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Lessons from midlife.

I’ll be turning 50 soon. Looking back, I’ve learned a lot of things. Sadly, some things, like how to do long division, or a cartwheel on a balance beam, I’ve forgotten. Others, I know I’ve learned, but can’t for the life of me explain to someone else — like how to parallel park a car or successfully clean dog poop off a toddler.

That said, in almost 50 years, I’ve learned a lot of important things that I think I should share:

midlife-crisis

Some things are almost always worth investing your time in — studying for final exams, washing a new red shirt separately, flossing. Others, not so much: watching “very special episodes” of Disney Channel tween sitcoms, or standing in a long Black Friday line at Old Navy to save what’s probably $1.50 on a pair of khakis that you’ll spill something on by mid-January.

There are certain things worth splurging on. Eyeliner, ground cinnamon, toilet paper. And others you shouldn’t bother spending a lot of money on —  birthday cards, dish towels, kids’ dress shoes. Just trust me on these; I’ve done the research for you.

Eating gross things is probably not going to hurt you. The best example is the boy I knew growing up who regularly ate red crayons in kindergarten. We’ve lost touch, but last I heard, he was a professor at an Ivy League university.  I’ve also seen people eat dog food, lip balm and White Castle. They all survived.

You will probably never forget really embarrassing things. During college, I was once at a fraternity party talking to a cute guy. I don’t remember his name or what he looked like, which of my friends I was with, or what fraternity it was. What I do remember vividly is the sight of the piece of gum I was chewing flying out of my mouth and across the room mid-sentence. In my memory, the gum moved in slow motion, and the unnamed cute guy and I both watched it sail across the room and land on the floor. I don’t remember what happened after that, but suffice it to say I’m married now, and it’s not to that cute guy from the fraternity.

You’ll probably have a few regrets, but try and learn from them. I once stress ate almost a whole of a box of Honey Bunches of Oats in one sitting. Then I threw up. And many years ago, I hastily opened a bag of M&Ms for a party. You need to be careful with those things; the bag pretty much exploded all over the kitchen. It was when I was in high school, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents had found an orange M&M behind their refrigerator in the last few weeks.

And then there are a few pointers that I just can’t categorize:

  • A child under the age of one can’t properly digest a large amount of watermelon.
  • When dishwasher directions tell you not to use dish soap, they’re not kidding.
  • No matter how old you are, if the ice cream falls out of your cone onto the boardwalk, you’re going to want to cry.
  • Just because the dollar store sells steak doesn’t mean you should buy it. This is just common sense, not personal experience.

You’re welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

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50 For 50.

I’ll be turning 50 in seven months. To be honest, it’s the first “milestone” birthday that I haven’t felt great about. On my 30th birthday, I was planning my wedding and had a job I loved. When I turned 40, I was busy with 6- and 2-year-old sons, teaching part-time and freelance writing.

And here I am now, almost 50 — still teaching part-time, still writing. My boys are in high school and middle school; they still need me, but the job of parenting has changed and requires less of my time and more trips to the gas station. My husband and I have, in recent years, often been ships passing in the night, so to speak, as we juggle jobs and parenting.

I’ve been struggling with finding a way to make this birthday meaningful. What gift could someone possibly give me that I don’t already have (except for, let’s say, better vision and a good night’s sleep)?

After seeing several ideas online, I decided to make a commitment to what I’m calling my “50 for 50 Project” — 50 random acts of kindness to celebrate my 50th birthday. I asked friends to join me with their own acts in honor of their own milestone birthdays.

I started today; one down, 49 to go. And I started simple — a handful of post-it notes with cheerful messages, left in random places. I wrote out the notes, and after being sarcastically mocked, not necessarily unexpectedly, by my teenage and almost teen son, I took them with me on a few errands.

post-its

I started at the drive-through at the bank. I planned to leave one of my happy post-its on the drawer after I completed my transaction. But I finished up and took my receipt; the teller didn’t leave her post, and seemed to be challenging me to a staring contest. I chickened out and drove away.

Next stop – the ATM at a different bank. I drove through, took my cash and smiled as I stuck a post-it to the machine. But it immediately fell off and fluttered under my car. I was still determined to brighten someone’s damn day, so I drove up, got out of my car, walked back and stuck the corner of the note into the part of the machine where the cash is dispensed. As I got back into the car, it started making a weird noise, so it’s entirely possible that rather than making someone happy, I broke the ATM.

