Pity The Parents Whose Boomerang Children Have Been Forced Back Home By COVID-19

One aspect of COVID-19 that is rarely mentioned on the news is the impact on families who – due to recent job losses – have had grown children return back home.

Some of you, I imagine, view the bounce back home of our Boomerang Generation as an opportunity to rebuild relationships, fatten them up and dry them out as one of the few advantages of this lurgy, but for others who have children like our second-born, Kurt, the predicament is a little more complicated.

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

Some of you might remember Kurt – our ADHD, larger-than-life adult, son from my earlier blog posts – because he was one of the main inspirations for this blog. He was the child who launched so many parenting curveballs at us on his journey through the teenage years that eventually – approximately one year and twenty-eight days ago – he left us no choice but to evict him for his and our safety and for the sake of our own mental health.

We didn’t evict him, really. Fortunately, around the same time we decided that the only course left open to us was to leave the country, our son decided that he’d had his fill of us as well, which made it a darn sight easier to convince him to that independent living was a blast.

Anyway… four moves later, after several fraught dealings with landlords, numerous police visits, a tenancy record, and a steep learning curve when it comes to budgeting, I will admit that the experiment has been an interesting, if not convincing one.

Suffice it to say, our boy gave it his best shot, but once the restrictions COVID-19 were enforced and he lost his job (in hospitality), it was impossible not to notice the deterioration in his mental health caused by his isolation with only four walls for company for the foreseeable future.

Kids like Kurt need to talk connection, which is why (like many families out there facing similar difficult choices at the moment) we’ve made the tricky one to bring him home. Emotional ramifications aside, he can’t realistically live on benefits and pay the high rent still expected by Sydney landlords during this virus – however generous the government has been – and from our own financial point-of-view, his rental offering will help us buy toilet roll should it ultimately find itself the black market.

He would agree that our renewed cohabitation is not an ideal solution, but he assures us that he is not the same boy who left home a year ago. Hence, new rules have been agreed, boundaries reinstated, and the lock has been taken off the bar.

Needless to say, it’s hard not to feel anxious about this change when some distance had improved our relationship with our son, but I am trying to stay positive. I’m endeavouring not to show my resentment at having to sacrifice my bedroom – our choice – in an attempt to maintain our sanity. Anyone who knows someone with ADHD will understand that some of them are huge personalities with a tendency to be nocturnal, so a relatively self-contained space of the house seemed like a sensible option.

And noise was a driving factor in our Kurt’s original decision to leave. Our son is naturally exuberant, musical, and (I can only assume) partially deaf – although unfortunately his musical knowledge does not seem to stretch to the term sotto voce. Added to which, he has inherited my father’s Chris Hemsworth baritone voice that gets louder whenever he is excited – which is often – like a puppy dog. By locking him down providing him with a self-contained room, the hope is that his nightly visits down our creaky stairs to raid the fridge, use the laundry, play guitar or to organise a rave for the neighbourhood kids should be restricted.

Inevitably, there have already been casualties: the dog has lost her leftovers; there are some mysterious new drink stains on the carpet; and the addition of a hideous pink velvet retro armchair to my Hamptons living area. There was also a skateboarding accident that in normal times should have received proper medical attention, a disastrous midnight head shave into a Mohican, and a noticeable twitch in my left eye each time I hear the theme tune to Endgame.

I love my son and I can see that Kurt is trying his best to behave like a normal human being, but for us sleep is probably the biggest issue caused by his return back home. It has meant that the old man and I have been forced to share the marital bed again, and while I have tried to put on a brave face about it – by justifying my stoicism as a necessity of this war – there is a limit to the number of times I can listen to him toss, turn and sniff in bed next to me without feeling the desire to stab him.

How’s Everyone Coping With The Latest COVID-19 Isolation Restrictions?

So…how’s everyone travelling?

YOU’RE NOT, I assume, and neither will you ever consider booking a cruise ever again, I would take a guess (if you’re of sound mind).

Photo by Curology on Unsplash

In the spirit of Gloria Gaynor, I am surviving, although as you can imagine, this is not a great time for hypochondriacs. Reassuringly, very little has really changed in our house, aside from an escalation in the toilet seat debate and some highly competitive stockpiling of toilet rolls in our own bathrooms.

Fortunately – and that is a serious downplay of that word in an uncharacteristic attempt at sensitivity – we don’t have young kids at home, and having worked at home together for some time, we are used to avoiding each other as much as possible within the strict, self-imposed boundaries of our home. But it’s funny how much this crisis has improved communication – in general.

It has certainly increased mine. Anyone who knows me well will be aware that I would rather have a mammogram than make a phone call, and yet I’ve been Messengering and WhatsApping like a Millennial over the past week – mainly in my attempts to keep tabs on anarchist, older members of my family.

My stepmother has reported back that my father is adhering to the new restrictions, much to my surprise. Apparently, he has taken an uncharacteristically sensible approach to isolation in spite of his disgust at the government’s decision to open the supermarkets to his age group between 9 and 10am – when he rarely surfaces before 10. I think the word he used was “unrealistic” in his description of a decision he believes is based on unfair stereotyping about old people being early risers.

