Sometimes, I feel a bit sorry for myself. At first, it feels quite good to indulge in it, but after a few minutes it starts to feel like shit. Because then the ‘story’ in my head that goes with the feelings will start up – the one that begins with words like ‘if only’ and ‘what if I’d’ or ‘why didn’t I’ and which all boil down to a fairly core position: Why me?
I feel a bit sheepish writing it, but there it is. The stone in my shoe. The little Jody that wants to lie on the floor and have a tantrum about how ‘things’ have turned out. Even though, most days, I quite like how things have turned out!
I’m in Rome for a few days to meet my 3-month-old Italian godson. His father and I were together for a while when I was an au-pair in Rome twenty-five years ago and it’s lovely that we’re still friends, and that his wife is cool with this! I’m staying in his sister’s apartment, with a sunny roof terrace and the sound of birds amongst the cypress trees. It’s beautiful, and it’s heaven because it’s a very long time since I’ve had any time off – creating and nurturing Gateway Women is a more than full-time job, and my passion for it and for making the world a better and kinder place for us to inhabit fills my days and nights.
But free time? Unstructured free time? I realise I don’t really like it much anymore as it has the potential to put me back in touch with loss, with the shadow side of my independence and freedom as a single, childless woman. A sense not of loneliness but of unrootedness. Of not belonging.
Yesterday, I went on my own to one of my favourite museums in the world, the Etruscan museum at Villa Guilia in Rome. It was almost empty both inside and out, and I had the formal classical gardens pretty well much to myself. After the air-conditioned, dark interior of the museum and the thought-provoking and enigmatic Etruscan artefacts, I sat on a bench in the sun and tried to relax. Tried being the operative word because I was overwhelmed by memories: of being here 25 years ago with the man who would become my husband; of the hopeful young woman I was then who felt life was laid out in front of her in a comprehensible pattern; of the sense of loss that I didn’t have anyone to share this moment with; of the mistakes and wrong turns I’ve taken in life… etc. You get the picture and I’m sure you have your own version.
And then, with the wisdom that comes with maturity, I realised what was going on and decided it was time for a personal intervention.
One by one, I opened each of my senses to the moment: the feel of the hot stone bench under my legs and my flip-flops on gravel; the sound of the individual birds that were making up the birdsong; the pleasing perspective created by the architecture and avenue of trees; the smell of jasmine. I brought myself back from the ‘poor me’ world of my inner dialogue and back into the ‘rich me’ of the moment in the hot sunny Roman garden. And as I opened my heart to life, I savoured both the pain and the beauty of being human as a hot tear popped from my eye and raced down my face. And then a couple more to follow. I licked their salty tang, smiled, sighed and got up, leaving my sad story about my life on the bench.
The rest of the day was wonderful. I had lunch by myself on the terrace of the Modern Art Museum with all the fabulously stylish Italians (and a table of boisterous and glamorous old women having an uproarious lunch together). I strolled around and looked at modern art at my own pace and followed my own interests.
Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t ‘get’ modern art, and now I find it compelling.
We change. The trick is leaving the story behind.
Jody Day (48) is a London-based writer and the Founder at Gateway Women. She set up the Gateway Women network in 2011 to support, inspire and empower childless by circumstance women (like herself) as they develop meaningful and fulfilling lives without children. Jody runs groups, workshops and retreats for hopeful mothers-to-be who are ‘running out of time’, as well as for those women reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that motherhood didn’t happen for them. Jody also consults with individuals and organisations and she regularly speaks out in public, in the media and online about issues and prejudices facing childless women in our society today. Neither a bitter spinster nor a dried up old hag, Jody puts her heart, mind, and soul into lovingly and mischievously subverting the stereotype of the ‘childless woman’. She is living proof that your Plan B can rock too!