Dear Forty-Something-Year-Old Woman…

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.

Hello Forties!…I’m Ready For You

I normally love my birthday. I’m one of those people who likes to spread it out over a few days, maybe with a barbeque on one day, a family outing to the pub or another, meeting with friends and so on. I mean, why not? It’s a crazy world and a short life and I’ve always thought you should celebrate what and when you can!

I approached my 40th birthday with a different mindset though. This one, I have to admit, was one I’d been dreading from afar for a long time. And then suddenly it was upon me. The worst thing about my 39th year was watching loads of other people turn 40 before me. Partly, I was shocked that they were hitting the big 4-0, and partly I was worn out by all the many exciting ways they planned to celebrate it!

These people were really up for it! I’m talking about trips abroad, weekends away, big family get-togethers and barbeques, surprise parties, meals with friends and so on. I was impressed and exhausted! The closer I got to my birthday month, the more I felt like rejecting the entire, inevitable thing. I wanted to hide from my 40th birthday. I wanted to run from it!

I mean, it all went too fast! Look, I was a little newborn baby once!? How is it possible I am about to become truly middle-aged??

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I don’t think I’m really that bothered about looking older, getting wrinkles or grey hair or things like that. I’m not overly vain and have never really been into looks, mine or anyone else’s. I think it was just the speed with which I reached this milestone that bothers me!

I can remember being a little dreamy kid, my head in the clouds the whole time. Shy and awkward, I just wanted to be left alone to make up stories in my head. At that age, even becoming a teenager seemed impossible. Something that would never happen! And now I look at these old photos and feel rather emotional about how fast it all went. How is that little girl me??

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Hitting 40 certainly makes you feel a tad nostalgic, I’ve found. I’ve been looking back at old photos and wandering through the memories and feelings they evoke. They mostly remind me of a simpler time and they also make me feel fortunate. I was happy then, and I’m still happy now. Funnily enough, I couldn’t find any pictures of me as a teenager! I think I may have burnt them all!?

But even in my 20’s, I didn’t feel like an adult. I don’t think I had adult thought processes or reactions. I was still in a bit of a dream, I guess. I became a mum in my early 20’s and motherhood dominated my next two decades. I threw myself into motherhood with gusto and passion, because it was the best thing to have ever happened to me. I truly loved every minute of those first few years as a young mum with two small girls. They were magnificent times.

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I remember feeling a bit freaked out as my 30’s approached though. Turning 30 seemed huge at the time. Like I had to suddenly grow up and stop being silly. Get a real job and my arse into gear! I had three children in my 20’s and worked as a childminder, where every day was a fun filled blur of playdough, Lego, building dens, dressing up and making mess! I remember looking at women older than me when I was approaching 30 because I thought I probably better start dressing differently. I genuinely thought that! I’d been wearing the same scruffy student type clothes for years and thought, I’m too old for this no. I need to wear women’s clothes! Well, I never managed to figure out what that was and I’m still dressing the same now!

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In the end, I quite liked being in my 30’s. I was far more confident. I started writing again and publishing my books. I had my much longed-for fourth child. It’s been a truly memorable decade. Your 30’s are nice, really. You’re still young, you still look young, but you’re an adult, with a settled home-life and responsibilities. Middle age and old age still felt a long way away!

But then suddenly, you know what? 40 is here. Everyone else has had their turn, and now it’s yours. No running. No hiding. Just shoulders back, head up and look it in the eye. Because it’s arrived. It’s knocking on the door.

It’s a bit scary, I guess. Your mortality feels more real. Your aging is not something you can escape. It’s going to stare you in the face every time you look in the mirror. I admit I was starting to freak out about it a bit…But the other night I met up with friends, as we do from time to time, to sit in the pub, eat chips and talk about anything and everything. I adore these meet-ups with these particular women because I find them all very impressive. They all have a fairly similar mindset to me, but all come from different backgrounds. We’ll talk about politics, society, what’s happening to the NHS and education in our country, we’ll moan about our other half’s and express concerns about our children. We’ll talk and laugh and the entire evening always goes far quicker than I wish it to. So, we got to talking about our 40’s, and one of the ladies who has already had hers told me that she quite embraced turning 40. She said she saw her 30’s as mostly about raising kids and running a home and dashing around after everyone, but that she looked forward to her 40’s when it would begin to be a bit more about her, and what she wants. I thought how right she was. And with my youngest starting school this September, it reminded me that my 40’s, are also going to become more about me and what I want to achieve. I felt quite liberated hearing this, as I really hadn’t looked at it that way. I’d been approaching it from a very negative mindset. I don’t want to be 40! I don’t want to get old! But I feel better about it now…

So, come on then 40. I’m ready for you. I’m not running anywhere. We’re in this thing together and what would a life be if you could choose to stand still, or turn back? My next decade will be full of ups and downs, surprises and opportunities. I’m looking forward to it. I’m even starting to like the sound of the number…40. Forty. I’m Chantelle and I’m forty years old. Nice. It’s all right!

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I see you, single white eyebrow hair!

Yes, I see you. There’s no hiding from me. Not that you were trying to hide that much anyway. I mean, how could I not notice you? One bright white hair sticking up in the middle of all the black ones? You weren’t exactly trying to be anonymous, were you? No, in fact, I rather feel your flamboyant combination of stark white colour and blatant lack of respect for the order hairs lay in, was more of a giant fuck you, to be honest!

