“When I grow up I’m going to find out everything about everybody and put it all in a book.”
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Some thoughts on turning 50 (!)
Tomorrow is my birthday. (Yes, me and Dr. Seuss.)
First, I can't begin to imagine how I got here. Not that I didn't know it was coming, because 50 is not one of those birthdays that sneaks up on you. When I was 27, or 33, or 42, I often couldn't remember exactly how old I was without stopping to do the math. That was back in the days when I could usually still remember what year we were in, and could still subtract 1959 from it in my head. (And I think everyone who has struggled with the concepts of basic subtraction and "borrowing" will agree that it's gotten a lot harder to do that in your head since the start of the new millennium. It's not just me, right?)
But 50 is not like that. The prospect of turning 50 has been hanging over me for a while now...sometimes like a happy little pink balloon that says, "Look at me; I'm 50, but I'm still playful and childlike and fun!" but more often like a black cloud, or a swarm of mosquitoes. Or maybe an anvil. Something that says, "Life is hard, and I don't see much hope for improvement," or "I thought I'd have all life's pesky details figured out by now," or perhaps "I have this sense of impending doom, like all my dreams are about to be crushed."
For months now, I've been thinking about all the things I haven't done yet that I always thought I'd have accomplished by now. I haven't written a book. I haven't become thin and fit. I've never found a job that both pays well and doesn't make me feel like the soul is being sucked out of me. I don't own matching dishes, nice underwear, or grown-up furniture. I've never learned how to keep a house clean, so the prospect of company always sends me into a frenzy of hopeless decluttering and self-flagellation.
The thought that's been hanging over me is that it's probably too late for a lot of these things, either because at 50 I feel that I'm officially an Old Dog, and some of these things feel like New Tricks--I mean, if I were ever going to turn into a great housekeeper, I think I would have done it by now--or because I'm beginning to believe they're overrated anyway. I still want to write a book (or two, or ten), and every spring I get a little burst of optimism about improving my fitness level. And God knows I still need to find a tolerable and better-paying job, since I'm probably going to be working for another 20 years. But the dishes, the underwear, the furniture? I guess I'm ready to let those go.
Even with all the feelings of impending doom, I don't feel 50. I'm not talking about physically (physically, I might feel 25 one day and 95 the next) but mentally. There are still times when I feel playful and childlike and fun, as if that pink balloon really were following me around.
Back when we were teenagers, Donna once said to me, "Have you ever noticed how some adults are adults, and some adults are just old kids?" Sometimes I feel like an old kid.
Anyway, here we go: five bad things about 50, and five good things.
First the bad:
1) Feeling like I really should be a responsible adult by now, and that maybe Peter Pan syndrome (remember, I'm not only a youngest child, but a youngest child by nearly ten years) is not so adorable anymore. 2) Insomnia--lately I've been waking up between 3 and 4 a.m. and not being able to get back to sleep, quite possibly due to... 3) ...Hot flashes and night sweats. Oh, and let's not forget chin whiskers--I always wondered why my mother kept a pair of tweezers in just about every room. Now I know. 4) Feeling irrationally angry and resentful a lot of the time. (Now, I don't want anyone reading this to start to wonder if, when I respond to your greeting with a socially appropriate remark, what I'm really thinking is, I would so like to hit you with a Nerf bat! Although that could very well be the case...) 5) Being easily overwhelmed by things I would have taken in stride a few years ago. (A few examples come to mind: college financial aid applications, dental appointments, snowstorms, grocery shopping, traveling more than 20 miles from home, holidays, deadlines, cooking dinner...you get the idea.)
And now, five good things about turning 50:
1) I feel like I'm finally on my way to being a little more assertive, something I've aspired to for decades. 2) I have a better sense of what kinds of things, to me, constitute a waste of time and effort (shopping, TV, chick lit, Brazil nuts) and I'm learning to avoid them without apologizing for it. 3) I have four wonderful, beautiful, nearly perfect adult children and (as far as I can tell) not a single one of them hates me. 4) Like New Year's Day, but in an even bigger way, 50 feels like a good time for new beginnings, for making resolutions, for finally figuring some things out. Hope has been a big theme across the country lately. So I'm hopeful, too. 5) Tony--who once wrote me a poem during the first year we were married, but whose written communication with me since has been mostly limited to notes left on the kitchen table ("Took dog with me") or text messages ("Where is pizza cutter?!")--wrote me a birthday poem, and read it aloud (in front of Donna and Jerry and three of the kids). It was mushy and sweet, and I was only slightly mortified, so it was worth turning 50 just for that.
I share a birthday with Dr. Seuss. I am exactly one week older than Barbie, and much more sensibly shaped. My “spiritual home” is a musty, dusty, ramshackle family camp on a lake. I have spent every single summer of my life there, starting when I was three months old. I am so lucky. I married my second husband one day shy of eight weeks from our first date. We have four kids—one his, two mine, one ours, all grown up (more or less). It took me 31 years to earn a BA. I cook from scratch. I have had the same best friend since the second day of second grade. I love Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Colbert, and Jason Varitek. I miss Paul Newman, Johnny Cash, and my mom.