Grab a Magnifying Glass, We’re Gazing at a Navel Again

Saturdays are always stupid online. Nothing happens, as folks are mostly busy doing laundry, mowing lawns, shopping, or attending kids’ sporting activities.

I’ve scheduled a couple of social events with some moms and found a speculative-fiction discussion group to join. I’m sick and tired of living an isolated friendless life and will do more to find folks to really connect with. Literary Twitter has provided me with a few good pals, but I want real local friends. I’m done waiting to magically be befriended. I will start asking more people do go to stuff and I will override my many, many self-protection mechanisms that make me closed off and aloof because I want to avoid getting judged or hurt, and I will instead act as I am, warts and all, and people can take it or leave it.

I have also entered a weird cultural phase, in that I have decided I would indulge my longtime curiosity for things that are considered somewhat lowbrow. Think monster truck rallies and demolition derbies. Think country music. I still love everything else that I’ve always loved, highbrow or not (e.g., a variety of genres of popular music and much classical music; literary as well as speculative fiction; poetry; all visual art), but I will stop being a self-policing douche. I will no longer censor myself out of interesting experiences.

I’m 45 and healthy. That means I have another 20-25 years, maybe more, of good, active living. I am not ready to give up, to just coast through this sedentary, monotonous suburban life until I drop dead. So I’m getting out and moving, really moving. Might enter a race in the spring. We’ll see.

There are people around me who insist that life is basically over, that there are no more big milestones ahead and the only interesting things will be happening to our kids. Sometimes, I think these people are correct. But when I let myself believe this, I feel really low, I wonder what’s the point of  living if there’s nothing to look forward to. So I refuse to believe that there’s nothing on the horizon. There are new experiences and new people and new connections. I hope there will be new career opportunities and new places to live. I am not dead yet.

I know that I occasionally write posts like this one. What is different now?

I have always felt I don’t have the right to perturb my husband and kids, who are happy where we are. This is what everyone expects, isn’t it? Mom, putting family first, always. Woman, putting the needs of others first, always. All the women I know do this; they often do it at the expense of their own ambitions and their own happiness.

But do we really owe our entire lives to our families? Until we die? Why does it not get to be our turn, again, at some point, to put ourselves first?

What precipitated this latest midlife examination is Eldest having gone to college. He’s moved out and doing great. He’s doing so great that he doesn’t really need us at all. We text with him, but he’s well adjusted, independent, and largely doing his own thing. On the one hand, I know this means we did a good job as parents and should be proud of ourselves and of him. On the other hand, so much time, money, and energy gets invested in the kids, and then they leave. If, after they leave, you have no life of your own, you will be in deep shit; I still have two at home, so not an empty nester, but I really did feel Eldest’s departure. Kids cannot be your whole life, at least not forever. And the sooner you realize — not intellectually, but deep down, emotionally — that kids are a big part of your life for a while, but that they are not and cannot be the sole purpose of your life,  that they are their own people with their own paths, that they will go away and look forward and not back, just as you did — the better off you’re likely to be.

When the youngest starts college I will be 56. Perhaps still not too old to start a new third of life. But perhaps it’s best to start planting the seeds of meaningful connections with the world outside of family sooner rather than later.

8 comments

  1. I’ve been a most ungrateful child (of very imperfect parents) so having a kid of my own was the first time I’ve ever looked back. I know this is kind of besides your point, but I can’t wait to have grandchildren.

  2. My mom never really had friends once she married my dad. All of their friends were his – and he was pretty much her whole world (she worked – she earned more than he did and once I left for college, he actually worked from home). When he died suddenly she was 55. She had no support system of her own – and had really been counting on retiring with him and enjoying their lives together. Amazingly, she developed her own friendship networks and now has a group of women that she does everything with. It’s a nice large group that is constantly adding or losing people- but they remain a strong group. They have seen each other through alzheimers and colon cancer – they travel across the globe together. They celebrate and mourn together. It’s been really nice to see her completely change her life at a time when she could have just given up and waited out her life.

  3. “But do we really owe our entire lives to our families? Until we die? Why does it not get to be our turn, again, at some point, to put ourselves first?”

