"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." George Bernard Shaw
Never has a quote resonated with me so much as this, following the birth of my first child. I had been looking forward to bonding with her, reconnecting with my inner child, watching bubbles in awe, wasting hours moulding animals from dough, baking cookies daily, climbing trees, painting my face and binge-watching cartoons. All of which I did with total abandonment for my dignity, waistline and sanity until I woke up one day, about 8 months on, with a crushing feeling of failure. I was playing everyday, but I was feeling older by the minute.
We spend our lives being told that we will go through phases and grow out of them. For the most part, this is true. For example, I no longer play with My Little Ponies or lust for a career in a girl band, and I'm nearly over the notion that I will marry Robbie Williams. However some things are harder to leave behind.
I was missing my own type of play. The great stuff you discover, embrace and what fuels you through your twenties, that you are then socially expected to switch off when motherhood comes calling.
I missed makeup, pubs, clubs, boozy Sunday lunches with friends, trips to the theatre, art galleries and weekends away with my girlfriends. I longed for shopping trips in Mayfair without a buggy, days spent scouring the market in Camden without worrying that, carrying my baby in a sling, I might trip over a stoned punk and into the canal at any moment. In short, day by day, like a flower losing it's petals, I was losing what made me, me. I had to find it again.
I tried to find fun places and people to hang out with in my local area, but when I looked around and saw rows of chain restaurants and bars that closed at 11 I knew it wasn't for me. I hadn't realised how homogenous my area was; we were, for the most part, white, in our thirties, married, living in townhouses with a postage-stamp-sized garden, shopping in Waitrose twice a week and boring ourselves half to death. I used to be a makeup artist in London. I missed the weird and the wonderful people of the fashion scene, the drag queens I'd brunch with, the young people I'd train from all around the world, the designers and artists I would assist to bring their visions to life.
So, I threw in the towel and rounded up my old gang of girls and guys. I put on my makeup, a beautiful new outfit that I wouldn't let the babies sticky fingers near and left the house in a cloud of Chanel. I nearly skipped to the train station, and when I was sandwiched between a 22-year-old trainee accountant and a 52-year-old bar owner from Queens in a bar in Old Street, discussing our times spent in LA I knew I was back where I needed to be. My energy, soul and youth returning.
I arranged more child care and, despite exhaustion, started doing more of the things I liked again. Sometimes it was an effort to drag myself out to town. Let’s face it when kids wake you up in the night it’s hard enough just to drag yourself from your bed in the morning before you throw 4 glasses of wine into the mix; but for me going out is a tonic, yours might come in the form of bike riding, painting or acting, whatever it is don't stop playing at your own life.
I didn't need to go out alone to forget my daughter, I just needed to remember me. When I did, I didn't become an absent parent, I became a happier, stronger mother who could enjoy 20 episodes of Peppa Pig because in the evening it would be Daddy's turn to stay in and I would be sipping cocktails with my girls in Soho.
What do you do to reconnect with who you are? Are you happy to have left parts of yourself in the past or do you yearn for the freedoms of your youth? I'd love to hear your thoughts.