Midlife Crisis?

Jiminy Christmas. It’s been a long time. Where have I been? Easy question. Not so easy answer.

Growing up, I often heard the term “midlife crisis” swatted around like an annoying little insect.

Dude bought a fancy new sports car? Midlife crisis.

Dude up and left his wife? Midlife crisis.

Dudette changed her hair color? Midlife crisis.

It was just a catch-all excuse for making poor decisions, I thought.

Midlife crises were all wild and crazy stunts, some radical change to show you weren’t so old after all–that there was no hitch in the giddy-up, that there was still some spunk in the trunk.

As a 10-year old, I thought 40 was freaking old, so when my neighbor’s dad bought a Nissan 300ZX out of the blue, I chalked it up to him hearkening back to a boyhood need for speed, a way to manhandle his own midlife crisis, whatever that was.

But now, a couple of turns past 40 and with a 10-year old of my own–along with a set of bifocals–I have a different take.

“Midlife” is a very humbling term. Midlife is where you start to look at what’s behind you more than what’s ahead of you. Midlife is terrifying.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk the past few weeks, and I wasn’t exactly sure why. Ridiculous things are affecting me. There’s a lot of this amazing gig called rearing children that has sailed right on by without me realizing it was heading off so quickly. Silly things like appliqu├ęd Halloween shirts. Gymbo the Clown. Fingerpainting. The train table. KidsPlaceLive on the radio. Sandra Boynton books. I closed my eyes for a second, and now my babies are big kids. And that’s spectacularly scary to me.

The blog world is chock full of essays about how to get your baby to sleep through the night and how to get permanent marker off your sofa. A simple search can send you to birthday party ideas, suggestions for making the first day of school even more memorable, and what to do with that darned elf.  But what do you do with an almost-teenager? How do you soak up all the beautiful bits of life that radiate from him? Funny stories you’d once share with the world are now deemed embarrassing or–worse–self-moderated as irrelevant and pointless. Independence and self-confidence and self-sufficiency are certainly fabulous, but they come with a price:  mom is moved down the line several notches (dad is, too).

This is what growing up is:  a constant realignment of one’s securities. Where once being cradled by me in the middle of the night was the only comfort, now a snuggle with a ragged blanket or a sniff of a stuffed animal suffices. Long car rides used to be dreaded, cacophonous periods of clock watching; now, having all 3 confined (and relegated, via seat belts) to one small space for an extended period of time is practically a gift.

I’m not ready for boys who snicker about the “p” word (that’s “puberty,” by the way; get your heads out of the gutter) or ask to wear deodorant (even if they don’t really need it yet). I’m not ready for conversations whispered in the backseat or private, one-liner jokes among brothers. I’m not ready for them to grow up. All those nights I begged for them to just please sleep through the night, all those mornings I did not want to play trains or marching band or tickle tackle, all those days I counted the hours until nap time…I take it back. I take every bit of it back.

I would take every bit of it back and do it over in a heartbeat, even as exhausted as it makes me feel just thinking about it.

But on the other hand, it makes me just as exhausted to think of all the worry they have coming down the pike towards them. Heartbreak. Career decisions. The SATs. (I’d take all that again for them, too, though I’m certain they’d pass on me taking their SATs.)

My parents have always told me to never grow up. And until just recently, I thought that meant for me to try to evade, figuratively, the Grim Reaper…to hold on to youth and all its carefree whims and expansive dreams, no matter what it took. But my parents did raise an English major, and we English majors know you don’t split infinitives, and you don’t end a sentence in a preposition.

What my parents meant was for me to grow. Always.

And growing’s never easy, no matter how old you are.