midlife

Good Enough

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Me and three of my favorite things

The seven and a half years between when I turned 40 and today have been the best seven years of my life. They have not been the easiest. During this time, I learned my oldest son has ADHD and my youngest has dyslexia, and I struggled to gain acceptance and create a better situation for them at school and in their lives. I had a devastating falling out with a person very close to me that caused years’ worth of complications in my family. I began experiencing the unpleasant side effects of early perimenopause. I was depressed for a while. And I went into counseling for the first time in my life as I wrestled with the external changes messing with my reality and the internal battles being waged in my head as a result of aging and staring straight into the face of the midlife beast. As a result of all these things, however, I am more at peace than I ever have been. I live in the moment. I have greater perspective about what is important to me. And I couldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t trudged through the quagmire of muck that now lies behind me.

This morning I saw a meme that riled me up. It said, “Addicted to Bettering Myself.” I’ve seen that saying before, but it has never elicited as strong of a reaction from me as it did today. Today it just didn’t sit well. So, I have been reflecting on it, and I think I finally have it figured out. When I turned 40, I was concerned about being 40How in the heck did I get so old? Is this the beginning of the downhill slide that comes with being over the hill? How can I make 40 better? What do I need to do before it’s too late? I was consumed with answering these questions. I became addicted to bettering myself. I became more concerned about my physical appearance as I noticed more readily the effects of having lived 40 years. I became intensely interested in physical exercise. I monitored my workouts and chided myself when I fell short. If I put on weight at the holidays, I hated myself. I took classes in things I thought I teetered on the edge of being too old for, and I did things that were out of character because I thought my time was running out. I expected more of myself at a time when the events in my life were requiring more of me as well. I stressed myself out racing against a clock I could never stop.

Then an amazing thing happened. I let go. I can’t say when it happened or why, and it doesn’t matter. Suddenly I was grateful more often than anxious. I was tuned in more often than tuned out. I stopped letting others tell me what was best for me. I stopped taking myself and everything around me so goddamned seriously. I chose to let go of control more often. And I stopped looking outside myself for acceptance. I decided that trying to be “better” was more harmful than helpful to me. I accepted that my existence has power, worth, and value even if I never do anything other than breathe. It sounds Stuart Smalley of me, I know. But I decided I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And, doggone it, people like me.

I am positive my friends who have escaped the clutches of the midlife monster are nodding their heads knowingly at me now. You were right, Leanna. Things did get better. I’ve let go of the situations, misconceptions, and lies that tortured me for years when I felt time was running out and I needed to be more (whatever that means). I’ve learned to not give a flying fig about most things because most things are background noise we choose hear over the symphony we could be enjoying if we let ourselves.

I don’t mean to belittle people who are addicted to bettering themselves. We’re all on our own journeys, and there is no right or wrong way to travel our individual path. And there’s something to be said for making the most of the time you are given, for being restless and ambitious, for wanting to age with grace and in good health. I have zero intention of going gentle into that goodnight myself. The Grim Reaper had best be prepared for a wrestling match when he comes for me. The difference for me at 47 than me at 40, though, is that he’ll be coming for a woman who doesn’t want to leave because she’s too happy to step out and not a woman who feels she can’t leave because she’s not finished becoming something she never realized she always was…good enough.

The Silence That Gave Me A Headache

 

When five days became five years…

 
I dropped our boys off for summer camp high in the Colorado Rockies this past Monday. It was a first for all of us, their first time going away alone (although they did have each other) and our first time being home without them for a week. When I drove down the dirt road away from them, it was bittersweet. I was excited for their adventure but already aware of the hole their absence was creating in my life. For fourteen years, these two beings have comprised the entirety of my reason for living. I hardly recall who I am outside the mantle of motherhood. And it’s at times like these that I feel most vulnerable and exposed. Who the hell am I anyway?

