Actual Blogs

All I (n)ever wanted

It’s 10 years this week since I met the man who is now my husband. Taking a walk down memory lane, I’ve realised that meeting that ginger fecker was the event that set me off on the road to my unbalanced life, and actually put me into counselling.

Prior to our meeting I was single and career driven. I’d just sold my flat in Edinburgh and moved to a grown up house with a garden and a drive. I was proud of myself – of my independence, and that I didn’t need a bloody man. My friends were getting married and having children and disappearing off the planet to a world I neither understood nor cared for. Who in the hell wanted that traditional, boring happily ever after. I wanted my independence, adventure and definitely no kids.

Then… I took a trip ‘home’ to Manchester to go bridesmaids’ dress shopping with a couple of friends (there was an actual wedding, we’re not weird). We went back to her house and I donned my new underwear bought to go with the dress. Walking into the kitchen I announced, “Look at my tits in this!”, only to be greeted by the crooked smile of an unexpected ginger bloke.

Time will tell that this meeting was apparently set up, though clearly not the discussion about my tits.

I know it’s ridiculous, but I just knew. I knew that night that something significant was happening. I won’t say love at first sight, because it certainly wasn’t love that first struck me, it was embarrassment. And a desire to shift attention away from my fun bags. Even if they were beautifully presented in my new well-structured scaffolding – fate occasionally does play us a nice card.

Suddenly we had a summer of love mapped out, travelling up and down the M6 and being each other’s Plus 1 at a ridiculous amount of weddings.

And even more suddenly (it seemed) my whole outlook on life changed. I don’t know if it was the excitement of a long distance relationship, the constant drip of ‘happiness’ from those weddings or just the fact that he was ginger, but now I wanted to be like Cinderella. I wanted that happily ever after. With him. I wanted his Ginger Babies.

That was the real beginning. As soon as I said that out loud, whilst drunk at yet another wedding, it started. We were looking for a house, I was resigning from my job and saying goodbye to my career-woman life in Scotland.

Writing it down now, and with the benefit of Captain Hindsight, I can see how significant that was. But at the time I couldn’t understand why I was so emotionally drained and feeling sad. I was soooo happy. I had found a man who was worth changing everything for. I’d managed to transfer my job to work from Manchester and I was back living in my old stomping ground near my family and friends who I’d always stayed close to. What the hell was wrong with me. Why did I keep crying?

I know now that I was mourning my old ‘attitude’. It wasn’t the physical things that were changing that bothered me, but my mental approach to life – the whole self-sufficient ‘I don’t belong to anyone’ confidence that I’d built up over the previous decade.

The idea of marriage and changing my name had always felt so old fashioned and ridiculous. But now I wanted it. I wanted to be his family.

The idea of having kids and being with them all the fricking time, except maybe a monthly, ‘yes I’ll come, but I’ll have to leave by ten-thirty, and I’ll probably drive’ night out, had horrified me. But now I wanted it. I was ready to move on from my old existence, to give it all up.

I felt that I had betrayed… Me.

(Bizarrely, at the very moment I wrote that sentence, Simply Red just came on the radio singing “I’d give it all up for you”. That’s really freaked me out!)

And so off to the doctors I trotted and he referred me to a wonderful woman called Susan who helped me to understand it all.

Understand it.
Embrace it.
Live it.

Of course I didn’t change completely and become a 1950’s wife, cleaning house while whistling a Disney tune. Although I do sometimes wish that the birds from my garden would fly in and help me tie bows around my curtains – and I don’t even have curtains!

I’m still me. I’m still fiesty. I’m still fiercely independent in my views. But with room beside me for my new family. They define part of me, but not the whole me. I’m proud to be a wife and a mother – labels that previously made me shudder. Now I wear them with pride alongside my many other labels assigned to me.

So looking back on the last 10 years, a lot has changed. They say everyone hates change, but it’s usually physical change. I managed to make a mental one and I’m a bit proud of myself. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have the life I do now. Yes, it’s unbalanced. Yes it’s tiring. But I couldn’t imagine what life would be otherwise – if I didn’t meet that unexpected ginger man with the crooked smile, or had my beautiful ginger boy with…. well there’s a million things that are wonderful about him.

Having All-I-Never-Wanted is the happiest I’ve ever been.

