Sunday, 25 January 2015

Getting old

Not quite me (yet)
I'm 44. A mere slip of a girl to some; an ageing witch to others. I'm sort of mid-way to being dust, which you might think would make me morose - but it's the opposite, really. We're all going to die, after all, so there's no point worrying about that. Rather, I fit my skin a bit better than I used to, which means I can concentrate on doing what I can do, without getting anxious about how others see me.

And usually, what I want to do is lie in bed and fiddle around on Twitter.

I've had two kids, and they are ace. Generally. I've had one husband - and he was ace at first, but then turned out to be a bit of a nob. But that's ok, because we got a divorce, and now things are better (on both sides, actually). I've been lucky enough to have been employed for most of my working life - fingers crossed, touch wood, spit on a tomato - long may it continue. My mum and dad are still alive. Just about. And I was privileged to have both of my grandmothers around until relatively recently.

It's family that matters, I think, as you're getting on. Family and friends, of course. I imagine that sadness comes only if you find you are older, and you have no one to love. Or who loves you.

As a woman, I'll admit that the last couple of years have been a shock when it comes to mirror action. All reflective surfaces in this house have been turned around. I have turned it into Haven for vampires.

It's something to do with the elasticity of the skin. Or its luminance. Or something. And all of the Kylie Bottie Cream in the world won't replace that. And the wrinkles, having been held off with wallpaper paste for the last ten years, have broken through and now litter my face like sodding cracks on a London pavement.

The temptation is to 'get them done'. To 'mend it' somehow. But I'm not broken - this is supposed to happen, isn't it? It's not like I wasn't expecting it (JESUS! WHAT THE FUCK ARE ALL THOSE LINES DOING ON MY FACE? I MUST BE DISEASED!). We've all seen old people, and they're all liney, aren't they? Apart from the ones who look 'alien-smooth' (Barry Manilow - I'm talking about you.)

I get cross at the media, and at other women, for feeling like they have to 'do something' about their ageing faces and bodies. Because when they 'do' something, it makes me feel uncomfortable that I'm not doing it. It makes me feel that I'm at fault, somehow. But because I also recognise that I'm not at fault, logically, the whole thing makes me very frustrated indeed. I wonder sometimes if, when I'm 80, I'll be the only woman in the old people's home who actually looks 80 - and I'll be surrounded by fellow dementia sufferers who all look to be smooth-faced 40 year olds.

I won't care. I'll be too busy singing Love Shack at the top of my crackly voice and weeing in my chair. And I'll be the only one who can laugh at myself because everyone else's faces will be too tight.

The one thing that does bother me, though, is the slippage in eyesight. I've always had dodgy eyes (long-sighted), but recently I also seem to have become short sighted too - which is a bit of an arse, quite frankly. There's an awful lot of squinting at tiny instructions (most recently on the Canesten tube - where, how much, should I rub it in...?), turning the light on, and eventually asking my children to read it for me. I have reading glasses, but keep forgetting where I put them (premature alzeihmers).

Other signs of ageing? We all know them: liver spots, dry skin, a penchant for period drama...but also a steadyness, a logic, a 'fuck it' kind of attitude. A realisation that, when you go out, no one is looking at the hat you're wearing that you think is awful. An inner contentment. A faint smell of wee.


And then the fun began...





Thursday, 22 January 2015

STIs and the divorcee

Here I am. A divorcee looking for love and, on the way, having a bit of rumpy pumpy and how's your father. What could possibly go wrong?

I've been seeing this guy (Billy*) for a little while. To be honest, I'm not sure he's right for me in lots of ways. But he's very, very, VERY keen on bed action. If you know what I mean.

Don't get me wrong. I like bed action. I'm a fan. I'm not bad at it...I've seen the films, I know what I'm supposed to do. So when Billy has suggested giving it some, I've not been shy. I've given it a good go.

