Saturday, 15 February 2020

How did we get so grown up?

"They grow up so fast" - you hear it from the mums around the playground regularly. But if there's one thing more puzzling to me than my daughter's gathering maturity, it's my own.

It really does seem that yesterday I was worrying about leaving school and heading off for university. Would I be able to work the washing machine? Would I remember where I lived? What happened if I lost my keys? How would I eat?

And somehow, here I am, 41 years old. And I'm not worrying about exams and how to find my first job. Looking back, those things were fun things to worry about, although they didn't seem it at the time. The things my friends and I worry about today are divorce, redundancy, miscarriage, cancer, addiction, caring for children with disabilities, caring for sick parents. Horrible big dark things that change your life and not in the way you want.

These things have been building, but when I hit 40 they seemed to multiply. Everyone I know has faced or is facing something terribly, terribly difficult. If I think about it too much, it takes my breath away and I wonder how I will get through the day.

2020 has so far been a pretty shocking year. Those moments when it feels like someone has just pulled the rug from under you have come thick and fast - moments that used to be few and far between.

Now that I am 41 I know that in what seems like a matter of minutes I will be in my 50s and my tiny dependent baby girl will be spreading her wings and flying away to experience life outside my protection.

Women's responsibilities

There's a quote or proverb, which is pretty unpleasant:

"A son's a son 'til he takes a wife, a daughter's a daughter all of her life."

It suggests that often women will stay closer to their parents in adulthood. Men do of course take on caring responsibilities, and can be just as fantastic about it. My Dad is an only child and when his parents needed help he made sure they got it, with little help from anyone else. But often when there is a brother and sister, she is the one who takes on most of the caring load.

I play the violin in a small community orchestra populated by nearly all women, mostly of my age and upwards. Attendance is very erratic. One of the few men commented on it. He wasn't complaining - he noted that this group of women have so many responsibilities to other people, that they rarely find time to do this single thing for themselves. It's a situation that you don't generally see replicated in groups of men. They too have caring responsibilities, but when the chips are down it's far more likely to be the mothers, daughters and wives than fathers, sons and husbands.

If the orchestra was made up of men, I'd bet it wouldn't have the same attendance issues as we do. Men are, by and large, better at putting themselves first, and there are undoubtedly times when we'd all benefit from following their example. Women's way isn't always the right way (naughty feminist).

I haven't written this blog for a long time. Largely because the weight of all this pain is wearing me down. And I'm sure there are many people in my age group who feel the same.

I think, maybe, these things were all there but they were masked by to very important things: 
  1. The selfishness of youth - in my 20s, I was just so busy having a nice time. I barely spared a thought for anyone else. Is this the right job for me? Do I want to live here? Shall I go travelling? 
  2. Our parents protecting us: My parents never burdened me with the problems of my ageing grandparents and they largely shielded me from horrible things happening to people they knew. When they did tell me of tragic illness and sudden deaths these people seemed so remote from me and my life. I couldn't really comprehend it.  
I could breeze into my grandparents' lives for cups of tea and meals out, have a bit of a chat and breeze out again, safe in the knowledge I'd done my granddaughterly duty. Few of my friends now have any grandparents left, so it's our turn to help our parents if they need us to. 

We're all grown up. And I still don't know how it happened.