Evidently, he’s not too worried about catching the virus, because ‘It’s only going to get the really old buggers” he tried to reassure me as I counted the hairs in his nostrils during our weekly video chat. And that’s why he put his chances of survival his the hands of alcohol rather than government restrictions and has upped his whisky consumption – “Just to be safe.”

Mind you, Dad has always been a pragmatist. I’m pretty sure he mentioned the same “more chance of getting run over by a bus” analogy during our conversation that he used to terrify me with during my childhood, hence, although he has always blamed my mother for my issues with anxiety, I’m beginning to question his accountability.

Meanwhile, the other old man in my life has been burying his head in the sand – particularly in relation to our finances. Having agreed to curb our spending at our last finance meeting – instigated by him, I should add – I was somewhat surprised by his expenditure on golf over the past few weeks – since curtailed by the closure of all courses yesterday.

“Essential?” I queried as I trawled through the bank statement and watched him splutter some excuse about therapy for his mental health in these highly anxious times. So it’s anyone’s guess how he will fare as we move forward.

He hasn’t been quite as successful at concealing the delight on his face each time one of our social engagements is cancelled. I swear he rubs his hands with glee each time the government limits the number of people that can gather in a group, and any day now I expect him to bunker down with the dog in full isolation mode.

It’s Okay To Man-Hug

Two men hugging.
Photo by Thiago Barletta on Unsplash

We caught up with some friends at the weekend and when the husband and the old man did that awkward shuffle as they greeted each other, our male friend launched into the story of how he had tried to hug his elderly father once, who froze and brushed it off.

‘I’m not much of a man-hugger,’ he admitted to him.

‘But did you like it?’ my friend pushed.

‘It was surprisingly quite nice,’ his dad responded.

What a truly sad world we live in when there are men out there that have never been hugged by their fathers, sons or close friends?

And then, we wonder why they are so emotionally ill-equipped.

Upon further discussion, it turns out that there are rules of etiquette when it comes to man-hugging. Both the old man and our friend agreed that while they hug their inner circle of close friends, they don’t hug the next tier of their friendship group.

‘But I hug everyone,’ I admitted, because I think that women do, in general, once they’ve met once or twice.

But the boys were adamant that it was only their tight circle of friends that got the special treatment. So – obviously – we made them man-hug on the spot, in front of us, which was when we witnessed something truly beautiful happen.

Of course, I’m generalising here. I’m sure that some men are massive huggers, but there is still that stigma associated with men hugging men.

In her book, Boys Will Be Boys, Clementine Ford claims it has to do with the stigma of what the show of affection implied in the past, and the need to prove “compulsive heterosexuality” – one of the issues of “toxic masculinity”.

And she’s right. If we don’t teach our boys how to share respectful, caring relationships with each other, how can we expect them to do the same with women?

She says: “It breaks my heart to know that men – and young men especially – are conditioned against embracing the pleasures of a physically-expressed platonic love for each other for fear that the authenticity of their man-hood may be challenged.”

So let’s change that right now. Any men out there – give your father a big, fat man-hug the next time you see him. And fathers – remember to hug your sons as well as your daughters. Finally, men – for God’s sake, hug your goddamn friends. It’s not a sign that you’re weak or that you fancy them, it’s a sign that you value them.

Are Old Dudes Getting Hotter Or Am I Simply Getting Older?

I suspect that the main reasons behind my increasing attraction to old dudes are my age and my deteriorating eyesight. You see, these days, any woeful stirring in my loins is caused far more often by images of distinguished old dudes on Instagram, than the hairless, chiseled chests of men half their age.

I like to think that this change of direction in sexual attraction is a rare kindness bestowed on me by a creator who was obviously male – a necessary evolutionary shift, perhaps, to stop old women such as myself from running off with younger men, thereby driving procreation to a devastating halt?

Doubtful, though…

Attractive older man with grey hair and beard.
Photo by Donald Teel on Unsplash

Nevertheless, it is a strange phenomenon. You see, not that long ago, I would have gagged at the idea of pashing a silver fox – rather like my twenty-four-year-old daughter. My head has always been turned by the younger cubs, for whom (in my prime) I would gladly sacrifice quality for quantity for the promise of a firm chest and as little post-coital conversation as possible.

I was also one of the doubting Thomas’ that shuddered at the idea of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ and Michael Douglas, and Di and Prince Charles. Albeit that the Welsh actress has had the last laugh. Evidently, she had the foresight to appreciate that a twenty-eight-year gap between her and her husband guaranteed that he was never really likely to look better than her.

Although, admittedly, it’s a close call. Michael isn’t looking that bad for his age if his appearance on “The Kominsky Method” is anything to go by. And neither did Robert Redford in “The Old Man And The Gun” and Clint Eastwood in the trailer for “The Mule”. In fact, I struggled to follow the plot in Redford’s movie, so mesmerized was I by the wrinkled tesselations on his face.

Or maybe I’m simply getting old…?

No. There’s definitely something very attractive about a man with a grey beard, who obviously went to Specsavers. Indeed, the only shame of my newfound appreciation is that mature women aren’t branded in the same positive light as our “distinguished” older men such as George Clooney and Richard Gere.

“Vixen” has yet to match the connotations of “fox”.

And while I despise the trope of middle-aged women as sour-faced and sexless, I’m glad that the ageism tide in Hollywood has turned for men at least. No one is immune to the passage of time, and there is much for our younger generations to learn from the wisdom of the old – especially now that family communities are so divided. And the lines of time and experience add a realistic dimension to characters – a fact that, sadly, Hollywood has chosen to ignore up until now.

