Age Attacks When We Least Expect It

Most days come and go without a single acknowledgement of our age. Ageing, much like growing, happens so gradually that we drift along blissfully unaware of the fact that we are literally decaying. The lines embed that bit further, body parts might ache that bit more but on the whole we’re so oblivious to this that we manage to keep ourselves firmly in denial.

There are, however, some days like today that we’re offered a less than friendly reminder that we are not as young as we used to be. Before I continue and risk the wrath of anyone over 35, I am under no disillusion that I am “old”. I’m firmly on board with the idea that life begins at 40 and I’m truly convinced that my parents are having more fun than ever in their sixties. At the tender age of 31, I can still somewhat unconvincingly boast that I am young.

Back to the day in question. Much of my job consists of spending time with teenagers. I must note that these are not the very young and impressionable, so-awkward-it’s-cute 13 to 15 years olds but the generally miffed and unabashedly honest subsection of over sixteens.  In a typical day, transporting a youngster from A to B, we will battle over both volume control and radio station. I am, without exception, always the loser of this game and on this occasion a very loud Billie Eilish won. Billie warbled “I’m that bad type, make your mamma sad type, make your girlfriend mad tight, might seduce your dad type” and by the end of the 3:14 minutes not only was I firmly convinced that she was the Bad Guy but I was also a bit scared of her. As I heard myself actually say this out loud to the 17 year old girl in the front seat with the bright red, partly shaven DIY hair do, I thought “Christ, I’m old”.

Other insignificant but, on this day, seemingly exaggerated events nodded to my not-so-young-anymore age. I found myself trying to grab at the volume dial without being caught; I found myself willing for the news on the hour; and perhaps most telling of all, I found myself gutted that I was missing the Jeremy Vine show.

The moment, however, which I believe truly sealed my fate was when I declined to join my younger cohort for a Mc Donald’s and proceeded to whip out a miniature sized Tupperware with the Go Jetters on it filled with grapes. If, by now, she wasn’t already convinced that I was 100, this did the trick. I felt immediately disappointed in myself; like that wave that overcomes you when Tesco staff zoom into your face before clicking without any shadow of a doubt “Thinks customer is definitely 25 years old or over.” I always had visions of myself as a “cool mom”, the type Amy Poehler aspired to in Mean Girls as she rocked her pink velour tracksuit and heels. Instead I found myself as a modern day Mrs Doubtfire. The dungarees or width of my eyebrows were fooling no one.

n-AMY-POEHLER-COOL-MOM-628x314 (1)It’s strange, really. We can go through life taking steps that are deemed pretty “adult” without taking much cognisance of this. We might have a mortgage and two kids but it’s the realisation that you prefer The Jeremy Vine Show to chart music that really makes you feel your age. It’s seems then that the number is irrelevant.  Age really is nothing but a number. It’s the subtle reminders that we’ve changed that are much more affecting.  It’s the things that become so synonymous with ageing, like a distaste for loud music or certain musical genres, that speak volumes (no pun intended). Like the literal ageing process, these things happen so gradually (maybe it’s a decibel for every year) we fail to notice them until one day you’re hit with the realisation that you’re scared of a 17 year old girl purporting to be the “Bad Guy”.

Those clichés – “you’re as young as you feel” – have more truth than previously suspected. I’d imagine there’s a 70 year old out there somewhere munching on a Big Mac listening to Billie Eilish who feels much younger than me.  Though who’s to say opting for a packed lunch and Steve Wright’s Golden Oldies should make us any older? If that’s the case, I’ll happily settle for being old any day.

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The Mother of All Mothers

Life’s too short to drink shit coke – Catherine Rainey

To anyone who has ever read any of my previous posts, it should be pretty obvious by now how important my mother is to me. Subtle references to her spending nights with me watching Father Ted may, on the face it, seem like nothing more than a pastime we shared together but the truth is much more poignant and indicative of a bond much greater than some mutual interest in a TV show.

In fact – and it’s only occurred to me now – I don’t think Mum even likes Father Ted.

On those nights neither of us particularly enjoyed ourselves. She would hold my hand in the reassuring way that only a mother can, offering words of comfort while Ted did his best to distract me from whatever anxieties took the forefront that evening. She often lay until the wee hours, kept awake by the less-than-soothing theme tune and repetitive laughter track, never daring to move until I found sleep.

With many a night spent like this – and undoubtedly hundreds more of a different nature with my siblings (of which there are four) – it is safe to say that, as she turns 60, she must be fucking exhausted. I can only assume this, however, as she would never complain of those hours of lost sleep, unlike me who manages to moan at every opportunity about sleepless nights on account of my own child. She is of a higher order you see; in a league reserved for only the finest of mothers. I imagine she secretly wears a medallion on the inside of her lapel, symbolising her patronage to some mystic motherly force which few others are accepted into.

