Maybe it’s not a crisis. Maybe more of a mid-life transition, or, as my friend Josie called it, a Mid-Life-Adjustment. Whatever it is, it has occupied a big space in my brain and heart over the past year or so. And having talked to many friends I’m realizing that I’m not alone. Something happens around now in our lives, and it feels different. There I was, bumping along a pretty challenging, but predictable path, and now suddenly there’s a big turn to make.
I went to Peter’s pre-k orientation this fall and they surprised me with the news that they’d enrolled Peter in more school hours than I had expected. Of course I know I didn’t have to accept this schedule, but I had a big pit in my stomach as I sat there in his school with the teacher telling me all the reasons why this would be so great for Peter. I wasn’t prepared for this kind of separation yet, wasn’t expecting to have to do it until kindergarten next year. And it wasn’t really about the separation from Peter. It was about the separation from this life covered with babies and little kids. As much as I had fantasized over the years about how much I could get done once all my kids were in school, I wasn’t emotionally prepared for life without little ones clamoring at my calves.
Peter has been going to school more that we had planned this year, and during the fall it didn’t feel so strange since life was so packed with photo shoots and holiday prep. In fact, it felt pretty fantastic to get so many things done without interruption. But now that we’ve settled into a new year and the novelty of it has worn off I’m finding myself more aware of this big mid-life transition.
I’m sure everyone experiences mid-life differently. But in processing this transition for myself I’ve discovered a few things. First, the root of it? I think it’s that I’ve come to the end of my flushed out life vision. Growing up my parents and church leaders and school teachers and mentors helped me to use my own desires and talents and ambitions to craft a vision for my life. That vision included college and graduate school and starting in on a career and finding a soul mate and becoming a mother. But it sort of ended there. Of course I knew there was life beyond that horizon, that kids would grow up, that life wouldn’t end once I’d had my last child. But I never created a real vision for it. I’m not sure why, but talking to friends and family I’m finding that this is a common experience.
This fall I spent lots of time running in the Fells listening to music (something I haven’t done much since I’ve found such a great running partner). I have a totally cheesy country song on my play list that pretty much does me in every time I listen to it. It always has. It’s called “You’re Gonna Miss This.” The cheesier than cheese lyrics run you through a story of a girl who is always wishing for the next stage to arrive and being reminded by others who have lived longer about how much she’s gonna miss each stage once it’s gone. As embarrassing as it is, I’ve listened to this teary eyed through the years and it’s been a good reminder to live in the moment, to appreciate the season I’m in without rushing to the next. But this fall my mid-life transition/adjustment/crisis lens made me hear this song differently. It dawned on me that it has quite a problematic ending. Here is the last stanza/chorus.
Five years later there's a plumber workin' on the water heater
Dog's barkin', phone's ringin'
One kid's cryin', one kid's screamin'
She keeps apologizin'
He says "They don't bother me
I've got two babies of my own
One's thirty six, one's twenty three
Huh, it's hard to believe, but
You're gonna miss this
You're gonna want this back
You're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you're gonna miss this
While that stanza has really resonated with me for the past 11 childbearing years it hit me that…what the heck!…that’s the end of the song! The writer didn’t go on to describe the next stage that we will one day miss. I doubt it was intentional, but somehow that ending sends a message that there’s no more life to miss after this stage with little kids clamoring at our calves. Do we just spend the second half of our lives pining for the days with a house full of little ones?
I’ve spent a lot of energy over the past decade wishing the chaos away, waiting for some time to come up and breath, and now you’re telling me I’m going to spend the next 20 years wanting it back? I sure hope not.
I’m determined not to go that route, not to believe that message. These have been golden years, I can see that even more clearly now that I’m teetering on the other end, about to move into a whole new stage. Even though those days were long and monotonous, those childbearing years were fleeting. But I know life has all kinds of richness as kids grow up, as nests grow larger and then empty, as our children expand into bigger spaces in the world and we age into new stages of mothering.
I’m in a place where I’m not surrounded by friends and acquaintances who have moved onto this next stage. I’m far from my sisters who are doing this so gracefully, and because of where we live our church congregation is comprised of lots of families younger than we are, there are only two families who have teenagers and not a whole lot of older women who’ve lived through similar mothering circumstances as mine.
So, I’m looking for mentors. And I’m finding them in all kinds of places. I’m watching sisters and asking my mom and reaching out to friends and reading and thinking and asking and working hard to craft a vision that extends way down the road. A vision that helps me see who I want to be in this next stage, what I want to accomplish, what I want to learn and experience, how I want to feel, how I want to love.
Because I don’t want to go through the last half of my life wishing I was re-living the first half.
I’m hoping to get some help to write a few more stanzas of that cheesy song. Who can tell me what I’ll miss about this stage with bigger kids, what I’ll miss about teenagers? What I’ll miss about empty nesting and retirement?
I really think with a little more perspective and deliberate processing I can create a new vision that will ease me through this transition, help me to feel full and alive, allow me to live in the present, enriched by the happy memories of the past and excited by the promise of a full and challenging and pretty great future.
There are good things to come.
(Stay tuned for part 2 of my mid-life crisis, more practical things I’m trying to do to ease this transition. Would love to know how others out there have navigated this transition. Please share! I have a feeling I’m just at the very beginning of trying to unpack this and figure out how to make my way through.)