It’s February, and I’m still trying to shake my new year’s angst. I made a single resolution this year – to get more sleep – and I think I liked life better when I was too exhausted to focus on the big picture. This is the first time in 10 years that I haven’t been pregnant or with a child under the age of 2. When I started I was in the last days of my 20s. Now I look up and 40 is two inches away from my face.
It’s not that I’m depressed – I am just stunned that I went from young adulthood to middle age in such a daze. Truly I’m grateful for my kind husband, amazing children and the crazy whirlwind of pregnancy, nausea, nursing, bottles, diapers, cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry and sleep deprivation of the last decade. I think I enjoyed my 30s. But really I never stopped moving to take it in.
I guess it’s midlife is when you’ve passed the big happy milestones – adulthood, college graduation, marriage, births of children. Midlife is the sober realization that the big milestones ahead are sad ones. The big picture is tough to take.
The little picture isn’t so bright either. This week I examined my face in a magnifying mirror for the first time in years. I bought the mirror a year and a half ago when we moved into our new house, immediately realized it was a mistake and stuck it in the back of a drawer. Since I don’t blow dry my hair or wear makeup, I find it pretty easy to avoid mirrors. But in my broody state of mind I decided to face my age, writ large. What a shock. My forehead looks like a topographical map. I have funny bumps that didn’t exist before. I have laugh lines even when my face is frozen in horror.
It’s been a cold January. After this week’s ice storm, we’ve been in a glassy landscape here. Everything is covered with a shiny glaze, as if the world has been lacquered. The trees are like crystal.
I saw the amusingly insightful Nora Ephron speak about getting older at Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference a few years ago, and she said if she knew then what she knows now, she would have walked around in a bikini until age 30. Such is the irony – we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. But maybe that’s the key to a happy middle age. I’ve lost some – it’s been years since I expected my lost train of thought to return, and I patiently scan for visual cues when I wonder why I came to the pantry – but these are only hints that serve as a reminder for me to appreciate and care for all that is still here.
I look at the young girls in the mostly-teen dance class I take each week, and they are hunched over, tentative, awkward. I want to say, “Stand straight! Be confident! Don’t be so serious! Enjoy your youth!” But they wouldn’t understand.
Experience is the great gift of age. I give thanks daily for all that I have. I know who I am. I’m blessedly free of youthful feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness. I stand straight, and I say what I think. I understand much more of what I see and realize that much of my experience as a younger person went over my head. I get it now.
In my youth I lived too much inward. Now I have the confidence to look out. In the next decade I want to pause more to take in the moments that fly by faster each year. I don’t want so much time to pass me by again in a hurry of busyness.
As for the mirror, it’s staying out. My face will need some better care in the coming years. And though it looks old compared to ten years ago, I know that in ten years I will look back and think how young I looked then.
In 39 years I’ve learned a few things. January is cold. February is short. Winter comes, but in time spring comes too.
Happy Chinese New Year, everyone. This is the year of the rabbit.