The Reckoning

I can’t remember feeling young. 

I was that kid who seemed to have an other-worldly shift about my drooped shoulders. At University I was the go-to for deep and meaningful conversations about life, the Universe and everything.

And yet now, I even type in old age into Google and I don’t get a sage old woman brimming with sense and wisdom. NO, I get that pic of a Bedouin woman, all dried out.

Dried out? And now I embarrass my children – dried out, really? 

I have been wise for as long as I can remember, and that’s OK. It’s just, recently I’ve been feeling old.

It’s not about the silver wisdom streaks I have painted in fire red at the hairdressers’ every six weeks or so. It’s not because of the silver streaks across my expanding flank, or thigh. It’s not about the lack of attention…I was promised invisibility in my forties and yet I still seem to enjoy the cheeky smile or cursive eyebrow that suggests something…

No, it’s not those typical markers of age and stage. It’s these, these new-age versions, of the same.

About two months ago my 40 kg puppy (it’s a mindset, not a body frame!) thumped into me side-on and dislodged my knee cap. Amongst the doctor’s whistles and gasps, he murmured about orthopaedic surgeons and on-going physio. I feigned deafness. (An old age sign if ever there was one).

I muttered and swore all the way, the entire 200m from my car to the x-ray rooms but when the elderly gent offered a kind arm I smiled and said ‘no thanks, all good.’ The x-ray results were good and bad.

I don’t have a torn meniscus (yay) but I do have arthritis.

Seriously?

That means, of course, that I can never again run-off the excess from a weekend of wine and pork. Does anyone know if Pilates can have the same calorie gazumping effect?

Following the arthritis diagnosis, which was by no means a small thing, there was the continuing discussions with my Mum who has been more than a little unwell. We’re not sure how old she is – she says 78yrs, my birth certificate suggests 80 years.

Does it really matter?

What does matter is that she has become increasingly unwell. Oxygen reliant, unwell. Prayers in the 2 am dark, unwell. My elegant, vivacious, character of a Mum. And yet in the midst of the stress and the drama I haven’t reacted well. When asked to transport her to A&E I freaked. Barely breathing (me as well as her) I drove like a nutter through the Brissy traffic to the private hospital. Except, no one told me that there are two hospitals side by side in North Brisbane. I’d arrived in my mercy chariot at the wrong one. In the end, I had to wheel the patient in her chair in 26degs heat from one hospital to the other.

Surreal. And sweaty.

To be fair, I didn’t behave well. I tried, but actually, I didn’t manage to pull it off. I was not Florence Nightingale under fire. More a sweary Nurse Ratchett in need of a drink.

I felt old then.

Tired. But then, as far as I’ve observed old and tired are somewhat the same thing. Tiredness can be physical, mental, spiritual. Sometimes, it can simply be all three.

The patient recovered enough to go home and maintain her independence, as is her raison d’etre. I ring when I can. It’s not easy.

I recovered from my sprained knee, but just this past week I’ve been feeling so terribly weathered.

One child (are they really children now?) has gained a boyfriend, one a ‘proper’ job and another a tertiary future she cannot wait to begin.

And me?

This week with the wind and the rain whipping at my heart and mind I’m feeling nest-empty-useless. Oh sure, not working every hour God sends has meant that I can reach out and help those around me, and there have been a few, but in my quiet moments, I wonder ‘what next?’

What’s my mission now? Another book? Sure. But what? What next? What should I be doing?

At 49 years old I don’t feel invisible at all. Perhaps that’s because I have never relied on my physicality, my sexuality. Instead, I’ve relied on my intellectualism. But I’ve never felt physically faded because in reality I never had that physicality at all. Yet, I feel weary. Will a holiday fix it?

My toy-boy husband, six years younger doesn’t suffer the same fate. He wears his wisdom streaks like armour. He should. He’s earnt them. Life’s not been fair to him and he is no longer the carefree young man he once was. I stand by him, and yet, and yet my arthritic knee aches…

Or is it a simple truth – my kids, my parents are moving on. I am no longer the Queen of my environs. And no matter what I do, I have chin hairs and a bloody good starter-beard. I am staring down the reality of an empty nest. Me, my arthritis, exhaustion, and all.

