One of my good friends shared a milestone with me last week: her first proper night out after having a baby.
It’s a ritual I’ve enjoyed a few times in recent years and can often spot the telltale signs.
The compulsive (but surreptitious) phone-checking. The carefully selected outfit – avoiding glamour-puss overkill but with a rigorous determination to shuck off the cardigans and Converse of mum-ness.
And most of all, that look.
The ‘rabbit-in-the-headlights, is-this-what-the-young-people-are-doing-these-days? I-am-so-out-past-my-bedtime, oh-wow-I-just-drank-BOOZE!’ look.
The whole experience prompted a series of reflections about ageing, motherhood – and Ferrero Rocher – that I’ve been musing on ever since.
Firstly, I reflected that the Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen is not a reassuring venue for a new mum taking baby steps towards the normality of adult nightlife again.
Just as she rises bravely, like a foal, on shaky legs (and sensible heels), from the daily routine of nappy changes and night feeds, a twenty-something sassy chick with Amy Winehouse tattoos, a Nineties bustier and abs of steel stands ready to kick her back down with clunky footwear and an attitude like the Queen of Sheba cloaked in bumble bees. The beards and plaid shirts, we can handle. But both of us struggle to remain insouciant when faced with girls half our age wearing clothes we chucked out before they were even born.
Leaving – at the respectable time of 12.30am (I heard an audible sigh of relief escape my pal’s lips when she realised she’d made it past midnight...) – we felt a twinge of superiority as we walked past the rather more mature Sandinista crowd, clad in flattering dresses and heels, with not a flesh tunnel in sight.
Sure, the Belgrave’s searing hip-ness was a shock at first (‘I feel like I’ve woken up after 20 years in an enchanted sleep. Where did all those beards come from?’ she whimpered), but we’d braved it out and even relaxed enough to enjoy it with a few bank-blistering micro-brewed ales under our belts.
Amazed to find ourselves so ‘grown up’ in a sea of youngsters, we talked about another pal, who spent her twenties raging around the world, taking up with unsuitable men and sampling a range of hallucinogenic substances.
Once a frequenter of Burlesque clubs, she’s now the respectable spouse of an ambassador, expected to entertain political leaders and international businessmen.
Our lives have all involved travel, and interesting jobs, and lost loves, and scandal.
And yet for my friend – for almost all my friends – that has now been sublimated by the all-consuming identify of motherhood.
Her little girl is six months old – which seems about average for that ‘first night out’ milestone among the new mums I know.
No wonder it’s such a big deal, that first night out. It takes time to reclaim the idea of the person you were.
Especially when the rawness of first-time parenthood is combined with the invisibility of impending middle age. Now, we sit on the edge when before we took centre stage.
In a way, that feels painful. New mum or not, it’s not a comfortable transition.
But with the insight that comes from transformative experiences – especially the transformation brought by motherhood – we also know that it can be more fun to watch from the sidelines; more freeing, less agonisingly insecure and self-conscious, more playful, and with re-set priorities that enable us to centre our self-worth elsewhere.