Friday, 18 November 2011

Cougars discussed on Radio 4's Woman's Hour

Click here to listen to the cougar discussion on Woman's Hour

Earlier this month the world of the Cougar came to the attention of Woman's Hour, who kicked around the idea that dating a younger man was a bad idea because  he would only be interested in playing on his X-Box, rather than enjoying any more sophisticated persuits.

If only I'd been on hand to call into the show and tell them about my 'toy boy's gadget collection.

Since living with Ad Man I have been introduced to a few new bits of technology, I must admit.. but they have all been a far cry from the  X Box.

The first to arrive was a tea maker (yes, the proper old fashioned kind, that sits by the bed, gurgling and hissing first thing in the morning). This was then followed by a mini deep fat fryer (for making himself the odd portion of chips) and then to top it all, an electric blanket, so he could snuggle down into a cosy bed at night.

So, let this be my warning to any of you aspirational cougars out there... Don't think having a toyboy is your passport to a life of wild parties, or even all night gaming sessions - you could be signing up for something much more sedate. That said, I am not complaining. Although I'm still drawing the line at a TV-dinner tray...

Monday, 19 September 2011

A very male solution for mums missing university bound teens

So, on Saturday, I drop my lovely daughter at Uni. We say our final farewells, and then I find myself sitting in the car, alone, outside her hall, watching as she strolls back up to her new room without a hint of a backwards glance towards me. Oh, well, that's it then. Job done.

"Parenting is about giving them roots, but also giving them wings," my wise friend Jim said to me last week.. And there's no doubt that my fledgling daughter has found her wings in no time at all. I should be  a proud old bird, I guess. But, somehow...

Back at the empty nest, I confide in Ad Man that it feels very odd to see L's room, lying vacant, without the usual clutter of electronic gadgets and H&M merchandise..

"Well, shut the door then" he suggests.

A practical solution, yep. But not quite what I was looking for in terms of comforting words.

Welcome to my new male-dominated world...

Monday, 12 September 2011

Your teen is off to university? Why you should be celebrating, not crying..

Autumn is here. Britain is being buffeted by storms and, in houses all over the country, families are bracing themselves for their own emotional tempest as their teenager packs a big bag and finally leaves the nest.

Already, mothers are sidling up to me, tears in their eyes, and confessing that the imminent departure is leaving them feeling devastated, bereft, and unsure how they are going to cope in the months that lie between now and the Christmas vacation. I can sympathise – really. My gorgeous daughter Lucy is leaving home herself, and heading off to study Art at a university which is over three hours drive, or a very tedious and complicated train journey, away.

I was so proud and pleased when, after months of sweating over her portfolio, she got her university place, but now I’m faced with the reality that, when she goes, it will just be me and a bunch of boys left at home.

My husband is a truly wonderful man, and my 14-year-old son is a  warm and gentle giant, but lets face it – they are not going to be bringing home copies of Grazia or Heat for us to enjoy together over a cup of tea, nor will they have much of an opinion on  whether or not I am too old to embrace the latest fashions in it. And, being boys, their musical tastes and mine couldn’t be more different. Whereas Lucy and I could hum together to a bit of gentle Laura Marling, or Mumford and Son, the men-folk are only happy doing air guitar to a bit of hardcore rock.

Even my friend Mia, normally a source of solace in  my darker moments, has done little to appease me. “Gosh, just you and the boys left then,” she observed. “Have you not noticed how women who live only with men, often start wearing men’s clothes themselves?"

Great. But actually, despite the fact that Lucy’s departure will clearly leave a massive girl-shaped hole in my life, I still feel that I, and all the other Fresher mothers out there, should be celebrating, not crying as they wave goodbye. Why?  Well, here’s my ten ‘reasons to be cheerful’:

1.     Firstly, you should take pride in the fact that you have produced a son/daughter who has the ability and confidence to leave home and look after himself. Good parenting is all about preparing your child to be happily independent  - so if your son is packing his drum kit into the car with barely a backwards glance, then feel good about it. You’ve done a good job.

2.     If your teen is starting uni this year, they are avoiding the massive hike in tuition fees that will hit students in 2012. This may make little difference to you right now, but essentially means that they are saving themselves in the region of £18,000 plus. So thank your lucky stars that they are currently heading to the likes of Reading, Warwick, Bournemouth or Oxford, and aren’t packing for Goa in a quest to ‘find themselves’, and planning to start uni next year instead..

3.      Feel proud of your Fresher’s ability to have secured a place at uni this year, of all years.. The rush to get into uni before the fees went up has meant even greater competition for places than ever before. Yep, all the kids who have been hanging out in Goa for the past two years, suddenly realised that this was probably their last chance to get to uni - so your clever child has beaten off applications from a whole bunch of 20-somethings, as well as their peers.