But here's the thing. Although I'd remembered about the pregnancy thing (which as you know, is etched on every woman's very soul with a sharp pointy thing) I'd sort of forgotten about STIs. Yes - when a partner sneezes on all your downstairs parts and gives you... a disease.

I think.

So here I am, with a guy who's been dating for SIX YEARS, who's keen on sex. And I'd sort of not remembered, or hidden behind a bookcase, or something, that he may well be riddled with stuff. Stuff that involves, at the very least, a greenish discharge.

And lo! Two days later, the itch began. Like scattering cayenne pepper all over your lady bits, and smearing Philadelphia in the creases. Shit, fuck and all other curses - has he given me the clap? Have I finally, aged 44, got a sodding sexually transmitted infection?

YOU FUCKER!

So now, of course, I'm on Google in a frenzy, finding out what it means, how it can be cured, will I die from it (or go blind, or mad... or am I getting it confused with syphilis (yes)) and, most of all, should I be washing the towels/washing my hands/ disinfecting everything within reach so I don't accidentally infect my kids and the cat?

(As is now apparent, I know very little about STIs.)

An appointment with the lady doc was made. But in the meantime, what would I say to Billy? Erm... either I've been mistakenly using sandpaper for Andrex or - perhaps you should get yourself checked out? You've given me the clap, you bastard, and I'm never seeing you again? Fuck off, you fucking fucker?

In the event, I waited. I didn't want to go throwing round accusations that are based on the knowledge I picked up in sex education classes, aged 12. But obviously, I blamed him, and phone calls have been spent with me doing a lot of silent swearing. And sulking.

Anyway, off I go to the docs.(By the way, I had my smear test last week, so this was the second leg-flopping appointment in seven days. Jeez.) I love lady GPs. They're matter-of-factness immediately makes you think that this is the most normal thing in the world. Lying on a doctor's bed on scratchy paper, feet together, knees apart, speculum up your jacksy. chatting about the weather, or being gently reprimanded for not using a condom, or the state of the NHS.

My GP has one look at my lady parts and almost wretches. At least, that's what I see.  "Christ! That's a severe case of thrush!"

I didn't care that I was leaking cheese - I could have kissed her. Thrush? Something that can be cured with a pill and some cream? I felt like running round the waiting room with no bottoms on shouting, "IT'S OK! I'M CLEAN!" and pointing to my front bottom. In sheer elation.

So it wasn't Billy's fault. It was my cycling/winter clothes/not enough sleep/being run down or something. Lovely GP said it could be triggered by too much sex. Just something that tips you out of balance. We've probably all had thrush at some point - we all know the triggers.

But the whole episode has made me think bloody carefully about the risk of STIs. Billy refuses to wear a condom.

Perhaps I should refuse him?

Stay safe. More info here:

http://www.sti.health.gov.au/internet/sti/publishing.nsf (the Ozzies are better at this sort of thing than us)
http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/sexually-transmitted-infections.html
http://www.brook.org.uk/your-life/category/stis



*not called Billy at all.
__________________________________________________

@secretdivorcee

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

On Being Crap at Make up

Make up. It's the devil's work, as far as I'm concerned. I see women who are good at it; their eyes look dark and sexy and bruised - and their lips are glossy and defined. Their skin is smooth, cheekbones highlighted.

And I think: how the fuck do they do that?

Because when I put on make up, you can guarantee - GUARANTEE - that within 30 minutes, most of it has slipped down my face and come to rest just under my chin, like a muddy tide mark. Any mascara, waterproof or not, will be smeared all over my cheeks and forehead. Lipstick will only be visible on the outer bits of my lips; my inner lips will be back to their magnificent nude peeliness. Glitter on my eyelids will have migrated, somehow, to my ears.

In short - I look like a Jackson Pollock.

It was about six years ago that I went to a proper shop and bought a ton of Mac make-up. Most of it sat unused and so after three years, it went in the bin. Since then, I have lasted on Vaseline lip balm and what I think must be an HB pencil stolen from my son's pencil case, for eyeliner (it scratches a bit). Occasionally, when I'm looking half dead in the morning, I 'apply' blusher. Which gives me that 'clown' look that everybody (nobody) is going for these days.

