Sunday, December 26, 2010

December (bah humbug...)

This year, for the first time ever, and after a particularly pleasant Christmas (as in everything jelled - food, gifts, company [apart from a minor incident where hot wax was flung over not one but two of my best tablecloths]), I found myself at the shops on Boxing Day. Now this is something I've always studiously avoided, in fact in bygone days I would have rather had hot wax flung over myself, and then peeled off with the aid of a rusty stanley knife which is then jabbed into my right eye, than go anywhere near a cash register on this particular day. But this year it so happened that my youngest was rostered for a three-hour stint at McDonalds at Knox City and, somewhat buoyed by the success of the previous day (and now in need of new tablecloths), I decided to have a look at just what all the fuss is about.

Oh. My. God.

From the snarly traffic jam in the carpark to the chattering, babbling sea of humanity ebbing and flowing from shop doorway to food court, this was one of the most horrible experiences I have ever experienced. At one stage, pressed against a shop window, I tried to wrap my mind around how we would explain this tradition to a third-world country, or even friendly, tourist-inclined aliens. "Why, yes, I know we've just indulged in an orgy of consumerism in the lead-up to Christmas, and yes I know Christmas was just yesterday, and I know I've barely found places for everything I received. But, see, I really needed this hand-bag, these jeans, this half-price wrapping paper, this piece of mock snakeskin luggage with the shiny gold zips."

And the most horrible thing is that you get caught up in the hype. The bright lights, the sales banners, the bargain-price today only don't miss out subliminal messages of fulfillment and success. The cheerful, purposeful throngs of people, each with lovely smooth plastic bags hanging from their hands. Containing happiness, contentment, pride. I wanted some of that - especially if it was half the marked price. And even as I fought my way towards the exit I was thinking I must buy something while I'm here. As if it was some sort of crime to leave sans purchase. Failure.
It's not that I don't like sales; it's just that the timing of this one seems a little... well, off. The day after Christmas? Why couldn't it be a week after Christmas, like a New Year sale instead? Then we'd have a few days to enjoy our gifts before starting all over again. And I wouldn't get catalogues in my letter-box on Christmas Eve, advertising - at a cheaper price - DVDs that I'm about to hand out the following day. And then retail staff wouldn't have to spend their own Christmases preparing for the busiest day of the year. And, anyway, isn't Boxing Day supposed to be more a family day - for picnics and barbecues and backyard cricket - than a day to hurl yourself - and your family (seriously, do kids enjoy that?) - into a sea of surging humanity in search of a bargain? Especially when that's what we've been doing for the better part of the entire month already!

And, lastly, why don't we see some of that - as in the picnics and barbecues and backyard cricket - on the evening news instead of segment after segment that basically celebrates greed, while providing a free advertisement for the ongoing sales. For god's sake show me some kids running about in the sunshine, parents drinking chardonnay under the trees, the smoke from a barbecue juxtaposed across the wedgewood-blue of our summer sky - instead of the anticipatory gleam of a shopper's eye as he/she/it prepares for the competitive event of the year.

Or am I just becoming a Grumpy Old Woman who doesn't know what fun is?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

December (survey done & dusted!)

A HUGE thanks to everybody who contributed to the survey over the past few months - what started off as a minor adjunct to the main project became a fascinating (if slightly voyeuristic!) glimpse into the your lives. So fascinating, in fact, that I ran it considerably longer than intended (plus I couldn't work out how to close it but that's another matter). And what particularly thrills me is that I now possess [insert suitably evil laugh, something like: mwa-ha-ha-ha] an encapsulation of 188 voices, 188 views, and 188 experiences with midlife - all of which will enrich The Invisible Woman immeasurably. So I've spent the past week transforming much of this into graphs and pie charts, each illustrated by personal narrative, and today I shall trot down to Officeworks and have it spiral bound. Is it sad that I find this all rather exciting?

But being a generous type, I'll also share a smattering of your own words of wisdom. An entree, if you will. So here [insert drum-roll] is the best and worst of middle-age according to you:

  • Men stop checking you out at the supermarket
  • Invisibility/ageism
  • The body doesn't bounce back from injuries - it just bounces
  • Battle of the bulge
  • Hot flushes/menopause/random granny hairs
  • Gravity wins and it all goes south
  • Not being recognised as a valued shopper
  • Wrinkles (but never mind Edna Everage says that crow's feet are the dried up beds of old smiles)
  • Grown-up children still being home
  • Grown-up children now leaving home
  • Can't drink enough
  • Actually being middle-aged (and the cost of trying not to look or feel middle-aged!)
  • Men stop checking you out at the supermarket
  • I'm finding out who I am, not my status - mother, wife, sister, daughter, but me
  • Gaining wisdom. Not living through libido and the need for approval. Clarity about values and priorities
  • Finding out that hairy nipples are more common than I thought
  • Empty nest - time for me!
  • What, besides our bums? Sorry, misread - though it was the biggest thing [about middle-age]
  • You can relax with a book on a Saturday night
  • No more periods!
  • Less inhibitions, more disposable income
  • Knowing now to sweat the small stuff, and what the small stuff is
  • Experience/serenity/insight/choices
  • Not caring as much what others think
  • Am I really middle-aged?

Monday, November 29, 2010

November (but only just)

Spare time. Spare time. Sp-are time. Don't you think even the words sound elusive? I started thinking about spare time today, while trying to dig myself out from underneath some paperwork, and it occured to me that although I distinctly remember having some, way back when, I can no longer recall quite what it felt like. Soft and comforting? Light and airy? Or was it perhaps loose and flexible, like elastic? And what was it like, to make a cup of coffee in the morning and know that the day was filled with little pockets of pillowy time, there to be plucked at will? How different to now, where there is so much going on, piles and piles of little bits and pieces, all the time, that I just feel.... well, it rhymes with plucked anyway.

The (ridiculously) rapid-fire approach of Christmas was what got me thinking along this track, about how some spare time would make the festive season well, a little more festive. I used to have quite a bit. In fact I distinctly remember a time, about fourteen, fifteen years ago, where I actually had a practice run with the kid's stockings - just to make sure everything would fit nicely. Nowadays I just stock up on $2 socks to fill any last-minute gaps. But back then I also spent lazy hours making paper chains with them, alternating green and red, or wrapping chocolate in tissue paper and alfoil to hang on the tree, or making individual salad baskets - wrapped in cellophane with gold ribbon - for each of the rabbits. Seriously.