4      And, while we are on the subject of fees, bereft parents should also be celebrating the fact that their offspring are actually leaving home to study, and not heading to the local uni and living at home for the next three years (which will inevitably become more common in the light of the fee rise). Living with a teenager is one thing, but living with a student who is partying as hard as he or she is studying, is a whole other story.  Plus, we’ve all heard the horror stories about parents who dream of entering a new stage once the kids leave home, only to find the ‘kids’ are still living there at the age of 30 or more..

5      At the risk of invoking wrath from all of you far, cleverer and better parents (who will tell me that I should never have been doing it in the first place) I also know that my daughter leaving home will mean I have to do less laundry/cooking/cleaning etc.. Hurrah.

6      With one fewer child putting demands on your time, maybe this is the year that you can find more time to do something for YOU. Add up all the hours you’ve spent dropping off, picking up, doing their laundry and so on… all that time is now YOURS - so make the most of it. Don’t spend it all sitting in the empty bedroom weeping..

7      Enjoy the peace. Not only will you no longer be woken up by your baby elephant returning home at 4am after a good night out,  but if your family is anything like ours, you also won’t have to listen to any more grumbling and bickering between a) baby elephant and siblings and/or b) baby elephant and your partner/husband. I am particularly looking forward to no longer having to be the middle (wo)man who runs around tidying away the teen’s discarded shoes/bags/coffee cups, to avoid listening  to the moans and curses from my husband when he falls over them.

8      Enjoy your wardrobe/make-up remaining intact. Ok, maybe this is not so relevant for those of you whose sons are leaving home, but I for one will find it a pleasant surprise to discover that my mascara is just where I left it every morning – plus my shoes, my velvet jacket, my hairbrush, the hair dryer, and so on and so on.

9      Empty house = more sex. Sex – remember that?

10  And finally… oh, who am I kidding..? All the above may very well be true, but lets face it, however wonderful it is that my daughter is about to start on a new and exciting future, there is no doubt that I will still feel a knot of emptiness in my stomach whenever I see that my mascara is still sitting on the windowsill where I left it, that there are no shoes cluttering up the hallway, that one of our bedrooms is sitting empty and perpetually tidy, and that there is an empty space at the dining table. I too will be fighting back the tears when I drop my daughter in halls and when I make the long car journey home with an empty back seat.  Yes, even if my daughter is a hundred odd miles away, I am still a mother, I will always be a mother and, as a mother, that’s my job.

Friday, 19 August 2011

A level results pressure - and how to avoid it

So the A level results are out. And, like thousands of others around the country, our house was in a vice of anticipation yesterday morning waiting for  them to finally go online. 

In our case there was slightly less pressure because daughter L wants to study art, so gaining her university place was all about the quality of her portfolio rather than her grades, but nevertheless she still wanted to do well. But then of course, everyone has a different perception of what  doing ‘well’ actually means.

If you read the Daily Mail, you’d be forgiven for thinking that, come results day,  every attractive girl in the country can be found leaping into the air, holding hands with her best, and equally attractive, mate and clutching a piece of paper littered with A-star grades. Every year, the media is full of stories about how the level of grades is getting higher and higher so, although the reality is still that only 8.2% of students get an A grade, the level of expectation from the outside world also gets greater and greater, and arguably more and more unrealistic.

Poor kids. For two years or so, they potter along, doing their coursework and maybe the odd flurry of revision, in relative peace. Parents, for the most part are happy if they feel their kids are turning up at college regularly, spending marginally more time reading books than on Facebook and only being washed along in a wave of WKD or cheap lager once a week or so.  Then, come August 18th, the whole extended family, and friends of the extended family, and other parents that you see once a year at most, all want to know exactly what grades have been achieved. Suddenly a smattering of healthy B and Cs doesn’t seem quite enough (even if that’s exactly what the parents themselves got back in their day), and parents and grandparents begin to feel somewhat cheated if their little darling hasn’t got at least one A-star to boast of to their colleagues.

Daughter L, thankfully, got just what she hoped for and deserved (and did very well indeed) so we had the prosecco out to celebrate quietly together first thing in the morning. But although I was absolutely delighted for her, I still felt it was a bit crass to broadcast L’s actual grades to anyone and everyone. Maybe I'm the odd one, but I was acutely aware that there were other students out there who had worked incredibly hard to get a clutch of Cs and felt they really didn’t need to know about anyone else’s A grades. One of L’s friends had to cope with the death of her mother as she started her studies, while another has missed much of the past year due to a chronic illness, so for them, achieving any A levels at all, let alone securing a university place, was a truly remarkable achievement – and sod the lack of A stars!