Nevertheless, the treatment of women in cinema still has a way to go. While I hold fast to the notion that some men MUST find women their age attractive – a tricky presumption, admittedly, based on our visibility in the media – it is impossible not to notice how many of the female partners (of the actors above) were still in nappies when their leading men were in high school. The gap might be narrowing, but Sissy Spacek is 69 and Robert Redford is 82; Michael Douglas is 74 and Nancy Travis is 57.

I suppose I should be grateful that at least the aging process is somewhat of a leveler – one that provides us with a better understanding of “visibility” once the covers of our books begin to deteriorate. No more pretense; no more rushed, awkward conversations as the eyes of the man you’re talking to wander to your gorgeous best friend.

There will always be evergreen, “visible” beauties such as Kylie Minogue and Helen Mirren – some with young hotties firmly attached to their arm. And good luck to them! I’m comfortable now with the springy grey hairs in my parting and a beauty that is defined by my brain, my spirit, and my convictions.

Dig a little deeper, men, for you may strike gold. And above all, don’t believe the hype. Once our biological clocks stop ticking, we women can afford to be choosy, and what we want at this next stage of our lives is “substance”. We won’t settle for anything less. And “substance” is about the man who values us – not as a trophy, but as an equal partner, in intellect, passion, and curiosity.

What Advice Would You Give Your Daughter As She Transitions Into Womanhood?

Women supporting women.

When I was growing up, I wish someone had told me to bury the past, to keep my eyes focused firmly on the road ahead, and to embrace the company of women.

An out-of-the-blue email from an old girlfriend prompted me to write this post. The first true girlfriend of my adulthood – ie. after kids – we were the only two mums in our parenting class with babies that refused to commit to the stepping stones of perfection outlined in the parenting manuals. Shamed by a smarmy group of other first-time mums whose kids were nailing them, we got through the shit show on wine, whinging and WTFs.

It took me a long time to connect with women. Raised through my teens by a single and unconventional father, it wasn’t until my late twenties and the births of my own children, that I was thrust among the fairer sex. Before that, the majority of my friends had been men. Sharing their black and white space, that felt devoid of emotional complications – other than those unfortunate misunderstandings about the status of our relationship – I felt calmer.

Since then, of course, I’ve come to terms with the bollocks to be found in the majority of self-help books about the search for happiness and personal fulfillment. Experience has shown me that the streets aren’t paved with gold, that life can be grossly unfair, and that the only way to make any sense of life is to make the best of what you have. And this newfound wisdom has helped me understand more about the differences between men and women, and the reason why friendships with men used to appear more attractive/straightforward. It’s because they have fewer layers.

Sounds derogatory, I know. Although, not as insulting as the word “depth,” which is the one I really wanted to use. But hear me out, because my employment of the word is not meant to be a judgment about men’s personality flaws or their shoddy housework skills (this time), I use it to champion women and the female experience of life.

I believe, that because the role of women requires so much more emotional labor and intelligence than theirs, (which I spoke about here), and we experience greater physical and emotional trauma – eg. during menstruation, childbirth, and menopause – we experience a more visceral understanding of ourselves as humans and our place in this world. You only have to look at the women who have experienced near-death experiences in childbirth, or from rape, or those whose husbands left them on the poverty line, with nothing but the kids, for examples.

Whereas, men – and I’m generalizing here because this is not a discussion about the mental health of men or the stress some experience as sole earners of their family etc – seem more transparent, more easy-going, (dare I say) less judgemental than women. (Obviously, what I’d really like to say is “simple” – in the nicest possible way.) And while there are no doubt evolutionary and physiological explanations to why one gender carries the burden of more emotional baggage than the other, it is nevertheless impossible to ignore the societal influence of male privilege. Perhaps, that’s why, (on a social level), men seem less confrontational than women – who are judged throughout their lives, making them complicated creatures.

While I’ll admit that many of my closest female friends have always secretly terrified me, fortunately for women, kids are a glue that draws us together. The uncanny ability of our offspring to extract emotion from the most determinedly cold hearts, to frazzle nerves, to provoke self-doubt and tears, and to force us to question just about everything as they chip away relentlessly at our resilience and turn our brains to pulp, are the main reason the coffee morning was invented.

In spite of the suspicions of certain men, the purpose of the coffee morning is (generally) not to discuss the latest fashions, the most energy-efficient washing machine, or the last time we had an orgasm. Coffee mornings are about support, about building resilience and sharing experiences. Men should try it, sometime.

Women are there for women on those days the dam bursts. When all those tantrums in the supermarket have finally worn you down; when the barrage of abuse at dinner time (each time you force their kids to eat peas) becomes too much; when you lose your job; or when you burst into tears in the vegetable section of Coles because someone took the last ripe avocado.

Who better to rely upon in those situations than someone who has got the tee-shirt, on those days you’re sobbing into your phone, wine in one hand, and the scalp of your third child in the other? The truth is, your girlfriends are the only ones who can help you make sense of the new, terrifying vulnerability that comes from having your emotions and hormones put through a spiralizer.

Because THEY’VE BEEN THERE.