Then there's the entire week I spent one year painting a Jungle Book mural through the toilet, with Mowgli astride a fern-laden tree branch, and Kaa the snake wrapped around the cistern, and the elephant major marching along one wall, and a trio of monkeys gambolling on the back of the blackened door. Or the following week when, now inspired, I painted Possum Magic figures throughout our back room (aka 'the hole'), or the time I organised all the Lego into compartment-trays, or hand-made a skirt for the budgie cage that would match the dining-room curtains, or filled the matched set of five mahogany-brown photo albums, with each photo trimmed and labelled and accompanied by the occasional witty quip to lighten the nostalgia. Whereas for the last twelve years or so I've just shovelled photos into a crate on the top of my wardrobe, to be sorted 'later', and there are so many now that they spill over every time I open the door too enthusiastically and I am showered with slippery images of time past.
So all I want for Christmas is some spare time. Not too much mind, because I don't want to be greedy, but just a little.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Leaving home

And it's done. After a mammoth month, my mother is happily ensconsed in her retirement villa and the family home now sits empty on a hill in Montrose. Well, it has always sat on a hill in Montrose but the empty bit is something very new. And so was the feeling, a sort of fidgety panic, thick with nostalgia, which framed that last day. At times lightening the mood, as we made jokes about the peeling wallpaper and cracking cornices, and then weighing down recollections with a mucousy depth that tripped over words and created gaps in sentences that hung, unfinished, until they simply faded away.
Once 53 years worth of possessions were gone, donated or packed or moved or tumbled into a skip the week before, we walked through the house for one last time. Pausing in each room to embed ourselves within the past. Here were the bunks, once, where we older girls would wait impatiently - furious with the injustice - for the younger ones to fall asleep. Here is the last place I ever saw my father, alive, reaching out to touch his shoulder. Are you sure? And here is the passage, still echoing with our footsteps as we dashed from the sealed warmth of the lounge, hot water bottles clutched tight against our chests. Here is the lounge itself, complete with actual hearth, over which the stockings would hang at Christmas, and there's the door-jamb with the staggered height of seven grandchildren. Then the kitchen, the beating heart of the house, framing a million meals and conversations. The window-sill where the lizard eggs hatched, sending the tiny, slippery occupants diving into the soapy dishwater below. The table where my mother would sit, long after everyone had gone to bed, studying. And finally the washhouse with the back door, which everyone used as the front. The threshold glossy-smooth with our feet. Where my father would bring his leftover toast at dawn to feed the resident rabbit, which would hop down the backyard, past the swimming-pool, and the lemon tree, and the towering gum-trees. Which the new owners, developers calculating costs and profit, have already ripped out, leaving an apocalypse of jagged stumps and a sour note that makes our parting even harder.
There is a sense of real grief to this farewell, as if the house is a family member and we are life support. And it stuns me, over and over without any less impact, to think that I'll never park in this driveway again, or walk up the path, or push open the back door to be greeted by my mother. Do you want a cup of coffee? Something to eat? Support? Security? Your childhood? I've left home many, many times before. But I never really knew what it meant.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Last chance for the survey!

Last chance to add your experiences of midlife to the survey! I'll be taking it down at some stage this coming week (the timing of which is rather dependant on me being able to work out how - which means there's a chance it'll still be there in 20 years and I'll just have to change it to a survey about seniors). The results thus far have been terrific - and informative. For instance:
  • 52% of respondents think the term 'cougar' is simply a marketing ploy while 41% find the term derogatory and 20% find it sexist. Only 27% find the expression fun, while a rather interesting (?) 9% see it as being empowering and/or inspirational.

  • Weight is the single most annoying thing about middle-age. Followed by gravity.

  • We're about half/half regarding willingness to undergo plastic surgery, with the most popular procedures (if money were no object) being boob-lifts, face-lifts, and tummy tucks.

  • A staggering 60% see the proverbial empty nest as being a new chapter, with only 12% seeing it through a lens of sadness/nostalgia and a mere 5% linking it primarily with loneliness.

  • Respondents overwhelmingly demonstrated a preference towards those in the public eye for their achievements (such as Hilary Clinton, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Degeneres, Aung Sun Suu Kyi), rather than those framed by a primary focus on appearance (such as Courtney Cox, Demi Moore etc). Unless, that is, your name is Sarah Palin. With just 0.7% of respondents indicating an admiration for this particular lady, I think we can breathe just a little easier.

  • In terms of contentment, middle-aged women rate their families the highest and their sex lives the lowest. Paradoxically many are very content with their partners (48%) - so it seems it's just the sex that sucks. Or doesn't.

There's lots more stuff to come and I anticipate several weeks of enjoyment putting it all together (what can I say? I like research; but then all those percentages and pie-charts, what's not to like?). So if you haven't yet, please add your two-bobs worth to the mix by visiting the survey here. The more the merrier!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hair (and there) number three

I didn't mean to have a third entry in this hair (and there) series - apart from anything else the hair (and there) bit no longer seems quite as cutting-edge hilarious as it did two weeks ago. However circumstances conspired against it being put to rest just yet, at least not before I add the colourful events of last Thursday. And first let me give some background by mentioning the fact I have never, in my entire life, had less spare time than I do at the moment. Some reasons for this:
  • in the process of moving mother - after 53 yrs in the same house - to a retirement villa (d-day is next Thursday).
  • started teaching new (Holmesglen) TAFE c/writing course rather unexpectedly (requiring complete set of lesson plans).
  • just discovered I made a slight error with my current (Chisholm) teaching workload and there are two extra weeks worth of lessons I hadn't accounted for.
  • daughter in flux (note the clever play on words here?)
  • son's birthday has just come and gone, including a three week visit by him.
  • new ms due in two months (necessitating approx. 150,000 wds of which I have written approx. 10. Which, coincidentally, is exactly how many are in the title).
  • plus do you realise Christmas is just around the corner? How did that happen?

