Today is my birthday. I now have exactly one more year to sort myself out before I reach my first half century. I am not bothered by the ageing process; the adventure of life continues apace and I am learning from all my experiences. I have no wish to be a different age or to relive a time that has gone before. Neither do I harbour any massive regrets for decisions made; I am okay with where I am today apart from a few issues around the edges that only I am capable of dealing with. So that is what I need to do.
For today though, I will do my best to enjoy what I have got. Life has as many special occasions as we choose to celebrate and I will mark this day in a low key but celebratory manner with my family. I was surprised to see that the Google Doodle has been changed in my honour (everyone is seeing those cakes, right?). I rather like that.
I have plans for the next year. One of the issues I have struggled with through spring and summer is how to cope with truculent teenagers. My children are growing up, asserting their independence, and I am not dealing with this as well as I would wish. I need to shift my mindset and allow them to make the mistakes that they will learn from. I need to find my own way again after years of living for them.
I also need to get more comfortable with how I see myself. Three years ago, when I was feeling settled in a sort of comfortable, middle aged, cuddly mama look, I took the decision to home school my youngest son (Why I became an amateur teacher). Over the course of that fabulous year, as I watched my insecure little boy blossom and grow in confidence and ability, I had little time for myself. I was preparing lessons, pouring my heart and soul into his development, and with the remainder of my waking hours making sure that my husband and other two children got enough attention not to feel sidelined. There was no time for me; none at all. I ate, slept and functioned. I put on a huge amount of weight.
When my son returned to mainstream education I decided to deal with my lack of self care. I joined a luxurious gym and made sure that I went out for long walks and cycle rides. I gave myself lots of time for me. By watching what I ate I managed to lose the weight I had gained and a lot more besides. Within nine months I was slimmer and fitter than I had been in twenty-five years. I felt amazing.
I have long passed the window of opportunity to look fabulous, but what I loved about this transformation was the fact that I could put on the clothes that I liked and feel that they suited me. No longer was I trying to hide the bumps and rolls; I could wear close fitting clothes without feeling suffocated or worrying that I resembled the michelin man.
Much as I felt good about the way that I looked, the way that that I felt was cathartic. The improved fitness gave me energy that I hadn’t possessed in more years than I could remember. I was fitting in all of my activities, keeping the house running as it should and not suffering that feeling of everyday exhaustion that had become a fact of life.
I do not know how much of this was down to improved health and how much to the psychological benefits of feeling good about myself. Although my friends and acquaintances were making many complimentary remarks when they saw me, my family did not see the change as either necessary or beneficial. My daughter was not happy with my strict eating habits which worried me; I know that parents must be careful not to instil negative body image issues in their children. My elder son, who had taken to insulting me with the phrase ‘Du bist eine gross und dicke mutter’, was persuaded that this was no longer appropriate which was an achievement, but complements from teenage boys to aged relatives are an expectation too far.
Not that I felt any need for complements; in many ways those I received made me feel uncomfortably exposed. I was happier that my family had accepted me whatever my size and did not see me being larger or smaller as noteworthy. This has been particularly important in dealing with what came next. Having worked so hard to achieve the changes in my body shape I then, very gradually, allowed the weight to return. Not all of it and not so quickly as to be immediately obvious, but an insidious increase of a pound here and a pound there until I am now, once again, trying and failing to hide the rolls of fat under loose clothes.
Well, this won’t do at all. I know that I can do better and fully intend to sort myself out. Just as I gained time for myself when my youngest son went back to school, so I intend to use more of my time for myself when the summer holiday finishes for my teenagers in a couple of weeks time. They have shown me quite plainly that they prefer, nay demand, more space and freedom. I need to start looking at this as, not a rejection, but an opportunity for me to take the same freedom for myself.
Last time I did this it took nine months; this time I give myself a year. By my next birthday I aim to have lost the excess weight that is both physically and mentally dragging me down and to have found whatever it is that I am to become beyond being a mother to my children. I have allowed myself to live my life through others. This is a deflation of my potential and places unnecessary and unreasonable demands on them. I can be more than that.
I have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to. For today though, I will do what I can to make this a happy birthday for me.