I recently turned 40, the closest thing to a halfway house of life. A sort of limbo place where I can feel something closing on a wilder past. I say wild - I mean sticky club carpets and questionable clothing choices. But I have an increasing fondness for cardigans and my children are 6 and 3 now - so it looks like they’re here to stay, at least until they don’t want to any more.
It takes a while though, for this calmer acceptance to settle in. Through the birthing of children we shed part of our identity, leaving it behind in the carnage on the hospital floor. This cleaving can be raw, painful, forming scar tissue as we heal and reshape around our unfamiliar new selves. Our bodies feel strange and lumpy, evacuated but still invaded. Our time, sleep and space are no longer our own.
Some of us feel this loss more keenly, and it takes longer to mourn ‘the old me’. That flighty, selfish young thing who went for long pub lunches, took spontaneous mini breaks and luxuriated in hangovers. Whose clothes always fit and didn’t smell of sick. Who laughed heartily in restaurants with other grown ups, smoked occasional cigarettes and always finished her cups of tea.
When I look at all the brilliant women around me, at the school gates, in the park, gripping coffee - I can still see who they were then, in that time. Behind the weary eyes, ironic Mom jeans and running shoes, I see flickers of dancing on Spanish tables, getting lost in fields, one night stands, hair dye and back tattoos. We're all on the same narrow brink, teetering between the past and the future. The juggle is real, the work is hard, and as we reminisce sometimes - fleetingly, wryly - there is no going back. We know that.
Would we want to though, really? I’ve raged against this loss for years, cried lots of hot tears, even secretly tried to recapture who I was ‘before’. But the grass then wasn’t greener - I was actually a bit lonely and sad, hence the one night stands. I punished my body and made it fit the too-small clothes. I hadn’t figured out who I was yet, so I inked and pierced myself to try and fill in the gaps.
So time to get over myself now (in the truest sense) and look forward. I've cleared out my wardrobe, that centuries-old expression of a woman’s self. I've shredded piles of old letters, from angsting boys and clinging girls. Some things we shouldn't throw away though. I'll keep the humour, bluntness, wanderlust, creativity, romance, impatience, deep thinking. I’ll always be a risk taker, a list maker, a bit of a contradiction who is more than a mum - but less of a child.