One of the grand benefits of being in your 50th year is that you begin to realize that some things are just more a function of a particular age than anything even remotely close to wisdom or sanity. Kind of like a consolation prize for more frequent trips to see Greg the Hair Miracle Worker and the extra expense of facial creams that do as much as they can. While I cannot speak to the decades that I have not yet reached...I will say that I most assuredly did have a bird's eye view of coming attractions (if I am so fortunate) from living in close proximity to my grandmother and now my mother-in-law. I would add my mother to this list...but she is perpetually 39 years old and has offered me little indication that this is going to change anytime soon...which is totally fine, by the way.
When I was a child, my life revolved around the big things...school starting, Girl Scout camp, dance recitals, birthdays, trick-or-treating and Christmas. I was that annoying kid who always built up everything way more than it needed to be, got excited about everything and I had a runaway imagination. While I am grateful for those gifts as an adult, I'm sure that raising me was nothing short of exhausting. I know this because I pretty much exhaust myself just thinking about all that I'd like to do, should do and must do on a fairly regular basis.
Every report card from kindergarten to junior high school had "Karen talks too much" in some form or another on it in the comments section. According to my grandmother, this was a family tradition that spanned (and plagued) the female members of my family for generations. Sometimes there would be other comments with words like "creative" or "smart"...but sometimes you could tell by the tone of the comments that I was a bit of a handful. My grades were pretty good, but I could never really get into the whole studying for grades thing that might have actually helped me in that I was offered a very good education in spite of my thoughts about it at the time. I pretty much thought that life was full of possibilities and that it was my mission in life to explore those. Even if that involved creating a whirlwind of incredible hassle for everyone whose job it was to raise or teach me. Fortunately, I was never given the "just wait until you have kids of your own" curse that so many have suffered under.
Maybe every kid is that way...wanting to do everything and excelling at nothing. I honestly wouldn't know. My two kids were a very different version at that age. They were annoying in far different ways than I was. Jill had a stubborn streak that she obviously inherited from her father's side of the family (I'm not sure who from exactly...but I'm going to assume that anything negative about my kids didn't come through my gene pool) and expecting Brian to pick up his toys was somehow impossible (in other words: so not happening.) I once parked Brian in his room when he was about four and told him that he couldn't come out until it was clean. Two hours later...although he was quiet and I could see activity in there...I didn't get the full effect of "reorganization by a tribe of monkeys on crack" until I went in to see him. I remember most that he sat in the middle of the disarray doing a puzzle and he looked up with his sweet dimpled smile and said, "Hi Mommy!"
Never made that mistake again.
My teen years were what everybody's teen years probably are...but I don't particularly remember having a sense of entitlement that it appears many of that particular age range seem to have at this point in time. When we were teenagers...if we wanted something...we got a job. We had one or two of something designer...rather than one in every color. At age 16, if we were fortunate enough to drive a car, it wasn't new. It was either the family car...or something that would in Dave Ramseys vernacular be termed "a beater." If there were numerous kids of driving age in the family...they simply shared a car or worked and bought one of their own. When we finished high school...we either got married, went to work, went into the military, learned a trade, or went to college. Which direction you went was probably more a function of your grades and your parents' expectations...but each path was respectable and seemed to make sense for that individual.
College took four years. Many of us worked the entire time we were there.
I knew that I was expected to go to college...primarily because most of my family took that path. This was particularly helpful because I had not a clue about what I wanted to do, and because I really needed to get out of my hometown and figure myself out a bit. Yes, I realize that college was really supposed to prepare me for a career doing something productive...but for me, it was more about finding myself first.
It took awhile...but four years was enough to pull it together in spite of the fact that I changed majors from journalism to English to computer science and then to general business before I ever settled on my final major.