Personally, I’m a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Over the years, my attempts to feign the habits of a worthy friend have improved, but alas, for the main part they remain superficial. I try to be better than the sub-standard set of female instincts that nature provided me with – to remember birthdays, special events, cards etc – however, an unhealthy obsession to overthink, a possible case of early onset dementia, and a natural scattiness have determined that I will never be that thoughtful, perfect friend that some of us are lucky to have in our lives. I can only hope that those friends who always make the first call or send the first text understand that my silence is unrelated to their worth.

Sadly – and yes, here comes the excuse – some people travel through life with the baggage of their past stuck as firmly to their shoulders as a backpack. And it has been easy to blame my detachment issues on any number of things – and I do. I am what they call an Olympian “victim”. The divorce of my parents, the loss of my mother (and some things that even I’m not ready to share) have been assimilated (rather than dealt with), to protect myself – a self-defensive mechanism that has had some unfair repercussions for our kids, in particular, our daughter.

NC has recently entered a phase of self-reflection. Like her mother, she has struggled to open the box fully on her emotions, but as she matures she is becoming more aware of the dangers of that choice. A bystander to the emotional carnage caused by the death of my mother, and our struggles with Kurt, she has inherited my need for control when it comes to her emotions. The concept of a free fall terrifies her, but she can’t ignore the logic of her scientist’s brain: that putting up barriers will prevent her development and thwart any positive relationships in her life – what she needs to reach her full potential.

Hence, there are two pieces of advice I wish to share with my daughter: the first is to surround herself and nurture relationships with a group of strong, intelligent, and diverse women who will challenge her and blow the wind in her sails when she needs it. The second is to put her heart on the line and to dare to love and trust.

What would be yours?

5 Brilliant TV Series For The Discerning Middle-Aged Couple

jeshoots-com-606648-unsplashThe old man and I watch a lot of detective series together. It’s the only genre that hits the sweet spot for both of us. For him, there are car chases, guns, and psychopaths  – although, sadly no dragons – and for me, there is typically a decent representation of female characters – albeit, few of them survive to the end. 

I’m not great at suspending belief for the sake of entertainment or indeed following the plot of any storyline with more than a handful of characters, so while I enjoyed Game of Thrones, my decaying brain found the magnitude of the cast and locations very confusing.

Unlike Unforgiven, which is another outstanding British series and almost on a par with the quality of Line Of Duty and Luther – although, I’m not sure that anything can come really close to Idris chasing baddies through the streets of London – which offers some gruesomely believable plotlines, a mesmerizing cast, and seriously pretty, chocolate box locations.

In fact, I only found one very minor flaw with the series. Because, is it just me, or is anyone else seriously amazed by the way that characters ‘called in to help with police inquiries,’ can remember EXACTLY where they were and what they were doing between the hours of 9pm and 12pm on February 3, sixteen years ago?

I mean…I struggle to remember what I was doing last night, and when friends reminisce about some great night we spent together three years ago, I can’t remember a damn thing about it.

Of course, I suppose that if I was a killer, I might remember burying the body of some poor woman in the middle of roadworks on the North Circular. But if not, I’m a little sceptical about being able to remember who was a guest at my party on New Year’s Eve, 2009. On the rare occasions that I feel nostalgic and drag out the family photo albums, sometimes I struggle to remember when the photos were taken, their location, or even which child I’m looking at!

Anyway, for those of you mid-lifers that are struggling to find a tv series that keeps you together and awake beyond 8pm,  Unforgiven is one of the best series we’ve watched over the past few months, and I’ve added a few other suggestions below:

Band Of Brothers – Understandably, there was only one woman in the entire series, (who is taken out by a bomb), but WOW! this is a truly amazing series, on a par with the standard of Saving Private Ryan. Starring a young Damian Lewis, this series will make you seriously think about the true meaning of ‘dark times.’

Unforgiven – Great cast, gritty storylines, and typically in-your-face realism which is what I love about good British detective series. You won’t find any perfectly-manicured cops on this show – they’re all damaged and saddled with personal baggage – but I love the way the characters’ personal relationships are woven into the storylines.

Jack Irish – We’re late to the party on this one, but what’s not to love about the self-deprecating wit and charisma of Guy Pearce? Great twists and turns in this awesome Aussie series.

Killing Eve – I’m a tad reluctant to add this to my list, but I can’t deny that this series was highly entertaining with some strong female characters that keep you on your toes all the way through. Personally, it got a wee bit silly for me towards the end, but that might be my issue with artistic license.

Better Call Saul – I haven’t finished this series yet, but the old man swears by it.

3 Reasons Not To Criticize Your Husband’s Cooking

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In my experience, men do not take criticism easily – whether it’s constructive or just plain mean – the latter being particularly relevant to the long marriage.

Which is why I have had to tread very carefully this week, while the old man had taken up the mantle of domestic slavery in our house, as I pull a six-day week of work. The deal in our house is that if I work outside of the home, he cooks – a domestic chore he despises. He is not Jamie Oliver, he has no confidence or intuition in the kitchen and when he gets in a panic, he has to be reminded constantly about what to do. I can tell that he is already buckling under the strain.

