Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Après Facebook and stuff kids say

Recently my daughter chose a rather inopportune moment to tell some of her girlfriends that she was getting a new kitten. They were at a children's party, and the parents were just about to bring out the cake. Children are always extremely excited by cake, the same way I am about shoes. They don't necessarily eat it, but they like to see what it looks like, touch it, and admire the design or colours the birthday child has chosen. So my daughter was animatedly mid sentence about her new kitten when her friends rushed off to look at the cake, and she burst into tears. "No one is interested in my news, they wouldn't even let me finish telling them about my kitten." She was genuinely distraught.

I had to explain that this was more a case of timing than anything else, and she should perhaps wait until she had their undivided attention to share her news again.  Later that evening I also thought it might be an opportune moment to impart another bit of advice; namely that sometimes people are not always going to be as happy for you as you are for yourself, even people that you consider close friends or family. She looked at me like I was crazy. And in reality it does seem crazy, sad, and unfair but alas, it is true. In fact, you will find as you go through life that there are quite literally a handful of people, which usually but not always include the person that gave birth to you, that you can call with good news and they are genuinely happy and excited for you. More often than not people are not that interested because they are busy with their own lives, or some may feel a twinge of sadness or resentment or jealousy because by an often random dealing of the cards, things are not as good in their own lives. We've all had it happen to us and we've also at one time or another all been the person thinking: "Well bully for you, you're getting a kitten, my parents have told me there is no way in hell we are getting a pet, because my mother is allergic or my father doesn't want cat hair all over his angora sweater." Although I doubt my daughter's friends are saying 'there's no way in hell' - writer's license and all that.

On this subject, a few weeks ago I received an email from someone saying that like me they had also effectively 'quit' using Facebook because they have fallen on hard times and find all the updates about other people's accomplishments, holidays, new cars, the opportunities their children are getting, painful to observe. Unfortunately, as I've observed before, FB can be the veritable salt in the wound in instances like this, albeit not always intentionally.

Separately in answer to some people's questions, life post Facebook has been very productive for me. In the week following me 'quitting' FB, I read three books. Admittedly I was on holiday at the time, but it's still quite an achievement because those precious couple of hours while my husband minds the children would usually consist of being on FB and getting sun burnt. I've also written three blog posts, finished two paintings and am actually on top of my admin. I haven't yet addressed some of my unpacked boxes - let's not push it.

Did I have withdrawal? Initially yes, a bit. More so that I was missing out on something important, but I repeatedly assured myself that if someone really needed me they had the ability to inbox me or better still email or call me. And it was only by chance that I saw my name mentioned in a thread (I was uploading a photo to my page 'School Run Mum' that still has the general FB feed) and I followed it to see there was a reunion party for the advertising agency I used to work at. Dammit, don't these people know I am no longer on FB? That was a very near miss.

At the reunion I had a good time catching up with old colleagues I hadn't seen in 12 years, which involved at least one apology to someone for being an arse to them back in the day. She accepted and apologised for being an arse too. It was a good moment followed by quite a bit of wine and an attempt to smoke a Russian cigarillo. I haven't smoked in 10 years since I decided to have children, and here I was outside in the cold with my old tribe puffing on something quite disgusting. It was a reminder that those days were not very good for my health and also how easy it is to fall back into the old dynamics.

This week I overhead a mother and her son (who was 4 or 5) having the following conversation on the school steps:

Mother: So, tell me again, what do you do if the toilet seat is full of wee?
Boy: Incomprehensible muttering
Mother: No, no no, you go and find another toilet!!! OK? Promise me OK???
Boy: Incomprehensible muttering

My six-year-old daughter went to the toilets by herself for the first time at the London Zoo this weekend. My husband and son waited directly outside for her. When she came out he asked her: "Everything OK?"And she responded with: "No, it was very unhygienic in there and one of the toilets was full of poo." My husband told me the toilet attendant, who was standing outside, looked shocked by what he was hearing. I can only assume he doesn't have children because in my experience they certainly don't hold any punches. 

