More than two years ago, my fifth decade drew to a quick, uncontrollable close. At that time, I reflected on my past year of life changes, or more like life exchanges. I began decade number six, middle life that is, realizing that my fifth decade of life revisions were not happenstances or natural occurrences. They didn’t just unfold with the passage of time. No, in fact, I believe they were calculated and carefully thought out, subconsciously maybe, but nevertheless, they were planned. Guilty as charged! Yes, I had been premeditating my desired milestones for some time, setting the stage for the second half of my life WITHOUT eyes wide open. I was doing all of this hoping to be fortunate enough to live to 102. Allow me to explain.
First, turning fifty. Remember when thirty was old? Well, it wasn’t. And when we are seventy, fifty won’t be old either. You get it. Aging is a team sport that I hope we all get to play. If we can ward off the evil genes, the risky temptations and the Negative Nancy lurking in all of us, we might be able to wear yet another party hat. Then, if we take it a step further and put necessary, but not always pleasurable practices into place, we just might be part of the winning team in the arena of aging. So, I go to the doctor, or should I say doctors, to learn what needs to be x-rayed, what needs to removed, and what needs to be rehabilitated. I avoid over indulging in things that taste good or give me a false sense that it’s okay to go streaking around my neighborhood. Chocolate cake and tequila are my friends, but only at an arm’s length, or more. Daily spiritual or motivational readings keep me grateful and positive. After all, gratitude is the key to a happy life and a positive attitude produces a winner. There are too many unhappy losers already. We need joyful winners! Seems overwhelming but these practices are all “Mother May I” giant steps toward making it to that next milestone. So go ahead, eat more yogurt than the Greeks, plank like a board, play harder than a preschooler and work at what you love doing. Then, as Tim McGraw sings it, aim to love deeper, speak sweeter and forgive frequently. I am 100% certain I engage in these habits so that I might enjoy an even brighter more flamboyant birthday cake each September, winning a trophy from Father Time. After all, it is just a number, right?
Secondly, an empty nester. Bittersweetly, I have spent the last 20 years fertilizing roots in order to open blooms. I have gone from hearing my kindergarten aged children ask such questions as, “Can we buy those yummy cookies like the girl who sits next to me at lunch? She says they’re called ‘homemade’”. And, “It’s so hard to be good ALL day!”. But today, as young adults, my children ask questions like, “Will you please send money so I can gamble on my spring break cruise?” or “The Arm & Hammer baking soda box says it’s for cleaning. This IS the same baking soda you bake with, right?” Hmmm. I must admit, from throwing base balls to throwing parties, from serving Rice Krispie Treats to serving others, and from changing diapers to changing behavior, I have stumbled and succeeded. I have helped write everything from the alphabet on broken dotted lined paper to paper lace Valentines, to questionable but necessary high school essays. And, I have helped right wrongs. I have practiced sports I had no idea how to play, and I have role played interview questions for jobs I could only imagine. I have conducted car driving lessons while mindfully driving acceptable attitudes all along. Through the years, I have cringed and celebrated. From fixing broken fingers to fixing broken hearts, from building Lego characters to building character, from borrowing books on how to be a good mother to borrowing time to be a good mother, I have endured and enjoyed. I have told my children over and over that their births were the best two days of my life and that I was not a mama until they were my babies. I have come a long way, and so have they. Now, I am like a mama bird alone in my nest. Alone, but aware that I am the one who bestowed them with wings of wisdom, capable of soaring solo.
Lastly, what do I want to be when I grow up? Ahhh, the question that seems to last a lifetime. I first heard this question during my elementary years. Grow up? Not interested. I’m having far too much fun building pine straw forts with mud mortar and riding my bicycle down ‘the big hill’ by the creek to catch crawfish. I never want to stop digging through ant hill tunnels to finally lay eyes on the queen, or stop performing endless hours of karaoke to Carol King’s “I Feel The Earth Move”, while standing on the top of my wooden toy chest. Life was good, and fun. Then, in middle school I had to write a story. Yes, my 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Griffith, asked us to write and illustrate a book as an assignment. I decided on a mystery and wrote a story called “The Trenton Treasure”. I became obsessed with this literary work in progress, dying for it to be a masterpiece of perfection and possibly exhibited in the Hall of Fame for 13-year-old authors. I drove my mother to near craziness as I searched out and designed the perfect cover and artwork to go with what was to be a predictable production for a 7th grader. But hey, I received an A++. Wow, an extra +! Maybe an author is what I should be when I grow up! After all, if Mrs. Griffith thinks I’m worthy of an added +, then maybe a Pulitzer Prize is in my future. So, after writing more stories and lots of poems, I landed an editor role for my high school newspaper. I had made it. I had a byline for my featured articles and my name was in that small rectangle at the bottom of page 2. You know, the one that lists the all-important people in journalism, the editors. This was big. Then, somewhere between high school dreams and college graduation, I realized I must pay bills. I was finally a grown up and I could tell this was not going to be nearly as fun as riding The Himalaya at the Myrtle Beach Pavilion, or driving around town as a 16-year-old listening to REO Speedwagon and The GAP Band, or drinking keg beer at the fraternity house because well, we could. So, like the majority of other new graduates, not having a clue what they want to do or where their passion lies, I marched forward with all the other degreed soldiers to work in order to survive. My jobs have afforded me money to live, experience to understand and relationships to learn by. They still do, and it is well with my soul. But now, in this sixth decade of my life, over 50 and an empty nester, I want to be an author again. That’s right, I want to go all the way back to middle school, all the way back to Mrs. Griffith and “The Trenton Treasure”, all the way back to believing in a dream. Yes, I want to write again. Pulitzer Prize or not, this is a good start.
Now today, WITH eyes wide open, I reflect on my calculated life exchanges. I have moved into my sixth decade of life excited and assured. The same way a stage hand sets the scene before a performance, I have set the stage for the second half of my existence, assuming I live to be 102. I look forward to my new age, my empty nest and my lost but new-found passion. Won’t you join me?