I went to see The Great Gatsby this week with a friend. The cinematography was beautiful, the soundtrack was wonderful and the plot…well, it was based on ‘The Great American Novel’ after all. Afterwards, my friend said, “I would love to go to one of those parties.” “Me too,” I replied. “I’ve been to plenty of parties but never to ones so debauched.” “I’ve never been that drunk,” my friend said. “Never to the point of passing-out or not been able to remember anything.” “Really?” I answered in astonishment. “Never?” I then told her some of the tales from my pre-mummy days of when I had made a complete and utter arse of myself by drinking far too much.
“I would never have thought that of you,” she said. “I always thought you were sensible.” Sensible! Hell-fire, call me anything you like but not sensible! It was then I was reminded of another conversation I had recently had with one of the mums at my English group. She was discussing a friend of hers when she said, “And she has tattoos.” I began to chuckle and told her that I too have tattoos. “Really? I would never have thought if of you. I’m glad you told me. I would have got a big shock if I’d seen you in a vest top in the summer showing them off.”
I suddenly realised that the reason these two women saw me as a sensible mothering-type is because they have only got to know me after I had my children. The days of me drinking to excess, dancing all-night, throwing-up and spending all day Sunday in bed recovering from the hangover-from-hell are long gone. I know that me is still in there but I now know how to keep a tight leash on her. This is not because I see myself as being ‘far too sensible for this sort of thing now’ but because I can’t cope with the aftermath and look after two small children.
I also realised that how people perceive you depends on when in your life and in what capacity they have met you. I wondered how my old clubbing buddies, friends for twenty plus years, saw me. I was due to go out for a meal and drinks with them a couple of days later and thought I would ask them. I then decided better of it. I really couldn’t have coped if they used the word ‘sensible.’ In fact, if they had used the word ‘sensible’ I would have to have taken the leash off and that wouldn’t have been pretty.
I thought about how my former work colleagues saw me. I imagined they would use words like “competent”’, “efficient”, and “organised.” I thought back to when I first starting working in a bank at eighteen. I imagined my boss would have used words such as “constantly late”, “”constantly tired” and “why the hell did we employ her in the first place and how can we get rid of her?” I thought about how my old school friends would describe me. I imagined they would say I was “quiet” and “studious” but also that I was “politically minded” and “not afraid to voice her opinions on any cause she believed in.” I thought about how the women at my writing group would describe me. I hoped very much they would use only three words – “she’s a writer.”
I was also reminded of a job interview I went to in 2005. In it, I was asked to describe how my work colleagues and friends saw me. I began giving job-interview speech about being “competent”, “efficient”, and “organised”. “No,” said my soon-to-be boss. “How would they describe you out of work?” I thought for a moment and said, “I hope they would say I was good fun.”