Sunday, January 01, 2006

A New Year, A Not-So New Life

There isn't much guidance for this stage of life.

When I was a teenager, there were magazines: Glamour and Mademoiselle, guides to the intricacies of fashion and the mysteries of sex. What else did a girl need to know?

As a young professional woman, I subscribed to a pile of periodicals designed to keep me abreast of my field and the advancing role of women in the working world. ABA Journal, OSBA Journal, local bar association journals, working women publications national and local. Fashion and sex still mattered -- I learned how to accessorize a suit and how to avoid the pitfalls of office romance -- but so did deposing hostile witnesses and writing briefs.

The world of young mothers is nothing if not prolific in words. As I moved into my thirties I was never at a loss for the magazines and books that enabled me to master the details of childbirth, infant feeding, potty-training, preschool selection and the developmental markers of every age. It went something like this: natural is best, breast is best, readiness is best, Montessori is best, self-determination is best. Not wanting to miss anything, I included a c-section, bottle-feeding, bedwetting, homeschooling, and Eclecticism 101 in my mothering repetoire.

The teen years are better left unmentioned. Suffice it to say that I found parenting easy, fun, and fulfilling for 17 years and then I found it bitter, agonizing and, at best, relentless. I am extremely grateful, and not a little surprised, that our household achieved a 100% high school graduation rate and now counts among its members three college students.

As I look around and ahead, I see that there is an increasing amount of information available for the aging baby-boomer. The first ones have just turned 60, after all. How to manage your 401(k). What to do if you unfortunately overlooked the necessity for a 401(k). Yoga for seniors. Financing assisted living and nursing-home care. The best retirement towns. Luxury eco-vacations for those who have advanced beyond backpacking. Hip replacements for those who have not.

But I'm not yet beyond middle-middle age. I am pretty much plop in the middle. In fact, with my grandmother turning 100 in March and me, myself and I turning 53 in July, I could quite literally be in the middle of my life.

And I'm finding it an uncomfortable spot, without much of a pathway delineated for me. I'm finding that almost all of my relationships are increasingly difficult -- most disappointingly of all, those with my children. I'm finding that my work life is providing too many challenges I don't want and not enough of the ones that I do. I'm feeling burdened by possessions and debt -- the very things that we work for 30 years to accumulate are the things we find we want the least. And my body is in a state of imminent collapse -- who knew that the suppleness and energy of youth were not eternal?

Fifty-three is feeling remarkably like 13: baffling and disturbing in every way. It was never in my plans to backtrack 40 years, but the work of midlife bears some strong resemblances to the work of adolescence. If my persistent ADD doesn't impede my progress, I'm going to explore these thoughts for a few days as this new year begins.


Kathryn said...

I never seem quite prepared for where I find myself in life. That is part of the adventure but difficult to accept.

I am glad to be finding my feet after a truly dreadful December. I'm back to my journal reading and caught up on this one. Thanks for the links to other bloggers who have moved on and were lost to me.

emmapeelDallas said...

I've just turned 56 and I so relate to this post. I don't feel like I could possibly be 56...although recently, my knees certainly are...and yet there are good things about being middle aged. I've never been so accepting of myself...or so appreciative of my friends. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on all of this.


Lisa C. said...

But think of it this way: This is the first time in your life, perhaps since your childhood, that you can put yourself first. In a way, that would be unnerving -- but maybe exhilirating, too?

MarianN said...

I am looking forward to your view on this portion of your life. Maybe you could write an instruction book for parents of college students. One that covers issues other than letting them go freshman year. I am sure it would be well read.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully expressed, Robin. And you could have been writing about me. Yes, my kids don't really need me very much any more and I'm kind of in the way, so I am looking around for another direction. I, too, am burdened by debt and responsibilities I really don't want at this stage, and feel like I lack guidelines. I shall be 52 this year, so we are close in age. It's good to know I'm not alone with these issues. OK, now how do we fix this??? Or, more importantly, how do we accept this and make peace with it?

Warmly, Vicky

Lisa :-] said...

I've been "coming to terms with middle age" for more than two years now, and I just turned 50. However, I've had trouble with EVERY age, so the bumps in the road are no big surprise to me... :)

Looking forward to reading your thoughts...if you DO get around to recording them.

Globetrotter said...

Welcome to the world of the increasingly uncomfortable. I was once smart, pretty, athletic, young, and somewhat affluent.

I am now something that should be scooped up in plastic and discarded as I have watched the many dog-walkers in my aging neighborhood do each day as I follow them with my creaky limbs.

I'll tell you that you and I are almost the same age. I had a horrific mid-life crisis a few years back as I approached 50. It consisted of the following: waking up in the morning to a groaning body, saggy jowls and a drying vagina. I said, 'WTF? are my days in the sun truly over?'

Well they weren't. But now they are.

Happy New Year:)


dee said...

Wonderful entry! I have two teenagers and I can attest to the difficulty of raising them. It is so hard to go on family vacations because they want their girlfriends and boyfriends around all the time. You seem to have done a great job in raising yours and I have yet to see the fruits of my labors. You imparted a lot of wisdom in this entry.

Judith HeartSong said...

what a good and thoughtful post.... we are charting new territory now, with aspirations and desires far different from the women who came before us.

You have me thinking too.

Tess said...

I hit the speed bump last year(55). I can still do all the same things I could before but it just takes longer. I enjoy the age that I have achieved and look forward to the next 10. After that, I'll leave things to my imagination and whatever on me is left and not worn out.
Having suffered many disappointments as to how I thought life would go, I take things now as they come. Hopefully, as your thoughts and words come so will the resolve that you know where you are going and you will evolve.

Paul said...

Ah! What luck that we men are not similarly penalized for aging. We must have done something right.