I recently turned 45. I celebrated by locking the children out of the house for two hours and sitting in a cool bath. Then I went through the handful of birthday cards that arrived. One was from my sister; another from a friend in Denmark and the other wasn’t a card at all but a reminder that I was due to have a mammogram the following week.
How does 45 feel? Hot. Literally overnight things have changed and my internal heating system has gone a little peculiar. “Touch my legs,” I begged my husband last week. He hasn’t heard that for a while and came running in to the kitchen looking far too excited. “Do they feel hot?” he gripped my shin sternly making “Mmm!” noises. Clearly misunderstanding that it was a medical opinion that I was after.
It was week two of the school holidays and the kids came into the kitchen, cross-eyed with boredom to find their Dad on his knees, gripping my shin. “What are you DOING?” asked one in disgust. “Do me a favour, will you touch my legs?” I asked her. “Er, NO!” she said. “Shave them first. You’re like an ape,” said the other. The youngest in the family was brave enough to touch them. “They feel very warm,” he said. Right answer.
The hot legs drove me mad. Cool baths did help temporarily. But like a kettle, my legs were so hot that after five minutes the bath water was at boiling point. Why couldn’t this happen in the winter when the house is freezing cold? They whole family could sit around my legs and we’d save a fortune on heating bills. I could warm the bed up faster than an electric blanket at night and fry eggs on my thighs in the morning.
“At least you haven’t got dry eyeballs” was my sister’s response. She’s older than me and though she has avoided the hot legs issue, her eyes have become dry. “They are like two tennis balls,” she told me, full of hope and good news as usual. We went to a garden centre to cheer ourselves up. Dry Eyes and Hot Legs. This is what we have become. This is forty something.
My sister can stare at a potted plant for hours on end. We got to an African Violet display and she started staring. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she said, turning to me and dabbing her eyes. “Are you crying?” this was not like her at all. “No. It’s my dry eye thing. Sometimes they go the other way and get watery for no reason” she said, dabbing a Kleenex under her sunglasses. I stood there for twenty minutes before I had to move. My legs were getting hot and we were in a greenhouse. I needed to sit down before the heat explosion. The heat from my legs would wilt the flowers.
She joined me in the café half an hour later. She had purchased a purple African Violet. She was still dabbing her eyes as she sat down in front of her coffee. “Are you sure you’re OK?” I tried not to sound too much like a therapist. We are not an emotional family and never chat about anything psychologically deeper than the weather.
“I’m fine”. Was she speaking in code after all these years? Was she opening up in a therapy way? Did her ‘FINE’ mean Fragile, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional or was she really fine fine? She stared at the African Violet and I waved my skirt up and down over my hot legs. They were burning up. “You look ridiculous” Dry Eyes was now mocking me. I didn’t care.
I am not the only one who is suffering. In the supermarket recently I met a friend who was very red in the face. “Is it me or has someone turned the heating up?” she asked me, hugging a bag of frozen peas. We were in the frozen food section and it wasn’t one bit hot that day. Her face was red, she looked anxious. You feel like that when your thermostat starts playing up. You think that you are going mad when nobody else is feeling the heat with you.
Dry Eyes removed her glasses. “I’ve spent the morning cleaning out HIS room,” she said. Then she put the shades back on. Her son, her only child, my beloved nephew, just left home aged twenty-three. She stirred her coffee and dabbed at her eyes. “He left his PlayStation and Breaking Bad poster,” she stirred even faster. “What am I supposed to do with them?”
She dabbed at her eyes again. “He Skyped me last night. Says that he needs warm clothes”. I think her hearing might be going. He has moved to Malta where the temperature is currently 32 degrees. His bedroom still smells of him”. She took a sip of coffee.
“What am I supposed to do now? Just me and Phil in an empty house”. I reminded her how she has spent the last ten years doing nothing but moan about the mess, the noise and the smell of her son. How it was time for him to spread his wings, how Malta was a great place for him to work and her to visit. It didn’t help. Dry eyes and empty nest syndrome. Nightmare.
I was beginning to feel very guilty about locking my children out of the house for two hours. My phone went. It was my eldest. “Can you come home? Everyone’s screaming and I’m trying to watch a movie”. I walked in to find them wrestling over the remote control, cushions, laundry all over the house, the dogs hiding under the table.
There’s six weeks left before they all go back to school. I shall try and make the most of this summer holiday and my time with the children. I shall ignore my hot legs and concentrate on what really matters. The noise, the chaos and the smell of family life.