With this background, and in an effort to balance out the increasingly stressed expression on my face (I think I'm beginning to look like the father in Mary Poppins - the one who resembles a Shar Pei), I managed to extract a modicum of spare time within which to visit the hairdresser (a new one, as my old one has recently shifted her focus to the propagation of the species). I was fondly imagining a stress-free couple of hours, complete with head massage, after which I would emerge looking as good as I get. Humph. I suppose I should have been warned by my new hairdresser's conversational skills. For example:

  • HD: So... got a busy day today?
  • Me (rattling my magazine meaningfully): Yes.
  • HD: Oh, um. Cool. [brief silence]. Whatcha up to then?
  • ME: Just catching up on some work.
  • HD: Oh, yeah right. That housework never ends, eh?

Idiot. But worse was to come. When it soon (two hours later anyway) became apparent that my simple request for something 'honey-brown with a scattering of subtle blonde foils' had been interpreted as 'melange of orange with plentiful streaks of urine-yellow'. Yes, I can see how the two could be mixed up. For starters they both have nine words.

However I suspect strongly that even the hairdresser knew that the resultant concoction was not a good look as she ushered me straight back over to the basin to add 'just a little toner' (plus her voice went up several octaves). I don't think there was enough toner in the entire building (or suburb, or state) to fix this up. The true nature of the result did not dawn on me until she started drying it off, and then I gradually went into a sort of catatonic shock. Which is probably why I paid $150 without demur, and just nodded graciously when she urged me to return if I wasn't happy with looking like a candy shop just vomited on my head. I exited into the sunlight, which gave my hair an almost iridescent glow. My own aura. And I drove straight down to the supermarket where I picked up a packet of $14.00 (on special) hairdye. And Murphy's Law of course dictated that I run into several people I hadn't seen for a while. Including, incidentally, one actually called Murphy. True.

And I think I now have post-traumatic stress disorder. Which is not helped by the fact the hairdye was only partially successful and the orange refuses to truly die (get it?), resulting in an odd gingery-pink glow under lights. Plus, to add insult to injury, I suspect I have less hair on top than I ever had before. I'm sure my scalp was never quite this visible, or shiny. The only silver lining to all this is that I don't have enough spare time to look in a mirror anyway. Hopefully by Christmas it'll either have faded, or fallen out. And I can always ask Santa for a wig. I'm thinking honey-brown, with a few blonde foils.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hair (and there)

My father had a poem, or a ditty, or a saying for most occasions. There was 'I scream, you scream, we all scream for icecream' (to be recited as if brand-new each time we had the aforementioned icecream, which got a tad repetitive in summer), and 'a wigwam for a goose's bridle' (?!), and 'I eat my peas with honey, I've done it all my life, it makes the peas taste funny, but it keeps them on the knife (which just infuriated me as we weren't allowed to do the same), and then something about 'bread and duck under the table' (also full of false promise as we were always forced to sit at the table. On chairs). But there was one that I felt was just for me, and it went like this:

There was a little girl,
who had a little curl,
right in the middle of her forehead,
when she was good,
she was very very good,
but when she was bad she was horrid

This poem (actually penned by Longfellow) seemed to sum up everything about me. Curly hair along with a slither of good and a generous, just-beneath-the-surface slice of horridness. Uncanny. But, actually, of all the things that I possessed as a child - smooth skin, beautifully-shaped eyebrows (until I butchered them in my teens), 20/20 vision - one thing I've never regretted losing over time was my head of fluffy, fly-away blonde curls. Especially not later in my young-adulthood when I discovered spiral perms. So attractive. And those nifty foldable afro combs? So effective.
But something odd has happened in the last few months. quite unexpected in fact. I have regressed. However rather than any of the bits that I'd like to regain (see above and add incidentals like effortless fitness and an all-you-can-eat mentality that's matched by zero weight gain), I have managed - bizarrely - to develop a singular curl, smack dab in the centre of my forehead. A kiss-curl, my father used to call them, last seen on yours truly when I was about five or six years of age. Pretty damn cute then, pretty damn ridiculous now. Because there are some things that just don't lend themselves to midlife, like frilly socks and polka-dot skirts and pig-tails. And kiss-bloody-curls. I just look like I devoured Shirley Temple and she's trying to call for help.
I first noticed the damn thing about nine months ago, shortly after turning fifty (and as gifts go, this one's a fizzer), but initially just spent a little extra time nuke-ing it with the hairdryer. The problem is that it's growing in strength and is now it's able to resist even the hottest setting (unlike me, who regularly has third-degree burns on the forehead). A straightener and hair-gel does the trick, but then I look like I'm channeling Cameron Diaz, from There's Something About Mary, except that my bit of hair is sticking straight out, rather than straight up. More directional, like I'm pointing out the way. Or needing some shade.
So my question is - why? I mean, I expected the weight gain and the flat(ter) feet and the generous chin(s) and the blah-coloured hair, but a kiss-curl? Really? Is that some sort of joke? Here I am, a well-balanced (well, at least I don't topple over - often) fifty-year old with short, neat, wavy hair - which I now must cunningly part to disguise the singular spiral in the centre. Otherwise it really is so bad it's bloody horrid.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Well and truly sandwiched

I am feeling well and truly sandwiched this week, hemmed in by children on one side and my mother on the other, with me as some sort of middle-aged spread in-between. Probably a vegemite-flavoured, peanut-buttery jam, with lots of lumps and bumps and other annoying wobbly bits. All rapidly approaching their use-by date. Ho hum.

What's making it a little more sandwichy than usual is that my mother has just sold her house, aka our family home, and bought a villa (not a unit, a villa) in a retirement village nearby. Which means that fifty-three years worth of life-in-the-one-place must now be sorted through. With each possession leeching nostalgia, and memories, and anecdotes. Then there's the house itself, where our family wrote life not just within the walls, but on them as well. From some scribbled writing across the bricks, which reads I. EVANS 1976 (see left), to the doorframe that charts the height of each of the grandchildren, this house - this home - quite literally framed our lives.