The problem was, I soon discovered that the rest of the world didn’t feel quite the same. It wasn’t just the kids either. Everyone deserves to feel very proud of their successes of course, and I would never deny anyone a moment of glory, but Facebook was awash with students posting A grades onto their status, with only a few poor souls brave enough to come online to admit to their failings. And the parents were far worse. My phone was buzzing all day with queries from other parents, curious as to how L had done. Many of course were genuinely interested in L’s wellbeing and plans for the future, which was great, but with others I soon discovered that simply saying she had done ‘well’ or even ‘very well’  wasn’t enough to keep them happy.. They wanted every detail to pick over, to analyse, in order to make a judgement on L’s abilities, those of the sixth form college she’d attended, or to help them put their own child’s results into context.

And yet, for many of the kids, whether they got an A or a B in a subject will be almost immaterial from this day on. As long as they’ve got enough qualifications to go to university if they want to, and get a step closer to achieving their dreams (whether that is to become an astrophysicist or a hairdresser), that’s all that matters.

“Shall we just lie,” I eventually suggested wickedly to L. “Lets say you’ve got five A stars.. and are a bit disappointed not to have got six. It would be much more fun.”

L, of course, is a far better person than I am, and made sure I stuck - I felt rather boringly - to the truth, but I have to admit there’s part of me that still regrets not trying it out on a few people.

So, for any of you out there with a teen doing A levels next year, I strongly recommend finding a remote holiday destination for results day and then, once you’ve ensured your child has got their results and are OK, turn off your internet and your mobile for the rest of the week. Or maybe just lie to anyone you’ve never really cared for anyway – it will be a great excuse to never see those people again. Oh, but don’t forget to post a picture of your daughter leaping off a wall, with a big smile and a results letter in hand – then it will be truly convincing.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Carole King, James Taylor, my new sister-in-law and me..

So Ad Man’s younger bro and his wife Bee came to stay this weekend.. 

Little Bro is a couple of years younger than Ad Man, at 32, and married his equally young and pretty wife Bee just last year. We only get to see them twice a year though, and then usually it’s with all the family around, so I still don’t feel I’ve had a chance to get to know Bee that well. Also Ad Man is rubbish providing me with any of the sort of details that I like to know when I meet someone.

“How old is she?”  Him:  “Um, dunno.”

Where’s she from? Him:   “Um Bedford, no, Cornwall – um dunno, really.”

“What’s she into?”  Him:  “Well, she works part-time in a surf shop”

“A surf shop..but they live in landlocked Coventry??!! Are you sure?” Him:  “Um, dunno, I think so.”

He also conveniently forgets that on Friday night he’s at some client event  – supposedly “working”, but as the 'do' is at London Zoo, it’s clearly more of a jolly than a tough business meeting. Mmmmm. But there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m home alone when Little Bro and Bee arrive.

Actually, it’s lovely. They turn up with flowers and beer (good start) and we end up settling into a comfortable evening on the sofa with a bottle of wine, and having a good chin wag. Well, Little Bro and I do, but Bee is a bit more reserved. 

Bee’s looking great in pale grey skinny jeans, a t-shirt and a little diamond nose piercing. She is also looking very fresh for a Friday night at 10pm, but then, when you’re 40-something like I am, and had a tough, busy week, EVERYONE looks fresher and younger. Still, when the topic of significant birthdays comes up, I can’t help but take the plunge and ask if it’s her thirtieth this year.

“Ha!” says little Bro, and collapses into giggles, while Bee just smiles: “I’m 26”.

“Christ!” I splutter into my wine. “Really?”

Little Bro nods smugly. The words 'cat' and 'cream' come to mind.

Twenty six? The grim facts slowly began to sink in. That makes her 10 years younger than Ad Man and 20 years younger than me! So, when she was born, I was already in my second year at university.. in fact that makes her only eight years older than my daughter. No wonder she looks fresh – she’s practically just hatched!

“Yes, you’re old enough to be her mother,” Ad Man helpfully points out in bed later, when I fill him in on the evening's events.. I just sigh mournfully. He is completely unfazed by the revelation (bless him) but for me, it puts an entirely new spin on the weekend. 

The next morning we head into Winchester, and because they’ve never been there before, we take them on a little tourist trail of its landmarks - such as Arthur’s Round Table, and the water meadows. They seem happy enough, but I’m constantly worried that Bee is bored.

 Ad Man has a press discount card for a yummy mummy type of store in the city centre but, even then, my excitement at getting 40% off beautiful floral flocks is somewhat dampened by the way Bee, in her leggings and tunic, looks such a fish out of water surrounded by the tweeds, padded gilets and cotton prints. While I’m prancing around the shop with unbridled enthusiasm, she fingers a few pieces with little interest.

“Don’t worry,” Ad Man reassures me. “She’s fine, really.”

And of course he was right. That night we light up the BBQ. It’s a beautiful evening, the bunting is fluttering above us, and the candles twinkling on the table. We have a couple of beers, and out come the guitars. .

 Little Bro is a brilliantly talented guitarist and can immediately pick out any tune, while Ad Man is happy to take the bass line. Before I know it, we are all singing along as Little Bro and Ad Man strum. I’m in my element, and seeing Bee smiling and laughing alongside me, she seems to be too. It's then that I realise that the tunes we are all singing aren’t from this decade, or even the last.. It’s old timers James Taylor and Carole King who are getting us all humming together. 

