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Ebbs-cuse me, Am I Growing Old?

“OK, darling, I’ll pick you up at ten.” So said I in yet another chat message to dearest daughter yesterday afternoon. Closing the jaunty little messaging app on my phone – having made sure to include plenty of smileys, emoticons, kisses and hip textences lest I appear as uncool as I suspect I actually am – I was suddenly struck by the reverse-level life I am leading these days. Apologies for the terminology, but if you were currently house-hunting in a seaside town where every house is reverse-level living, you’d be regurgitating that guff as if it is normal too.

So; reverse-level, topsy-turvy, upside-down or plain tits up; whatever you want to call it, that’s what life has become. I’m not sure I’m enjoying this new “normal” – at the very least I’m resisting it inwardly so as not to appear to be growing old. Old? Me? Noooooo! *runs screaming for the nearest wine bar*

But it may unfortunately be true. I can’t fight the fact that my own mis-spent youth has been superseded by that of the kids now. When did it become the norm for the kids to be out later than the parents? How has it happened that I sit wistfully yearning for jim-jams and Horlicks yet denied, having instead to stay fully clothed, some form of alert and ready to fire up the old jalopy at a moment’s notice? When did my own weekends become slaves to my teenagers’ social lives?

I’ll be honest – after a day at work I struggle with anything much past 11PM. Living in a quiet Sussex village means not much goes on during a weekday evening in the depths of winter except a spot of dull TV and a nose around Twitter before bath and bed call me skywards. Throbbing metropolis? No, sir. Sometimes a distant neighbour trips over a wheelie bin and curses loudly, which is always amusing. Or a teen hidden in the dark smoking an illicit fag has his foot run over by a British Gas van in next door’s driveway lighting up the windows in nearby houses and requiring an ambulance. Very funny and completely true. But generally things are quiet in the vicinity after 9ish. Hence, having to hold my eyelids open with tweezers and sellotape  so I don’t fall asleep open-mouthed and forget to collect a kid from some teenage hang-out at midnight is, I’ll admit, a bit of a struggle. (Tip: place a cocktail stick or two vertically in your cleavage whilst watching TV. Secure in place with more sellotape. That way if you begin to nod off, a sharp poke in the schnozzle will wake you up instantly. And – bonus – you get a free chest wax, which can only be a good thing.)

Have I grown old then? Did it creep up on me unawares like a stealthy stoat? Am I ready for botox, tight perms and a 6 week cruise around Croatia? Doomed to a Val Doonican soundtrack in the car and layers of chunky knits? Lord save me!

I don’t think I’m old yet per se. Not in my soul, for sure. I am hoping that this is just the natural progression of things. The ebb and flow, the tidal rhythm of life. My tide is out now (for out, read “I am temporarily dead”) while my fledglings spread their wings and explore their independence. I am, for now, not Sarah the Party Animal who likes one too many cuba libres and to dance inappropriately on tables but Sarah The Mother, a four-wheeled Moses basket driver that fetches and carries them, bears them safely home, never fails to be there when required. Albeit grumpy and tired with rising chest welts and spike marks on the end of my nose.

I have resisted the mother label, if I’m honest, never quite thought of myself that way. Mum is OK, I can do Mum. Mum is a matey sort of name that implies nurturing in a friendly haphazard way. A muddling through Mum. Occasionally an absent-for-an-altogether-irresponsible-amount-of-time-while-sailing type of Mum. Relaxed is, and will always be,  my parenting style. We each have our own. But “mother”? No. That’s reserved for people much more responsible and demonstrably better at the task than me.

Sarah, the regular sort, will re-emerge eventually. I’ll probably don hot pants, go to gigs and festivals, maybe even plant a boob-shaped pampas grass flag on my front lawn in my early 50s, just as my offspring are settling down, sprogging up and going into their own quiet times. (Pause for silent evil chuckle.)

Ebb and flow. Flow and ebb. It’s how it is supposed to be. Now, if I could only stay awake until then……


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No offence, but…

This week, my girl is experiencing work for the first (and possibly the last!) time. She has fallen on her feet thanks to a good friend of mine who works in a fancy dress shop near to where we live – lucky thing! Personally, I would adore to spend every day wafting about in a Jane Austen-stylie dress and parasol, but people do tend to frown upon that kind of thing in the middle of Mayfair. But Daughter Dearest feels an affinity with all things theatrical, textile and artistic so it really is the perfect placement for her.

