Photo - Donald Leetch
I loved your article "I have lived over half my life" published in The Observer on 14 August 2011. I, now aged 52 - 8 whole years older than you, would never have, in the past, have had the audacity to write this letter to you. The reason I feel the need to write, is firstly, to compliment you on the article. I have started writing a book, which I have been struggling with, and also write a daily blog. I know how important and encouraging feedback can be. You write so well and are so wise. Secondly, because around 10 years ago, I felt almost exactly as you do now.
My 30th birthday was quite an emotional time for me. I felt sad to leave my 20's. I was a mother of 3 young sons, and whilst half of me wanted to go wild and celebrate with my cleverer, more worldly, more wealthy friends and the other half realised that I should now be more responsible as I was now a mother. Many of my friends and my sister had not started their families yet and I felt isolated and alone at times. The entire decade of my 30's was a roller coaster ride with many ups and unfortunately downs as well. Trying to be the best mother I could be, immersing myself in my children and their school lives and doing all the things that I wished that my mother was able to do but never did because her circumstances were different. I was the class rep for their junior classes. I organised outings and was the secretary on the PTA. Don't get me wrong, I loved doing what I was doing. I made wonderful friends with other moms and our afternoons were full. Many of "the husbands" were similar, there for the glory and the sporting stuff but not the day to day stuff. "Hobby Dads" I remember one friend calling them. Of course there were single mothers who I admired for the job they were doing but I never wanted to be in that position because I knew how hard it had been for my mother. I tried very hard to paint the perfect picture of a perfect marriage with perfect children but inside I was crumbling.
My 40th birthday party was for all my lady friends, and because I was in a bad space as far as my marriage was concerned, I thought it was best that I share the evening with my old school friends and the many new friends I had made through my sons. Within 2 weeks of my 40th birthday I left my husband and my home with my 3 sons and moved into a friend's small flat and started divorce proceedings.
So, like you, but for different reasons my 40's became a time of reflection, of concern about what had happened to the free spirit I used to be while at the same time trying to find the energy to start re-building my life. I, too, started worrying (and losing sleep) over things that had never worried me before, of dying and what would happen to my children, of the financial hole that I was caught in and, of course, of now being "middle aged" and having "lived half my life".
I can almost pinpoint the exact date, soon after I had turned 45 that I started rediscovering myself. I am not sure if it was because I was now the divorced, single mother that friends started turning to me for advice and support and, for once, the focus was off me and my problems. Friends, who in my 30's, I had envied because they had wonderful houses (with gardens) in the right areas, fancy 4X4 cars, overseas skiing holidays and husbands with high powered jobs. Little did I know then just how unhappy some of these friends were. I became the brave warrior even although I was no such thing. I did what I had to do and the time was right. I did not want to be brave although I often pretended to be. The fact that at around 46, I fell in love with an older, wonderful caring man was probably also a huge factor in my new found happiness.
Your husband is right, Miranda. If I could give you any advice now it would be to keep doing exactly what you are doing. Don't put any financial pressure on yourselves or your marriage. Your children are only too happy to have parents who are happy to be together and who love each other and them. It does not matter where they live. Use any extra money to take them to music concerts, on holidays, not necessarily expensive holidays but spend quality time with them making memories. The park is as wonderful a playground as their own garden.
Don't be scared of waking up in 10 years time, when you turn 54, feeling the way you do now. Don't be scared. Don't be frightened. You will achieve what you want and find a way of balancing working and mothering.
Turning 50 is wonderful. My 50th birthday was big party where I invited everyone who was important to me. I spoke, my sons spoke, my friends danced for me. We drank fancy cocktails. It was a great night. I was surrounded and protected by my family and friends.
Your family are always there for you and I have learned to never neglect my friends. Like you, I too lost a special friend who died too young. More than likely you will lose a parent too, as I did. You will hurt for your children when their hearts are broken and cry with your friends when they become sick or face a crisis. I have become more spiritual and less materialistic.
You will feel loss when your uterus no longer functions as it used to but you will find a way to get through "the menopause". You will not be alone. We are so lucky to have been able to have children and to watch them grow. The 50's has liberated me in a way that I feel that I can express myself better, I tell my family and friends that I love them and try to be as kind as I can be.
You seem to have so many funny and clever friends who are there to advise and support you. I thoroughly agree with Phillipa - forget about all the "if only's" and live and enjoy each day. You have music in your life to keep you young. We learn so much from music and the joy of sharing it. Only last month I went on a road trip with my sons. They quickly removed my old cd's from the cd shuttle and introduced me to Frightened Rabbit and Fleet Foxes. It was a long trip and we reminisced about when I took them to their first concert, Counting Crows, the wonder of listening to Dire Straits at the Royal Albert Hall in 2005 and just listening in a sad silence to Bob Dylan, Jim Croce and Cat Stevens.
I am going to look out for the book, The Death of Ivan Ilyich when I am next at the bookshop - I have never heard of it before. I would love to get to meet Oliver James, share a bottle of wine with him and listen to his philosophy of life. I would also love to sit on the pavement with you after a night out "talking rubbish" because I know we would have much in common (and not necessarily "constellations").
I hope that this does not sound like that silly "Wear Sunscreen" song (on re-reading it, it does)but your article really touched me. We cannot spend energy worrying about what the second half of our life is going to be like and when we are going to die. You are spot on:-
"These are the days of our lives, let's live them!!"
I will keep looking out for your articles in The Observer, online, from Cape Town, South Africa. It is comforting to know that we, woman, wives and mothers, are never alone and we all have the same fears and dreams.