Not that kind?

So today I’ve decided that Mondays are somehow not hideous enough already and that instead, what I really need to do is lay down in a potential viper pit of a subject – parenthood.

UnsplashSebastian Pichler

Unsplash / Sebastian Pichler

Not parenting, because I know bugger all about that, but parenthood, as in, is it for me?
Not that my life is spilling over with options, but just lately I’ve become more aware of the big four zero being just a couple of years away.
Not that I’m expecting to launch into menopause on the big day itself, but it feels like a milestone year in that department.

But, despite being closer than ever to running out of choices and time, I feel less enthusiastic about the idea of sproglets than I ever have.
A few years ago, I was making jokes about my aching womb playing up every time I saw a newborn. Now, I make all the right socially acceptable (and expected) noises and have a cuddle and sniff their baby-shampoo hair, but if I’m honest, there’s literally nothing going on internally.
The only thought process (other than how adorable their hair smells) is: “yep, you’re really cute and it’s nice to snuggle, but I’ll be ready to give you back in approximately two minutes.”
And then, nothing.

I have three nephews and a god-daughter and I love them all, truly and deeply. A calendar of their grinning faces sits on my desk and I’m running out of fridge space for their paintings, and usually when I see them they end up squirming to get down because I’ve hugged them too long.
And when I get a text from a sister asking when I’m next popping round because the small ones keep looking for me out the window because they want to play, it’s lovely.
I go and we play and we laugh and their funny questions pluck my heartstrings so much I swear they can hear it.
And then they get tired and grumpy and fight with each other or drop their food or won’t eat it and then the sis takes over and it all just looks like crowd control and hard work and nobody’s having any fun and frankly I want to go home.

Families on beaches make me think the same thing – all you seem to hear is “no, don’t eat that” “no, you’ve had one” “in a minute” “don’t do that to your brother” “say sorry, right now!” and a million other things. Every time a parent sits down, they’re up again in seconds, removing sand from mouths or shells from ears or parting warring siblings. That book they’ve optimistically brought never gets read, their holiday appears to just be an extended version of the work of home life, but with fewer props and the perpetual fear of someone drowning.

A male friend said to me a while back, “I’ve seen it, and it just looks like endless drudge”.
I wouldn’t go quite so far, but it has made me ask a lot of questions about whether I’m the parenting type.
A colleague is due back from maternity leave in a couple of weeks and popped in to the office the other day. Another colleague asked her how she felt about coming back after a year away and she instantly said “I can’t wait. I can’t do, do, this, endlessly.”
Everyone else cooed over the baby and I smiled vaguely and chatted a bit, but really, I was just wondering when it would be polite to turn back to my work and crack on.

I can’t help but wonder what it is that makes people choose to go down the baby route.
Obviously once you have them they become the most important part of your life.
But I mean before that, long before there are any real human beings, long before there’s a name or a personality or nappies or love – way before that.
What’s the thing that goes ‘ping’ in your head and makes you decide that’s what you want?
And I ask without judgement – it’s a genuine question.
Because there is no pinging going on over here, literally nothing. It’s like that part of me has flatlined and there’s zero reaction to cute baby pictures, zero pull to meet a man I’d start a family with – just, nothing.

Animals breed out of instinct, but why do people? We have choices, so what governs how we make them?
Has evolution created a species that also breeds out of instinct but doesn’t realise it or thinks we’re too clever for that?
Are humans hardwired to want to create new life? Even though we can look around and see that booming populations don’t actually need any new additions?
Do some of us lose that hardwiring?

Facebook is always a fascinating showcase of family life. Endless pictures of family trips to the seaside or baby’s first puke or new school uniforms.
And then you catch up with friends and their smile isn’t nearly so broad (until they capture your catch up for social sharing) and the children aren’t nearly so darling.
Nobody ever posts a Facebook album entitled Little Johnny’s Top Ten Tantrums or That Day I Was So Tired I Hated Everybody.
Why do we only ever see the sanitised version?
It’s a bit like the rest of life I guess. I’ve never posted an album entitled That Weekend The Only Conversation Was From The Cat.

