I think it’s always worth taking some time to reflect as your birthday approaches and tomorrow I’ll be 54 so that’s what I’m doing. Of course I’m usually looking back over a busy year of personal achievements peppered with standout moments but this one, of course, has been a little different. It’s hard to view the last twelve months with any kind of perspective because even though lockdown’s starting to lift, it doesn’t quite feel as though this strange time is over so all I can talk about is how I’m feeling about things now as I approach the end of another year. I’m asking myself the question that keeps popping up in my birthday thoughts – was lockdown a lost year? And before I start I’ll just add that I know I’ve been lucky not to have suffered a loss this year. Please don’t think I’m comparing my life with yours because we’re all hitting this lifestage in different ways, I’m just mulling over how it’s felt for me.
Birthday thoughts – was lockdown a lost year?
Careerwise – yes, 53 has been a tricky time. I don’t think I made any progress at all but I have at least managed to keep things going which is an achievement in itself. As a director of two small limited companies, I didn’t qualify for government support and I didn’t furlough so just being able to keep on working was a win. There isn’t really much more that I can say other than that I’m lucky to enjoy what I do so when it comes to working longer hours for lower fees as I’ve had to, it isn’t the worst problem to have.
On a personal level the real gain from lockdown is that thanks to running I’m aerobically fitter than I’ve ever been. With the gyms being closed I’ve lost strength but what I’ve noticed since they reopened in April is that I’m able to build muscle faster than I have for years. After just a month of being back I’m lifting heavier weights than I was before the first lockdown and I put that down to the testosterone that I started in November. That brings me on to HRT as a whole – my hormones being flush again makes everything brighter both physically and mentally so I’m really glad I invested in a private consultation to get that sorted out properly.
Other than that it hasn’t been a year for personal success but the bonus has been having far more family life than I’d ever have expected at this stage. We were really lucky to be locked down with our boys and have time with them that we’d never otherwise have had. I like to think they gained from it too – they certainly learned a lot from their dad while they were doing the decking project. For years he’s muttered under his breath that despite their glowing grades, academia hasn’t equipped them with anything useful(!) but hopefully last summer’s ‘school of dad’ did and they’re now much handier than they were.
Mr MC really came into his own in the face of a time that felt semi-apocalyptic. We’ve all earned a new respect for him as we’ve watched him doing the thing he loves most, working with his hands. He started off designing and building the very intricate landing stage and then moved on to his furniture restoration. I think for him lockdown has been liberating, it’s freed him from his desk and years of designing things digitally, giving him a chance to make things again. I’ve watched him glow with a true sense of purpose, I’m pleased for him and it’s something I’m going to have to bear in mind if our business goes back to normal.
Despite lockdown the boys have blossomed as individuals too. As you know the eldest had a hard landing when instead of his post graduate route to Nike he ended up manning the drive-ins at the Covid testing site during the bitter winter months. He knows now that although his hours are long, he’s lucky to be working for an exciting young agency that seems to be going from strength to strength. He’s joined them early and has the chance to move fast as they grow if he keeps on working hard. He’s still here with us because just as his bags were packed and the deposit was paid on a flat in London, his friend was posted to Cambridge for three months so he’s waiting to see whether that’s a permanent move before he makes a Plan B. At least now though his girlfriend can come to stay, it’s been a hard slog for young hearts and as she’s been based with her mum in Eastbourne they couldn’t have been much further apart.
The middle one as you know is having a great time at uni in Newcastle, even though his course has been extremely disappointing. He’s recently secured the job of his dreams which will pad out his student funds. Last week he auditioned for a part as a zombie at the local airsoft arena (it’s a bit like paintball) and did so well that they gave him the commander role so as he said when he texted me, “it’s awesome mum, I get paid to play – what could be better than that?!”
I do sometimes wonder if I gave birth to Peter Pan 2 with him – his face pops up in various places when we’re in Newcastle, advertising the big Christmas attraction Road To The North Pole. In December he will be ‘Elf Fix It Up’ who has to thwart Jack Frost’s plan to ruin Christmas …
… using his magic powers, he rescues Santa and together they deliver toys to all good Geordie girls and boys.
There seems to be a theme going on after his season playing the genie in Aladdin and we do wonder where it’s going to take him next! Anyway I’m now trying to find some children in Newcastle that we can borrow for a day so that we can go and enjoy the adventure – at the moment it’s looking as if I’ll have to persuade some of my grown up nephews to go round with us on their knees.
As for the youngest – well we have a very big week with him because it’s the end of exams which means he… and we… finish school forever on Friday. I know it’s a cliché but we’ve gone from this, his first day at school…
…to this, his last. He’s grown a bit!
It’s going to be such a huge change for us, we’ve been running our lives around the school timetable since September 2001 and suddenly, in the week that I turn 54 there’s no structure ahead – no uniform to wash, no lunch boxes to make, not even any need to set an alarm in the mornings so no need for a particular bedtime. It would feel more liberating if we were able to book an out of season holiday to celebrate but even though I know we could go to a green list destination, it doesn’t feel right at the moment. Of course we’ll get used to it but just now it feels as though we’ve been running fast for all of these years and we’ve suddenly hit a brick wall – in true Tom and Jerry style our legs are still circling but we’re not sure where they’re trying to go.
