Numbers. Measuring and comparing, rating and valuing, scoring and grading. Drawing judgements, assessing worth. We do these things all of this time, compulsively, and most of the time subconsciously. We measure everything, then assign a value to the numbers we see, and make judgements based on them. People’s age, their height and weight, their income, how many children they have. Numbers, numbers, numbers.
With all of the measuring and comparing that goes on, we can find ourselves all too easily defining people, and being defined ourselves by some of our numbers, and allowing those measurements of us and our lives to be our main feature. Sometimes we may welcome being defined by our numbers, other times we may wish to break free from them, ignore them, or run away screaming from them!
I’m 38 years old; actually, 38 and three quarters, which means that the big number is coming for me in just 15 months time. The big 40. The number that holds so much significance, more so than 18 or 21 I think, or maybe I’m forgetting how monumental those felt too as I was approaching them. It’s on the horizon now for definite, and before we know it, it’ll be hurtling towards me. My partner and I have started drawing up a bucketlist of ‘things to do when you turn 40’ to squeeze into the year and a bit between me turning 40 and then him doing the same. Number 1 on the list is a full night’s sleep with no children in the house. Rock and roll!
40 is far enough away just at the moment for me to ignore it, which I’m definitely doing, because I’m bloody terrified of waking up and being that scary number. 40 year olds are proper grown ups, aren’t they? They have savings, sensible shoes and know about wine. I’m pretty skint, wear my lumo yellow Nikes every day, and have only recently graduated from Cabernet Sauvignon to Malbec. In other words, I’m more like a 20 something. Just with more grey hair.
I remember the first time that I was filling in a survey and could no longer tick the top age bracket. It was a real shock to the system. Like I’d aged overnight. My partner and I got together at university, so we’ve been a couple for not far off 20 years, which is frankly ridiculous. Our eldest son turns double figures next year. We are getting old – time to face the fact!
And this increasing age isn’t bringing a feeling of contentment, but is stirring feelings of insecurity and self doubt. Shouldn’t I have achieved more by this age, shouldn’t I be dressing differently, acting differently, and be more in control of my life (and kids) by now?
When I was at school and thought about being 40, I imagined it to be very different to how I feel now that milestone is in sight. I imagined that I’d feel more settled and mature, that I’d have done all the crazy fun things, travelled far and wide, and would now be living a calm and excitement free life. Well, none of this is true. I don’t feel in the least bit mature, and regularly look around for an adult to make the tricky decisions, before the realisation hits that I am now that adult. I can still do crazy, but it just takes me several days to get over it, and I’m far from hanging up my travelling boots just yet. I do long for a calmer life though, but that isn’t happening any time soon with three boys around.
We all know that ‘age is just a number’, but 40 is such a defining number isn’t it. It’s the start of being ‘middle aged’, which carries images of woolly jumpers, garden centres and Horlicks before bedtime. And whilst I’m partial to a woolly cardie, how can I be almost middle aged when my favourite snack is peanut butter straight from the jar, I always have a hair bobble around my wrist just in case, I still prefer Radio 1 to Radio 2, and I’m unable to follow the simplest of directions even in my home town. Totally failing at this almost middle aged lark.
Like many women, and men too, I have a complex relationship with my weight. There are two weights that I all too often allow to define my mood, how I feel about myself, and what activities I involve myself in. The actual numbers have moved slightly upwards over the past few years. My ideal weight from 10 years ago would now require me, 3 babies later, to remove a leg to get anywhere near to it!
Weight number 1 is my ideal weight – a weight that I can only reduce myself to if I eliminate all wheat, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol for 6 weeks. 6 long, fun free weeks! A couple of times a year I subject myself to a strict detox, usually to prepare for a holiday or a special event. I’m grumpy as hell with no cake and wine, and basically stay in the house for the whole time, but once I hit that magical number on the scale, everything is rosy in the world again. I’m the life and soul of the party, confident and self assured. I feel poised and polished and ready to get stuck into anything, then I spend the next few weeks reacquainting myself with all the tasty delights I’ve missed, and soon I’m back to weight number 2.