As for offspring, well one is planning a move from Canberra to Wollongong, while still trying to organise the collection of his car from Hobart, while another needs to have all her worldly goods collected from student accommodation by the end of today and stored until she sorts out new living arrangements. Oh, and she doesn't have a car. The third, currently enojoying a much-needed (her words, not mine) sleep-in (she started work last week - 2 x 3 hour shifts at McDonalds - must be exhausting), is about to head off to camp tomorrow so needs to be packed and organised at some stage. And did I mention that I'm taking my mother to the airport today as she's heading off to Europe for a month? Returning just two weeks before settlement? Who doesn't organise an overseas jaunt at the same time as putting their house on the market?

So yep, I'm well and truly sandwiched. And being spread fairly thinly at that (unfortunately the use of the word 'thin' is purely rhetorical). Mind you, I did find time to draw the little cartoon to the right (and also the one up above), which perfectly sums up how I feel. But now I'd better get moving, otherwise I'll be toast...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Menopause the Musical!

Menopause the musical! What a wonderfully rollicking, raucous piece of entertainment! A smoothly crafted celebration and commiseration all rolled into one and then framed by songs that take you back to a time when you knew, absolutely, that menopause was something that only happened to other people. Like your mother.
I went along to the musical on Saturday, along with a couple of friends, and it was great fun from beginning to end. Deep and meaningful? No, not particularly. But fun? Hell, yes. We started by getting into the spirit (literally) with a Hot Flash cocktail, which came in a gorgeously vulgar plastic cocktail glass that had a multi-coloured flashing stem. This was quickly followed by the obligatory lining-up-for-the-loo, a traditional custom for females everywhere. And when a significant amount of said females are of a certain age... well, enough said. I'd paid a visit when I first arrived and been vastly amused by the tumbling, pyramid-pile of free sample incontinence pads on the vanity. My initial 'what the hell' was reiterated three-quarters of an hour later when all that remained was a flat scattering of samples. Giving rise to conversations such as the one in front of me:

Lady in her sixties: Hey look, Joyce. D'you want one?

Joyce: Sure! Shall we grab one for Jan too?

Lady: Good idea! (she grabs a handful and then puts on her glasses to read the instructions, nodding sagely every so often). D'you know, I think we should get some for Ally too. Don't you?

Joyce (with an immediate enthusiasm that speaks volumes about Ally's urinary control): Oh, yes. Absolutely.

Personally it would never occur to me to collect free incontinence pads for friends, and I'm not sure what this says about me. Inconsiderate friend? Selfish? Good pelvic floor muscles? Regardless, I pushed incontinence pads to the back of my mind (there's an image), and sallied forth to enjoy myself. And enjoy myself I did. I only wish I could remember all the songs, each of which sent the audience into fits of laughter. One of my favourites was the scene with Only You, where the singer held the microphone like a... well, let's just say that Good Vibrations set the tone.

I didn't identify with all the issues raised but then I didn't expect to. After all menopause, like all things female, varies dramatically from person to person. Plus I would have liked it to end with a really huge, over-the-top empowering song like I am Woman, which really sucks in the camaraderie of the crowd and then sends it back within an embrace (plus I know all the words). Or perhaps something which reflects the fact that so many women say mid-life is a wonderful time, a time of release, of freedom. But then again the musical is about menopause itself, not mid-life, and I'm probably being petty. Because everywhere I looked women were having a wonderful time, laughing uproariously at even the most silly jokes and then, at the end, getting up on stage to dance joyously along with the closing number. Who cares if it's frivolous and simplistic and oh-my-god, men would never consider laughing about their urinary issues. More fool them. Because you would have been hard-pressed to find a woman without a smile on her face as she left the theatre. And that alone makes it a success.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Things I have learnt...

I'm sure I'm not alone in that I hate the supercilious edge offspring get vocally when they show you something on the computer. In fact there's often more edge than... well, non-edge. Each word dripping with so much condescension you could bathe in the damn stuff. All thick and glutinous and highfalutingly how-can-you-not-know-and/or-grasp-this annoying. Which is one of the reasons why I've so enjoyed all the research I've done over the past week, about how the middle-aged brain is actually a thing of awe. Slightly forgetful perhaps, but nevertheless an ever-bubbling concoction of experience and knowledge and skill and competence, all overlaid with the almost-effortless ability to multi-task. In short, our bodies might be slightly slower, and thicker, and saggier - but our damn minds are amazing.

So to honour this, and also as a type of affirmation moving forward (see? topical and political and a little bit witty - that's verbal multi-tasking at work), I thought I'd share a sample of things that I've learnt during the past half-century. So here goes:
  • When those fuddy-duddy types said there was always a price to pay - they were right.
  • Pushy people get further - which makes me a little bitter.
  • Computer keyboards are not as fond of wine as I.
  • Never eat a large bag of liquorice the evening before an important speech (or forum, or workshop - or any event which requires leaving the house the next day).
  • Children don't need to be spanked. Seriously.
  • What goes around doesn't always come around. Worse luck.
  • In 100 years time people are going to look back in disbelief (and/or fury) that we couldn't organise a concerted effort against climate change.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after using a muscle relaxant such as Deep Heat - especially where subsequent use of said hands involves sanitary products.
  • 'Traditional' values are often (not always but often) anti-women.
  • Nothing lasts forever.
  • Middle-aged women are not supposed to have the same size waist as they had as a girl. It's unfortunate, but it's life.
  • Gravity's a bitch.
  • Not everybody is reasonable. Unfortunately.
  • Always put the toilet lid down before throwing fresh toilet rolls into the basket beside it.
  • Beware the overly jealous guy - it's not romantic.
  • Gay marriage is a no-brainer, just like equality for all.
  • And euthanasia. Bloody hell.
  • Anybody who tries to point-score politically off the misery of humanity (i.e. we'll stop the boats) doesn't deserve to have it pay electoral dividends. We're better than that.
  • Life really does change irrevocably once you have children. No matter what you said.
  • Always look on the bright side - assuming that there is one. And if there's not, move away from the shadows. As soon as possible.

Of course there's masses where those come from - after all I've had fifty years to collect them - but I'll show my compassionate side by not boring you with more. And naturally you may not agree with some of them, just like I may not agree with yours. But if there's one thing I've learnt above all else, it's that we'd all be a lot better off if we could, sometimes, just agree to disagree. And keep an open mind so that we never stop learning new things. Even if it involves the computer.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Flat as a tack...

