Wednesday, November 6, 2013

It Isn't the Age, It's the Attitude

Today is my birthday.

I won't say which one. That's purely to prevent identity theft (well, that's a good excuse isn't it?) I will say that I can still see 50 in my rear view mirror, but like other things in that mirror it may appear closer than it actually is.

It's funny how fast time flies once you start that downhill run. I can remember when days dragged and it was absolutely forever between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now it's barely a blink of the eye. Halloween and Thanksgiving are hardly blips on the radar between summer and the holidays. I expect that whole years will pass that quickly before long.

When we're young we seldom think about getting older. Well, we think about turning 5 and starting school, about becoming a teenager, turning 16 and getting our license, 21 and drinking (although in my day that was 18) and maybe dread the approach of 30 or the black balloons of 40. After that, I guess people used to look forward to 62 and retiring, but that's a fading option these days.

We don't really think about being older, or how that the older we get the older someone has to be to qualify as old or elderly. I bet people in their 70s don't even think of 80s as old.

Other than those milestone years when we may briefly look ahead and wonder what we'll be doing or what we'll look like (odds are one of our parents), we don't honestly give a thought to getting older and what our lives will encompass. It's like we pretty much assume that after 30 or 40 there's not a lot of excitement, or change, or potential to reinvent ourselves. It's just a gray, boring fog until retirement where our careers are set and we either rise or slip into a less demanding role; our lives take a back seat to watching our children grow and supporting their needs (if we've decided to have children); romance, adventure and learning, well, in our younger days we think those are pretty much done with.


I can look back over my own misconceptions of life quiet easily and recall who I was and what I thought about the future in those benchmark years.

I don't remember looking forward to starting school, although I can still almost smell and taste those early days at the elementary portion of Woodlawn School, which embraced all 12 grades. I remember the big tree out front where we waited for the buses, the girl who cried in first grade, the long, metal slide and the tall monkey bars, jungle gym and swings. I remember falling on the playground and breaking my left wrist. Life was about play and learning and weeks went on forever.

When I turned 13, I was grown. No seriously, I can still wear shoes I wore in the sixth grade. I had begun to fantasize about having a boyfriend with no clear idea what that meant other than "going together." Unfortunately, the only two boys taller than me were not interested in a quiet, bookish girl with frizzy hair and crooked teeth. I lived in books, loved my dog and John Denver, and didn't look ahead at all except to dream of working with animals.

Sixteen found me a junior in high school -- the last in my grade to get my license. I had finally been kissed, but never had a boyfriend. Life revolved around school and the social events it brought -- especially football and basketball. I dreamed of the boy who sat behind me in social studies, but we were just friends (although I found out 15 years later he thought the same things about me). My braces were history but I was stuck with my hair and the world had yet to discover styling products for it. I had discovered an independent streak that had me cutting my own hair, wearing what I wanted and other than two or three close friends pretty much disregarding the social strata of high school. I was going to go to college, have two children and be an art teacher or a veterinarian. Not necessarily in that order.

Twenty-one found me married, living in a mobile home on a small farm and working at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Seriously. I had a college degree with a double major in art/English (science was too tough for me and education courses unappealing) and wanted to write for the paper. I didn't want to move and there were no jobs, so I was waiting for an opening. My husband and future father of my children had a job at Hanes. The future looked to be plotted out although we hadn't decided on when the children would come along.

At 30, life had been turned upside down. The husband had quit his good job and I had finally said enough. I was a single mother with a 6-year-old and a 1-year-old. My family was upset and I didn't care. I was moving into a home I had just purchased on my own. I had my job in journalism and during the week I worked and was mom. I think I went out every weekend because I hadn't been out in so long. I wasn't looking ahead at all, except to continuing life as it was.

At 40, I was single again with a totally disastrous marriage behind me. There was no party -- black balloons or otherwise. I figured the odds of finding someone I would be happy with were declining. Despite working out regularly, I had gained weight I didn't think I'd ever lose. I had a career, a teenager and a middle schooler and life looked to be laid out until retirement.

Then in my 40s, I had a reset. Other than two children, nothing I had anticipated in my life had turned out quite like I pictured it. By the time I hit 50, an unimaginable age for most of my life, I was a totally different person than I had ever expected to be.

I was neither an art teacher, nor a veterinarian, nor even a journalist. I was happily married to a man I would never have imagined meeting. I had not only lost weight, I was wearing the smallest jeans I think I ever owned. Instead of coasting toward retirement, I was starting over and building a new business and career. And, although I had never given it much thought more than the nine months advance notice I had, I was a grandmother, twice.

About the only part I had gotten right was the two children, as I had not unexpectedly added a third.

I say all this not just to reflect on my own life on my birthday, which is something we're wont to do, but to make a point.

No matter where we are in life, most of us can look back and see things aren't what we anticipated. But that shift in perspective doesn't stop when we get married, or when we start a career, or when we have children. Once we're actually traveling it, the road ahead seems to never be quite what we anticipated.

Five years ago, I had a very different life that I expected would not significantly change. Now, I cannot even look ahead five years and have any idea what the future holds. While my business is good and growing steadily, so I expect it to continue, the three little people in my life will be at very different places. Two will be in school -- maybe public and maybe still here with me doing homeschool instead. I may finally have time to write the books in my head. We may go on vacation again, or do something else extraordinary. I don't know and I like that because I have faith it will be good and to have it all plotted out would be boring.

I do know that, contrary to what I unconsciously felt 20 or even 10 years ago, learning, dreams, romance and new adventures aren't all behind me yet and I have a strong suspicion may never be for me.

So happy birthday to me. And many more to come.

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