It was only when writer Erin Kelly let go of her im­pos­si­ble midlife dream that she fi­nally ap­pre­ci­ated the here and now

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - News -

Ac­cord­ing to a Face­book sur­vey, I can ex­pect to live un­til I’m in my late 80s (though it didn’t say how many of those years I would have spent on Face­book). I am just shy of the point where there will be more life be­hind me than stretch­ing out in front. Mid­dle age has been a se­ries of mi­cro shocks.

I started say­ing ‘oof’ when I sat down. The mu­sic charts were sud­denly a mys­tery to me. My el­bows started look­ing like lit­tle sad faces. Right on cue, last year, I had my midlife cri­sis.

On the out­side, noth­ing hap­pened. I didn’t buy leather leg­gings, get my sep­tum pierced or have a boob job. I didn’t leave my hus­band for a tat­tooed 25-year-old barista. It was a quiet, in­ter­nal col­lapse.

The trig­ger was a long-over­due house move. After nearly 10 years in a pretty but poky two-up two-down, my family was at break­ing point. Two grow­ing girls were crammed into a slop­ing box room, nei­ther of them sleep­ing enough. My hus­band, Michael, and I bick­ered con­stantly. On Summer evenings, rather than stay in, I’d walk around the neigh­bour­hood look­ing at grand houses out of my price range, and all but press my

grubby lit­tle nose against their win­dows, like a child in a Dick­ens novel.

We talked about ‘the next house’ as though it was Xanadu. In the next house we would never ar­gue be­cause we would have a dish­washer. In the next house I would be wil­lowy and serene be­cause I’d have the floor space for daily yoga. In the next house our chil­dren would have their own rooms and al­ways play nicely. In the next house we would throw par­ties for our cool artis­tic neigh­bours. In the next house, in the next house… I took the Grand De­signs dream and made it a metaphor for my whole life.

If I waited un­til this un­spec­i­fied to­mor­row, I would never have to deal with today’s prob­lems, and there were plenty. Two friends my age died sud­denly within a month of one an­other. My par­ents seemed to need the doc­tor with in­creas­ing fre­quency. My el­der daugh­ter was strug­gling at school. Michael and I were ships in the night. But in the next house, of course, all of this would mag­i­cally dis­ap­pear.

The next house of our fan­tasies was a dou­ble-fronted Ed­war­dian villa on a leafy street. But the chasm be­tween our in­come and house prices meant we ended up in

a be­tween-the-wars semi. If I were 15 years older, I could have af­forded the house of my dreams. Then again, if I were 15 years younger, I’d never own a house at all.

Peb­bledash flakes off the ex­te­rior. In­side, there’s Ar­tex, wood­chip, a peb­ble-ef­fect fire­place with blue flames. The night we got the keys, I dropped to my knees on the filthy car­pet and howled. How could this com­pro­mise make any­thing bet­ter?

I couch-surfed with the kids for a cou­ple of weeks be­fore it was hab­it­able. The day we moved in, my daugh­ters, home­sick and root­less, begged us never to move again. Amid their pleas, a thought hit me: I will prob­a­bly have re­tired by the next time we move. And so I saw two fu­tures: decades of bit­ter­ness ver­sus ac­cep­tance. I chose then and there to stop in­vest­ing so much emo­tional en­ergy in where I live. My bricks and mor­tar de­fine where I live, not who I am.

Let­ting go of an imag­i­nary fu­ture forces you to live in the mo­ment, and my life is hap­pier be­cause of it. In­stead of wait­ing for it all to come good to­mor­row, I am ap­pre­ci­at­ing what I have today: a lov­ing hus­band, healthy, imag­i­na­tive chil­dren, par­ents who I feel priv­i­leged to know as an adult. I prac­tise daily grat­i­tude, if not daily yoga, though I now have the floor space. My im­per­fect life is the only one I have. Now I am de­ter­mined to en­joy it to the full.

In the next house I’d be wil­lowy and serene be­cause I’d have the floor space for daily yoga

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