In hindsight, to criticize a man’s cooking is either a brave or incredibly stupid thing to do, for it ensures that:

1. It is unlikely to happen again.

2. The chances of finding a pubic hair in your food increase tenfold.

3. The next time he is in the kitchen, he won’t just use two-thirds of the saucepans, he will use EVERY frigging saucepan, every casserole dish, and utensil you own – even that fugly vintage Pyrex dish at the back of the cupboard that you inherited from his mother. 

However – disclaimer here – I should point out, that in spite of these risks, poking your nose in where it’s not wanted, may improve your chances of survival.

Last night, I came downstairs from my shower, starving, and in search of my dinner. As you can imagine, it was on the tip of my tongue to ask “what’s for dinner?” in that caveman grunt that most men have perfected, and yet I managed to control myself. Indeed, when I peered into the kitchen, I was heartened to see two beautiful salad accompaniments laid out on two plates on the bench top and my optimism grew. However, there was no sign of the salmon. 

So, with the diplomacy of Alan Jones, I pointed out to the old man the benefits to time management of cooking the protein whilst preparing the salads. My comment was met by an iciness more penetrative than any wind to blow through Westeros in all eight seasons of GOT, and the dog and I scuttled away from the kitchen pronto, to the sound of crashing pans in our ears.

I decided not to mention that lentils should be drained and rinsed before they go onto the salad, and ate what looked like frogspawn on my lettuce with gusto.

Who Said Marriage Was Easy?

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Mariella Says (in the Relationship section of The Guardian today, in response to a letter about a loveless marriage): “It’s easy to pontificate about tolerance and investment in a relationship and far harder to put it into practice. During times of difficulty it’s imperative we remember why we got hitched in the first place.”

Dear Mariella,

Prior to the old man working from home, whenever we had those marital arguments when I needed to inform him delicately about something he was or wasn’t doing that was pissing me off, I would preface it – in an attempt to soften the blow – with a genuine request that he returned the favor. I gave him free rein to constructively critique whichever parts of my behavior he deemed were speeding up our progress towards the divorce court.

However, because he’s an annoyingly, genuinely nice bloke, he always insisted that he had nothing to complain about – a strategy, I convinced myself at the time, that was a passive-aggressive way of getting even with me.

But recently, things have changed. Marriage is hard. It can stretch the patience of a saint – which I’m not – and the longer we cohabit 24/7, it seems, the more finicky my husband becomes about my living standards in comparison to his –  particularly in relation to those quirks of mine that don’t meet up to his more exacting middle-aged-man standards about tidiness.

For a man with the attention span of a five-year-old, working from home gives him an opportunity every thirty minutes or so, to wander about the house and find fault. Indeed, RULES have been imposed in relation to a whole host of trivial domestic things that I don’t give a fuck about – one example being how the dishwasher is loaded – and not being of the ilk to care unduly about the minutiae of chores that serve no real purpose other than to help me meet the domestic hygiene criteria for the purposes of my family’s safety,  I have little interest in whether the mouthwash sits on top of the vanity or beneath it.

Furthermore, his attacks pertaining to my sloppiness have brought out an unlikeable, childish side to my personality that prior to this impasse in our marriage, I had never noticed before. Hence, I find myself going out of my way to annoy him. I load the bowls on the top shelf of the dishwasher or I stand cutlery up “the wrong way”; I leave dirty coffee cups in the car and on my desk, and half-empty water bottles dotted around the house.

Honestly, for a man who in some ways is more alpha-male than the combined panel of dickheads at the Kavanaugh hearing, his tanties about domestic trivialities have become really rather annoying, and the idea of living with a nagging husband for whatever remains of our time together, much less appealing.

However, for the sake of our marriage, I have resigned myself to maintaining my oppositional stance in the face of this direct threat. I have always believed that a good relationship needs balance. And in the same way that a dash of chili makes food more interesting, I have always maintained that the minute our relationship begins to resemble a Korma, I’ll be outta here, pronto, in search of a Vindaloo.

My most unforgivable offense, I am told, is the way I stack the box of new eggs on top of the old in the fridge – a habit, I have decided, that I will never apologize for nor surrender to. In fact, I intend to provide the kids with some intense training in fridge stacking until my husband gets some purpose back into his life – or indeed, gets a life.

And The Progress Prize For Best Father This Father’s Day Goes To…

conner-baker-480775-unsplashI’d like to say an early “Happy Fathers Day” to all those men for whom fatherhood hasn’t been quite what they expected, perhaps due to their own issues, the pressures of “toxic masculinity”, or perhaps because, (as in the old man’s case), they produced a square peg.

First of all, I should probably justify my use of “toxic masculinity” in this context, which The Good Man Project defines as: ‘the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away,’ because I want to make sure that you don’t think that this is another attack on men. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Rather, it is an explanation for why some men struggle with relationships, aggression, depression and even suicide, because of the expectations leveled at them by society. It is why videos of tearful men cuddling newborns and greeting their dogs after long periods apart make women weak at the knees; it is why videos of sons coming out to accepting fathers are the best.

Margaret Mead said that “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think,” which (I believe) highlights the fine line between advising and judging our kids’ choices, as parents. We have to guide rather than direct. We have to be their consultants.

And let’s be honest, for some parents that’s easier than for others. While some parents rise to the challenge of a kid that is not textbook and who refuses to listen to a darn thing you say, some fall face down in the mud for a while before they get back up – like the old man has, in his struggle to accept Kurt’s unbridled passion for life and magnetic attraction to trouble.

