Leah McFall: The brave of heart
OPINION: Not quite 18 months ago, when Emily-the-editor offered me this job, I remember saying weakly, "But I barely leave the house."
You can write about the house, Emily replied.
"Just make sure you open a window."
Recently, I flung that window open wide and climbed out with my heels in my hand. I was off to a glammy party in Auckland, and would stay the whole weekend. We had a babysitter, air tickets, a hotel room. They can take our lives, as William Wallace once said of marriage, the suburbs and children, but they'll never take our freedom!
Sixteen hours after leaving home I was sitting in a club on a banquette which was vibrating to a pounding bass, being served gin cocktails by a body-popping Millennial in cut-off dungarees.
The room milled with partygoers. The 50-somethings seemed to form a knot, probably talking about how much things change, how things stay the same; the 20-somethings were gleeful on the dance floor and the 40-somethings were just pleased to be awake.
"It's one o'clock in the morning!" Ness yelled at me, over the music. Later: "It's two o'clock in the morning!" The next day we'd agree the speakers were far too loud.
Ooh, I was enjoying myself! Four sparkling wines had loosened my tongue.
"I'm dead from the neck down," I shouted at my neighbour.
We were talking about how attractive other people seemed to find us, in middle-age. I had very little to contribute to the conversation, as it's been a long time since anyone approached me in the library and asked me out for a drink (1997, if you must know).
I put this down to living in Wellington. Aucklanders seem to get hit on all the time, which confirms my theory that if you live in the south it's not your fault you're always single; it's your postcode.
Here we were, us 40-somethings; drinking too much, thinking about the sex we might all be having if we weren't 40-something!
This made me feel triumphant. See? It isn't over for women like me (44, unwaxed)! We're sort of still in the game. They can take our hotness, as William Wallace said of marriage, the suburbs and children, but they can't take the memory of our hotness!
I looked at my husband, talking animatedly to Ness. We'd had to spend somewhere in the region of $600 for this night out. Strictly speaking it was a work event for me, but we'd seized on this dinner as an opportunity to leave the kids behind, get our nails done (me) and miss the Hurricanes playing at home (him). What do the Americans call it? Date night.
I can't stand this expression. It's so cutesy. It's sexless, in fact, as most date nights probably are. I object to it, but then, here I was, on one.
We'd done it tough, my husband and me. Since having kids we hardly ever went out together but socialised like a relay team, handing the baton to each other on the odd Friday or Saturday and pounding the track alone. For example, only last Saturday he stayed in while I went to see the Whitney Houston documentary at the movies.
As the credits rolled and Whitney's life and talent burned out like a suddenly exploding star, I couldn't have been happier; the evening was only half done and it was time to eat. Wellington was a buffet dinner, and I had an empty plate. This was living!
I suppose I avoided nights out or weekends away in case I discovered that I wouldn't want to come home afterwards. Isn't this a subconscious fear of all parents? Going out, unfettered by responsibility, is like stepping briefly into the past.
For a few hours, you can fantasise not that you're young again – I've never wanted to be anything other than the age I am – but that nobody else's happiness depends on you. Imagine the lightness of that!
But, as a parent, you've gained weight: the burden of love you carry around, even when your children are at kindy, school or being minded by someone who loves them. You can't remove this knowledge; you can't ever lose this weight. You accepted these terms, even though nobody in their right mind would sign an agreement surrendering their free will, and their heart, for the term of their natural life. But you did.
You see, I later explain to the phantasm of William Wallace as we wipe off our war paint in the hotel, the older you get, the less freedom you have. Everybody's got to have something to tie them to the Earth, or we'd just explode like dying stars. Freedom is one thing worth having, but there are other things.
Two evenings later I came home and closed the windows.
- Sunday Magazine