations of the young, under-developed brain, packed full of dreams and hope and so often at war with the older, bitter brains acquired through life’s experiences. It’s not rocket science, but perhaps our kids aren’t always being intentionally difficult; maybe they’re simply looking at life through their own lens. 

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to understand that however hard they make our lives, it is wrong to destroy the dreams of our children; we mustn’t infect them with the poison of our own lives and our anxieties, and nor should we push our own expectations on to them, borne of our own failures.

As a child psychologist once told me: Be consultant, rather than judge.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to appreciate the struggles young people face today – the pressures of social media, mental illness, shootings, hazing – stuff that we didn’t have to deal with, that may contribute to that entitled or narcissistic label. Their goals aren’t the same as ours – and that is progress. The world is different to the one we grew up in, and if their challenges are important to them, we need to take them seriously.

Everyone should watch Lady Bird because it may not have the artistic depth of a film such as Call Me By My Name – my favorite film this year, with one of the most emotive father/son scenes I’ve ever sobbed my way through – but it is an authentic and honest portrayal of real lives that will resonate with most parents. Spoiler: Any of you of a blubbing disposition will need tissues for the scene where the mum drives away from the airport.

Fact:

Sometimes we say terrible, abusive things to our kids because we’re tired, hormonal or under stresses that they know nothing about; nor should they know about.

Sometimes we swear at them.

Often, we cry over them.

Parenting can be a mind-fuck that pushes the limitations of even those patron saints of parenting among us. It can be heart and gut-wrenching. The clever way it exposes our vulnerabilities is terrifying. Who hasn’t raged at a toddler? Who hasn’t threatened to kick their child out of home? Lady Bird highlights those tough parts – the unemployment, depression, and relationship stress that we all have to manage as we raise our children. But it also shines a light on the really good bits, borne of those tough parts.

My Husband Seems To Have Forgotten This Year That Valentine’s Day Is A Competition

I choose not to remind the old man about special events during the year, such as our anniversary, my birthday and Valentine’s Day because it makes our relationship so much more interesting.

I know that many people frown upon the commerciality of Valentine’s Day, but personally, I have always lapped up the opportunity to receive the only bunch of dead flowers from the petrol station I’m likely to receive in any given year as well as a meal out – nothing too expensive, mind you, because as a friend reminded me today, then they think they deserve sex.

In the old days, the old man used to cook for me on Valentine’s night, a mistake that I soon realized wasn’t romantic at all when I had to stand over him the whole time and interpret the methodology into a language he understood, then had to clear up his mess afterwards.

In our forties, when we thought we were rich, (before being rudely reminded about the cost of care homes and healthcare), we progressed to dinner out – generally not on the night itself due to the sacrilege of increased pricing that the old man couldn’t quite stomach – but the sickening sight of young couples, and particularly men, squirming in their seats, praying not to fuck the night up, (albeit highly entertaining), wasn’t how we wanted to celebrate our own special love.

So our current Valentine status is that we pretend we just don’t care are pretty chilled about the whole thing, even though, deep down we both know that there is still a competition going on. Generally, there is a reluctant exchange of cards with a few lovey-dovey words that convey that although we hate each other most of the time, VERY, VERY deep down, there is obviously something deep and meaningful there. And perhaps we’ll treat ourselves to a pizza.

This year, however, I had been somewhat out of sorts after a virus knocked me sideways, increased my intolerance to wine and gave me a cold sore as its finale. Added to which, he-that-rhymes-with-Burt has been stretching every last ounce of my patience since Xmas as he continues to deny my rights to retire from parenting. So, I have been lethargic, bad-tempered and meaner this past week than normal. Everything is the old man’s fault, including the length and debilitation caused by my illness, because he made me play tennis when I was literally still on my death bed.

I am of the belief that if you try hard enough, it is possible to blame your husband/partner for just about everything.

So I was not feeling particularly amorous when I spotted the first red cards in the shops, and perhaps it had nothing to do with the virus at all, and the reason Cupid has been on an extended holiday from our house is because we work from home together, hence get on each other’s nerves 24/7. Anyway, call me bitchy, but I knew that the old man would have no idea what month we were in without a reminder as salient as billboards in our street when I decided to surprise him with my card.

You get where I’m coming from, Ladies?

Unfortunately, however, last week was one of the rare occasions that the old man left the house over the past year and he too spotted the red balloons and the heart-shaped stickers and didn’t wonder whose birthday it was. Something resonated, and because he has no respect for my privacy and is the type that raids my in-tray and text messages regularly – he says, to check which bills I’ve forgotten to pay and what library books I’ve forgotten to return; I say, to see if I have a lover, because deep down I like the idea that he thinks that I could get a lover – he found my Valentine’s card to him and hotfooted it down to the petrol station to buy one for me that was no-way near as offensive as mine – in fact it was downright romantic – and so this year, I suppose, he wins in the game of love.