I enjoyed an oddly silent, solo lunch and a peaceful ride home without constant chatter about Halo and Mario Kart. I stopped at the store and bought groceries for two, cooked a meal for grown ups without having to omit ingredients, and enjoyed a drink with dinner. Hubby and I slept uneasily that night in a house that was too damn quiet, as if we noticed the missing heartbeats of the two neighbors who usually reside in the next room. I spent most of my week cleaning like a woman desperate to reclaim her once spotless home. Over three days I made a sizable dent in the clutter and bit by bit the house began to look like no one lived in it. It was a hollow victory. The cleaner it got, the emptier I felt. And that’s when, for a split second, I pondered my loss, not having a career to fill my days and fulfill my life. To derail that train of thought to nowhere good, I popped the cap on a bottle of hard cider because, well, I don’t have a job and 2 pm is 5 pm somewhere, and I smiled for my good fortune.

Big changes are on our horizon. The boys will be heading to a new school in 2016, which means a move back to the city for us. While I am dying to escape the suburbs and the HOA and the insipid neighborhood banter I never felt comfortable around, there is melancholy in my soul as we prepare to sell the only home our little family has ever known. And directly behind the gate we will walk through as we move forward, the gate through which all the possibility and potential of the future exists, lies the burial plot of things we’re leaving behind…sandboxes, playgrounds, slip and slides, and snow forts. Saying goodbye is part of moving on, but I have always been better at hello.

It’s been a rough week for me as I cleaned house physically, mentally, and emotionally. I am glad to be leaving some things behind, happy to explore new options and reinvent myself. Some things I thought I could count on, though, have evaporated while I stood in disbelief, grasping as they morphed from liquid to gas before my eyes like water vanishing of a scorching, summer sidewalk. I am better and stronger for this trial experience of life, once again, without children. Steve and I have talked about cashing in on our house and using the money to travel more with our sons before they move on to their own life adventures without us. The past fourteen years have been a blur, and we want to eradicate any potential for a Cats in the Cradle ending in this family. I will miss the things that are no longer part of my life, but I am curious what I will concoct to fill the vacant spaces going forward. 

We will claim our handsome, capable sons on Saturday and be grateful once again to have a disorganized house filled with bedlam. The time for permanent quiet is not long off now, and it’s approaching much more rapidly than I ever could have anticipated in June 2001 when Joe was born. But before it hits I think I will buy Luke that electric guitar he wants. I might buy that drum kit I have always wanted too and knock percussion lessons off my lifetime to-do list. If there’s one thing I have learned this week, it’s that silence leaves me way too much time to think. I should probably focus on doing things as noisily as possible from now on. Maybe I can get some pointers from our sons?

Aging Is Not For Sissies

 

Celebrating 47 years

 I recently had the good fortune of marking 47 years off the calendar. After so many journeys around the sun, I’ve become much more adept at celebrating in a way that suits me. This year that included a hot, uninterrupted shower, a venti latte accompanied by a cinnamon roll, some light shopping followed by a leisurely drive into the hills, a pedicure, and a picnic and concert at Red Rocks. And while I could not keep Mother Nature in line (the cranky bitch caused a thirty-minute storm with extreme lightning and heavy rain that delayed our outdoor concert and forced us to seek shelter in our car), overall my day was damn near perfect, securing my position as my number one, all-time-favorite, personal birthday-party planner.

The 1980s sex symbol, Bo Derek, recently said in an interview that aging is not for sissies. Although Bo has about ten years on me, I concur with her assessment. While 40 freaked me out seven years ago, what has happened to me physically since that reaching that milestone makes me shudder. I’ve acquired floppy arm syndrome, crepe-y neck, and sagging knees. Stray chin hairs pop up like wretched dandelions that require immediate plucking under the magnification of a lighted mirror to aid my tired eyes. The gal who used to roll out of bed and attend her college classes somehow managing a bright complexion without makeup is gone. It takes twice the effort and the bankroll to maintain half the fresh-faced appearance I exuded a decade or two ago. I try not to think about it too much, but the reflection in ubiquitous glass reminds me anyway. My inescapable doppelgänger follows me everywhere. Damn her.