Thank you for the last 10 year darling. You rocked my world – and you still do.
(sick buckets allowed).

Xxx

(I have cried all the way through writing this!)

Binge Friend-ing

Just like drinking, these days I don’t see my friends as often as I used to, but when I do, I do it ‘properly’.

Like many women of a certain age, I felt like I grew up with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. The Sex and the City ladies were a bit older than me and so watching them, I was guided into a lovely security that my own circle of friends would easily be able to stay close, meeting for dinner or drinks or even a posh breakfast at least once a week. Forever.

As the series and their lives progressed that never waivered. They welcomed their kids into the four-some’s social engagements, but that never distracted from the conversation about relationships, sex (once sensitively renamed ‘colouring’) and other intimate details of their glamorous existences. They even strolled down streets together afterwards, in their posh shoes, to complete any unfinished conversations. Such, I assumed, would be the reality of my long standing friendships with MY girls in my thirties and forties.

Let’s re-examine that… Getting my group of girls together in the same place, at the same time, ideally without children, is like trying to reunite the actual cast and crew of SATC.

There are text messages spanning about two weeks as we first try to find a Saturday night when everyone is free. When we’ve moved three months through our diaries we typically declare it a ridiculous state of affairs and try for a Friday (less ideal due to the number of Saturday morning clubs that require an early morning chauffeur).

Recently, we moved through Saturdays, Fridays and Thursdays, Sunday lunches and Saturday brunches, before finally landing on a Wednesday for a curry, in six weeks time.

I mean, to coin a regularly used phrase, for fucks sake. A frigging Wednesday! But that, it seems, is the life of Unbalanced Women who may work late, who have Unbalanced Men who work late or who have children who have clubs and commitments that turn us into their P.A., chauffeur and late night chef.

Of course I see some friends one at a time for a quick brew or even one of those coveted posh breakfasts (they’re actually my favourite). Even better than that is seeing friends who live far away, and you travel to get together for 24 hours or more. Now that is a full-on friendship binge.

In preparation for such an indulgent appointment I find myself making a mental agenda of things I need to ask them about. Who am I kidding? I sometimes write an actual agenda of topics. I never wear Carrie-style posh heels, but I do add a bit of lippy because it feels like a special ‘date’.

Time always flies as I try to tick off my agenda as we tangent off to a million topics eventually returning to the original thread after musing “…why are we talking about fridges anyway?”. And we’re usually both clock-watching to make sure we’re not getting dangerously close to missing our next allotted commitment, which we can of course still get to on time if the waiter brings the bill and the card machine RIGHT NOW.

But seeing my Girl Gang is important to me, and that’s why I Binge Friend when we eventually meet. I want to drink in as much as I can and soak up their stories and the wonderful flow of easy conversation, jokey insults and safe judgement of others.

And the added beauty of Binge Friending is that, just like binge drinking, there are usually lots more messages the morning after, to thank everyone for a lovely evening and to comment on our favourite memories and funny stories. But there’s never anyone saying ‘never again’. Unless of course that Clare was in charge of pouring the wine!

Saturday night out: a 20 minute countdown

I had a shocking realisation the other day, that I no longer listen to music when I’m getting ready for a night out. I dismissed it fairly quickly as we don’t have a radio / music player in our bedroom. But then I thought about it some more. It wasn’t just an absence of music – my routine for ‘getting ready’ has evolved almost beyond recognition.

Back in the day, and I’m talking at least a decade ago, getting ready was part of the fun of a night out. It would shape my whole Saturday. I might head into town to buy a new top, or eyeliner, or nail varnish. It was not uncommon for me to make sure I was home for a nap around 4pm so that I could have an hour or two in bed before having another hour or two to get ready.

As I wrote that I just stopped in my tracks and realised that I used to feel the need for a nap even then. And I would have one! Not to catch up on precious, lost sleep, but to pre-charge my dancing batteries.

Batteries fully charged I would start a new phase: getting ready to get ready. Before actually getting ready, I’d decide which CD to listen to, test out a choice of outfits and shoes, decide if I would I have wine or vodka later. All that is assuming I was alone. There would be additional elements if any girlfriends were coming round to get ready with me. Then we’d be treating the CD player like a juke box while comparing latest make-up, perfume and trying to make different sized feet fit into each others shoes.