Middle age is a bitch. And no amount of oils, and smoothies and wellness retreats will make it better.

Some women enter the menopausal age with defiance. They are proud crones. Am I? Crone is my second to least favourite c-word. There’s no respect there.

What will make a difference, is a sense of purpose. I’m looking for mine, right now. I’m fighting back the urge to grab a backpack and go save the children. Or fight for the freedom fighters, or to slip the homeless a tenner, or to simply answer the dulcet Facebook Messenger tones when one of the womb fruit need me.

I need a purpose.

Do you have yours? Tell me about it. Inspire me. I have about forty more years on this planet, what should I do with it?

 

Begin again

Image from Pixabay CC

Chris Cornell is dead, and my Facebook feed is full of grief. And posts offering hot cups of tea or coffee and open doors to all who harbour the same kind of desperate suicidal thoughts that plagued the rock star.

But not mine. I don’t feel sad for the man himself.

I feel sorry for Vicky, his wife.

He is gone. He is no longer here to feel sorry for. No, I feel sorry for Vicky, his wife, the one left behind to begin again.

I  know how hard it can be when mental health problems worm into the heart of a family, and once lodged there in all that fleshy, juicy love and care, digs in and starts to poison it.

It’s true that I’m not familiar with the star’s music so perhaps that explains my inability to share in the public outpouring of grief. Or maybe it’s just because I am full up with sorry. 

I’m sorry for the woman who lost her soul mate. I’m sorry for the days, months, years before his death, that were filled with pain and anger and frustration. For all those bitter tortured arguments that lead to tears alone on a bed wondering if he would ever return from wherever he had stormed out to.

I’m sorry for the terrifying sense of responsibility. When you’re the well one in a relationship common wisdom would have it that you are responsible for the care of the other. You analyse the spat out words. Did he or she really mean ‘I hate my life’? How much, did he mean it?  Would he actually act on it?

You’re not the only one who lays the weight of responsibility directly at your feet. Our social services and our overburdened medical services do too. Oh sure, they can write the scripts and deliver the medical remedy, but it is the family who is sent straight back home with their messed-up loved one, to enact the care prescribed by the doctors in their tidy consulting rooms.

They’re the ones asked to monitor the taking of medication. To become immediate medical specialists in recognising signs of deterioration, to try and make do and mend. It’s a mental health crisis out there. So many people hurting. So many people with depression, but God forbid you or your loved one is diagnosed with the less trendy malady – bipolar or schizophrenia.

I’m sorry for the sense of loss. The happy ever after that didn’t happen. The anguish that comes from feeling there’s no way to stop the runaway train and the inevitable tragic end to the journey.

I’m sorry for the guilt. I’m sorry that no matter how hard she tried, how careful and supportive she was, it wasn’t enough to stop him. I’m sorry for her regrets. I’m sorry for her anger. And her soul-destroying guilt.

It never could be enough. We are not responsible for another adult. To ensure the quality and longevity of his life was never her responsibility, but I know she won’t hear it.

All those open doors on Facebook and all those empty tables resplendent with hot drinks and homemade biscuits are pointless hollow gestures.  Damaged people don’t often scour the streets looking for open doors. It’s hard enough calling an anonymous telephone number and crying for help. It’s even harder when they tell you, that your pain or your loved one’s pain is not enough. It doesn’t merit immediate attention. 

‘But if you could just pop down the road and find an open door…’

And let’s hope you don’t feel that way on a weekend when only crisis teams can help. Is it a crisis? How do you know? When they wheel his body away?

Of course, it is dreadfully sad that Chris’ last days were so tortured, that he so desperately needed help and couldn’t find it. It is tragic, but I still don’t cry for him. Funerals are never for the dead, they are for those still living but dying inside.

The helpers who tried to help.

The helpers who reached the end of their patience and kindness and compassion, and had nothing more to give from the empty shell.

The mother who couldn’t reach the son.

The friend who didn’t want to butt in.

The child who lost his Dad and he doesn’t understand.

