On Being Nearly 30

I’m 30 in September.

At the carefree age of 28, I regarded those people panicking at turning 30 with utter scorn. I would never be one of those people. I don’t care about age! What a bunch of drama queens!

Then I hit 29. And since then everything I have said, done and thought has been accompanied by the voice in my head screaming “YOU ARE NEARLY 30 YOU KNOW”. Every time I look in the mirror that voice chimes up again with, “Hola. This is your 30-year-old face”. I’m pretty sure I’m right on target for a mid-life crisis. We’re already in 2015, THE YEAR of turning 30. It’s getting closer. I can feel it walking behind me like a shadow. It is no wonder I am feeling an overwhelming need to get my shit together this year.

There’s not a lot of time left. I’m not quite sure that de-cluttering my kitchen drawers is quite going to achieve the life transformation I’m after. You know all those old people who once told you that youth is fleeting? Ignored them. All that crap “inspirational/motivational” Dunelm wall art telling you to chase your dreams because you only live once. Ignored that too. When it comes to life in general, I’m a dreamer and a coward. I want big things and I’m too afraid to put myself out there to get them. So far I’ve stumbled through life with the rapidly faltering hope that things would magically sort themselves out at some point. All the good things would come. Somehow. At some point. And now – it seems all of a sudden – I find myself almost at 30 with an almost two-year-old child, wondering what the hell happened to the last fifteen years, realising far too late that that was my youth and that you really can’t get it back. Here, in no particular order, are just some of the things concerning me about being nearly 30…

I don’t seem to magically have become cool/trendy/even vaguely fashionable at any point
In my head I am dressed like a H&M mannequin but in reality I can barely manage to find a pair of socks that match. Is it okay to still be wearing the clothes I wore when I was 22?

Can I still wear this hat when I'm 30?!
Can I still wear this hat when I’m 30?!

10-year-olds can do their make-up better than I can
I kind of thought this particular skill would just… come to me. Maybe overnight at some point in my late twenties. I only managed to get the hang of liquid eye liner last year and realised (thanks to a random birthday present) that actually it’s gold eye shadow that suits people with brown eyes. Gold! Not grey! Why was I wearing grey?! Honestly I don’t even know why I’m wearing eye shadow at all. Do people still wear eye shadow in 2015?

STILL looking for that perfect moisturiser/face wash/spot cream
I should probably be past the stage where I buy a different brand every time I run out in the hope that it will be The One.

I have no idea how to style my hair
I have bought every hair styler Boots has to offer and watched a billion YouTube videos and I still cannot do beachy waves. I now fear I will die never having achieved beachy waves, and no-one is even doing beachy waves any more. I also have no idea what those big rollers are for.

Am I too old to wear dungarees?
Dungarees are the best. They’re the closest you can get to wearing a onesie and still feel okay about actually leaving the house. But should my dungaree-wearing days be numbered? Last weekend I went shopping with my mum and the toddler wearing dungaree shorts with a slouchy top and thick tights. Ahh, blissful comfort. I then added my bright yellow mum coat (waterproof. huge pockets. compulsory) and high-tops because, well, you can’t wear ankle boots with dungaree shorts, can you? (Can you?) Plus a backpack full of toddler paraphernalia. I mean, I looked fine. Yeah, okay, sort of like I was on my way home from school and I’d collected my baby sister from nursery en route, but I can still get away with wearing stuff like that, even with my almost-30-year-old face, right? RIGHT?

Am I too old to have very long hair?
My hair got mermaid long last year without me really noticing. I think I would quite like to have it all cut off to shoulder-length. Seems like a reasonable thing to do in my thirties (oh God, my thirties *weeps*). But then I started wondering, if I hate it being short (which, come on, I am the master of discontent, I inevitably will), will I be too old to grow it back?? We could be talking five years before it gets back to the length it is now. Is it even acceptable to have hair that long when you are 35? If I cut it now, will I have to wait until I am 85 before I can have a long flowing ponytail again?

I am definitely too old to be in a pop band
Remember when the Over 25s category in The X Factor seemed like it was full of uncool old people? Oh wait…

I am also past the age where anyone in a boyband would be interested in dating me
It was a very sad day when I realised this. It might have felt, for a fleeting moment, that my entire life had been for nothing.

This boy is beautiful. He’s also 21-years-old. I am a terrible person.

