So, I’ve recently put my back out. As if I needed any further reminders of impending middle age, I now have a bad back and make kind of groaning noises every time I bend over (which isn’t often these days, to be fair!). Anyways, this whole back debacle has got me all existential, thinking about life, and what I have learnt. So I thought I’d document the lessons learnt thus far before my memory starts to malfunction too…
- Don’t feel shit if you don’t have it all together by the time you hit 40
When I was 20, even 30, I thought I’d be living in some sort of middle-class utopia by the time I reached 40. Seriously, I thought I’d have an Aga and patio doors onto a walled garden and one of those kitchen island things that posh people have, with a sink in the middle of it. They were the symbols of status. Obviously it was more complex than that, I guess to me (forever the poor kid at school) I thought having that shit would make me worth something, signal I belonged and was respectable somehow.
Well, guess what, I don’t have an Aga, or an island in my kitchen, or a frigging grand piano in my gracious drawing-room. And I doubt I ever will, and actually, I’m really OK with that. Because I have realised something, it has taken twenty years, but I’ve finally acknowledged – embraced even – that I am not now, nor will I ever be, middle class. I am educated. Very. But I just don’t fit in with the Cappuccino Set, I don’t know why I ever wanted to. And that’s fine, because you know what? It was bloody exhausting trying to. It was exhausting always aspiring to more, always thinking I could do better, be better, if only I had a bigger house or a husband who earned loads of money. Always feeling like I fell short.
So what I do have is a pocket-size house that Thumbelina would be proud of, but by god it’s quirky and gorgeous and a bit wonky, because basically I’ve made everything myself, and if I havent made it, then I’ve made it better than it was when I picked it up for 30p at the charity shop. And a lovely little garden that I adore, and I feel like the richest girl in the world because so much love and work has been poured into my little corner of the world. So much goddamn grafting has been done to make this house a home. And I’ve done it all myself, no man required. And because I’ve done the root-planting, it means that no one can take it away. The stability I have secured for my daughter and I is not dependent on a relationship working out. It is mine. It is ours. And it’s liberating to actually stand still and (literally!) smell the flowers that we have planted, and let me tell you, they are still stunningly beautiful even though I don’t have patio doors to view them through.
- Facebook is sent to test us…
Following on from my erstwhile aspirations to grandiosity is the realisation that Facebook is basically a whole load of bollocks. Or rather the relentless bragging that some people choose to use it as a platform for, is. I used to be one of those posers, when I had a swanky job as a journo in the big smoke and I lived in a big house in Toryville. I used to delight in waxing lyrical about how fabulous my bloody life was. I cared so much about what people thought, about their perceptions of how ‘successful’ I was. I was basically a knobhead, which is how I can recognise other knobheads so easily now.
Lifestyle exhibitionism is a snoozefest and it says far more about the person doing the showing-off than the people who are bombarded with it. Whose needs are being met with all the bragging? No one cares, at the end of the day, people are busy living their lives. If you are fortunate and privileged, that’s wonderful, enjoy it, live your life, suck the marrow from it, but don’t spew that marrow all over my news feed, because no one likes a bragger, or indeed a blagger. I have come to the conclusion that in such instances the ‘unfollow’ button is my true facebook friend.
- Sometimes marriage doesn’t turn out to be your happy ending, and you’ve just got to suck it up
So, when I got married I thought that was it. Destiny fulfilled. I’d reached the age where all my friends were tying the knot and when it came to my turn I was ecstatic. As far as I was concerned I’d found my soul mate and my life was complete. Of course it wasn’t. And contrary to my rather unrealistic expectations of what being hitched would be like, I didn’t just drop anchor at happiness and stay there. Marriage, like everything else in life, is fluid. Love is not linear. Sometimes it falters and you just can’t jump-start that fucker again. That doesn’t mean you have failed. What I’ve realised is that sometimes it is just not meant to fit forever. And that’s OK.