The Facebook friend, with her well-meaning door wide open.

The wife who tried so hard and now feels this maelstrom of emotions – anger, guilt, fear, loneliness.

The ones left behind who realise just how temporary this life is. How fragile.  Who did what they could. The ones who have to begin living again when they don’t know how. I feel for them with all my aching heart.

What Mum Really Wants on Mother’s Day

Mother-love

She opened the packet with considerably more care than it had been wrapped. Seven-year-old eyes watched closely as she did. Waiting. Lip bitten. Butterfly stomach heaving slightly. Mother’s Day was always stressful.

Will Mum like it?

She’d made it in the lost hours between after-school and dinner time, a time she usually filled with riding her bike to the end of the street and calling out like Tarzan so her voice echoed around the neighbourhood. If not on her bike she would watch after-school programmes on the large square TV that commandeered attention in the lounge. The Brady Bunch, My Three Sons, Worzel Gummidge. The best programming from around the world. She would watch transfixed, only moving if the sounds of the theme to Dr Who started. Then she would race to her hiding spot under the stairs where the Daleks could not reach her.

She had sacrificed these lazy after school afternoons to make this Mother’s Day present. The present itself was the best of three efforts and the product of numerous tears and yelps of frustration.

Mum peeled back the jagged strip of sellotape and opening the crumbled package, she took out a small bright red hand knitted rectangular item.

“It’s a purse for all your money!”

Mum carefully turned it over. The front featured a bright red button she’d knicked from the button drawer and cut out opening for the button to ease through. It was starting to fray.

“Do you like it?”

Mum smiled. “I love it.”

Mum leant over and planted a kiss onto dark curls. “Did you make it?”

The little girl nodded. “All by myself!”

The sound of crockery clattering interrupted the conversation and her older sister appeared at the bedroom door, arms full with a tray of toast and tea and a flower picked from the garden.

“Ah, and here’s breakfast,” Mum said with a smile that reached out like hands and pulled the daughters close to her.

“Happy Mother’s Day Mum!”.

 

There are only two things every single Mum wants for Mother’s Day, if not every day, and it’s not diamond bracelets, or expensive perfume, or fancy lunches out. It’s simply these two things.

Time off from the responsibility of being Mum. Time and space to just be and to mother herself, attend to herself for a time without stressing about what’s for dinner or whether there’s clean school uniform for the week ahead, or frantically trying to sort out arguments between siblings or even scheduling calls to absent grown-up children.

Time off. One whole day, each year. Two days if you count her birthday. Don’t mention Christmas, that’s not a holiday, that’s bought, wrapped, fed and delivered to the family by Mum, not Santa Claus.

The second thing is simply loving appreciation. Not expensive or extravagant displays engineered to give the effect of being seen to be loving. No, a clear expression of what being Mum means to those she takes care of. Not just from her children either. It would be ideal if the appreciation was expressed by her husband and all those others she mothers in the extended family and community.

“She’s not my Mum” shouldn’t be used as an excuse for inattention. After all, if all Mums (biological, emotional, spiritual. ALL Mums!) were to stop giving the world would be a far worse place.

The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world, they say. If you have doubt about that consider the twisted energy currently commanding world politics, and consider this question: What would the world look like if it was instead a maternal energy?

This Mother’s Day, go tell the Mum in your life (the person who is Mum to you) how much you love and appreciate her. Consider it your contribution to changing the global mood, or at the very least, honouring the person who has been the faithful midwife to your life and dreams.

And the little red, knitted purse?

It pretty much unravelled and never held coins, but rather it held something far more precious – the simply expressed love of a small girl for her Mum.

Things I learnt whilst walking the big, black dog

I have a big black dog. Yes,  in the flesh as well as metaphorically.

Each day I attempt to walk him around our neighbourhood, though this very rarely turns out well. In actuality, I am the hair and red cheeks at the end of the lead as Dog (with a very big D) races off to discover the sensory wonders of a leftover ham sandwich that picnickers have left behind.