As I drove up into the foothills the other day, though, I had something of an epiphany about my age. Even with all the physical changes in me that are less than grand, I like myself. So much. I am more genuinely me now than I have ever before been because I have stopped putting other’s agendas for me ahead of my own. I have accepted my negatives and begun acknowledging and owning my positives. I no longer heed the caterwauling of naysayers. I spent my first forty years becoming what I thought I was supposed to be. I will spend the next forty years excavating the me that lies buried under the sediment of other’s wishes. I grew up a closed-off, fearful Chicken Little, but that’s not who I was meant to be, and it’s not who I will stay. While I am good as is, warts and all, I am open to growth and positive change. If others don’t approve of my new direction, I will leave them in the dust as I speed away and watch their figures fade in my rear view window. Moving on.

To my friends who are a few years ahead of me on this journey, thanks for talking me through my midlife insanity and reassuring me that I would emerge better for it. You were right. It does get better. Little things are easier to let go. There’s freedom in relinquishing baggage and traveling light. And the more baggage I drop, the happier I become. To my friends who are a few years behind me, hang in there. I go before you as proof that the stress, change, and angst you’re experiencing are survivable. The slow, steady climb at midlife is the precursor to the feet-off-the-pedals coast that follows. And, yes. I know you don’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to hear it either, but that didn’t make it any less true. 

I’m in life for the long haul, for as long as I’ve got, through the messy and the beautiful and the complicated and the serene. I am not afraid of getting older, anymore. I am afraid of not getting older. There is so much of life I was uncomfortable about experiencing when I was young and chicken-hearted. I am braver now. Oh, sure. Doubt still finds me, but now it comes in the muffled whisper of a pesky librarian rather than the soul-shaking shouts of a doomsday soothsayer. I know the potential for growth still exists, and I know it ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings. I’m not going out quietly. Look for me. I’ll be the old lady laughing too loud, hugging too long, and crossing things off my bucket list. I’m many things, but I’m no sissy.

These Weirdos Are My Tribe

These weirdos are your tribe.

Weirdos preparing for the polar plunge on a 4 degree day.

“When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them with glad cries of ‘Me too!’ be sure to cherish them because those weirdos are your tribe.” ~Anonymous

I am a writer. I am also socially inept. I’m not sure if the social ineptitude is a result of the writing or if I write because I want to appear less socially inept. Either way works, I guess. Let’s just go with the notion that I’m awkward. I’m not in tune with other people’s feelings. Blame it on my being INTJ. Blame it on my ill breeding. Blame it on the aliens who abducted me as a child and conducted sloppy experiments on my brain. All I know is it is what it is. In forty-six years, I haven’t been able to outgrow it.

Every August, our sons’ school holds their annual Back to School Night. They host a tastefully catered meal for parents to enjoy while they go over school policy minutiae before sending us off to our children’s classrooms to receive more information that we of course will promptly forget. I’m sure many people look forward to these type of social events, a chance to get together again with friends from last year and to meet new people. Frankly, I’d rather have my spleen removed by a 10-year-old surgeon wielding a teaspoon as a his primary implement. I have to drink two glasses of wine before I go simply so I will be somewhat comfortable making small talk. Small talk stresses me out. Small talk is never small talk. The amount of effort small talk takes makes it big talk.

This year, we arrived at the dinner and found out that it was not going to be out on the lawn because of the threat of rain. They had the dinner set up inside the gym. I prefer the outdoor setting because it’s easier to flake out when you are in open surroundings. Still, we went inside, like socially weird teenagers, praying we’d get in and get out without being guilted into signing up for any random committees we’d rather die than be on.

We weren’t in there long before a couple we remembered as the parents of one of Luke’s friends from the previous year approached us. We didn’t know them very well, but I sensed they wanted to be there about as much as we did. We exchanged some pleasantries and they asked us to come join them at their table. Having fairly successfully avoid social interaction at the school during the previous year, we had no one else to sit with so we dragged our paper plates to their table. I tried my best to be cordial, but holy cheeses that is hard for me. At some point, I notice how weird that thing I just uttered was and then I begin to spiral clockwise in a whirling toilet flush of social doom. One way or another we got through the dinner, and Steve went with them to Luke’s class while I ducked out to sit in Joe’s classroom in my girl-in-the-plastic-bubble-of-pitiful-but-comfortable-silence sort of way.