Then, suddenly, it was 2015 and I realised that I might die without ever having known how to look good in make-up. So off I went to the shops.

I went into Boots and was drawn to the Benefit counter. I had been there before. Sometimes I just go to ogle the packaging (I'm always too scared to talk to the beautiful assistants). But that day, I was brave. I want some of THIS, I said, to a heavily face-caked lady, even though I have NO IDEA WHAT IT IS!  It turned out to be this:



Which, apparently, Kylie used to highlight her buttocks in the Spinning Around video. The lady told me that it wasn't really supposed to be for buttocks, rather for highlighting cheekbones. Even though I don't have any cheekbones (I do have buttocks, plenty of them), I bought it.

And while I'm at it, I said, I want THIS! It was a eyeliner pen. YES! I want to look like Claudia Winkleman!



I have to be honest with you. This is not the easiest thing to use. I mean, it works, but I am shit at using it. Here is my first attempt:



And my more recent goes have not been much better. But I. Must. Learn.

I. Must. Be. Claudia. Winkleman.

Since that day, Make Up Day, or M.U.D., I have been back for another round. Sparkly grey eyeshadow has been purchased, along with nude lip thingy, and - joy of joys - a proper tinted foundation. This above all things makes me happy. It has changed me from middle-aged slightly rotting face woman to a 30-something adult who is not yet looking death squarely in the eye. It's from No.7, who henceforth in this household shalt be called NO. 1!

(See what I did there.)

And the lovely, beautifully turned out, fully alive lady on the No.7 desk did this colour match thing - which as far as I could tell involves holding an electric shaver to your face and making a beeping noise. Somehow it tells you which shade is best for you and WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT - it only jolly well bleedin' works. Although when she said I was 'Cool Ivory', I mis-heard her, thinking she'd said 'Cool Library'. (Another sign of ageing. Shame they don't do glittery hearing aids.) "Cool Library," I said, "That's a bit Farrow and Ball!"

You know that look that much younger people give much older people? A sort of 'I pity you, but I've been told to be nice to you so I'm doing my damnedest not to show it'? That.

Anyway, it's ace, she was lovely, and so here's a pic. Well done Boots.


And there's the nude lip balm too. Which is nice, but I haven't yet worked out how to put on lip stuff and immediately not lick it all off. A bit like doughnut sugar. Any tips gratefully received.

So that's it. I feel all set now for a slightly older but more painted version of me to launch headlong into 2015. There's one particular meeting that I'm looking forward to in February. Please God - let me have figured out how to use that effing eyeliner before then. Less Pollock, less pillock, more.... Winkleman.

Yes. More Winkleman please.


And then the fun began...


Thursday, 8 January 2015

Post Christmas Recovery as a Single Parent

Thank God that's over. And yes, I do mean Christmas.

I know it's not the done thing as a parent to wish Christmas away - it's a time of joy and giving and love and all of that stuff, after all - and yet, at points throughout those buggering Christmas holidays, I just wanted a very, very, VERY long rest. On my own. Away from my own baying children.

Year on year, it gets to October, and I'm in the midst of all the excitement along with everyone else. I am not exactly consumed by the thought of Christmas, but planning has begun in earnest. Along with the present-buying and the childcare and the 'seeing-the-rest-of-the-family' thing, as a single parent you're also busy attempting to communicate with your ex - someone who you may well dislike intensely - about who will have the treasured jewel of having the children on Christmas Day.

I will not bore you with the comings and goings of our meeting in November; suffice to say that, I hate him. When we split up two years ago, I had no feelings towards him at all, but now... I hate him. He has threatened me with awful things and...I hate him.