When will I live in a trendy flat and hang out with my fabulous friends drinking cocktails in nice dresses and being carefree?
What now? Now you are solely responsible for a child? Spoilers: never. Let’s just take a moment to think about the fact that I have reached the age where there are some things I will simply never do. In my whole life. Of which you only get one. That’s not terrifying at all.

Will I ever live by the sea?
I’ve always wanted to live by the sea. I’ve always been a bit cross that I didn’t grow up by the sea, because then I’d already be living there and wouldn’t have to be brave or anything. And I’m starting to consider the very real possibility that I may never live by the sea. Because I’m not brave. And my mum and dad live here, and I have friends, and a job I like. There’s also the small matter of finding myself as a single parent with no money and relying on my mum rather heavily for moral support and babysitting. And schools! The small child will have to go to school at some point! Can you pull your child out of school and plonk them into another one just because you quite fancy going to live by the sea? Do I have to go and live by the sea immediately, before she gets to school age, or can I slip it in there in the summer holidays between primary and secondary school? Will I even like living by the sea?

When will the having all the money thing happen?
When I was younger I remember looking forward to the day when I would have enough money to frivolously buy loads of clothes and stuff, like it was an inevitable thing that would happen. Yeah, that’s not an inevitable thing that happens. Not when you work in the “arts” and you actually really like your little job in the “arts” (and thank God for that because you only have one A Level). Especially not when you work part time in the “arts”. All my cousins are studying serious things like law and medicine at university – how did that happen? All I wanted to do when I was 18 was chase around after boy bands. Still do.

I feel literally the youngest I have ever felt
My actual 29-year-old self is no longer someone the teenager in my head identifies with.

All the celebrities I think of as “my age” are actually not
Seriously, how is Ed Sheeran only 23? I just Googled which celebrities are turning 30 this year and they all look so old.

Thanks, Buzzfeed. Really not helping.
Thanks, Buzzfeed. Really not helping.

All of the mums I assume are much older than me are probably not
How old do I actually look? I have lost all perspective.

Liking boybands is now unacceptable and something best kept to myself
I have become one of those creepy mums. Going to all the nostalgic reunion shows of pop bands from my youth is fine. My interest in One Direction is poorly-concealed and weird.

I don’t even have a list of things I want to do and see before I’m 30, let alone have ticked anything off it
Once upon a time 30 seemed so far away. There was so much time to write that list.

When will everyone I am friends with on Facebook be married already so I can start re-following people without having to see any more bloody wedding photos?
#notbitter

How much longer will my three remaining single friends be single for?
Please don’t leave me.

So who wants to help me plan my 30th birthday party??

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Taking To Motherhood (Or Not)

I was at my mum’s house a couple of weeks ago, flicking through the magazines that fall out of newspapers, and I read this article where Bryony Gordon (who is now my favourite) and her mum compare experiences of motherhood. One line in particular caught my eye.

“I think my mum was really shocked by how badly I took to motherhood. She didn’t say anything at the time, but she didn’t need to – the stunned look on her face said all that I needed to know.”

I relayed this to my mum, laughing, and said she probably thought the same about me. But instead of sharing my amusement, she looked at me, surprised, and said that that was absolutely the opposite of what she thought. And that, in fact, all my dad, and my older sister, and everyone else ever talks about is how much better I’ve taken to motherhood than they all expected. And that they are proud.

My initial reaction was to beam with delight and pride and do tell me more! Followed swiftly by, are you kidding me?! I’m a mess!

I was genuinely surprised that she said that. Because most days my house is a dump and my parenting skills haphazard at best. My mood is a jumble of unreasonable emotions, and I’m exhausted, and not always completely enamoured with this motherhood lark. A lot of the time I feel like I’m losing and I generally have no idea what on earth I’m doing. At least once a week I question whether I am in any way coping. Sometimes I just can’t be bothered with it all and that makes me a bad mother. Often I lose patience with the whinging and that makes me a bad mother. I bloody hate playing with the Playmobil and reading stories and watching CBeebies that makes me a bad mother. I am so much worse at all of it than I ever expected to be.

Mum tells me I’m doing just fine all the time. Every time I doubt myself. But, for whatever reason, what she said this time has stuck with me and now, every time I feel like a failure, I’m trying to remind myself that people are having conversations not about how I’m barely scraping by, but how well I’ve taken to being a mum. It makes me feel proud. I think people should be telling mums things like that more often. We’re all doing just fine, even if we don’t feel like we are.

