My first daughter came screaming into the world 3 years ago in a hot whirlwind blur of impending doom, panic, fear and a lot of luck. This lucid cocktail left me so shell shocked I have only recently started to look at photos taken of the two of us during and after her birth. In these photographs, I look the way I was – terrified. The fear of my child near stillbirth is worn like a mask over my face. I look like a baby old lady holding a baby.
When she was a few days old my husband and I ventured into the hospital nursery to bathe her for the first time and as my husband took charge (I could not bare holding her less than 2kg frame underwater) I catch the eye of another new mum across the room. She must have had a rough time I think – she’s black under the eyes and looks scared & emaciated. I give her a sympathetic grin that is thrown right back at me like a cold bucket of realisation to the face. The girl bathing her baby across the room was me, I was in fact looking in a mirror and did not recognise myself. I had lost 13 kilos in 72 hours. Tears start running down my cheeks.
This is how I meet the new me.
As I write this, I legitimately can’t remember how old I am – either 32 or 33 (a quick passport check later, I’m 33)
I don’t know if my psyche is being casual or evasive but it seems relevant given the subject of this essay. The thing is, I think I’m young and I am left agast that the universe is trying to tell me otherwise.
Naively I thought that ageing was something that I’d deal with in my 50’s, a ridiculous “panic age” I had allocated in my mind to start spending less time in the sun and working more vigorously on my character. But then I had a child and then quickly another and I started to notice that my Facebook feed firmly recommend I lose weight (don’t worry, those 13 kilos steadily climbed their way back onto my bones) and try new miracle firming solutions. Before and after photographs for all kinds of aesthetic illusions find their way into my field of vision by way of a supposed mathematical equation 30 + babies = old.
A trip to the local spa to get advice about a burst capillary leads the beautician to ask me if I would like to do anything about the crease in my brow “while I’m at it”. I explain to her that it’s not actually a wrinkle but a scar I got on the day my brother was born when my father & I were racing to the hospital, I tripped over my own feet – this is very “me” – and because I’m an enthusiastic frowner the scar never had a chance to fade. “Even so” she replies.
Fillers and lifts are a deal breaker, a deal made with myself because although I mend lace dresses, plait baby hair & can recite The Folk of the Faraway tree by heart I still fancy myself as punk and I won’t give that up for fucking anything.
Thing is, I think that the elusive fountain we’re all sold is not a look but a certain spirit. Patti Smith, Keith Richards, Iggy Pop all look so gregarious to me. Full of life and strife and fight. Did anyone else notice Lisa Bonet out shine the whole cast of Girls this season? Wrinkled skin pulled tight looks a little like defeat to me & I know my aesthetic principle is not everyone’s but dodging recommendations of cosmetic enhancement at 33 is ludicrous. My point is not to judge the individual but the collective conscious.
I love women & I adore the natural. Real ladies of all shapes and sizes running around in skimpy bikinis at the beach, women with wild grey hair creeping down their backs, teenagers recklessly inhabiting new curves, postpartum mothers in full bloom, a crooked grin, a bare face, a hearty appetite, a freckled nose. I love it all and I want to see it in bare glory – I think we all should. The matriarchy needs to start revelling in itself as a catalyst for that all too real trickle down effect.
I remember presenting myself to my husband for the first time, literally half our life ago and smirking about his wide eyed wonder. He undressed me like I was a supermodel and I giggled at his inexperienced awe. A few thousand nights, two kids, a little acceptance on my part later & he still does. If I’m honest I cannot recall one incidence of the men I know having anything negative to say about the aesthetic make up of the women in their lives, meanwhile the sisterhood has shared more that a few hearty rounds of self loathing.
If I really confess to my vanity for a moment, I can admit that when I was pregnant and looked beyond the absolute wonder I felt carrying a baby, my natural glass-half-empty disposition lead me to expect a postpartum reverse make over of sorts. But it turns out that I can’t blame child baring for any of my insecurities, it seems that I have bought those from my old life into my new. Thankfully these insecurities now manifest with less vigour – scattered brains and busy days provide a release from the burden of my physicality. A gift, in my opinion.
Of course I am not immune to the proverbial dark night of the soul in which I feel about 33 million years old. Days spent hobbling about on rickety bones after a night bent over the babies cot. I’ve once had someone ask me how I got the black eye, so dark were my sleep deprived circles. I didn’t even bother to correct them because I felt as though I had been punched in the face so the question seemed fitting.
Every.Single.Time I show someone a wedding photo they comment on how much younger I looked. And in a recent delinquent child to asshole parent type full cycle moment I actually contemplated not allowing my daughter to go to her best friends party as reprimand for her bad behaviour. I felt so old that day.
When the sun stops shining here in April I pull my jeans on with breath that is baited, cursing every Pizza & Negroni I indulged in over summer. I don’t want this to be me but it is, sometimes. Although clearly not enough of the time to actually say no to said Negroni & Pizza.
Mostly I want to pull every mother that waits on the beach while her family swims in the sea, or only has sex with the lights out, or doesn’t want to eat voraciously in front of her partner, or won’t wear shorts past a certain age into a group hug, or maybe a head lock and scream “get it, get it all!” But I’ve been there too. We all have. Sometimes it feels like a collective Achilles heel.
Much of the time, both sweet & sour, I feel younger than ever. Splashing through the cold waves with my squealing daughters, crying into the phone to my mother when I’m overwhelmed, smiling knowingly with my husband as our kids sleep in the back of our sensible car like “how did we pull this off”. I only had the desire to share my writing after I had kids and realised that life is both short & long so I may as well be connecting to the world in a way that is meaningful to me. I painted a little just last week – a pastime I had all but left behind in the wake of responsibility and restricted time. And it felt so good, so free. There is nothing that I could inject into my face that would give me that rush of youth.
Of course I have wrinkles I spend my days laughing at 3 year old jokes and my nights soothing aching molars. I’ll pose for
the photo because it’s bad today but in five years everyone will tell me how young I looked. I’ll stay up at night to write and paint and drink wine and love my husband and I will have eye bags in the morning. I’ll cringe at the fatigue of sleep deprivation until I ache to hold a baby all night again. I’ll contemplate cutting a fringe to cover my frown line every damn day. But I won’t cut it. I’ll think about Pilates with a Negroni in hand. One day I’ll eat Kale salad and the next wash down my kid’s crusts with gallons of black coffee.
I’ll meet myself in the mirror again soon.
And I’ll cry just as I did when I first became a mother because I don’t recognise my reflection. But time will reveal her to be as vital an incarnation as all the others. A puzzle put together of fractured, complete and mended parts to form my whole.
I plan on living for at least another sixty years and dancing inappropriately in a mumu with my man at our grandchildren’s weddings and damned if I spend those years sifting through suggested posts about my reclaimed youth.