I have for several years suspected it, and only recently confirmed it: I am middle-aged. This is a somewhat fluid term used to define the midpoint(ish) period of a person’s life based on life expectancy. I am 41 years old, and my alarming trend of being a 40-something shows no sign of reversing or even slowing. And since the average life expectancy of a female these days is 81 years, that would make me … middle-aged.
This is not to say that I usually feel middle-aged. My skin is still as oily as it was the day I turned thirteen. Despite the fine lines that are settling in around my eyes, I have a baby face that will ensure that I will be ID’d for every bottle of wine I will ever buy for the rest of my life. I have yet to find a gray hair on any part of my body.
I also don’t feel middle-aged because I have tiny children. The conventional wisdom goes that old ladies don’t have little children.
The day I brought my son home from the hospital, I turned 34. At that age, I was exactly twice the age my mother was when she had me. I’ve experienced motherhood as a, ah…mature adult, and I’ve experienced being raised by a teenager.
I think I’ve put my finger on the pros and cons of my situation…
1. I’m tired. Oh, so tired. In my early thirties, I found that caffeine consumed after my morning coffee made me jittery and caused my heart to do funny things. I swore off afternoon caffeine for years. Until now. On the days that I am home with my children, I make an extra cup of coffee in the morning and set it aside for such time as when I sit and literally can’t … get … up, because I have hit…the…wall. And you know what? There are no more jitters following mid-day coffee, and no cardiac acrobatics. My body grudgingly accepts the dose of energy as an essential part of getting through the day.
2. By the time I get to do things again, I’ll be really old. Facebook, that yardstick with which I often smack myself around, gives me a window into the lives of my friends and acquaintances who had children right out of the gate. Date nights, trips to Europe, intimate dinners – these are all a regular features in their lives now, and are rubbed in my face as I gaze dumbly at my computer screen over my warmed-over cup of afternoon coffee.
3. I’ll die soon. Okay, when I say soon, I mean sooner than a twenty-something who right now has small children might die if we both reach average life expectancy. She gets to spend about sixty years with her children, while I only get to spend about fifty with mine. To try to beat these numbers, I have been paying strict attention to my diet for several years, and have started torturing my body at the gym for the last several months. I’ll outlive that smug twenty-something if it kills me.
1. I’m only a little bit broke. I used to be a lot broke. We had established careers long before ever having our first child. I grew up with a struggling mother who was trying to finish her education and build a career while raising a child. Life was stressful for her, which pretty much meant that life was stressful for me too. I’ve seen some people in my family struggle as young parents as well. My struggle - and it was an epic one - took place before the children arrived.
2. I’ve already lived my life for me. Now I can live it for them. I finished college, went to parties, dated around, drank lots of wine, stayed up late, slept in, got a head start on a career, and had weekends away with my husband. I’ll never wonder what those things are like because I got to live a fairly full life before the children arrived. I have much more that I want to do, but for now, I am satisfied.
3. I’m much nicer than I used to be. When I was younger, I could be a little tyrant in my relationships. I don’t like to admit that, but it’s true. A lot of my loved ones were on the receiving end of my raised eyebrow or disapproving little glances. Over time, I’ve mellowed considerably and am evolving into the person I had always hoped to be. This is a much better time in my life for me to be in charge of sweet, noisy children. My home is a hotspot of clamorous chaos and activity with which I rarely disapprove, because I am kinder, I am wiser, and I am tired. Oh, so tired.