Ok, ok…yes, I know I will most likely not live to 100, so I guess technically the second half of my life started a while ago. One week from today, my only child will be on her way to New York City to start a new career and a new life. The empty nest status will be official. And even though she’s been away at a college in another state for four years, there was always that chance – however tiny – that she would land in her hometown area after graduation. I knew and had accepted that it was a microscopically small chance. Nonetheless, the chance has evaporated and she will be on the road to what I can only hope is the start of an amazing life as an adult in this crazy world we’ve all created for her. And I am left with trying to shape what will be, for all practical purposes, the second half of my life.
You would think that 50+ years on this earth would have made me better prepared, that I would now have a clear vision of who I am and what I want to accomplish. You would be wrong. So incredibly wrong. I feel like I know nothing right now. So, where to begin……. how about I ask myself some questions – hard, easy, funny, serious….. some I already know the answer to, some I may never know the answer to… but I have to start somewhere.
What am I doing right now that really has purpose? What is “purpose” anyway? I work to make money to pay bills and live. So, is it fair to say that my job’s purpose is very straightforward and unemotional? Yes, I think so. It is not emotionally or creatively fulfilling. It’s a paycheck, a means to an end. Period.
Am I filling my spare time with “purpose”? Not too long ago, I would have answered with a definitive “yes”. Not now. When the boundaries between my job and my hobbies become blurred, is that ok, or is it time to make a change that will re-draw those boundaries? No immediate answer comes to mind.
Am I even filling my spare time, and is it really necessary to do so? I constantly marvel at people who have their calendars literally filled six or eight months in advance. For example, today is June 13th and if someone says “Get out your calendars. Tell me which Sundays in October are good for you?” I think to myself that I am really doing something wrong, because all of the Sundays in October are good for me right now. Or …… am I doing something right?
Am I a good (________ fill in the blank: mother, wife, friend)? I am consumed with self-doubt about this. As human sub-categories go, these three are the trifecta. Of the three, I am most confident in my success as a mother. Now, my daughter is probably one of the most hard-working, talented and all-around nicest people I know, and while I give her sole credit for almost all of it, I do believe that her father and I had a little bit to do with it. I credit it to the constant battle that came with parenting in the 90’s and the aughts – the battle between the “spare the rod, spoil the child” mentality and the “my child is a special snowflake who reigns supreme wherever she goes” mentality. A particularly tough battle for parents of an only child and one that we fought gamely. Our goal was to strike a balance between the two, and it involved a lot of self-evaluation as parents throughout the past 21 years. I like to think we did ok. I will leave it to my readers to decide which mentality is winning the battle nowadays… Then there’s the question of marriage. Empty nest. Is the nest really empty or does it just need a bit of shrinking so that it’s easier to fill? And I don’t just mean our “physical” nest. We all have a “mental” nest that represents our overall approach to our personal lives. Am I a wife who is capable of adapting? Can I find the time and make the effort for my husband so that we can rediscover what it’s like to focus on just the two of us? And if I do, will he actually be there? Friends………… now that’s a hot button topic and probably, of the trifecta to which I previously referred, where I am most filled with doubt. Am I a good friend? Is it really better to have just a handful of really close friends or to have scads of drinking buddies and exercise buddies and this buddies and that buddies? I’ve never had scads of friends of any sort. I know scads of people who I call “friends”, but I am not in that category of friend with these people that yields invites to “hang”, or invites to weddings or anything of that sort. Perhaps I am just too self-involved (as evidenced by this blog…?.) . I have an obsessive personality that can devolve into stubborn, self-centered, tunnel-visioned behavior, and I ask myself, “Who in their right mind would put up with me?” and the answer inevitably comes back “It takes a very special person to put up with you, Tina.” Am I worth it? Well, as I get older, I guess I’m more and more inclined to think that I am, but I’m just never quite sure.
Will I ever stop quoting Seinfeld? Doubtful. Someday, I’ll be in Assisted Living and be telling the other residents that Nurse so-and-so bothers me because she’s a low-talker who has “man hands.”
Will I ever be able to maintain a normal weight? Doubtful. Just as I am now discovering healthy grains, the magical world of greens beyond iceberg lettuce, and the joys of eating smaller portions of really fresh and fabulous dishes in restaurants, I am heavier than I’ve ever been in my life. Menopause and my hatred of exercise are, I’m sure, the main culprits. It’s not like I haven’t tried to be physically active. There are just other things I’d rather be doing. Salt. Another demon. In my advancing years, I have developed a salt craving, and I swear that in my previous life, I was a goat hanging out by the salt lick all day.
Will I ever stop singing or loving music? God, I hope not. Nope folks, I am not a music professional in any way, shape or form. But music is a part of who I am. I live it. I breathe it. I actually understand and believe in the true meaning of Barry Manilow’s “I Write The Songs”. I do live my life in song lyrics. Out of all the moving parts that make up who I am as a human being, this is the rock solid constant that I will never doubt.
It appears that I have no fewer question marks now than I did when I was 21. Maybe we never rid ourselves of them and they are like clay – changing in shape and size as we age and gain life experiences. It has become quite clear to me that I will always be a mother, even when my child is 500 or 1000 or however many miles away. And I will always be there, even if only in spirit or voice, to celebrate her triumphs and help her with her sorrows. I have also come to realize that adult children are still children, no matter how old we both get – she will always be a part of me and I will drop everything to help her if she asks. My husband and I are in our marriage together, and we can only define the remaining years together. As for me as a friend, my early experiences in life have left me hyper-critical of myself and try as I might, this may never change. For me, the true measure of an amazing friendship is being able to share fully in the great stuff and the not so great stuff (not entirely unlike a marriage), to know when to talk and when to shut the hell up and listen (I’m still working on that), and (also like marriage) to never take it for granted, no matter how many years go by. I never understood any of this when I was younger. I do now.
What will the next “half” of my life bring? I recently blogged about change and embracing change ~ What is a Life Without Change ~ and really, I can’t know what the rest of my life will bring, and whatever comes, I can either face it or just whither and die. But I don’t think I will ever stop asking these questions. Nor should I.