Most of the family had a career as educators or entertainers. Since I was highly discouraged from education (due to temperament) and had no discernable talent other than some fairly lame poetry writing during those years...I went a totally different direction...finance. I'm sure that my math teachers from high school think that's hilarious...but what I lacked in basic mathematical understanding I made up for in sheer determination and stubbornness. I also had some really good teachers who made it possible for me to actually understand concepts that eluded me during high school and to enjoy learning again.
(Yes, I guess that stubbornness I referred to earlier in Jill came from...um...me.)
People were asking me "why did you choose that major?" and I was answering "why not?" The truth is...it was the fastest way to get out of college on time. It was finance or economics to make it out in four years. Seeing as I still didn't even understand economics after successfully completing what I needed for my finance major and two classes in graduate school, I'm going to assume that I made the better choice.
Which, now as the parent of twenty-somethings, I am still amazed at how few of them have a clue what they want to do. It isn't as though they haven't been exposed to more, done internships, even shadowed people in high school and college...but nope. Still trying to figure it out. Worse than that? We aren't demanding that they do. Part of this, I believe, is that we expect them all to go to college. And that really isn't in the best interest of anybody except the colleges and universities that we are sending them to in a vain attempt to prolong figuring out how to make them productive, tax-paying, off our dole citizens.
Harsh? Sorry. I realize that some of them honestly cannot figure it out in four years...and if you are okay with that...then fine. I just know that getting it done in four years is becoming increasingly rare, and tuition rates are rising every year at a blistering pace.
Recently, a video of a commencement speech with the theme of "You're Not Special" went viral. While a lot of people were shocked and alarmed...not me. It felt more like a reality check. Of course, the economy has been giving us one giant wedgie collectively over the past four years which is just making our participation trophies and self esteem building parenting just that much more glaringly obvious. Even the kids graduating now are getting it and discovering things like couponing, living with roommates, and being happy with beater cars. Putting off going to college, rethinking the military or a trade, and being (gasp!) grateful for what they have instead of resentful about what they perceive everybody else has is actually in vogue.
This is as it should be (in my humble opinion).
The middle twenties are prime time for settling down and the late twenties are usually the baby years where you sleep minimally and your payments for everything from daycare to cars to homes are at their highest. It is during these years where most of us put our ladder on some wall and begin to climb. You do that and just hope that the ladder isn't on the wrong wall. Sometimes it is, you know.
And generational differences are very, very real. Back during my twenties, I had to dress very professionally, had to know what was going on at my desk (I was selling Fed Funds for the bank at the time) in case I ran into a senior officer on the elevator who would always inquire (I got over the fact that he called me "Sharon" for two years) and I expected to work hard to be noticed to be advanced. It was just the way it was. We respected people in positions over us because we knew they worked hard to make it there.
That pretty much doesn't exist anymore, by the way. The younger generations think that everyone is equal, and the lines are blurred with the exception of the very highest levels of management. Participation trophy equalization at its finest.
The thirties is a time where you build the life that you are going to have and it is probably the most exhausting and demanding decade. I know that I wore myself out trying to learn all that I could while managing the expecations of more people than I ever thought possible. I grew more as a person, an employee, and a mother during that decade, but I don't remember a whole lot of it. I know that I was in a perpetual state of exhaustion with more on my plate than I ever thought I could accomplish. A lot of it actually did get accomplished, and the rest of it just spilled over into my 40's on what can only be referred to as the "To-Do List from the 3rd Circle of Hades." I remember watching people getting promoted over me because they were better at what they did...or because they just had the attention of someone who liked the work that they did. I realized the value of mentors and of helping people who deserved to be helped. I also understood my personal limitations and I tried to work to fix what I could and accept that which I could not.
Being in my 40's, I realized that it was okay to let some dreams die and to begin to strongly applaud the success of other people. Instead of wanting the accolades for myself, I was (and still am) genuinely happy when something wonderful happens to someone else. I knew myself better and realized that there are some things that I do better than other people and other things that I am hopelessly inadequate in despite my tenacity.
I learned that friends fill in the gaps. They do for you what you cannot do. This was not only a revelation...but one of the sweetest realizations about life. I was just a little late to the table.