But where exactly are my dead flowers, ass-hole?

My Seven Secrets To A Lasting Marriage

rose-petals-693570_1920Apparently, marriage is back in fashion and as it was our anniversary yesterday – hence, that time of the year where I selflessly dedicate twenty-four hours of my time to be nice to my husband in return for a slap-up meal – I’ve decided to share the reasons behind our unmitigated happiness and unbridled passion.

 

Is marriage what I expected when I stood at that altar all those years ago?

 

Perhaps. It would have helped if either one of us had been grown ups or I hadn’t been looking through the rose-tinted glasses of a bride, more concerned about whether the wedding favors matched the flowers, or where I could smoke in a marquee. But a warning about the shit stains in the loo, the money worries and the curse of children wouldn’t have gone amiss, so my first secret is tolerance. Because whenever the old man fucks up, I always try to remember that no-one is perfect, even though I come pretty close.

 

I do miss being able to do exactly what I want to do all the time. Last Sunday was the perfect example of where compromise sucks. NC and I decided to watch the first season of a new series together and after a six-hour mammoth session of over-achievement, the old man dared to demand the tv room back, so while she sloped off to watch the rest of the series in her bedroom, I was left to sulk and invent new forms of torture for him. You spend a lot of time planning your partner’s death in marriage.

 

Communication and mutual interests are hugely important, which is why we continue to drink copious amounts of wine together. I did invite him to hot yoga with me – normal yoga during the menopause – but that was obviously never going to happen. “Walking” together clears the cobwebs and eases the tensions in neutral territory where we can discuss important shit without access to crockery to throw. Who knows, this time next year we could be gardening together.

 

Admittedly, I never thought we’d make the twenty-four-year mark and having realistic expectations has helped. I carried the stigma of being the first child of a divorce at school – please refer to scarred by my parents – so I was skeptical about marriage. But so far, we’ve weathered the near cyclonic storms with minimal damage – both the ones I’ve created because I like the sound of my own voice as well as the ones that life has thrown at us, such as the loss of loved ones, career disappointments, money lost through investment and that murky bag of smaller, miscellaneous disappointments that form part of the fabric of life. So you need backbone and commitment to keep going, as well as something that comes later in life for me – an appreciation of the little things.

 

Trust is a huge part of marriage. I admit that I am one of those stupid women to entrust my husband with our money – mainly because I am useless with it and we would be living on the streets if I managed it for us. A ‘running away’ account is currently being negotiated because we I am very open like that. In much the same way, he has entrusted me with the organization of our social life, because he is useless with people and would become a hermit somewhere in the Snowy Mountains if allowed. 

 

And my last secret is that you need to cuddle. A lot. Now, I’m not a natural cuddler – see ref. above about being screwed up as a child – but the old man is like a big teddy bear that needs to feel loved. Some might call him “needy.”

 

Twenty-five years might be pushing it if the old man’s rabbit in the headlights expression was anything to go by when I said we need to do something amazing next year – please refer to realistic expectations above.

 

Here they are again:

Communicate

Compromise

Mutual Interests

Cuddle

Commitment

Tolerance

Trust

 

 

 

 

Middle-Aged Memory Loss: When You Need A Checklist Just To Leave The House

So apparently, the old man also experiences the whole dementia thing, which I had hoped was short-term in my case and attributed to menopause rather than a permanent decline.

Getting out of the house together can be a strain these days and the organization we require to remember everything we need has become an embarrassment. We are forced to run through lengthy checklists before we feel brave enough to open the front door and enter what is becoming a newly threatening world outside. While admittedly, I am known for putting my keys in the fridge and my attempts to boil milk in the kettle, I can’t tell you how often the old man has to go back to the house for his phone or wallet. And nowhere was this new level of senility more apparent than on holiday when we were outside the comfort zone of our territory for a whole week.

One day, we booked a massage at a nearby spa, because included in the deal was the use of the rest of the spa’s facilities for the remainder of the day as well as lunch – an offer that proved impossible to resist for cheapskates like us who had reached breaking point from the feral kids permanently adrift in the pool at our own hotel (as we waited for the Department of Education to turn up after an anonymous tip-off).

‘So all I need is my swimmers?’ the old man asked me five minutes before we were being picked up, and an hour into my own preparations’.

‘No, you need a hat, sunglasses, towel, your phone and something to read,’ I replied helpfully, trying to ignore the ‘CHECK HIS FUCKING BAG!’ thought pounding in my head because I decided it was disempowering.

Two hours later, fully relaxed after a wonderful massage, I suggested that we change into our swimmers in the massage room rather than allow the old man to put any teenage girls around the pool through the torture of having to watch him do his Houdini-style towel dance.

‘I’ve forgotten my swimmers,’ he said, sheepishly, before he went on to blame me for distracting him with all the other stuff he had to remember.

