Some bitter pills are easier to swallow, especially when they involve someone thinking that you’re much younger than you actually are, no less when you’re about to turn 50 in four weeks.
So was the case during a recent life-writing class when our group was discussing funny sayings that we heard growing up from our parents or grandparents, such as, “What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?” and so on. Then that evolved into me saying something like, “Do you remember the first time you sounded just like your parents (to your utter shock) about how things were when you were young, and how they need to respect this or that.
We all nodded in unison, laughing, as I shared the times when my nieces and nephew would come stay with me on their spring breaks. I was and remain a fun laid-back auntie, but admittedly felt like I was channeling my Dad Leo a bit, as I returned from a long day of work, only to find every light in the house on and perishable food left out on the counter.
One of our writers, Jason, who is in his 60s, turned to me very sweetly and said, “Just wait until you have your own kids someday.” I looked over at Beth, who of course heard his comment too, and gave her a, “Oh yeah” look. She later said what a compliment it was because I look so young. This was the bitter pill that is sweeter to swallow.
So I took his comment as just that – a compliment, even though I was tempted to say back, “Well I’m about to turn 50 and don’t have a uterus anymore, but thanks for the sentiment!”
Beth and I had a good laugh about it later, as we often do daily – mostly about what his reaction would have been if I had actually said just that. As we did our download about class the next day and looked over our to-do list on the calendar, I gasped a bit when I saw my birthday was 28 days away. I’ve never been this way about any age – given that it’s literally just a number. But there’s something about this middle-age mark that’s been tugging at my heart.
I wish it was vanity because then I would just laugh at myself. But upon looking more inward, I realized it was more about where I am in my life and who is, or isn’t, in it. Jason had no way of knowing how old I was, much less how many years I had tried to have babies or how I lost a child.
It’s an immense heartache that I can’t seem to ever fully outrun or forget, despite my ever present, “go do that dream” attitude instead. I don’t fixate on it or feel sorry for myself too long, or let it define who I am today. But I still feel it in so many ways.
I feel it whenever I play with or hug a child who I love, and wish I was cuddling with my own kids when I lay down to sleep. I think of it every November 19th when I count how many years old my child would have been. Whenever I watch one of my nieces and nephews play a game or dance at a recital, when they graduate, at their birthday parties, or whenever I see a touching family storyline on TV, especially during “This is Us.”
The difference between feeling it when I was 35 years old and now at 49 is a whole new acceptance of that emotion. I’m used to everyone always asking me at school functions or parties which kid is mine or how many children do I have. They don’t mean any harm by it, nor do I ever let it bother me or make me sad anymore. I got very used to it over the years, as all of my closest people got pregnant, and I found myself just as happy for them as if I was getting the news myself.
It’s the other moments that squeezed my chest so much that I couldn’t breathe and had to fight back the tears. Moments like when my nephew Adam was 4 and he grabbed my cheeks as he sat on my lap and asked if I was a mama. I cried then and I do now, but with the experience to know that it’s ok to let those tears come when they need. I just can’t let them drown me or get lost in the what if’s. Then it’s time to think about what I can control and still make happen in my life.
It wasn’t until Jason said just wait until you have kids that it really hit me how far in life I have traveled, and despite my best efforts in going after other dreams, at the end of the day it’s just me and my dog, Belle. Don’t get me wrong, I love my baby girl completely and would be lost without her. She and Pup are my children in every way imaginable, but it does not escape me that our time together is limited. I won’t be able to see her grow past a dog’s age and get married or have grandbabies. Nor does it escape me how many other parents have lost children and spouses, or partners who thought they they’d grow old together too.
It’s all part of life and sometimes having to swallow the sourest of lemons and then take a gulp and say, “That’s just the way it is.”
With age comes the wisdom that we all have our stuff, and the memory of one of those old sayings that my Mama always said, “We all have our crosses to bear.”
And we do. Perhaps some appear heavier than others to our naked eye, especially if we’re not the one carrying it. Only the heart knows how heavy the burden – just as the heart reminds us that it is made up of many people and events that have defined us in far greater ways than we perhaps remember.
This is why I am going to spend the next 28 days and beyond writing the stories of my life. The people, places, and events that helped shape this heart of mine. I already have a pretty good idea that it’s going to remind me just how much I’ve lived, all I’ve done, and perhaps most importantly that at the end of the day, it’s not just me.
Call it a social experiment. A gut check. A reality check. An inventory check. I’m just going to call it, “This is Me at 50.”