going retro: recklessness and regret

I’m sure there are people who get through this part of life without a blip. But I’m not that kind of girl/woman/lady/whatever I am now. Oh no. In my life, there’s no such thing as a smooth transition.

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Teenager and giant puppy listening to Adele.

So, we’ve discovered our giant puppy loves classic light rock 70’s music. I mean, really loves.

Easy listening soothes the savage beast, Dave says. Her current favorite is The Best of Bread, but only Side A. Side B gets a little too rocky…

(By the way, 70’s teenagers CANNOT talk about how kids these days don’t use good grammar and it’s all because of pop culture. Baby I’m a want you — really? At least in the 80’s we recovered some good old-fashioned dignity.)

Fortunately, we do get some relief from Side A, because Ginny also loves Adele. Who, interestingly enough, reminds me of Stevie Nicks sometimes… so there you go. The dog with her highly sophisticated taste in music agrees.

Actually, I have to think of Adele as Stevie Nicks when I listen to her song When We Were Young. Because when you’re 67, it’s okay to sing about lost youth. But at 25? I’m pretty sure the only thing more audacious than a 25-year-old singing about how she’s getting old is the 13-year-old singing along.

Adele.

[cue Emma Thompson voice]

Dearest, you are young. And I *deep breath* am quite old enough to be your mum.

[end Emma’s voice, or not — choose your own adventure]

But thank you. And I do mean this sincerely. Because you put music and lyrics to all the feels I’ve had all of this 46th year of life.

We were mad at getting old it made us restless.

I’m so mad I’m getting old. It makes me reckless.

I feel this. I’m mad, too. Especially at my feet, which now require special exercises before I even get out of bed…

46, at least my 46, has been a wild transition. Half of our children are adults now. Adults!

…I accidentally got invited to my high school’s Facebook group planning their 30th reunion and I was so offended someone would think I was that old — until I realized it was the class just a year ahead of me. What??

(BTW, if you are older than me and reading this and saying out loud, of course, “Deb, you are so young!” Call me and let’s do lunch. You are my new favorite. And I love you.)

*

So, anyway, I’ve been doing some fairly reckless things in rebellion against the passage of time:

1. I quit my steady job to freelance.
2. I let, nay, encouraged my 18-year-old-senior-in-high-school-planning-to-leave-for-college-in-the-fall son get a puppy. (I know…)
3. I ate In-N-Out burger three times in one weekend. With nary a care for calories or cholesterol.

Oh, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m sure there are people who get through this part of life without a blip. But I’m not that kind of girl/woman/lady/whatever I am now. Oh no. In my life, there’s no such thing as a smooth transition.

[see? no transition here…]

I just heard Eugene Cho gently refer to this season as “Midlife Reflection” rather than the old standby of “crisis.”

In which case, I’ve totally #nailedit.

Because I found myself looking back a few times too many over the past year — to years and decades of my life and giving them labels:

An entire year consumed by this… Five years consumed by that… A decade spent on this.. 

It’s only safe to think like that for about ten minutes. And then you have to let it go.

If you look back too long, you end up turning on Adele first thing in the morning, spreading a photo album of your babies on your lap (or just staring at the one picture because only baby #1 actually has a completed Creative Memories album), and dropping chocolate cake crumbs all over your bathrobe… and you’re still sitting there at noon. For days. [Not that I would know. I’m just saying it could happen.]

Because sweet memories are one thing, but regrets are another.

I know you understand this, so I’ll give you a few major regrets from just one decade of my life:

  • I regret not buying the condo offered to us for a ridiculously — ridiculously — low price by a friend who wanted to get the heck out of Dodge after the Northridge earthquake.
  • I regret not changing the oil on time in the Suburban.
  • I regret not getting a dog when the kids were much younger. (They needed one. They really did.)

But, sometimes the stuff we regret is the very stuff that has shaped our lives for good. You live, you learn. Right? For example, I learned what it means for a vehicle to throw a rod…

And then there are other regrets. The regrets that shaped those years and decades and gave them labels. Like these:

  • I regret trying so hard to do everything right by my own astronomically high standard.
  • I regret working overtime (in all senses) to please other people.
  • I regret not reaching out for help when I didn’t know what to do.
  • I regret not stepping out and speaking up — creatively and in relationships.

