There was a time when things were simpler. Like when it was just my daughter and me in our little cottage, happy in our own company.
But then I got pregnant with twins at the age of 45 and life became very different.
My then-partner and I had been together for three years and had already started house-hunting in order to merge our families. He had two children – a girl aged nine and a boy of six. My daughter was ten.
The pregnancy was high-risk because of our ages (he was 50) and the fact we were having two made it more so, with a 90% chance of miscarriage. But they clung on and after three months we told the children.
At first, I was anxious about being a parent so late in life but having done the single, working mum thing I figured I may as well try out step-mum, mum-of-multiples and older mum. After all, you only live once and I could feasibly stick around until the twins were 40 if I exercised more and cut down on alcohol. Plus, knowing they’d be part of a big, loving family with three older siblings was reassuring.
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We knew there were high separation rates among merged families and among parents of multiples. We went to counselling to try and ensure that our experiment, with twice the risk whichever way you looked at it, would be a success.
Very quickly small things that used to be easy like getting out of a car became monumentally tricky and that was before they even arrived. Once they were here, life became one long disaster management strategy.
Who do you go after – the twin heading for the bucket of cigarette butts or the one pulling poisonous berries towards her? The baby about to jam fingers in a drawer, or the other crawling up the stairs? And who could ever know the discomfort of watching two toddlers skid around a public toilet’s urine-soaked floor before bending down to lick the bin’s foot pedal?
It was like this all the time they were awake. Things I once looked forward to I now dreaded – mealtimes for instance. I cooked for them only once. It took more than an hour, involved copious amounts of washing up and got thrown on the floor before they’d even tasted it.
They say adaptability is the secret to successful living. In my case it was the key to sanity.
I adjusted to life without long baths and phone conversations and accepted breakfast would be nothing more than the occasional bite of something cold, dry and long-forgotten in the toaster. Blow-drying my hair had become a luxury and my only reading matter for several years was about twins and sleep routines (fat lot of good it did).
I could have achieved far longer stretches of me-time had I drawn from my ex-partner’s childcare method. He discovered he could play bridge on his phone for at least 20 minutes by enabling access to black permanent markers and white sofas. Or scissors for mutual hair-cutting sessions.
I felt more in control of things my way.
We knew we were lucky to be having these babies at our age but acclimatising when you’re 45 isn’t easy. At 50, I’d say it’s almost impossible.
As we ran around keeping these little people alive our relationship deteriorated into a competition about who was the most tired. And all the while, the screen addictions of the other three children were flourishing in our absence.
It’s now four years on and only in the last six months have the twins started sleeping properly. The united front we established in the counselling was the first to fall foul to sleep deprivation. There were seven people in our merged family, each with their own, and often others’, wants, needs and agendas. Accommodating this when awake night after night was the biggest challenge – not having baby twins aged 45.
I changed apparently. When the twins were two we split up.
Each day now brings glimpses of an easier life where I’m no longer jolted awake at 4:45am to search for inch-high pink dogs and can climb into bed and not find decapitated gingerbread heads. One where I can run a bath without toilet rolls being unravelled and no longer Google ‘clothes for twins’ or post gloves into post boxes.
I’m 50 now. I’ve repeated it enough so it no longer holds the shock value it did the moment I realised I’m the age my grandmother was in a photo I have. In it, she has the same old-lady hairstyle I always remember her having – short, wavy and puffed up. I’m not ready for that yet, not in a playground full of thirty-somethings. But equally I don’t want to hide anything.
The fog has cleared and before me I see the kindest, funniest, most beautiful girls who are happy, healthy and loved. They have a roof over their heads and food on the table and that food goes from their plates and into their mouths.
It’s these simple things that make me happy.
Jess Watson Banaji is a London-based copywriter and communications specialist at www.letsbeclear.co.uk
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