On the way home, Steve and I had our usual debriefing about the night’s events.

“I think Lynne is trying to make friends with you,” he said.

“No. I don’t think so. They just didn’t want to sit alone. You know you’re always looking for someone you sort of know so you don’t end up with the new crazies you don’t know at all. Lesser of two evils,” I retorted.

“She came right over to you,” he replied. “Maybe she likes you.” What is this? Third grade? I started wondering if he thought she was trying to pass me a note. I played it off.

“Only because she doesn’t know me,” I said. “There’s a reason I don’t make friends easily.”

“Yes. It’s because you don’t know when people are reaching out.”

It’s true. I’m obtuse. I have never been successful at discerning when people are being nice because they feel they have to be nice or when they are being nice because they truly want to. I’m simultaneously suspicious, pragmatic, and cautiously optimistic. I tend to assume the worst, expect the mediocre, but subconsciously hope for the best. I’m complicated. It’s no wonder I don’t make friends easily.

Over the past few months, Lynne made a concerted effort to set up a couple of opportunities for our boys to get together. Her initial efforts made it much easier for me to insinuate myself into her life like a fungus. And it turns out we have a lot in common, like introversion, yoga, a penchant for expletives, a taste for fine vodka and any kind of wine, a troubling addiction to internet memes, and a gift for dry sarcasm. In other words, we’re awesome, something she was intuitive enough to ascertain before I did.

In so many ways, I remain the dorky kid who walked to my first day at a new school in third grade in handmade clothes feeling like an anomaly in a sea of popular and normal. The friends I’ve made over the past few years have all reached out to me first, which is a good thing because otherwise I’d still be standing stiffly in the corner, gazing at my feet, wondering why no one likes me. Every day I cherish these friends who made the effort and who have been able to recognize that my crazy is simpatico with their crazy. These weirdos are my tribe.

 

Work In Progress

Five year old me

Five year old me

I am my harshest critic. This I know. I am more cruel to myself than anyone I’ve ever known. No flaw escapes my notice. No misstep is not cataloged for future self-flagellation. I never turn a blind eye to my foibles. If there is minutiae to scrutinize, surely I’m already on it. My husband has threatened to remove all the mirrors in our house to keep me away from myself. I rarely worry about what others think of me because I know it can be no worse than what my mind already accepts. I assume that this incessant self-investigation and castigation comes from a lethal combination of being an overachieving first born, having a natural proclivity towards analysis, and growing up in a household where anything less than your best was, frankly, not good enough.

For years I’ve been working to relax my relentless self-criticism. Turns out I suck at it. Really. I’ve honestly made very little progress in this arena. I haven’t been able to remedy my pessimistic thoughts with therapy, self-help books, or yoga. I’ve tried reducing the negative input in my life. I’ve stared at affirmative statements pasted to my mirror until they’ve been burned into my retinas. They haven’t helped. This whole blog, this journey toward zen, was also meant to help move me toward peace. At times, it has helped. At other times it only made me further question myself, my skills, my sanity. Most days I’m unsure if I’m any further along on this trip than I was when I started seven or eight years ago. And in the midst of all this emotional work, the hormonal changes of midlife have not helped one iota. I feel like a ticking time bomb. The best I can say is that I’m aware of the problem, and acknowledging the problem is the first step toward a solution, right?

This morning I was standing in my bathroom when it hit me. I was looking in the mirror (which, so far, has not been confiscated by my husband), noticing the extra holiday pounds, and I heard myself say, “I’m a work in progress.” Holy crap. Where the hell did that come from? I almost turned around and looked behind me. I let that sentence roll through my brain a few more times. I’m a work in progress. Could it really be that simple? Is that all I need to let myself off the hook for everything? The more I thought about it, the sweeter it got. All this stressing over every detail, every imperfection, every gaffe…could it all be alleviated by considering things on a continuum? For so long I’ve looked for and compared myself to a desired end result. What if I stopped worrying about where I end up and work each day on where I am today? The thought was intoxicating.

