Downtown harks back
Halfway through this life
I used to feel free
Or was it just a dream?
(Sharon Van Etten, Seventeen)
I’ve heard this song before. But this morning I really heard the lyrics and they pinched me hard on the back of my neck. I had to google the track and read them. Check I’d heard them right. Sharon Van Etten singing about everything I’ve been feeling recently.
Midlife keeps hitting me in the face.
It happened in McDonalds last week. As I guiltily speed-fed the kids between school pickup and a badly timed doctor’s appointment. Hoping to get Nell some antibiotics to clear her ear infection and win me back some sleep.
I saw her. Cross-legged. Bright, stripy tights. Hot pants. Nose stud. A couple of spots belying her youth. Wild hair. Smooth skin and an energy I can only remember with a lump in my throat. I tried not to stare at her as she showed me everything I no longer am.
40, 41, 42…
40 felt good. Edgy, even. My ego enjoyed the surprise in their eyes as people found out I’d hit that milestone. There was a lovely weekend away with my family. Meals out, pampering, gifts.
It feels like last week. And yet now 42 is fast approaching. And it feels very different.
Midlife crisis. A joke phrase me and my husband bandy about when we’re taking the piss out of one another (mostly me out of him). MLC for short. I catch him eyeing up aviator jackets on eBay: “MLC?” I ask wryly.
The Levis he’s ordered online look decidedly skinny when he tries them on. “Too MLC,” he groans in the mirror.
And yet here I am. Breathless at a song on the radio. Staring at teenage girls in McDonalds. Wondering what midlife is supposed to look like for a woman like me.
Maybe crisis is too strong a word. Maybe awakening is more apt. I’m intermittently flooded with nostalgia, impatience, and a little bit of fear. I know I’ve hopefully got another 42 years to go. And that reads like a really, really long time. But I’ve already had 42 years and they just flew by.
So perhaps this feeling of unease is a friendly one – here to remind me that it’s time to start paying more attention to the moments, before – blink – they’re gone.
Maybe it’s here to force me out of the invisibility I’ve felt cloaking me recently – quiet clothes, quiet life, no bother. Shake it up, woman! Before you really are invisible.
Midlife feels like a transition. Like a wake-up call to start living more consciously. What can I do, then, to grab life and really, truly live it?
I feel like I need to remember to pause each day and enjoy small moments. Hold them in my heart and feel them a little longer than I do.
Just before my wedding day my mum told me how quickly the day would pass. Said she’d been so caught up in it all that she can’t really remember anything about her own. Told me she wished she’d stopped for a minute and just taken it all in a bit more. Fixed some of it to memory.
And so I did just that. I stopped a couple of times that day and breathed and looked around me. I saw all the people I loved in one place, friends who didn’t know each other laughing at each other’s jokes, dancing together.
So maybe that’s what I need to start doing from now on. Remember to pause and look around me.
But I also need to make space for those memories to happen, rather than just getting swept up in the mundanities of life. I need to step out of the grind more often.
Like yesterday, when Chris came home early to help with the kids so I could work. And told me he was going to take them to the beach. And he saw the look on my face and then: “Come with us. Come on.” So I said: “I will.”
And we had half an hour there in the wind, while Sid hauled broken branches out of the river onto the sand. And Nelly picked at sea shells. And Chris skimmed a stone that bounced nine, ten times on the surface of the water.
And then a lemonade and a packet of crisps in the pub. And the feeling of being alive and happy. That right there is a little piece of life I could have easily missed – said I didn’t have time for.
There’s also a burning need to achieve. To create. To change things. Starting this blog, sharing my writing, teaching others to write, venturing out into the world in ways I haven’t tried before. All of that also feels like a way of living to my fullest.
I find myself channelling some of the urgency I feel into achieving things. I have an energy I haven’t felt for a long time. A need to do something. I think it’s hit me that I don’t have time to wait and see anymore. It’s got to be soon.
How on earth I reconcile these urges – to stand still and enjoy the moment; to make more time for joy; to push forward and create – I haven’t yet worked out. Maybe I won’t. Maybe this pattern of pause and push, pause and push will play out over the next half of my life.
Maybe this is what midlife looks like for a woman like me.