I came back from holiday to find Change camped on my doorstep, slavering, licking its paws and thumping its tail, patiently awaiting my return from the happy, sunny land of denial. With a constant supply of vodka sipped whilst lounging beside a small swimming pool, you can forget everything but the necessity not to breathe in whilst your face is in the water. But now itÕs time to sober up. The black dog is ready to pounce and that bitch really bites. I keep telling myself, like a mantra: ŌChange is good, Change is good, Change is growth, Change isÉÕ but forget it Š Change is something you put in parking meters for GodÕs sake. ThereÕs just no getting away from it - IÕm back. IÕm broke. And IÕm borderline depressed.
Three days before I went away, the Financial Times suddenly announced they were closing the magazine I was writing for. My final wages, which in any case were more of a small peck on the cheek than a juicy kiss off, arrived with an almost identical tax demand from the Inland Revenue.
Then to put the cherry on the sundae of domestic despair, at an age when some of my friends are only now getting around to having their first child, my tenure as a full-time mother is also coming to an end - forcibly - with no redundancy sweetener. Next month my eldest daughter leaves for her gap year abroad and so IÕve got empty nest syndrome, empty day syndrome and a very bad case of empty bank balance syndrome.
If I ever fancied an alternative career as a dramatic actress this would be the time to audition. IÕm wandering around the house wringing my hands like Lady Macbeth and though she hasnÕt even left yet, by anticipating her absence I can finally cry on demand. Just the thought of her empty bedroom with the tattered lamb she slept with before she discovered boys, abandoned and forlorn at the end of the untouched bed, is enough to unleash a tropical rainforest of tears complete with tumbling waterfalls, scenic viewpoints, German backpackers and a whole range of souvenir picture postcards.
Once youÕve had children your life ticks to the beat of a different clock. You measure years in school terms, hours in childcare costs, sleep in minutes. Your clock chimes, not on the hour, but at the end of the nursery school day, at bath-times, at bedtimes, and your alarm goes off every time you remember that your parent teacher consultation started two hours ago and youÕve missed it. All the time youÕre racing against this parallel clock, but always running a bit slow.
as your kids get older, the clock goes faster. Time shifts.
You measure the years in exams, the months waiting for results, the
minutes in centuries when you wake at 2.30 in the morning to find your teenager
hasnÕt come home from a party. And
you canÕt switch the damn alarm off when she tells you sheÕs driving up the M1
in a car held together with duct tape with a friend who only passed his test
the week before.
But then the clock starts winding down and you measure it in the years between visits and the months between their phone calls. However I confess, I never thought IÕd be one of those women who was always looking at their watch. With the first of my offspring ready to spring off out into the big wide world beyond the circle line to live her life, I didnÕt think IÕd be checking my reflection in the mirror to make sure I still existed, wondering what the hell happened to mine.
Leaving work to spend more time with your children is the polite euphemism for being summarily sacked, but darn it, what do you do when there are no kids around to spend time with? Tell everyone youÕre planning on devoting yourself to spending more time watching the European synchronised swimming championships on Sky Sports? I didnÕt even know we had Sky Sports. Furthermore, despite my previously professional love of food and the three hundred cookery books reclining on my kitchen shelves, I donÕt want to spend my days playing at being Martha Stewart making chocolate chip cookies. IÕm already eating my own weight in compensatory carbohydrates. My waistline is the only part of me not to have been downsized. Nor do I need gardening leave. The geraniums are also big enough to look after themselves. And I certainly donÕt want to stay home and play houses. Rather smugly, I thought I had this whole life-after-children crisis sewn up, and that I would simply throw myself into my brand new journalistic career, but now IÕm having to face the horrible truth that I may, in fact, be as pointless as a pensioner with no prostate.
IÕve discussed this at length with my new best friend, the woman on AOL but, frankly, she isnÕt much of a conversationalist. Unless I have email she refuses to speak to me.
But it seems there is still one role left to fulfil. My husband and I are both having our very own matching his-nÕher mid-life crises. While IÕm doing the last act in Aida, heÕs doing Richard III. Since developing arthritis in his knee he limps around the house, twitching and wincing, dragging his leg behind him and giving long soliloquies in old Anglo-Saxon, while I wail and sing tragic, operatic ballads. And since he canÕt bend the affected limb, I have to drive him around to his various appointments in the back seat of the people carrier, where he reclines, regally talking on his mobile phone, holding conversations on which I am not supposed to eavesdrop.
Ah - two degrees, decades of further education, four books, a weekly column in a national broadsheet and look - it comes to this. IÕm a bloody chauffeur.
If Barbara Walters needs a holiday stand in - now would be a good time to call.
I admit that my addiction to TV predates my recent period of under-employement. As all home workers, and particularly writers, will know Š regular doses of Australian soaps are, together with ritual coffee making, spice alphabetisation, sock matching, and computer solitaire, all necessary work avoidance techniques, when, that is, you actually have any work to do. So, inevitably, big Brother received some degree of furtive day-time attention. It was harmless enough until my 10 year old picked up a post-eviction tabloid and asked: whatÕs a BJ? Oh dear god didnÕt we already cover this with ClintonÕs sex awareness programme a couple of years ago? But no, that was one of the older childrenÕs initiation into the world of smut. Is it like OJ? she asked.
Ah telly Š itÕs so educational.
Over at the local multiplex Austin Powers features Kevin from the Wonder Years, all grown up with a mole the size of Australia on his top lip. Take it off, youÕre silently screaming, the way you do when you see someone walking along the street, otherwise perfectly groomed, but with hair long enough to plait sprouting out of their ears, or a wart on the end of their nose that defies cosmetic camouflage. I remember seeing the manager of teen role models Mary Kate and Ashley interviewed on TV, being amazed by his tonsure featuring tentacles of hair springing a foot from his head. Not a great style icon, then.
Funny how some people obsess about their weight, exercise their way to a perfect body and happily Botox their faces rigid but donÕt seem to care that their English teeth could use a filling or realise that, Cindy Crawford apart, big moles are not beauty spots. Instead they worry about cellulite, saggy knees and droopy bottoms which no-one sees unless theyÕre naked. Obviously these individuals donÕt have mothers. Friends who want to remain such, will not point out your most obvious flaws because they donÕt want to upset you, but mothers donÕt give a bottle of Jolene cream bleach about your feelings if you have a visible moustache. I myself cannot claim to be immune. While my ŌwhatÕs the muck youÕre wearing on your faceÕ mum was off duty I had a large freckle on the side of my nose that for years people kept trying to wipe off. It was only when someone actually spat in their hanky that I had it removed, leaving me, temporarily with an even bigger scab. Which of course, no one mentioned.
Interesting that on the FTÕs website yesterday, this weekÕs the most commonly emailed news item was not a financial story of stocks and shares but a snippet from CNN.com regarding the woman suing Delta over the embarrassment she experienced when airline staff found a vibrator in her luggage. I just donÕt understand why she just didnÕt take out the batteries.
Of course the classic way to fill your empty nest is with another chick, conceived at an age when your older children are old enough to be embarrassed by it. I canÕt say the idea of pregnancy appeals to me. After having a sick kitten, I rediscovered how small helpless things can be worryingly hard work. But after a friend (45) adopted a Chinese baby, I did run the idea past our youngest.
ŌWell, if you get one, I suppose IÕll just have to deal with it, but what do you want a Chinese baby for? You canÕt even look after a cat.Õ The child has a point.