Sunday, 22 November 2015

No kids

Oh my God I forgot to have kids.

Such is the internet's standard phrase for women of a certain age who have reached that particular milestone without children.  There seem to be a few categories for these certain age women to slot into, if they so choose.

There are <career women> - of whom I don't really know any - those mythological beasts who put career before family.  Who are these people, I find myself wondering, and what do they really think.  I find myself feeling this "category" is not really at all simple or clear cut as that.  In fact, I find myself resentful on behalf of anyone being coralled into this particular paddock.

There are those who <never found the right man>.  Again, I don't entirely believe in this as a nice catch all phrase.  There are plenty out there who felt strongly enough about their reproductive yearnings to get on with their breeding regardless of the right man being available.  There's a long list of possibilities out there - it includes test tubes, but also includes the he'll make a good father or any list of permutations.

There are those who can't - are part of a loving couple and for whatever reasons don't.  Because when you live in the world of women of a certain age without children, this is the "category" you meet most often.  Wonderful couples, made up of two likeable adults, who haven't had children.  My friends include those who sadly, and for many, cruelly, for reasons of physiology, cannot.  They include the very brave couples who have decided not to because one or other or both have a mental health battle ongoing which means they have felt that for them, bringing up children will not be fair on the children, or perhaps will not be possible for them, any number of rationales which I thoroughly respect and admire.  It's a brave, brave decision and a self aware one.   Some are simply in love with their lives as they are, and the addition of children is not even a big debated question, just a decision along the lines of where to live, what car to drive.

And where, at 47 years old, do I fit?  This is why I believe that pigeon holing cannot work.  It's simple but complicated, both at the same time.   I always thought I'd be a mum.  At 27 I met my husband to be, and it turned out he didn't want to be a dad.  He was, in fact, almost passionate about his not wanting to be a father, and his reasons were incomprehensible, it was a visceral thing, so the "rationale" didn't actually matter, it was the outcome which was important.  But having stumbled, in this curious and random world, upon my soul mate, the one I couldn't imagine living without, the decision wasn't actually that difficult.  Provided I got to spend my life with him, having no kids was fine, just one of the things you concede when you're in a lifelong relationship.  I put in there the proviso that I was allowed to have some kind of crisis at the point when my biological clock struck the hour where child free was no longer a free choice but a biological impossibility.  Unfortunately (and even as I type that word, I realise it's a mahoosive understatement word), he died before that biological clock ticked round.

So, at 37 years old I was left a widow.  That was interesting (another completely understated word).  Suddenly the decisions made were no longer applicable in a new world.  The world of curiosity over whether there would be another life companion for me was complicated by the question of children.  In theory I was young enough, what did I really want, what would a life companion want, would my decisions and choices become false, forced, would I have to align with what the world around me expected from me.  And what exactly was that?  How could I possibly tell if, now, in these changed circumstances I wished to become the mum I had thought, back in my 20s, I would be?

Dating seemed to have a weird significance.  Instead of casually getting to know someone, perhaps drifting into a relationship, at the back of my mind was always the question of - if something did happen with this man, what would he want from me.  Would he expect me to be a parent?  And indeed, eventually I found myself, tired, jaded, sceptical of the world, only really wanting to date men who had already had children, who had ticked that box, and were really interested in a woman to be their helpmate though the years, and not looking for someone to be a hatchery.

The older I got, the less pressure, the easier things were.  Once the milestone of 40 is passed, then there's a psychological weight removed, society will no longer have an expectation of you becoming a first time mother, although at the same time, if you did, then people will be happy for you.  That's quite funny really, the external perception that you have fulfilment if you become a mother.  Fulfilment, for me, was already present in who I am, what I do, and the people around me.  People are important, but it's not about filling a hole left by childlessness, no, it's stand alone, the warmth and joy of friendship, the sheer celebration in having people around who get me, who love me, who want to spend time with me.  My celebration in having people around me who I get, who I love, who I want to spend time with, want to know more about, to understand, and to laugh and dance with (we're talking a metaphorical dance here).

Since being widowed, my happiest times have been after the age of 40, after the weight of the question of children was removed, no longer an issue, no longer a question, no longer the ghost which haunted me, even when I couldn't see it.  Now 47, and there's not a wraith of wistfulness about the question.  I might not have kids, but I have it all.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Ten Years

Ten years ago today my husband, and if I might give in to sentimentality for a moment, my soul mate, died.

This timeline is a lot harder than it ought to be.  Surely after ten years I ought to in some way be "over" this.  By this, we're talking the grieving, the mourning, the sadness, the gaping holeness, the overwhelming sense of loss.  Surely by now, I ought to simply be slightly nostalgic, perhaps with a bit of a nod at the past, maybe I should be at the lighting a candle stage.  But actually I'm not, I'm still feeling, right somewhere inside, somewhat mortally wounded, or like a bird whose wing has been irreversibly damaged and will never fly again, and only has the option of hopping, never to be able to have the freedom to simply go away, to settle on sunflower seed heads of choice.