There seems to be a real divide amongst parents. There are those who chirrup endlessly about the best days of your life, the endless happiness, the perfect days of gazing into your baby’s eyes.
But there are also those who are brave enough to be a bit more honest. Who tell it like it is, knackered warts and all. And those are the ones I believe, because frankly it looks knackering.
You only have to do a quick Google search to find all the blogs devoted to telling you how it really is – and I believe them!
Which brings me back to why do people do it? And why don’t I want to? Of the children I know, I like the little dudes, I pass zero judgement on other people’s choices and I ask them not to pass judgement on me.

Which is why it’s a true question – is there some hardwiring I short-circuited? Or am I not as alone in the ‘not-for-me’ camp as I sometimes feel?

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Where’s my oyster?

So I realised today that it is already May 31st, which means it’s June tomorrow, which means we’re sort of half-way through the year.

And with summer apparently here now (someone tell the weather, please), I also realised I have yet to make any holiday plans for this year and I haven’t had any time off work since Christmas – no wonder I’m so tired!

So I’ve started to think about holiday destinations and ideas and am trying to challenge myself to be brave and try something new. I always put on quite a good show of being fearless and undaunted, but the truth always catches me out in the end and I’m exposed as a big old wimp.

Circumstances are somewhat different this year than usual, as my travelling buddy of the last couple of summers is in a new relationship and making plans with the new love. In fact, this year I find myself in a situation where anybody I would normally plan a holiday with is no longer single and planning a couples trip instead.
So I’m left with two choices – stay home and feel sorry for myself, or be brave and go it alone.

John Cobb / Unsplash

John Cobb / Unsplash

Despite being a massive wimp, I do want to go away this summer, so that means it’s time to man-up and start being a bit braver.
So, today I’ve been thinking a lot about all the people out there who are alone like me, but who just get on with it and go places and see things and do things, and I want to be more like them.
There are entire holiday companies created for the solo traveller, whether they want some help planning an itinerary before they jump on that plane or whether it’s a group holiday that brings together fellow solos – it’s not like I don’t have choices.

And yet despite being single for quite some time now, I have never really travelled alone. I once piggy-backed a friend’s work trip to Prague and spent a surprisingly happy couple of days exploring the city on my own. I was a bag of nerves at the prospect of heading out alone in a strange city, but I ended up having a wonderful time. And last summer I spent the day wandering the streets of Bologna alone when my travelling companion felt ropey and wanted to sleep it off. Again – nothing bad happened!
And that’s it – those are my solitary experiences of solo foreign travel. For someone who spends so much time alone, it’s weird when I see it written down like that.

So now, the prospect of spending an entire holiday alone feels hugely daunting and I get that weird, non-specific, undefinable fear that something bad might happen even though the sane part of my brain knows that literally thousands of people manage it perfectly fine, every year in every country of the world!
I read things by the likes of Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, who continues to be an inspirational woman, I watched the film Wild, about Cheryl Strayed and was blown away by her determination and bravery. And yet I Know I am not like them, I’m not brave – I wonder if perhaps they would even consider packing a bag and going off somewhere a ‘brave’ thing to do.

Today I’ve been looking at the websites for two very similar travel companies – Intrepid and Explore – which both offer group holidays, which I would guess are mostly targeted at solo travellers. Something like this feels like the most likely option for me this year, and yet somehow still feels daunting.
So I’ve been reminding myself of some of Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice today too, and I found this picture, which I’d seen before on her Facebook page and it seemed timely to me today. I absolutely don’t own this picture, Elizabeth Gilbert does, so I hope that reposting it here is ok, because it represents the kind of inspiration I need right now, along with some of the words she posted alongside it:
“So that’s my prayer for you all — not that you will become fearless, but that you will always be SLIGHTLY more curious about the world than you are frightened of it.”

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That is what I need to keep in mind – to acknowledge a fear, but not to let it control me.

So, if anyone has any top tips for a first-time solo traveller, I would LOVE to hear them – destinations, travel companies, planning tips – anything would be most welcome!

No spring chicken

Wedding season has arrived. Or, more accurately, hen do season is in full swing, shortly to be followed by wedding season.

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography

This weekend I went to the first hen do of the year.
A late night and more than £150 later, I’ve spent today feeling old, awkward and like a very bright light has been shone on my singledom.
Yep, wedding season is most definitely here.