So, for your entertainment, (and as a small punishment for losing his marbles before I lose mine), I bring you a photo of the old man wearing the vintage-style bottoms to the most un-itsy-bitsy bikini (thank God!) you’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, I was forced to sit around the pool for the rest of the day in my underwear, to the mortification of all the poor men under forty.

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Couples Holidays For The Middle-Aged – When Sometimes It’s Easier To Stay At Home

buoy-914766_1920The problem with going away when you finally reach that longed-for stage of almost empty-nesting is that anxiety tends to rear its ugly head at about the same time in your life, and it throws up all sorts of other issues. So although we don’t have to worry about remembering a long list of toddler essentials like nappies and sterilizers and portable beds nowadays, we do have to prepare ourselves for the mental anguish of dashed expectations, change, flying, other people and more importantly other people’s small children.

Sometimes, I wonder whether it would be easier to stay at home.

Somewhat predictably, I fear we have turned into one of those moaning, judgmental, middle-aged couples on holiday because there is definitely a pattern emerging each time we go away, where we spend more time waiting to get home than actually enjoying our holiday.

‘It’s a bit hot,’ the old man had commented, an hour into our holiday as we downed our second drink in celebration of our survival of the most tumultuous flight since London to Dublin circa 1995.

‘Stop moaning,’ I said, as I watched him squint at the sun because he forgot to pack his sunglasses.We’re making an effort to be grateful this holiday, remember?’ I reminded him sternly.

Because we know we should be grateful. A whole week without the kids at one of the nicest hotels we’ve ever been to – (because I got a deal) – and I had even managed to ignore the unspoken meaning behind the words of mine and Kurt’s doctor when she grabbed me by the shoulder the day before we left and said, ‘are you seriously leaving Kurt with NC?’ Surely, she should know by now that’s not the sort of thing you say to someone you are treating for anxiety disorder?

‘I’m never flying again,’ I had stated earlier that morning when we stepped off the plane on legs that refused to coordinate after two hours of non-stop turbulence on a three hour flight in which that whole scene when NC tells Kurt that the old man has left all of their inheritance to the Spoodle Sanctuary had played over and over in my mind as I decided we were going to die – and even worse, on a flight during which there was no alcohol with which to dull the demons of anxiety because it was breakfast time and society dictates…never mind.

But two hours later we found ourselves in paradise, and the effects of drinking wine in the sun at lunchtime and the knowledge that we might survive another week had given me some (false) hope, so we ventured down to the pool of our hotel. And lo and behold, two free sunbeds jumped out at us immediately (without the old man having to threaten or remove anyone’s towels) – in the shade, but as the old man informed me whilst setting his alarm for 5 am tomorrow, that would be the last time anyone put him in the shade – and so finally, we settled down to relax.

But if you believe in the Law of Attraction, you’ll know that it was almost inevitable that as soon as our eyes began to glaze over, those first cold splashes of pool water from about a dozen noisy kids who decided that the best part of the Olympic-sized pool to play in with big blow up toys and water soakers was directly in front of us, would bring us back to reality. Kids, we had assumed, would be at school at this time of the year.

The heat of hatred seared my body from the direction of the old man’s sunbed well before the sun had a chance, as he hissed a ‘fuck!’ under his breath. ‘Breathe!’ I said to myself as I pulled my towel over my head.

‘Look at how gorgeous this place is,’ I tried, looking out towards our surroundings above the heads of the feral children at the clear blue sky framed by palm trees and the crystal waters beneath it – my ears just about able to pick up the clink of Champagne glasses from the al fresco restaurant over the whining squeals of ‘Mummy, MUMMY…LOOK AT ME!’ in every other direction.

A tut came back in response.

‘Do you know how intolerant you’re becoming with middle age?’ I asked him, wiping the water from my legs.

‘Pfft!’ he responded. ‘We’re going to an over-18 hotel next time.’

‘We can’t afford over-18 hotels…’

‘Okay, well I’m staying at home, then,’ he said, jamming his earplugs into his ears, like a sulking teenager.

‘There’s still the buffet breakfast…’was my last-ditched attempt to save the week.

To be continued…

Taking The Middle-Aged Man On Holiday

Mini breaks are what you do in middle age when the kids get too cool to come away with you (and you can’t afford to take them, anyway), and the idea of a long holiday with your other half is too daunting. They should be long enough to give you a break from the pressures of normal life, yet short enough to ensure that you don’t run out of things to talk about or start to plan your partner’s death. pots-738172_1920

The old man and I have bravely booked a couple of such mini-adventures away this year, on our own, and our first took place this week, when we ventured south of Sydney to Bowral in the Southern Highlands, and then onto Kangaroo Valley and Jervis Bay.

 

The locality of these areas is renowned for its rolling green pastures, quaint village towns, wineries, cooler temperatures, (much more agreeable, if like me you are of a certain age and become completely unreasonable in the heat), and during some parts of the year… flies. If you take out the fly factor and the fact that each little homestead we’ve stayed in has warned us not to antagonize snakes in the small print, it is very reminiscent of the British countryside.