Last week my almost four-year-old son asked my mother, at the breakfast table, if she had a penis. She responded in the negative and he went on to discuss his and then my husbands' matter of factly. I assured my mother that my husband doesn't actually use the toilet or in fact shower in front of the children any more. My son knows how to use the toilet now so he doesn't need his dad to show him how, and my husband showers early in the morning before the children are awake. But I think my son is getting to an age where he is distinguishing his masculinity from my mine and my daughter's femininity and having a kind of male kinship and sameness with my husband is an important part of this. While I appreciate and respect this I would prefer it if he didn't feel the need to detail my husband's anatomy to my mother at the breakfast table. Having kids is like having your life, and I mean things you wouldn't even discuss with a close friend, publicly broadcast every minute of the day. In a strange and inadvertent twist I appear to have switched one kind of FB for another and it also might explain the occasional inexplicable grin I receive from the teachers when collecting my children in the afternoons. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Contemplating my bottom and other things about getting older

By and large I don't think too much about ageing. But every now and then there is a reminder of it; The creases on my eyelids that don't disappear any more. The fact that I need a bit more makeup to achieve a 'fresh faced' look, which is a joke really, because in all sincerity I haven't seen my face looking fresh since having children etched permeant frown lines and dark circles on my visage. Or the fact that I missed my 10th high school reunion, and then the 20th because I live in another country. And I wonder, 20 years - really? When the hell did that happen?  Or when someone talks about 'back in the 90s' and I instinctively think that was about 10 years ago, and then realise it's actually closer to 25.

We have also been invited to a lot of 40th parties in the last two years, although some friends are pretending that it's not happening, which I can understand. But there are a still a few of them and they tend to be rather drunken. Maybe there's an element of 'This is it! It's all downhill from here. So let's PARTY!!!' Kind of like an end of the world attitude only this is the end of being young. Stupid really because 40 isn't old right? Right? Or perhaps it's just a matter of wanting to face an existential crisis with the aid of an appropriate anaesthetic.

What I most love about getting older is that I know who I am and am far less concerned about who I think I ought to be. There's a kind of peace that comes with this. I'm also largely happy in my skin, apart from my backside some mornings (see below). I know what I like  - in my 20's I was very preoccupied with whether I ought to like things. I'm also not afraid to say what I think and ask for what I want, and I don't avoid confrontation. I won't say I love it, but if something needs to be said or done, I do it. I suppose there's a certain confidence that age and life experience bring to the table. 

What I dislike about getting older is that I worry about things far more. Last night I made dinner with a Japanese vinegar I bought online and suddenly thought: What if it's some maniac pretending to have a company and selling poison in the guise of Japanese vinegar and he wants to kill people who use recipes from Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook? I appreciate this is a pretty detailed and specific paranoid fantasy, but the vinegar was so niche I had to buy it online because I couldn't find it in any of the shops. So I'm not completely crazy.

And then there are the paranoid fears I have for my children - too many to talk about on here. Or that every ailment I get is potentially cancer or the start of it or something horrible that will kill me. I got so many bouts of serious bronchitis as a child and never once worried that my throat would close and I would choke to death in my sleep. I'd also get on a horse, any old horse without knowing much about its temperament, and go riding. Or approach dogs and stick out my hand to pet them without worrying I would get bitten. I don't even want to talk about the rides we hitched as teenagers or friends we drove with that were somewhat under the influence. I appreciate there is a difference between the carefree attitude of children and the dangerous recklessness of teenagers.

These days I also obsessively read the information leaflets in any medicine I am given and then worry I might suffer one of the side effects, even the 1 in 10 000 odds. And trust me, if you are in any way similarly inclined DO NOT GOOGLE your medicine and enter forums. They are full of people with worse case scenarios and you will never ever take another headache tablet in your life even if your head feels as though it will explode. It ruins things, it really does because sometimes you just need to go to bed with a cup of tea and a couple of Ibuprofen and relax rather than worrying you may suffer a stroke or internal bleeding.