But that’s okay. I can take it! I’m a big girl. And you know that already don’t you? And anyway, I hate to piss on your party parade, little white eyebrow hair, but you were beaten to it by a couple of head hair a few years ago! So there! And there have been a few more since then, believe me. So you weren’t such a shock, I’m sorry to say. You looked sort of weird and out of place though, so I plucked you out and examined you, and I expect you’ll be glad to hear your brief existence as part of my body did encourage me to stand and consider the passing of my time.

But the white hairs on my head was a bigger deal. Because those little bastards crept up on me. They took me by surprise, unlike you. Those hairs got me in a right little spin. They had me thinking about age and death for weeks! But you, I’m not so sure. I feel like I will just shrug you off. You see, back then, I was a few years into my thirties. And let me tell you, shocking white eyebrow hair, your early thirties are a time of massive denial and self-delusion.

You’ve just come out of your twenties and you can’t quite believe you’ve actually crossed the threshold into your thirties. It doesn’t seem real. Or fair. Twenties sounds so nice, doesn’t it? No one really wants to be a teenager forever, not with all the angst and insecurity, but your twenties are fantastic. You’re still young. You look young! You feel young. Old age feels a million years away; something that can never touch you. Then you roll on into your third decade, and it feels like quite a beating if I’m honest.  Quite a shock to the system.

I remember when I was heading out of my twenties. Being thirtysomething distressed and confused me. As that big 3-0 approached, I started looking around at other women of that age. How was I supposed to dress? How should I act? I felt like I had to leave my old scruffy, student style clothes behind me and try to appear a bit more polished. I genuinely thought this!

Early thirties is a strange time. You tell yourself you are still young, and of course, you still feel exactly the same. We never really change much on the inside. But you are suddenly confronted with one hard, cold fact. Entering your third decade is the beginning of the end of being young. Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t suddenly wake up with crows feet and saggy arms, thank God. You don’t suddenly turn grey or develop arthritis. But it’s the start…or the end.

And towards the end of your thirties? There is no denying it. You’re a woman now, not a girl. You’re approaching middle-age, something you never, ever, ever thought would happen to you. You see, we witness the changes of the seasons. We watch leaves turn yellow and brown. We see them twist and twirl in the air as they fall to the ground. We kick through them and watch them turn to mulch. We see their decay but not our own. The new buds start the process again. Another season. Another Spring. Followed by another Summer, and Autumn, and so on.

Realising the world sees you as an adult, is weird. I still don’t feel like one. I always think people are older than me and feel genuinely shocked when I find out they are my age. I mean, they’re old…I’m not? 

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Those first white hairs were amusing to me. I pulled them out and looked them over. I was pleased by them, oddly. I liked that they were bright white, not grey. And I feel the same way about you, white eyebrow hair. So funny how things go full circle! I was so blonde when I was a toddler, my hair was almost white. To think one day I will have white hair and white eyebrows and eyelashes is really sort of exciting. I can just about see myself if I stare hard enough.

When I stop to think about it, and yes, okay, I admit the appearance of white hairs like yourself, does inevitably cause me to ponder…I really think I am okay with getting older.

There’s something I always think about and that’s how lucky I am to be here in the first place. You know, out of all those eggs and all those sperms, and all those opportunities for life to exist or not, I made it through. I saw a video this week where a guy was saying you have more chance of winning the lottery 10 times than you do of getting a life in the first place. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I agree with the sentiment. It’s mind-boggling if you think about it.

Getting older, spotting wrinkles and white hairs, it does make you feel a little sad, a little bit nostalgic. Of course, I stare at my face in the mirror and try to see the younger me. I hear songs that take me back, I experience memories out of the blue, ones I had forgotten. I think, how nice it would be to go back to that time. To do that again. But I would never really want to go back. To go back would be to lose who I am now. The years that have passed have shaped and moulded me into who I am now, someone I mostly quite like!

I think the whole fucking thing is amazing. This life. Getting up every morning and placing your feet down on the floor. Feeling the rain on your face. Facing the dark. Watching the shadows. Catching the light. Feeling the endless earthy beat of the world beneath your feet. Knowing love. Holding tight. Inhaling embraces. Star gazing. Paddling. Holding hands. It’s beautiful and amazing that we have the gift to look back, to remember and feel the emotions of the past. And it’s exciting and enthralling that we have the vision to look forward, to dream and imagine and hope. And it’s breathtaking when you think about it, that we have this same, one moment that we live in perpetually. Just us. Inside our skull. Looking out. What do you see?

For me, life is full of small, perfect moments. Of bare feet on warm concrete. Sitting on the doorstep with a hot cup of coffee. Watching birds fly in and out of the hedgerow. Finger nails filled with dirt. The sun setting and rising. Listening to the rain at night. Getting lost in a good book. Falling asleep beside your child. Smelling their hair. Knowing that nothing lasts forever, least of all you. But you can wake and walk and sleep and dream and live and love, day after beautiful day, until it ends.

So, you don’t scare me little white eyebrow hair. You don’t worry me. In fact, you make me smile. There will be more of you along, I know. One day I will give up plucking you out and I will let the white takeover. And that will be okay.

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