THis year, I almost forgot my birthday was coming up.
Sometimes, its like I hit 21, and someone somewhere hit the fast forward button. Months pass quickly, I suppose I will get to the point where years pass quickly. I am going on holiday next week(nothing outrageous- just a shared house with some friends and their kids in the Cotswolds). This means that actually, I will probably spend my birthday sorting out my washing, and playing with the short one.
This year, its 31. Am supposed to feel sad about that. Its been all over the papers that some presenter has been sacked for being too old- and thats the thing with us girls. Once we hit 25, we are supposed to be concerned about the lines, the wrinkles, our fading usefulness, now we dont fit with this ideal of a perfect looking 21 year old. Youth is all, skin like a fresh apricot, taut stomach, arse you could bounce a penny off. People make jokes, pretend that they think I am older- like its supposed to be a bad thing.
Strangest thing though. Possibly not surprising for those who know me, but actually its no bad thing. In fact, I quite like it.
I have lived on my own since I was just shy of my 16th birthday. I always looked much younger than I was. I had 13 year old stepsons at 23, and long before I was this person getting to grips with parenting Rachel, I was parenting boys who were 10 years my junior. I had this life, this great life, but this life that felt a bit pretending. Like I was pretending to be a grown up. Its cliche for our generation, that we all think we are faking adulthood, and that someone will come along, and take away the mortgage, the house, the career(have been lucky enough to have two), and send us back to double maths.
We arent faking it. I wasnt faking despairing cos Daniel had left it till the last minute to tell me he needed cooking ingredients. I certainly wasnt faking going to work in situations where the decisions I made had consequences that could last a lifetime for others. Any more than I was faking the nights out with my friends, where the sun coming up didnt really indicate that the night was over. What made me feel like I was faking it, wasnt that when I looked in the mirror, I saw a girl who barely looked 20. What made it feel like I was faking it, was that other people couldnt see past that girls face.
Up until my daughter was born, I looked like a child. I had the skin of a child, enviable I was told. Same with my body- absolutely the ideal apparently. Tiny, fat free- like a little diet yoghurt-sample size- which meant buying designer bargains was much easier.
I was once carrying out a consultancy for Leeds City Council. I was about 23, and it was quite an impressive consultancy. Designing, delivering, and evaluating a series of training events, to be delivered across the service, designed to improve performance…blah blah blah. The head of their training team came to meet with me, and I went downstairs with the guy who did my admin. When we got there, the Leeds City Council guy, shook the admin guys hand, and asked me for a cup of coffee.
That kind of thing happened a lot. In the supermarket with the boys, I got ID’d for a bottle of vodka, even though I had a shopping trolley with what was clearly not the shopping of a young girl trying to score booze. (Seriously, if I had tried to score booze at 15, which I frequently did, I wouldnt have been buying a shopping trolley which included 12 toilet rolls, and enough food to satisfy a swarm of locusts, which by the way is the nearest comparison to having twin adolescent boys in your house-food wise).
When the things that I was supposed to prize started to fade. No longer could you bounce a penny of the arse, the breasts slightly out of kilter after going from a 34a to a 38c and back down again, after feeding Rachel for 15 months. The stomach still flattish, but no longer taut. Skin that could probably do with makeup more often than I can be bothered, and no longer fresh faced and able to fake life, after a weekends activities that apparently it is ‘sad’ that I still enjoy. My ovaries are apparently committing genocide on the eggs contained within, – and the sound of a biological clock should be deafening. All these things that indicate deteriorating usefulness, have actually signalled the start of something else. Something else entirely.
I dont get called sweetheart any more. People dont confuse me with the tea girl any more. I dont get people looking at me, like I really should be shunted back to double chemistry. And the incongruence between a fresh face, and the life I live, is no longer apparent.
I dont get people astounded that a the blonde girl in heels, with the baby face, actually has a working knowledge of economics, or middle eastern politics, or can grasp philosophical concepts. The dismissal of who I am, because I happened to be a girl who fit in with conventional norms of what a pretty girl is supposed to be, has stopped. Not altogether, but enough for there to be a noticeable difference in my life.
Without those dismissals, I have changed. I dont feel the need to justify my existence. I know who I am, and when I say something, I know that that view is worth as much, and is considered as the view of the person I am addressing. There is no confusion for the person I am addressing, no incongruence between what they see before them, and what they hear coming out of my mouth. My idealism has been tempered slowly over the years by pragmatism, but the principles remain unchanged.
The imperfections that age is slowly bringing(and lets face it, at 31 the ‘deterioration’ is only just starting) havent even made me look worse.
The fact that I am not constantly aware of my appearance, or how it might be perceived= no longer worried about the dissonance between the appearance and the reality- has led to a comfort in my own skin, which shows itself when I carry myself, in the way I dress, and in the expression that I hold. No longer the ideal of a pretty girl, I now look like the grown woman that I am.
Unap0logetic. And I have to say, if this is what being in your thirties does. If losing what society appears to prize in women above all else, means being allowed to be who I am- then long may it continue. May the arse sag, the crows land round my eyes, and the waist spread. May the skin wrinkle- because each of those changes, I will earn. They are a sign, that I am no longer 21 and pretending to be a grown up. Each line and sag, is another sign that not only am I learning to live in the world, but that I HAVE lived in the world. If you dont mind, now that the neurosis of early youth are fading, I am not sure I want to swap them with a new bunch of fears, that god forbid, I might age.
And the security that comes with that, which I have barely tasted- seems a whole lot more fun, than constantly worrying about how others perceive me, about whether I will be taken seriously, whether I fit the ideal.
So Happy 31st Birthday to me, and I hope that the feelings that my thirties brought continue- because quite honestly- if this is 31, then 41, 51, 61, can only be fucking amazing. If each of the lines that my face shows, is a little more wisdom, and a little more knowledge, and a little bit of my contribution to the world- then I want a face like an A=Z of Britain. The understanding of the world, that is only just beginning, allows me to enjoy the world, in a way that looking 21 never did.