Age has, up until now, been my friend. At the ripe age of thirty-seven, I worry that my warranty is beginning to expire. Even with metabolism quirks and adjustments to hair dye, I was shocked recently to find myself waist-deep in a mid-life crisis now instead of the expected year that rhymes with “borty”. Apparently though, you don’t get to schedule big transitions in your life; they tend to abruptly show up like your Great Aunt Myrna that sits on your couch cutting her toe nails while you gawk and think “Why are you here? What am I going to do with you? And how will I get you to leave?”
I really have loved my thirties—they’ve been my best decade by far—I don’t even try to suck in my stomach anymore and I could really care less what people think of me. I finally feel like a bona fide grown up. However, this past year my world changed a bit when I realized I had all my children in school (coupled with some other life changes) and I felt suddenly and irrevocably unnecessary.
I recognized that I (and many of us) tend to see our worth equated in value to what we produce or how unique we are compared to those around us. In my adult life so far I’ve projected my importance and identity as “I’m a Southerner”, “I’m a Mormon”, “I’m a student”, “I’m a teacher”, “I’m a newly-wed”, “I’m a mother of a special needs child”, “I’m a chronically tired mother of four young children with under-eye bags the size of Manhattan”, and all of a sudden I realized was label-less. My kids aren’t young anymore. I have no excuse as to why I wander around Wal-mart in sweats with no make-up on and a baseball cap. I have no alibi.
I felt like some freak snail who’d outgrown its shell and was wandering around Shells ‘R’ Us wondering who I was, where I was going and why I felt so incredibly vulnerable. My “old shell”, even the 3-children-in-diapers one, was familiar and comfy but currently out-grown.
I even had unbelievably painful conversations with myself:
Me: Why are you being so formal?
Self: Well, it’s been a while.
Me: Well, yes, I think it has been since 2001, I believe.
Self: Your stomach is a bit bigge-
Self: So, what’s new?
Me: Well, I’ve birthed four babies, had two miscarriages, lived in four different states, changed 67,439 diapers, slept a total of 2 nights straight and tend to say “Potty” even to adults.
Me: Who am I? Who am I now?
Me: You’re right. I’ve been me all along (cue orchestra).
All along this concentrated stretch of “Raising Young Children Boulevard” I’ve been expanded (mentally, physically, and emotionally), strengthened and humbled. I’m more empathetic, less of a know-it-all and topped with a sprinkle of “I can’t believe we did it!”. I’m grateful for everything this stage of motherhood has taught me; I’m the same goofy woman I was in my twenties but stronger and a bit wiser.
I know I’m being a bit of a drama queen–my children are not all moving out—they are still ages twelve and under. I fully realize that they would still starve and be nekkid if I didn’t do my job so I’m not completely unneeded, just needed differently. I’m more of a trainer now: this is how you do your own laundry, complete assigned tasks, and survive sharing a room with a sibling. It’s less of the doing and more of the showing, sharing and coaching.
People say that the only thing that is constant is change and that’s nice to cross stitch on a pillow but quite another thing to realize it applies to you. Now. And whether you are ready or not. As my children grow, so do I; sometimes independent of each other and sometimes due to one another’s struggles. We all experience growing pains and at thirty-seven, I am not immune to them. So my middle-age crisis, like the unpredictable Aunty Myrna, can leave peacefully now. I’ve got my new shell on and I’m ready for this next phase of me and motherhood. I am eager to see what the decade ahead will teach me, even if it involves more change, more stretching and more shell-changes.