I also learned that church attendance is not just a good idea...it is mandatory. You can believe in God, but He will do His work in you much faster when you are in community with other believers. I am still not all that I should be...but that's because God isn't finished with me yet. This truth has given me permission to forgive myself for the occasional (okay...frequent) boneheaded move that I used to believe was unforgiveable. Everything is forgiveable. If you don't believe it...you need to read your Bible a little more. The Bible is a book about some totally messed up people and God's attempt to have a relationship with us.
Don't let a bad experience keep you from walking through the doors of a Bible-believing church. Don't assume that you will be judged or that things are the same as they were thirty years ago. You may not be and they aren't. I use that disclaimer "may not be" because people are still a component of churches...and people aren't perfect. Sometimes the judgment is not about you as a person...it is more of a fear or lack of understanding than anything. Keep searching for that church home, though.
Also in my 40's, I realized that some of the desires of my heart that God didn't see fit to grant me...he did so through my children. He also added "surrogate children" to my heart that were the friends of my children or the children of my close friends. I have celebrated football and baseball players, cheerleaders, scholarship winners, awards recipients, Eagle Scouts, homecoming queens, and performers as if they were my own children.
I also learned the power of praying for people who hurt me instead of hoping that karma would deal them a blow. It is nearly impossible to hate someone that you are praying for...just so you know. Actually, it is completely impossible.
Now I am standing on the precipice of my 50's...although Big Dave crossed that bridge five years ago. Most of my friends are over fifty...and they have taught me what to expect. These are the years that I anticipate actually having a little more time and a little less stress...but perhaps not. I've seen it go both ways, actually, as people have been reinvigorated with a new sense of passion and purpose in their lives or as they've had more time for recreation and reflection.
My children are adults - as defined by Alabama state law - and I'm beyond pleased with how they've turned out. I still frustrate them and I'm still their mother...but I am untying the apron strings with alarming speed. It is now up to them what kind of relationship we will have. I can only hope it is a good one...and have faith that it will be.
My Sunday School teacher is in his 70's, and he has been teaching us from the many things that he is still learning in his Christian walk. He is trying to smooth our paths a little bit and to give us a glimpse of what is ahead. I am blessed that I have good friends who are navigating their 60's right now and are telling me not to fear...that grandchildren are a true blessing and that the water's fine.
My parents are in good health, and although Dave's are having some struggles in their 80's...I have a mother-in-law who never complains about anything...and she's had quite a year. Isn't it a blessing to have someone who loves life enough to not want to burden those she loves with a litany of her aches and pains? I am awed by her ability to continue to bounce back and to make plans for her future despite tough days after chemotherapy and some limitations with regard to her energy level.
Life has a funny way of teaching us things that we need to know...and we view the future in part through the prism of the past. We try to correct what we did wrong through our children and grandchildren and enjoy reliving parts of our lives again through them and with them. We dispense wisdom because this isn't our "first rodeo" and we hope that the people behind us are paying attention. We hope for joy but understand that sometimes there is going to be pain and loss. We realize that the sum of the choices that we have made is the life that we live...but that some things are always negotiable and subject to change. We get that we are not our possessions...but that denying ourselves some pleasures robs us of all that God has put here for us to enjoy.
I don't know what the future holds, but I'm grateful for every day that I have to find out. I am grateful for the guides that are pointing out the potholes on the road of life and are sharing their journeys with me. I am blessed that I have accomplished many things that I set out to accomplish...primarily building a family and having a swimming pool in my back yard. I am also amazed at how fast it has all gone by.
I don't know where you are on the road...which decade you are in...or what is facing you today. I do know that God has a plan for your life, or you wouldn't be reading this right now. Maybe you need to know that. I know that I most assuredly did.
I'm not perfect...and I'm not in some kind of denial thinking that this is even possible. I know me too well. But I also know that I've been granted this gift of time and I want to use up every minute of it.
Every minute of it.