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Cathy Rentzenbrink answers The Questions I Always Ask

This week, the acclaimed memoirist and life-writing expert on the joy of growing into yourself, learning to zigzag & why she still hasn't got her head around motherhood

Cathy Rentzenbrink, a fortysomething women with fair hair cut in a bob, freckles and glasses

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What has been your biggest life shift?
I’m still trying and failing to get my head around having a child. The fact that I grew another human being inside me. Being responsible for keeping him alive. The cocktail of love and fear. The feeling I might drown in the poison of my own inadequacy. The banality and the mystery. The paralysing anxiety. The whole experience is nothing like I thought it would be and not really like anything I’ve ever read about it. My son is now thirteen and I still haven’t got a clue what I’m doing. Will I ever? Though, I might yet grow into it. As I said to him to the other day, it’s great that he’s reached the age where I can admit I don’t really like children without being terrified that social services might come and take him away. And he understands that me not really liking children has nothing to do with how I feel about him. And I love that he now knows more than me about loads of stuff. Part of the terror of it all is the fear that any attempt at honesty might be misconstrued. I’m scared right now that a woman who can’t have a desperately wanted child is reading this, and hates me and thinks I am ungrateful and that I don’t deserve my son. And the horrendous way that late-capitalist motherhood seems to pit women against each other. And on, and on. What does it teach me? Lots of stuff, I’m sure. Maybe one day I’ll know what. 

What do you wish someone had told you about life after 40?
That being less obviously desirable to men is rather nice and relaxing. And I could have done to understand more about some of the likely impacts of peri-menopause. That might have saved me from thinking I was going mad and had dementia.

The best thing about getting older is?
I am enjoying growing into myself. And being how I want to be, not what someone else – teacher, society, man – wants me to be. 

And the worst?
The aches and pains. And the physical vulnerability. Every time I lift a suitcase I damage something. 

What’s your emotional age?
Eight or eighty. But nothing in between.

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Topic Questions I always ask