    By no means do we owe our entire lives to our families, or anything else (job, outside duties, etc). We choose who/what we want to dedicate parts of ourselves to. Ultimately, taking care of yourself involved weighing personal satisfaction with helping others and duties one has taken on.

    Putting ourselves first and dedication to others are not mutually exclusive. If you don’t have plenty of things to keep you occupied then now’s the time to pick up some more things. This includes people, hobbies, etc. And if you want to experience living somewhere else, I’m 100% DH will support you, and the kids will understand eventually. If you’re unhappy/complacent then I’m certain the family will realize and want you to do what it takes to be happy.

  4. “I’m 100% DH will support you, and the kids will understand eventually. If you’re unhappy/complacent then I’m certain the family will realize and want you to do what it takes to be happy.”

    I wish this were true, but I don’t believe it is. DH is 100% anti moving. As for the kids, at the risk of sounding cynical, I am not convinced that kids (at least not universally) care much about the happiness of their parents, at least not beyond how it affects their own (the kids’) happiness and comfort. Most kids have far stronger feelings about not wanting to leave their friends and their schools than they do about their mom’s angst or ambition (of which they are usually unaware, especially if the household functions). Kids — and I say this with love and knowing — don’t actually see or know or even want to know their parents as complete and complex humans. The parent plays a role, and as long as the role is played well, what goes on with the human behind the role doesn’t actually matter.

  5. I am not surprised about the kids statement: I moved around a bunch as a kid and hated it in the moment, but eventually realized it helped shaped me. Which I why I just call it a wash. The kids don’t have a choice, and would get over it as I did. But each kid is unique, so I could be wrong. After all, we only have true perspective, and can control the actions, of ourselves. For DH, I’m more surprised. They might be 100% against, but even at the expense of your happiness? Marriage has gives and takes, and if your cup is empty it’s time for someone else to pony up! Either way, here’s to really hoping that if you can’t eat exclusively out (metaphorically), that you can at least taste the meals. Maybe the upcoming sabatical and travel will reset the complacency. Really hoping you find what you’re looking for.

  6. “Kids — and I say this with love and knowing — don’t actually see or know or even want to know their parents as complete and complex humans. The parent plays a role, and as long as the role is played well, what goes on with the human behind the role doesn’t actually matter.”

    I’m childless but was a kid once, and is this really true? I’d believe this was my attitude before age 11 or so, but after that, it doesn’t jive. I definitely had a sense that my mom’s suppression of her own interests and happiness was leading her to act out all sorts of pathologies on me that I wished she’d acknowledged. She denied all flaws and lacked humility, to say the least. But even if she had been happy, I really think it would have freaked me out if she had maintained some Stepford veneer. I was an ardent feminist from an early age and remember feeling so, so sad that many of my friends’ moms seemed to spend >20% of their time driving their kids around. I didn’t understand how that life stage could be so easily stomached, given that these moms were ostensibly once like my friends and me (with such diverse interests, such blazing opportunities before us). And everyone told me I would one day want kids. The experience went a long way to turning me off of them and making me feel really freaking alienated.

  7. If you’ll indulge me, I just remembered one of the short bits I chose for theater back in high school. It’s from Edgar Lee Masters’ “A Spoon River Anthology”. This is a posthumous testimonial from a character:

    Margaret Fuller Slack

    I would have been as great as George Eliot
    But for an untoward fate.
    For look at the photograph of me made by Peniwit,
    Chin resting on hand, and deep-set eyes
    Gray, too, and far-searching.
    But there was the old, old problem:
    Should it be celibacy, matrimony or unchastity?
    Then John Slack, the rich druggist, wooed me,
    Luring me with the promise of leisure for my novel,
    And I married him, giving birth to eight children,
    And had no time to write.
    It was all over with me, anyway,
    When I ran the needle in my hand
    While washing the baby’s things,
    And died from lock-jaw, an ironical death.
    Hear me, ambitious souls,
    Sex is the curse of life!

    I kind of wonder if I was preoccupied with this theme because my mother wasn’t more frank with me about her feelings.

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