It came to me this morning what is bothering me about the life I am leading: being a grown up is not what I expected it to be. I thought that, when I grew up, I would be able to do what I wanted.
As a teenager I used to get so frustrated that my parents had power over me. I had accepted the much repeated mantra that I needed to gain qualifications if I was to enjoy a reasonable standard of living for the rest of my life. This meant that I was financially dependent on my parents until I was well into my twenties. I had to follow their rules.
I kept going, and it was a struggle sometimes, because I dreamt of the day when I would move away. I would buy my own house, which I bought and furnished in my imagination many times, and I would be free. I would be able to start living my life. Up until then it felt as though I was killing time.
There is no doubt that I felt an incredible sense of elation when I moved away and then bought my own place. I worked and partied and travelled as I had planned. I was also incredibly lonely at times.
Then I got married. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted this and was much happier being married than I was living on my own. I adored, and still adore, my husband. What I hadn’t envisaged when I was younger, living in my parent’s house, was that I would not be free to live as I wanted when I was with someone else. It wasn’t just my parents who would expect me to fit in with their rules.
These past few weeks I have been feeling better about the way my life is going than I have for quite some time. I feel that I have managed to retake a little autonomy. Except the results of that selfishness are now coming to my attention and I am having to suppress a growing sense of irritation. If I don’t wash the dishes then they remain unwashed; if I don’t clean the house then the dust and cobwebs soon build. Nobody else in the house will think to do anything about the mess, and I can see that this is my fault because I have never attempted to delegate these tasks.
My husband goes out to work and thereby supports us all financially; it is only fair that I should look after these housey jobs. My kids have their school work and social lives; getting them to do much else is too often a harder battle than doing the jobs myself. They point out that I am home all day and they are not. But still, but still…
I find myself longing for an escape. for the ability to do more of the things that I want. And then I look out from my privileged, little bubble and I feel huge waves of guilt for thinking these thoughts. I have it so easy with my loving family around me and my financially secure life. I feel so selfish that I am not permanently happy and grateful.
My kids are growing up. All too soon they will be moving out and I will long for their messy bedrooms and impenetrable demands. I will be able to buy myself a new item of clothing without my daughter asking if I needed it (in her eyes, it is she who always needs new things). I will be able to cook dinner for a time that suits me rather than trying to accommodate the needs of others, who cannot decide if they wish to go somewhere until the last minute, but will blame me for their inability to attend if I have not yet fed them. Yes, I will have more freedom, but I know I will miss their never ending demands.
I used to think that, when I grew up, I would be able to go out when I wanted, stay in when I wanted and eat what I wanted. These days going out is a major, logistical exercise that requires multiple permissions and forward planning. I always seem to put someone else out with such requests for cooperation. When I eat what I want I put on stupid amounts of weight; if I then try to cut down my daughter berates me. My parents controlled me with the knowledge that I was financially dependent on them; my husband and kids control me with guilt.
This is not what I thought being a grown up would entail. Cooking and cleaning; dishes and laundry; living my life quietly and without fuss whilst supporting those I love. I read back on that and I think about how good my life sounds; how good my life is. But still, but still…
Perhaps a part of it is that I have not changed inside. I look my age (at least) and have the aches and tiredness that go with that increase in years. I have an older generation’s expectations weighing me down and a younger generation’s demands filling my day. If I grab some time to do what I want (which I have been doing more often lately) then the price I pay is a backlog of tasks that must eventually be completed. And a voice inside is telling me that this is all my fault because I have allowed it to happen.
Does being a grown up mean living unnoticed, without emotional support? Whilst the things that I fail to do cause inconvenience to others, the things that I achieve are expected so not noteworthy. What makes me feel good: a fabulous view discovered on a long walk, an insightful book, a piece of writing where the words mange to convey the feelings I am trying to express; I try to share my inner satisfaction and encounter blank looks from those around me. My attempts to join in with their wordplay are increasingly met with irritation. I am required to be seen but not heard.
Perhaps we never really grow up, we merely grow old. Perhaps I am longing to have my achievements recognised and lauded as I did when a child. Perhaps all that has changed is that I have learned to act as expected, for most of the time anyway.
It is the weekend. I have a house to tidy, an oven to clean, laundry to sort and meals to cook. I have taken on the responsibility of a family and raised my children to act as they do. If I ever feel unhappy with my lot then it is up to me to orchestrate change. Perhaps accepting that is a part of what growing up means. Whilst the child in me throws herself on the floor in a hissy fit, I will get on with the jobs to hand with as good a grace as I can muster. But still, but still…