That’s why I’m nominating him for a “progress prize” on Fathers Day this year.

It’s a sort of apology for all the times I used him as a boxing bag for my fears about our son or ignored his input because I was scared.

It hasn’t been easy for the son of a middle-class, ‘normie’ family (as Kurt describes neurotypicals), who was brought up in a traditional, white-picket-fence environment and for whom a crisis was when one of the boys kicked a ball over the neighbor’s fence and someone had to retrieve it. Parenting this larger-than-life son, who has turned every one of his old-fashioned values on their head, spat in the face of just about every law and convention ever created, and defied every parenting strategy, has been a learning curve for this mild-mannered man who can’t even book a table at a restaurant. It has probably taken the full twenty-one years of Kurt’s life for the old man to reach a full acceptance of him, as well as taking twenty-one years off his own; but he has been there, he has stayed the course.

There have been altercations – many vocal, some of them physical – and visits to the police together. He has been roadie, banker, and advisor to a child that has pushed him to the brink of his patience in his attempts (mostly futile) to knock some sense into educate our boy – and let me draw your attention  once again here to the fallacy that we are only given the stuff we can handle – and yet, while Kurt may not be the child either of us envisaged, I truly believe that one day the old man will thank him one day – if for no other reason than the shitload of content he has provided him with for dinner parties.

Parenting is the greatest and most arduous of journeys. It provides an education like no other and at times it is far from plain sailing. Our journey has been a rocky one, with lots of motion sickness along the way, and yet finally, I can see dry land on the horizon, and the old man helped get us there.

 

15 Things Every Middle-Aged Woman Needs In Her Handbag

  1. Panty liners and wet wipes – for when you sneeze, cough, laugh or have to jump on a trampoline to pretend you like little kids (and trampolines) at a family kid’s party.
  2. Thick foundation – to cover those break-outs of middle-aged acne or Rosacea triggered by all that intense red wine drinking exercise you’ve done recently.pete-bellis-458961-unsplash
  3. A timer – to make sure you don’t digress from your daily routine of a) pajamas by 3pm b) wine by 5pm, and c) bed by 9pm.
  4. Earplugs – so you can’t hear him when he begs for sex, mansplains or wants a money conversation.
  5. Aldi trolley coin – because one day… they will bring their Churros back.
  6. A backpacker’s expanding travel towel -for hot flushes.
  7. Spanx – in case you bump into another soulmate.
  8. Tweezers – for those rogue hairs that sprout when you’re away from home and are nurtured by office lighting.
  9. A pacifier – to remind you that life isn’t that bad.
  10. Snacks – for those hunger emergencies in between snacks.
  11. A hip flask – for your morning gin.
  12. A mini fan – because…menopause.
  13. Perfume – because you might be invisible, but you can still knock them dead with your scent.
  14. Condom – because you just never know
  15. Valium – In case there’s nowhere to buy coffee.

What have I missed?

The Twelve Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Get Married

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We go through different phases in our marriage. Sometimes we love each other with the intensity of Jack and Rose in Titanic; sometimes he’s George and I’m Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Normal, right?

It didn’t take me long to work out that marriage involves a lot of hard work and luck. There is the luck that your ambitions don’t change with time; the luck that you don’t meet your other soulmate on a chairlift at the snow after a row, and the luck that the shared moral code that bought you together in the first place doesn’t radically change during your (potentially) half-century together.

There are times when long relationships can feel as viscerally painful as someone pushing their finger into a boil – the reason, no doubt, why so many fail. But when they work, they are enlightening. 

The old man and I are in one of our quarterly sessions of testing each other’s tolerance level at the moment. It’s a game we play to keep our marriage interesting. Getting on my tits at the moment is the noise he makes when he chews on the ice cubes in his Friday night Whisky, and the way he needs to be in the exact square meterage of the kitchen as me, ALL THE TIME. Getting on his man boobs is my habit of snoring around 5am each morning, (a divorceable offense, apparently), how I leave old sweet wrappers and coffee cups in the car, and my ridiculous expectation that he leaves the house at least once a month.

The topic of what questions to ask yourself before you get married has been covered many times – most recently in Lucy Mangan’s hilarious assessment in The Guardian here. And because hers is such a great list, I’ve stolen one of her questions to kick off my own:

  1. ‘If there were a seismic event in Anglo-European politics brought about, say, by the wanton selfishness and ineptitude of a former television PR man who had unaccountably made it to the position of prime minister, which left the country riven, would you be on the same side?’
  2. Does your partner cook?
  3. Will they make you breakfast in bed, for no other reason than they love you?
  4. Will they take the bins out without argument, looks of resentment or risk of retribution?
  5. Are they against all forms of discrimination and inequality?
  6. Can they make you laugh all the time, even when you’re really cross with them?
  7. Do they have a problem with spending? Actually, allow me to rephrase that. Do they have a problem with you spending too much? And, (ahem), do you have a problem with them not wanting to spend anything at all? If you can’t agree on where your money goes, I can personally guarantee that this is a recipe for disaster that can only be overcome if they agree to 2 and 3 and 4.
  8. Do your goals match? Of course, dreams and ambitions change over time, but if your partner’s long-term goal is to travel around the globe on a yacht and you get seasick, it’s something to think about.
  9. How do you resolve disagreements? Does it really work when he shuts down like he’s on a silent retreat, while you take off like a rocket?
  10. How well do you really know each other? Do you know what your partner will order off a menu before they say it? Will it begin to annoy you when they order a burger at every meal?
  11. Level of self-centeredness. If there’s only one cube of chocolate or cookie left in the jar, will they give it to you?
  12. Do you really believe them when they swear they’ll take the kids and leave the dog should you divorce?