 

The problem with dragging the old man out of his comfort zone – ie. away from home – is that he needs to acclimatise to any new and potentially threatening environment and he tends to flail awkwardly for the first few days, rather like when you take a fish out of water, while he adjusts to life without his regimented, “home” routine of work, exercise, food and annoying me.

 

I, on the other hand, have the propensity to sleep for a disconcerting number of hours on holiday, both night and day, so I’m rarely conscious long enough to help alleviate his boredom.

 

I feel no guilt. Why should I entertain him? He is a grown man and I refuse to disempower him. Perish the thought that he turns into one of those poor men you see dragged around the supermarket, tethered to an invisible leash and a nagging wife, henpecked to death because she’s lost respect for him. So in much the same way that I have tried to ignore inane conversation this holiday, I have resisted the urge to rise to trigger questions such as ‘do you think I need a jumper?’ when we go out.

 

Although in hindsight, perhaps I should have checked that he’d packed his towel before we headed out to the beach this morning.

 

This destination of the south coast was his choice, although whether he realized that outside of the arresting scenery, the highlight would be the charming, small towns, I’m not sure. Full to the brim of cute antique shops, local crafts, cafes that serve high tea and wicked flavours of home-made fudge, as well as chic homewares stores far superior to those in Sydney – in which I like to whittle away as many of my conscious hours as I dream about my Hamptons house – I imagine this week has turned out be the old man’s idea of hell.

 

Within 24hrs of our departure from civilization and the National Broadband Network, he had stalked every meter of the perimeter of our hotel, eaten every lolly (including the licorice) in the mini bar and asked me several times when we could go home.

 

Fortunately, the weather has been kind to us after the abysmal rain of the past two weeks in Sydney (see here), and thank fuck our first hotel had a pool to entice him in, (in spite of its icy temperature), where he burned off some of the scones and cream that we’ve been eating with gay abandon restlessness incurred from two hours of looking at lamps made from ginger jars and lengthy discussions with local shopkeepers about different types of Indian tea.

 

‘This is the life!’ he pronounced unconvincingly as he lay on the hotel sunbed, soaking up the afternoon sun and gazing at the unnerving sheet of ice on the surface of the pool.

 

“Shall we go back to the room now,’ he then asked, five minutes later.

 

We have mutually come to the realization that we need to plan our days from this point onwards because whereas my main aim now is to be fed, watered and to relax on holiday ie. a daily plan that ultimately leads me to a good pub, the old man needs more structure. He needs to know the time of each meal and activity between breakfast and dinner time, when he can finally unwind as he gets one step closer to our return home.

 

 

Those Embarrassing, Inane Conversations Of Middle Age

I’m not sure when the old man and I silently agreed that inane middle-aged conversation was acceptable now. It was probably another one of those telepathic, marital communications that we couldn’t verbalise due to the shame, but one day it was suddenly okay to talk about gibberish – about stuff like the weather or what the dentist said, or the cost of milk. peace-1754379_1920

Like many of the symptoms of ageing, inane conversation creeps up on the best of us, and our situation is more dangerous than most because we work together from home, and there are only so many intelligent conversations you can have when you get caught in the kitchen making toast in between meals.

Today, we did the food shop together, (because obviously we haven’t spent enough time together this week), and when we noticed that our supermarket is changing the position of its entry barriers, our dwindling middle-aged brains went into lock down and we couldn’t help ourselves.

‘Well, it’s about time they did that,’ I said, trying to sound cheerful about this latest progress in our community in an attempt to disguise my innate middle-aged fear of change. ‘I can’t tell you how many times I nearly scraped the car on those old barriers.’

‘I know, right?’ nodded the old man in agreement, ‘I can’t believe they didn’t think it about it before. I wonder where you exit from now?’ he added, seriously.

There it was, another inane conversation, and suddenly aware, we looked at each other with embarrassment and sealed our lips lest we say another condemning word.

As the old man pointed out, though, if we actually knew any people in our suburb, the topic of the new barriers would make for wonderful dinner-party discussion – one that I imagine could go on for most of the evening.

‘I can’t believe you wore flip flops on a rainy day again,’ I commented later, as we were leaving the supermarket and I watched the old man carefully navigate the wet steps down to the car park. ‘Don’t you ever learn?’

I was referring, of course, to that time, a year or so ago, when he slipped down some wet steps in the rain in his flip flops, and cracked two ribs. He then took the problem to building management who hastily installed some ‘Slippery When Wet’ signs – before the old geezer in 308 sued them – which he would nod at approvingly each time we walked past them.

‘At least these have some grip on them…’he replied, before he stopped himself short, looked at me guiltily and pursed his lips.

When does it happen, this swift descent down the luge to old age? When did we start doing and saying all those things we used to ridicule our parents and old people on the bus for? When did I start caring about the garden? When did the old man decide that growing grass from seed was a good idea?

