Like many, I always find it tempting to orchestrate a lifestyle overhaul at this time of year. The period after Christmas and New Year invariably leaves me feeling a little jaded, for all the obvious reasons. It’s no coincidence that many of us make resolutions at this time, triggered by over-indulgence in the preceding weeks. Forty-six years on this planet have taught me that I would make a hopeless vegetarian and an even worse vegan, so any radical dietary changes are out of the question. Likewise, the chances of me completely giving up wine are extremely slim. Wine is generally reserved for the weekend, but allowance for mid-week emergencies is also required, when a generously-sized glass of wine won’t change the fact that the day was hard, but might make me feel slightly better about it.
The idea of transformation is interesting to me. It puts me in mind of my thoughts about impending motherhood eleven years ago, as I awaited the birth of my first child. In hindsight, much of what I imagined was unrealistic, even laughable. While nesting, my mind was occupied by ambitions of future domestic goddessery. Fuelled by obsessive cookery programme viewing, I envisaged myself emerging post-birth as a dynamo in the kitchen. As it turned out, I was largely stranded on the sofa with my new baby in a Wayne and Waynetta Slob* inspired tracksuit, ingesting significant quantities of biscuits while Keeping up with the Kardashians. I only really ventured into the kitchen to weep into the umpteenth pasta surprise I was cobbling together, too tired and overstretched to cook up a storm. Nigella I was not.
Hot on the heels of the life changes a newborn brings was my return to work and accompanying identity crisis. Everything about the way I presented myself to the world felt all wrong in the context of me as a mother. I struggled to figure out what I wanted to do about it, although I accepted that jogging bottoms could not reasonably form part of my post-maternity working wardrobe.
In the eye of the storm, it’s difficult to see a way out. I eventually did though and after a decent interval, I slipped (squeezed) back into my on-trend jeans as soon as I possibly could once my second baby had been born.
In the intervening years, I was feeling quite pleased with the balance I was striking between mutton and mumsy. That was until this summer. In the course of intensive tutoring of a fourteen year-old girl prior to the start of the school year, she advised me that she would be shopping for “Mum” jeans later that afternoon. I was confused; I’m a mum but was still attired in skinny jeans. Upon learning what “Mum” jeans were (basically high-waisted as opposed to low-rise), I knew I was beaten on the fashion front. To even attempt such sartorial irony would only make me look as if I’d been lost on my way to a Bon Jovi concert for the last 30 years.
Regrettably, I have yet to slink into my kitchen attired in a satin robe, hell-bent on constructing a delectable midnight feast out of left-over (as if!) croissants à la Nigella. I have, however, started making chutney, using recipes I’d optimistically cut out of a magazine around the time I discovered I was pregnant for the first time. Finally my culinary life has moved on in line with my maternal status, although I wasn’t banking on it taking the best part of eleven years.
As I’ve grown alongside my children, I’ve realised that a degree of pragmatism is necessary. I am not exactly the person I thought I’d be in midlife. While I enjoy the idea of always cooking from scratch, the reality is that every Thursday the children dine on chicken nuggets, and, depressingly, it’s the meal that’s consistently greeted with the most enthusiasm. However, in recent years I’ve actively reclaimed other parts of the person formerly known as me that I’d previously suppressed in the mistaken belief that they were incompatible with motherhood. It turns out that sitting quietly with a cup of tea and letting my mind wander as often as possible and occasional epic nights out are not only helpful, but also sanity-preserving.
With the advent of a new year, I refuse to make promises to myself that I know I’ll be unable to keep. I aim to continue much as I have been, reconciling the fragments of myself that make a whole. This all said, I am threatening to take up yoga this year, but only because my lower back seized up at a critical juncture in the run up to Christmas and my ageing muscles are crying out for a good stretch. But before I get too carried away with this notion, I have to find the time. All things being equal and having downloaded an app to facilitate this whimsy, I should get around to putting thought into practice sometime soon – and if not, probably in approximately eleven years, once my youngest child has left home.
*Slovenly characters in Harry Enfield’s 1990s comedy sketch show