Who the heck’s she talking about? I wondered after the words “middle aged” rolled off my doctor’s tongue. Thorough examination of the doctor’s office revealed that she and I were alone in the room, which meant she’d just called me “middle aged.”
No way. Nuh-uh. I mean, it’s only been, what? A decade since I graduated?
. . . from law school?
Still, a couple of months passed and I dismissed my doctor’s errant description. “Not yet. Got a few more years yet.”
And then. Then came my dear friend, 23 years of age, crashing in my living room after escaping a terrible relationship. She bubbled over with exciting stories about her days in her new state of residence. The stories alone made me want to crawl into bed as I interrupted her with admonitions for my son: “No, no, don’t eat that,” or “The dog is not a horse!”
She texted and talked with friends while I mapped out my grocery lists, cooked, and talked with my fiancee about exciting things like budgets and doctor visits.
It occurred to me I probably wasn’t quite as spry as I used to be, but I still wasn’t ready to don the title of “middle aged.”
And then. Then one of my dear friend’s girlfriends came to pick her up for a girl-date. As I dried my hands of dishwater, I introduced myself, saying, “You know, my doctor called me ‘middle aged’ recently. I didn’t buy it until just now, seeing you gals getting ready to go out just as I’m wondering which PJs to wear. In, oh, four minutes.”
They left looking shiny and vibrant in their cute clothing and perfect make-up. In their wake, I looked down at my comparatively frumpy clothing for a few seconds before my eyes landed on a stack of self-help books, conveniently located near a bag of clothing to drop by the dry cleaner.
So this is middle age, I thought. Somehow I imagined it’d be more depressing.
Do I creak a little more than I used to? Sure. Do I forego drinks because hangovers really aren’t worth it? Yup.
Do I miss five-inch heels and being out at 2 a.m.? Oh, hell no.
I’ve got way too many self-help books to read for that.
How do you define middle age? If you’ve already reached it, when did you realize you probably already had?
Dropping my son off for his first day of preschool was a challenge. Four days of classes later, picking him up is the challenge. He’s so happy at preschool, the thought of going home with me is about as pleasing to him as, oh, spinach and sardine cake. There’s kicking. There’s screaming. There’s biting, flailing, whining, limp-going, screaming, and all manner of behavior I didn’t even know my son knew.
After another showdown yesterday, complete with lots of screaming in the car afterward, I stopped for food. “Where are we going, Mama?” Li’l D asked.
“I’m going to dump you in a trash can,” I mumbled under my breath, or so I thought. I opened the car door, began putting on the shoes he’d thrown in a fit of pique and was marveling at the sudden silence when I felt a hand on my shoulder. Li’l D quietly implored me, “Mama, please don’t put me in the trash bin.”
“Oh, sweetie!” I said, mortified with myself. “I love you. I would never, ever put you in the trash can.”
He climbed out of the car and hugged me tight. “I’m not going in the trash can?”
“No,” I thought, feeling like I might deserve a dive there myself. “We’re getting food.”
“Oh. I love you, mama!” Immediately afterward, he began daydreaming aloud everything we’d eat, leaving me a chance to marvel at how quickly kids move on . . . and reflecting how I, as the adult in our relationship, should probably strive to seek–and communicate!–adult-appropriate solutions in the future.
Once upon a time, there was a rebellious girl who could do little right by her parents. This girl watched the adoration showered upon her younger sister and vowed that she would someday love each of her children equally, be they rowdy or be they respectful.
When she became a parent, she lived true to her vow. There were many things she didn’t do perfectly or could have done better, but each of her three sons knew how truly they were loved.
As they grew, she would look upon them fondly and reflect aloud on her old age to come. “When I am elderly,” she would say, “Middle, you will be the one to take care of me. You will be here in body and in spirit. Oldest, you will be here in spirit, but not in body. Youngest, you will be here in body, but not in spirit.”
Middle would hug her and cry, “Please don’t ever get sick or go away, Mother!”
She would hug Middle and say, “I cannot prevent these things, sweetheart, but I will be with you as long as I can.”