Getting ready was an event in itself.

No longer. Now I reckon I can do it in 20 minutes. It goes like this…

Preparation: I will have washed my hair in the morning, because my hair is just as unbalanced as I am and requires at least two hours to calm down after being washed. A ruffle and a bit of frizz-calming wax is all the attention it gets.

T-20 mins: Quick shower, avoiding getting my head wet. In the unlikely event that I have worn make-up during the day, I might wash it off. But if I’m super lazy, (and I’m a little ashamed to admit this) I will just put a bit more over the top.

T-15: Make-up. As I wear exactly the same make-up all the time, it’s a pretty straight forward routine and I could do it in my sleep. A recent purchase has got me excited though – glittery eye power I can put over my plain beige eye-shadow, and voila… I have achieved that day-to-night transition that apparently every woman dreams of. I am a Disco Diva, no matter that there are no discos any more.

T-8: Get dressed. Choose one of the sets of still-quite-nice underwear from my drawer (easy as I only have two). Skim passed the dress choices – its not anyone’s birthday. So it’s either The Good Jeans or The Black Trousers and one of three tops that haven’t yet been down-graded to work wear. I spend 10 seconds wondering what I wore last time I saw whoever I’m meeting, and then remember that unless it’s a yellow, polkadot, bat-wing dress, no-one actually remembers.

T-3: Ask my husband if I should wear the black shoes or the black boots. I like to involve him. He does the same for me. Neither of us listen and we make our own choices anyway.

T-1: Coat on, and THEN, realise that my nail varnish is appalling and quickly paint another coat over the top.

Time to go.

T+1: Taxi is waiting as I try to load all my make-up into my handbag, without smudging my nails (knowing this is a pointless exercise as once I’ve had that first glass I’m past caring. I’m too lazy to even take my bag to the toilets, never mind actually reapply any make-up).

My ‘happy’ at the end of all this though is that I’m out. That’s the point. Whether I’m out with my husband, friends or a few random strangers, I’m confident enough to know that my sparkling conversation and wit can outshine my new eye-shadow. And if I’ve got that wrong, there’s always the wine and my best friend… Jack Daniels.

Precious moments on a ticking clock

“Make time for fun and silliness”. I must have read that about 20 times. Apparently a necessity if you aspire to be a successful parent, partner, team leader and probably circus clown.

So today that cliché rang in my ears when faced with a particular unbalanced-life experience.

Our morning routine requires precision timing. No matter how organised I try to be there are just so many activities to cram into a short space of time. And our differing personality types add to the challenge: I take some time to warm up in the morning, like an old car in winter, you need to let me tick over for a while before I can even leave first gear. My little boy however wakes up ready to run down the nearest motorway. No car required. As soon as he opens his eyes his brain must say, no actually sing, “It’s morning… Woohoo!”

Fun and silliness are always on his agenda. Of course they are. But my morning routine is ruled by the large ticking clock on our kitchen wall. If we don’t get to school on time the car park will be full. And if the car park is full I will have to park round the corner. And if I have to park round the corner it takes longer to walk back to it (in heels) so I won’t catch my ‘only-make-it-if-I-leg-it-down-the-platform’ train to work.

He was in full-on Woohoo-mode when we went downstairs to make breakfast, yabbering on about something or other. I knew I should be listening, but I needed to make breakfast and…. Tick Tock Tick Tock.

To get his attention, I picked him up sat him on the kitchen worktop. “I have a question for you…” Now this works. He’s at eye level and he loves to be asked a question. And he half knows that the question will be, ‘what shall we have for breakfast?’. It’s a regular morning question because another aspirational quote locked somewhere in my memory, is to offer children choices so they learn independent thinking. Blah blah blah.

But instead, my inner silliness crept in. “Do you looove me?” I sang to him. I’ve recently watched Dirty Dancing and it popped into my head. Big grin from the boy and my silliness took over.

“I can mash potato…” I proved it.
“Do the twist….” Hell yeah.
“Tell me baby…” He loved it.

The clock was silenced. I was Supermum. We danced together. He looked me right in the eye and did that beautiful giggle that kids do when they are truly happy. I felt amazing and we had a precious moment – one of those that makes your heart burst, where you know there is true love in the room. The cliché was right, I SHOULD make time for silliness.