Because I’m a realist, I know this new mantra will not solve all my self-abuse problems. They are deeply ingrained, and I haven’t had much luck ridding myself of them to date. But I am going to try to start thinking about myself differently while I work toward a better me. Maybe I am a bit heavier after a rough-ish year last year. So what? I don’t need to beat myself up over it. I’m a work in progress. I’m going to start thinking of myself on an evolutionary scale. Right now I might feel like something that just crawled out of a swamp on four legs, but sooner or later I’ll be upright. And that will be progress I’ve earned.

 

Under Construction

Still on the merry-go-round and working on my exit

Still on the merry-go-round and dreaming up a great dismount

I haven’t felt like writing much lately, so I haven’t. I’m in the midst of some unsettling discoveries, which aren’t as much discoveries as admissions about myself. There are things that I haven’t liked for a long time. I knew they needed to change, but I was so paralyzed by the thought of admitting my weaknesses and so adept at focusing on other parts of my life that I kept pretending these negatives were invisible. They weren’t. Other people saw them. And I still knew they were there. They were like the mess you shove in a spare room right before guests arrive. You think you’re fooling everyone by having everything in order, but deep down you know what lurks just behind the closed door. And you remember it with nausea when someone asks you, “what’s in this room?”  You are vulnerable and imperfect and mere seconds away from someone discovering what a pretender you really are. It’s a terrifying place to live.

Human nature reacts strongly against what it sees in others that it suspects and fears in itself. It’s a predictable pattern. We chastise others for lack of compassion while we ignore that it’s our lack of compassion that allows us to criticize them. We accuse others of being selfish when it’s our own self that feels neglected enough to point out that we’re not getting enough attention. The thing that most deeply annoys me about others is the victim mentality…people who whine about the bad things in life, as if bad things only happen to them and not to others, and who stay stuck in their quagmire because it’s easier to be the victim than it is to leave that role behind and go forward boldly and change. I know many people who suffer from this affliction, so it’s something that makes me shudder regularly.

As I’ve been navigating this bumpy and unsettling road to Future Me, I’ve paid particular attention to how vehemently I react towards particular failings in others, knowing that my reactions towards them likely hold a mirror squarely back on me. So I’ve been sitting with that thought for a while, letting it bubble its way to the surface while I was able to grow in acknowledgment of it. With some introspection, I’ve had to accept that as much as I despise victims, I’ve quietly lived as one among them for years. The only difference between me and the victims who get under my skin lies in their honesty about their misery. They’re more in touch with their emotions, so they complain about it readily. Me? I’m an emotional stuffer. I’ve sat quietly while layers of shame and self-loathing accumulated like sediment at the bottom of a slowly dying river. Now I realize I’m too filled up to function as I have in the past. It’s time to have my own Frozen moment, dredge up the muck in my way, and let it go.

They say the only way out is through, so I’ve been going through. And through. I’ve been sitting, thinking, and crying in some sort of rinse and repeat cycle for weeks. And it sucks. What will suck more, though, is if I squander my ephemeral time on this lovely planet without finding a way to love myself for who I am, emotions, weakness, messy rooms, and all. I need to live with my whole heart free and my mind open and aware. I can’t forgive others their failings if I can’t forgive myself for my own. Pain happens. We grow up with the hand we are dealt, but where we ultimately land is our own responsibility. And while complaints and ignorance are strategic coping mechanisms, they are not useful to us in the long run. This is where the victim becomes the victor. I need to put in the hard work. Do my time. Eventually, I will be improved for my effort. In the meantime, when I’m not here, please know that I’m under construction. As with most construction projects, it will probably take longer than the first-promised deliverable date. I’ll be back and better than ever in time. I can’t wait for my grand reopening.

