Exceeding the limit

I’ll be 55 tomorrow.  I have anticipated this birthday for nearly 40 years.

In 1980, when I was 16, my mother died at age 55 from breast cancer.  For the past 38 years, I have grown accustomed to being a member of a club that no one willingly applies to join.  Milestones such as graduation, new jobs and marriage have been poignant to navigate without my mom.

Over the years I have done a lot of emotional work, healing and learning about the effect on a girl’s life of losing her mother early. Not only is a daughter stripped of her main emotional support, but she also loses a role model, a way of being a woman.  The book Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman has been a constant in my library since the mid 1990s.

For better or worse, our mother’s life gives us a blueprint, or template, of what it means to be a woman.  My mother and I never talked about her life, but I have the sense that she lived much of it held back in an unhappy marriage and never really finding her true path in life.  I saw her break away and begin to live for herself at the age of 50 when she separated from my dad and went back to college, but her life was tragically cut short five years later.  I vowed that I would not repeat that pattern of waiting until it was ‘too late’.

In reaching my mid-50s, I am at a time of my life where I look back over the years to take stock and to examine the results of choices I have made throughout my life.  I am very proud that as a young woman, I had the insight to look at my mother’s life, and her early death, and made the conscious choice to live my life in a way that I would have few regrets or lost opportunities when I reach the age that I am now.  In the early loss of my mother, as emotionally difficult as it made my life, I found the freedom to follow my own path into womanhood.  Throughout my life I have taken many risks and gone through many open doors, a few admittedly ill chosen, but I have always come through each experience learning more about who I am as a person and finding strength that I never knew I had.

I have found role models in real women in my life, literary characters and the lives of women artists.  One of my early mentors told me that even if a chosen path doesn’t take you where you had hoped, it will take you to where you need to be.  This is so true and I pass this gem of wisdom on whenever I can.

At the same time that I am celebrating becoming 55, I have had an unconscious fear, common to many ‘motherless daughters’ that I will not live past the age that my mother was when she died.  I feel  sadness in the knowledge that I am facing a stage of life that my mom never experienced — and I’ll have to go into the future without her example.  Although at the time I knew my mother was far too young to die, I understand that all the more now that I’ve reached the age she was. It’s hard to believe that all the life I’ve had to date is all the life my mother ever had. I still feel young and energetic, full of plans and dreams — and I am acutely aware of how much life she missed out on.

Still from The Cannonball Run (1981)

It is also strange to see women my age and older whose mothers are still alive.  To see and hear about time spent together, or about them caring for mothers whose health is failing and to think that I did that as a teenager, when I was far too young.  Sometimes I uncharitably think, ‘Why them and not me?’    Still my experience made me who I am and I have felt for much of my life that I have already faced and coped with one of the most difficult events possible, the death of one’s mother.

To a society that bombards us, especially women, with messages that we are not supposed to age I say “Hooey!”.  I feel excited about going forward into the uncharted territory of my mature years.  Since I was a young woman, I have been looking forward to growing into my late 50s and through my 60s, 70s and however long I will have beyond that.  I’ve prepared myself well up to this point, making positive life choices and taking great care of my physical health and mental well-being.

I have the most satisfaction about sharing a very happy marriage with a loving and supportive man.  In fact, all this week we are celebrating our Double Leo Birthdays having reached a cumulative total of 115 years.  We are both looking forward to many shared decades to come!

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Lammas & pyjamas

Last week Steve and I had our double Leo birthday celebrations.  Our birthdays are 5 days and 5 years apart, so we usually celebrate for several days.  Steve’s birthday fell on a Saturday and we went up to the Midlands on Friday to visit his Mum and she took us out to lunch the following day.

Patricia and Steve

Then he and I went to the 5 star Moddershall Oaks near Stone as ‘stay guests’ for 24 hours of luxurious pampering.   We chose Moddershall because they only have 10 rooms (exclusive, personalised service), the spa treatments looked great, no golf course (so we knew that it was for couples who are going there to be together) and it was the only stay spa place we found on the internet which had a link to the menu (which looked pretty darn good).  It was way out in the Staffordshire countryside at the end of a relaxing drive through country lanes and farmland.  When we booked, we were asked our dietary requirements which were:   ‘Prosecco on arrival’.  Which we enjoyed in the outdoor hot tub after we checked in.

Prosecco on arrival

Our room was really lovely and I found another light source which I want to find for our bedroom.  Only in white.  I love the way the light beams out from the filigreed metal work.

Following an excellent five course dinner, we took our cheese and wine back to our room.  We intended to have these as ‘movie snacks’ but we couldn’t get the volume to work properly on the DVD player, so will have to save this film for another time.

Nearly ‘Almost Famous’

Sunday morning began with a Continental breakfast, a spa treatment each and then a couple of hours in the sauna/jacuzzi/pool area until lunchtime.  We had a walk through the woods before lunch.  My only complaint about Moddershall Oaks is that they also do wedding packages.  There was a very noisy Hen Party in the dining room adjacent to where we were eating dinner, plus guests arriving and milling about for the wedding on Sunday at lunchtime.  Probably best to go off of the wedding season when its quieter.  But other than that, it was a fantastic, relaxing experience.

Water lilies at Moddershall

My birthday is on the 1st of August, which is Lammas Day, the festival of the wheat harvest.  Traditionally, a loaf of bread is baked and blessed and thanks is given for the harvest.  We had dinner at home with our Fire runner on the table, some of our lovely birthday cards and candles. We had a ‘He-man’ meal of beef burgers and Sizzler Toast.  For those of you who don’t know, Sizzler is a ‘Family Steak House’ which opened in California in 1958 and is now a chain in the Western US.  They serve this great toast with their steak dinners which is super easy to make.  Mix equal amounts of butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Spread liberally on one side of thickly sliced white bread or French bread.  Saute just on the buttered side in a non-stick pan over moderately high heat.  It is delicious.  The cheese melts and browns and the butter oozes up into the bread.  Yum!  Great birthday treat food!!

Beef & Sizzler Toast

After dinner we each acknowledged what we’re currently harvesting from seeds planted earlier this year. For me, it’s my bed ‘Enter the Forest of Dreams’ which I’ve been putting the finishing touches on since January and is about to make its debut at the Festival of Quilts.

Lammas candles and birthday cards

Neither of are big cake fans, so dessert was fresh pear & Gran Padano cheese slivers and a new Lindt milk chocolate bar – Velvety Vanilla Almond, pleasantly reminiscent of crème brûlée.

And where does pyjamas come into all of this?  For a start, I like the alliteration.  Steve and I love to be At Home and have perfected the art of lounging.  My gift to him was a pair of hand sewn deerskin slippers, lined with calfskin.  I have a favourite French nightdress which makes me feel like a Greek goddess and is elegant enough to wear when we have dinner parties.  Steve bought me a beautiful set of Passionata lingerie to wear beneath it so I can wear it as an ‘at home’ evening gown.

I’m also a closet Princess and the Pea.  As a world champion napper, I must have complete darkness and silence when I take my forty winks.  I have earplugs and until now, have used a merino wool Buff to cover my eyes.  But I’m constantly misplacing it.  I can’t believe that I’ve lived for 49 years without one of these, but another gift was a beautiful silk taupe eye mask, which was as lovely to unwrap from its milk chocolate satin envelope as it was to receive.

The best gift all though, was Steve’s smile.  The very same one I fell for when I met him across a crowded table nearly four years ago.