How to tell if a woman is over 40…

a-ha 11

a-ha 11 (Photo credit: thierry.cote)

Do you think she’s in her late thirties or early forties?  How often do we guesstimate someone’s age? All the time.  At my age, the obsession of looking young/old for your actual biological age becomes fanatical.  So to make this job easier, I thought I would devise a little test which will accurately pin down whether a woman is under 40 or over 40. I realise this is of no great consequence nor life-changing in anyway but it’s kept me amused for the last half an hour and on a Monday I’ll run with anything that I find semi-amusing.

So, here goes, a woman is over 40 if…

– she has begun to express a desire to or has actually started to visit garden centres on a regular basis.  The odd trip to a garden centre to buy a ready planted-up hanging basket does not count and should be taken as a sure sign that a woman is still in her thirties. The sign to look out for that this has been replaced with regular and much longer visits is the acquisition of a garden centre loyalty card.

– she suddenly cuts a fringe into her hair.  This budget Botox alternative is a desperate attempt to cover up the wrinkles on the forehead but is almost as obvious an admission of ageing as the inability to raise your eyebrows after Botox.

– she has a glass of water for every glass of wine. This is a combination of middle age sensible, responsible behaviour and a morbid fear of the forties’ hangover. Although largely effective at avoiding the “hammer in the brain” feeling the next morning (and for the next 5 days when you are over 40), it does have the rather undesirable side effect of requiring numerous bathroom visitations through the night.

– she visibly shudders at the mention of wearing little shorts with opaque tights underneath. Never in the history of fashion to my mind has there been a trend which is so not designed for the over 40s. Any woman sporting this trend is either under 40, an ex-supermodel or frankly delusional.

– she knows exactly who Morten Harket and John Taylor from Duran Duran are. Say no more. Enough said.  She also knows who Harry Styles is but is acutely aware that she is old enough to have gone through school, university, two years of a job and then given birth to him.

– she remembers writing SWALK and LOL (original meaning) on letters. She also can’t quite bring herself to writing ‘u’ for ‘you’ and ‘4’ for ‘for’ when texting and always texts in full sentences – noun, verb, object etc.

– she always tries to stay in on either Friday or Saturday night.  The ability to manage two nights out in a row significantly diminishes after the age of 40 and becomes nigh on impossible after 45.  Anyway, staying in with a bottle of wine, a takeaway and Ant and Dec on the TV is ideal, isn’t it?

– she remembers when the Blue Peter garden got vandalised and it couldn’t just be fixed with double-sided sticky tape and “who shot JR?”.  These were her first encounters with crime.

– she suddenly understands the point of a lip liner pencil. Having always thought it was yet another one of those beauty cons, she now realises that without it she runs the risk of being mistaken for a clown in Billy Smart’s Circus.

– Finally, she starts blogging and banging on about it being her time now….

Advertisements

Two burst pipes, one flat tyre and a partridge in a pear tree…

The Big Freeze UK

The Big Freeze UK (Photo credit: niOS)

Two burst pipes, one flat tyre and a partridge in a pear tree.  Yes, it has been a truly fabulous week and to top it all, we’ve woken up to snow….again.

This has been a landmark year in my relationship with snow.  In the past, I have always greeted the white stuff with great affection and childish excitement.  In fact, nothing at the grand old age of 40 has the ability to roll back the years to childhood more than pulling back the curtains and seeing snow.

However, relations have got a bit frosty this year.  This morning I pulled back the curtains and my heart sank.  It is two days after the first official day of Spring and yet again my world is shrouded in white.  It is not right and I’ve got this feeling that the snow and I are going to fall out this time.

The children didn’t even bother to look up from the TV when I announced the snow’s arrival this morning.  Seen it all before. I guess the only positive from their snow-weary response is that no-one has yet suggested that we must go sledging.

Now don’t get me wrong – I understand how magical sledging is for children but the magic has sort of worn off by the age of 40 for women.  I say “women” advisedly because in my experience men turn into 5 year old versions of themselves when they get within a metre of a sledge.

A woman’s experience of sledging is very different to that of a man.  First you have to find all the winter clothes, dress three children in winter clothes, take all the winter clothes off again when they need to go to the loo.  Finally you get out of the house, usually to be hit full in the face by a snowball thrown by one of the children who inevitably finds this hysterically amusing, whilst you are at this point just mildly hysterical. You then have to haul the kids on the sledges to the slope of choice and stand for approximately 2 hours in the freezing cold whilst they go up and down, only moving to tend to the inevitable first aid crises and to extricate at least one child from a close encounter with some brambles. Of course there is the added dubious “entertainment” of watching grown men flinging themselves down a slope on a small piece of plastic designed for someone a fraction of their weight. Then it is off home again, at least one child now whinging about how cold they are and refusing to go any further.  This whole experience then has to be repeated at 3 hourly intervals until the snow has either disappeared or one child has injured themselves to a point where sledging is now inadvisable.

