It’s officially December. My birthday month. My 45th birthday month to be exact. I was born during the last 20 days of the entire decade of the 60’s and although I was only there for a short amount of time, I feel that the activisim of the hippie generation is more a part of me, than the consumerism of the 80’s, when I actually grew up. To be 45 means that I’m half way there. Half way to where I don’t know, but I seem to be half way to it. My grandmother turned 90 this past August, so it could be that I’m half way to the rest of my life. It’s very possible that I have less life in front of me than I do behind me. The reality is that death is most likely closer than memories of the distant past and that’s o.k, because growing old doesn’t scare me. In this world where anyone can jot down a thought for the masses and in a world where all someone has to do is set up a social media account to wax poetic about the 5, 10, 12, or18 reasons we should be happy about this or leave our jobs because of that, there is no shortage of Confucius want-a-be’s. As I write this, I’m reminded that I’m no more enlightened than anyone else. I write this to not be the Gandhi in someone else’s life, but to sum up a life filled with challenges and lessons and the hope that one day my 7 year old will read it and realize that his mother never stopped growing, questioning, and living. Maybe I write it to have something to look back on in 20 years, so I can see how far I’ve actually come. Regardless of the reason, this personal account is just that, it’s personal and the lesson’s I’ve learned will hopefully propel me forward into this next chapter called middle age. My hope, is that someone out there will find it personal to them and write one of their own to share.
During my 45 years on this earth, I’ve realized through hard fought lessons, that the trials of youth and my attitude that grew from that, has set me up for middle age and beyond. I look around and realize that my trials of youth whether it was through family, friendship, lovers, or career, helped me become the woman I am today. For example, I spent years…no decades…struggling with this concept of beauty and weight. America isn’t kind to women. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry working to tell us we aren’t “enough.” Diets, haircuts, and fashion trends were all the rage for me. I was never thin enough, fashionable enough, or pretty enough. I spent a lifetime hating the outer me. I needed men to validate my beauty and reassure me that I was thin. Well…you know what turning 45 did for me?
I’ve finally realized…FINALLY… that my beauty is mine and it is no longer up for discussion. I am beautiful, with my laugh lines, body fat and all.
When it comes to who I am, I now recognize that as a woman, no one is out there to rescue me. It has been me all along that was holding the glass slipper. People have been there to support me and cheer me on, but it was me that held the key to my future’s happiness. Waiting around for Mr. Right was absurd, because no one can save another person until they learn to save themselves first. It took me a lifetime to grasp that. Coming to terms with the “White Knight Lie” has allowed me to realize how important my women friends are and the power my name actually carries. I spent most of my life believing that a woman had to take the name of her husband to be whole. Well, that’s total bullshit. I’m married. I’m happy and I’ve kept my name. It’s my name and I’ve earned every positive and negative perception that comes with it, so I’m keeping it…forever.
Another thing becoming an aware woman has made me see, is that sex is something to value, but something to be annoyed by as well. As women we aren’t usually allowed to talk about sex with a negative connotation, but there are those days where we do it just to do it to get to the end, because we still have a house to clean, reports to write, and yes wine to drink, while we read a good book…alone. No one told me that there would come a time when I would crave the moments of privacy and solitude in the late nights of “do you want to have sex or not” between a couple. Being 45 comes with honest conversations that aren’t always had as a 25 year old with youthful energy and misperceptions about relationships.
Once I acknowledged that life was to be lived on my terms I changed. I changed how I interacted with people and the amount of bullshit I was willing to put up with. When you reach this point in life, walking away from something becomes a lot easier, with a lot less guilt and regret.
What I allowed in my past is simply not allowed in the present.
Being called names such as bitch and whore, isn’t tolerated anymore and never should have to begin with. Watching sexism unfold in front of me is confronted with all the pain that comes with it. I have grown to value my time as a precious commodity and absolutely don’t have time for the drama I faced in my thirties. I want facts and a solution. I want it quickly and I want to move on and if that can’t be done, I’ll be the first to say, “I’m sorry. Not interested.”