So there's that to contend with. And all that Christmas preamble - school plays, concerts, Christingles - they all have to be attended (on your own, of course). And friends are lovely and invite you to Christmas parties, and you're soooo tired but you feel you have to say yes or they won't invite you again, so you scratch around for babysitters that your kids don't want, and you go to a party that you're too tired to enjoy, and you end up, on Christmas Eve, feeling a bit ... frayed.

And then comes Christmas proper, this year spent travelling to see sick and mourning relatives, and then returning home and trying to keep the kids amused as the days stretched out ahead. Interminably, it seems.

But this is not an 'oh-woe-is-me' tale. Because on the last Friday of the Christmas holidays, when it was finally time to hand my kids over to my ex for the weekend, I buggered off with my part-time boyfriend to the Dorset Coast. I have never been so in need of a dirty weekend away. And my gosh my golly my o my lordy - we had a swashbuckling time. We ate, drank, made love, laughed, walked, took photographs. Slept a lot. Here's a random pic:



And then, after returning home, I felt like a normal human being again and welcomed my children back with smiles and open arms. Back to being the loving parent that I was before all of that bleedin Christmas bollocks set-in.

It made me think. My ex husband is useless, but he IS there for the children every other weekend, and this allows me to let off steam. If my ex wasn't around - if I were a true single parent - how would I cope? The answer is, it would be extremely difficult. I have no family near; I suspect I would have to move back nearer one of my parents. And that in itself presents its own set of problems.

So. Thank God for small mercies. And the start of the new school term.





Saturday, 13 December 2014

Advice for Single Parents at Christmas

I was recently approached by a representative from the Co-operative Legal Services, who asked if we could do a Q&A session with Jenny Beck, an expert in family law, specifically about managing Christmas as a single parent.

There are approximately 100,000 children under the age of 16 in the UK who have divorced parents. That's 100,000 Christmases this year which won't conform to the 'norm', and 100,000 reasons for us as single parents to worry that we are doing whatever we can to make it a happy Christmas for our kids. If we don't get on brilliantly with our ex spouses, Christmas can be...well, absolutely hideous, quite frankly.

We all want to make Christmas special for our children.  So, with help from The Secret Divorcee's Twitter followers, we've compiled a list of questions for Jenny to answer, in the hope that it might give some support over what can be a very difficult time.

This is not a sponsored or promoted post, but it's definitely worth mentioning here that the Co-op do produce a free guide for separated and divorced parents about how best to enjoy a stress-free Christmas with their children. You can access it here: http://bit.ly/12kw6LI .


The Q & A


Q. My husband looks after our children every alternate weekend. Last Christmas fell on days when I was looking after them, and I told my ex that he was welcome to see them over the Christmas period. He said he would do that, but wanted me to 'take that time back'; in other words, that I should look after the kids for an additional time at a later date. I refused, and he decided that he didn't want to see the children. In addition, he told his friends and family that I had refused him access. This year, again Christmas falls on days when I'm with the kids. My ex has said that, if I do not agree to his terms, he will refuse my access completely when it is his turn to have the kids over Christmas. I have capitulated, unwillingly, but feel that he has blackmailed me. I just want to spend Christmas with my children – I don't want to steal any time back. What are my rights here? 

A. You are in a difficult position here as you don’t want to inflame the situation but clearly don’t want to have no voice in the arrangements. You and your ex need to focus on what is best for the children and agree a way of co-parenting and making arrangements not just for this Christmas but for the next, and the next and birthdays and holidays. Perhaps approach your ex with the prospect of mediation? A mediator will listen to both of your arguments and help come up with a solution. I would strongly recommend you look to agree a ‘parenting plan’ so that you can use the process of mediation to tackle some of the issue which might cause problems in the future. 

Q.  My ex-husband and I have been separated for a year. I left him because he was aggressive and volatile towards me – but never to the children. However, I know that Christmas is potentially a 'pinch point' point for him and I'm nervous in leaving him alone with the children over the festive period. What should I do? 