I take this opportunity to again pay homage to my mother and her services as she celebrates her birthday 60th today. In typical Rebekah fashion I have not bought her a big bunch of flowers or a piece of jewellery befitting of such a momentous occasion; instead I offer up these humble words – which also coincidentally happen to be much less expensive. Just as Dad receives rubbish Star Wars memorabilia and novelty mugs for his birthday, you too must pay the price (excuse the pun) for raising such an “economical” daughter.

(This might be a good time to bring up the fact that you will also probably have to pay for my share of your birthday meal.)

It is often said that being a mother is a thankless job. True. There are no pats on the back, no monthly pay packets, no periods of annual leave.  The truth is mothers do not “mother” to be thanked. It is out of pure unconditional love that they dedicate their entire lives to pursuing so little of their own interests and goals in favour of their children’s. They derive their satisfaction from other more meaningful sources – from the smiles on their kid’s faces, the late night cuddles, and the achievements of their children. That said, after only 15 months in the motherhood game, I’d imagine a “Thank you” every now and again would be nice.

After all these years I can say with no uncertainty that I never thanked you enough. How could I have? How could those two little words ever amount to the recognition and appreciation you deserve? Nonetheless, I say it now and for the world (the handful of people who read my blog) to hear. Thank you.

Thank you for loving me each and every day of my life. Thank you for giving me a childhood that I can only think of with fondness. Thank you for rewarding me with my wonderful brothers and sisters, all of whom remind me of you in their own little ways. Thank you for putting your own grief to one side in order to tend to mine; to this day I still don’t know how you did it. Thank you for being brave; never afraid to argue the truth or sing louder than the voices around you. Thank you for finding strength when others could not. Thank you for guiding me in the right direction while always allowing me to make my own decisions.  Thank you for being an individual; your inability to give a shit of what others think inspires me to never blindly follow. Thank you for being the grandmother to my son; as I watch the two of you bond I am reminded of the tender love you gave and continue to give me. Quite simply, thank you for being you.

At half your age, I can only hope that I amount to half the mother and half the woman that you are. Happy birthday Mum.

P.S. Sorry for reminding everyone of how old you are.

Walking Without Music

Going for a walk to clear your head is not an uncommon suggestion.  With the wind in your hair, the rain on your face and the (very) occasional glimmer of sunshine on your skin, you are at one with the elements and at one with yourself; free to breathe in the fresh air and take in the sights and sounds of the outside world.

Sort of.

Chances are you noticed none of that shit. Bar the rain, of course. There’s no way you weren’t somehow shocked and disappointed that it decided to rain on you, despite the fact that it rains almost EVERY SINGLE DAY in this place.

I realise that I’m going to sound incredibly lazy when I say that I am not a fan of walking. I never have been. I view it as a necessary evil to get from A to B, not some kind of leisure activity in itself. But now that I have a child, I feel obliged to step outside every once in while – to ensure Caleb meets his minimum intake of vitamin D more than anything else. Sure, if the weather’s nice I’m much happier to take a stroll but that isn’t exactly a regular occurrence in drizzly old N.I. One day last week however, when quite possibly experiencing our entire summer, Caleb and I ventured out with little resignation.

Like most ‘walkers’ I insert the headphones, stick on shuffle, and head off totally unaware of what’s going on outside of the song playing. Listening to the music on my iTunes can only be described as a singular experience. During last week’s walk for instance I was greeted by a medley that ranged from The Last of the Mohicans theme song to Haddaway’s ‘What is Love?’ to Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ (my musical taste is admittedly slightly dated). This blend of genres and eras had the effect of creating a rather messy mixture of memories and emotions as opposed to providing some kind of cathartic walking experience akin to the likes of a Robert Frost Poem.

One song might remind you of a loved one who’s no longer with you. Another might bring back memories of an old flame you’d much rather forget. Or one might just painfully force you to remember the time poor Hawkeye lost his brother (The Last of the Mohicans reference). It all depends on the hand that ‘Shuffle’ has dealt you. In any case, if you’re anything like me, you end up feeling less like you’re on a head-clearing walk and more like you’re on some emotionally exhausting trip down memory lane.

This is not necessarily negative. The splendour of music lies in its ability to transport us to forgotten moments of the past; evoking our senses in a much more powerful way than any other medium. In my experience, it’s just simply not conducive to clearing your head. It’s what we do when we explicitly want to ‘feel’ something. Whether you want to wallow in your own self pity alongside Sinead O’Connor or psych yourself up to lyrics of ‘We Will Rock You’, music has the power to flick that emotional switch for you.