The fact that Taylor and King must be at least sixty-something these days, and substantially older than ANY of us sitting around the table, is completely irrelevant – the harmonies are still beautiful. And of course that’s all that’s important. I somehow feel that Bee and I will be fine after all.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Being a mum with a 'toyboy' and 2.5 kids - for Mumsnet

My big news this week is that Mumsnet have taken me under their maternal wing as one of their bloggers!

Our new, complicated but happy little family
(ssh, don't tell the kids I've posted this, they'd kill me!)
I feel very honoured to be there, but it also made me reflect on what I could actually offer Mumsnet readers...

I certainly don't consider myself much of a parenting expert. Some years ago I did work for Mother & Baby magazine and I once wrote a book called the First Time Parents Survival Guide - but even then I had to call in my lovely consultant paediatrician friend Cathy Hill, to edit it and ensure that I didn't suggest anything hideously unsafe or downright dangerous!

No, all I can really offer is my own experiences of bringing up my two children, who are now (rather scarily) 14 and 18 years old.. But even then, I have a sneaking suspicion that they have grown into the wonderful people that they are despite of, rather than as a result of, my input.

I've tried to do my best of course, but over the past twelve years they have had to cope with their dad leaving home, their dad coming back, their parents divorcing, living with a single, working mum,  living with a single mum who is dating a much younger man, and then seeing their mum get married for the second time (to said younger man) - plus the numerous associated house moves. It's been rather like living in a bad soap plot at times yet, somehow, they have turned into two happy, loving and sensible teenagers who are genuinely nice to have around.

Ad Man too has had a rather chequered experience of parenting (and now step-parenting) to date, but nevertheless his 12 year old son still wants to make the two hour trip down to us every other weekend, and asks to come away with us in his school holidays. Which I guess all goes to show that, despite our inevitable mistakes and anxieties (and even political pressures), you don't have to be the perfect nuclear family, living in the rose-covered cottage with the picket fence, in order to launch your children successfully into the world.
Demi juggles 'toyboy'
and children

Modern families like ours are extended, complicated and often involve greater organisational ability than the United Nations but, like the United Nations, with a shared aim of co-operation, peace and a fair respect of human rights, we somehow make it work.

So, don't come to this blog if you are hoping for expert advice on parenting. You won't find it here! But do please check in for regular rambling on the ups and downs of living with a 'toyboy' and 2.5 kids.. I can guarantee you will leave feeling happy and smug about your own much more simple, straightforward and successful family life..

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Perfect parenting? The cougar is bailing out of the race...

Gossip Girl Taylor Momsen blames her parents'
ambitions for her unhappiness
In the news I see that a nine-year-old boy has climbed to 1000 feet, all alone, in a hot air balloon, setting a new world record..  A four-year-old’s art work is exhibiting in New York.. and of course we had the lovely little Ronan Parkes singing his little heart out on Britain's Got Talent. 

I should probably feel warmed by these tales of  young success. But for some reason I don't. To me, they feel like yet more evidence of the new culture of overly pushy and ambitious parenting - and I'm just not convinced that the children are, ultimately, going to thank them for it.

Of course, for anyone who wants to justify subjecting their children to an intense regime of  extra curricular music lessons, sports academies and tutoring, the recent press coverage given to Chinese parenting techniques has been heaven sent.  “Look,” they can say. “Those Chinese parents keep their children locked to a piano for three hours at a stretch. And they scream at them if they get an A-minus, and not a straight A..  If we don’t do the same, our children will clearly achieve nothing in life...”

So even more yummy mummies all over the country are now running themselves ragged, dragging their equally exhausted kids to the next session in self-improvement before coming home, collapsing on the sofa with a large glass of Chablis, and patting themselves on the back for being such good parents, and sacrificing so much time, money and energy for their children.

But somehow I sense that all the classes and coaching sessions that dominate the columns of family calendars up and down the country are not really done for our children’s benefit  and futures – but rather to increase the parents' own sense of self worth.

With so many women leaving having children until they are older and more established in their careers, new mothers these days are used to working hard at it from 9-5, and feel more at "home" in the competitive cut and thrust of the workplace, than they are at, well, home. The most ‘active’ helicopter parenting that I have witnessed has been in the more upmarket London suburbs, where the yummy mummies have left high pressured jobs in fashion/marketing/PR/finance to look after their children. Robbed of their 9-5 disciplines, and maybe feeling slightly guilty for no longer bringing in their share of the household income, they clearly feel the need to prove just how good they are at their latest project - child raising - and throw all of their time and energy into it.