A. If you are seriously concerned about the welfare of your children you should seek legal advice straight away. It is vitally important that you take no risks at all. 

Q. My ex-wife is having the children this year for Christmas. It's the first year I will have been without them and I have told her that I will ring to speak to them in the morning. She has told me that she will not answer; that when they are with her, they are with her, and I should keep away. Surely this isn't fair, and not good for the children? I'm finding it very hard to deal with. 

A. Christmas is a very special time for families and for separated families it is important that they find some common ground and compromise in terms of child care. I would perhaps leave your ex-wife to cool off for a week or so and then approach the subject again. Try to arrange a time that suits both of you for you to call the children. In addition to this, I would recommend you look to agree a ‘parenting plan’ so that you can use the process of mediation to tackle some of the issue which might cause problems in the future. 

Q. My ex-wife and I have been divorced for nine years. We have two children – now 11 and 13 – and have managed the Christmas period by alternating who has the children; until now. My ex and her partner have a 3 year old baby, and she is saying that she wants our children to stay at their home for the entirety of the Christmas period, so that the 3 year old isn't unsettled. But it's my turn to see my children! I think that they are just making an excuse to hold onto the children, but what rights do I have to see them? 

A. The law really doesn't look at the rights of parents but focusses on the rights of children and the importance of agreeing arrangements which are in their best interests. I'm not aware of your usual living arrangements or how close together you live but on the face of it, it would certainly be in the children’s best interests to spend time with both you and their young sibling. I would suggest you try to be flexible and compromise with your ex-wife so as to achieve a middle ground and thereafter fix some clear rules for the future to give the children the certainty they need. 

Q.  My ex-husband has family in Egypt and wants to take them abroad for Christmas. I do not want him to take them. What are my rights? 

A. No parent should take their child out of the country, even for a holiday, without the permission of everyone who has Parental Responsibility. If a parent has a residence order in their favour they can take the child abroad for up to one month, but it is still good practice to talk to the other parent, especially if it affects arrangements for them seeing the child. If you are worried about your child being taken abroad without your permission you can take urgent steps to stop this so you should seek legal advice.

_______________________

Before signing off, I have to mention Gingerbread, a charity specifically for single parents like you and me and another fabulous resource for advice. They have produced a fact sheet about managing at Christmas, and you can read it here: http://www.gingerbread.org.uk/factsheet/46/Christmas-Top-Tips

With lots of love and festive wishes for a calm and peaceful (and somewhat magical, of course) Christmas for you and your children.

Merry Christmas!

The Secret Divorcee xxx

Thursday, 4 December 2014

My vagina's all over the place

I'm sure that, once upon a time, my vagina was 'peachy'. Probably before I had kids - you know, that time when all my insides suddenly came out.

I remember it vividly. I'd just had my first baby and, like a lot of women, the labour hadn't quite 'gone to plan'. What I mean by that is, after the first twelve hours of labour, I got my birth plan and rammed it down my husband's throat. After 24 hours, I had consumed all the drugs the hospital could offer and was in an epidurally induced haze of Hello Magazine and jelly tots. I had lost all feeling pretty much everywhere. I couldn't even remember my own name.

So when it was time to push, I hadn't got a bleedin' clue what I was doing. I was making the right noises - I think. Sort of mooing. And I was holding my breath so my face went red. And I tried and tried and tried to shift the sodding alien that appeared to be stuck in me, by imagining - as we all probably did - that we were having the most enormous, melon-shaped poo.

It appeared that I may have pushed a little too hard. Because when Tween had slithered his way out, quite a lot of my vagina kept him company. I was too high to care, too impressed by my own powers of drug-induced pushing to notice that part of me had exploded. Nurses came and looked and tutted, and there were mutterings, and suddenly a needle, and then AN AWFUL LOT OF PAIN (which, quite frankly, I'd had enough of for one day).

And then, thankfully, sleep.

The next day, A MAN came to look at the battleground of my netherparts, and told me in a matter-of-fact tone of voice that my stitches had all come out.