We are educated, intelligent human beings who used to know and have the confidence in our relationship to keep schtum unless we had something interesting to say – something that was worth sharing. When did we start feeling the need to fill in the gaps? Is it fear of loneliness? Does it give us some hidden comfort now to share our every thought or is it simply that we’ve lost the mental ability to filter out the shit?

Broken People

Wow! ‘Manchester By The Sea’.

 

sad-505857_1920It’s unlike me to enthuse about movies on this site. Truth be told, it’s getting much harder to walk away from a movie and feel truly motivated these days, (Hidden Figures is an exception), so exhausted am I by the blatant ageism, objectification and sexism that Hollywood continues to get away with.

 

But then a little film like this comes along.

 

Admittedly, it had my name all over it. Grief, depression and dysfunctional relationships are the sort of dark ingredients that get my blood pumping, although hardly the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster, even when they are blended so beautifully together that it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen. Even the visual is bleak, as the storyline is set up in a backdrop of snow, sleet and the sort of bitter cold weather that makes the characters appear even more vulnerable and our heart ache even more viscerally for them, before anything awful has actually happened.

 

You might not go and see this movie because of the controversy surrounding the lead actor, Casey Affleck – sexual harassment allegations from some years back which have tarnished the production because they were settled out of court, leaving inevitable question marks. NC refused to come with me, and I had to overcome the sour taste in my mouth because the theme of the movie is so important to awareness about depression and, well frankly, personal.

 

I won’t spoil it for you by giving away the storyline. Suffice it to say that this is a ‘real’ film about broken lives, shattered relationships and fragmented families, hence no solution and no happy ending where you walk away with a smile on your face and a good feeling in your heart. I commend the filmmakers for that, because when it comes to depression, it’s a falsity to think that anyone fully recovers or that they wake up one morning and are miraculously fixed.

 

Below are some thoughts I wrote about on a bad day:

 

Do you ever think about doing something easier? Until you realize all over again that nothing is easy.

 

Do you ever think that everything is too hard? That no matter how many times you re-invent yourself, you’ll never be truly happy?

 

Do you often feel so tired that even your most reliable friends, coffee and wine, can’t get you through the day, can’t lift your mood any more, and your only solace is buried beneath the bedclothes with your anger and self-pity for company?

 

Does that voice of self-pity become so loud sometimes that the only way to keep it in check is through thoughts of escape?

 

Does that grinding ache of impending panic in your belly take over every waking thought some days, and do you hate yourself for being such a loser, for being so pathetic, so spoilt, when you have more than most people would ever want?

 

Do your relationships and interactions with close ones feel two-dimensional? Do you feel like they ask too much of you one day and not enough the next? Do you feel that you can’t give back what they need from you and that what you have to give, isn’t enough?

 

Is the visual of happiness in your head completely different to what you thought it would be? Is it closer to a small room, these days, by yourself, where you can do what you want, eat what you want, the only place where you feel in control of your destiny?

 

Friends, don’t worry because I’m fine, and reading this back today I realised that it is the voice of the typical creative who has a platform where she can explore, through words, all dimensions of self-pity.

 

Sometimes, I think I suffer from ‘perfectly hidden depression,’ a word made up by Dr Margaret Rutherford, which she explains in her piece When People With Depression Function Too Well. Most of us suffer from this some of the time, I suspect, mainly because it turns out that life is not the fairy tale stories we were brought up on.

 

I function well, but as Dr Rutherford so cleverly describes, sometimes I feel as though I don’t have the vitality for life that I should have, and the closest I get to it is via pills and self-medication, aka wine.

 

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many of us are ‘broken’. Some by trauma; some by inherited mental illness.

 

And some will handle it better than others.

 

What I love about ‘Manchester By The Sea’ is the rawness of Lee, the main character, and the honesty of his depiction of ‘the black dog’, which is a real dedication to nothingness, because the trigger to his illness has left him barely functioning. He continues to work in a non-challenging environment, but the only way he can function outside of this distraction is to isolate himself, self-medicate and not have to explain why. Trauma has changed his life irreparably, in spite of society and his family’s expectation that everything will be okay in the end.

 

Casey Affleck deserves an Oscar for playing a ‘dead’ character who will never go back to the person he was before, no matter how much others want or try to coerce him to. Sometimes the pain doesn’t go away and I don’t think that Lee really wants it to. He sees it as his punishment.

 

Most of us find a way to move forward after trauma; to appear normal on the outside, at least. It is assumed (or hoped) that we will get through whatever triggered the depression because no-one wants to talk to the sad person at the dinner table when they’re hellbent on having fun.

 

Sadly, many don’t get through.