In the absence of a promotion or pay rise, or a pat on the back from the boss, they now gain their rewards from climbing the ladder in the playground, and from being able to bask in the reflected glory of their children’s achievements:  “Oh, my Oscar did GCSE science in year three...  Yes, I started taking him to this wonderful tutor as soon as he was old enough to hold a test tube …”

Maybe I’m just bitter that, as a busy working mum with no nanny around to help out, I simply wasn't able to leave a meeting at 2.30 in order to ensure my daughter made it to ballet/drama/extra Latin in time.  Maybe, one day, my children will return home and berate me for the fact that they can’t speak four languages, execute a neat pas de deux, or entertain their friends with a Grade 8 piano recital? But somehow I don’t think so. They have found their own passions and talents along the way, without me pushing or even steering them in any particular direction.

And, if I need any more reassurance that a busy child isn't necessarily a happy child, a study by clinical psychiatrist Dr Levine, has found that children of affluent parents are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than normal teenagers. Why? Because they are struggling to please their over ambitious parents. 

So maybe my lax parenting is perfect parenting after all! All I know is that my kids seem perfectly happy – and to me that’s the main thing. And if the Chinese – or even the yummy mummies - think I’ve failed them, frankly I don’t care.

What do YOU think? Please post your comments below…

Monday, 30 May 2011

Cougar Goes Camping

Half term. And, for me, that means the chance to get on with some writing while the kids drift in and out of the house making few extra demands, except for the odd meal, drink and snack. Perfect.

 I love having days off at home. I like being able to take my time over all the things that are either rushed or don’t get done in a usual working week. I love drinking at least a pint of Earl Grey at the breakfast table, taking leisurely baths, pottering in the garden – even hanging up the pile of discarded clothes in the bedroom and having the chance to regain some sense of order.

Summer Holidays, Easter holidays, and even Christmas holidays always seem to come with a pressure to “DO” something. People always ask what your PLANS are, what you are going to DO, where you are going to GO – but half terms come and go more quietly, with less expectation from the outside world and so, for me, are a wonderful opportunity to quietly wallow in the gift of extra time.

But this half term, Ad Man’s 11 year old son has announced he wants to come and stay, so AD Man has taken a week off work, and my planned week of pottering is instantly replaced by a flurry of plans for Father/Son bonding activities.

“Why don’t we go camping?” suggests Ad Man.

“Or, we could stay at home and do some day trips..” I offer, hopefully.

“But I’m on holiday,” he protests. “I want to DO something.”

Of course, I should be more sympathetic. For Ad Man, the usual working week means getting up before the birds have even realised it’s time to start chirping, and then commuting two hours into central London to work a full day, before commuting the two hours home again. He goes for months hardly seeing the house in daylight, so I can understand that he wants to make the most of his time off.

I try a bit harder to be sympathetic – but camping, in a now chilly May.. really?

“It will be great,” he reassures me. “We’ve got that new tent, with separate sleeping pods, so the boys can have their own space, and we can snuggle up together. And there’s a new camping cooker… “

Not wanting to seem churlish, I weaken. But fast forward a few days, and I’m somewhat regretting my decision. I’m on a windy ridge in Dorset, trying desperately to tame three square metres of flapping tent fabric, while Ad Man runs around shouting instructions above the noise of the gale that is whistling between us. Meanwhile, of course, both his son and mine sit cocooned in the warm car with their noses in their mobile phones and oblivious to it all.

“We’ve nearly done it!” Ad Man yells, trying to keep morale high while gripping furiously onto three airborne corners. But it’s beginning to rain, and out of the corner of one eye, I can see a family further down the field rushing in horror after their tent which has taken off and is now flying away from them and over their parked Audi Estate.

Finally, against the odds, we manage to hammer in the final peg, and I have to admit that the tent is a triumph. It sleeps eight and has a central living area that is tall enough even for Ad Man to stand and walk around in. But it towers above everything around it like a WAG-style mansion in a field of modest semi-detacheds, and, not used to such grandeur, I feel rather embarrassed as I unpack the car and shuffle in and out with our bedding and supplies.

It has now taken us nearly two hours to set up home in a field and the boys are starving, but it’s too wet and windy to barbecue the family pack of burgers and sausages we’ve brought with us. Instead we decide to try and cook inside the tent and so balance the new camping stove precariously on top of the dog’s metal crate (I'd rather call it 'bed') in the awning area. Then, to keep the dog safely away from the food and cooker, we zip up the fly screen so that the boys, dog and I are sealed in on one side, in the main body of the tent, while Ad Man and his new cooker are screened off in the awning. 

It’s a preposterous set up, but unable to think of a better way of managing the situation, we spend the next 20 minutes, repeatedly unzipping a small gap in the fly screen  in order to pass cooking utensils, burgers/sausages and ketchup backwards and forwards between Toyboy chef and us diners – as if it were some sort of sophisticated mosquito-proof serving hatch. Of course, even when the frying pan catches fire and threatens to engulf the tent in flames, it does nothing to deter Ad Man’s enthusiasm – so I try to be a better person myself, ignore my desperate craving for a glass of wine and not to growl at the boys if they want something from “the other side” of the screen.