Asking her about how her first day had gone, she told me how she had had a difficult virginal customer service moment with a mother and her son who was, let’s just say, in absolutely no danger of malnutrition at the present time. You get my drift. They were wanting a costume for the young boy and my girl tried, politely (so she tells me) to suggest that they would have more choice of pirate outfits if they looked in the “Young Adult” section as opposed to the kids section. She worked hard not to mention his actual bulk – sorry, size. Unfortunately, it appears that mother and son were of the great “Denial” ilk.

I indulge in denial from time to time myself – guilty of enjoying one cupcake too many then bemoaning the fact that, through no fault of my own (!), I  have to spend the next three days on the cross trainer; going to work semi-naked – only one leg actually in my jeans; the other jean leg hanging slackly like an unfulfilled windsock. I could try to force the issue (and both legs in), but progressing to the office in a stiff “Herman Munster”-like waddle isn’t going to get me a seat on the board, now is it? But I digress. My point is that there are those whose lives are dedicated to such denial and there’s no dealing with them or it in a rational manner. They actually, I swear, enjoy being offended.

From a simply logistical point of view, there was no way this half-man-half-kid was going to fit into a children’s costume designed for non-Yetis, so my girl tried to persuade them again to look at a more suitable range. The Mother of All Denials immediately took the obligatory offence taken as her due in these situations. Despite having done her best to be tactful and help them out, my daughter overheard the grumpy moo telling the shop superior that she had been rude and unhelpful. My girl thought this very unfair and, if everything she says is true (she is to dramatic embellishment what the News of the World is/was to phone-hacking i.e. constantly at it!), quite rightly so. She felt she had genuinely tried to help and couldn’t understand how that had been rude. She does not have that “thickened skin” that anyone who has had to grit their teeth and deal with the general public develops. Her innocent honesty is part of her appeal.

However, this whole hyper-sensitivity episode got me thinking about society in general and what DOES constitute politeness, courtesy and good manners in today’s world. Have things skewed to such a crazy policital correctness now that such simple honest dialogue between people is no longer acceptable? Is honesty the new rude?

Some examples of “new rude” certainly exist. Quite common in their use actually. These include saying “No offence, but….” before saying something incredibly offensive in actual fact, which the listener then has to sit and take because that rider was put in front of it. Or stating something unkind about someone or something and then adding, “Just saying…” like the words tumbled out of the mouth without consent or conscious thought. We’ve probably all done it. On that basis, you would think that honesty would be de-sensitising people, as opposed to the opposite. Honesty should be becoming more socially acceptable, not less, shouldn’t it?

But rather than labelling it “new rude”, perhaps what we should be advocating is new honesty. A policy for the world at large. Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. Not taking offence to facts presented to you. Where being direct is not seen as being unkind. Where truth is not taken as being impolite. I’d definitely go for that, wouldn’t you? I’m over nuances and trying to gauge reactions and situations – it’s exhausting and I really don’t have the time!

But in adopting new honesty, how do we then deal with these bods living in denial of their own realities and making everyone else feel awkward? Well, they could start by accepting facts, owning up and stop expecting everyone else to make allowances for their impossibly fuzzy view of the world. I, for one, have my issues but I try really hard not to impose them on other people and situations. They are MY issues, not theirs.

In this particular case, would the mother have preferred her rotund offspring to be encased in a too-tight costume that would have rendered him more keg of rum than ribald pirate? More laughing stock than theatrical badass? I think not. If, in the end, they cannot be helped because they don’t want to cloud that vision of themselves or a situation that no-one else sees – is that the rest of us being rude, or simply them being in hypersensitive denial?

The latest official current world population estimate, for mid-year 2010, is estimated at 6,852,472,823. Are the Deny-ers going to take them all on? Or accept that honesty is not rudeness; directness is just being straight with them – not offensive. That they are one amongst many; and try to cut the many a little slack? If I were being pedantic, I could say that such intolerance is, of itself, rude to those who are trying to be straight with them.

I’m just saying….