Sharing Your Fantasies On A Middle-Aged Weekend Getaway

She luxuriated in the fresh white cotton bedlinen of their four-poster bed as she looked up at him.  He lay over her, on his haunches, a quizzical look on his face, the muscles of his arms twitching. He was still beguilingly ripped for a middle-aged man.

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She shivered as she watched him devour her body with his eyes, lifting his face back up to hers before they reached her belly. She couldn’t believe how big he looked above her, or how small she felt beneath him as the morning light bathed the room around them, highlighting the perfect angle of his beer belly.

‘Tell me what you want?’ he murmured into her ear again, before gazing back down at her body admiringly. Was that hunger in his eyes?

She turned her head to one side, feeling shy all of a sudden. As she felt her hot red cheek cool on the sheets beneath her, she thought about how to tell him.

‘Come on,’ he begged, tracing a finger from her chins down to her cleavage. ‘Tell me. I told you, this weekend is about you.’

‘I can’t,’ she admitted, coyly, still averting her eyes.  ‘It’s embarrassing.’ She bit her lip, forgetting for one moment how much that excited him. Could she really be that honest?

‘I want what you want…’ he persevered, stroking her hair with his builder’s hands.

‘Really?’ she giggled nervously, still unable to look up at him, the image in her head so naughty somehow, and yet too delicious not to share. It had been so long… and wasn’t that why they were here, she justified.

‘Of course. I’ve told you,’ he said, patiently. Whatever makes you happy makes me happy,’ he repeated, lowering his eyes to her breasts… and then lower. ‘Tell me what your fantasy is. Tell me what is going through your mind right now,’ he pushed her, licking his lips.

‘Okay, but you have to promise me not to be disappointed.’

‘How could I ever be disappointed in you, silly?’ he asked as she felt the heat of his desire push against her thigh and saw his eyes melt to liquid chocolate. She knew she had to be brave.

‘Bacon,’ she said, closing her eyes.

‘Bacon,’ he repeated slowly with a sigh, closing his eyes, his breathing suddenly heavier. Lowering his body closer to hers, she could smell last night’s three pints and Jalfrezi on his breath as he asked in a sultry voice – ‘Streaky or back?’ 

‘Back,’ she giggled, aware of the sudden warmth between her legs as she said the word. Had she really said it out loud? She began to stroke the insides of his arms as he flexed them above her.

‘What else?’ he asked, a discernible quiver in his voice, his body beginning to move rhythmically against hers.

‘Mushrooms,’ she said, losing focus on his arms as an image of the fungi exploded into her brain.

‘Grilled?’

‘Fried,’ she answered in a guttural voice, her eye now firmly on the prize. ‘In butter. Yes! In butter,’ she gushed, raising her body to meet his, ‘with perhaps a pinch of Tarragon.’ 

‘Sausages?’ he suggested hoarsely, his hot breath on her face as his body searched hers, more roughly now, but touching her exactly where she needed him.

‘Yes, sausages!’ she repeated confidently before she shrank back into the pillow, her hand over her mouth. ‘Cumberland,’ she added, in a quieter voice. ‘Thick, moist… and floating in brown sauce.’ She enunciated the word moist slowly, secretly delighting in the look of pain that shot across his face. 

‘Now?’ he panted, unable to disguise the hope in his voice.

‘Not yet,’ she said, close.

‘What else?’ he asked, his voice strained as she heard him breathe in her skin.’

‘Those crispy potato things,’ she said, her voice rising with the increase in her heart rate, her brain unable to think clearly anymore. ‘What are they called?’ she asked him, her back arching, her body reaching for him impatiently. ‘WHAT ARE THEY CALLED?’ she screamed, soaring.

‘Hashbrowns?’

‘YES!  HASH. FUCKING. BROWNS! YES! YES! YES!

‘And eggs? Surely we need eggs?’ he shouted, panic in his voice as he looked down at her face for reassurance.

‘Fried!’ they shouted jubilantly, jumping out of bed to head down to breakfast.

 

 

 

 

Snoring: First-World Marital Problems In Middle Age

There’s no doubt that there are certain times in a marriage – like right now as the old man’s feelings of disdain and disappointment penetrate the bedroom wall because I am still in bed at 10am on a Saturday morning – that prove more testing than others. But if Trump thinks he’s got problems with Melania, he needs to get some proper perspective.  bed-945881_960_720

My snoring problem is dragging us towards an awkward low point in our relationship that I could never have envisaged at the altar twenty-five years ago when we carelessly promised to love each other “in sickness and in health,” without first consulting the small print.

Last night, I was awoken by the brutal sensation of something flicking at my nose, a physical abuse that the old man denies – he says I was dreaming – nevertheless, still an act of desperation on his part that I won’t be able to forgive quickly.

