Thursday, October 10, 2013

Before and after the times of your life

My twenties
Foreword:   If you blog with regularity like I do, sooner or later you'll talk about "before" parts of your life which weren't the times you're fondest of.  One great thing about "after", which is now, is that you don't care because you have a point to make.  

Late in the fall of his freshman year,  our son Sam said to me: "I am already almost halfway through twenty-five percent of what everyone says are the best years of my life that I'm going to have. That freaks me out."

I know the feeling.

Every so often, usually in connection with a milestone, or major family event, or a big birthday, I wake up and think,  "What? Over already?"

It's a melancholy little pothole to find yourself in,  brooding over all that has happened and what has gone by.

When I am completely on my own nerves, I come around to this: I am not just okay with what has happened already, I am better off  because of what is over, like my twenties, one of those other times of life that people tell you are your best. I think not.

Youth isn't free.

If I looked better and needed less sleep to be nice, I also worried constantly about the impression I made on people, how respected I was, how I was regarded  at work, and whether I would ever stop feeling competitive with "er" people -  the smarter, prettier, richer, funnier ones - enough to forge a real friendship with them.    

I was a salad of insecurities.

In my twenties, I wore great clothes and turned heads. I was also divorced after eighteen months and  wondered how I would ever love one person for the rest of my life.  How I would ever learn to talk to children, who I found frightening. Why my nemesis, Katie-in-Benefits, was able to endear herself to the senior management without wearing perfume and tossing her hair around. Members of senior management asked Katie to meetings. They asked me out for drinks.

People in young and transitional years  can't imagine themselves or their lives as different, much less better. When I was in my young and transitional years,  I couldn't either. I imagined  life would always be a roller coaster of up and down days, with moods that came and went like weather, and hoped I'd just learn to keep up.  The future was shapeless and murky, but the present was no bargain either.  I had the opposite, traumatic thought:  These? These are the times of my life?

Had a future me been able to appear at the side of salad me on one of those daunting, misty pre-dawn mornings when I worried about what I would worry about later,  I would have said : Take heart. Some people invest for a long time before they see a return.   

I reminded Sam last year that the times of a person's life don't happen the same way or at the same time for everyone. And I reminded him of  the things that wait - college, career, relationships, friends, travel - all times that he is "before" right now, but which only look like "after" to a person who is not yet twenty and is, yes, having the time of his life - to date.

If this sounds like the tired, I'd-rather-be happy-than-young rationale it isn't. That just sounds mournful and desperate to me. In my book, if the last couple of decades are any indication, anything worth doing gets better with time, not age.


Every relationship means something to me 
I have friends I cherish for the times of life we've shared
I attune to children - young and grown - as easily as I breathe
I have discovered beauty and resilience in marriage like a secret room in the house.
Happiness feels earned and deserved and not serendipitous.
Fear and worry come with revelations in the middle, like expensive candy

There is a choice to make on those days when you wake up and think "Already?"  Freak out over what's over, or, focus on what waits.

I have plans, big plans. And I know this:

Before I published my first novel, and thought I never would, and kept trying...
Before we moved to Boston to experience  urban life...
Before we started renting an ocean home each August for family drop-ins...
Before our last child graduated college....
Before the rest of our children fell in love and got married...
Before our first grandchild was born...
Before I celebrated dozens more life milestones with my closest friends...

It was now.


  1. So well-said. Now that my youngest is half-way through his senior year of college, it feels like the parenting children time of my life is really, truly done - I am now the parent of adults. It's exciting to see all the things you will do in your future, but isn't it nice to appreciate this moment right now? I try to do that as much as possible.

  2. Truly, positively Sharon. I just notice stuff more and make careful decisions about how to spend my time. I want that return on the investment.

  3. I think part of why I feel so melancholy about milestones going by is because of how much I truly enjoy them. But like a delicious piece of cake, I have memories of the joy of baking it and sharing it (and eating it) to sustain me until it's time to bake the next one.

  4. There's always a new cake in the making, right Karen? That's my take on cake.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. Bravo! I think one of my favorite parts of your post is your take on happiness. It's earned and not serendipitous. We're happy because we choose to focus on things that make us happy... And That which we focus on gets bigger. I have wished before I could go have a little chat with my younger self, but I also listen better now! Great Post!

  6. Coming from you Barbara, that is some praise. Your own posts at Middlesage illustrate what living in full means - understanding the past so that the present is more enriched. Thank you for stopping by.

  7. Susan, now I'm reflecting on milestones! Love your sort of division of 'before' and 'now'. You speak of the wisdom and comfort that comes with age and I totally agree!

  8. Walker, thank you for your comment. I know from what you've written that you are also someone who doesn't like regrets, and values how the "before" has contributed to the "now". I respect that.

  9. I love your post. All the before and afters in my life are cherished and I am looking forward to having more to reflect back upon. I am currently in my "after" part of parenting and still getting used to my new freedom.

  10. Stephanie, it really does come down to that, doesn't it? Realizing we're always on a spectrum of what's happened, and what it still to come. It's nice to think about the future, and nice to think about how we'll look back on right now.