Elusive freedom

I am 40. It is raining. I have no car keys (long story), and I am too pregnant to walk more than half a mile each way. The shops I want to go and hang out in, like some bored teenager, are 1.5 miles away. So I’m listening to Smooth Radio, which right now features Bob Marley, and drinking decaff tea. Whilst this is quite nice, it’s…a little limiting.

It being February, I generally spend a lot of time thinking about how to be happy, about what life I want to look back on when I die. Most of my life seems an unrelenting onslaught of life-sapping, repetitive and easy jobs to do around the house, punctuated with the destructive habits of small boys, and their emotional thumbscrews. I don’t know how I’ve managed to let a 2 year old make me question everything about myself, but his relentless rejection of anything I try to do for him, in favour of Daddy doing it for him instead (like, holding his hand in a car park) is really hard. Maybe, I sometimes think to myself, I spend too much time wishing the grass was greener.

One of my greatest pleasures in life before I had children was running; sometimes just going out for a half-hour jog twice a week, sometimes running more like 35 miles a week, doing 10k races every 2 weeks, half marathons every few months, one marathon. Then I had kids, and that was all gone. Of course their smiling faces replace everything I ever held so dear before, or it certainly will over time.

I used to enjoy spending my evenings at the bouldering wall, facing failure 25 times before I succeeded. Or some days I’d stay in all evening and write my blog, assiduously. Or organise photos. Really cool, groundbreaking stuff, obviously. I rode my bike to work, which in London is a bit like a daily adrenalin rush. One day, I broke my wrist cycling down Holland Park too fast, and it didn’t particularly matter. No one depended on me, so I just typed with one hand for a few weeks and rented an automatic car when I went for a weekend walking in the Lake District, no big deal. Nowadays, such an injury would mean getting help on a daily basis.

I didn’t actually spend that much time with friends, unless they happened to be at the climbing wall, but of course if I did want to meet up with a friend, I texted them and we met somewhere within a 20 minute tube ride. I had a selection of other single friends who I’d meet up with quite regularly for drinks. I went to a friend’s wedding in Cambridge, and decided I didn’t want to shell out for a hotel, so I took a tent, only when I got back to the campsite at 3 am, I drunkenly thought sleeping in the car would be way more fun, set off my own car alarm and couldn’t work out how to switch it off.

What do I do now? I get frustrated about potty training. Worry about speech. Get sad that I’m not giving my children the childhood I had, and start to question everything about my life choices, when in fact this is a happy life, which I would only damage by changing. Looking through photos of the last year, that is quite obvious, which is partly why there is nothing more daunting than another child. I’m looking forward to it, but I also want to be carefree and go on a valentine’s husband date night, with wine. I used to more or less hate Valentine’s Day, and of course it’s still a completely arbitrary marketing opportunity, but in a lifelong relationship, it’s a way of marking the passing of time, and of noticing what has changed. In our case, we have now spent five Valentine’s Days together, and for three of them, we have been at various stages of expecting a child.  I used to write wistfully of wanting to have someone to face the world with, and indeed we now have that, but we also have an awful lot less time for anyone or anything other than working and looking after the kids when I’m not working.

If I’d had the kids younger, they would be more independent at the point at which my parents need me as they get older. I would maybe have managed to reply to my father’s emails, to phone him back, and let him know how much his pride in his family meant to me. He wrote me such a beautiful, really short email, saying he was proud of me for the way I had brought up the boys:

Noch eine Sonderbotschaft an dich: Glückwunsch zur Aufzucht sozusagen des sehr lebendigen und liebenswerten Nachwuchses, prima kids; kannst du stolz drauf sein..

I never replied, because I picked up the email when I was running for the train home to make sure I wasn’t late for the nanny, as usual, and then forgot to reply, as usual. Six weeks later, he was dead. He would have loved to meet the granddaughter he never knew about. He loved little babies, even if he did somewhat abdicate the hard stuff to other people. Maybe there really is a life after death, and my father figured that what I really needed in my life was a little girl. Anyway, it is what it is, and we have found our way to being just as excited about it, and to be gracious about the silly comments. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said “oh, so you got your girl at last”. “Yes, indeed”.

Still, apparently younger parents find the transition to parenthood harder., perhaps “because younger first-time parents aren’t totally grown up themselves, and there is more risk for a “disordered transition from adolescence to adulthood.””

Maybe it is always hard, for everyone who overthinks it. I liked the post from a guy who was talking about the irony of having gone through fertility treatment, and still found life with three kids really hard sometimes.

So, I need to find role models who have done fun stuff in their 50s. People who have gone off and done some big mountain routes, or just combined their own hobbies with their kids, or still had professional success. The one thing that seems incredibly rare is writers who were successful after 40, which is rather obvious given that writing is usually something you are driven to do, and will do with any and all time you are given. As I am happy to sit around spending 123 hours of my life watching Grimm on Netflix (seriously worth it), as opposed to devoting those 123 hours to writing something I could actually sell, that’s my answer right there.

I’ve done some googling, and here are some people who achieved stuff in their field after 50:

  • Julia Child – wrote her first cookery book at 50
  • Stan Lee – wrote his first comic at 39, and then wrote the whole Marvel universe
  • Samuel L Jackson – 43 before he got a major part
  • Vera Wang – became a fashion designer at 40
  • Charles Darwin published the Origin of the Species at 50
  • The Zagats were 50 and 51 when they first started their restaurant reviews
  • Donald Fisher founded Gap when he was 41

It’s a strangely unconvincing list for me; we only know about them because they were successful according to a fairly arbitrary definition. Who knows what their personal lives, or their self-perception, were like, before or after they were objectively successful. Who knows what anyone’s story was, really. I don’t have to “succeed” in anyone else’s definition, only in my own.

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