Time. Make time. Tick Tock….. “Oh my god, look at the time!” And there it was, ruined.

“Quickly… Just eat it… Are you finished?… Well where did you leave it?… Come on!… They are not MY shoes, they are your responsibility… For goodness sake, just get in the car… Now!”

Next time I decide to make time for fun and silliness I will schedule it with precision timing.

Confessions of an Unbalanced Woman

Today I experienced sheer horror, and it was my own doing. I heard myself saying to a friend, “Want to pop round for a quick coffee?” and as she said yes, I pictured my house. The state of it.

I knew, in that moment, that I would have to apologise. For dirty breakfast dishes that haven’t quite made it to the sink; for laundry decorating every radiator and for the bathroom. God forbid she would want to use the bathroom as it is left after my family use it in quick succession in the rush to school and work.

“Yes, that would be great.” she said, “But can you give me half an hour first? I just need to pop to the post office.” I wanted to kiss her.

The relief. I would have time to destroy all evidence of my disgusting normality. And instead greet her with my Fake Reality – the perfect level of tidy, that shows I’m naturally clean but not obsessive. It’s a fine art.

Do we all do this? Do we all have those little things that we can’t even reveal to our close friends? I think we might. So I’m sharing a few of my Fake Reality secrets…

1. My towels don’t match and co-ordinate with my bathroom tiles. Of course I have a set that do, and they are brought out fresh and smelling of Spring Meadow fabric softener when we have guests. But the rest of the time, it’s every man for himself. Grab any towel you can find that’s not been taken to the swimming baths, left on the shower floor or covered in toothpaste by a small child.

2. And that posh ESPA hand wash goes back in the cupboard when you leave, to be replaced by a normal Tesco one. Sorry.

3. I always have flowers on my table. That’s one of my things. But before they reach a vase or the table they will have spent around two days in a pint glass of water near the sink, still suffocating in their supermarket wrapper.

4. There are cupboards and drawers (within touching distance of any surprise guest) that are filled to bursting point, and I don’t know what with. Most probably items that were hastily hidden when someone else popped round, and then long forgotten. If I ever clean out a drawer I’m so pleased with myself that I expect someone to give me a certificate of excellence for my genuine (temporary) tidiness.

5. That storage box in the corner is propping a skirting board that came away from the wall about five months ago. Of course I should go to the garage, get out a hammer and panel pins from our great assortment of DIY nonsense. Of course I could fix it in about three minutes. But, well the box was there already… or in the same room at least. And you’d never know if I didn’t tell you…

Celebrate your imbalance

I have read so many articles about ‘Work / Life’ balance. They all show images of old fashioned cooking scales or a tightrope. It would be easy to think that the secret to a happy life is just a little two-sided equation – we can find the perfect balance and ‘have it all‘. If you’re pulled too far in one direction, take a little out of the left, add it to the right and you’ll be back on track. Easy.

But, I’ve kept feeling that there’s something missing… ‘Having it all’ seems more than two categories. I can’t capture everything that makes up ‘Life’ on one side of the scales, if the other side is filled with ‘Work’.

For me, a better image is hundreds of spinning plates and me running between trying to give each one enough attention. 

I have many friends who don’t ‘work’ (we’ll debate that definition another time), who still have uncountable plates threatening to crash to the floor at any time.

Even if I give a name to all the plates… children, husband, parents, exercise, house, friends and so on and so on, there are still so many subsets, it blows my mind.

So, for many years, I have tried to give all my plates suitable attention, petrified that it would be my fault if they smashed and were irreparable. God forbid anyone even sees any of them wobbling.

And there we have it. Guilt. Stigma. Fear of judgements.
  • What if I don’t spend enough quality time with my children?
  • What if I don’t have my hair highlighted and legs waxed?
  • What if I don’t provide a great, healthy Sunday dinner for the family?

But it’s exhausting. I’ve decided that ‘having it all’ is too much. I’m going to let some plates crash and not feel guilty. Well, I’m going to try.

So here I go. Letting my kid play on the Xbox, while I sit watching TV, with my grey roots showing and long trousers to cover my unsightly body hair, deciding that today Sunday dinner will be sandwiches.
Smashed it.