26 Feb Calm after chaos: the surprise twins who turned my midlife on its head
Jess Watson Banaji is a British journalist and copywriter. Her life was turned around six years ago when she discovered that at the age of 45 she was pregnant with twins. At that time, her eldest daughter was 10 years old. A few years later she split with her partner and her life was transformed – in many ways. Here is a snapshot of her incredibly inspiring story:
Last Sunday afternoon I leant my head over the bath and washed my hair with the shower attachment. While upside down, I thought: “This is a sign that life is getting easier – I can do this while the twins are awake.” On standing upright, I had another thought: “What’s that smell?” On running downstairs to a smoke-filled kitchen, another: “I’d better call the fire brigade.”
A curious four-and-a-half-year-old had put the toaster on. The oven gloves had been carelessly thrown on top five minutes earlier by someone very errant who was in a rush (as usual). I should reign in this wishful thinking. While things now are a thousand times easier than this time a year ago, the twins are still so little and so impulsive. They need me to be watching and listening to them at all times while remaining calm, patient, understanding and kind, having no expectations of a life of my own, able to function on night after night of broken sleep (still) and equipped with instantaneous fire-putting-out skills.
Before the twins, I’d lived my entire adulthood in ignorant bliss of the kind of weekend activity that would fill my life at the age of 50.
Life is what happens when busy making five-year plans
Planning beyond six months had never featured heavily in my life but at 45 I drew up a five-year plan with my partner of three years. We saw a solicitor to discuss a Declaration of Trust setting out assets, etc, as we embarked on buying a property together in order to merge our families. Under this plan we’d continue to live separately while undertaking a luxuriously-long introduction to living together every other weekend and in school holidays with our three children – his two, aged nine and six, and my ten-year-old daughter.
If after five years (when his son finished primary school) all was going well, we’d knock down the walls physically and metaphorically and begin our happy ever after.
It was during this time that I unexpectedly got pregnant with two babies. Because of our ages (my partner was 50) and the fact it was a multiple pregnancy, there was a 90% chance of miscarriage. When we were still pregnant after three months we told the children and fast-forwarded our five-year plan.
Mayhem, madness and a merger collapse
I went from single, working parent to step-parent, parent of multiples, stay-at-home parent and older parent in the space of seven months. At first, I was insecure about us being old parents. But then I thought if we could stick around to see the babies into their thirties they’d be ok. Plus, they were part of a big, modern family. Our house would be full of love and laughter. Who could ask for more?
But what’s always said about best laid plans is exactly why I don’t make them.
The twins were, and still are, nocturnal beings and there was endless illness either with them or me (I had the Norovirus sickness bug 12 times in two years). The pressures of accommodating everyone’s needs were immense and our merger collapsed when the twins were two. Then began a new kind of parenthood – late forties now, solo with two toddlers and a teenager in tow.
Tiny, time-consuming tyrants
The macro picture at that time presented job-hunting as a rather pressing issue as I had stopped working in order to look after them. But the micro, in which I was ensconced with these babies, told a different story. I wasn’t homeless in a refugee camp but sleep deprivation often made it feel as if getting through to bedtime in one piece was a matter of survival. My world shrank and small stuff so important to tiny, time-consuming tyrants became huge. There was a sort out my life list the length of my arm but for many months I failed to make any imprint on it at all. Instead, I spent daylight hours frantically searching for miniature toy dogs or 2x2cm Sylvanian Family suitcases in order to avoid tantrums.I began noticing how unfriendly people were. Or perhaps that was the result of the fogged up lenses through which I viewed things while plodding around in a zombie-like trance. It seemed wherever we went the twins were “too noisy”, “too boisterous,” “running too fast,” or “undisciplined”. I felt no one understood, other than my friends who had twins or triplets. A woman in a coffee shop once suggested I should smack them.
When I finally got round to job hunting it was disheartening to see how many posts still involved commuting into London. My work is copywriting. I’m judged on output. Why could this work not be done remotely? In the end I ditched the effort, on discovering the cheapest nursery would cost £1,000 a week.
School – the new wonder drug
Last September they started their first year at school just as my older daughter began her last. While doing the school run again feels strange, I don’t have much time to dwell on it. Each day I try and reduce the to-do list. Right now, it’s imperative I build my business. As with any freelance work you always wonder if it will dry up so, like most things, I take it a day at a time. While my three beautiful girls may not have the unified family I’d so desperately wanted for them, they have something I believe is far more valuable: a happier, healthier mother whose spirit is strong again. Every day I’m grateful for my midlife miracles.
Jess Watson is a former news journalist turned copywriter whose website is www.letsbeclear.co.uk