It’s home time. I’m taking the red eye from Perth to Sydney, which leaves at the rather uncivilised hour of 5 minutes to midnight. I’m rounding off this rather spontaneous trip with a rather spontaneous glass of white. I haven’t done spontaneous for a while. I think I used to be more spontaneous – I remember a random weekday spur of the moment trip to Brighton pre-kids, skipping work the next day to wander around the rides, eat ice-cream and drink champagne. And I’m pretty sure that wasn’t completely out of the norm for me.
I’ve reached a point in my life where so much of who I am and what I do is tied into the lives of other people, it is hard to know where they end and I begin. But where I used to be the centre of things, now I feel peripheral. Sort of surplus to requirements. Mothers with teenagers might recognise this feeling. You wake up one day to find you live in a house full of almost grown-ups, who are busy being independent and secretive, and working out how to navigate their own way in the world without your interference. My husband tells me this means we’ve done a good job. But I feel a bit bewildered. I used to be the most important person in their lives, but they’ve grown up without so much as a backward glance.
I look backwards though and realise I never got a chance to say goodbye to the little people who used to fill my days with their chatter and demands, their singing and their stories, who held my hand and wanted to tell me about their day. Don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted by the humans my children are growing into. When they choose to, they are good company. Funny and kind, and full of outrage at injustice and overflowing with ideas on how to make the world a better place. And I’m proud of them. Fit to bust proud. They bring me joy. But they no longer need me in the same way, and they no longer need the same sort of thing from me. Unconditional love and being available remains of course, but that’s about it. They need space, they need encouragement to spread their wings, they need hugs and advice, but only on request. Perhaps what has changed is that they are calling the shots in our relationship.
I don’t know if people warn you about the sense of grief that comes with this stage of life. About the saying goodbye, and the need to reinvent yourself in your late forties. Perhaps they do, but maybe we are so busy worrying about sleeping patterns and nappies, about what school they should go to and, in our case anyway, asthma and anaphylaxis that we don’t pay attention to the ministering’s of middle aged women with grouchy teens in tow. Regardless, here I find myself, in need of a new version of me, one that is not mother centric.
I peer back into the past to see if I can catch a glimpse of an earlier version of me, but that person was young and full of insecurities. And our dreams no longer match up. I’m wiser now, rounder in both body and spirit, and with mileage in my soul, I see barely a shadow of myself in the younger version of me. Like an oak tree contemplating an acorn I suppose. There is something quite liberating in this activity though. Pleasure floods through me when I realise I am no longer as fragile, no longer as desperate to be liked or no longer as hungry to make my mark on the world. I am, I come to a startling conclusion, content. I mull this concept around in my mind for a while. Contentment. It is so far from what I think I wanted in life, and yet, I like the way it feels. Smooth. Pleasing. Comfortable. I’m shrugging this on, like my new furry coatigan, while I work out what I want to do for this next stage of my life. How I want to spend my time and energy, which is less boundless than it once was. And I come to the conclusion that this stage of life is a gift. An opportunity to think again about where to direct oneself. It comes with the acceptance that there is no destination that does not fly past before you’ve had time to unpack and change the bed linen. Life is flow. Life is motion. Life is what happens between events. Life must be lived in the moment.
So here I find myself, a little, on a spontaneous trip to Perth to see friends and family, on my own. With no one to worry about or look after, I have the time to be self-absorbed and still. To just be. To sit at a bar in an airport and drink a glass of wine at the approach of midnight. I haven’t taken time for myself in nearly a decade, but I think I could get used to getting to know myself again. It’s been a while.