Much later, when the toddler was in bed and I was still revelling in the glow of being a successful parent in other people’s eyes, I had another thought: just how badly did they expect me to fail that this looks like success?! But, hey, either way I’m still up on expectations. I think that’s enough for me!

Smash Your Inhibitions

inhib

Oh, hey, just thought I’d start a blog post with an image for a change. Here’s Liam from One Direction smashing his inhibitions.

So I took the toddler to the aquarium a couple of weeks ago. Partly because I needed to look at something new with my eyes that wasn’t anything to do with laundry or Playmobil and partly because I wanted to try out my new ‘you can walk! we don’t need the pushchair! look at us going into cafés and not being in the way!’ backpack that I’d just swapped the changing bag for. (Spoiler alert: my arm muscles got quite the work-out that day).

We’d been before, every now and then, each time with me hoping that she might at least acknowledge the fish, if not actually enjoy herself. But this time she did! She saw the fish, she named the fish (“sea fwors!” “gally fish!”), she ran up and down the ramps, she danced over the patterns the light and the water made on the floor… and she wanted me to dance too. And I didn’t want to. I felt awkward. There were people around. And however fun and silly I think I am while I’m doing the full dance routine to One Direction’s Best Song Ever in my pyjamas in the mornings while the toddler watches me with a mixture of glee, confusion and concern, I am the worst when it comes to going out of my way to be invisible when in public. I even like the people I am with to be invisible. And yet “Mummy! Dancing!”, she insisted, and it suddenly occurred to me that, even if she had been able to understand an explanation of why I didn’t want to dance, I wouldn’t have wanted to say it to her. Because what an awful thing, to assign negative qualities like embarrassment and self-consciousness to something as innocent and carefree as dancing over the patterns of light. I want her to grow up feeling as free as I feel when I’m dancing around my bedroom. In public. In private. Uninhibited. At least until someone or something else inhibits her. But I don’t want that person to be me, so from now on I’m going to have to try really hard to smash those stupid inhibitions and be the person I want my daughter to see. Starting with bopping really horribly awkwardly over the patterns of light in the aquarium. Honestly. It would have been less cringey if I’d gone all out with the dancing. I’m going to hate every minute of it but I must try harder. For her. And for me too, I guess.

Anyway, overall we had a lovely day. We ate cake. We looked at boats. And then on the way home we got stuck in an excruciating four-hour (FOUR HOUR) traffic jam, ended up having our tea at a deserted service station as bedtime approached, sang 40 minutes of nursery rhymes to stay awake on the home straight and came away from it more bonded than ever. Funny thing, motherhood.

My New Normal

It gets to Friday afternoon at work and everyone else is thrilled that the weekend is approaching. They always laugh when I express just how much I hate the two days at the end of the working week. Whether it’s in an “oh you” way, or with barely concealed horror at how awful a person I am I’m not sure. But, for me, the weekend has become synonymous with two full-on days with a whinging child to get through, when everyone else is busy doing couple things and family things, and I get just as little rest as I usually do. I am envious of my friends lying in until lunch time, deciding to pop out and see a film on a whim five minutes before it starts and just generally doing all the things that I don’t do any more. I had always imagined that weekends as a parent would involve simply getting on with your normal life, only with a small child in tow. Tesco shopping, lunch out, a bit of housework and gardening, visiting friends, a trip to the zoo – I don’t think there was much about my pre-baby weekends as part of a couple that I couldn’t have continued enjoying as part of a couple with a child. (Except maybe the afternoon naps.) But now, as a single parent, my plans more often than not involve counting down the hours until the toddler can go back to nursery on Monday morning. Which is an awful way to look at it, but I am tired and that is the truth. I love my job and I get to sit down all day and drink hot coffee and talk to adults and try on clothes in my lunch break. I can’t think of anything more restful. What exactly is the weekend supposed to be a break from?

Except.

This afternoon I started to get that Friday feeling.For no good reason at all.

This is a cruel trick, I thought. Stop winding me up, brain.

But the feeling didn’t leave me and, as the toddler had a meltdown over the fact that Granny wasn’t waiting for us when we got home and then she turned up two minutes later and she was so over seeing Granny now, I realised I was looking forward to the weekend. For the first time in as long as I can remember. It felt amazing and all of a sudden everything made sense. I’ve spent so long begrudging it and looking backwards that I didn’t even notice that the way I spend my weekends now is my normal. My new normal. More often than not just hanging out with my mum, filling the day with strolling round garden centres and going for coffee, laughing at every gorgeous thing the toddler does and says. I potter half-heartedly doing housework while she demands Granny plays with toys and reads books. We muddle through naps and mealtimes. We have a roast dinner at Mum’s house every Sunday tea time. And I even get a little bit of time to myself while the two of them go to Tesco or feed ducks. What is more restful and rejuvenating than that?