I'm beating myself up about this. Surely, surely, I should be over this.  Should not be in the processing and moving on stage, but should have damn well moved on.  All the indicators would suggest I have, in some way.  I've left the marital home.  I've moved in with a new life partner.  I've changed, I've learned about me since I was left alone.  I'm not the Alison I was, I understand the changed Alison better, and made my own decisions, choices, let myself flower indeed.

I feel guilty sometimes about the change, although at the same time, there's a quiet pride in how I've let myself become a Me of the present, I've not clung onto things which were forged in a past by a couple.  I've let the things which were perhaps more Dave than me, go.  I've allowed myself to experiment, without a jot of peer pressure.

But it's still hard.  The guilt is threefold.  I am guilty of not having got over it.  I am guilty of forgetting some of the past, and I am guilty for having feelings for the past when I have a present, and a partner who somehow deserves to have all of me, not just part.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Inner Parent

My inner parent is a bitch.  She just yelled at me "Step Up".  Which, although good advice, was not delivered in a nice way.  Parents have a lot to answer for.

It is said, in psycho babble terms, that your inner voice echoes the kind of parenting you received as a kid.  I sometimes think I do quite well to function in spite of it all.

Childhood seemed quite nice, but now when I say things to friends which were insignificant and seemed normal to me, I get that look.  The WTF look.

Apparently some of these things are not considered to be normal or kind.

  • making me learn piano even though I wanted to learn drums or guitar - on the grounds that I could not be trusted, aged 10, to remember to take my musical instrument to school on the days I had lessons.  
  • not allowing me to ride my bike to school, despite my younger sibling being allowed to ride his. I wasn't considered safe.
  • telling me I didn't deserve to have nice things.  I still have a doll in a box which my nan brought back from China.  I wasn't allowed to actually play with it because mum thought I'd break it.

My inner parent is a bit wayward, and I try to remind her that being a parent is about nurturing your child not destroying all confidence it ever had.  Sometimes, though, the strength of her upbringing can't help but break through.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

No woman

You know, I never saw myself getting married.  I didn't have those little girl dreams of white dresses, or any of the other paraphernalia I see going on around weddings.  All those flowers, those thingies you give the guests, the seating plans, the gift list, the choices of desserts, the fastidious designing of cakes.  I can honestly say I didn't give it a thought.  And now, watching a wedding on TV, I'm utterly bemused by the pageantry.  There are speeches and some, frankly, dreadful singing.  There are parents, there are, just so many things.  I'm not a proper girl, I just don't get it.

At work, they're more likely to ask one of the blokes his opinions on cocktails and me my opinion on beer.

I think it's acceptable in late 40s to become that weird androgynous mix, to be neither male nor female, but just a person who, you know, breathes.  Maybe I've grown into me.  I think at 18 I and the same male characteristics I have now, the seeing in straight lines thing, and not really understanding fripperies around the sides.  Nearing 50, maybe I'm finally socially acceptable?

Friday, 2 October 2015

Get to know you

Howard Jones, remember him?

Sometimes that's just where I'm stuck.  1984, with all the haircuts, the clothes and the way we lived before the internet.  If the city centres look somewhat dreary, I suspect it's because they were.  Even looking back with the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia, it feels all a bit, well, sepia.  Colours weren't as bright back then.  Beige was where it was at.

Somehow, 1984 has become 20 years ago (let's not nit pick about the maths, eh).  Things are worse and better now.  Being, let's say 16 in 1984, as opposed to being 16 now, well, it's hard to say - there were a lot more restrictions and rules I think, back then.  There was less freedom to communicate, there was more pressure to be conventional.  There were definitely women's roles and men's roles, back in suburban middle class.  It didn't feel just middle class, it was middle everything.  But at 16 you were also allowed to make mistakes, allowed to be a child, learning, you weren't expected to be a small grown up with under sized grown up choices and decisions to manage.  Protected, perhaps.

I look at myself now, not just as middle aged, but somehow something else crept up on me.  Nearly 50.  How extraordinary is that?  It creeps up on me at odd times.  Those times when I wonder as I scamper along on the bike (these days do occasionally happen).  The technical descent I did on the rigid cross bike following two youngsters (these days that means under 40) down, holding my own.  Got to the bottom and thought, not bad for a woman pushing 50, eh?  I like to think I offer hope for the future.

I accept slowing down.  Not in the way of giving up or giving in or stopping trying.  Recovery is slow, from illness and from injury and there's a world where you suddenly need to adjust to making allowances for yourself and doing things differently in recuperation because otherwise, you simply don't recuperate.  Pushing through the pain, battling on, fighting it.  All that stuff is mostly on a collision course to a week in bed these days.  It's no longer logical.  So we accept, and embrace the slow times while we get ready for the time we can see in the distance, that time when we'll be pedalling madly again.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The last ride

What if your last ride was just that,  your last ride ever?  Would it make a difference if you knew it was the last ever, and if you knew that, where would you go, what would you do?

