Later this week I will turn 46. It is not a particularly exciting birthday, but what is note-worthy is having your child turn 21, which also happens this week. How did this guy…
become this guy?
I can deny gravity’s impact on my body. I can ignore the aches and pains. I can allow my increasingly faulty vision to blur the crow’s feet around my eyes. But I cannot deny that my little boy will soon be able to legally buy alcohol. And that is a strange feeling. I don’t feel old enough to have a 21 year old, and yet I have watched him grow up. I don’t feel old enough to have a child who is a junior in college, and yet I have seen the tuition bills. I don’t feel old enough to go out with my son for a beer, and yet that is exactly what we will be doing soon to celebrate his birthday.
I used to think of 46 as quite old. I remember in 8th grade discussing the year 2000. It was 1982 and I was 13. I did the math to figure out how old I would be at the momentous occasion. 30? Wow. Life would practically be over, I thought. When I was 18, my mom told me that she and my dad were separating. She was 41 at the time. My thought was, “Why divorce at this stage of your life?” I wondered what she could possibly want that would cause her to make such a radical change. At 18 I was still thinking of people in their 30’s and 40’s as old. Coasting through life. Boring. Maybe even stagnant.
Of course I would learn that those decades are anything but boring. They are ripe with opportunities to learn and grow. My 30’s was a decade of self-discovery. I explored interests and discovered talents I didn’t know I had. I carved out the life I wanted as I raised my children, and I lived it with great pleasure. I became increasingly less interested in what I was supposed to do and instead focused on what I wanted to do. I took on leadership roles in volunteer positions and studied areas of interest including a foreign language. One of the best opportunities was a weekly visit my daughter and I made to my grandparents, who lived about an hour away. The stories I heard while we ran errands, the recipes I learned while we prepared lunches, the affection I received as they faced their mortality, these were priceless gifts. The visits started off as social in nature. As my grandparents aged and their abilities lessened, the visits became a lifeline for them. It was a humbling transition for all of us I think. And it was a time that was rich and full and sacred. Those weekly visits that lasted almost a decade still shape the person I am today.
As I neared 40, I began intensive counseling to understand myself on a deeper level. I wanted to face my demons and battle them. I learned how patterns that had developed early in my life were still impacting the way I handle stress, conflict, and disappointment. I became empowered to be the person I want to be. My demons weren’t nearly as complex as I had assumed. It was hard and sometimes painful work. It wasn’t up to others to change. I could change. And I did change. I strove to be healthier physically. Having always abhorred exercise in the past, I was now playing recreational soccer frequently and I loved it. I was eating better. I was stronger mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I felt better at 40 than I had at 25.
My 40’s is proving to be a decade of personal accomplishments. I began full time work again. After a few years in a job that was not my passion, I went back to school. Three years of full time schooling followed and I graduated. I don’t typically put much stock in degrees or credentials because, well, let’s be honest, a piece of paper does not guarantee much of anything. I have known people with impressive resumes who turned out to be completely ineffective, and I have known people with virtually no resume at all who amazed and inspired me. But I worked hard for my degree and I am proud of it.
In the midst of these wonderful accomplishments, it should be noted that there has been plenty of shit too. There are days that I seem to forget everything I have learned. There are challenges I don’t feel prepared to face. There are disappointments and hurts and fears. I have days where I don’t want to get out of bed. And I still manage to make plenty of mistakes. But because it’s nearly my birthday, I am celebrating the good today. My life is far from perfect, but it is my life. And I am grateful for all of the years in it thus far. My grandparents lived into their 90’s. Maybe I have recently entered my life’s second half. If that is the case, I still have so much to live, learn, and enjoy. I am still young. And yet I am not.
There are things about aging that I don’t like. I don’t like having wrinkles deepen to the point of where they never fully disappear. I don’t like needing a longer recovery time after my soccer games. I don’t like having to be more intentional about what I eat so that my clothes continue to fit. But I do love how I’ve gotten to know who I am and what I want. I love that I’ve become gentler toward myself and others. I love that I know what I am looking for in relationships. And I love that my streaks of white hair look like “blonde” highlights. To being 46 and to my boy, of whom I couldn’t be more proud, here’s to the both of us – CHEERS!