The man I married was absolutely the right man for me at the time, but times change, people change, and the natural evolution of things did in fact have a purpose. Not the purpose I had envisaged, but a different one. It gave me the most precious thing in my life – my daughter, and I wouldn’t change a second. So it was time well spent, because within that marriage, I did in fact find the love of my life. It just so happened she is 4 feet tall and obsessed with fairies. Life has a habit of giving you what you most desire, and not always in the form you expect.
- And speaking of children, there is only one way to parent, and it’s your own…
This is pretty relevant at the moment because everyone seems to have an opinion on it. My girl loves life, and she is by far my biggest teacher. She is a dawdler, she will literally stop to smell every flower, life is a never-ending adventure playground for her. She wants to do everything. All. The. Time. And I totally indulge it. Even though it often makes me late.
I do that because she won’t always be so enchanted with everything. One day she will see that life isn’t always fun, but for now, she’s having a bloody good time and I’m not going to tell her she has to leave the party before it’s over. If she wants to do ballet, and karate, and violin, and gymnastics and I can enable her to do that, then that’s what I’ll do.
Because it isn’t about achieving stuff, it’s about participating in life. It’s about being present, about finding out who she is and what her passions are. That shit is important. It teaches resilience, and confidence. It teaches kids about having a go, even if it’s scary. I spent most of my childhood not participating, and I was lonely as hell. Always scared.
My little dawdler doesn’t have a jot of that in her. She’s a life-force, and I am led by her enthusiasm. She has no siblings, but her life is full of other little people who love her as if they were her siblings. And that’s because she puts herself out there, secure in the knowledge that mum is always on the sidelines cheering her on.
- Home really is where the heart is
I have lived all over the world, and I have travelled extensively. And I’m so glad I did it when I was young and full of gusto and I didn’t care about staying in shitty hostels, because I met some real characters, and they in turn, helped to build mine.
But after I’d finished trotting the globe I came home, to the town I was born in and swore I’d never return to. And I found all my childhood friends were still here, and they still loved me.
And now they have kids, and their kids play with my kid and they are childhood friends, forging bonds that will most likely last their lifetimes.
And that makes my heart happy. Really happy. Because history is important, it is our anchor, it is what got us to where we are now, it is what inspires us to go forward. I love that we all knew each other as cheeky children and surly teenagers. I love that my friends knew my now-dead father and my hilarious Caribbean nanny. I love that I knew their parents, and loved them as my own. I love it all, because in these modern days of separation and isolation, it means that the concept of the village is still thriving. It means that community has triumphed over commodity.
- I don’t give a crap about being fat
Really, I don’t. Obviously the goal isn’t to become morbidly obese or anything, but I have wobbly bits and saggy bits and bits that have been stretched to shit and I couldn’t care less. There is something to be said for, quite literally, growing into ones-self. I look at these serial dieters and really feel nothing but pity. It must be exhausting counting calories all day long. Who wants to chow down on a celery stick when you can watch Midsomer Murders with a Belgian bun. Curves are cool.
- Love is love, whatever it looks like
So when I was 15 I had this love affair with a similarly wonky soul. And it was all very intense and earnest, but we were on different paths and I had places to see and dreams to fulfill, so off I went on my merry way, popping back occasionally to cross paths.
Anyways, during this convoluted journey of mine, like I said before, I’ve gone full circle and ended up back in my home town, with all the people I first loved. Including him. And it’s a funny old state of affairs, because it’s unconventional and he’s not at all the suit-wearing, kitchen-island-providing chap I saw myself with.
And both still being essentially loners we will probably never live together or be traditional in the conventional sense. But I love that arrangement, because I am a real shit to live with. I’m bossy and OCD and need endless amounts of time to myself, as does he. And if a lifelong ‘non-marriage’ and separate apartments was good enough for Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, it’s sure as hell good enough for us.
So, we are in each other’s lives, and we spend lots of time together and get the best of each other without all the mundane shit mucking it up. He has his man-cave and I have my lily pad. And we laugh a lot because we both find life quite ridiculous, and often we are silent together too. And he adores my daughter, which means, though she is short of extended family nearby, she has another person in her life that loves her.
So here we are, 25 years later, and the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same. And what I have learned is that love really is love, no matter how unconventional it is. And that’s something to cherish.
© Laury Jeanneret, 2016.