I was the oldest at this particular hen do by quite some years. At 12 years older than the bride, even my own ‘baby’ sister (she’s an adult mother of two…!) clocks in older.
I knew from the off this one was going to be a challenge. The only two potential other hens I would have known are both married with young children and both sent their best wishes for a great time but declined the invite early on, citing childcare reasons.
I had eyed up the cat wondering if I could get away with the same, but really, us single girls have no choice but to rock up, smile broadly and attempt to rock it out with the youngsters.

A day and night on the town with a group of mid-twenties girls I’d never met before was going to take some energy. I’d had an early night in preparation, secretly stashed some flat shoes for when it all got too much and planned to break the diet and nosh some carbs to help with the alcohol.

Except in the end I probably could have drunk them all under the table and instead they caught me out in a way I was neither prepared nor equipped to deal with.
The non-stop conversation topic wasn’t strippers or alcohol shots or nightclubs or man-horror-stories – it was weddings. Their weddings. Their engagements. Their engagement rings.
In a room where I was a decade older than my nearest contemporary, I was not just the only singleton, I was the only one not married, engaged or pregnant. Two had been engaged since Valentines Day, one was a newly-wed, one was three months pregnant, one was married with a five-month old and one was married with a two-year-old.

One by one the how-we-met and how-he-proposed stories flowed. One by one, I counted down the moments until it would be my turn.
“That’s not an engagement ring, is it?” one of them cleverly deduced from the genuine 100% cut-glass sparkler I wear on the middle finger of my left hand.

And that’s where the inevitable began. Even when you say with a smile that you’re single, when you don’t apologise for it and don’t look ashamed, the responses are the same: “Don’t worry! You’ll find someone!” and “I thought I’d be single forever too!”
And then if you make the hideous error of saying it really is ok and you’re quite happy single – which I did, because the prosecco had taken my brain away – nobody believes you anyway.
My personal favourite from the night was when a newly-engaged 24-year-old who was annoyingly beautiful and had the self-assurance only a 24-year-old can, placed her hand over mine, smiled gently and told me about her cousin who despite being 35 had recently found a man and they were all feeling hopeful it might work out this time, even though he’s a divorcee, so I shouldn’t worry, it really is never too late.
Oh phew. Thank goodness for that reassuring little tale.

It’s nights like this that serve to remind me that no matter how much I have worked hard to not give in to stereotypes and feel ‘less than’, that it doesn’t matter I’ve never made it up the aisle – to so many people there is only one way to live a life and the sooner I become more like them the better for all of us.
Momentarily, I thought about mentioning divorce rates, or pointing out that being single doesn’t actually count as deviant behaviour, but I didn’t.
As usual, I smiled back, quipped that her lovely story shows there’s hope for us all and changed the subject.

And this morning I woke up with the cat asleep next to me. But I also woke up feeling more alone than usual, a little bit like a weirdo and a lot like if I stared in the mirror long enough, I’d work out what was wrong with me.
I might have felt like the old-bird of the hen do, but age doesn’t automatically make you tough old-bird and it’s going to take me a while before I feel like shaking a tail-feather again – hopefully before round two at the wedding.

Fifth wheel keep on turning

I’ve never particularly been a fan of Tina Turner, but ever since the weekend, a version of Proud Mary, with the lyrics wrong, has been stuck in my head.

105H (2)

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography

I’d had plans to meet up with two girlfriends for dinner and drinks on Saturday night and was looking forward to seeing them both. One has been married several years and the other is the friend who married this June and whose wedding I took a deep breath and went to alone.

On Saturday morning, one sent me a text to confirm which restaurant she’d booked, and by the way, she’d realised she’d forgotten to tell me the husbands were coming too.
My heart sank. My night with friends was going to be an evening of feeling the odd one out, making the seating layout awkward, arriving alone, leaving alone, and generally feeling like a massive gooseberry.
One husband, I’ve met once (at the June wedding) the other I’ve also met once, when he was the groom at the June wedding, and likewise that’s the only time they’d previously met too.

Despite a sinking disappointment, I responded with a cheery ‘looking forward to it!’ lie and then spent the rest of the day dreading it.
By early evening, I’d realised that I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to pretend I wouldn’t feel like a loser going to dinner with two couples and sent my friend an honest text – apologising for being a party pooper, but that I was going to stay in, was feeling a bit like a fifth wheel and didn’t want to make ‘couples night’ awkward.
She said she was disappointed but understood, we’ve exchanged a few messages since and all is well.