This morning I was studying my backside in the bathroom mirror. This is not an exercise in vanity, but more so like wiggling a loose tooth. It's a painful exercise but also strangely compelling. I'm all about facing reality, even if it does resemble two large somewhat sagging globes of cottage cheese. I thought to myself: I'm going to be 40 early next year, is this the best my backside is ever going to be? I remember that episode in 'Sex in the City' where Samantha, for her 40th birthday present to herself, gets some naked photos done. This is probably not a realistic bar to set for oneself, but perhaps it is the last opportunity one has to get it right before that next stage in one's life? I don't know if there is something to be done about the state of my bottom. I could go on a diet, and up my exercise regime (my friend swears by the Tracy Anderson method), or I could not worry about it, buy clothes that accentuate what I have and hide the rest, enjoy eating in restaurants, and probably not wear a bikini ever again. And I appreciate this is how a lot of women start to talk when they are making peace with the inevitable.

And then I think of the Raquel Welch's of the world: A handful (admittedly) of women with money or credit card debt, and access to dieticians, dermatologists, surgeons, personal trainers etcetera - hanging on grimly to their fading youth by their bright red fingernails, or perhaps they aren't? Maybe they are on to something?  Maybe you are never too old to get fit and healthy and be sexy and wear a bandage dress? I think back to my father's mother who was a lovely cuddly woman and very much an old fashioned sort of grandmother in the way she dressed (always dresses - I never ever saw her in trousers), her big bosom, tummy and legs making a lovely lap to sit in. No makeup, comfortable shoes, and a bag of knitting nearby. She led a calm domestic life and there was always a cake in the house for afternoon tea beneath the jacaranda tree on her farm, and a game of gin rummy. And then there's my mother, older by quite a few years than my grandmother would have been at the time I remember her, and she's trim, fit, wearing jeans and trainers and working two nanny/babysitting jobs during the week. I think ageing and one's approach to it is relative and it's also true that some people are also blessed with good genes - robust health, and a youthful attitude.

My mother tried internet dating a few months back with my encouragement. I thought it might be nice for her to meet a gentleman friend to go to the occasional church dance with, watch a movie, dinner etctera. Unfortunately the experience wasn't a positive one. One of the first men she corresponded with turned out to be an Ghanian fraudster who stole pictures off of the internet of a kindly looking English gentleman and created an incredibly intricate fictional life. He skilfully learnt what my mother's interests and concerns were and matched them with his own. Where she loved to dance, he did too, where she had lost a husband, he had lost a wife, etctera. This went on for a few weeks with emails back and forth and my mother growing increasingly enamoured with someone who seemed such a perfect fit. However there was always a reason on his part why they could not meet up - work, family commitments, and then, suddenly, he had to leave for a business trip to Africa for his computing business.

And then he chose his moment to strike: He emailed my mother in a panic stricken tone saying he had had gotten stuck in some far flung African airport, his wallet stollen, could she please wire him a thousand pounds. Followed by an urgent phone call, to the same effect, from someone who didn't sound even vaguely like an ageing waspish English gentleman from Kent and very much like a young African man. The moment she mentioned the need to confer with her daughter first he got panicked and told her that this was strictly between the two of them and she needn't involve me. She stopped all contact and the following morning when I went to report him to the website, we saw his profile had been removed. She never heard from him again. What's sinister and tragic is that this predator was cruising a dating website specifically aimed at older people. I suppose it takes all types to make the world go around. One can only hope he didn't swindle anyone else out of their money.

And then there were the actual dates, unfortunately not much of an improvement. My mother, not one to mince words, has the following to say on her few dating experiences: "Some of them arrived with a walking stick or in need of one, and I thought: 'Yeah right, so you are the same person who told me what a great dancer you are.' Some of them smelt of urine. Others ate with their mouths open with food spitting everywhere. These men are either looking for a purse or a nurse and I plan to be neither."

This is what internet dating appears to looks like for over 60's. 

I still hold out hope that my mother will meet someone who is older but youthful like herself and they will find love over their mutual passions for Julio Iglesias, Latin dance, and Judge Judy reruns, but my mother is less optimistic and seems to have resigned herself to being alone. I'm not sure if this is giving up hope, or perhaps you get to a certain age where your priorities change and the idea of being on your own isn't quite as daunting. For one thing, you have sole command of the remote and can watch as much Judge Judy and Dancing with The Stars as you want. And according to my mother it is a relief not to be accountable to anyone else for her whereabouts and to feel free to come and go as she pleases. I also doubt she feels compelled to examine her bottom in the bathroom mirror these days, but if she does I don't want to know about it.