Off to the supermarket. On the way in, I stuck one of my notes on the seat of a shopping cart. I’d planned to put a few of them on items around the store, but it was jam packed, and I knew I’d feel weird if someone saw me sticking “have a great day” notes on their cereal, so I did my shopping and left. On the way back to the car, I saw that the cart I’d gotten to earlier had been taken, so I imagined someone smiling their way through their shopping. I loaded up my car, and put another happy post-it on my cart before returning it.

I’m going to count this as a successful start, even if it didn’t go exactly as planned. I hope that at least one person found one of my notes and smiled. I hope that each subsequent random act I do will feel a little less weird, but I’m glad I’m taking some steps outside of my comfort zone. And I REALLY hope I didn’t break the ATM.

 

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I’m HOW old?

I recently took one of those silly online tests that “revealed” my true mental age.

28.

I thought it was interesting, because I’ve said for the last few years that 28 is about how old I feel.  And when I say “feel,” I really mean mentally, not physically.  Frankly, my back hurts, I have arthritis in one of my knees, and I’m appropriately stiff when I wake for someone of my actual age.

But when I don’t have these physical reminders, I wonder if I’m the only one who sometimes really forgets how old I am.  Here’s an example:  I was required to get a new ID card for my part-time college teaching job.  On campus one day, I got in line with a bunch of people who I assume were students, and I was quickly whisked into another line by someone working the room, who called “Professor, over here!” pretty loudly.  I turned around to see who he was speaking to, when I suddenly realized it was me.  And I seriously wondered – how in the world did he know I wasn’t a student?  And I was NOT thinking, how did he know I wasn’t an older student who was returning after some break in my education?  I was honestly thinking, how is he so sure that I’m not 20 years old?

28

It seems fairly ridiculous to me now.  I have some pretty obvious markers of my age – some crows feet around my eyes, and one small but noticeable vertical wrinkle on my forehead that I’m starting to get concerned will soon deepen more and cause my face to just crack down the middle.  The collagen in my hands has seemingly evaporated to the point where I’m embarrassed to use one of those super strong air dryers in a public restroom (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, either you have some collagen left, or you’ve never seen the skin on the backs of your hands blown around by a hand dryer.  Check it out and tell me that I’m wrong).

But in my mind, I’m still so youthful.  And I guess that’s what really matters.

Because firmly planted in my 40s, I’m happier, more confident, and so much more sure of who I really am and what it’s important to me than I have been in any other decade of my life.  I’m just doing it all in some more sensible shoes.

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Where’s my walker?

I had a realization in the middle of last night that Dave and I are beginning to settle pretty firmly into middle age.

It wasn’t a dream, or our kids calling us old, or anything like that.  I was awoken around 1:00 a.m. by Dave, asking if we had any Tums.  I sent him to the cabinet where we keep them, asked him for one for myself (apparently, at our age, chili for dinner – even when I make it without beans – is no longer a good idea), and then I got up to go to the bathroom.

The past few nights, we’ve had that awesome cool fall weather at night, and I was oh-so-comfy when I woke up, curled up in my long sleeves and pants.  But once I returned from the bathroom a mere 90 seconds later, I got warm.  I loosened the covers.  Then I got up and changed into a t-shirt.  Then I got hot. Then I got up and changed into shorts.  Then I pulled the covers off.

walker

I think you know what I’m getting at here.

For some reason, I started thinking then about when Dave and I were dating, and we could stay up past midnight.  I didn’t sweat in my jammies, and we didn’t wake up with heartburn. I’m fairly certain we could also tolerate chili.

That said, though, I wouldn’t trade this phase of my life for a stronger stomach, or a flatter stomach, or a good night’s sleep.  I love my life and my family.  I love that Dave wakes up in the morning and has to walk down the steps with two feet at a time, like a toddler, until he stretches out a little.  I love that I’ve started to stash reading glasses in my purse and on every level of the house, because a little extra light just isn’t cutting it anymore.  I love that three years ago on my birthday, Michael (who’d just turned 5 at the time), said to me, “It’s funny that you’re 43.  You really look 44.”

I love that when we DO wake up in the middle of the night, that Dave’s there to laugh with me about problems that, in the scheme of things, we’re lucky to have.

So, okay, I could kind of do without what’s starting to look like weird wrinkles on my neck, but whatever.

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