I know I am sounding very ungrateful for the joy that snow brings to children but frankly I’m sick of it this year.  It has made me realise that I’m not sure that I could live in a country where snow is a permanent winter fixture.  Obviously the UK’s inability to cope with more than a centimetre of snow doesn’t help – for goodness sake, they even shut Sellafield yesterday not because of some “incident” but just so the staff could get home safely!

I think perhaps my antipathy towards the white stuff is less about the snow itself and more about a yearning for this interminable winter to end. Maybe it is an age thing, but this winter has gone on for far too long.  In part, the problem has been the lack of blue skies.  I don’t mind the cold as long as the sun is out but this winter in the UK it would appear that the sun has taken a sabbatical.

As is the norm in the UK, we have been bombarded with weather statistics by the media.  This weekend is apparently the coldest March weekend in 50 years. The media are revelling in compounding our misery by showing footage of people sitting in daffodil filled Hyde Park this weekend last year where temperatures soared above 20 degrees.  No country talks about the weather more than we do but ironically no country is less prepared for any extreme  weather (and really it is not that extreme is it?) than we are.

I’m off now to hide the sledge and put all the snow clothes up in the loft….just in case, my children get some misguided idea that going sledging would be fun.  Then, I’m going to pull myself together and stop whinging – I’m starting to sound like one of my children on the way back from the toboggan run – and try to enjoy what is hopefully the last blanket of white for several months.

Little Princess Syndrome

Cinderella (Disney character)

Cinderella (Disney character) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was a very interesting article in The Times yesterday entitled “Unhappy daughters: how we are raising a troubled generation”.  The article included extracts from a book about to be published , “21st Century Girls”, by Sue Palmer, a former primary school head.

In the book, Sue Palmer writes of three stages of girlhood (as she sees it): From birth (Little Princess Syndrome), From age 8 (The rise of the electronic bedsit), From age 12 (Sex and self-confidence).  It is interesting how all these books on raising girls are suddenly appearing – historically, there seem to have been many more books about raising boys.  Why has this been the case?  Perhaps traditionally boys have been perceived as more “tricky” in the younger stages of life and that problems with girls don’t arise so much until the teenage years. This proliferation of books about raising girls would suggest that there has been a shift and that we should be as concerned about the issues (inherent and imposed) of raising our girls.

The issues raised by the book are far too numerous and complex to discuss in a blog post but the first stage of girlhood – the stage I am currently at with my daughter (and therefore the only one I can really comment on) – the so-called “Little Princess Syndrome” which  the author believes “is now practically endemic across society” –  caused me to stop and think.  Sue Palmer talks about how the aggressive marketing and constant onscreen portrayals of princesses such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to which our daughters are exposed from a very young age have a serious and long-lasting effect on behaviour and create an obsession with appearance from a frighteningly young age.  She goes on to say that “since princesses are traditionally self-obsessed and high-handed, she [daughter] may then start acting like a small, pink potentate.  If, when she starts pre-school, she meets up with other girls who’ve adopted the same persona, the princess culture may begin to threaten parental authority”.

Is this stretching the point too far?  Instinctively I want to say “Yes” – after all, little girls have role-played as princesses for hundreds of years but perhaps she has a valid point.  Everywhere I look, and therefore everywhere my daughter looks, there is “princess” stuff: the TV is constantly spouting it; the toy shops are full of princess regalia; there are “princess” sticker books, “princess” magnetic dolls to dress, ‘princess” secret journals….it is never-ending. Then again, is anyone suggesting that all the Thomas the Tank Engine or Spiderman paraphernalia that is pushed at our young boys is going to create a generation of train-drivers and arachnid obsessed superheroes (and the associated behaviours of both?!).  No, of course not, so what is it about this “princess” pushing that should be any different?

My little girl adores dressing up and indeed most days after pre-school will come home and immediately change into her Sleeping Beauty (current favourite) outfit.  She will clomp around the house in her faux-high heels, wearing a particularly garish tiara, carrying a handbag “just like yours, mummy” (except, to reassure you, I don’t tend to go out with a neon-pink, bejewelled plastic number on an everyday basis).  If Sue Palmer is to be believed, all this pre-occupation with princesses, appearance and dressing up “can effect her capacity to “lose herself” in play of all kinds.”  I don’t really buy into this.  From my limited experience, my daughter is streets ahead of my boys when it comes to creative play and can often be found lost in her imaginary world (admittedly which usually features Sleeping Beauty or the like, but certainly not exclusively).