I need to forget the lingering dreams of a husband and the 2.4 children. This is my family. This is our normal. And, actually, I think I rather like it.

Lasagne

I feel sad today. And very alone. Let’s get this straight: you don’t understand. Or at least today it feels like unless you are a single parent yourself you couldn’t possibly understand. I want to paint you a picture about why, because sometimes this blog is the only outlet I have.

I’m lucky. My 19-month-old is a great sleeper. I’ve been firm and consistent since she was four months old. She often sleeps through. Generally just needs a quick cuddle and then back to sleep if she does wake up. And it’s great, because I need my evenings. She is utterly exhausting and non-stop during the day. I don’t get a second to myself. I’m not the most selfless person in the world and I need my me time. I need my sleep to recharge my enthusiasm and patience. But right now I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since before Christmas. All our sleep routines have gone out the window. She’s been coughing. Snotty. Waking every hour. Won’t go to sleep unless she’s cuddled up on me. I don’t remember when I last slept in my own bed instead of on the sofabed in her room. For the last five nights, my day has ended when hers has. From 7pm I have been confined to a dark bedroom, half-heartedly watching Netflix on my phone and wondering how long it’s going to be before she next wakes up. Because there’s just no point even trying to have an evening when it’s like this. Because having to stop what I’m doing every 15 minutes is more painful than doing nothing at all. Because I’m so tired I can’t do anything useful anyway.

On Mondays I usually work late and my mum puts her to bed, but tonight I worked hard all day, rushed home in time for story time, threw on my pjs and ended my day at 7pm. I’m currently writing this on my phone as the toddler finally sleeps on me after two hours of resisting sleep. These are the bleakest times, when you sit in the dark on your own and it feels like there is not a soul in the world who is thinking about you or really gives a damn about how you just feel like crying at how hard it all is.

Here’s what I imagine it might be like if there were two of you in this instead of just one. Here’s what it should be like, anyway. You could alternate your sleepless nights, for a start. Anyone can survive disturbed sleep every other night. And you’re probably not running on an accumulated 19 month sleep deficit to start with. Maybe your husband would have dealt with feeding the cat and loading the dishwasher and putting the toys away if you were going to be confined to the toddler’s bedroom all evening, so it wouldn’t all be glaring at you when you came down in the morning. Maybe he would bring you a cup of tea or a glass of wine as you struggle to get her to sleep. He might be making your tea, so you didn’t have to have cereal at your desk as a main meal (again) because you wouldn’t get a chance to eat later. Maybe, when you’d spent an hour trying everything and decided to resort to letting the toddler cry it out, he might have given you a hug and told you that you weren’t a total failure. He might have rolled his eyes with you when she took her sleeping bag off and threw all her teddies out of the cot in protest. He might have given you the moral support you needed when she was still screaming an hour later. Later, once you had given in and finally got her to fall asleep on you, he might encourage you to sneak downstairs for a cuddle on the sofa and persuade you that your evening is not lost and this phase won’t last forever anyway.

But you see, I don’t have any of that. Just this dread that creeps in around midday when I remember the physical pain of being dragged from your sleep for the eighth time in four hours. When suddenly you have nothing to look forward to at the end of the day apart from another 12 hours of parenting. When you look around at work and realise you are surrounded by people that just don’t have a clue how you are feeling. I must have tried to reach out to people today a dozen times. Whether I was looking for sympathy or understanding, I don’t know, but I got neither. Just the disinterest of people who – through no fault of their own – can’t grasp how desperate everything can feel when you’ve been doing the mum thing for so long on your own.

I don’t know whether us single mums make it look easy or give the impression we’ve got it all sorted, but we haven’t. Sometimes we really need a hug, or a lasagne, or even just ten minutes of your time where you really try to understand. …I’m too sleep deprived to think up a deep or poignant end to this post – something about making a single mum you know a lasagne? Everyone likes lasagne. So off you go – go and find someone you know who’s doing a bloody good job at this parenting thing and give them a lasagne. I’ve got wine to drink angrily. The end. (Lasagne)