On Saturday morning my sweet son curled up in bed with me for a weekend snuggle. As he put his little arms around my neck I heard him say, “Mom, you really need to get your hair colored. You’re going grey.”
Gosh, thanks for the reminder. It’s no big secret that I’ve colored my hair for a few years now since my early thirties when it was no longer practical or comfortable to continue trying to pull out the grey. But who needs a reminder from her seven year old that the grey roots are showing? I can see that in the mirror. Just like I can see where the sides of my mouth are starting to droop just a little and the little grooves between my eyes are deepening. My body gets stiff when I sit now and various parts of me hurt for no apparent reason sometimes.
There is no escaping the fact that I am aging. Forty is right around the corner, but the number doesn’t bother me. Honestly I’m ready to leave the thirties behind. There has been lots of good stuff in my last decade, but it’s been hard too with adoption and childbirth, raising young kids, and learning how to balance a career and family.
Even if the number doesn’t bother me, there is still no escaping the fact that I am aging. What actually frightens me is that I’m approaching that milestone of middle age while I’m watching my mother enter into the realm of the truly aged.
My mom was forty-two when I was born and now she is in her eighties. The last few years have been rough with a broken hip, multiple strokes, hospital stays and diminishing rationality. I find myself explaining to my children that the person that they only see as a very old woman was once a fun person who loved to laugh and entertain people in her home. She made holidays special. She loved music. She listened and encouraged. She spent many years pursuing her dream of finishing her education at a time when it wasn’t common for women in their fifties to sit in college classrooms with twenty-somethings.
It’s frightening to see that woman who was so full of life becoming the old lady with a cough drop stuck to her nightgown. It makes me sad. Sad for her as well as sad for my own loss as she shrinks into an unrecognizable shadow of herself.
And more than just making me sad, it scares me. It scares me to realize that the stiffness in my knees now will eventually become the shaky walk of a woman with a walker. It scares me to think the drooping of my lips and the corners of my eyes will become the full-facial melt of the truly aged. It scares me to think about my children considering how to care for me and worrying about how to talk to me about making wise decisions. How quickly the tide turns from child to parent to child again.
I remember the days of summer from my childhood when time seemed to stretch to eternity and back. One day while visiting my grandmother in Colorado, I set out to walk the dirt road beside her house toward the mountains. I must have walked for over an hour before I realized the mountains hadn’t moved an inch. I was just as small and they were just as large as before I started my walk. That was how time felt to me then. It was an endless walk toward a grand destination that was beyond my reach.
But now I know the march of time is unstoppable. Sometime in this last decade that destination has morphed from a grand mountain into something smaller and darker. The road is sliding past me now more quickly each year. I feel the press of passing time deeply and it makes me want to hold each moment more tightly.
The path I am walking now with the conflicting emotions of parenting young children and participating with my siblings in caring for my mother seems too broad to navigate. But perhaps there is a glimmer of wisdom to be found in this stressful mash-up of childhood, middle age and agedness where I find myself standing.
One morning I walked my kids to the bus stop. They ran on ahead of me tugging our little black dog with them, but halfway up the hill my son stopped and ran back to me. He took my hand and walked the rest of the way with me. Already the days of me leading him around by the hand are passing by, but how wonderful to know that he still wants to walk with me.
Walking across the university campus where I work later that day, I walked through the middle of an activities fair where eager freshmen were exploring all their possibilities. The sense of youth and vibrancy was so thick I could almost feel it swirling in the air around me. My own step quickened and I thought fondly of my first few days of college, but I don’t really want to return to those days. Today I would rather walk my kids to the bus stop holding hands on the way. I’d rather go to work and then head home to cook dinner and hang out with my family. I wouldn’t have traded that time for this time, but neither do I want to go back and experience it again.
I saw in that moment a quick glimpse of the hands of time in my life. The seasons spinning around me, but each one with a different shade of beauty. I guess that is the idea of growing older gracefully. Accepting each season for what it is and fully embracing it and then letting go when it is over. I pray I have the wisdom and grace to continue to let go when it’s time and look for the beauty of the moment I am living in right now.
Years ago I watched what I call the most influential movie in my life. Actually it was two movies – the first and second Godfather movies. For me this story illustrated the power of choice that we have in our lives. I was deeply struck by the realization that to live the life that I really want to live, I have to actively make choices every day that will move me in that direction.
You see, I was scared to death to make a decision as freshly minted college graduate. Standing on the brink of finally living my real life, I was completely paralyzed. I wanted to make a leap, but was scared to death of a misstep. What if I made the wrong choice? What if I went the wrong direction?
Watching the Godfather movies made me realize that not making an intentional choice was already a choice. And one choice leads to another choices which leads you deeper into whatever direction you choose.
So I made the choice. For that period of my life it meant packing up all my stuff into a moving truck and moving from the Midwest to Los Angeles. Later on it meant choosing marriage and choosing adoption at an inconvenient time. And then with greater responsibility came the even harder choices of making the daily intentional choices of marriage and parenting.
For work that has meant choosing to pitch a big, hard project when I could have just skated by with easier work. Sometimes it also means choosing to engage in hard conversations with co-workers instead of just letting the status quo rule the day.
So today I ask myself again, ‘what choice do I need to make today to be who I want to be?”
I have a spot on my shirt. It’s from my lunch. I tried to wash it off with my napkin and a little water, but it sunk in. Now I am stuck walking around with this big spot on my shirt until I can get home this evening. It is seriously disrupting my image of myself as a person who is capable of hiding the mess.
