Things I did not manage to do last week:
- Remember that we were supposed to grow a cress-head thing for a competition at school, until a Facebook status reminded me.
- Actually grow a cress-head thing (luckily the kids said they didn’t want to, because they “don’t like competitions”- so I got to dodge a parental fail and feel smug about my peace-making, surely future UN negotiator children).
- Anything at all towards planning my rather huge upcoming career change.
Things I did manage to do last week:
- Meet up with three different friends on three different occasions.
Some might say my priorities are off. I say they are bang on. As we whack our way laboriously through these ‘midult’ years (it’s a thing, apparently- the ages between 35-55, according to experty types) like so much bracken and brambles, I say that our friends are just as important as they were when we were teenagers- perhaps even more so. In fact, I feel that our midult friendships have much in common with our teenage ones.
At eighteen, life feels bewildering and huge. You have no idea about anything. Who am I? What will I become? Am I in love? God, what’s happening to my body?
You’re peering over the edge of something, and it feels like the shit is about to get real. Sex. Relationships. The Terrifying Future. Your friends are there with you throughout, riding the raw realness of it all.
Then in our thirties, when we’re supposed to be grown up and settled, the truth hits us in the face like a spade: we still have no idea about anything. Life feels bewildering and huge again. Should I have children? When should I have children? Gah, I have children. Am I in love? Am I still in love? And of course: God, what’s happening to my body?
Now the shit really is real, and this seems to be the time of life when it also starts to hit the fan in ways both glorious and awful. Birth. Divorce. Bereavement. Redundancy. Parenthood. All of life’s rich tapestry is here in these midult years, and sometimes it feels like it’s unraveling in your hands.
To mix my metaphors with gay abandon, now you’re peering over the edge again- except now there’s a real possibility that you might fall off. And when you do, you know who’s going to be there to catch you: your mates. Just like they were when you were eighteen.
Just like then, they’ll be there to listen; to talk, and every other reply will be ‘YES! Me too!’; to cry; to laugh (while sometime crying at the same time) until your drinks come out of your noses. The drinks now may be different- slightly more expensive, and crucially not vodka jelly- but the laughter is the same.
There’s one big difference, though: while those heady teenage friendships were characterised by great expanses of time, midult friendships are defined by a lack of it.
Back then, nights out would stretch into mornings; you could spend weeks in each other’s company (my friend Ben and I almost literally spent every night and day of the summer of 1999 together- we shared a bed, we worked the same summer job, we ate all the cheese and crackers and we drank all the tea. It felt like it would never end).
Now, time for friends is almost unbearably truncated. Work, family, trying to stave off inevitable physical decay by charging around the local park, the all-important sleep. All of these jostle to push time with friends further down our to-do lists.
At that’s why midult women, I think, develop a crucial new life skill, which I will call power-palling. We kick social niceties to the curb and cut to the chase, so that when we do meet, it is maximum impact and minimum filler. For example…
You arrive to pick your kids up from a friend’s house. The children are en masse doing that weird writhey thing where they watch telly with one leg on the sofa and their chins on the floor. ‘Sorry it smells of poo,’ your friend says by way of greeting. You plonk your handbag down and get straight to the point: “I had a weird smear test result. I’ve just had a camera…there… and I’m a bit scared, but the doctor said it’s probably OK.’ In ten minutes flat, you’ll have to take the kids home to bed, or their heads will implode. But by the time you leave, you feel better.
Or, when the shit is realler than real and hitting the fan like nothing else, you knock on your friend’s door and, when they open it, you just start crying straight away. There is no time to waste at our time of life!
Power-palling is your friend responding to a text in twenty seconds when she thinks you are in crisis, when everyone knows that 36 hours or more is a perfectly acceptable response time for non-crisis text conversations these days.
It’s squeezing two month’s worth of catching up, laughing and mulling life over into the two hours between the kids’ bedtimes and your own- because you both understand that, as glorious as your union and the sauvignon blanc may be, your lives may depend on not having a hangover tomorrow morning.
(I have to caveat, here, that I think this all applies to people who don’t have kids, too- this isn’t a ‘parent thing’: it’s just that my only life examples involve kids, because they have a way of penetrating every single thing that you do and are).
It’s concocting an actual agenda- in your head, or even on paper- of crucial things to discuss over a cup of tea, and continuing to shout them at each other as your mate bumps her buggy down your front steps and wheels it down the street. ‘WE HAVEN’T EVEN DISCUSSED THE PATRIARCHY/BEYONCE/INSTAMUMS!’ you yell forlornly at her retreating back, and you already can’t wait until next time.
As I write this, I’m painfully aware that there are friends I haven’t caught up with for far too long, whom I love and whom I really must power-pal at the first opportunity. Friends, I am coming for you. I may be waxing my legs at the same time, and I do have to pick up the car from the garage in 45 minutes, but we both know that’s more than enough time to make everything alright in our worlds.