 

 

Role Modelling: When You Get Tired Of Being The Responsible Parent

img_4524One day over the holidays, after lunch out with the old man at our local pub, NC and and I continued to paint the town red while he disappeared to check the cricket scores. Obviously we didn’t leave the house – because that be supremely awkward for her – and the focus of our “session” together was hardly some tawdry “getting pissed with your parent” event. No, it was more organic than that; a short period of time where we gently morphed into two adults with shared humour and interests, enjoying each other’s company on a lazy summer’s afternoon.

 

I managed to forget about the state of her bedroom and how she has an aversion to washing frying pans that day, and she chose to forget what an unreasonable bitch I can be in the heat. We kicked off our shoes, filled up our glasses, shared a sun bed on the deck and sang along to George Michael, laughed with Eddie Izzard, ripped apart men and relationships and discussed how together we were going to put the world to rights with our feminist idealism. Then we took loads of selfies as we waded through the Christmas chocolate stash.

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Unfortunately, there is also a highly incriminating video that I have since deleted in case Kurt sends it to Child Services to facilitate his move to “proper” parents who understand him. I’m not sure how kindly they would look on my modelling of crunches and drinking wine at the same time.

 

It was a wonderful couple of hours that encompassed everything I aspired to that day I pushed out my firstborn and presented her to the rest of the ward baboon-style, before falling unconscious on the hospital floor from blood loss.

 

Not my best work as a responsible parent, perhaps, but when I ask the question of whether we should have a life sentence as role models to our kids, I don’t mean being “responsible” in terms of their safety, obviously, I’m talking about if, as adults, they are old enough to handle the ‘real’ us?

 

I want to know when I can start to have fun again? When I can go back to being silly, badass, highly immature and not be shot for being irresponsible?

 

We’re told that it’s a capital crime-to-parenting to be friends with our kids, and after a torturous and failed few years of trying to do just that, I get that. But surely, as they mature, we can loosen up on the whole role modelling perfectionism a little? Isn’t it just as valuable a part of their education to see our true colours as well? To understand that man’s destination is created from our successes as well as those enormous fuck ups?

 

When I grew up in the UK, young adults left home around eighteen, either to go onto further education, to travel, to work or simply to move out with friends. The culture in Australia is different around tertiary education, with student accommodation at a premium and rent way beyond what most young people could hope to afford. That leaves many of our young adults with no choice but to remain at home.

 

When I look back at the glory days of my own student years, I’m pretty glad that my father never witnessed the shenanigans I got up to in my twenties. Those years of development were about pushing boundaries, failing badly and learning (usually via mismanagement) how to manage my life. I can’t imagine the added pressure of having him there to witness my failures, judging and nagging me about my choices, or about keeping my bedroom tidy or putting the milk back in the fridge.

 

And it’s equally challenging for us, the parents, who feel we’ve done our time.

 

I’ve accepted that our kids may never leave home; what I can’t accept if they continue to co-habit with us into their mid-twenties, is not knowing when the parenting Fatwah will be lifted so we can do what the fuck we want again. I want to know when I can push boundaries and make mistakes again, without being accused of poor role modelling. I want to know when I can have sex on the living room floor again, eat ice cream from the tub, lie in bed all day to nurse a hangover and walk around the house completely starkers.

 

Even though my son is about to enter his third decade, he is a young adult with certain issues, who needs to be reminded constantly about what is appropriate behavior, so we have to be conscious of how we represent ourselves to him. But there has to come a time, surely, just as when the Berlin wall finally came down, when the gap between the expectations of parent and child can be narrowed?

 

Fortunately, I know that NC won’t judge me for that minor lapse from perfect role modelling to irresponsible lush, because she knows that I’m only an occasional drinker…but it was worth it.

 

For relationships to evolve, the walls have to come down.

The Value Of Celebrity In Our Lives

I can’t remember when I finally grew up and began to like mushrooms. Oh, that’s right… I didn’t grow up, I just began to like mushrooms and a few more of those foodstuffs that I never trusted when I was little because they were fugly.mushrooms-756406_1280

 

One of the biggest pieces of wisdom you acquire when you get older is the knowledge about not judging books by their covers.

 

People, like mushrooms and olives and maybe even tripe, often camouflage their true flavors, so now, whenever I meet new people, (and in my job I meet a lot of wealthy people, who seemingly ‘have it all’), I am very conscious of the falsity of that assumption.

 

There is an analogy between the fugliness of mushrooms and what the recent spate of celebrity deaths has signified to each of us. One thing to come out of it is the sad fact that we often we only get to hear about the real side of people after they die. For a celebrity cynicist like myself, it’s reassuring to know that their value to society was not wholly tied up in their need for attention.

 

I think that the sudden flurry of these public deaths has made all of us more sensitive to the impact of loss and our place on earth. While generally I do have a healthy disdain for the whole ‘celebrity’ factory – (unless I feel the individuals have earned their public acknowledgement, which doesn’t include reality tv stars, stars of sex videos, those who have made it by their looks alone or by selling their souls) – I think these did. Especially now, in the aftermath, since the sensationalist, media-fuelled post-mortems have died down and their behind-the-scenes stories have come to light.

