Sunday, 19 April 2020

The Lady Vanishes

I would say it's been a while... but I'd be repeating myself. I haven't been idle however, since the nationwide lockdown began (on my birthday weekend no less!) I've been blogging over at "Viral Music" in an effort to find a suitable outlet for my passion for Anglican choral music whilst also assisting our local church and choir community during the pandemic.

Pandemic. Not a word I thought I would be writing in 2020 - nor indeed one you perhaps thought you would be reading either. A word from a bygone era, it has catapulted us into a world of Big Government, economic inertia and community driven enterprise. After an initial, highly commendable explosion of positivity and enthusiasm, many I speak with now are feeling this energy wane as the weight of uncertainty over the short, medium and longterm human reality becomes all consuming. The difficulties in working from home - or indeed, lack of difficulty for some - are well reported, as are the problems in delivery of food supplies, PPE and the subject of our children's education. Concerns about shielding the vulnerable, supporting key workers, flattening the curve have all been well scrutinised and reported. What I am increasingly aware of however, and which almost no one is talking about - is the impact of lockdown on women of a certain age. More specifically the stay at home mums; the middle aged women who were quietly breaking free from the confines of the home and starting to spread their wings.

Photo by Edgar Hernández on Unsplash

I've joked on social media that I've "levelled up" on the domestic front and will soon be at "Abigail's Party" level, although I'm not sure if that's serving amazing canapés or quietly drinking gin in the corner...... but I was neither incapable before, nor lazy. I've spent years catering for exclusion diets, reinventing the wheel, cooking for a large family and supporting my parents. We can only self cater when we go away and I only have a cleaner because of a severe dust allergy - without her the house is spotless even if I do have a permanent sniff.

It's just that I want more.

Having a family is without doubt my greatest success, source of happiness and fulfilment. Whilst not aspiring to Felicity Kendall's dizzy heights of domesticity in "The Good Life" I've always been one for getting stuck in, parenting every moment to the max - and I love it. I've dedicated two decades to my children and wouldn't have it any other way. In fact their successes have inspired my own and I have their passion for music to thank for reigniting my love of choral singing. In recent years I've experienced my world expanding beyond the home, beyond the kitchen and it's been liberating, hugely enjoyable and immensely satisfying. Whilst many mums struggle to move beyond the early years, finding their teenagers difficult to connect with; I can say hand on heart I have grown with mine and enjoy an excellent relationship with all of them, perhaps because I've spread my wings as they've spread theirs.

To find this new freedom suddenly withdrawn and the door slammed shut has been surprisingly difficult to cope with. My life has reverted to one of pure domesticity, three loads of washing a day and constant requests for food. I joked on Facebook today that it feels as if we've returned to the 1970s - but it wasn't really a joke. My world is suddenly much smaller, much quieter and 90% of it revolves around the kitchen.

Once again I'm the invisible woman in the kitchen, facilitating rather than participating. That's not to say the family don't help, they do - and we've also had some brilliant family time whilst the younger two have learned to cook meals themselves and gained some valuable life skills. I just feel the balance has gone as a whole chunk of my current life has vanished which was somehow counterbalancing the domestic demand! I'm not being asked to do things differently - I'm being asked to not do things, and that's completely different.

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash
 It is of course a minor consideration at a time of national solidarity against a deadly disease, but one which compounds an issue I have felt compelled to write about before. In our healthcare system, the elderly and the young are seemingly well catered for - I have evidence of both ends of the spectrum functioning well within our NHS. My parents see the GP regularly, have significant health issues which are regularly followed up, community care where appropriate and inclusive care. My children's care has been less consistent for reasons I've written about previously, but recently it's been pretty well managed and I've gained confidence that they are less likely to "slip through the cracks". My own health is another story and it sometimes feels as if women cease to exist once they reach 40, only to reappear around age 65.

In the fashion world, the same phenomena manifests and I frequently struggle to find stores selling anything aimed at women of my generation. It's as if during the years of peri-menopause we literally fade into the shadows, until society can redefine us post-retirement.

I've found this odd, since for me this time in my life is the antithesis of fading away. Having been defined as someone's mum for the past two decades (and before I am merely someone's carer) I've been slowly emerging from the cocoon of motherhood, rediscovering who I am and spreading my wings. Granted this can be difficult with a 16-18 year old adolescent with ADHD and ASD at home 24/7 , but given he's mostly nocturnal mornings in particular had become my own. Which is why the lockdown has come as such a  profound shock. I don't have a "job" to do from home,  I'm not at school, working towards any specific goal. I've just lost a large part of myself.

So for all my friends feeling the same- I hear you. I see you. There is life beyond the kitchen, waiting for the day we can reclaim it, celebrate it and live it. Solidarity sisters.

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