I have been off the bike with a cold for over a week.  It's a bit of a slow burning cold, this one, and even an hour of housework has me knocked out, faint and back on the sofa.  I imagine riding even a three mile trail to the local cafe would have me wondering just how I was going to get home.

And I remember the last ride.

The last ride was just over a week ago.  The Saturday of a Bank Holiday weekend.  The plan was that it was the first of three days riding.  I took the road bike out; after a summer of neglect while I'd waited for plans and weather to work out.  Checked brakes, gears, noted that it needed a proper clean and new handlebar tape, oiled the somewhat sticky pedals and off I went.  I'd found a route used by the Audax people which seemed worth trying, a 100km ride which started about 5 miles down the road.  Mixing imperial and metric with gay abandon.  Just five miles from home it took me off my beaten track, found me a hill climb I didn't know, and led me onto roads I wasn't familiar with ... but loved.  A route stitched together by someone who clearly has spent a lot, some may say too many, hours in the saddle, exploring, learning, identifying which roads were quiet to traffic and which weren't. It was a most cunningly devised thing, and totally and utterly joyous.  It took me further south than I've been, it pulled together familiar stretches with undiscovered short cuts.  There were hills, and there was gravel and there were smiles.

Six hours, I was out there, pedals turning in the last of the summer sunshine, just cool enough that I didn't take the gilet off all day, but just warm enough that I drank my way through nearly both bottles.

The next day I woke up with a sore throat and that, as they say, was that.

The nostalgia of the last ride is staying with me, just until I'm back in the saddle again, until this illness has left me able to breathe without coughing and move without dizziness.

I know that this too shall pass, but just imagine, what if it didn't. Would the last ride have been the same?

Monday, 17 August 2015

Four letter word

Used as an insult, cunt is a horrible word.  I can well understand why it's written down as c***, although that could equally be cock, I guess.  So from here on, I'll write it as c***, because we now know which word we're talking about.

It's horrible written, and it's worse shouted, face to face at an individual.  I've heard folk in football crowds shout it at the ref, an unknown faceless entity at a safe distance.  I've heard it used as a generic, collective insult.

What I'd not heard before was it shouted.  At me.  One person, an individual.  All I did wrong, and I'm being honest here about my behaviour and my appearance, was to get on a bicycle.

I wasn't wearing lycra, I wasn't veering frantically around the road, I was neither sprinting nor dawdling.  I was going considerably faster than some, and a bit slower than others.  I had a helmet on, and a rucksack with my work macbook in.  I was wearing casual 3/4 length trousers and non showy black running booties.  I was wearing a T-shirt.  My bike wasn't top end, it doesn't look anything other than it is, a heavy steel commuter with tough looking tyres.  It even has enormous flat green pedals on it.  And lights.  And a bell.

And that was me, riding up a very gentle incline south of Stockport.  There are two lanes of traffic in each direction, and going south (as I was) were very few cars at all for once.  Nobody was waiting behind me to pass, hell, nobody was either in my lane or the outside lane.

Yet, coming towards me on the opposite side of the road was a small grey hatch back.  The driver felt it worth his while to open his window, lean out, arm on the side, turning his close shaven head fully towards me, and yell, not timidly, "pedal you c***".

I felt many things.  I was startled, shocked, upset.  Nobody has ever called me a c*** before, not even people who might have been personally upset or angry with me.  It was an act of aggression, and it was really really offensive.  At least I was on the opposite side of the road.  If I'd been going the same way, would he have been angry enough at my existence to swerve his car at me, I wonder.

And there's absolutely nothing I can do. Nothing.  Even had I become a helmet cam wearing rider, what could I have done, what would the police ever do.  Is there even a law against shouting insults at total strangers?  Had I taken the registration number, what would I have done with it?  Had I turned round and chased him down to the next set of lights, what would that have achieved?

And yet I'm still angry with him.  I'm angry that I'm so helpless to make this change.  I'm angry that he felt that was acceptable behaviour.  I'm angry that there is no opportunity to talk to him and find out what was going on in his head to make that happen.  I'm angry that I'm now fearful of riding that bit of road again, part of my regular commute.  That my choices are influenced by these acts of passive aggressive violence.  There's still part of Manchester City Centre I haven't ridden in over a decade since someone tried to run me off the road, swerving violently and deliberately (I did get run off the road but not knocked off or run over).  I won't go there again, because why would I, in my vulnerability put myself in that position?  Why would I put myself back on the A6 in that place again?  It's possible that for him it's a regular journey as much as it is my regular journey.  Will he be satisfied with simply shouting at me that I'm  c*** or will his actions escalate?  It's not worth my taking the chance.

All I did was ride my bike.