 

I have to agree with Carrie Fisher, when she said that, ‘Youth and beauty are not accomplishments.’

 

So in this instance, I’m glad I didn’t judge these particular celebrities by their “cover” because as much as I can be cynical about the fame game, I also have a healthy admiration for those with the ability and drive to harness their talents. I understand that to reach a status of public acclaim takes more than a good voice or sound writing skills, that you have to be tough, work hard and need passion, commitment and self-belief – a perfect cocktail of qualities that most of us don’t possess.

 

But do those public talents determine their value? Is the musician’s musicianship more important than the fact that he visited homeless shelters in his free time? I imagine that different people will have a different response.

 

The problem with worshipping at the feet of celebrity – and the recent outpouring of grief is proof – is that it can undermine our own sense of worth and contribution. After all, is a singer’s contribution more important than what the Human Rights lawyer or the person who sets up homes for victims of domestic violence does?

 

It suggests that the majority of us – normal people – and what we give to society, isn’t as valuable.

 

It’s common knowledge, and I realized when I washed my bra by hand this morning (Yes, I washed my bra!), that because everything is so much easier and instant for us in the modern world, we expect our thrills to come quicker and the more shocking they are, the better – it’s that “instant gratification” problem that we bunch together with millennials – something I’ve witnessed as an emerging writer trying to get published (at the age of 51) – because unless you are happy to sell out your family or provide details about your sex life, it can be hard to be heard.

 

As sad as 2016 is now being depicted, I can’t help feeling that this ridiculous fascination with these celebrity deaths devalues our own relevance and importance. Is the fact that Debbie Reynolds died of a broken heart more important than the number of women killed at the hands of domestic abuse this year, for example?

 

I have always believed that we are put on this earth for a reason and like most people, I imagine, through several periods of self-absorption I have questioned my own existence. As a young woman, I had no obvious talents, no real sense of purpose, (other than my own survival), and I realize now that I pinned my personal value on being a parent, so when the wheels fell off that as well, I felt worthless.

 

Sadly, the reasons for our existence may not be evident until we pass, which is something that needs to change. Think of the writers who only achieved recognition posthumously, the heroes who died in action, the doctors, the nurses and police that save people on a daily basis or the millions that die in war. The point is that we all make an impact. No matter how minimal our contribution to society may seem or how short our existence is, we make a difference to the lives of others just by being there, and we don’t to be on tv to prove it.

 

Most will argue that Bowie, Prince and Michael will be remembered for their music legacy, while others will remember them for helping clear pathways for the LGBT community; Carrie Fisher will be remembered for Star Wars by many, but it is her honesty (rather than her hair buns) about her personal struggles with mental illness that will have inspired others; for George Michael, it may not be Wham and those shorts, but his private acts of generosity.

 

We all have something to give and we will all leave a legacy, that may not be as obvious as those left by the likes of Alan Rickman or Victoria Woods, but which are just as great a contribution, nevertheless. In my opinion, the majority of talent is not manifested in public, on the stage or in writing; true talent comes from the heart, and is a much more powerful currency, with a much brighter star.

 

 

The Secret To Long-Term Relationships

If I could seriously answer this, I’d be a millionaire by now.

 

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Nice pic, but like it would ever happen in our relationship! Either I would fall off or the old man would keep moaning about how my weight made it impossible for him to pedal until we had a fight.

But…

 

You do get to the stage that I’ve reached in this hell-hole of an interminable marriage when it becomes impossible to ignore the statistics that a lot of middle-aged couples are choosing to go their separate ways at this time of their lives.

 

Which has always seemed kind of strange to me, to survive the really tough years of young kids, teenagers and the associated financial worries, then move on without each other so close to the finish line. I can kind of see why it happens, however, because it doesn’t take an expensive relationship counsellor to tell you that our hopes and dreams continue to evolve through the different stages of our lives and marriages only last when those changes in direction remain close enough to maintain some connection and shared values.

 

There’s also nothing like the pressure of our own mortality staring us in the face to make us more selfish about those dreams yet to be fulfilled.

 

The move to this semi ‘empty-nesting’ stage provides many of us with our first opportunity to discover some clarity about where our lives are taking us and that may sadly result in one of us wanting to break free. That teasing, fluttering finish line ribbon may in fact be the catalyst to make changes, however painful they may be. Indeed, some couples play a waiting game until they feel that the kids are independent enough to cope with those changes.

 

Who hasn’t at some point during their long relationship thought about a Shirley Valentine experience when their marriage feels flat and in the doldrums?

 

The old man and I were chatting with NC the other night, who having recently split with The Astronaut, was pontificating over the point of committed, exclusive relationships and how they are ever supposed to work. Personally, I believe that the success of relationships is more down to timing and luck rather than any romanticised notion of a meeting of minds or discovery of your soul-mate, but when you can get it to work, there is nothing greater than a long, fully-committed relationship.

