The Middle Years: When the kids grow up... and everything goes tits down

By Liz Fraser

Indispensable and hilarious* notes on midlife (*possibly)

These extracts were supposed to be short.

Turns out I’m really bad at short extracts. So here are some long ones, to
give you a flavour of the book.

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It’s like shopping, only…IN THE FUTURE.

No really, it’s my pleasure.


Limbo was originally a place, not a back-breaking dance made popular by the
unexpectedly bendy Chubby Checker in 1962, and best performed at a party
after 12 tequila slammers and a bet.

This place, ‘Limbo’, derived from the Latin 'limbus', meaning either ‘no,
I’m fine thank you, I’ll just sit here and watch you all collapse under a
low stick’, or ‘edge’, was situated on the highly sought-after border
regions of Hell.

The Limbo Years, where we find ourselves the moment our children head off
to school to collect other people’s bad habits and nits, are exactly like
living on the borders of Hell, only without the perks.

On the home front I find I’m no longer wanted or needed on a
minute-to-minute ‘Help, Mummy, I have glitter in my nose’ level, because my
children have selfishly taken over my Primary Parenting Duties such as
putting food into their mouths, making sure they don’t drink bleach, and
discouraging them from mooning out of the front window when the postman

To add insult to redundancy, even though it’s almost impossible to get any
of my children to take a break from sending triple-chin selfies to their
mates on Snapchat long enough to talk to me, here, in actual real life 3-D,
I’m not free to go off and do my own thing. I’m still responsible for
looking after their wellbeing, dental emergencies, mysterious 24-hr
vomiting bugs and incessant emails from the school about trips I never knewv they were going on.

And thus it is in these Middle Years;

Nobody wants us, but everyone wants us to stick around just in case they do.

It’s glorious.


There are 87 million Great Ironies of parenting. And that’s just the letter A.

Number 7398 of the Great Ironies is that the worst people to parent
teenagers are the parents of teenagers.

Someone really should have thought that one through when designing the
whole Life Arc thing. It’s inexcusably poor.


We can’t possibly be of any use to our children at this stage of their lives, because our own are in such a bloody mess we can
barely get dressed without having a major existential crisis.

As a result, we make a god-awful pig’s ear of the whole thing.

It’s OK. It’s how it’s supposed to be. it’s just important to know this.
It’s not you, it’s…

And them. And all of it.



Going out in the Middle Years is almost as difficult as it was in the Early
Years, except that instead of needing a babysitter, 3 weeks of notice and a
Masters in Logistics, you now have to be back home on time to make sure
your children haven’t invited 75,000 Instagram followers they don’t even
know round to drink all your gin, AND remain sober enough to drive them 15
miles home, with occasional chunder-stops.

It also requires having friends who are not a) exhausted b) exhausted c)
booked up for 3 months with marriage counselling sessions and d) exhausted.


Once every three billion years, the stars all align: Venus goes retrograde
and grows sideburns, Saturn does something special with Uranus, usually
only reserved for birthdays, and



After years of dedicated research I can reveal that the formula for how
long it takes a hangover to go away when you are in the Middle Years, is

T = x (v+g+4w) - 5s + c^9


T is time in hours

x is your age

v is vodka

g is gin

w is embarrassingly cheap wine, best consumed through a straw

s is number of hours of sleep you got the night before

c is the number of your children who woke you up during the night to tell
you that their football kit needs to be washed BY TOMORROW, and by the way
Mum I have a VERY IMPORTANT Maths test which counts for half of my marks
this year and will go on my University application form, and I need a new
calculator for it. NOW.

Accordingly, if you go out on a Saturday night you should be starting to
feel a little better some time towards the end of Wednesday, two weeks

ROCK. ON. You crazy lovely Middle Years superstars.


You know you have teenaged girls in your house, when;

· All your favourite items of clothing have disappeared.

· Ditto eye make-up remover, nail varnish, hair bands, black ankle socks,
and hairspray.

· There is a permanent trail of crumbs from the cereal cupboard to the kitchen door.

· You can’t get into the bathroom before 8.30am, or between 8 and 10.30pm.
Or all weekend.

· Even though you went shopping yesterday there is no food in the house,
except for half-empty packets of Oreos and something that promises to make
your thighs smaller.

· There are five razors on the side of the bath, none of them either blunt
or sharp, or claimed by anyone.

· There’s face-pack residue all over the bathroom taps.

· You could build a hang-glider from all the sanitary towel wrappers
gathering dust behind the toilet door.

· All your carpets are covered in an inch of brushed-out hair.

· At certain times of the month it’s best to move out for a few days to
avoid Oestrogen Death.

· At any given moment somebody in your house is shouting ‘WHO’S GOT MY

· Your purse develops an invisible cash-portal, through which the
five-pound notes you KNOW you put there, vanish inexplicably. Unfortunately
it doesn’t work in reverse.


When my children were young it was hellish in all the expected, sleepless,
chaotic, exhausting, snot-wiping, vomitty, hellish ways.

Many times, I wished those years were over. Over and over.

And over again, as I crawled from cot to high chair to ball pit to gallows.