I’m not a great housekeeper. I have a tendency to clean by hiding things. When I was a kid, I would shove stuff under my bed until my mom stopped that by storing an extra mattress under my bed. Then I discovered I could put the mess into boxes and store them in the hallway closet and she didn’t seem to notice or she had just run out of energy to fight about it.
Today you are welcome to come over and open my closets, but it’s at your own risk. I do clean them out occasionally, but it’s not my natural inclination. So having a big spot on my shirt is a reminder that sometimes I’m just plain messy. I prefer to hide that fact. I will admit to having messy closets, but I don’t like it when they stare me in the face.
Right now I am struggling with some areas of life that are a little messy. It’s the kind of stuff that you just don’t want to deal with. I would prefer to stuff it into a closet or pack it up in a box and stick it in the garage. But they are festering things that have been left too long and when I try to look at my life from a long-term perspective I know this isn’t the path that I want to be walking on. In the small moments of life it is so easy to shove stuff away and hide from it. In those individual moments I can easily justify a behavior that isn’t my ideal way to act or to be.
In the midst of this chaotic life I am picking too many small moments of justification and not choosing to take the long road’s perspective. The really hard part is that the stuff just gets worse and worse. Things that I should have dealt with a long time ago are still hanging around and now are full-grown monsters instead of the little gerbils they started out as.
Like my shirt with this spot there are some things in life that just need to be changed. Sometimes I’m messy and it haunts me a little. I guess I can keep walking around with it or I can change the shirt.
One morning I stopped by the grocery store to order my daughter’s birthday cake and balloons for her party. While picking between a sheet cake and cupcakes, pink balloons and purple balloons, my mind struggled to find peace in the midst of the huge breadth of human experience. At the same time that I am selecting cakes and balloons and rejoicing in the growth and development of my children, I am aware of the devastation people are experiencing around the world right now. Closer to home, the personal devastation of friends who have lost a baby. Understanding how to handle these kinds of dichotomies of being human has been a long-time struggle for me.
Not too long ago I sat across the table at a restaurant and watched my two adorable children giggle while they enjoyed their ice cream. Watching their two little faces and listening to them chatter about school and friends, I was overwhelmed by the intense beauty of being the mother of these two kids.
I’ve learned something about life from being a mom. Actually, I’ve learned a ton of things, but specifically in this moment I realized something I’ve learned about life and pain and joy. Being a parent is not what I would call an easy thing. There are studies that show that parents today actually record less daily satisfaction than adults with no children. The morning routine of getting everyone out of the house makes me want to cry on a regular basis. Even while I was feeling this wonderful mommy glow my kids spilled ice cream everywhere, one of them wouldn’t sit down and the other left the restaurant crying. But there is something unquantifiable about those moments of intense, overwhelming, joy-filled rushes of knowing your life is significant because of those children.
When I first became a mom, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer difficulty and labor of it. I didn’t know then that it’s normal for moms, especially new moms, to be unhappy and overwhelmed. I didn’t realize then that becoming a mom would show me more about the breadth of human experience than I could even imagine. The peaks and valleys of life have turned out to be far more intense than I anticipated. The experience of being a human has turned out to be more filled with joy and tragedy, heartbreak and hope than I could even begin to imagine when I was a child.
What I have learned from being a parent is that life is hard and that’s ok. There isn’t going to be an even-keeled, smooth level of emotion through out life. Some days are going to suck. Sometimes there will be horrible tragedy that is beyond bearing. Some times the daily grind just becomes a grey swirl of exhaustion. There is often a soul-tearing sense of loss and confusion caused by the dichotomy of the good things and the hard things.
What I am learning now is to accept each moment of time as a wave crashing against the beach. The good and the bad come in and flow out. I want to savor the good while it swirls around me and accept and then release the difficult ones.
So I go shopping for birthday presents for my daughter and I say thanks for the capacity to give her good gifts. Later on when she won’t go to bed and keeps whining while my head hurts, I pray for patience and remember those whose suffering is more than I can even imagine.
I’m going to savor the good while it swirls around me and accept, then release the difficult. I think there I will find peace in the tension between valley and peak.
I’m a starter. I like to start things. I have lots of ideas. Plenty of ways to get going, but I have never been very good at finishing. Lots of times I just let things trickle away. I have a great idea, lots of initial energy, but then slowly the energy fades and eventually I get restless and bored with the process and I want to move on.
That’s not a big deal if you are talking about a pet project, but what if your work requires you to complete a lot of projects? A paycheck is one kind of motivation, but sometimes that is not enough for me to not just complete it, but finish with excellence.
Recently I have been pushed to finish some difficult projects. This has primarily meant pushing through my lack of energy and loss of motivation. Through this I am learning to recognize the main problem I have with finishing.
It mostly comes down to recognizing my fear. Over the years I have come to realize that my own doubts and fears are the primary reason why I have a problem finishing. Struggling with these fears has become the central point of my learning to finish. The fear of failure and the fear of not reaching my desired level of perfection keeps me from being able to complete or finish well.
I have realized that the only real option is to look straight into the eyes of fear and refuse to back down. Acknowledge the fear and accept the option of failure. Accept the possibility that my expectations will not be met. Open my arms to failure, disappointment and discouragement and allow them to have space in my life.
By not allowing failure, disappointment and discouragement any place in my life, I also freeze my own creativity and inspiration. However, when I accept the possibility of failure and risk releasing my work to criticism, I have the opportunity to finish with excellence doing my best work.