Weight number 2 is my regular every day weight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a long way from being overweight at my regular weight, but I’m just of average height so those extra few pounds seem to make a big difference to me in how my clothes fit, and how I feel about my appearance. I moan and groan about how I look, withdraw from social occasions as I feel uncomfortable in myself, and allow that number on the scale to bring me down. I find myself spiralling towards self loathing, and sabotage my attempts to maintain my weight by binging on sugary snacks and too much wine. I’m snappy with the kids and my partner, and struggle to shake the bad mood which descends on me when I focus on that number on the scale above everything else. Crazy, right?
I know that this isn’t a reasonable way to think and act, but this is just me being completely honest and baring my soul – If a friend was saying this to me, I’d tell her in a lovely way to get a grip, so I know I’m being totally unreasonable, and unnecessarily hard on myself. I totally understand that you could weigh 9 stone but have lots of muscle, or weigh 9 stone with not much muscle but lots of fat. So, the number on the scale doesn’t really mean much in terms of body composition and health indicators. I know that.
I also know that women in particular will see their weight change by a few pounds throughout the day, and month, and that hormones and water retention can help skew the scales too, but there’s something about seeing that number, and the significance I place on it, that can either lift me up or crush my mood for the rest of the day. It doesn’t help that my partner says, “well, you just look the same to me because I see you every day”. I don’t know what the answer is, I really don’t, other than stopping weighing myself and just going on how I feel and how my clothes fit, but that feels too out of control for me just yet, and something I would obsess over even more. Suffice to say, I know I have issues and I’m trying to work on it – would love to hear from you if you share the same issues and how you’ve worked through them.
Number of children
I love Instagram – it’s my favourite social media channel, and one of the hashtags I use most often when sharing pictures of the boys, our adventures together and my daily mum mishaps is #mumof3. I define myself as a Mum of 3, first and foremost. It’s a short handed way of explaining the craziness that seems to follow me around, the noise, the mess and the mayhem that time spent in my family’s company involves, and the way that I’m always teetering on the edge of sanity. I feel an instant connection to other Mums of 3, particularly Mums of 3 boys, like they just get it. They get that you are always outnumbered as adults in the house, they get that you are spread so thinly that somethings got to give every now and then, they get that you spend half of your time thinking that 3rd baby was the best idea ever, and the other half worrying what they hell you’ve done, and how you’ll be able to afford to put them through Uni/go on holiday/afford to eat when they are teenagers. I’m accepting of my ‘Mum of 3’ status, in fact I embrace it, which is a good job really, I suppose.
I know that friends view me with a mix of fascination and slight horror. There’s just always so many bloody kids around me. At times I feel like I’m living through a social experiment – let’s add one more child to the mix and see how strong she is or whether she’ll completely lose her marbles under extreme pressure. Answer = usually not very strong, and marbles went a long time ago! And when it comes up in a conversation with strangers that I have three boys, eyebrows always raise, and there’s a pitiful nod and a sympathetic, ‘oh well’. Everyone has an opinion on Mums of 3, and generally speaking they aren’t that positive. People often assume that we are extreme mothering types who just love having tons of kids around and that we have nothing else going on in our lives; as if we are trying to fill a void with more and more small people. And on more than one occasion I’ve been asked if I’m Catholic. Errrm, no….!
But then I don’t think this judgemental approach is reserved only for Mums of 3. Mums of 1 child only have the one child, so their kid must be spoilt, and be treated as the centre of the universe by their parents – that’s the image we pick up from the media and society after all. And Mums of 2 are presented as those who have the correct number of kids. The perfect family – two adults and two kids. That’s the way that everything is set up; holidays, cars, houses, fairground rides. Two and two is just right. Not too few kids, and not too many (like those careless Mums of 3, or more). We are bombarded with images of two smiling adults and their two smiling kids, enjoying each other’s company, laughing together in their neat family houses, and taking part in wholesome healthy activities.
Well, you can keep your immaculate, orderly, perfectly balanced 2 plus 2 life, because Mums of 3 (or more) are officially superheroes. Albeit with snot/sick/mushed up food on their shoulder most of the time and a general air of chaos orbiting around them and their brood. Or is that just me?
This numerical measurement of my life is the only one that’s constant, so the only one that really matters. It’s the one that I hold close to my heart and display proudly for all to see.