But what we Humans don’t appreciate, because Humans never do about anything
until it’s too late and it’s gone (most love songs are all about this, by
the way) is what we have, while it’s there.

We don’t know how lovely the early years are until they are replaced by
lonely silence, teenage attitude and an empty hallway.

And what every parent of older children I know misses, is JOY.

The joy you can only get when your three-year-old giggles helplessly and
throws their squishy arms around your neck.

When this joy - and with it the feeling of being truly needed, and wanted,
and loved - goes, it feels like a bereavement. It really does.

We don’t really wish the early years all back, of course; not
being woken up with a nappy on one’s face every day or by being whacked in
the eye with the corner of a baby’s board-book is actually rather nice.

But it doesn’t mean we don’t miss aspects of it. A lot.

It can take years to realise what this new, exhausting heaviness is that
can descend at the very time we were expecting NOT to feel exhausted and
heavy, for the first time in a decade.

It’s a difficult stage. A lot of things that were, just…aren’t any more.

And part of it is just extreme, unspoken grief at the slow, drawn-out loss
of something so magical and beautiful, pure, unashamedly, freely HAPPY, as
our children when they were young and giggling and had chubby knees and jam
all over their chin.

**We interrupt this page to bring you Very Important Information!**

In the Middle Years it’s no longer good enough to look at your face

straight on in the mirror.

No. You need mirrors and lights on all sides, including underneath.

Terrifying things lurk, fester and grow in places you’d never have looked
before, but must now monitor with Eagle Eyes, and possibly a helicopter
search light.

One such place is just under your chin.

For there, sprouting like an antenna sending distress signals to the mother
witch-beacon, you will find your first chin hair.

Thick. Black. Devastating.

When you’ve stopped screaming and ordering broomsticks on Amazon, do this:

get tweezers; pull it out; do not look at it; throw it away;

never tell anyone about it.


And now let us never speak of this again.


Rivalry is defined as,

“Competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.”

Sibling Rivalry is defined as,


Move forward into the teenage years, and early sibling rivalries seem like
child’s play.

(Mainly because they are, but let’s gloss over that embarrassingly weak
choice of simile).

Teenagers don’t have quick-fix spats. They have serious long-term
hostilities and painful, silent stand-offs.

They have Great Wars, and harboured resentments.

They have jealousy, rage, hatred, sadness and unwanted tagging on Facebook.

It not only drives me mad much of the time, it tires me.

Silent warring is heavy. It lumbers along, dragging the issue out and
infecting the whole house until the air is weighed down with its hate-laden
pauses and unspoken bloodbaths.

It also saddens me to watch it happening. These children who once
used to play together so well and be best friends, now attempting to kill
each other with Death-sighs.

But happen it will. It’s normal. Sometimes they still get along
beautifully. I am assured by those who have much older children that they
will grow out of it, and be friends again one day.

Just hope the door hinges survive that long.


According to Neil Sedeka, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.

Neil was right. It is. But allow me to add a few extra lyrics:

Breaking up when you have kids, a mortgage, huge numbers of mutual friends,
a joint bank account, a career you largely sacrificed in order to raise
your children while your partner rose steadily up the career ladder one
‘drinks and dinner with clients in a hip hotel in New York’ rung after the
other while you were breastfeeding or helping with a History project about
the Vikings, shared ownership of a car, a dog, a Virgin media account and a
15-year-old yucca plant given to you both by a now deceased grandmother, is
very very very very fucking hard to do.

In fact, it’s the hardest thing most people will ever do.

I never intended to do it.
Amazingly enough, almost nobody intends to do it either.

Despite the fact that we whose marriages sadly come to an end are still too
often portrayed as weak, selfish, lazy, careless, and not having tried hard
enough to ‘make it work’, most of us did try. Really hard. For years.

But eventually many once loved-up couples come to the horrible conclusion
that it’s just not going to work any more.

That trying to be happy, pretending to be happy, ‘working on’ being happy,
buying books about being happy, creating Instagram accounts to make us look
happy, desperately trying to be happy for the sake of the children, the
dog, the convenience of that shared credit card, our parents, and the state
of our increasingly parched under-eye skin, is just prolonging the actual,
unshakable, profound and life-sapping unhappiness.

And so we, like many others, opted for the hardest thing, and did a Neil

Not just a break-up, but the total, monumental, irreparable decimation of
everything we had built, worked on, loved and believed in. And everything
our children believed in too.

It took me a full two years to even START to come out the other side, and
I’m pretty sure I’ll never quite get over the physical and mental scars it

But you can do it. And you can survive. And you CAN be happy again.
I am now. Very.

I just wish I’d known a few things about marriage break-up, the practical
and emotional realities of it, how to deal with it, what I’d feel, what my
mind and body would go through, what my children would go through,
what vile and hate-filled things it would drag out of us both, that we
would say and later regret, and how to re-pot a 15-year-old yukka plant,
much earlier than I did.

So here’s what I learned . . . to make it easier for anyone else going
through it.
I truly hope you don’t. But in the Middle Years it’s very common, and just
as for unexpected post-picnic haemorroids or entering a public toilet in
Paris, it’s best to be prepared.

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