Isn’t the whole point of clearing your head though the exact opposite of this; being able to abandon the past, shut out the future and focus on the sheer wonder of the ‘now’. It wasn’t until I took out my headphones and replaced them with the ‘here’ and ‘now’ that I realised how much more relaxing a walk could be. Rather than feeling emotionally fucked by Jeff Buckley, I was free to observe the pleasant chirping of the birds, the occasional outburst of gibberish from my son and the warmth of the sunshine against my pasty skin. I was granted rare permission in the chaos of today’s world to fully focus on what is – not what was or might be.

This is not to say I will be shunning music from now on in favour of chanting ‘Om’ to some unknown deity but rather that when I feel the need to escape, I will do just that. I will put Prince (God rest his soul) on pause until the next emotionally drunken night with the girls and save the sweetness of Simon and Garfunkel for another time. But for those walks – the kind of walks you take when you really need one – I will resist the urge to get lost in the music and instead embrace the breeze, trace my footsteps, and watch the world. After all, sometimes all you need are a few drops of rain and a gust of wind to really clear your head.

Fine Wine & Bashed Bananas

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I wonder if cellulite just above the knees will ever become fashionable; if that protruding single black hair donning my chin will ever be considered a “statement” feature; if someday people will say “oh, look how split her ends are.” Unfortunately, until that day comes I will remain distinctly out of fashion and just a bit gross. There was a brief spell there when the sumo bun passed as borderline trendy – that worked in my favour. But since then things have evolved to elaborate plaits and pastel shades and not only am I now very obviously lazy when it comes to my hair, I am also incredibly passé.

Have I always been like this? I don’t think so. There’s a girl I vaguely recognise in pictures with platinum blonde hair, a sun-kissed glow and skinny arms (thank you Facebook for those impromptu updates reminding me of when I once could have passed for attractive). She bears a slight resemblance to that woman I see in the mirror today, minus the wrinkles, an extra half a chin and, ironically, acne.  Some of us, the Leonardo DiCaprios of the world, age like a fine wine and others, unfortunately, like a banana that’s been bashed about your handbag for half a day. I fear it is the latter category in which I fall.

Those pictures – like most that appear in our newsfeeds – are, however, not an accurate reflection. They should also come with tags. i.e. it took one hour to achieve that perfectly carefree curl and 50 quid at the hairdressers to create that blondes-have-more-fun colour. That “sun-kissed glow” that you see required hours of sweat-filled sunbedding and the application of a brown gunk that would drip off at the mere sight of water. Those skinny arms? Well that was just good old underappreciated metabolism. In sum, a lot of time and money went into looking like this. Time and money which I no longer have and even if I did, I seriously doubt would be spent like this.

Just as I don’t now, I had no appreciation for how I looked back then either. It’s like those over cited lyrics from that Wear Sunscreen song:

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

My 40-year-old self will probably look back at her late 20s Doppelgänger and express the exact same sentiment that I am now narrating: “Why didn’t I appreciate how fabulous I really looked?” It all just seems a bit fruitless.

I could conveniently blame motherhood for letting myself go. No doubt, it has been a contributing factor.  But the fact is, if I can find the time to eat half a multi-pack of crisps, I could probably take some time to pluck that stray black hair. It just seems to be something I have out grown (not the hair; it will outlive me). Case in point: my 5-year-old goddaughter recently asked her mother and my oldest friend “Why does Rebekah wear tracksuit bottoms all the time?” “Because they’re comfortable little Naoíse”. And that’s simply where I’m at at this point of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments of weakness, when those perfect eyebrows or face-contouring tutorials catch me off guard. They make me want to want to be better. I just don’t have the room for sculpting in my life right now.

To give a really, really bad analogy. You know when you make a meal with something that’s out of date? You can manage to bluff it with other ingredients and just about get by. That’s what I’m a bit like. I’ve passed my best-before date and I’m just winging it. I have every intention of some day going shopping again, starting afresh and making a much more pleasant version of myself. But until then, I will continue to slick back my hair into my trademark bun, dab concealer on those particularly unforgiving blemishes and rock my tracksuit bottoms until they start gathering fluff.  It may not be pretty but, as I told my goddaughter, “it’s comfortable”.  And while Leo continues to age like a fine wine, I’ll just settle for drinking it.