 

As long as you realise that you will have to work at it, accept, adapt, compromise and manage both your expectations.

 

Easy!

 

Nothing is perfect, which is why it makes me laugh when Kurt says that he can’t find a girl because he’s seeking perfection, and one can only hope that his future soul-mate is a little less choosy.

 

The old man and I have been married for twenty-three years now and have known each other since we were seventeen. That’s a long time… and sometimes it feels like a really long time, particularly when we discuss money. A well-timed sabbatical apart before we got married was the best decision we ever made and it’s something NC intends to do for the foreseeable future before she gets involved in another long relationship. I’m talking about some dedicated ‘whoring’ (her words), to get temptation and ‘unfinished business’ out of the way.

 

It’s an important foresight in my opinion, because when the spark in your marriage wanes, which it will at several points, at least you can be pretty certain that the grass is not greener.

 

Although many of my friends might disagree.

 

And I’ve seen the proof firsthand with those of them who have remarried or entered new relationships, and who are very happy. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a little jealous sometimes by the shininess of their spanking new relationships, when they’re still enamoured enough to make an effort with each other with the added maturity and financial freedom afforded by middle age.

 

But there’s equally something quite nice about implicit trust that has built up over a long period of time, familiar routines (shoot me now), convenience and knowing each other so well that you take the words out of each others mouths and predict each others behaviours. In the same way that the old man knows that red meat makes me fart and I know that he cannot go an hour without checking our bank balance.

‘Pretend You’re Good At It’

I’m reading “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson, (aka The Bloggess) at the moment, upon the recommendation of Lana Hirshowitz, and although I initially struggled to decipher the twisting maze of her brain patterns, I’ve since tapped in and have found myself identify with the author’s self-professed craziness and daily struggles with anxiety. joy-233380_1280

The book is laugh-out-loud funny but one snippet I want to share with you is the day Jenny goes to a studio to record the audio for her latest book, when fear renders her voice a croak and she can’t get through it, so she calls her friend Neil Gaiman for help. As you do.

 

His advice to her is to ‘pretend you’re good at it.’ And on this occasion it works.

 

If only it were really that simple.

 

The old man and I had our usual ‘how we can change the world’ chat, or more poignantly, ‘how we can change our world and find fulfilment’ talk over a curry last night. I don’t know why, but both of us struggle to identify true contentment in our lives even when it smacks us squarely in the face. The most likely reason is that we’re both anxious people as well as privileged (see previous post), or perhaps it’s because we over-analyse everything, hence find it difficult to be happy with what we have, but it’s a trait I despise in myself, yet can’t seem to change.

 

As you know, I’ve erred close to the dark side over the past month or so and the old man has been victim to the brunt of my symptoms and last night his patience went out the window and he did his best impression of the asshole who refuses to accept that mental illness is little more than a state of mind and suggested that I suck it up and put on my happy face.

 

To pretend.

 

I don’t know how many times I’ve reacted to that sort of comment during these periods, that if he can indeed see inside my brain and really does know exactly what I’m thinking, perhaps he could fix it while he’s there. But having suffered at the hands of depression within his own family, I know that the ramifications of it scare the shit out of him and his enforced bravado is rooted in fear.

 

This morning I lay in bed and listened to him potter about the house, whistling and interrupting my lay-in occasionally with inane questions such as ‘where do you buy pegs?’ or ‘when are you going to get up?’

 

‘Why do I need to get up?’ I replied, rolling over lethargically, ‘it’s Sunday’. I had settled in between the covers with The Princess for the day, because I’m becoming increasingly aware that to prevent myself snapping at him all the time (his accusation last night), I need to enforce my own space. He, on the other hand, has changed into some sort of battery-operated toy that continually marches around the new house looking for things to fix and recently signed up as a lifetime member of the local hardware store.

 

I wish he could fix me.

 

I’m tired of pretending. I’ve spoken before about how I believe that we all ‘fake it’ to some degree at different junctures of our lives, but it’s different this time. In the past I faked being good at things for the purposes of my ambition, such as career progression, or in relationships – for example, the old man never realised how much I hated golf until after our honeymoon – whereas at the moment, I have to fake being happy, I have to pretend I’m interested in life, when a lot of the time it feels meh. For my marriage to survive. And so I don’t frighten my kids.

 

Fortunately, when I work, the distraction of meeting new people seems to dilute the doubts and they wait outside the door. Being busy prevents my tendency to over-think, the very behaviour that drowns out my responsibilities when I’m at home. Perhaps, in fact, this whole period is symptomatic of something greater, of this era of (near) empty-nesting, and I’m simply adjusting to having more time on my hands and finding some new purpose in my life.

 

Writing distracts me too. I’m sitting on the deck right now and the sun is streaming through the trees and the breeze is gently fanning my face and I know I have no right not to feel happy, which is why I’m going to try Neil and the old man’s advice and pretend I’m really good at being happy.