He has admitted (under the influence of alcohol) that there have been several occasions in the middle of the night as he has listened to my Darth Vader impression, that he has plotted my murder; and the only other time in our relationship when he came close to such impassioned feelings about my existence was when I almost killed him with food poisoning.

He has never been able to look a bacon and mushroom risotto in the eye since then.

I have no idea why I’ve suddenly started snoring, and my anxiety refuses to lead me down the terrifying route of potentially life-threatening medical reasons such as sleep apnoea – WHICH CAN KILL YOU –  but when your own husband has considered taking that option into his own hands, it gets you thinking.

Like, perhaps he should invest in some decent earplugs?

There is, of course, another option, because we are fortunate to have a spare bedroom in our current home. The problem is, neither of us is willing to contemplate it as a serious solution and move out. And probably not for the reasons you might assume, because one thing we do agree on is that the potential risk of less intimacy doesn’t come close to the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Both of us like our own bed, and particularly our (only successful joint furniture) purchase of the mattress we bought a few years back, that has since been sculpted perfectly into the shape of our three bodies. In my view, a good mattress is one of the key components to a happy life, and the mattress in the spare room is an old one that the kids and their friends have spewed, weed and no doubt done other stuff on while we’ve been away. We also NEED to have an ensuite a stone’s throw away – because middle-aged bladders – and we like the security of having the dog between us to keep us warm in winter and to bark in the middle of the night each time a leaf drops. 

Neither of us is prepared to give up the sanctuary of the master bedroom – not for the sake of our marriage or his sanity – which means our little problem has turned into something resembling a standoff, and our attempts to work this problem out in a mature way, (as in one befitting our age) – ie. nose plugs, ear plugs, medication and angry prods in the night – have confirmed, once again, that we are not mature. I think that because he is the type of unnaturally light sleeper that can hear drunks being kicked out of the local pub in the next suburb – he should be the one to move out; he thinks that because I didn’t snore when he married me, our current situation is a perfect example of misrepresentation, and the punishment should fit the crime.

First-world marital problems.

Who do you think is right?

 

 

A Postmortem Of Twenty-Five Years Of Marriage

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As we hurtle towards our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary – celebrations and condolences for which are still under negotiation – it seems to me that the timing couldn’t be more perfect for a postmortem of our relationship.

 

I’ll be honest with you, as the product of divorced parents, I never expected our marriage to last, and like many couples in long-term relationships, we have experienced our share of highs and lows. Particularly this year. Living TOGETHER, and working from home TOGETHER, have inevitably created pressure points that at times have pushed us closer to our own re-enactment of the last scene in “The Notebook”.

 

And yet, here we are, still breathing, still together, together forever – words he taunts me with when I’m grumpy – as we morph into the middle-aged stereotypes we always denied we’d become. He is the archetypal grumpy old man who shouts at the television, wears socks with sandals, and feels no guilt about excusing himself from social gatherings. I am the highly-strung, middle-aged other half, secretly more suited to life as Betty Draper, in spite of my feminist idealism. 

 

My father describes our marriage as a life sentence, and sometimes, (as some of you will agree), it feels like it. But although marriage doesn’t get any easier, the ageing process does have a clever way of smoothing over cracks that in the past we might have left exposed. And perhaps, as well, both of us feel like we’ve passed the point of no return in our relationship. The idea of intimacy with anyone else is terrifying, we are comfortable with our silences, and unapologetic about the deterioration in our physical standards.

 

Our marriage has enriched and evolved like a fine wine. Not like those schmaltzy, finger-down-your-throat senior love matches depicted in British movies – usually set in India – no, we are more Jerry and Margo Leadbetter from “The Good Life” or Ethel and Norman Thayer from “On Golden Pond”. We have traded the fireworks for a resigned acceptance of how we should behave at our age, although secretly we keep our swords sharpened.

 

When he is loving life, I hate it. When I’m chill, he’s a stress ball. While he condemns me through his silence, I am a spitting, yapping Rottweiler. While he rarely criticizes me, I prepare a review of him each morning to contemplate throughout his day – although I have noticed some underground attempts to alter that status quo, demonstrating a worm-turning bravery in middle age that he concealed from me as a young man.

 

The other day he accused me of not putting the lid back on the toothpaste.

 

‘What lid?’ I countered, bristling as I frantically racked the wine-addled cells of my brain for a visual of our bathroom vanity and the scrunched up toothpaste tube.

 

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PETTY – I’m sure you will agree. And yet, pettiness evolves with marriage in the same way that deep love and respect do, and so: his refusal to refill the oats container, the fact that he only empties the recycling box once it has overflowed and the way he asks me what’s for dinner the day before – a cardinal sin in the universally accepted rules of marriage – have all been duly noted, and will be used in retribution, sometime in the future.

 

But he’s my best mate. I know what he’s going to say before he says it; he has steered me through more dark tunnels than I can remember, forcing his sweaty hand into mine exactly when I’ve needed it. He makes me laugh when I am determined not to, and his impression of Miguel Maestre from The Living Room has to be seen to be believed.

 

Admittedly, his close relationship with the dog is bordering on seedy, he has rarely bought me flowers, can’t cook for toffee, and is useless when it comes to DIY. And yet he can put a smile on my face even when storms rage around us.

 

The set of scales has always wavered precariously in our marriage, yet somehow, it always finds its balance in the end.