Monday, May 29, 2017

Keeping the lessons, but losing the baggage before a new decade begins.

This is for people who will change decades in the near future.
Here is a person who doesn't
look like she enjoyed any of
her decades.

If you're like I was about leaving the forties, you're probably trying not to remember how you viewed older people when you were nine or ten.I know I looked at my grandparents who were in their  fifties and wondered how long they'd live being that old. 

It sailed over my head that they had a ton of friends, played a ton of golf and laughed and partied like college kids. 

A while back, my husband and I sat down for dinner at one of our regular restaurants. We had just ordered wine when I spotted a group of women nearby, probably in their mid-forties. Judging from the depth of their conversation, ("So, you cut your hair! It looks great!") they'd only convened in the last ten minutes or so. The first tray of drinks was arriving.

They looked great. Healthy, nicely dressed, great make up and jewelry. I was, of course, looking at younger me and my friends over there, out for dinner on a Wednesday night, feeling young and fun, and smelling like expensive hair products.

Around the house are pictures of me when I was in my forties. I'm smiling in most of them and when I see them, I think of the things I never worried about, and all the things I did.

I was too busy to dip below the surface of the think tank for starters. I managed four kids who went to different schools, three after-school sports, two dogs, and a commuter marriage. I had started writing and was getting ready to submit a first novel. Alone at the helm Monday through Friday, I often felt like I was racing alongside a bus, this close to hopping on.

I had been told that forties were some of the best years I'd have, but here they were being consumed bite by bite by the demands and stressors of daily life. Parenting young teens employed my intuition, patience and sense of humor every day. My writing began to feel like bad singing. In the community, judgey parents could tank your day with one half-smiling, half-concerned expression that rivaled the teen eye-roll in how like crap it could make you feel.

I don't remember the low-grade anxiety that kept me company each day. But in those pictures, it's there, in my eyes.

Meanwhile, women were writing about their "invisibility" after forty, and feelings of irrelevance in the workplace after fifty.  As for my writing dreams, many publishing experts suggested that writers who hadn't published by forty likely never would. Some contemporaries who seemed happily married actually weren't. Divorce was happening everywhere.

To leave this decade and walk into the next one was like approaching a cave, knowing that a good life waited inside if I could brave the entrance and not be tripped up by fearsome unknowns on the way. 


Would I be my grandparents now with their golf and cocktails and bridge parties? 
Would I be that woman in Huffington Post who swore she'd never have plastic surgery until she saw herself in a store window? 
Would I start saying downer things like, "It sucks to get old?"
Would I tell new jokes about sagging and flatulence? 

My decades met like workers changing shifts. One left, one came in, and not only did it not hurt a bit, I was left with some useful time-release wisdom that I wish I'd had, rather than had to earn, in my forties

Life began to change around me, and I changed around life. 

I became better at almost everything. I was more understanding. I laughed more often and more easily.

I sang in the car, loudly.   

My kids left and I didn't fall apart. 

My husband and I got serious about what we mean to each other. 

I concentrated on what I could do now because I was older. As a result, I still help resilient teens write their difficult life stories, a thing that has changed my life.

I wasn't defiant or rebellious, but I laid things down that were too heavy to carry anymore like perfectionism, and all the silent assumptions I once made about how others saw me.   

In conversations with strangers, I stopped blurting things out to kill silence.

I became good at helping people express difficult truths.

I trusted answers that came from my gut more than any others.

Last month, before I had another birthday I tried to remember the angsty feeling of leaving the forties. It was impossible, the way it's impossible to remember what you expected of a place or person before you went there or met them.

The women at the table near ours were two+ drinks in. I know they weren't, this night, worried about looks or stages in life. They were instead, frustrated with spouses that had to be dragged into helping around the house.  They were worried about the parents in the community who wouldn't support new sports facilities. They were unhappy with the way their teens spoke to them, and why, they wondered, was it was so difficult to get out of the house without feeling guilty?

I know, they will not worry about these things in ten years, but they will probably have mixed feelings about leaving these years all the same.

If this is you before thirties, forties, fifties or beyond and you're feeling nervous about trading one decade for another, believe this. You can't embrace the next decade as long as you think it will turn you into a person you don't know, like my grandmother or that HuffPo woman. 

Believe, it won't. You'll still be as you as you are now only likely happier, even joyful, and God willing,  in possession still, of a sense of humor that is above sagging and fart jokes.


  1. I have always had issues when it came to changing decades - just for a short burst as each new "0" came around. As I read what you wrote about the 50's I was nodding and smiling - it has been a surprisingly delightful decade - each decade has actually built on the one before and gotten better - who knows what those 60's are going to look like? Pretty darn fine maybe?

    1. I like to think so. I was pretty surprised when I realized all the gifts of the 50's.

  2. The birthdays with the zeroes always seem to be BIG. But, I think that's just an illusion. Every era of life has its own joys and challenges. I'll be 67 next month. I've retired from my career and long-ago became an empty nester. There are things that I miss from bygone eras, but I have new pleasures and joys at this point in my life. Thanks for a great post. I enjoyed reading about your thoughts on the matter of aging.

    1. Carol, thank you for your comment and for visiting, and I should tell you: back when our boys became uncomfortable with calling me "Mommy" anymore, I became "Mimi." It stuck, I'll be that forever. So right there, Mimi, we were destined to be friends.

  3. This was wonderful. I make it a habit to not listen to the aging "Debbie Downers" out there. Its important to have happy, positive people around. Nice reminder.

  4. I couldn't agree more. I back away from the "aging sucks" crowd. You can feel your energy drop like a rock when you're around that.