I’ve just finished reading a book by the fabulous Liane Moriarty called ‘What Alice Forgot‘. It’s the second of her books that I’ve read now, and the stories are gripping from the outset, pulling you in and keeping you hooked as you clamber through the pages as fast as you can.
This one (without spoiling the plot for those of you that wish to go off and read it) is about a 39 year old woman who falls over at step class one Friday, bangs her head and wakes up having lost a decade of her memory. She thinks she’s turning thirty and in the throes of excitedly expecting her first baby with her gorgeous husband, when in fact she’s got three children, and is in the middle of a hideous divorce.
I’ve barely been able to put it down these past couple of weeks, and actually did something I rarely ever do – I sat down for half an hour in the middle of the day yesterday to finish it, so strong was the pull to find out how it ended.
With two kids of my own and a decade of child-rearing under my belt, the poignancy of the conflict inside the central character’s head between the ‘old’ and ‘young’ Alice was especially moving. ‘Young’ Alice would never have made her kid go to hockey just because ‘playing a team sport is good for you’ when the child so obviously hated every minute of it. ‘Young’ Alice, in the naivety (or is it hopefulness?) of new marriage would never be cross at her husband for forgetting to buy an ingredient for dinner on the way home from work.
As I read it, I felt compelled to look back over my shoulder at the past 10 years or so of my life and look at where I’d changed, and whether those changes were for better, or for worse.
My Mum would say my diet has changed, and that I now impose on my children all the same restrictions that I hated her placing on me and my brother when we were small. She’s right. Do I regret it, now I am looking at it hard and eyes wide open, or want it to change? Not particularly, I don’t think. We live in an obesiogenic environment where kids are surrounded every day with a zillion opportunities and temptations to eat the wrong things, a little moderation from me isn’t going to kill them. I have journeyed from being super-militant on the no-sugar-thing to a (hopefully) middle ground that won’t result in my kids hating me or pushing back too hard as they grow and exercise their own independence, so we’ll see how that pans out.
Both my parents regularly laugh at me (helpful) as they listen to me discipline the girls, smug chuckles that can only be uttered by people that have lived through the same pain when parenting you and your sibling. I definitely look forward to similarly laughing heartily at my children in years to come. But I do wonder sometimes as I hear the words of so many mothers the world over come out from my mouth, seemingly unplanned and unrehearsed, ‘How did this happen to me?’
‘How many times do I have to tell you….’
‘Why can’t you just remember to….’
‘Don’t you realise just how lucky you are…’
I don’t think I am a bad parent, overly stressy or shouty or harsh, but for me, reading this book has definitely reminded me to lighten up when possible, to not treat it all as such a life-or-death moment. I was given some great advice early on in my parenting journey, to try and pick my battles wisely, and only ever say ‘no’ when there was good reason to. I’m going to try harder to hang on to that, and not sweat the small stuff so much (or often).
What about my marriage? My ambitions? My general attitude to life, to risk, to adventure and challenge?
Sure, I’m not the same person I was at 29 either. At 29, I’d been married 4 years. In that time, we’d bought a flat, quit our jobs, gone travelling, come back, moved from London to Cornwall, had a baby and bought our first proper house. In the 10 years since, we’ve had another child, and pretty much stayed where we are. So not quite so exciting, that’s true. But thankfully, hopefully, I’ve not morphed into another creature entirely, unrecognisable to myself or those around me.
I still love my husband more than I think you’re pretty much meant to love anyone, ever, and that’s a really, really good thing. But even when you’re lucky enough to have a good thing to start with, it’s not difficult to see how life gets in the way and makes you both stop seeing the good in each other. Whether it’s work-life balance (or lack of it) financial pressures, grief, or simply the mundane day-to-day, wouldn’t it be great for all of us that have been married for a while to suddenly see things as we did a decade a go – or longer. To view each other, if only for a second, as how we once were, without the baggage of time, hurt, pain and maybe just complacency, colouring the water. Would it change how we spoke to one another, reacted to every day comments and conversation, if we saw what we once saw, rather than what we’ve learnt to expect.
And I guess that’s true not only of our marriage, but also of us. It’s good to reflect and remember what we once wanted, where we were going, and what we thought was important. Sometimes, it reminds us of who we really are, underneath those roles that sometimes threaten to smother us: wife, mother, teacher, carer, business woman, professional, bread winner, church leader.
I’m lucky in that I wouldn’t want to lose the last 10 years of my life. Some, I know, rather would. Painful memories that are best left well alone. But whether it’s a chance to start over, or a reminder of the good things we’ve lived though, let’s take the good and leave the bad. Learn from what we can, and move on from what we can’t. And make a promise to ourselves to be fully present, here, today. To make the most of this moment, savour it, enjoy it, live it.