 

 

Granny Knows Best

grannyYou thought you were doing yourself a favour when you bought those fitted bed sheets. I mean, sure, when it comes to dressing the bed – one of the most dreaded chores in the history of the world – you’re glad you can easily navigate tucking those corners in without breaking into the sweat-blinding, enraged fit that comes with “unfitted” sheets. Like most things in life, however, this is also too good to be true. Just as the last sheet came off, this one too will face the washing machine, the tumble drier and the inevitable (dun dun dun) folding.  Let’s face it, they are the cloth equivalent of the Rubik’s Cube.

(Seriously though, how do you fold them?)

I have been in awe of my mother for most of my life but, if I’m honest, I took for granted these subtle skills she mastered on a daily basis. It only occurred to me the other day, when I went to “fold” one of these cotton enigmas (and when I say fold, I mean roll into a heap and discard in the darkest corner of the house) that I realised this was my job… forever… and I might, some day, actually have to figure out how to properly do it.

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This all sounds fairly dramatic considering we’re talking about a bed sheet here. But it was the wider implications of this realisation rather than the folding of this one sheet that scared the complete and utter shit out of me. To this day, I have very much relied on my mother. And I’m not even referring to the big things at this point; I mean for those really small, niggling things like sewing a button, knowing how much soy sauce to put in your stew and what another word for conundrum is. To me she represents a fountain of knowledge and experience that, I fear, one day my children will look to me for. Once such a comforting notion, the concept that “mum knows best” has all of a sudden become incredibly frightening.

As a youth, my mum always encouraged me to watch her performing these seemingly insignificant tasks, presumably so that one day I would be able to do these things for myself. Of course I didn’t. I always figured I’d eventually pick it up and while I can make a mean spaghetti bolognese, my culinary skills are severely lacking, not to mention my sewing abilities.

I realise my mum is not your typical mum and I could never aspire to her greatness. The woman is 60 and, just a couple of weeks ago, twisted her ankle playing BASKETBALL.  That’s the kind of woman we’re dealing with. But beyond that, she’s an extreme gardener who can rock a pair of waders; an experienced upholsterer who, despite her arthritic fingers, still knows her way around a toolbox; a general knowledge genius who manages to retain information on pretty much every subject; and, above all, the most selfless woman I have ever known. She’s also a dab hand when it comes to GCSE art (wink wink).

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 FYI these are waders. FYI this is not my mum in waders.

To now draw a comparison, I genuinely don’t think I can name all the colours of the rainbow.  In fact, I’m not even going to try as I don’t think I can deal with the confirmation that I can’t.  My point is, is that someday my son, and hopefully my future children, will look to me for the wisdom that I was so fortunate to have in my mother.  They may not need me to reupholster their furniture or build them a pond but no doubt they’ll have their own special challenges ahead for me – a fact which, if I’m honest, terrifies me. From the hard “life” questions to even just the hard math questions, what if I don’t know best?

The good news, I suppose, is I still have time to learn. I still have time to learn how to sew a button, bleed a radiator, cook a turkey and fold a fitted sheet. And thankfully I have the master to learn from. So, for now I’ll happily give way to the fact that Granny knows best and hope that someday I will earn this honour myself. I realise this will be a long and difficult process; after all, those are big waders to fill.

P.S. Once I have mastered the art of folding the fitted sheet, I will post the instructions.

The Good, the Bad and the Unpredictable

UnknownMy mum came to visit me yesterday – seemingly only to listen to me give off for half an hour about how hard done by I was. Her parting words were: “The only thing you can predict is their unpredictability” (in reference to babies, of course). One year on from the birth of my son and this couldn’t be anymore accurate.

Caleb never ceases to surprise me. Because he turned one last week, I knew I’d have to write a post about him – it seemed only fair since I somehow managed to find the time to basically write one about Whoopi Goldberg a few weeks ago. I had originally planned on writing this post last week and it was going to be very sentimental and sweet as you could imagine. I was thinking of writing a little letter to him that he would read when he was older and say to himself, “Awe, look how great I was to my mummy”.  I never found the time though because the rascal wouldn’t give me peace.

And then there was yesterday. I’ll not even tell you what I thought of writing about yesterday. I had seen almost every hour the night before on account of Caleb’s crying, had broke out with very painful acne which rendered me housebound, and was subject to clingy moaning and grabbing all day.  Sitting down today to write – in the peace and quiet – having slept a good solid eight hours, I could now write the most beautiful sonnet about Caleb, likening his face to a most heavenly cherub, counting the ways in which I love him in true Shakespearian style.