Amazingly, we manage to finish dinner without any trips to the vets or A & E, but then I look at my watch and groan. It’s only half past eight and it’s still light, but it’s also still blowing a gale and all I really want to do is go to bed.

Ad Man, on the other hand, decides to brave the wind and sets himself up outside in a chair, with beer, Kindle and pipe, so he can take in the great outdoors, and enjoy the view of Corfe Castle and the steam train meandering through the hills.

I’m exhausted from a day of being ‘plucky’, and so retreat to my ‘pod’, but under the shadow of a hoodie, a sleeping bag and Melin Tregwynt blanket, there’s not enough light to read the weekend Guardian, so I give in and go to sleep..

Well, that’s if you can call a night of gale force winds, Ad Man snoring, flapping tent fabric and resonating car alarms a “sleep”…

The next morning I realise I have to do as my granny always told me and ‘be true to myself’.

“I’m going home,” I tell Ad Man.

“I know,” he says.

And so now, I’m back in my kitchen, drinking my Earl Grey, and writing. Everything is as it should be. But of course, there’s that little part of me that wishes I was in that windy field in Dorset where Ad Man and the two boys are still battling bravely on. Fickle, me?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Juggling parenting, Michael Buble and a toyboy - a Cougar needs more time

“Darling,” I said.

“Yes” said Ad Man, slurring, from 100-plus miles away.

"It’s 3am. I’m trying to sleep.”

“Yes, but listen – it’s our tune…!”

I groaned and buried my head in my pillow while the muffled tones of Michael Buble told me that I was his ‘getaway car’ and his ‘Everything’..

First the pleasure, then the pain.

I guess it was inevitable that after managing to sneak off alone with Ad Man to France, I’d pay for it when I returned.

After a glorious week of  beach walks, seafood and Chablis, we’d come home to the usual mayhem of dog, cat, dead fish and kids  - and the realisation that Daughter’s A level work was not exactly on schedule.

I’ve never been one of those mothers who gets very  involved in the minutiae of their children’s school work – but even I could tell that Daughter’s past week had been more about boys, parties and Facebook than the Cold War and Hamlet. There was nothing for it. I needed to take her away from all distractions so she could recover some focus.

Our self-imposed exile was in Devon, at my mother’s house. For four days.  Unfortunately I couldn’t think of anywhere else that would be free – well in monetary terms at least. It meant four days of biting my tongue and trying to limit my mother’s wine intake. I hoped one day Daughter would thank me for it.

The plan was that I would take the dog, and Son G would go to his Dad’s house – so this meant Ad Man had four days  to himself – probably for the first time since we’d all moved in together.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, before we left.

“Not much. Probably watch a box set of Glee, sit alone on the sofa and miss you.”

I gave him a big hug. “I’ll miss you too.”

“Or I might phone Simon..” he added casually.

And there it was. Of course, Ad Man had already spotted an opportunity to make the most of his freedom, and was planning to do what any young man with a Saturday night to himself would do..

“You’re going clubbing?”

“Mmmm,” he replied, feigning distraction. “No, I expect we’ll just have a BBQ and watch some Top Gear together.”

“Yeah right.”

I could hardly complain. After all, Ad Man gave up his friends, his curry house, and his nights at Watford’s Reflex to come and live with me on the south coast. And while he has embraced his new role as a suburban step dad in the same good natured, sunny way with which he meets most challenges – he inevitably misses his friends and his old – well, young – life at times.

Tempted by blondes and Tinie Tempah
And so, late on Saturday night -while I was trying hard to relax in my mother’s guest bedroom, surrounded by more floral decoration than Chelsea flower show could boast – Ad Man and his mate Simon were in central Southampton downing a cocktail of lager, sambuca, lager and sambuca, and dancing to Tinie Tempah surrounded by a host of 20-year-old peroxide blondes.

I trusted him completely, I just wished I was there too. Not for the blondes and the Tinie Tempah so much, but just to be able to dance with him, get a bit drunk with him and have a laugh with him – rather than having to be the grown-up, at home, supervising the revision progress.
The fact that he was out indulging in youthful pastimes, just emphasised the dichotomy I so often feel these days;  that while one part of me is growing older and has the responsibilities that come from being a parent of teenage children (something I wouldn’t miss for the world), the other part of me still feels young and rebellious and refuses to accept a life of slippers ,TV suppers – and floral wallpaper.

Which is why, when he called me from our living room at 3am, to play ‘our tune’ down the phone, I wasn’t angry – just frustrated. Frustrated that I wasn’t there to dance to it with him, as we did on our wedding day, and on that lovely, crazy night on the Isle of Wight, in a deserted restaurant, where they didn’t mind that we took over their music system and played it over and over again.