Self-Portrait of the New Me

The forties have been an interesting decade for me. I started them with some sort of vendetta, something to prove to myself and to others. After a few years of tearing down my comfort zone and boldly going where I had not gone before, I began to get restless in a different way. I began to feel like none of it mattered. Like everyone else on this planet, I was simply getting older, and no amount of fighting the aging process was going to stop the clock or stop time from marching across my wrinkling, sagging body. Why bother? I mean, we’re all going to die anyway. Who cares if I do it ingesting chia seeds or peanut M&Ms? Most recently, though, as I approach my 46th birthday, I’ve hit upon a new phase. It’s a whole new thing for me, something I’ve not yet experienced. I’m trying to find softness, to forgive myself for what I’m not and to appreciate what I am. After a life of being a perfectionist and being unfairly hard on myself, I’m starting to look the other way on my shortcomings and focus instead on the good.

As I begin this new phase of self-discovery, I’ve found that there are people in my life who are determined to derail me. They remind me of what I’m not, rather than celebrating what I am. It’s a constant battle to remain ahead of the naysayers who want to throw sand on my picnic. Last night, I was sharing something Luke did at school with someone. I was particularly proud of this project and was excited to show it off for him.

Luke's self-portrait

Luke’s self-portrait

One of his teachers had him draw a self-portrait. Around the self-portrait, he’d written ten statements about himself. All of the statements were positive. I asked him if he’d had a hard time coming up with ten nice things to say about himself. He said he hadn’t. I was so proud of him for having a level of self-worth at 11 that I know I don’t have at 45. The person with whom I shared the artwork had only one statement about it: “Well…he’s cross-eyed.” I looked at the drawing again. It’s true. Luke had drawn one of the eyes toward the center edge, and I guess it does look a bit cross-eyed. I hadn’t noticed that earlier because, well, I was so impressed with the wording around the drawing that I simply hadn’t noticed. Guess my pride in my son clouded my critical, artistic eye.

Today, I spent a bit of time reflecting on the negative comment on my son’s sweet piece of artwork. Putting yourself out there like that is a bold move. Letting your mom share it with others is even more bold. If he could be that brave, I could to. I decided to put myself to the test. I decided I would draw a self-portrait and see if I could come up with ten positive statements about myself. I wanted to share my page with Luke because he’d allowed me to share his page with others. I also shared it with three other people just to get used to the idea of having confidence in my own self-worth. Tonight, though, I am taking it farther still. I’m going to share my self-portrait with the Internet.

My self-portrait

My self-portrait

I’m no artist, and this activity was difficult for me. As hard as it was to try to sketch myself, harder still it was trying to find complimentary things I was willing to say about myself. It took less time to draw and color my sketch than it took to compose ten positives, and even then I felt very uncomfortable owning everything I’d written. In my head was that little voice spewing self-doubt, saying Who are you kidding? and A lot of folks believe they’re good writers so you’re not special. It was a good exercise for me, though, and one I desperately needed today. It’s not easy for me to find positives because I’ve fairly well breathed a steady stream of negatives through outside voices and disparaging self-talk my entire life. I’m more likely to look in a mirror and find five things wrong than I am to find even one thing right.

When Luke got in the car after school, I told him that I’d spent my afternoon drawing and I was hoping he would critique my work when we got home. Luke, being the kind-hearted kid he is, appraised my art and told me that he thought it was pretty good. Considering how much I had struggled with it, I thought pretty good seemed really great.

It’s a long road I’m on, this path to self-love and self-acceptance. It has to start somewhere, though, and I’ve decided that somewhere is here and now. Some people will approach everything from a point of cynicism and negativity. I don’t have room for that anymore. I don’t want my children growing up with a mom who has nothing nice to say about herself. I don’t want to be that model for them. The world will beat them up enough. They don’t need to be experts at it too. As for me, I am making changes. You’re entitled to your opinions about me, about how I live my life and how I’m doing it all wrong. You can even share your opinions with me if you want. I’ll hear what you’re saying, but I’m not absorbing it or changing to meet your expectations. I’m happy with the life I’ve built and the person I am continually becoming. I’m not perfect by any stretch. I make mistakes. Point them out if you must, but know that I’m kicking negativity to the curb. If you have nothing positive to say, you can go with it.