Is it the middle or the end?
I think way too much about things. I’m married to a man who does too, but his thoughts are more about the most efficient way to take the trash out or mow the lawn, why things belong in certain spots, and what’s for dinner. His mind makes things happen on time around our house. Mine does not. My brain focuses on overarching themes; parenting, life’s purpose, all the ways my loved ones might meet their demise at any moment (thank you Facebook algorithms), and the overwhelming beauty of it all. I’m fun at parties, I swear.
I suppose this is why every piece I write prompts my husband’s friends at the gym to ask, “ Is Star ok?” I don’t mean for my pieces to come across as implying that I’m in crisis. You’d never know it, but I swear, when I chat with my friends, I usually get them laughing out loud with tales of my silly life and wacky brain. I guess I just haven’t found my true voice in writing yet. The one where I make you laugh as much as I make you cry. Anywho…here’s my latest pondering. Let’s just assume from here on out that I’m not depressed…just curious.
I’m approaching new territory and I’ve been flailing about looking for guidance. As my oldest prepares to apply to colleges, I find myself in a familiar place of unknowing. When I became a single mom so many years ago, I had this feeling of, “What does this look like?” I didn’t have a model for single-mom-hood except the teen moms in a few after-school specials. I was too young to know anyone in real life who was parenting alone. I scoured the internet and researched until I found Morgan Day Cecil’s blog. She was a godsend, leading the way with her sparkle and voracious lust for life. I’m the kind of person who likes to have a map. A sketched-out loose agenda with room for spontaneity. An actress who needs to know the next role I’m playing. When I approach one of life’s ledges, I prefer to have some idea of what I am facing when I jump. And here I am again, cast as a character I can’t picture.
I’m astonished to say, I’m approaching a new phase called mid-life. My new paradigm includes my oldest kiddo leaving the nest, my youngest two at the point where they are living their own lives and not needing as much from me, and my marriage dynamic evolving into something new. That out-of-my-depth feeling is back. What does this look like? How do I navigate? What do I want from the rest of my life?
As you would expect, if you know me, I did my research and when you google “mid-life woman” or ‘middle aged mom,” sexism (or the beauty industry) rears its ugly head. So many articles, even written by women, about their physical body, looks, evolving relationship with sex. How-to’s for erasing wrinkles, facing menopause, dressing for the next decade. Skin creams, supplements, exercise regimens. Sure, I love a cute outfit or some sort of magical cream, but that’s for FUN. Not for anyone else. I’m past the point of valuing my outside over my inside and I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who love me for who I am. (I correct myself…it wasn’t luck. I cultivated that crew!) These research results are NOT what I’m seeking.
I guess I’ll write the article I wanted to find. And now, for a Barbie-movie, musical-theater throwback, dream ballet interlude called “How did I picture middle-age?” Where's Ryan Gosling when I need him?
A well-dressed woman enters stage right. She’s self-assured, has reached a successful and comfortable place in her career, travels frequently, and spends significant time on stage. When I dreamt this up as a child…she was an actress…but as I’ve evolved, she’s pivoted to a new career as a speaker. Sometimes, she’s on camera for tv stations, entertaining everyone at home. People respect her opinion and value her life experience.
Colorful characters signifying exciting events swirl in and out of her space as they travel across the stage. Museum openings, art shows, Broadway productions, trips all around the world, outdoor adventures, seasonal activities, and friends from far and wide are part of her “This is your life” interlude. The ensemble dances with her in unison. She isn't alone on stage. She's part of the production, a team, a stunning artistic accomplishment.
The lights come up. Stark reality leaves our leading lady solo and naked in the glare of an incandesent bulb as the scratch of the needle leaving a record jars us and the music ceases. Staring down the barrel at the other side of my life’s arc, I’m at a standstill. The statistics for my age group aren’t pretty.
“Adults aged 45 to 64 have higher rates of death from suicides than other age groups. Additionally, the suicide rate (i.e., the death rate from suicide) has significantly increased over the years for those aged 45 to 64, higher than any other age group. This increase is seen for both male and female adults aged 45 to 64.” (https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_3370/ShortReport-3370.html)
Now that doesn’t describe me, personally, but I can see how this stage of life could seem hopeless. This mid-life crisis thing…totally legit.
Professionally, I feel time draining away from my big dreams. I know my husband does too. It’s time to buckle down and commit to your current level of success. Pay for college, pay off the mortgage, save for retirement. Dreams of stepping into my larger purpose no longer seem feasible. This isn’t a time to take a risk. This economy and state-of-the-world don’t inspire confidence for landing on your feet. It’s a time to feel lucky to have stable employment with good people, in a field you are competent in and enjoy, not a time to try something outside-the-box and larger than life. As the kids need me less, I feel like the time gained should be spent working. Might as well make some money if no one needs me. However, all work and no play…you know how that goes.
As far as the other sides of my life…my purpose at home has usually been as a leader of fun. Planning outings and vacations. Creating holiday magic and seasonal activities. Cozying up our home and keeping the kids clothed as they grow like weeds. Dealing with piles of family crap that doesn’t fit into our house. Scrubbing floors and toilets. PTO projects of epic proportions. Tackling contract work to supplement our fun-fund. Cuddling, disciplining, and organizing the family calendar. All of that stuff has gone by the wayside. The kids go out and have their own fun with their friends. They mostly handle their own piles of crap. I finally hired a cleaning person which is a relief. We have left my roles in PTO events behind in lower elementary. One of my kiddos is driving and the others feel comfortable transporting by bike. I feel a tad adrift…I don’t want to plan things because they might need me. Who am I kidding? They don’t plan far enough ahead for me to plan anything anyway! I don’t want them to feel like I’m too busy to help when they need it, but I’m also bored. Hence all the working! The thing everyone in our family needs the most at this age? Money!
In my marriage, we are feeling the shift too. There aren’t so many scheduled kid activities and the kids aren’t bouncing off the walls needing an adventure. We always went places and did things but now that it isn’t necessary. My husband is settling into a different rhythm of relaxation and home-making. Me, on the other hand, I still want to go go go. But where to? And with whom? We sit on the couch looking at each other. What shall we do? Go on another walk? Watch more Shameless? Drink more wine? Eat more candy? When in doubt, Joe will cook. But me? What shall I do?
Who am I as parenting becomes a part-time gig? What is my greater purpose? My version of this article doesn’t have very many answers. Mostly just questions. Can I get a WOOP WOOP from all y’all feelin’ me?
Where’s all my peeps hailing from the other side of this? What are you up to? How are you letting go of this nagging feeling that life is flying by and you don’t have as much to show for it as you wish? Those of you whose main purpose at this moment is to fund the future? All the mamas and papas who aren’t needed so much anymore but paying for all this space in case the kids decide to sleep at home sometime? Share your hard-won wisdom people!
And to everyone at Joe’s gym. I’m fine. Come visit in real life.