Working ahead has always been a stress-relieving practice and birthdays are no different. So even though my fortieth birthday is a good six months away (hey! don’t rush me!), I’m getting a headstart on this middle-aged thing now.
Or maybe it’s getting a headstart on me. Now don’t get me wrong! I’m not having a midlife crisis. But the times they are a-changing.
Okay, I admit this one blindsided me. This wave of nostalgia came out of nowhere and bore me away on a tide of sentimentality and Googling pictures of people, places and things from my past.
Suddenly, I longed to roam the halls of my old school, now demolished. I mourned over the closure of the mall where Mother would buy me giant pixie sticks, mint ice cream cones and beef burritos. I immersed myself in photos of the town where I grew up and my first townhome. Ah, the good ol’ days.
Memories of people, places, events, long forgotten experiences and even old outfits and jewelry are popping out of my now middle-aged memory with alarming regularity. Things I haven’t thought about for decades. Yesterday, I was growing up in the 1980s. Today there are websites dedicated to “vintage” toys and clothes from the 1980s. Vintage? Vintage!?!?!
Like stickle bricks (pictured above), Sylvania flocked bears and my Blue Angel bike. Like those wonderful childhood books about Flicka, Ricka and Dicka and Snip, Snap and Snur…where did they all go!?! The things I used to treasure. What became of them? I still have some of my dollies but, no thanks to OCD spartanism, not much more.
Let’s face it: I’m getting old. Me! Me who’s always been young is suddenly flirting with oldness. My temples have gone white, crowsfeet are starting, there are ten micro-wrinkles at both corners of my smile exactly like my grandmother’s and, most surprising of all, my hair has gone straight. Goodbye natural waves! Hello curling iron!
It’s not just me. Michael just turned the big FIVE-O and my step-children are all grown-up. Depending on how you figure it, Michael and I are even step-step-great-grandparents. Yeah, I’m not ready for that!
Being blindsided by nostalgia is something I never expected and couldn’t prepare for, more’s the pity. But it’s taught me one great lesson: Cherish life now because one day, you will look back, and discover today was very, very special indeed. This has spurred me to take many more photographs. To treasure every day, every possession, every experience.
The good times aren’t “someday.” They are now!
This also surprised me. I never expected to develop “perspective.” With almost twenty-two years under my belt since High School graduation, without warning I’ve developed the middle-aged ability to see patterns because I’m now old enough to have perspective.
Take for example the recent crash-and-burn of Joshua Harris. He made his name and career off his 1997 book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. My peers and I cut our relationship teeth on this Christian book which preached purity and courtship in lieu of dating for finding your perfect spouse. Now, twenty-two years later, Joshua Harris has disavowed his own book, broken up with his wife and no longer identifies as “Christian.”
To say I was shocked is an understatement. Harris’ abrupt about-face mirrors what many who grew up in my school/cult/movement have realized: it doesn’t work. Suddenly there are Facebook groups cropping up about surviving Fundamentalism or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist or whatever denomination/sect left us more bruised than blessed.
Even my lifelong friends and old schoolchums are beginning to question. Question everything. Because we’ve seen too much hypocrisy. Too many crash-and-burns like Harris’. So maybe we are having a collective midlife crisis. Re-evalating the cherished beliefs that underpinned our lives.
For myself, I need a Christianity that allows me to be human too, not a faith that precludes anything remotely human. That just doesn’t work for me. Doesn’t make sense either. You can’t have faith, you don’t need faith, unless you are ruggedly human first.
Every time I talk to my step-daughters, I hear antique clichès, little pearls of old-fashioned wisdom, flying out of my mouth. They’re sayings I learned from my mother that she learned from her mother. But they’re sayings my step-daughters have never heard, so I have to rewind and explain what they mean.
The wonderful part is that these sayings are all true. The older I get, the more true they are! They’ve stood the test of time because of their quintessential truth. In my 2018 article The Wisdom of my Mother I explained one of Mom’s favorite old sayings:
“A new broom sweeps clean.”
Does anyone even say this anymore!?
Does anyone even sweep anymore, what with robotic vacuums like the Roomba!?
Seriously though, this is one of the best adages you’ll ever hear. It means simply this: Every new person you meet seems wonderful. No dirt. No baggage. No dysfunction. They seem like a peach of a nice guy or gal.
What’s troubling is how long some new brooms sweep clean and/or how long it takes us to notice the dirt, grim and dust bunnies they’re accumulating. Suddenly we realize, “Damn! I did it again! Another narcissist. Another user. Another dysfunctional person. I gotta get out…now!”
All things taken together, I’m rather looking forward to officially turning forty in 2020. The overwhelmingly strong emotions of childhood are over. The teenage struggle to grow up in a narcissistic home is over. The exhaustion and fight to establish myself as an adult with a good career in my twenties is over. The horror of discovering narcissism while simultaneously learning how to be a wife in my thirties is over.
So what’s next? What’s next now that I’m over the hill…and rolling down the other side? I’d like to think middle-age will bring five things: continued health, peace, authenticity, learning about this wonderful world and having more dreams-come-true and the time to enjoy all of it.