The older I get, the more time I need. I need time to work, time to be a parent, time to be a friend and time to be a lover too –and there just simply isn’t enough of it to be all of those things. I want to be a good parent above all, but I also want to dance with my Ad Man too…

The next day, mission almost accomplished, Daughter and I packed up the textbooks and the dog, waved goodbye to my Mum and did the three-hour drive back home – to find Ad Man still in bits.

“I think I’m getting old," he said looking pale. “My body just can’t take the late nights and booze anymore.”

“Rubbish,” I said. “You’ve got years of partying left in you. Maybe you just went a bit heavy on the sambuca.”

“Maybe,” he agreed, but wincing. He clearly wasn’t ready for the mention of liqueurs quite so soon.

Then I pulled out our slippers, and we both gratefully settled down for a night in together, in our own home, with supper, in front of the TV. It seems there's only so much dancing and drinking even a toy boy can do..

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Delta Goodrem dates Nick Jonas - eight years her junior - shock!

According to the Daily Mail: "She announced her split from fiancé Brian McFadden less than two months ago.
But it appears that Delta Goodrem, 26, is wasting no time in moving on.
The Australian singer has been pictured holding hands with Nick Jonas, 18, on a cinema date in West Hollywood."

And still the shock and horror at a mixed age relationship continues. Twitter is bursting with 'WTF' and "weird coupling" and "what is the world coming to" sort of statements.

One tweet even claimed that Delta was old enough to be Nick's mother! At just eight years older, that is pushing it slightly, I'd say.

And all this coming  from our younger, more 'liberal' and  supposedly 'unshockable' generation.

We have a nation that will happily watch someone die on television but reels in disgust at a mixed age relationship...

Why even Benjamin Franklin recommended the older woman to the toy boy

I always knew that us Brits could be a conservative bunch, and of course few of us find change easy, but even I’m struggling to understand why people still find it so strange that a younger man might actually enjoy the company of an older woman, when such relationships have been going on for, not just decades, but centuries.

This week I was sent an email drawing my attention to a letter that statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin sent to a friend, discussing this very topic, back in 1745!

To be strictly accurate, he was suggesting to his friend that, if he ever fancied playing away from home, he’d be well advised to do it with an older woman, rather than a young one – and some of his reasoning is  pretty sexist -  but I was still struck by the similarities between what Franklin says about the admirable qualities of the older woman and what my younger man, Ad Man, told me he found appealing.

For those of you new to these pages, in the early days, I asked Ad Man about what it was that the younger man could possibly be gaining by dating the older woman, and this is what I reported back in the blog:

The older woman has more to talk about By the time a woman hits 40, she’s usually been to a few places, seen a few things, and realised that there’s more to life than what’s happening in X-Factor and the new handbags in TopShop (though that’s not to say that we don’t like those things too!) We’ve got somewhere in our careers, seen some ups and downs, and know that you need more than perfect hair and make-up to make an evening interesting. Twenty–three-year-old Megan Fox  may tick a lot of boxes for the Toy Boy, but her conversation certainly isn’t one of them.

And here is Franklin, back in 1745, saying much the same thing – though with less mention of X Factor:

“Because as they (older women) have more Knowledge of the World and their Minds are better stor’d with Observations, their Conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreable.”

He goes onto say:

When women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility. They learn to do a 1000 Services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all Friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an old Woman who is not a good Woman.”

Fortunately for me, the work the Suffragettes, Women’s Lib and the Feminist movement have done over the past hundred years or so has ensured that Ad Man views me with rather more respect than Franklin feels due to give the older women of his time. But, strip away Franklin’s assumption that an older woman’s beauty fades (and that is why she works harder to please her man) and essentially you have Ad Man’s second point – that older women are not so self obsessed as their younger counterparts:

It’s not all about ‘me’ Talking about yourself for too long is a big turn off for men - and so many 20-somethings are yet to emerge from their egocentric chrysalis. The joy of the forty-something is that she has developed the skill of asking people questions. More than that, she is genuinely interested in someone other than herself. Think, who would you rather have a chat with - Kate Winslet or Peaches Geldof?

And finally, although Franklin rather crudely points to how an older woman’s face and neck will inevitably show signs of age and gravity taking their toll (the unfortunate women of 1745 had less sunscreen, moisturizer and Botox around to help them out, of course) – even he is aware that, when it comes to turning out the bedroom lights, the older woman still has more to offer, thanks to her extra years of experience:

“Because in every Animal that walks upright, the Deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest Part: The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.”

I only hope that Franklin's wife o French mistress, never got to see what he'd written about lank and wrinkled faces!  I suspect that she would have preferred Ad Man's 21st century interpretation:

We’re confident Age definitely brings an added confidence. The cougar knows what she wants and what she doesn’t want, and she knows how to sweat her assets. Such confidence is sexy – men of all ages are unanimous in that – and that extends to the bedroom too. OK, so the 40-year-old’s body may have the odd flaw, but at least she’s happy to keep the light on and show off the bits that count – and that keeps a toy boy very happy.