He’s a good dog. A loving dog with a big tongue and a gentle mouth. He’s quite simply the largest Labrador pup I’ve ever seen, let alone welcomed onto the end of my bed. It’s not that he doesn’t have his own bed, in fact, he has two, but most nights you will find him stretched out between the husband and I snoring loudly enough to wake the dead. He is a good dog though. He is the very best lawn licking, knicker nicking pup there is, and he often teaches me things as he drags me along the suburban streets hair first.

Today was rubbish day. It was a warm but not stifling morning. Clouds sat on the horizon too content to rumble or race . I walked Nitro down the hill past the faux-castle (yes, we are a nation of funny folk) and around the corner towards the track that wends its way over the headland down to the Marina. I learnt many, many things about my neighbours today.

1/ My neighbours like wine. And Bombay Sapphire. And milk.  Lots and lots of milk bottles in the recycling. Does the milk consumption ameliorate the alcoholic consumption?

2/ If one should rise in the clothes they’ve slept in (none) one does not need to pull the curtains. One should greet the sun in the altogether and as they do smile at the rubbish man and the woman with the frizz challenged hair walking the dog. I have some pretty unattractive neighbours.

3/ Dogs have a sixth, seventh and eighth sense, but it’s their ninth sense I want to focus in on. Dogs sense evil. Whether supernatural, human darkness, or rabid feline, dogs sense it. There can be no other reason why my puppy duppy stood dead still on the street and barked at a gate. If I’d let go of the leash he would have eaten that gate and spat out the bolt. He might have licked the letterbox for afters…but what was he barking at? No one was there. No one. Not a cat or dog or noxious human. What was he barking at? Resident evil. That’s my pick.

4/ Seagulls can fly, dogs can not. Shame. Suck it up buttercup. In this sucky life, there will always be seagulls, and some of us will always be Labradors.

5/ Midlife angst is alive and well and rearing to go at about 80km per hour in a 50 km zone. I’m assuming the decibel rating of his raceway scream up the road is directly inverse to the size of his manhood. Middle age sucks but please don’t kill a couple of kiddies in your quest to prove your virility.

6/ What’s wrong with people who put out ONE rubbish sack? One. One little bag. It wasn’t even full. Do these people live? Do they bleed? Are they real? One…? I’m still trying to get my head around that as I cross the street with two of my sacks and casually place them in my neighbour’s lineup. And when I nonchalantly push the jangling recycling bin out to the kerb. We have lots of jars and um, cordial bottles.

7/ Little lap dogs don’t pooh. Apparently. That’s the only explanation I have for discovering thousands of cheerio turds along my route. Their owners mustn’t notice when Todd needs a sit. Perhaps they’re checking their phone? Interesting how it’s always little poohs that aren’t plonked into doggy bags and removed. We know because it’s always the little ones that Nitro hoovers up before I have a chance to stop him.

8/ A good life is full of many little things, and in order to really squeeze the marrow out of this life, we should sniff and bite and sometimes inhale every single paspalum sprig, and every single fern. Though Nitro’s determination to sniff every single little thing means my walk around the neighbourhood takes so long I could possibly do it quicker on hands and knees than whilst walking him, he has taught me something. What if we were to stop and mindfully experience our lives instead of just marching on, how much better would our lives be?

I have a big black dog. On good days and bad days, I walk him around the carefully kept gardens of Half Moon Bay. I peer not-at-all-creepily through windows of empty houses and wonder where the people are and I puzzle at the vagaries of the weather that sweeps in off the harbour. With the help of my big Black Dog I see everything, hear everything and feel everything.

I have a big black dog, both actually and metaphorically. It’s a blessing and a curse, but at least I know I am truly alive.

Death of a Blog

Kiwi modern storyteller

I guess it’s sad to start with a death. But, in truth most new things do start with the ending of something else.

In the words of the song – every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

I decided at the beginning of the year that Vegemitevix was to be quietly and humanely put to sleep.

After all, I can’t relaunch as Vicki Jeffels Author and start this blog without saying goodbye to the old Vixen.

Rebranding is quite involved, as any marketing consultant will tell you, and I’m still working on changing all the social media accounts and organising redirects. Vegemitevix.com is still up but more as a headstone than something alive and dynamic. In time, I will quietly turn the life support system off and it will cease to be.

