This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Golden Years, poses the following:
“explore what age means to you. Is it the loss of youth, or the cultivation of wisdom? Do things get better as you grow older, or worse?”
For those of you who follow this blog, this is a topic that I have written
too much plenty about. Call it a mid-life crisis; call it fixation; call it whining… but aging has been front and center for me, for the past couple of years. Of course, it hasn’t been just the impact of my age, but the simultaneous aging of my children. As they have grown up and out… into the world, it’s been a double-whammy reminder of the passing of time. For several years, I was so wrapped up in my little ones: their exhausting schedules and needs, their delicious love and adoration, their, their, their everything, that I hardly looked in the mirror. I barely noted the passing of time for myself; the years were marked by my kid’s milestones, not my own. Kindergarten, first, second, etc grade, pediatricians, sports teams and banquets, changing bodies (theirs, not mine), play dates, teacher meetings, homework, friends and dramas, and always, always, always “what’s for dinner?”– the years have passed in a blur of child centered details. Then, I woke up.
I woke up a couple of years ago; I looked in the mirror and I was rapidly approaching 50. I looked tired. There were my mother’s wrinkles around my eyes and mouth; there were all those years, etched into my face and across my body. I woke up; more than half my life was gone, and frankly, I panicked a little. I’d been writing, with little gusto, for too many years– not really owning my own dreams. I had gained weight, with little effort to put it in check, despite an obsessive focus and judgement of my weight. My thoughts often drifted to my past: paths I chosen, paths I’d missed. Like grabbing a cactus, age leaves all kinds of prickly bits to deal with, some right on the surface and others that are burrowed deeper. But the glaring thing that struck me, was that I’d been missing some things; I’d let some important details fall through the cracks, as I raised my children and tried to stay afloat.
“Is it (aging) the loss of youth, or the cultivation of wisdom? Do things get better as you grow older, or worse?”
When I read this prompt, I felt myself react viscerally. I can’t imagine a clear and concise answer to either of those questions. Let’s face it: if you’re not aging, your done. However, aging itself is fraught with enormous challenges. If you have children, if you’re in a partnership, if you have parents: it’s impossible to age naturally, without eventually facing your children growing up and leaving you. You will eventually see your parents die, and it’s unlikely that you will be in a long-term relationship, without some significant challenges. Given all of that, I am proud of the life I’ve lived, for the most part. There are many things I might do differently, given an opportunity– some of them major do-overs; some of them blips on the screen; many of them cliché. I certainly wish I’d understood how great my youth was, when I was in it. I wish I’d appreciated my body more, and not judged it so harshly. It looked pretty damned good from where I’m sitting now. I wish I’d understood my mother, and her life, a lot better when I was younger… I wish I’d asked her more questions, and learned more from her; I wish I hadn’t judged her so harshly. Now that I’m a mother of almost grown children, it’s a lot easier to see how hard it must have been for her. I wish I’d appreciated the opportunities that were in front of me, and explored more of them. I wish I hadn’t let other people’s opinions impact me so much. I wish I’d learned a LOT earlier, to let go of baggage.
There are also many things I’ve done that I look back on, and smile. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction in some of my actions and decisions. I was a good daughter to my mother; I was a good sister to my siblings; I did my best. I’m grateful for the time we spent at the very end of Mom’s life. I’ve been a good friend to my friends. I was the best I could be, in a given time and place, and I’ve grown from each friendship– the ones that have lasted a lifetime, and the ones that didn’t. I’ve worked hard on my marriage. For 30 years, I can say that I’ve truly invested my time and energy, and worked to be a good partner. Collectively, my children have impacted my life more than any other event, or any other person. I’ve raised three amazing kids, who are each uniquely equipped to contribute to this world. They are interesting people who I truly enjoy knowing. There are ways in which they are the same, but overall, they are surprisingly different from one another. Nature or nurture? I have to believe that it’s the magic melding of the two. Knowing that each of them came into the world with their own personalities, I have worked hard to address their unique needs, and it’s exciting to see how that is turning out. As two of them venture off in really big directions and far from home, I feel proud to know they are confident, self-directed people, who are not afraid to take risks. I believe that they grew up knowing that there was a safety net that allowed them to fail and fall, without burning up. That lesson has lead to fairly adventurous people, who seek opportunities to live abroad; who take risks; who are creative and intelligent, in equal doses. While their lives are their own, I take a certain degree of pride, in knowing I played a major role in raising them.