These are the sorts of regrets you don’t dwell on or they will destroy joy like nothing else…

But reflection to a degree is a very good thing, right? No, you can’t change the past, but you may find a common denominator among your regrets. And maybe it’s something that will change your future.

My common denominator is easy to spot now that I have the advantage of a midlife reflection.

Fear.

The kind of fear that suffocates life, minimizes risk, hides in closets, holds back and says you’re not good enough.

If the most reckless my getting old madness gets is throwing off fear and taking risks, well, that’s a whole lot better than buying a fancy sports car with a rockin’ stereo on which to play soothing seventies tunes.

People often say they’re going to live without regrets, but how do they know? Maybe they’ll disconnect emotion from their life history and maybe they won’t. Every human has a regret. At least one time in their life, they know they chose wrong.

Lucky for us, Adele sings about her regrets.

Hmmm…maybe I’ll sing about mine. Or not. I don’t know…

I suppose living without fear could involve karaoke.

You never know.

* * * * *

Life should be celebrated. And that includes birthdays.

This past week, I reached an age I’ve been dreading.

No, it’s not 50. But I’ve spent months avoiding thinking about this birthday, so there was quite a bit of angst in the days leading up.

I made good use of my pensive reflectiveness and wrote some thoughts about getting older.

I jotted them down on scraps of paper, spoke them into my voice recorder as I drove, wrote them in my journal, voxed (Voxer is an awesome smartphone app) them to my sister and even got so far as to write a few drafts of thoughts here.

Some thoughts were complaints, really. About catching my reflection in the mirror and not recognizing myself. About memory and the lack of it. About sleep and aches and wrinkles.

Some thoughts were mournful and full of regrets and should haves. I questioned all my life choices, my mothering, my relationships, my work…

My mother was the one who put my lament to words. I like to call and thank her on my birthday, you know, on account of all the work she did to bring me into the world. It’s as much a celebration for her as it is for me.

Neither one of us enjoys math, so I just tell her right out how old I am now so she doesn’t have to do any calculating. “Ah,” she says. “You’re closer to XX than XX now.”

Precisely…

People who are better with words than numbers just round things up or down…

and that is why I have been feeling so sorry for myself. We’re past rounding down now.

I know every one of you who has passed the 50 year line is saying, “Forty-something? You’re still a baby!” Which is exactly what I want you to say. It makes me feel better. Please keep saying it.

And math is also responsible for this new habit I have of noting whose parent I could be. NCAA basketball player? I could be his mom! The guy giving the presentation at work? I could be his mom! The new PE teacher? I could be her mom! But wait, you don’t do math, you say.  Well, it’s easy. I just laid awake one night and divided my age in half (which every second grader could do with my age), realized that’s how old I was when I got married, used that number as a convenient dividing line, and now anyone who is younger than that is officially my offspring. It’s not exact.

Story problems…

My sons are actually good at math and are not into rounding down, especially if it involves skipping past another rounding point. They are into exact. Some years ago now, when they were in the habit of  asking how old are you? how old is dad? how old is grandma? how old is that guy?, I told them I was 32.

The boy who was in second grade at the time was immediately suspicious. He said, I thought you were 38 last year and refused to comply with my request to default to “32” moving forward.  He was right. Good memory, that one.

They have learned, however, so this year when they asked and I said, “As far as you’re concerned I’m 39,” they didn’t object. If they did any math, they did it in their heads — and kept the answer to themselves.

But then as my birthday approached, heartbreak and pain and loss touched people around me and across the world, and I snapped out of my mourning for myself. Mourning is for loss and I have gained. I am blessed, so very, very blessed to have lived this many years. And life should always be celebrated.

The processing the passing of time is necessary for growth. Reflecting on the bad and good, remembering God’s grace, mercy and His deep love.

“Teach us to number our days,” said Moses, “that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) 

The problem is we get stuck counting — I get stuck there — counting yesteryear’s messes and failures. I let them weigh on me and press doubt into my calling. I let them silence me.

This year, rather than resist time, I will try to embrace it. I will keep asking God for a heart of wisdom and keep leaning on my sisters and mothers and grandmothers ahead of me.  I’ll own my years, because I have always believed that experience — both good and bad — has value and the wisdom that comes with age has inestimable worth. I will not stop believing that now, even if it scares me.

And I will number my days.

They are 16,790.

I’ll let you do the math…

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