A strange thing has happened since I turned fifty... actually several strange things have happened but this particular one involves the government - and the sudden interest they are displaying in my health. Now I've managed to live my first half-century with a sort of need-to-know health ethos, where as long as the bureaucrats don't tell me their health issues, I won't tell them mine. And I thought this was a mutually beneficial arrangement but it seems turning fifty has changed all that. Perhaps I am now High Risk (which is rather ironic given that my lifestyle during my late teens was a hell of a lot more high risk than anything I get up to now). Amongst other missives I have received has been a letter informing me that a bowel testing kit is in the mail (while it may seem less than cost-effective to send a piece of mail informing about another piece of mail - I suppose some things need a little mental preparedness), and another spruiking a free mammogram on offer. This latter was followed, only weeks later, by a rather plaintive note asking why I was ignoring them. So given that I had some unexpected spare time - and my bowel-testing kit had not yet arrived - I did the right thing and made an appointment.
Hmm, how best to describe this experience? Spanish inquisition? Medieval torture chamber? Death by mammary gland? Let's just say that although it was more action than I've had for a while, there was nothing even remotely pleasurable about having one's breast manipulated every which way - and then squished into a fifty-year old pancake. I had right-hand shots, and left-hand shots, and right-angled shots, and left-angled shots, and then - just when I thought things couldn't get any worse - I had nipple profile shots. Four of them. Which seems a tad superfluous but maybe I'm just being bitter. And let me add that I have long had a rather troubled relationship with my boobs anyway. In fact once, about twenty-six years ago, they annoyed me so much I had them reduced. Just to show them who was boss. So this afternoon's show and tell was not even remotely my cup of tea. Proving once more (if proof was needed) that when it comes to the bureaucracy and their freebies - we always end up getting flattened.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A tissue, a tissue...

After spending my life being somewhat stoic, I am rather surprised to have found myself turning lately into a huge sook. Where I once only cried at the really big things, like death and divorce and having the country run by people like Tony Abbott - now I well up for just about anything. For example last night I got all teary watching the final five minutes of The Bee Movie, despite the following:
1. I hadn't even watched the start of The Bee Movie, or the middle, or anything except the last five minutes,
2. I don't particularly like either Jerry Seinfeld or Renee Zellweger, and
3. What I saw was pretty damn daft (Bees landing an aircraft? I don't think so).

But that was nothing compared to last week, when F19, F15 and I curled up on the couch to watch a movie called Hachiko. Now at the time I was something of a captive audience as I'd been up since 3.30am and was therefore sort of cemented in place by sheer exhaustion. So what's the best type of movie to watch when one's eyes feel like a Bedouin campsite? A sad one of course, and take it from me, they don't come any sadder than bloody Hachiko. I was already welling up by the time Richard Gere dropped dead, and as the movie slowly worked its way through the next decade while the dog waited patiently at the railway station for his master to come home, I slowly but surely became a blubbering mess. But the fact is that Hachiko only represents the extreme of what brings me to tears nowadays. Instead it seems that I tear up over almost anything: happy, sad, even damn imaginary. I mean is it normal to cry when Homer Simpson goes out on a limb for Lisa?
It wouldn't be so bad if all these tears were flattering, with dewy eyes ever-so-slightly glistening with sensitivity, perhaps with a single tear trickling gracefully down one cheek. Instead of instantly giving me squinty red piggy eyes that just make me look like I'm auditioning for the occult. Looking on the bright side however (which my squinty eyes can only just make out), I was somewhat cheered by a recent discussion group where it emerged that I am by no means alone. It seems that many middle-aged women are in a similar situation. Crying at things that once wouldn't have rated a faint glisten. And I have to admit that made me feel a whole lot better - proving that not only am I a sook, but misery really does love company.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Empty nests - fact, fiction or fantasy?

This time last year I was watching my sanity slowly drain away beneath the trials and tribulations of a full house (which, believe me, is only rewarding with poker). It seemed everywhere I turned there were offspring, or friends of offspring, or the assorted belongings of offspring. The latter of which was spread throughout the house as if each one was marking their territory (or, in this case, my territory). Along with several mostly incontinent pets and the odd uninvited rodent. Then the eldest of the offspring (let's call him Yo-yo) changed university courses and promptly moved overseas (i.e. Tasmania) and, a few months later, his younger sister (F19) moved in with friends. By February this year it was just me and the youngest (F15) and... well, it was bliss. Minimal mess, minimal arguments, minimal everything. Two down, I thought smugly, and one to go.
Then I made my big mistake. I started planning what to do with all this spare space. Perhaps I could move the exercise bike and treadmill into the smaller room and turn it into a gym? How wonderfully motivating! What about refurbishing the other room and actually having an official spare room, complete with matching linen and an antique jug/basin set? How practical! How neat! Or what about a meditation room? A bedroom for the dog? Maybe even a present-wrapping room? How incredibly useful (especially at Christmas [seriously - imagine it]). I could go on, but you get the point - the delightfully decadent possibilities seemed endless. I should have known better.
First back was F19, who arrived with a carload of belongings and a rather sour disposition (courtesy of the fact that she didn't really want to be here either). Within weeks she had carpeted the larger of the spare rooms with detritus and I was left to cling to the possibilities inherent in the smaller room. Then I went on a week's holiday to Tasmania, arriving back on Sunday evening (to discover I had left my headlights on in the long-term carpark) and being followed almost immediately by Yo-yo, who made a lightening decision to move back to Melbourne and managed to change his university course, pack all his belongings and organise flights etc within twenty-four hours. I didn't even know he was capable of such productivity.
Don't misunderstand me - I'm very fond of all three of my offspring. But it's just that they seem to need me more when they live here. Other people tell me how hard-working they are, or companionable, or intuitive, or nicely-mannered - but when they're here they simply become lumps with optional attachments, such as ipods, and laptops and mobile phones. My lounge-room becomes a jungle of electrical cords and chargers and power-boards and people's legs - the latter of which always seem to number more than they should. And they stay up till the early hours, and then expect to sleep in - or rise at the crack of dawn and converse in stage whispers that would be audible in the next suburb across. While food disappears into some type of vortex, never to be seen again; leaving the cupboards bare no matter how many times I go shopping. Which makes an ironic contrast to all the things that remain full - like the washing machine, our data allowance, even the proverbial kitchen sink. And don't get me started on my bills.
Empty nest syndrome? I wish. Now I lie in bed and spend my time calculating whether I can afford a second mortgage - then I could just shift out and leave them to it. As long as my new place has just the one bedroom. Because spare rooms and gyms and present-wrapping rooms are all very handy - but why tempt fate?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

And they're off...

