The metaphorical light at the end of the parenting tunnel is growing brighter. As my kids near their launch into the great big world, I realize I’ve passed the halfway point. The hard, physical work of parenthood is behind me.
While the last sixteen years have been hyper-focused on my little and, now not-so-little offspring, is with equal parts excitement and equal parts trepidation that I approach this next parenting phase: the break-the-bank phase (college tuitions, weddings, etc).
All kidding aside.
As my children inch toward their own lives, it also signals the return-to-me phase. I married at nineteen. For my entire adult life, I’ve been a wife and mother, putting other people’s priorities before my own.
Now it’s time for me.
Sometimes, I wake with a jolt in the middle of the night having forgotten that I’m forty-six years old. I shake off my semi-conscious confusion and try to fall back to sleep, but my mind races.
Who am I?
Who do I still want to be?
I’m not the young girl who left her small town seeking fame and fortune in the city. My dreams have shifted. I’ve changed.
Now I am allowing myself to think about what I really want.
Age has given me the hard-earned perspective to examine my past and to look forward to the future. I’m growing comfortable in my skin, developing an authentic sense of self, and creating a purpose for my life.
As I watch my kids turn into young adults, I realize that I’ve matured too. At midlife, I know this much is true:
I appreciate my body. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it anymore—we’ve come to terms with each other—my body and me. It’s born two babies. The knees still work. My hair hasn’t fallen out. That said, I’m more careful about what I put into it and I try to make it move everyday. I also realize that while I’m getting old, it doesn’t mean I have to get fat. Weight gain is the lie of middle age. I’ve reached the stage of eating enlightenment: no one else can make me gain weight—it’s totally and completely up to me. Eureka!
Your kids can win—I don’t care. If your kids are better than my offspring, okay. My self-worth isn’t determined by my kids’ accomplishments. As a young mom, I was worried about how my kids performed on the soccer field, in chorus, and in the classroom (the list can go on and on). Their successes and failures were a reflection of me. I am kinder to myself now—I’ve done my best. The rest is up to them. Still I give my kids the opportunities I can afford and my emotional support, and then I step back. Sure, I’d like them to do things my way, but I realize I can’t control who they are going to be.
If I say “No,” it doesn’t mean I’m a bad mom. PTA. Bookfair. No. Concession stand. Sometimes. I can say no to my kids, too. No, I’m not giving you money to buy $98 LuLu Lemon leggings or _____________ (fill in the blank). No more keeping up with Mommy Jones. Guilt is gone. But, I will say yes, too. And I do. I volunteer for the spaghetti dinner. I carpool. I cook big pancake breakfasts after Saturday night sleepovers.
I like to swear. Good girls don’t swear, right? And for years, I didn’t. Perhaps, it was my lack of verbal confidence or fear of judgment. Turns out I love the word f#@k. I started to practice using it in context.
I’m wearing lipstick and sneakers. And black. My daughter is mortified. “Mom, you look Goth.” So what. I guess I’m Goth. It’s better than some other labels I could be sporting, here at the life halfway mark.
I hate cocktail parties. I’m limiting myself to two a year and that’s just to maintain a couple friendships that are important to me. After that, no promises.
If I like you, I’ll promote, encourage, and endorse you. If I don’t, I’m not pretending that I do. I don’t care if you sell more houses than me (I’m a realtor), if you have better bylines than I do (I’m a freelance writer), or if you get a better book deal than moi (I’m a novelist). There are enough houses to be sold, magazines articles to be written, and presses that need authors for all of us. Let’s hold each other up. Promote each other. Cheer one another’s victories.
My hopes and dreams are important. This one is huge! Those night terrors, when I forget I’m a middle-aged woman, are unsettling wake up calls. This is it! There’ll be no second chances. No do-overs. The time is now!
So this is what midlife looks like. It’s the season of the return-to-me. I’m encouraging everybody to try it!
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Evolving into a middle-aged person is quite interesting if we can understand what it means. I would like to think it meant being a bit sure of what I want.
—Dawn French (English comedian)
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