Dear Forty-something-year-old woman,
Who didn’t see it coming…who thought it would never happen. Who once looked at other ‘middle-aged’ ladies and couldn’t believe that would ever be you. Because it seemed so impossible and you felt so invincible. In your teens, and twenties, ready to take on the world, believing you could ‘have it all’, even your thirties were a breeze compared to this.
I see you, forty-something-year old woman, I pass you every day on the school run. Your car passes mine, and as we make way for each other, we briefly wave a harassed thank you. We pass in the playground, trying to remember to smile whilst realising we have toothpaste on our top and our child should be dressed in mufti…
I see you driving your car, letting me go, just like I let you go, as if there is this silent, unspoken agreement among forty-something mums, that we will help each other out where we can. You smile in exhausted thanks and I smile back. No problem. I know the feeling.
Dear forty-something-year old woman, I see you tapping into your phone while waiting for your child to finish their club and I see the disapproving glares you get from grandmothers and grandfathers. They don’t know what I know. That you are receiving text messages from your teenager, who might miss their bus and might also need picking up, even though that means driving across the other side of town, right into rush hour traffic. That you are answering emails from work as they pop up endlessly on your screen, because you might as well deal with them now so that later you can give yourself to your kids. That you are paying bills with a tap and a swipe, or answering messages to keep your business going.
I see you in the supermarket looking lost as you naviagate the ailsles, torn as always between pleasing everyone, keeping them healthy and balancing the bank account. Someone phones you wanting something from you. Texts bing and vibrate. You don’t want to be there, or anywhere. You want to run and hide.
But you do it all anyway, as if getting married and giving birth automatically allocated the most mundane jobs your way. Choosing the meals, planning the menu, writing the list, driving everywhere, finding a parking space, traipsing the aisles and secretly wanting to ram your trolley into every inconsiderate person who gets in your way. Packing the shopping into the bags for life as fast as the checkout lady can throw it at you. Trying not to displease anyone, and all the time, wishing you could just scream.
I see you when you go jogging, fitting it in when you can, which is never as often as you think you should…I see the guilt on your face that you are doing something just for you, to make you feel better, something that takes you away from your family. And I see your face when you pass your reflection and wonder what happened to the old you, why it’s so hard to lose weight these days, why no matter how much you run, or diet, it’s still just the same, like your body is determined to turn you into a frump.
I see you at the doctor’s surgery, wondering whether you are wasting their time and yours, but worried all the same, about bulging veins, or hot flushes or misbehaving periods. I see you following health advice on social media, noting supplements that might help, whilst all the time knowing deep inside that nothing will help apart from screaming.
Dear forty-something-year-old woman, hot and tired and red-faced, your teenage hormones are back to haunt you. A second adolescence, a rerun of puberty, from bad skin and weight gain, to rollercoaster emotions. One minute you are as high as the sky, without any wine, high on life, smiling to yourself, content and in a perfect dream, everything makes you happy, everything is to hope for and dream for. The next moment you are exploding from the inside, red rage billowing in your guts and spewing like fire up to your flame-red chest. You are gritting your teeth, afraid to let go, afraid to do anything more than sigh or roll your eyes, because if you do, if you open your mouth, if you let it out, give voice to every little thing that has ever pissed you off…it might never end, you might never stop. And then you are crashing, falling, spiralling violently down to earth and after that, just sadness. Almost a comfortable friend. Someone you remember from the past. Tears in your eyes at almost everything. You want to be alone with this. You need to be alone.
Insecurity, self-doubt, urges to self-destruct. What you really need is time alone, or with a friend, with another self-depracating forty-something-year-old woman, who feels the same, who knows what you know and can help put names to the feelings. You want to explode, you want to be seen but also invisible.
But you can’t. Not when there are children to pick up, and playground etiquette to observe, emails to read and answer, lists to tick off, money to save, beds to make, washing to hang out and bring back in and place on the stairs for everyone but you to ignore, toilets to clean, gardens to tend, dogs to walk, homework to supervise, bills to pay, shopping to do, Christmas to plan and in the middle of it all stands you, swimming, while the world spins around you.
I know you sometimes think that you are not good enough. That you will never win, never do it all or have it all, never feel thin enough, that the to-do list will never end, that you’ll always be lacking, torn between kids and work and relationships. I know you fear so much. That your mind turns and your stomach churns with the great unknown, with climate change and Brexit, with plastic pollution and school funding, with things you have no control over, things you want to protect your children from. It keeps you awake at night and hits you cold at the strangest of times. What are we doing here? What is this all about? Is this what I thought life would be?
Forty-something years old…but still you. Still young. Tougher than you know. Shining brighter than you realise. So much would fall apart without you at the centre. Forty-something, but still something…still someone.
Dear forty-something-year-old woman, let’s be friends. Let’s see each other. Let’s smile and wave and meet for coffee and wine. Let’s name our grievances and laugh about them. Let’s swap horror stories and feel less alone. Let’s remind each other that though so much is behind us, including our youth, there is still so much more ahead. That it can only get easier, that the best way through is to laugh and scream and cry and sing. That we are still us and that sometimes we need help and that sometimes we just need each other.