Flowers, bubbles, chocolates: this was what was on my list when I nipped into the supermarket on Mother's Day. Pressed for time, I kept my eyes trained on the ground so as to avoid the man collecting for the Paralympics. My three things cost just shy of $70. Fumbling to put my credit card back in my wallet, I forgot about circumventing him on the way out. Sorry, I said, pre-empting his spiel. I don't have any cash on me. Sorry. This was true, but still, I felt bad. In the boot of my car were five bags of clothes, shoes, bedding and toys; outgrown, no longer needed, unloved. Before driving off I shoved them in the blue charity bin. It clanged loudly shut. The middle-aged man gathering the trolleys looked up from his heavy work and our eyes briefly met. Sorry, I said, not sure exactly what I was apologising for. Sorry.
Sometimes when I am introduced to someone, they recognise my name from this page. And sometimes they say to me that I am brave. I know what they really mean, though, is that I am crazy. Crazy for revealing the things I do. But when I write it is not the detailing of my home life, of my innermost desires, that gives me pause. It is the mention of dinners out and overseas trips, of gym memberships and new dresses. These are the things, the trappings of a middle-class life, that leave me feeling exposed. The things I worry you will judge me on. As I judge myself. As we judge each other. For is it not true that one person's necessity is another's folly? I might blow silly money on organic muesli, but I cannot fathom the expense of a twice-daily cafe coffee habit.
The post-holiday credit card statement arrived the other day. I read it with slightly sick remorse. It felt like a nasty hangover - but it was so much fun at the time! In my letterbox that day was also an envelope from ChildFund. It contained a photo of 2-year-old Aisha, suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a victim of the East Africa food emergency, described by the United Nations as the worst humanitarian crisis they've ever seen. I quickly filled in the form, shamefully ticking the box next to $48 - enough, apparently, to provide immediate food aid to eight children. (Not enough, though, for Mother's Day flowers and bubbles and chocolates.)
Did my donation cancel out my spending? If you are aware of your comparative good fortune in the face of others' hardship, does that change anything? How is it possible to enjoy a certain living standard when there is so much bloody misery all around? Is it possible to do something about one, without giving up the other?
Last week I wrote about the self-doubt I experienced on our travels when I found myself in a town bursting with beautiful young women, and I held my breath just a little, fearing you would think me self-indulgent. Because when there are homeless people and there are starving people and we should be divesting ourselves of fossil fuels for the sake of Earth's future, then even feelings seem unworthy of attention. Recently I read an essay by a British journalist (and for the life of me I can't think of her name) on her various misgivings about turning 50. Added to her angst was the knowledge of what a First World problem - indeed a privilege - it was, to be having these thoughts in the first place. That if you are hungry or your family is in danger, you have neither the time nor the energy to be concerned with the state of your decolletage. But, she said, and I took some small uncomfortable consolation in this, surely if those people enjoyed the same quality of life as us, if their immediate needs were taken care of, eventually the same neuroses would rear their heads for them, too.
Ron did not mince words. "No Megan," he wrote in response to last week's column, "your problem is you have hit the wall, your sexual market value has dropped since your mid-20s. Be thankful that you are married and love your husband." Actually I was more thankful to Nick, who reckons, "All bodies have beauty. All women are beautiful."