Those who followed my last blog ( will be aware that this year was to be my big Kokoda challenge (aka my very own midlife crisis), and that everything fell into a heap - including me - when I injured my knee. Well, on Thursday I headed out to Tullamarine airport at 4.15am (yes, I know) to say goodbye to all those who weren't sidelined by injury which, in the end, was less than half. That's right, out of the original nine who signed up for this adventure of a lifetime, five developed health issues (mainly foot and leg related, which makes us seem pretty pathetic given a guy without legs at all managed to do the trek a few months ago!). Ironically I said at the outside that a few would probably fall by the proverbial wayside but (a) I never expected so many, and (b) I never expected one to be me. For starters, I've never been overly fond of waysides. Not only are they usually rather boring, but you're more likely to be hit by a truck.

<- The intrepid trekkers and the ones who got away ->

(interesting to see that those on the right look considerably more relaxed)

There were some tears and hearty back-clapping amongst the 'wish you were coming too' and 'hey, thanks for talking me into this' stuff (the latter with a dollop of wholly unnecessary sarcasm), and then we rejects retired to a lovely little cafe in Brunswick to eat a hearty breakfast (I had an omelette with Gruyere cheese, portobello mushrooms and chives - which almost made up for not having gone). And while there we made plans for our 'next' adventure, which may well be Vietnam in 2011. But this time we're winding back the challenge part of things (particularly the uphill/downhill stuff), and upping the shopping/massaging/alcohol bit at the end. If there's one thing I've learnt from this whole debacle it's that, at our time of life, it's vital to include balance.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A make-up meltdown

I think there was an episode of The Brady Bunch which featured Greg borrowing his father's tools and not putting them away or some such thing. Of course within the requisite half hour Greg had learnt his lesson, received a few pearls of wisdom from his father, and you just knew he would never make that mistake again. Those kids never had to be told more than once. Anyway my question is why was there never a similar episode with Marcia (Marcia, Marcia) and/or Jan and/or that revolting one with the curls purloining their mother's make-up?

Because this, I have to say, is my number one source of irritation nowadays (after drivers who get confused by the colour green, and teenagers who spit, and visible muffin tops, and shop assistants who hold asinine conversations with each other while you're standing at the counter, and... well, I suppose there's actually a longer list than I thought). The whole make-up thing started relatively benignly and, to be honest, I actually thought it was sort of cute (which I suspect is a deliberate ploy with children, like the toddler who lets loose a swear-word and everyone laughs fondly - not so cute a few years later, is it?). At the time I even gave a calm, controlled Brady Bunch-style lecture about how I really didn't mind as long as the bits and pieces of make-up were always put back. Fat chance. I've now spent a goodly part of the past six years searching for mascara and foundation and eye-liner and that terrific green eye-shadow that you just can't get anymore. One of the problems is that I don't wear much make-up on a normal day (seems a little OTT given I usually work in over-sized pyjamas), which means I don't miss it until I've got a really important engagement and five minutes to make myself look presentable and the only thing that's left in my make-up drawer are several anti-ageing creams and a grubby cotton bud. Even then I start off relatively calmly and only turn into a screaming banshee when both female offspring plead innocence. Ten minutes later, after giving each other those 'god, mum's gone mad' looks, they'll take turns coming up to me with blunt eye-liner or whatever in hand saying 'is this what you're after? Dunno how it ended up with my stuff, I'd never use that colour."
So a few weeks ago I bought myself all new make-up, cleaned out my drawer, lined it with nice paper, and then fastened stickers to the outside which read This drawer and its contents belong to Ilsa (aka Mum). DO NOT TOUCH (operating under the assumption that, as with serial killers, personalising oneself might enhance the odds). Which was just fine until yesterday, when we were due to attend a family function and I decided to go for the elegant look (which, nowadays, requires a generous amount of make-up). Opening my drawer only to discover that there wasn't just one item missing, there were about four. And, once again, nobody had the faintest idea what I was talking about. So I lost it, wrenching the drawer out and flinging it, with the contents, into the bath (which has the shower at one end with a screen). Screeching 'There you go then! How easy is this now? Just help yourselves!"
Both female offspring eyed me pityingly as they backed rapidly out of the bathroom. Then I could hear them muttering as they headed away: 'do you know what's up with her?" No, do you?" And I was left to stare at the odds and ends of make-up detritus still rolling around the bath, where the drawer lay at an odd angle with its base now a separate entity from the frame. Feeling a little numb as I took in the loose powder that was sprayed artfully across the tiles, and the cracked eye-shadow cases that were leaching shades of brown and green into soapy puddles, and my new, very expensive (because I'm worth it) scientifically-proven anti-ageing serum-stuff that was now dribbling steadily towards the plughole. And I realised that while this momentary meltdown may have felt good, I couldn't even leave it like this for effect because unfortunately - and typically - I was the only person who hadn't yet had their shower.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beware the evil side of technology

