Dear Me at Age 50,
Hi there, it’s me, your 37-year-old self, circa 2016. Right about now, it’s 2029 and you’ve crossed the threshold of 50. If you’re still alive, that is (as you know I’m terribly neurotic and I’m knocking on wood like crazy right now). Here’s hoping my writing of this letter hasn’t triggered some sort of unfortunate Doc and Marty-like space-time continuum issue and caused horrible things to happen, and let’s assume that at age 50 you’re still alive, healthy, and your kids have left the nest to pursue their first of many academic degrees at prestigious universities you didn’t have to pay for, shall we?
OK. Let’s get down to business. A lot can happen in 13 years, and I suspect that in many ways you and I are a lot alike, but I bet our daily lives look pretty different. Right now you may finally (if all my hoping and dreaming of one day feeling like a “real live grown-up” pays off) feel like you have it together. Maybe you finally got some curtains, a good bookshelf, and bought new carpet that isn’t stained with god-knows-what-kind-of-snack. Maybe you have cool accessories, more expensive shoes, maybe you even wear normal pants with more regularity. I bet you finally have a pantry, and you got some better bedroom decor. You may have forgotten what it’s like to be me (you? us? whatever.) at age 37.
So let me remind you.
Mornings are the worst for you. You sleep as late as you can, despite everything you’ve read or heard about how great it is to wake up an hour before your kids so you can exercise, or meditate, or write, or, I don’t know, give yourself a refreshing DIY colon cleanse, or maybe even do something really novel like, say, shower. You run from mommying to working to a different kind of working back to mommying again and you feel like Sybil on crack most days. It’s invigorating and draining and crazy-making and yes, you feel constantly compelled to say that you “wouldn’t it have it any other way” thanks to ladies your current age who wistfully remind you of when their kids were your kids’ ages at the grocery store.
You don’t have a beautiful Zen-like sanctuary of a bedroom. Most days you don’t even make the bed. When you do, you feel like a total badass.
Your kitchen looks like it threw itself up 70% of the time. These days you usually jump up and start unloading the dishwasher when you hear your husband’s car to pretend like you give a shit. Let’s not talk about the condition of the minivan.
You gleefully anticipate your morning coffee at 4:00 pm the previous day, and first thing in the morning you begin anticipating putting on your comfy pants (you call them quitters) and resuming a state of blissful bralessness while counting down to bedtime and “The Good Wife”-binging.
You forget to do things, like laundry, filing, and keeping your desk organized. You feel really happy to be married to someone who remembers to do the kids’ laundry.
Your house is not super-stylish, and neither are you. But you’re OK with that, you really are. You’re happy.
You try to exercise, mostly because when you go through months of “forgetting” to, your body responds as though it is eighty and you also vaguely recall that you saw your metabolism fleeing by cab whilst flipping you the bird somewhere around age 34.
I think it’s possible that now (your now, not my now), at age 50, your life looks a little bit tidier. Hell, you might even look better. Maybe you finally managed to get those abs of steel that seemed so elusive after your second baby. Maybe your clothes are nicer, your shoes are more expensive, and maybe you don’t feel bad or anxious when you spend too much on haircuts and massages. I bet your house looks great. Nobody spills sticky crap on your couch, and you don’t have eleventy-hundred pairs of little mismatched shoes lying around, nor do you have their owners insisting that you help find them while they hide in their bedroom closet in their underwear playing with robots.
So I want you to remember what it was like.
I want you to remember that you used to be kind of a walking disaster. Your house was not company-worthy, like, ever. You weren’t as organized (God help me, please say we’re more organized in 2029.) and you failed to do important stuff that doesn’t seem so hard for you now that your kids are older.
And I want you to have compassion for me, your old self, and for all the 20-, 30-, and maybe even 40-somethings you see now walking around with that slightly disheveled ensemble and glazed look in their eyes. And remember.
Remember that it took a while to get where you are now. And honor that journey.
And I bet you haven’t changed that much; I bet you still beat yourself up for your perceived failings. (Cough, knock that shit off, will you?) I bet you criticize yourself because you think you (well, me, really) weren’t grateful enough for those chaotic days. I bet you look back and think you didn’t savor enough moments, that you let it all slip through your fingers without appreciating it.
And I want you to know that you’re wrong. That you, that I, soaked it all in. That you tried desperately to absorb and memorize the distinct sound of each incarnation of laugh as it evolved. You watched your kids sleep every night, even for just a few seconds. You tiptoed into their rooms and whispered, “I love you,” while feeling like your heart might explode. You held their hands and wiped their tears and snuggled them close. You apologized when you were an asshole, and they heard you.
You loved them ferociously, and wholly, and well. You were present, and you did your best. Don’t forget that when you’re looking at photos of your children when they were little, and you catch a glimpse of a woman wearing what appears to be a combination of normal clothes and pajamas with a rag over her dirty hair who seems like she may be a bit of a stress-case. She’s happy. And she’s evolving. And I hope that one day, she makes you proud.
** Author’s note: I’ve had a lot of people saying, “I’m 50! 50 isn’t old!” and of course it isn’t. This isn’t about the definition of being “old.” It’s about perspective, life stages, and the distance a person is from their “trenches years,” the period of time when their kids are young, dependent, and life is hectic in that very special way. (I know things will be hectic when my kids are teens, believe me.) But this stage is different. If I started having babies at 20, I’d be “there” NOW, you know? Likewise, if I hadn’t started yet and had kids in my 40s, “that age” would be much later, right? So, believe me, I’m not here to define what “old” is. 🙂 xo
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