Well, plus ca change – as the French, and pretentious, might say! Who knows, maybe another 300 years from now, when older women are still being vilified for dating younger men, someone will pull out my blog, and marvel at how it was happening even back in 2011!!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Growing old together - the statistical advantages of living with the younger man

Apparently living with a ‘toy boy’ now makes me something of an academic talking point too.. 

On Monday evening, I was enjoying one of those rather special, quintessentially English moments, watching my son playing cricket for his under 15s team at a leafy green cricket ground. I was relishing the warmth of the setting sun on my face and the gentle sounds of laughter and leather hitting willow, when another parent strolled over to me and struck up conversation.
“Ah, I was hoping to run into you.”

As we’ve only ever exchanged a few pleasantries in all the time we’ve known each other, I was a little surprised.

“I was wondering,” he continued. “If I could use you in my teaching?”

It turns out that Mac is a demographer - or to be more precise, a Professor of Longitudinal Social Statistics – and, from his point of view, the fact that I’ve chosen young Ad Man as my partner, has made me a more interesting statistic than most other 40-something women. For some reason, I found this strangely satisfying.

Surely, being a widow
 doesn't mean it's the
end of your life?
He explained that, according to research, most women, as you’d expect, tend to settle down with someone who is a couple of years older than them. That, combined with the fact that most men tend to die younger than women (men seem to achieve about 75 years on average, and women 80) means that most women can expect to have seven-plus years of life on their own, at the end of their days.

“So,” he continued, “I always suggest to the female students in my seminars, that they should be finding themselves a toy boy – someone ten years younger ideally. But of course they always la..”

He stopped, the word ‘laugh’ frozen on his tongue, suddenly aware that, if he finished his sentence, there was a chance I might be hugely offended at the thought of a roomful of students laughing at my love life. I helped him complete his point to try and reassure him that I really was fine about it.

“So you want to use me as living proof that women actually can hook up successfully with younger men?”

“Well, yes!” he said, relief written all over his face.

“That’s fine by me!” I replied.

But later, it made me think about my twilight years, and how I may feasibly end up spending them. And found myself strangely unsettled by what Mac had pointed out. Inevitably I suppose, we tend to look to our own parents’ lives as an indication of what may lie ahead for ourselves. My father died way back in the Eighties, and my mother has lived alone ever since, so I suppose, subconsciously, I’d always imagined the same would happen to me. Of course, if I’d given it any real thought, I’d have realised that was now pretty unlikely, as my father was 16 years older than my mother – and not ten years younger, as Ad Man is.

Halle Berry will never have a
day to herself in her retirement
Mac’s recommendation to his female students that they embrace the Cougar lifestyle came from an assumption on his part that they would rather not be prematurely widowed, and would prefer their husbands to be at their sides until the very end. But having been witness to my mother’s lifestyle, in comparison to that of her married peers, I wouldn’t be so quick to agree with him.

I think of my mum as 78 and single, not 78 and widowed.  The word ‘widow’ to me smacks of tired resignation to a quiet life of meals for one, headscarves and shopping trolleys with wheels, whereas my mother’s life is far more about cracking open the Chablis at 6pm, scouring the shops for designer clothes and going on exotic holidays. The only trolley she owns is her golf trolley, which is hauled around the country club as a quick precursor to lunch or drinks with ‘the girls’.  Although my father is still very missed, he was always a man who erred on the side of caution and thrift, so the upside of his absence is that there is no longer any need for her to compromise or bargain for what she wants. If she spots a great handbag, she buys it; if she fancies a new flower bed, she digs it herself, in the spot of her choosing – and, like the bright, blousy tulips she has planted there, she has blossomed in her second single life.

If anyone ever wonders why she hasn’t remarried (and with her glamorous sense of style, persistently auburn hair and twinkling green eyes, there’s been no shortage of interest), her answer is always the same:
“Why would I want to wash someone else’s socks?!”

As I’ve been brought up to be just as independent, and happy in my own company, I suppose I’ve always assumed my retirement would be similar. But, my chat with demographer Mac, made me realise that of course it won’t be..   Ad Man and I are statistically very likely to be stuck with each other now, right to the end, which means a lifetime of compromise and bargaining – not to mention the washing of socks..

But then, I reflected, the compromising and bargaining with Ad Man is actually part of the fun of being together - even though it has its frustrations at times. And I can’t imagine him not being a part of my life as I get older - even if he has a view on where the flowerbeds should go.

My mother was in her twenties when she married my Dad. So, by the time he died, they’d already shared 30 years together, whereas Ad Man and I are still just beginning. If I’m lucky, like my mother, I’ll get 30 years or so to share with Ad Man – and that’s a statistic I’m quite happy with after all.