When I started to look at my life and realized that I have approximately 20 years left in the workforce, my career took front and center in unprecedented ways. I looked around and saw people retiring who had spent a lifetime in jobs they hated. I realized that I didn’t want to retire like that. When I leave, I want to say, “I did everything I could and I made a difference.” I find the workforce to be tedious, annoying, and oftentimes unfair, but that’s life and the only way to deal with life is to turn it into something you enjoy.
I also recognized that how I spend money and where I spend it has become incredibly important to me. I learned that money is power and I can choose to spend it in places that align with my value system. How I save money and what I save it for is also priority. For me, going into debt for stuff is absurd. What happens to my stuff after I die? It becomes junk. So I choose. I choose travel over trinkets and relationships over possessions.
As far as I have come and as much as I have learned, there are insights that sadden me and I know that I’ll spend much of the rest of my life learning and growing from them. For example, reaching the midpoint of life has given me the perspective to see the strings that control the system. I get it. I know how politics works. I now understand religion. I see how the education system failed me and most of society. I know that the media only tells us what the those with the money want us to hear. The veil on the institutions I grew up believing in have been lifted and I now know too much to be wide eyed and innocent. I’m acutely aware that the American Dream was not really meant for everyone and in fact, most of us are groomed to make sure the American Dream stays out of reach for many. So I have to make a choice. Do I accept it or is it a call to action? With this knowledge, how will I spend the rest of my life?
I’m saddened when I look around me and realize that many people just give up. The fire they had in their youth has been extinguished. Passion gets harder to come by the older you get and I think that’s why so many of us live through our children. Once you see the strings that control the system, it gets harder to advocate for change. It’s just easier to bitch. I’ve noticed that many individuals get to a point where they stop educating themselves. They just decide that they are right, because their experiences say so. I now know that I have to continue to seek out those experiences that ignite passion inside me. It’s not like youth, when passion comes in waves with new boyfriends and ballgames.
I think however, that my spirits are dampened the most with the predictability of life. I rarely go into a situation anymore without being 95% sure how it will end. That comes from experience, with age, and to be honest, with the reality of knowing many people don’t live up to their promises and that the flames of creativity and passion are difficult to keep ignited. Sometimes my best days come when something shocks the absolute hell out of me.
In life, I’ve realized that getting older doesn’t scare me, but watching people get old does. Every Christmas reminds me that I’m not a child anymore, as I pray that this won’t be the last one with my parents. I’m now at the age where my friends have ailments that could be life or death. I see them as they grieve for the loss of their parents and no longer act as the child, but the adult caregiver in the family. It’s scary to watch. Aging allows me to realize that although those days drinking and drugging were fun, they aren’t for me anymore. My body can’t handle it and to be honest…it seems a little dumb. Sleep comes at a premium and Metamucil is a standard in the medicine cabinet. Once you reach middle age, you fear that every bump is cancer and you start to wonder if your will is in order. I’ve gotten to the point where every time I laugh a little pee comes out. There is no getting around the aging process and your body is a daily reminder that the clock is ticking.
As I sit here writing this, I’m reminded that what I have in front of me can be so much greater than what is now behind me, because I now know who I am and what I’m willing to put up with. I know how much I’m worth and won’t settle for less. I’ve been around long enough to see how childhood was hard, but being an adult is even harder. It takes guts to be a grown up! I realize that life is short and it’s getting a lot shorter…very, very fast. I realize that people die and saying what needs to be said is a must. As I age, I realize that there is an absurdity to life and the older I get, the more I don’t grasp how we can go through life oblivious to the plight of our fellow man or our planet. I realize that I can’t lie on my death bed wondering if I did enough or helped enough. Activism is more important than apathy and love is more important that greed. I sometimes long for my youth, when I waited tables and stayed out late with friends philosophizing the plight of mankind. Youth however, was not all it was cracked up to be as I realize now that the fun has only just begun. In youth, it seemed that I owed so many people and the debt I would pay was through my inexperience, insecurity, time, and naivety. Now, I realize that the only thing I truly owe is to the future of the planet and those that will inherit it, like my 7 year old. So I dedicate this to him, as I hope that the next 45 years of my life leaves a legacy and that legacy will be one of peace and love.