Midlife for Women - Excerpt from "Before I Let You Go: Stories for My Grown Son"

Here is another excerpt I wanted to share from my book, "Before I Let You Go." I have shared another excerpt here.

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Midlife for Women

Cody, age 18. Me, age 41.

I hate rush hour traffic—the start and stop, bumper-to-bumper pressure cooker that just makes me want to leap from my vehicle and run off into the wilderness. I try to focus on remaining calm. I pop my lavender essential oil diffuser into the lighter socket to fill my car with a calming scent. I tune the radio to a non-news station, and I look around at all the other drivers and try to wish them well on their drive home. There is a well-dressed woman beside me and she is talking to her little passenger. I imagine she just picked up her child from private school and now they are heading home to start making dinner together. There is a teenager and his dad driving on the other side of me. I imagine he is working on getting his driver’s license. His dad is probably inwardly hanging on for dear life while outwardly showing support and fearlessness while they drive home together. In front of me I can see a minivan filled with kids and the little TV monitors hanging down into their view. I imagine the mom has packed the kids some snacks and is driving them to dance practice and music lessons. Families in cars doing what families do and I can’t stop the tears that start to fall.

Here in rush-hour traffic it hits me: I am all alone in my car. I don’t need to drive you anywhere anymore. In fact, you don’t need me much anymore at all. My work as a mom is done. The sobs drown out the radio and my tears make seeing the road more difficult. I feel a sense of relief that I have time to myself, but I can’t believe it is over. Eighteen years seemed liked it was going to be such a long time, but now that they are over, what am I to do? It has been my job for so long, to love you and nurture you and help you find your independence. And now that you are independent, who am I going to be? This should be a welcome beginning, but I am uneasy with the new-found freedom.

I have started to test my freedom with some business ideas and I am making mistakes. I am having false starts. I am bumping around on my baby-deer legs learning to walk again. I suppose you could say I am having a midlife crisis. That term conjures up purchases of ridiculous fancy cars, out-of-the-blue divorces, changes in careers, and wild wardrobe switches. That’s the extreme side, but this is the less visible one, the guilt. I have guilt and I don’t know what to do with it. It is the guilt of finally having the time and resources to do what I want after years of putting my needs on the back burner. It feels like I have a candy stash; so indulgent, so selfish. I find myself looking around to see who might steal it from me just as I am about to unwrap and savour the first piece. I also worry that it has it gone stale.

This is where the uneasiness and bambi legs come in. I am so used to my role as Mom that I don’t know who I’ll be as me. I can’t really remember who I am. I think I remember loving art and poetry. I think I remember wanting to save the world and trying to make a difference. But I’ve put much of that aside, and now I look like a teenager trying on a new identity each week. I’m trying to find myself again. I hear myself saying things like: “That doesn’t fit.” “That doesn’t feel quite right.” “This feels good but I’m not good at it yet.” I am stumbling around and I think people are judging my short attention span and remedial execution while I try things on.

I wipe my eyes and pull into our driveway. So much sadness and guilt in one car ride. I turn off the car and a shiver of fear goes up my spine. I am halfway through this thing called life. Time is so short. Can I find myself fast enough to do something with the rest of my life? I haven’t seen many vibrant women in their second half, and I worry that I too will simply disappear. I wonder if it is the embarrassment of starting life midway that keeps women behind closed doors. I go into the empty house and sit in my chair. I turn on the TV and let the colourful images slow my thoughts. Sitting on the couch watching television is easier than trying to create a new life. But I’ve seen that future play out. I’ve caught glimpses of those women on cruise ships and in coffee shops. They have a masked bitterness to them that seeps out through their pursed lips and polite but curt responses. I don’t want to be one of those women.

I turn the TV off again and pace the floor. I can’t believe how quiet it is and how hard it is to be alone with my thoughts. My chest is so tight and I feel a restlessness that I just can’t shake. It is as though a door has slammed and I am standing staring at a woman in the mirror that I haven’t seen in decades. I should feel like I’ve accomplished something, but the accomplishments were yours. I feel like I should have earned something but instead I feel stripped of my titles and purpose. I can’t catch my breath. I want to hurry up and find my place, but I can’t seem to do much more than pace the room again. I feel like I am searching for something that I cannot find. More than anything, I am afraid that if I sit down I might never stand up again.