Neither of these accounts, however, would serve as an accurate reflection of motherhood. It is not a blissful poem, just as it’s not some hellish nightmare. It is a wonderful combination of the two and all that’s in between. The point is, you can never quite predict what’s coming next.  The moment you feel like you’ve finally got the whole thing under control, you will inevitably lose it again.  That is one thing I will take with me from this whole  experience – you cannot get used to anything or become complacent because once you do, as sure as anything, they’ll turn around and throw the whole thing on its head.  Instead, you must learn to embrace the chaos.

I, myself, am only finally coming to terms with this. Caleb might have eaten three square meals and slept like a baby (excuse the pun) yesterday but today he will probably be throwing his food back at me and pulling my hair into the wee hours. Who knows? But isn’t that the beauty of it all?

So, one year on and where am I? In all honesty, I have incredibly mixed feelings. I watch with pride how my son is beginning to support himself while still pining for the days when I was all the support he needed. I miss how he used to helplessly roll around the floor but, at the same time, eagerly anticipate his very first step. I feel proud of myself for having got him this far and yet worry about what’s to come and whether I’ll be good enough. Time seems to have gone so fast since his arrival and yet it feels like he has always been here. Motherhood, it seems, is just one massive contradiction rife with good days, bad days and a complete lack of predicability.

We mothers spend a lot of our time giving advice we can’t take ourselves and, in true fashion, I am about to do the same. I will parcel up some small nugget of wisdom and pretend it has completely transformed my life when, in reality, I am still learning. I propose that instead of trying to pre-empt their every move and frustrating yourself when they don’t do as they did yesterday, we should welcome their little unpredictability ways.  Just as you’re finding your way in all of this, so are they. By allowing them to just be as they are and accepting that they’re going to have good and bad days, just like us, we will find for ourselves at least some predictability – that they’re going to be unpredictable.

P.S. Caleb, for when you do read this in years to come, you were great to your mummy and she cannot thank you enough for the beautiful chaos you have brought to her life.

“You supposed to be a writer, girl” (in the voice of Whoopi Goldberg)

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If, when you wake up in the morning, you can think of nothing but writing, then you’re a writer.

I wish I could pretend I know this quotation from having read the book Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke but, in reality, the words echo in my mind in the husky tones of Whoopi Goldberg from Sister Act 2. You’ll recall at this point, the famous scene where she, as Sister Mary Clarence, applies this piece of advice in an attempt to encourage Rita (Lauyrn Hill) to pursue her interest in singing, which for some reason her slightly unhinged mother condemns. If you can’t quite remember this or, heaven forbid, have never seen the movie, I have kindly hyperlinked this piece of cinema gold for you.

*At this stage I should ask you to bear with me and reassure you that this is not a review of Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.*

While admittedly most mornings I can think of everything (breakfast, how tired I am, the meaning of life etc.) but writing, I believe the quotation is symbolic for a passion that goes beyond such a predetermined supposition.

On an average day, I find myself regularly narrating my life in my unfortunate Ballymena accent. I constantly ask myself “Could I write about this?” and while I almost never do, the occurrence of this thought leads me to believe there is an underlying, and unfulfilled, desire to write more.

According to Rainer I am, in fact, already writer though if someone asked me what I did, I would never have the nerve to respond with such a bold assertion. Sure, if you asked me what my dream job was, I would say “a writer” but even then I’m not so sure what this means. We all have our own preconceived notions of what a writer is or is supposed to be.  This generally involves an introverted type, hunched over a desk strewn with papers, looking completely immersed in their own words, oblivious to the chaos of the world that surrounds them.

While I, myself, share this idealistic vision, I have a developed a relationship with writing outside of this fantasy. It might best be described an ‘ease’ or sense of comfort – a feeling which I struggle to achieve in many other of the pursuits in my life. I have often felt limited in my abilities which people tend to shrug off with a “Don’t be silly” or “Of course you can do it” but to which I genuinely feel I cannot and I am not being silly. At the best of times, I struggle to explain how exactly I feel or what exactly I mean but with the aid of a pen, or more accurately a keyboard, I achieve a new sense of freedom and understanding.

Of course, I have been aware of this love of writing for sometime now but it is in recent times, as I have written more and been encouraged by others, that I now feel it is time to explore this passion further. I have been particularly spurred on by the words of my mother, who unlike Rita’s mother, happens to be a lot more supportive and, thankfully, a touch saner. She recently told me that she was proud of me and that this is what I was supposed to do and, if you’re lucky enough to know my mother you’ll know, she is always right.

And so, by writing this piece and making a formal declaration of my intention to write more, I suppose I am hoping that I might actually follow through with this. This is not in the unrealistic hope of being picked up by some paper or publisher but rather in the hope that one day I might be able to assert with confidence: “I am a writer.”

You should also note my copy of Letters to a Poet is in the post so I will never have to reference Sister Act 2 again.