But oh the memories will live on.

Not least of which because some of them have been captured in my book From Pavlova to Pork Pies which was published late last year.  Other memories will live on in our heads, as contrary to perceived wisdom things don’t live on the internet forever – we are so bombarded by information from every quarter only the truly relevant remains vital. The rest will fade away, gracefully. Just as the old gang has faded from view.

I lecture in Digital Marketing now and when I consider the blogging hey-day of 2008-2012 I am in awe at what we achieved. Young bloggers have no idea how much easier it is now to get started and to turn professional. Back then, the majority of ‘Mummy bloggers’ were trying to keep their career lives happening whilst raising the kids, and we fought hard to be taken seriously. When brands asked us to blog about shampoo and offered a bottle as payment, we sent it back. We said ‘thanks but no thanks’ to SEO opportunists who demanded backlinks for ‘the exposure’. ‘Just think of the exposure’ they’d say. We’d laugh into our keyboards. Who did they think we were? Numpties?

Blogging was very much a community activity back then. We would all comment on each other’s posts and share the love around far and wide. It wasn’t unusual to have over 40 comments on a blog post, these days you’re lucky to get two or three. We developed writers’ groups (Remember Judith’s Room?) and clubs – BritMums, NetMums, Kiwi Mummy Bloggers – and we supported our mates. Somehow it was all more social and less competitive back then. More grime and giggles more wine than whine.

These days things seem so much tidier. Less messy. Perhaps, less real?  I haven’t decided if this is all image and artifice or whether it really is a change in how we live now. Do we all now live in our competitive little, sanitised bubbles? Are the Insta posts in their glossy styling and careful curation simply a reflection of our tidy lives?

During a recent howling storm in NZ some kindy kids in Thames were let out to play in the rain. They had a ball; jumping in puddles, squelching through the mud, and sliding down the slippery slide. Someone took video of the kids playing and shared it on social media. At the time of writing that video has had over 27 million views. Why? Because kids don’t often play like that anymore. They’re not allowed to play that way. They’re ferried by anxious Mums to after school activities or escorted home to a nice clean play on ipads and tablets. Playing in the storm was seen as dirty, slightly dangerous play, a rebellious expression of freedom. Kudos to the parents and the staff involved who had the courage to let kids get dirty and who didn’t give a flying frittata about being seen as ‘bad Mums’.

But it’s not just this generation of kids who’ve changed, their mothers (and fathers) have changed also. We seem to all be shy of getting mud on our clothes or wearing the wrong clothes and God forbid seeing that image displayed on social media! So many of us still curate the stories we share. We present a brand sanctified, ultimately safe stream of stories on our social media.

But some of us old storytellers still linger, fingers on the keyboard, humour honed, razor wit sharpened. We’ve done the nice, the nuanced, the brand beautiful and we’ve learnt that though we gained audience we lost authenticity. Blogging isn’t so much about brand engagement for us anymore, it’s more about good old fashioned soul speaking, storytelling. And in the best stories, there’s always a bit of blood, sweat and tears.

I turned 49 the other week. That was a shock. I keep thinking that I’m still the Vixen of 39 yrs old fighting the world for her cubs, and then I pass a mirror and realise, although the vixen’s still there, she’s greyer now and a little thicker around the middle. We all change, we all grow older, some of us even grow wiser. (I’m working on that). But I’m no longer an expat mummy blogger. We’ve returned home and the kids are all but grown up. Two of my three kids have left home and the baby (the baby!) is in her last year at school.

And so, it’s  time for a new chapter. I’m writing more, with another series at the plot planning stage, and I’m teaching, sharing my learnt lessons. This vixen may not need to growl at the world to protect her kits anymore but she can still hold her own. I’m no longer dependent on brands so I will speak my soul and tell my stories and, importantly, I’m not frightened of being seen to be a little bit messy.

I’d love it if you came with me as I navigate changing careers, the empty nest, the middle years, and the next stage of my crazy life.

Vix x

NB/ I’d love it if you signed up to my mailing list and followed my page on Facebook and on Twitter and Instagram.