I would do it again, but set down this.

You are all extremely kind, and I do not deserve you. Being conscious of my undeserving state, however, is not quite sufficient to retro-shame me into wishing I’d kept my moaning, first-world-problem-beset gob shut. It was very cathartic to have a whinge, and I thank you.

There’s something about this time of year that seems to engender an uncomfortable emotion in me, and this year I am sunk well past my usual tide-line into a quicksand of… not dissatisfaction, exactly. And not quite wanderlust, either, although the vagus in me watches the flying V of geese fade completely out of sight. It’s a restless, unsettled sort of mental fidget, characterised by an urgent compulsion to Do Stuff, Do Stuff Now, Do Stuff Before It Is Too Late, asking myself Deep Unanswerables about exactly what Stuff it is I want to do, and fretting over every instance of my life where I’ve dropped a bollock, settled for a very second best, or, most chafingly of all, not done my understanding justice, not by a long chalk.

I am 35, and half-way through my nominal span. I am not the wife, mother, daughter, woman, writer, thinker, reader, musician, scholar or friend that I am capable of being. 

I am having the self-same mid-life crisis that plagues every chap beset by the spreading ripple of a thin spot up-top and who promptly acquires a shiny new fast machine, except I don’t have his budget. I have considered dying my hair pink, however.

It’s probably not just my age, or the season.

John, who is wiser than his current eyebrow status gives rise to believe, has long told me that he sees a bad case of cabin fever in me, that I am insufficiently stimulated and poorly engaged with the world, except for you lot that cosy up in here with me. Given that the pressure of a professional workload – and not a particularly demanding one, either, except in hours-scheduling terms –  has cattle-prodded my mind into skedaddling out of… what? A kind of stasis? …and into the quicksand mentioned above, he’s evidently seen something that I hadn’t, yet I still think he’s wide of the bullseye.

I feel I did the right thing for Harry and I – for us both as individuals, with our own, particular, idiosyncratic matrix of mutual emotional and developmental requirement – by being slow to confide him to the care of others. He steps out now – still with a wobble – into his expanding world, confident to his core, his ferocious independence and drive to engineer, explore and govern remarked upon by all. He is fearful only of that which I have vigorously instilled in him – fire, heat, traffic – or that which is scary enough to alarm any self-respecting child, damnit. (I’m looking at U, British Board of Film Classifisoddingcation, to whom I mistakenly abnegated a parenting decision or two.)

I’ve a few more silver hairs than I’m happy with, after hours dreadful, things strange, and very sore nights indeed. The bank account is woeful. But my challenged, challenging, tumultuous, (fiendishly) enterprising, highly-charged and profoundly intrepid son and I needed a gradual stretching of our bindings. And furthermore, regardless of how the fiscal, emotional, marital, personal and intellectual cost of Harry’s upbringing is totted up, our parental exchequer could never arrive at a sum total of anything other than handsome dividend. He is… beauty.

Our respective Venn diagram circles are positioned no longer in that of planetary eclipse, but ripping apart in very viscous fashion: imperceptibly at first, but undeniably accelerating as the area of our overlap diminishes and the surface force between us lessens. I am no longer in totality, his over-arching sky, his every horizon, and this both horrifies and enraptures me.

I’m trying to fill the void Harry leaves in me when he darts behind the bolted half-door into his nursery school (giving me such an incongruous farewell: an excessively – accordingly to my feelings! – perfunctory and casual glance, followed by a frown of intense and acute effort as he labours to harness two of his thin, precious store of words into a sentence. ‘Buh-bye….  Mmuum’. The dissonance is thoroughly emblematic of the child.).  I look around for the dropped guide-ropes of my former existence, and realise they finish at my feet: I had no plan beyond here. This place, this motherhood, this matchless configuration of anxiety, mirth and love was the farthest extent of my dazzled sight and I turn away into a dimmer world in which my head must either stagnate or people anew with ideas: my small sun is bouncing his beams of delight, excitement and wrath into other cosmos than mine.