"What have you been doing?" he asked, sternly.

I looked at him, bemused. What The. Actual. Fuck. did he think I'd been doing? Getting it on with my husband after giving birth to a 10lb baby with an inside out vagina? Or masturbating, perhaps, because I couldn't stand a single night without some form of sexual gratification? Or just wiping my wee off REALLY HARD?

"Never mind. It will heal naturally." And then, an afterthought: "Given time."

At that point in my life, I really didn't care. My baby was in special care (had he been smothered by my moving vagina? Perhaps we'll never know). I was glad that he was alive. To be honest, I wasn't really thinking too much about my lady parts.

Time passed, and I was aware that - although healing ok - my vagina didn't have the same...form... as before. My labia or 'beef curtains' (as one boyfriend fondly called them) drooped so far between my legs that they could have really done with their own bra to hold them in. Tucking them up worked for a while but, inevitably, after a few hundred yards of walking, they would fall out and start swinging like a cats cradle.

One day I made the mistake of putting a mirror between my legs and having a good root about. It was shocking. My nethers were unrecognisable, and seemed to have morphed into chopped liver (with added gristle).

This is roughly what a normal vagina looks like:


And mine:


I have never examined my vagina again.

When I was married, it was ok to have a shattered front bottom. My husband understood what had happened - he'd been there, for God's sakes - and so he could never, ever, EVER express any form of disgust. Which he no doubt felt, but was forced to cover it up unless he was happy never to have sex ever again.

But now I'm single, what do I do? When I'm about to go to bed with a bloke, do I say, "Umm...bit embarrassing this...but do you like chopped liver?" Do I turn out the lights and hope he doesn't notice? Or do I celebrate it and dangle my curtains in his face?

I don't know. So for now, at least, I'll keep on tucking in the hanging bits and hoping for the best.

Postscript: By the way, if you are properly concerned about the way your labia look, Women's Health Victoria have this wonderful website which will no doubt set your mind at rest.


Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Tween and the Pubic Hair

"Mum! MUM! I've got a PUBIC HAIR!"

I said nothing, but a tear rolled down my face. So that's it, I thought. Both my boys are now becoming men. The pubedom has arrived.

I've already written about the onset of manhood in Teen - a subject which, quite frankly, I find disturbing. But to see the physical evidence of your youngest saying farewell to his childhood and hello to pubes, sweat and (mild vom) wet dreams...well, that's a whole new level of mother misery.

After the hairs had been promenaded, I was then forced to look at the armpits. Thank God - nothing. But that little smudge under his nose suddenly looked more prominent. Less dirt, more ... predator.

It's strange how these milestones in Tween hit me with a depressive thud, whilst when they happened to Teen, they caused mild excitement. When Teen walked for the first time, we all whooped hysterically for joy. When Tween walked, I pretended to smile but all I could think was, "WHERE HAS MY BABY GONE?" (in a mildy bonkers fashion, I grant you.) I couldn't wait to see the back of Teen when he went to school, but Tween's first day left me misted up and miserable. And when Tween left Primary School? I am still sobbing now.

The youngest child sort of sweeps up the joy of childhood, making sure there are no loose ends left behind. Thomas Brio trains are sold or given away (sob), as are space hoppers, sand pit sets and all sports equipment made from foam. Now the house is packed with adult sized everything; tennis racquets, trainers, and enough footballs in the garden to make my own ball pond for giants.

And the house has a smell about it. It wafts between sweat (bad) and Lynx (worse), so before any visitors come I am forced to throw open all doors and windows. Even in the middle of winter.

I know I sounds ridiculous. You have children, and they grow up - right? Even more perverse - you spend half of their childhood wanting them to grow up faster: sleep more, cry less, walk more, generally be a bit more...well...useful. But time has been a bit elastic; very slow at first, and suddenly it's sped up, and jumped on me when I wasn't quite concentrating.

And suddenly, this is me. The mother of men.