Monday, 21 February 2011

Thirty is the Cruellest Age

My daughter is thirty in March. I couldn't imagine why she was getting so worked up about it.
'I loved being thirty,' I bragged.  'That was the year we built a house, I had you and I had my first novel published.' 
God save us all from our mothers. I must have been having a good day and neglected to say that we were broke, I was pregnant, her father was mending cars in a back street and we were living in a caravan.
  She has an almost impossible job, I gave up impossible jobs, I could never do them, has been living with her fiance for a year and they have moved into their own house with all the usual problems and now they have a huge mortgage which they may still be paying when they are on zimmer frames.
I have just read a wonderful book by Virginia Nicholson called Singled Out which is about the million surplus women left after the first world war. They made huge strides ( well, some of them did. Some poor bitches ended up poverty stricken, looking after dreadful mothers for thirty years or typing away their lives and living in hideous bedsits). The huge strides the women before her took meant that my daughter's generation feels it has to be good at everything. Being good at everything, as we all know, is bloody hard.
Between then and now nothing has gone forward in some ways. We still don't get paid as much as men. Women still think they should be thin and beautiful forever. They spend their lives worrying about what they weigh and what they look like, they have a terrible time trying to find the one decent man in a hundred miles who isn't afraid of commitment and actually wants to have a child or two but they still do nearly all their domestic chores, they hold down bastard jobs so that they can have houses full of expensive furniture ( because everybody does ) and meanwhile they feel inadequate. How can so many clever talented girls feel such pressure?  Because society, the newspapers, television and general life makes them over achievers.
At thirty they think they should have children. 
You take on the seesaw of their lives, worrying in the night about their welfare, terrified that somebody is about to clean them out on the M6, watching as they crash through the world trying to make sense of it.
I could kill the men who have been unkind to my child, I hate the fact that her father died when she was seven and left me to try being both parents to her.
She is beautiful, charming, intelligent.  She is good with people, a wonderful manager, she bakes a mean lemon cake and can make beef carbonnade brilliantly even though she doesn't taste it because she is a vegetarian. She cares about other people, has raised thousands of pounds for charity.
In other words she's a woman of her generation, brought up to expect everything while knowing that it's impossible.
So I wish her well, my child and the women of her generation as she reaches the hardest year of all and I think of the happiness she has given me over the last thirty years, the good memories. We went away this weekend. I drove us to Windermere on the Friday and gave the map into her hands. She's been reading maps since she was seven  and always knows where she is going. I wish her an easy road. It's been anything but that so far for her. To her and to all the other thousands of women about to become the hardest age of all, I wish them joy.

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