But since the weekend I’ve been left with a strange and unsettled feeling.

Was I being a bit pathetic by not going? Or had my friends both forgotten what it was like to be the one who had to rock up alone and then stare into their food when husbands/wives were focused on each other?
I mentioned it to some other friends on Sunday and their instant reaction was that it had all been pretty insensitive and I should have been told earlier, rather than finding out Saturday morning and leaving me the option of looking either a) like a sulky singleton or b) smiling through a fairly grim evening for the sake of saving face.

I don’t think either friend would ever be deliberately thoughtless or insensitive, it’s just not their way, but I wonder how quickly the social safety of coupledom makes you forget the lonely minefield of navigating everything alone?

I have other friends who are couples and who I’d call both of them friends, and it never feels awkward being around them. So perhaps this occasion was partly so dreadful because I know neither husband, they didn’t know each other and so the evening wouldn’t have the relaxed, easy atmosphere of established friends.

So many social occasions feel like fire-walking when you have to go it alone and you don’t have the carefree easiness of your twenties to fall back on, when most of those around you were single too.
There’s a time when you realise you’ve hit the tipping point and the nights when you have to put on your best brave face and walk into a room like you’re delighted to be alone in a sea of couples outweighs the nights when you and a couple of friends chat your way through a bottle of wine and nobody cares whether its a cat or husband waiting at home.

I try so hard to resist the social stereotypes that assume that a happy life only comes in a twinpack.
Most of the time, I do have a happy life and I am fortunate that I have lots of very lovely friends to spend very lovely times with.
So why was Saturday a step too far?
Why was being the fifth wheel something I just couldn’t manage this time around?
And are we supposed to be honest when we’re feeling a bit punctured and worn, or slap a smile on and keep on turning up anyway?

Back to school

Unsplash / Lizzy Gadd

Unsplash / Lizzy Gadd

I may be 30-ahem-something and schooldays may be a fading memory, but even now, the looming arrival of September always feels more like the start of a new year than January 1st does.

The start of a new school term was always such a major event of the year and brought noticeable and tangible change, from those early primary school days in your brand new uniform, to the spotty teenage years, all the way through to your first move away from home and arrival at university.
The limp, cold and hungover arrival of new years day still seems mediocre in comparison.

I decided to take a summer holiday from blogging, not because I’d been at it so long or so prolifically that I was in need of a break, but because I’d begun to wonder if it was doing me much good.
Writing posts, sharing your thoughts and receiving friendly feedback is often a tonic.
But, I had found that I was starting to think about many things in a way I hadn’t for a while.
Writing blog posts about my single status was making me feel both comforted and like I was finding kindred spirits out there, at the same time as drilling down into emotions that weren’t especially fun.
There were times when I felt worse having expressed or admitted to something than I did before I started. Perhaps the need to keep reviewing my world to generate content meant I was thinking deeper or focusing on things in a way that wasn’t always helpful.

So, I’ve had summer off, I’ve been to parties, I’ve drunk a bit too much, a friend and I enjoyed a jaunt around Italy for a couple of weeks, I’ve survived being the single-girl at a wedding and I’ve had a bit of a mental and emotional ‘regroup’.

And so now, with the arrival of a new school term, and what feels like the start of a new year, I can’t think of a better time to re-connect with the blogging habit and start exploring a new way of writing, or thinking or exploring my world.

I wanted to blog as a positive action, not to moan or feel sorry for myself and whilst I think I have so far largely avoided those pitfalls, I was perhaps in danger of falling into them.
A holiday has been good, but I’m feeling ready to break out into a new term and crack open the digital pencil case.

So, hello, again.

Stepping Over A Line

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It’s been a long time since I felt myself ‘drawn’ to a man, nearly two years now, but I know myself well enough to know that often, not always, I have a ‘type’.
And recently, one of those ‘types’ has arrived at another office I regularly visit for work.

Tall, confident, sure of himself to the point of being a little cocky, well spoken and interesting – enter the Alpha male.
Having been in a place where I’ve avoided even the very idea of being interested in anyone for so long now, it’s taken me a bit by surprise that I’m attracted to this guy.
I’m not sure I think he’s even all that good-looking – oh laws of attraction, you do vex me so!