I’m not thinking about him leaving for university yet, there are still months to go before I have to confront that. For now he’s looking forward to a long summer of freedom with time to spend with his girlfriend and all of their chums after being locked down for so long. Hopefully they can head off on their bikes for long days down at the river, there are plans for camping trips and all the things they should be doing in that wonderful summer of limbo when school’s over and university still feels far away.
So summer 2021 for us will feel very different. The middle one is moving into a student house with his friends so with his zombie responsibilities he’ll be coming back and forth over the long break. The eldest will at some point soon be moving away and with no family holiday planned there’s nothing to anchor us so it’s going to be a strange one for me. You can probably tell that I’m thinking out loud as I write so let’s get back to the point – was lockdown a lost year for me?
My year of being 53 has felt fallow but it’s given me time to prepare the ground for what’s to come. Lockdown has no doubt created great change in everyone’s lives but for me it came at a time when everything was changing anyway and it gave me more time to observe and acknowledge it.
The first few months of being 54 will probably continue to be quiet ones – a summer spent mostly at home enjoying whoever’s in the house which we can at last open up again to family and friends. September is undoubtedly going to feel hard but as always I’ll lean into the sadness for a while and then who knows? We have tentative plans for an October escape and we’ll have the freedom to really start enjoying Newcastle, adding an urban edge to our lives. If all goes to plan, next February will hold a very exciting three weeks of travelling – the postponed celebrations of Mr MC’s 50th and our 20th wedding anniversary.
In the meantime we’ll be here to catch the boys as they stumble, just as we did when they were little. Ever since the older two stepped out into their own worlds I’ve come to realise that my maternal role now is to be the central heating in their lives – a source of instant warmth and comfort that they can tap into at the touch of a button, most often on their phones. Friends and girlfriends provide the sunshine and sometimes the storms. I’m there as shelter whenever they need it.
I’ve always known that 54 would be the year when I had to let them go. This isn’t quite as beautifully written as Kahlil Gibran’s words on children but it comes from Mother Teresa:
You will teach them to fly
but they will not fly your flight
You will teach them to dream
but they will not dream your dreams.
You will teach them to live
but they will not live your life.
Nevertheless in every flight,
in every life, in every dream, the print of the way you taught them
will always remain.
And that’s the thing about mothering young adults. Sometimes it can feel utterly thankless, especially when you’ve welcomed them back to the soft landing of home and yet you can still feel them itching to be off, back into their own lives – where by rights they should be. It will be hard when they go but it frees us as women to take a chance and dive into the next stage of our lives too. It will be a time of rupture for all of us. However as mothers, as we’ve been bringing them up we’ve been quietly weaving a cord that binds everyone together. It’s vibrant with the unique mix of colours that reflects the make-up of our families. It’s a cord that will have a constant current of love and family energy flowing through it, it will stretch as far as it needs to but it will never snap – so it’s safe to let them go.
Now that I’ve written this post I have a cartoon illustration in my head. It shows my year of being 53 as me standing by a high wall bracing myself to give the others a leg-up, one by one. And that’s fine, some years are like that. There are times when it’s right that you’re the one working to keep everything going because the others need space to follow their dreams. That’s what families are about and as long as everybody gets a turn to be the one going over the wall of life every so often then it all works out well.
So was lockdown a lost year? No – I’ve helped my loved ones to achieve a lot. It’s made them happy and as we emerge from one of the more unusual periods in the world’s history, that’s not a bad outcome. As I step into 54 I hope the next twelve months will hold excitement and adventure because that’s what I’m missing. After years of being a mum above all else, I’m looking forward to giving myself a little more focus and I’ve decided that my motto for 54 is:
“see how strong you can be”
I’m starting with quite a literal approach by signing up for 12 months of the intensive Academy programme at my gym. It’s a very different kind of challenge for someone like me who spends most of her life in her head but now feels like the right time to protect and strengthen the body that will carry me through the good times that I hope lie ahead.
I wish I had more plans ready to share with you but I don’t think anybody, anywhere has. I guess we’re all just flotsam at the moment – but we can be ready to catch the next good looking wave when it comes. The last thing I want to say as I go deeper into my fifties is that I love being this age. If someone offered me the chance to be younger again I wouldn’t take it… well maybe a few days of being 18 when school’s out and the whole summer lies ahead… but that’s all.
You can see midlife as the beginning of the end or you can view it as the time when life opens up again. Adventures are out there if you have the determination to make them happen – all you need to begin with is the nugget of an idea and a wide open mind.
I’ll leave you with that and finish by saying thank you to you for keeping me company during this last year. There have been so many times when I haven’t known what to write about but your encouraging comments and messages have kept me feeling that there’s a point to what I do here. I sit down and talk to you as friends and so the words soon flow – we’ve shared our ups and downs as we’ve gone through it and you do more for me than you’ll ever know.
So now I might go and pour myself an early glass of birthday wine – we have blazing hot sunshine here so it feels like the right thing to do. I had the best surprise of all last night when I got home from the gym – my middle one jumped out from behind a door so I have all three boys at home. Tomorrow night we’re going out for a meal in a pub in a nearby village – cooked by somebody else and with the added bonus of being able to sit inside. Lockdown really has taught us to appreciate that the simplest of pleasures just need the right people and places – tomorrow night they will all be mine.