There is no doubt that technology has brought wonders. As someone who hit their teens while space invaders were considered cutting edge, the amazing capabilities of modern technology - which my offspring seem to take for granted - often leave me open-mouthed with awe (not a particularly good look but there you go). However it must be noted that there's also an nasty side to these incredible advances - and I'm talking about one device in particular. One entity that can embarrass, mortify and destroy self-esteem in several short minutes, even as it masquerades as something that is supposed to aid and abet. What's even worse is that we (as in I) paid for this nasty little bugger. I'm talking, of course, about the dreaded Wii Fit.
I hate it. And I hate the fact I knew I hated it yet I still allowed the damn thing give me a 'body test' this afternoon. I should have known better. First it had a go at me for having gained weight in the eighteen months since I last used it and then, as punishment, it rounded out my little animated character until I looked like a particularly rotund leprechaun. Next, when I attempted to get with the program and set a goal weight, it made some rather pointed remarks about needing to be more realistic. Thanks, buddy. But worse was to come when I underwent a series of balance tests and the Wii, barely disguising a supercilious chortle, asked me whether I ever found myself tripping over whilst walking. Then it proceeeded to give me a series of instructions on how best to do it properly. Walk, that is.
But the nasty bugger wasn't finished yet. While I was staring at the screen open-mouthed (yes, it's my default expression), it brusquely announced that it was about to calculate my Wii age and, before I could shriek "no!" - flashed 60 in suitably lurid colours. In case the significance of this failed to register with me, my little leprechaun immediately lowered her (fat) head and shuffled her (fat) feet. And the Wii helpfully added the fact that 60 was ten years above my actual age. Just in case, along with an inability to walk, I couldn't do simple maths either.
It was at this point I gave up. For all I knew this was all part of a cleverly coded Wii master plan - to take over the human race by immobilising us via crushed self-esteem (insert suitable evil genius laugh), until we are nothing but a gaggle of little fat leprechauns, hanging our heads and shuffling our feet. Besides if there's one thing my 50/60 years have taught me, it's to quit while you're ahead - even if it's by an extra *$#%&! decade.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The ultimate losing battle

I've just spent a marvellous week reclining on the couch drinking lots of coffee, eating lots of biscuits, and researching (i.e. reading) background stuff about middle-age. Some of the books/articles/print-outs were thought-provoking, some were boring, and some were just hysterically funny. I am now a font of fascinating trivia, such as apparently a Saudi Arabian woman can get a divorce if her husband doesn't bring her coffee (sounds reasonable), or grapefruit scent can make an older woman appear six years younger to men (perhaps the smell makes them squint), or the fact that the world's strongest vagina belongs to middle-aged Tatiata Kozhevnikova, who uses hers to lift 14kilos of weight (and I seriously do not want to know the logistics of this remarkable feat). Plus I learnt several anti-ageing tips, such as one thing that instantly ages an older woman is to dress head to toe in the same designer (dang, there goes my wardrobe). Even apart from being very useful for my eventual book, I fully expect that my possession of all this assorted trivia will enhance my desirability as a dinner-party guest forthwith.
However something that did strike me about a lot of the material I devoured during the week was a tendency by several authors to treat ageing as some type of battle. And therefore, by the very nature of things (i.e. being alive), as an ongoing battle. Apparently one needs to fight, to attack, and to launch counter-offensives - which may be why last week we learnt a perfectly lovely looking 18yr old girl/woman was on her way overseas to have a tummy tuck, breast uplifts/implants, and a vaginal tightening. It seems she could barely look in the mirror (one assumes this was due to the first two issues and not the third). I dearly hope, for her sake, that these operations will be everything she wants and needs - but I highly doubt it. She's just started 'battling' a little early than most, that's all.
The problem, as I see it, is that this is a battle which simply cannot be won. No matter how vigilant you are. That's not to say we shouldn't aim to be the best possible version of ourselves at each life-phase, and exactly what that entails will vary from woman to woman. Speaking for myself I have no intention of ageing gracefully, I've never been renowned for my gracefulness so what the hell. But I do intend on maintaining a healthy relationship with my own ageing - sort of a 'you rub my back, I'll rub yours' type of thing. Where I look after myself, within limits, and I also have fun, within limits. Like any good relationship I'll probably push things a little too far at times, and there'll be some resentment, and regrets, but at the end of the day well, we're stuck with each other. And there's too much I still want to accomplish to waste time being my own worst enemy. Literally. So by all means lather on the moisturiser, enjoy the facials and manicures and pedicures, even go the botox or the plastic surgery if it makes you feel good - but don't visualise the whole thing as a battle. Because if you do then you're going to have to label yourself a loser. It's as simple as that.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

And a good night to all!

Why is it we start off life as experts at sleeping, and then progressively get worse as we age? How does that work? Do we forget something? I mean it's not like it's rocket science:
  1. you lie down (preferably on a bed),
  2. you close your eyes,
  3. you fall asleep.

There. That doesn't sound difficult, does it? I mean I'm not having any trouble with either point 1 or 2 (in fact I am increasingly doing these anywhere and everywhere, which is particularly disturbing for passengers in my car) - but point 3 seems to have me stumped. Instead of falling asleep my mind churns with thoughts and ideas and lists. Like did Daughter No.1. remember to take her library books back? Will she be able to talk her way out of the $250 fine? Is that rumbling noise at the far end of the house a possum on the roof or somebody with nefarious intent sliding the door open? Is Only Son going to do himself lasting damage with a diet of two-minute noodles? Did Daughter No.2. set her alarm? Did I remember to write a speech for that talk I'm giving tomorrow? What will I wear? Does anything still fit? Oh, christ, is that really the time?

And as anyone who has ever had trouble getting to sleep will tell you, it's all over the moment you start stressing about the time. Because it then becomes part of a vicious catch-22, where growing anxiety about your likely level of tiredness the next day (doing frantic calculations about how many night-hours are left now... and now... and now), makes sleep even more unlikely. So that eventually you become just a mass of nerve-endings, shedding frustrated tears that are illuminated only by the little numbers that are relentlessly flipping over on your bedside clock.

Yet a quick calculation tells me that, give or take a few dozen nights in my teens when I didn't sleep at all, I've been doing this for around 18,370 nights. That's a whole lot of nights. And they say practice makes perfect? Bah humbug.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

If the hat fits!

Anybody who has ever railed against the invisibility of middle-aged women (i.e. me) should have a look at the Red Hat Society, where they have taken invisibility and painted it all shades of purple. It's like dress-ups for adults - as long as the hat is red, the clothes are purple and the bling is way over the top. Absolutely glorious!
I met eight of these ladies last weekend at a discussion group about middle-age, which they managed to turn into bucketloads of fun. In fact I get the feeling that there's not much they wouldn't turn into bucketloads of fun! This is a society without committees, or positions, or rules and regulations. It started some years ago when an American woman gave a friend a red fedora, along with a poem about growing old disgracefully (see below), for her fiftieth birthday. The gift was a big success, with other friends requesting the same, and about a year later they all went out for lunch wearing their red hats - and the society was born. Nowadays there are chapters (groups) all over the world, each with their very own Queen (the woman who starts the chapter).