I am an ill-at-ease mixture of stress, distraction and lamentation just now, and you must bear with me a while.


20 Responses

  1. I’m still waiting for the chance to have a mid-life crisis. I’ve been indulging my husband’s for the past 4 years (oh, how I wish he would just buy that sports car he’s been wanting since he could run a toy car across the carpet!). I guess it’s a good thing women live longer than men. At the rate we’re going, I’m going to have to live forever. (He’s been working away from home – from several hundred to several thousand miles away – for the last 4 years. With bouts of taking a few months off. Good thing I have a good, stable job – oh, and he’s good with money (i.e. extremely frugal), so it’s not terrible when he takes a few months off).

    Anyway, having watched all that, I know it’s not easy when you’re feeling out of whack in that manner. Sounds like you’ve got an understanding husband (in spite of the eyebrows and the fact that he makes you live on a farm), which is helpful. And Harry will always need you – just not ever second of the day. Lament on…

  2. So eloquently expressed. I’m sure you will find your way just as Harry will, one step at a time. For what it’s worth, we dealt with our simultaneous mid-life crisis and sundry horrid events by moving to the other side of the world. Certainly has given us a new outlook on life 😉

  3. Funny, I’m 34 and I have been having a TERRIBLE mid-life crisis for the past year or so. I think, in my case, because I have a competitive streak but not a competitive career; because I have two young children with whom I chose to stay at home part-time instead of going back to a full-time out-of-the-home job; because this is the age where you start to see peers who are wealthy and/or really high-achieving.

    I have spent a lot of time reminding myself that I have made choices that put me where I’m at, and that those choices have given us a really important quality of life that can’t be measured in dollars or in a job name. Those two children being the first entry on the list. But boy, I’m itching to *do* something, to finally be an expert at something or feel that I’ve really achieved. It’s deeply frustrating, and I’m starting to worry because I feel that age 40 is when I will no longer be quite so desirable in the workplace.

    Um, but this is your blog. Anyway, perhaps for both of us this is a bit of a precursor to the empty-nest experience: one becomes “expert” in one’s children, works so hard for them, and is centered around them: then, even at this young age, we have to come to terms with redefining ourselves when we realize that already our children are moving forward and our roles in their lives are changing.

    (Worst grammar ever. Sorry, it’s late!)

    There are worse things, to be sure, but you have my sympathy nonetheless. Let me know if you figure out the answer….!

  4. 35 was when the realisation that more doors were shutting than opening sank in, shockingly. This did not please me, either, and still does not. I feel the same, that I am at 53% capacity and I don’t know how to satisfy myself. I am missing my tribe, somehow. My vocation. I am paralysed by the array of possiblities. On the other hand, I am quite lazy and like poking around the garden.
    John is right. You could do anything – you’re so ABLE.
    But what to do? What to do?

    Let me know if you think of something. We could take over the world!

  5. You say it so well.

    There is something so all-encompassing about being all-encompassing to a small baby or toddler, that it leaves no space to think about what else to do with yourself. And that is both horrible and lovely – as you say. Then when you do face it, it’s a big shock.

    Oh gosh, I’ve just repeated what you said in your blog post, but you said it much better than me. Duuuuh…

  6. So very, very well put, my dear.

    I heart Harry. What a sweetheart.

  7. I look around for the dropped guide-ropes of my former existence, and realise they finish at my feet: I had no plan beyond here.

    That’s quite astonishingly lovely, and very apt. You’ve given me a new phrase to roll around in my head and ponder. Thank you. I am older than you (42!) and my children are older, too, and still I feel that way. So I don’t have any answers, just fellow feeling. But it helps to have it articulated, somehow…

  8. Letting them go off even if only slightly hurts like hell. Bearing with you dear HFF.

  9. I’ve been mulling over a suitable comment for a day or so. But I have nothing. I just wanted to let you know I’m still here and I certainly will bear with you.

  10. I am 38 years old now, and have yet to experience the challenge of a midlife crisis. Perhaps it was because Life stopped for me when Infertility took hold 8 years ago. Perhaps it will change now that I have my wee girly.