Oldest would protest, “But, Mother, I love you too!”
She would pat Oldest’s knee and say, “I know you do, sweetheart! But you are a wanderer, and you will go all the places your heart leads you.”
Youngest would protest, “But, Mom, I love you too!”
She would stroke Youngest’s hair and say, “I know you do, sweetheart! But you dream so many beautiful things, it will be hard for you to forsake those for this world.”
Many years later, when her sons had grown, she fell ill. As her body dwindled, each of her sons loved her in the ways they knew how.
When her body could no longer fight the cancer that had spread throughout her body, she died.
Oldest was there in spirit, but far away in body.
Middle was there in body and spirit.
Youngest was there in body.
Often in the days and months that followed his mother’s death, Oldest would curse himself for not being there to hold his mom as she died. He would feel unworthy of forgiveness and unforgivable.
But sometimes, he would remember his mother’s gentle words: You will be here in spirit, but not in body. In these moments, he would whisper a “thank you” to his mom for her wisdom in sharing the future she foresaw. It was as if she’d not only anticipated Oldest’s sorrow but bestowed upon him the grace he’d need to know she wouldn’t forgive him if she were alive.
Why, indeed, would she dream of forgiving him for being who he was? Who she’d encouraged him to be? She’d be far more likely to throw her head back and laugh before saying, “Should I forgive you for breathing, too?”
In these moments of thanks, Oldest renews his mother’s childhood vow. He will love each of his own children fiercely and equally, so that his love for his children also endures long after he is able to whisper it to them in the present
(c) 2011 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
10/30/08, a few hours into being 30
As I start to type this, my 20s are 38 minutes departed.
Now, for the first time, I say:
I’ve looked forward to this birthday for years. Striving for Gandalf-like wisdom and awesomeness, I have dismayed in my youngness and lack of gray hairs.
To answer your questions before you ask them, no. No, I do not possess a magical staff the likes of which to defeat mad, powerful, and mad powerful wizards with. No, I have never defeated a balrog. And finally, yes, 30′s a far cry from 400…
…but it’s a step in the right direction!
I no longer wish to actually be Gandalf, but I remain excited by this birthday. I’m excited to know not only that I made it this far, which given my childhood was not a certainty, but that I made it.
I haven’t just lived to 30, which alone would have stunned me half my life ago to foresee. I’ve lived.
5/24/11, about halfway between 32 and 33
Yesterday, author Rusty Fischer gave my novel The Monster’s Daughter a five-star review, the title of which I’ve borrowed for this entry.
Even if I’d navigated away after taking in the stars and the title, I would have been exuberant.
I absolutely did not stop with the title. That’s a good thing, too, because the review itself was even better. See, for example:
Often funny, majorly sad, equally scary and powerfully poignant, Ginny is such a great character; one of the most realistic I’ve read in YA fiction — and I’m not just talking YA vamp fiction, either! It struck me as I read The Monster’s Daughter how without the vampire parts it would still be a riveting, dark and lyrical tale of one dysfunctional family; almost any dysfunctional family.
To me, this said: Your book accomplished exactly what you hoped it would. That’s exhilarating stuff.
As I drove home twenty minutes later, I reflected on that review. I thought of how, because of my childhood, my hopes have always exceeded my expectations for my life.
Every time something wonderful happens, I recall my birthday letters to my friends. In those letters, I’ve thanked my friends for helping my life become more full of wonder by far than I ever allowed myself to believe it might. What could be a better time to reflect on the came-before and the yet-to-come than a birthday, after all?
My next birthday email will include a few new bullets. As I type out those bullets one October to come, I’ll be thinking of where I came from. Where I’m going. All the people whose actions and words have helped get me there. And I’ll be thankful, as always, for people taking time out to lend a hand or share a kind word. It’s those graces that get me through the hard times . . . and make the already good ones, those such as I am blessed to live right now, a millionfold brighter.
ETA: I’ve added a few date references to clarify it’s not actually my birthday today, though this entry refers to a personal birthday tradition. I’m loving the preview of the warm wishes I can expect for my 33rd birthday!