My attention was caught early a few mornings ago as I got downstairs and opened the kitchen curtains. Sadly, it wasn’t some miracle of nature that greeted me. Nor was it the latest in a succession of bright summer days. No, it was a tarpaulin. And it was an immediate reminder of how taxing middle age has felt over the last few weeks. But we’ll have to come back to tantalising tales of tarpaulin later because it’s a bit down the list in terms of my recent middle age problems.
It’s been a busy few weeks. This time of year is always busy in our house as we have three birthdays and Father’s Day to contend with across June and July. And yes, I do mean contend with. None of it is hugely enjoyable due to the stress and the effort that comes with preparing for them. To clarify, Father’s Day isn’t stressful, but given that this year it was the day before my wife’s birthday, it did come accompanied with feelings of guilt!
This year my daughter is also off on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition in late June too and the sheer level of preparation needed for this has been ridiculous. It’d be a ridiculous amount of preparation if it was leading to her first attempt at scaling Everest, but she’s not attempting that just yet. Instead, it’s a hike from somewhere in Dewsbury to a mystery destination in Huddersfield, where the biggest danger they’re likely to face is the fact that it will probably rain all day and they might well moan each other to death.
Suffice to say, with two birthdays out of the way, I’m already knackered. I’m quite sure it wasn’t always like this. In my twenties and thirties I reckon I probably crammed more into life and bounced back twice as quick. Middle age is taking some getting used to.
Recently, the aches and pains have intensified. It’s strange because whenever I go our for a run I seem to manage just fine. We isolated during May and that made me a bit rusty for a while, but I was still able to get out and run a 10k fairly soon after. Standing around for any length of time though; that’s a different matter. When I coach my football team twice a week a lot of it sees me standing around and maybe punctuating this with a bit of shouting perhaps a quick demonstration of what I want to happen next. But mostly, it’s standing around. So why does the next day always, without fail hurt so much? I’ll tell you why. Middle age problems. I genuinely think it’s my body just seizing up.
The same has happened with work. I’ve been a teacher for over twenty years now, so I’m used to whatever gets thrown at me. And for a long time, I’ve coped fairly well. I’ve rarely been ill and despite the highly stressed environment I’ve not quite lost my mind.
Summer term is always difficult. It seems to take an entire decade to pass for starters. And then you have to factor in things like end of year assessments and the cavalcade of fun that is getting a year 11 class ready for their final exams. In my thirties we also had the added bonus of getting coursework ready, but although it was tiring work I always managed. And then Year 11 would leave, you’d have extra time on your hands and you’d enjoy a well earned rest. Goodness me, many moons ago I wrote an entire manuscript for a book using Year 11 time once they’d left and still didn’t really feel it!
This present summer term feels like it might kill me off. For the past few mornings I’ve woken up confused, grumpy and feeling like my head had been packed full of cotton wool. Or soup. Or cotton wool soaked in soup. Either way, it’s showing that middle age isn’t being overly kind to me. I seem to be waking up, barely able to walk let alone make breakfast. Tying my tie is taking longer as I struggle to get the length just right; something I’ve been doing for work for about the last 25 years. I even forgot to make my dinner last night and had to stand making sandwiches at 7.15 the next morning instead. And all the while, I’m just waiting for students to start asking, “Can we just watch a film?” as the end of the school year plods ever closer. I mean three weeks to go is close enough for us to get started on watching films, right? Hmmm…
I can see the faint glow of retirement somewhere on the horizon, but I’m not sure I can make it that far! And that’s a real middle age problem. I think that my body is ready to give up work, but it’s arrived at that particular station at least a decade too early! And at the moment it feels like my brain’s not that far behind it. Life’s not fair sometimes.
Lately middle age has reached my eyes as well. I’ve had glasses for a couple of years now, but not always needed to wear them. Recently though we’ve reached crisis point. As a teacher, some of my job involves reading and it’s not been an entirely lovely surprise to find that I often can’t read the words in a book without my glasses on anymore. The same applies when reading the paper. And is it a middle age thing that means my eyes don’t wake up at the same time as the rest of my body?
Middle age problems have led to a new set of situations as well. My parents – both well out of middle age and into the category of ancient relics – have been preparing their wills of late. This has meant that myself and my sister have been called upon to sign the forms giving us Power of Attorney (I don’t know whether grammatically that needs capitals, but in terms of how adult and grandiose it sounds, it’s getting them). I’ve never felt so old and it was all I could do not to phone home and plead with them not to give their son this responsibility as he still has the same mind he had aged 17.
It’s obviously led to lots of thoughts about things I didn’t really want to think about, but it’s made me feel especially old too. And despite being fully aware of exactly how old I am, I haven’t felt grown up enough for it at all!
I’ll end on a lighter note and return to this morning’s tarpaulin. Tonight my daughter is having a birthday meal with friends and then afterwards they’re heading back to ours for a little gathering in our back garden. You’d think that was simple, wouldn’t you? Well no. No, it’s not. The discussions alone have left me on the edge! She’s requested alcohol, which isn’t strictly legal, but understandable. And they don’t want to drink until they pass out; just a couple of drinks each. But the thought of my daughter drinking has only helped the middle age fatigue and dread!
Then there has been the planning. Oh, the planning. Snacks to suit all dietary needs – 104 different ones and counting, I think – , where they’ll sit, what they’ll sit on, play lists, volume of said play lists, a table for drinks because the table in the garden is what they’ll be sitting around, not what a selection of drinks and snacks should go on (don’t ask, me neither), the neighbours and then finally, as if all of that wasn’t quite enough to induce some kind of middle aged nervous breakdown where I walk out and just sit on a roundabout for the next three hours, the Great British Weather popped up. Hence the tarpaulin, which presently covers our garden furniture but later will be involved in an almighty struggle with this middle aged grump so that I can erect a makeshift shelter in case of rain!
My 18-year-old self, full of hopes and dreams, wouldn’t believe it. My 30 year old self would have taken it in his stride. My 49-year-old self is only prevented from chopping up the garden furniture to make a bonfire by his ever aching limbs and the fact that he’d most likely lose a finger or two in the chopping due to the fact that his eyes are failing too.