Sunday, February 23, 2014

This is 46.

If you haven’t read Emily Mendell’s “This is 45,” please do. She did a great job explaining what it’s like to be a woman in her mid-40s. I would never try to improve upon her piece, but I did feel the need to customize it for my experiences. To follow her pattern, I stuck with the second person. I realize many of my thoughts are far from universal, but there was a certain comfort, a kind of anonymity that came from substituting you for I

I really wish I’d done this kind of self-examination—a State of the Person, if you will—at different stages of life. I can only guess what I would’ve said at 25, 30, 35, 40. 

So what would YOU say? What is *insert your age here*?

This is 46.

Forty-six is when you no longer check the 40-45 box on surveys and polls, and you must admit that you’re closer to 50 than 40. “Age is just a number” sounds like a good mantra, but when you start losing the ability to hear high pitches or see small text, you realize that no amount of youthful thinking will spare you certain midlife changes—not to mention the inevitable purchase of reading glasses.

Forty-six is when it dawns on you that those endless days with kids in your home aren’t so endless. You see every band concert, every after-school practice, every report card as one of the last. You aren’t too old to remember your own excitement when you left your parents’ nest, but you can’t quite translate that to joy for your child leaving yours. There’s pride, certainly, but there’s also big-time Mama Guilt with a capital G. Did I prepare him enough? Will she really be ready to leave us? What else can I show them in the little time we have between now and their graduations? Better yet, how will I ever survive those long weeks and months when they’re so far away from home?

This is the age of falling in love with a little white puppy, your “midlife crisis dog.” You are thrilled to have an outlet for all that residual mom-of-a-toddler doting, and you practically smother the pooch with your leftover baby love. You find yourself wandering the pet aisles, looking for a holiday-themed squeaky toy to add to the little darling’s growing menagerie. And even though you SWORE you’d never be one of those women, you realize you have bought no fewer than three Longhorn outfits for your precious pup (and two Halloween costumes—but who’s counting?). Let others face midlife with the new car or the plastic surgery; you’re perfectly happy with your puppy.

Forty-six is when you find yourself parent-less but needing your mommy more than ever. At 46, you truly get how young your dad was when he died at 50. You also see your mom, widowed at 49, in a different light. Now that they’re both gone, you look at old photos and realize that you’re the only person on earth who remembers certain events, that you’re the sole survivor of your family’s road trips and busy schooldays and lazy Saturdays and tuna-patty dinners shared around the kitchen table. You think of countless things you wish you could ask your mom (What WAS the name of that old restaurant?) and hate yourself for not writing names on the backs of photos the last time you went through the old shoeboxes together.

This is also when you see your friends facing the rough roads you’ve traveled. You see the car-key-taking, the nursing-home-shopping, the angry-phone-call-answering. You want to be the experienced one with sage advice, but you wonder how to help your friends without going back to those dark days yourself. You’re afraid to share too much because you don’t want to discourage your friends. At the same time, you know how desperately they need your support. More than ever, you feel an urgency to prepare your own children for those tough decisions they’ll make for your care someday.

Forty-six is being all too aware of the dangers lurking around every corner. You’ve seen the cancer diagnoses, the house fires, the car accidents. Long past your invincible years, you’re no longer naive enough to think those things can’t happen to you. But you also know how consuming fear and worry can be, and you fight to keep them from stealing even one of your life’s finite days.

At 46, you realize you have been at the same job for half your life. You also start to sniff retirement now that your age plus service years are approaching that magical number, 80. As you watch your friends retire, you try to picture an August without back-to-school clothes shopping, long in-service meetings, and Target carts filled with school supplies. Your inability to envision that is your hint that you have way more than six years of teaching still in you.

Forty-six is having the uncanny ability to take on stress-inducing, time-consuming tasks just because you want to. The band needs someone to take care of social media? Sure! Somebody has to organize your school’s Senior Projects? On it! Your church needs a tech in the sound booth for that funeral? Got it! Even though these added chores offer no pay or glory, you take on those responsibilities because they fulfill your need to serve and provide some outlet for the creative energies you want to cultivate. You know your hard work does not translate to financial gain, but you do what you do simply because you must.

Now you not only know your likes and dislikes, you no longer bother trying to defend yourself for them. You know that your trips to the movie theater are too infrequent to be wasted on scary or depressing films. Those ennobling tearjerkers? No, thanks. Real-life has enough tears already. You’ll take that sappy rom-com or cheesy Disney musical any day, and that’s OK. You’ve also stopped trying to explain why you don’t eat coconut. It’s nasty. Period.

Forty-six is the time of 20th wedding anniversaries and of planning second honeymoons. It’s celebrating the victories you and your mate have won while telling the past’s dark days to skedaddle. It’s crediting your marriage’s strength to those hard times while knowing better than to let yourself dwell on them. This is when you can gradually let yourself imagine your house as a home for two instead of four, and you thank God for the partner who will keep that nest from being quite so empty.

This is when you let go of certain goals, accepting rather than settling for the path your life has taken. But it’s also a time of reinvention, when you’re old enough to know what doesn’t work but still open to trying new things that might. It’s upgrading gadgets and learning new soundboards. It’s downloading the latest hot game even though you know you’ll never get that dang Flappy Bird past those pipes. It’s the box of hair dye that’s been under your bathroom sink for weeks, just waiting for the day when you’re brave enough to go for it. It’s the Pinterest board full of the brand new: the paint colors, the flavors, the destinations that you have yet to try.

Forty-six is allowing yourself to question your beliefs. Asking is not a sign of defeat but an indication of growth. You know that your God is way bigger than your questions, and you thank him for his steadfast love, his “blessed assurance.” Your 46 years of blessings, heartache, tragedy and triumphs have taught you that regardless of your circumstances, his love is enough to sustain you. It’s your memory of your ups and downs that keeps you grounded when the next challenge comes along. Your anchor holds within the veil.

Forty-six is not just knowing who you are but WHOSE you are. Even when you don’t feel as grown-up as you think a 46-year-old should be, you know that you are loved unconditionally and blessed beyond measure.

This is 46. This is me. This is now.

1 comment:

Kristi Porter said...

Wonderfully written Charis!