    Yet, while I can’t directly identify with the subject of your post, ?i can feel the emotion behind it. The palpable ache is…powerful. I can inly watch and wait and wish nothing but the best for you as you grapple with the things that swirl around you.

  11. Oh dear. And to think I’d been eyeing child-rearing as a Great And Wonderful Thing To Do that would jog me out of my career-of-disappointment rut and make me feel all purposeful. *sob*

    But yes, I FEEL for you. I feel much the same. MY brain is melting and I need to DO something IMPORTANT and INTERESTING before I turn into… um… any of several colleagues I could mention.

    Assvice commenceth –

    I have a novel to write, when I stop snivelling and fussing and complaining and focussing on my reproductive equipment. And I think you should Write (not a novel, especially, unless you want to), because you really CAN write. Unlike a great many people who write for a living (I can’t read the London free newspapers any more – the lack of talent and fluency on display makes me weep and rage).

    Assvice over. Carry on.

    PS – totally serious about the you CAN write. This post alone made me feel all moved and weepy and amused and watching-skeins-of-geese-and-sighing, very vividly indeed.

    • Agreed: both of you can write exceedingly well. And far better than whoever writes the vast majority of an Aussie broadsheet newspaper on a Saturday, which I frequently throw on the floor saying “what the bloody hell are they on about? Learn to write!”
      I had my mid-life crisis at 27… It hasn’t stopped yet.

      • >> I am an ill-at-ease mixture of stress, distraction and lamentation just now, and you must bear with me a while.

        What they all said. You are also a poet.

  12. This is beautiful writing, Ann. I have no counsel to offer, being barely able to wear the same shoes every morning and being constantly boggled by your mad efficiency. But I do hope your future includes a book.

  13. There is something about this time of year that makes me feel restless as well. I think it may be the professional student in me, as soon as the weather starts to change, I feel the need to do something, just, different, learn Greek (like that is going to happen!, or circumnavigate the globe.
    Then after a few weeks the feeling passes and instead a smaller joy presents itself, a trip to Scotland, or a chance to do some charity work for a dog rescue that I care deeply about.
    My parents use to say that my middle name was go, perhaps you also have a bit of the wanderlust? I think it can be a good thing and I would also love it if you would write. I read everything I can find about life in historical or rural England or Scotland.

  14. Oh darling girl, there is nothing I can put together to make any of what you have written any easier for you. For the truth of it for me, at a (much) greater distance from the guide ropes, is that much of that restless, dissatisfied, impossible to quantify uncertainty has not diminished much with either time or so called maturity.

    I hope you can navigate the choppy water that is your life and that you find the passionate activity (no, not that!) that brings meaning and peace. IMy experience is that it can often come in erratic patches but you are far too smart and talented for it not to come at all. Of that, I’m certain.

    Big hug from me. x

  15. Ahh, I feel for you so much, almost every line of that post could have been said by me. We are brought up to expect so much of ourselves that when something is not quite perfect we extrapolate this to every aspect of our lives. You and J have done such an amazing job getting H to this point, give yourself some time to redefine your objectives.
    Even at 7 months gone with no 3 I found myself looking at the situations vacant last week thinking I could do that £45kpa job just as well as anyone. BUT I know it would make me unhappy at this point and would probably lead to a lot of marital disharmony!
    Lovely writing by the way…….you should do more.

  16. This line: “I am 35, and half-way through my nominal span. I am not the wife, mother, daughter, woman, writer, thinker, reader, musician, scholar or friend that I am capable of being. ” Sums up my predominate thoughts at the moment… Where have I gone? What has happened to the person I used to be? How can I fix this person I’ve become.

    I have no answers but I’m dwelling with you in the questions.

  17. “I look around for the dropped guide-ropes of my former existence, and realise they finish at my feet…..” this sent a timely knock on my forehead. I’m heading down the same path and fear my future will look exactly the same when Tiger flaps his wings…which at thi rate with be sometime in the next few months! Hugs my friend.

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