And I think there's some lessons here for all of us. Not only that being pro-active brings its own rewards, but that it's okay to just have fun. Feed that inner child. Kerry (aka Queen Bubbles 'n Baubles) tells of meeting people, particularly women, who simply cannot get their heads around the fact the society does nothing concrete - no sport, or arts, or crafts, or baking, or volunteering, or raising money for charity. Is it really so hard to imagine doing something purely for yourself, even if it sounds silly or eccentric or self-indulgent? And maybe those who find the concept the most challenging are the ones who really need it the most!

Warning: When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple
(by Jenny Joseph)
When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin candles, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickles for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Everything's thinning - except me

The early results of the survey indicate that women find one element of middle-age particularly annoying, and that is (insert drum roll): deteriorating health or, as many put it, those little aches and pains. So far 42% of respondents have nominated this as the single worst thing about middle-age, while weight gain comes second at 15%. And boy do I sympathise.
At some stage, probably at around the age of fifteen when I was particularly obnoxious, I formed the assumption that my health and/or fitness would never be an issue. I'm not sure on what evidence I based this but I packaged it up and carried it around for the next thirty odd years. At which point fate stepped in and tripped me up (perhaps I should sue). Now it seems like barely a week goes past without a fresh niggle, and sometimes I head off to the doctor's with a veritable list. Last Monday alone I started off at the gynaecologist where he informed me (rather brusquely, I thought) that my uterine walls were thinning, after which I paid a visit to the orthopaedic surgeon where he told me that my knee cartilage was thinning. And then I finished the day at the hairdresser's where, after some muttering, she intimated that my hair was thinning - and looked at me oddly when I started laughing (admittedly with an ever-so-slight tinge of hysteria). But, honestly! How ridiculous. I started the day off quite cheerfully and finished it with thin hair, cartilage and uterus. Sort of like a hat (which no doubt I'll soon need given the hair situation) trick. But my question is that if everything is thinning so industriously, then why am I the least-thin I've ever been in my life? How does that work? And, more importantly, who can I complain to?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Just like that

One of the things that I find particularly remarkable about middle-age (amongst many!) is the fact that it always seems to hit with such a surprise. I mean, nothing in your life will have come with a lengthier lead-up time and yet still it's as if one day you look in the mirror and holy hell (I've moderated the usual language here), you're middle-aged. Just like that.

I can remember a conversation I had once, around 33 years ago, while sitting in a beer garden at Nelson's Bay (along the NSW coast). It was summer, with late-afternoon sunlight dappling across my sweet vermouth and coke, and I was wearing a pair of cut-off jean shorts and a lemony t-shirt that depicted a sun setting across my boobs (ah, how prophetic - and how ironic that I can remember exactly what I was wearing 33 years ago but I can't find where I put my car-keys this morning). Anyway, for some reason the conversation turned to being forty and I can vividly remember actually recoiling with distaste. What, me forty? Perhaps not being a size ten? Or having these smooth tanned legs? Or looking drop-dead spunky with my spiral perm? Or liking sweet vermouth and coke? Impossible to visualise.

Yet now forty has not only come, but gone - along with my size ten figure, my spiral perm and (thank god) my liking for alcoholic drinks that straddle the fence between confectionary and crap. Funnily enough, even if Doctor Who landed on my front lawn with the Tardis and offered me the chance to go back, I wouldn't take him up (although, depending on which doctor I scored, I might very well invite him in for a little time-travelling of our own). Because although I view my youth with much nostalgia, I'm pretty damn content with what I've done and where I've been in the meantime. So it's rather like looking at baby photos of my offspring. I smile as I run my finger across the curve of a plump cheek, and even emit one or two wistful sighs, but then I close the album with a sense of relief that I'm no longer cleaning mustard-coloured poop out of baby crevices, or negotiating a pram through peak-hour shopping, or fishing duplo out of the toilet bowl. It was fine while it lasted, and now it's over. Which is probably just as well when I recall that along with the size ten figure and the smooth tanned legs, I also had a level of intelligence that would have made Homer Simpson seem like Stephen Hawking. Not just because my education had been severely lacking (for instance I joined the RAAF at 17 believing that Perth was somewhere north of Brisbane and that Adelaide was little more than a rumour), but because my firmly-held opinions were... well, daft. My pearls of wisdom included:
  • it's not really cheating unless it's pre-meditated.
  • Rock Hudson can't possibly be gay. You can tell.
  • that women's lib stuff is all irrelevant - but why oh why can't we RAAF women be posted overseas like the guys, or even given a choice of jobs beyond just admin or cooking or stewarding?
  • marijuana shouldn't just be made legal, it should be compulsory. Then everyone'd be a little more relaxed.
  • the rhythm method is a totally reliable form of contraception.
  • riding one's motorcycle without a helmet is an inspired way to blow-dry one's hair.

I'm not sure if it was all that sweet vermouth, or maybe my spiral perm was a tad too tight, but believe me the world is a lot better off with me at fifty. And, most probably, so am I. So why is it there seems to be this general perception that middle-aged women spend a great deal of their time mourning a lost youth? Or am I just being a) sensitive, b) paranoid, or c) just in a bad mood because I still can't find the car keys?

Monday, May 10, 2010


Firstly I'd like to metaphorically fling open the blog doors and invite you all in (but please don't mind the mess!). This blog will be part of a twelve-month journey that, as mentioned above, will culminate in a non-fiction book exploring the trials and tribulations of middle-age for women. I'll be posting something each week (most probably on Sundays as that's my day of rest), and I really do want as much feedback as possible. Not just because I need a range of viewpoints but because I'm basically rather lazy - and the more material I get from you, the less I have to dig up myself. So please do comment, and join in, and send anecdotes and opinion - whether you agree with me or not.

To start with I'd like to introduce an survey I've put together, which is designed to explore the background stuff. In other words it's a fishing expedition! But one which shouldn't take more than five minutes so if you've got the time (and/or the inclination!), please visit: survey