That pride is forged of a wisdom that does indeed come from age. As I get older, certain things: judgements of myself and other aspects of life, decisions I’ve made in life, paths I’ve chosen, and most importantly: relationships, come into a new focus. It’s a lot easier to let go of things that are not healthy now, than it has been for throughout my life. This is an area that I’ve struggled with for too many years– I still struggle with, but it is becoming easier and easier. I’m slowly learning to let go of the relationships that don’t nurture and support my efforts to be the best me I can be. I’m learning to take clearer responsibility for my part, and own the shit I’ve slung into the fan. I’m learning to not think I can fix or change everything– it isn’t my job, and it often isn’t the right thing to do anyway. Most of my life, I’ve jumped in– often without checking the depth of the water. I’ve found myself embroiled in dramas that suck me down; relationships that drain me; a sense of responsibility to make it all better, even when the mess is clearly to big for one person, and leaves me with a prevailing sense that I fall short.
While I haven’t mastered this tendency, I am getting much better at really checking the waters. I pause more often now, and take it in; I dip a toe in to see what the temperature is and whether I really want to swim. I apologize when I slip up, and try to own only what is mine to own, instead of the whole muck and mess. I seek connections that are healthier and clearer for me… and, while I’m still someone who will work on a relationship long past when others may advise, I’ve gotten better at accepting the messages that others give. I’m less inclined to keep pushing, when someone’s let me know they aren’t in it anymore. That, is age working in my favor.
There are some things that may never change, and that’s a lesson that comes with age as well. A very wise person has asked me over and over:
“What if you knew right now, that this (Insert: relationship, person, situation, etc.) was never going to change? What do you want to do?”
“Ultimate acceptance.” That has always been an incredibly challenging thing for me. Throughout my life, when I came up against something that wasn’t working– which I wanted to work, I’ve pushed. I’ve invested my efforts in moving the mountain. Finally, I’m learning to sit a little stiller, and accept that the mountains might not change. Perhaps I need to go around them, or over them, or just sit and make peace with the view.
This prompt stirs a lot of questions in my mind, that I’ve been grappling with throughout my life. They are questions that I write about all the time. Aging, for me, calls up all of the things that challenge me most: letting go, acceptance, making peace, moving on, choices. These are questions that don’t seem to lose their edges, no matter how much I examine them. I’ve looked back; I’ve focused on my present, and I’ve tried to look forward. Maybe, with age, I’m simply learning to accept the edges. I’ve realized that I’m still going to bang up against those edges in the dark, sometimes; I may always fight an inner battle to make peace with some of the edges… Today, I know the edges are there, and I’m finally making peace with them. My number is 51, and there’s a whole lot in it.
Note: Yesterday, I heard this old “song” on the radio. I couldn’t believe it came out in 1997– nearly twenty years ago! Long before the internet made “viral” something that so many chase, this went viral in newspapers, on the air, on computers and finally as this popular song. It’s the original: “21 things I’d do different,” “words to my children,” “wisdoms I’ve learned,” and all the other clever advice pieces that make it to Huffington post, YouTube, and other viral spin doctors. Every word of this, sounds different to me now that I’m older. When this came out, Baz Lurhmann had not yet done the spectacular musicals that he’s become famous for: Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet, etc., but everyone was listening to “Wear Sunscreen.” Of further note: Now that I do in fact have more wrinkles, too many freckles and sun spots, and have had one bout of pre-cancerous skin lesion… I wish I’d worn more sunscreen.
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