I shall admit I probably do indulge her “girliness” – although often through sheer attrition – for example, when she has asked me for the millionth time in one afternoon if she can wear nail varnish, I might just find myself saying “OK”!  Am I as bad as the big marketing men and the TV moguls pushing “princess” behaviour on my daughter?

At the heart of this, it seems to me, is that age-old argument of nature vs nurture.  I can only speak personally but right from the second she was born, my daughter has always been so different to her brothers.  If anyone should prove the nature argument, she should.  By rights, she should be a real “tom boy” – with two older brothers, her first experiences of toys were Gordon, Thomas, James, Diesel and the other engines – was she interested? No, not in the slightest. She gravitated towards more stereotypically “female” toys all by herself.  OK, I admit, she wore a lot of pink (I waited a while for a girl!) but she genuinely likes pink things, the boys genuinely do not like pink things – I don’t think I’ve manipulated that. My daughter has always shown a real interest in the way I look, put on make-up, the clothes I choose.  Have I encouraged this? No, not at all – if anything I find it faintly disconcerting having a little person studying me intently while I jam a mascara wand into my eye. It is just the way she is – nature.

It is my responsibility to make sure she grows up with self-confidence and a healthy body-image and I accept that but the worst I think I could be accused of at this age is perhaps indulging some of her more “girly” traits. Yes, sometimes, she can display some “princess” behaviour but I don’t think it is any more than asserting herself as she grows up and finds her place in her world – childhood displays of behaviour common to both sexes.  I don’t disagree with Sue Palmer about the excess of “princess” stuff out there and of course, as parents, we need to be very mindful of all the exposure our children are getting to marketing and consumerism from such a young age.  However, the old adage of “girls will be girls, boys will be boys” is largely true, I think, and if my daughter wants to dress up and be a princess in her creative play, then that’s fine by me and it is my responsibility to ensure her future self-confidence about her appearance is not affected and also to show her who’s boss (for her own good) if she starts to suffer from “little princess syndrome…when I have to start addressing her as HRH or Ma’am, then I shall worry.

Open to Interpretation…

Parenthood

Parenthood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was thinking earlier about how, as parents, what we say and what we think or mean in reality are often two completely different things.  I was wondering if this is a peculiarly British trait as our natural reserve and detached politeness dictate our responses, often masking what we really think. I suspect it is not just the British. Often, when it comes to our children, there is a whole subtext underlying what we actually say both to them and to parents of other children.  What do I mean?  Well, perhaps it is best illustrated with some examples, each with what might be said first, then what is actually thought or meant:

“Horatio Lancelot – what a fabulously interesting and unusual name to call your son” = “What the bloody hell were you thinking?”

“Gosh, doesn’t he look like his dad?” = “Poor sod, only a mother could love him”

“I’ve been so lucky with her, she’s a great little eater and sleeper” = “she eats nothing except toast with marmite and peanut butter and she has never slept for more than 2 hours at a time”

“He’s just a ball of energy” = “Little tyke”

“It’s so lovely, my kids go everywhere with me” = “I can’t even go to the bloody bathroom on my own”

“I’d love it if little Johnny could come over for a play and tea” = “I’d rather stick rusty pins in my eyes”

“Right that’s it, I warned you, no more TV for a month” = “There I go again with a threat I can’t carry out”

“What do you say?  What’s the magic word?” = “What is so complicated about the words please and thank you that you have still not mastered them at nearly 9”

“My kids are just letting off steam” = “I’ve totally lost control again”

“No, you absolutely cannot play on the Xbox today” = “I’m sure I can be persuaded if you ask me again in half an hour”

“Your son is a really good little footballer” = “My son is way better and he should be in the team, not your son – that coach needs his eyes tested”

“We’re really trying to bring our little one up with two languages – English and Spanish – it’s so useful to be bi-lingual” = “She watches far too much Dora the Explorer”

“I love those days when we stay at home painting or clay modelling – all those wonderful messy activities which it is so important for kids to do, such fun” = “That’s the whole point of nurseries, isn’t it? A place to do all those things which I loathe and which leave my house daubed in paint and looking as though it has been burgled ”

“The kids got on brilliantly and your son was an absolute delight” = “That was the playdate from hell and over my dead body will your little darling be stepping over the threshold of my house ever again”

“We’re really very relaxed parents” = “We follow Gina Ford to the letter, every minute of every day is accounted for”

“Every day is different as a stay-at-home mother” = “Every day is a relentless round of cleaning, washing, ironing, cooking and taxi-driving”

“I feel very valued as a mother” = “What did your last slave die of?”

Tongue-in-cheek -yes,  and deliberately exaggerated – perhaps just a little,  but there is some truth in the gap that often exists between what we say and what we are actually thinking. However, to redress the balance, one thing that we do say which is exactly the same as what we think, is when we say to our children”I love you totally” because we do (perhaps I should just add the caveat “even though you can be rather challenging”!).