Obviously the fact that he’s a work colleague means I would never ‘go there’ even if it were mutual (we all only make that mistake once, right?), but, still, I’m drawn to spend time in his company.
He’s several years older than me – at least ten, maybe more – and has been about a bit, travelling around the world before returning back to the UK.

Today, whilst driving and then walking to meet a colleague, we swapped war stories about some of our life’s disasters and found some similarities.
He waved his hand around nonchalantly whilst he told me about the house he’d sunk his money into in France, and the woman who’d walked out on him.
After, he strode forward whilst telling me about the woman who’d stalked him and needed police intervention.
Running his fingers through his hair, he described the motorcycle accident that had almost cost his life.

He slowed the pace and lowered his hand when I mentioned the man who’d threatened to kill me.
He stood stock still whilst I tried to articulate the man who’d messed with my head so badly, and left me so unsure of who I am, that I can’t always find words to explain it.
We shared a wry smile and a raised eyebrow when I described the man I called my boyfriend, whose girlfriend had phoned me at work to ask what was happening between me and her boyfriend.

I have no idea if there is chemistry between us, but in the last few weeks I’ve felt we’ve sought each other out at meetings or before and after.
I know that if there is chemistry, nothing will ever come of it. It can’t.
I know that all the bad men I described were just as Alpha as he is.
I know that just thinking about something that would never happen gave me goosebumps nonetheless.

I know that entering this slightly familiar territory, hearing these different-but-the-same experiences, it feels like walking into an old bombing range – there’s an air of excitement, but you also risk stepping on explosives too.

Thank you for the music

So it took me about ten seconds to Google some info about a subject that will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, ever:
It has been scientifically proven that music affects our emotions and mood.

No shit Sherlock!!

The nerd in me wants to research this link between emotion and music and try to understand it more, but seriously, am I really going to tell anyone in this blog anything they don’t already know? (Click for more, here, if you must)
There’s the science, which is undoubtedly interesting and important, and then there’s just the reality – the raw, tangible, undeniable, goosebumps, tears, smiles or memories we all get when a certain song comes on the radio or we dig out a CD just to hear it (yes, I still listen to CD’s).

Today, the song Wonderwall, by Oasis, came onto the radio and instantly I was taken back in time to the man I spent ten years with, from 17 to 27. He was a huge Oasis fan and whilst he wasn’t a classic romantic, he used to tell me that it was ‘our’ song in his mind. It was his version of giving me roses, and I loved him for it.

So here’s some songs that trigger memories/feelings/times and places in my mind.
I’d love to hear some feedback about what songs are important to other people.

The OCD in me is quietly agonising about whether I should post these three songs in some sort of order (chronological? importance? type of emotion?) but I’m fighting that, and am just going with whatever comes to mind first.

All I See Is You – Dusty Springfield
So yes, I know that Dusty had her heyday WAY before my time, but goodness me, I love her. Her voice, oh, that voice that conveys a thousand emotions in a word. She captivates me in a way I can’t explain.
I sing this song, in the car, every few days, It’s about him, the one who broke me. The one I loved more than anything on this earth. The one who walked away.
The lyrics say it all – they say everything.
“The days have come and gone since you were here,” and yes, “In every way, all I see is you.”

Do You Realise? – The Flaming Lips
Call me weird, but I imagine this song playing at my funeral, with pictures of all the amazingly wonderful people in my life. Like it is my chance to finally point out to them how beautiful they are, and they don’t get to argue back with a whole load of ‘yeah, but’ because we’re all programmed not to take compliments.
Does anyone really realise how wonderful they are? Are we all too busy putting ourselves down and feeling angsty to notice?
I look at my friends and think “wow”, so many amazing people, and how much time do we really take to recognise that? Is it so bad to notice how massively cool we are?

To Sheila – The Smashing Pumpkins
I have no idea who Sheila is, but gosh, to have someone write a song like this, for you.
I just think this is the most beautiful song ever written. I love The Smashing Pumpkins, and Billy Corgan’s voice is extraordinary. I’d say this is my favourite song, ever.
Can you just imagine, just one person in your life, thinking enough of you to write this song?
This song?