Three important events will be occurring in my life over the next couple weeks: my best friend – my sister from another mister – and her family will move to Portland, my third and youngest child will start kindergarten and I will turn 40. Silver linings aside, each of these events represents a loss to be grieved independently. Together, they form a Triple Threat and not in a good, J.Lo sort of way.
Recently, I’ve felt rather crushed by the weight of this Triple Threat, so I thought I would show myself a little kindness and try to face each one separately, beginning with my Big Looming Birthday – my transition from the Summer of my life to the Fall of my life (unfortunately and inaccurately named, I hope.)
A quick word about comparing life stages with seasons before I continue. If one expects to live 90 years and plots those years across a 12 month time span, each month equates to 7.5 years so that the Spring of your life is from birth to age 22.5, the Summer is from age 22.5 to 45 and so on. If one expects to live to age 80 – the average lifespan of an American woman – that would equate to 20 years per season. And so on and so forth. Moving on….
Summer. Summer is the season of life I dreamt about most as a child. The ubiquitous question “what do you want to be when you grown up?” referred to the Summer of my life. What would I do for work? Where would I live? Would I marry? If so, whom would I marry? Would we have children together? If so, how many?
As kids, my friends and I played M.A.S.H., attempting to foresee (or create) our futures. We would object when we ended up in a shack with 10 kids, working as a poop-scooper and married to Gregory, the bespeckled boy who wet his pants in gym class in first grade and had been a social pariah ever since. No way! I wanted to marry cute Tim Knickerbocker, live in a mansion (or at least a house), have 3 or 4 kids and a fabulously successful job as a fashion designer or an Olympic gymnast (which seemed like a job to me at the time.)
So when my Summer season began, I set about building my M.A.S.H. dream. I moved to Los Angeles, graduated from college, got a well-paying job and had a few years of 20-style living with ample disposable income before falling in love with and marrying the Man of My Dreams, moving to the ‘burbs and having three babies. Check. Check. Check.
That’s not to say all my choices were unreflected or rash. On the contrary, there were many, many times along the way when I stopped to consider if the trajectory of my life was well-aimed or if I needed to recalibrate.
But Summer is a fast-paced and somewhat frenzied season with very little time for assessment leftover at the end of the day. I set up goals like firing targets, took aim and began knocking ‘em down, one after another like Annie Oakley shooting ducks in a barrel.
Looking back, I can see that my life took on a sort of self-powered momentum – a life set at 65 mph on cruise-control – barreling through the days and weeks, gobbling up the years like Pac Man. For many of those years, I had an almost obsessive need to memorialize every instant with a photograph or video, desperate not to let a precious moment slip through my mind-sieve like water down the drain. And thank goodness I did! I remember so little! My memories often seem to me like flies stuck to fly-paper: luckily, loosely caught.
With that said, Summer has been good to me. I won’t bore you with a list of all the things I’m grateful for. It will have to suffice to say that I have cultivated a life I love very much. If my eight year old self could meet my 39 year old self, she would glow with pride and joy. Much like the literal summer, this season has been full, fun, dizzying, colorful and – yes – slightly exhausting. Forgive me for being predictable and sentimental, but the word is blessed. I feel blessed.
If the hectic, can’t-stop-won’t-stop, hyperactive Summer can leave me feeling this way, who’s to say Fall won’t be even better? Of course, none of us knows what the future will bring – or if we will even have a future! – but all evidence so far would suggest that my life is going to continue to be richly fulfilling.
So why am I scared?
Maybe it’s because I’m one step closer to Winter and afraid of death. Maybe I just feel unprepared for the ways I know my life will change. Maybe I’m afraid of how fast it’s all going. Maybe it’s because M.A.S.H. never went passed The Summer.
Or maybe I’m finally understanding how little control I have in the universe and my fear is about to give way to a deep and powerful surrender <<insert hopeful question mark>>.
Lately, I take great comfort from my girlfriends who’ve already been in this season a little while. Here are just a few heartening things they’ve shared with me:
“I believe I was seriously sleep deprived in my 30’s when my kids were little. I find myself better rested and more energetic. I can truly enjoy my kids and their maturing personalities and senses of humor.”
“I feel like in my 20’s and 30’s I was busy building a nest. Now the nest is full and I’m enjoying my time with that. I feel like I’m really settling into myself.”
“Because we worked so hard in our 20’s and 30’s, my husband and I are much more secure financially than we used to be, which takes the edge off financial discussions and gives us the opportunity to be more adventurous. We can travel with our kids or buy things for our family or our home without constantly stressing about money. Ultimately, this allows us to have more fun together as a couple and as a family.”
“The best thing for me about being in my 40’s is that I have the wisdom to know that life is really short. I try to enjoy every moment and not sweat the small stuff.”
“In my forties, I’ve made a conscious decision to spend time doing only the things my family and I want to do, rather than doing the things we felt we had to do. I’m not trying so hard to please everyone anymore.”
“I feel so much stronger, both physically and emotionally, than I did in my 30’s.”
“I’m much more confident about my appearance in my 40’s. I’m not exactly sure where that comes from…age, wisdom, delusion? I probably looked better in my 30’s, but anyone can look hot in their 20’s and 30’s! Some of my peers aren’t putting in the effort anymore, but for me, taking care of myself – my body, my hair, my skin – makes me feel sexy.”
Fall is beckoning me closer. It’s a frightening, but also alluring invitation. An invitation to a place unknown. I’ve never been particularly good at restraint, so perhaps my curiosity will serve me well at this stage in my life. As much as I hate feeling unprepared and out of control, I’m beginning to wonder if that is exactly how I’m supposed to feel going into this new season – if that isn’t, in fact, the whole point. To hold my expectations, desires and fears loosely and acquiesce totally to that Siren’s call and see where it takes me.
Reading this back to myself, I am struck by one of the more vivid memories stuck on my fly paper-memory.
During my senior year of college, a dear friend took me to visit his hometown in Central California, near the southern part of the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. We spent the afternoon at one of his childhood haunts on a nearby river where he and his young, reckless friends would jump off the surrounding cliffs into the icy, turbulent water below.
As a Colorado girl with an older brother, jumping off cliffs was not new to me. But these cliffs were higher, the gorge between them narrower, than any I had jumped off before. Cliffs high enough that a person jumping off them needs to take a second breath on the way down – one breath wasn’t enough to last through both air time and underwater time.
As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, the particular cliff my friend favored jutted out over the water like a Greek nose so that you had to jump off with enough strength to clear the tip of it from, say, the bridge of the nose, or else smash yourself into the side of the cliff before plummeting into the water. It was a cliff that demanded everything you had inside of you, physically and mentally. The slightest hesitation or doubt on the part of the jumper could be disastrous.
I’m no dare devil and I am not one to confront a fear merely for entertainment, but that day something inside of me wanted to conquer that fear. So I ran (because I had to run in order to clear the cliff-nose tip), jumped as hard as I could and took that second breath on the way down before plunging deep into the rushing mountain spring water, so cold that it paralyzed my lungs temporarily.
It was probably a very foolish thing to do, but I was exhilarated. I had gathered up all my courage, starred my fear full in the face and said, “Uh, uh. Not today,” and launched myself off that cliff. I was so proud of myself in that moment.
If that is what Fall holds for me, I’m in.
In honor of the passing Summer – both literally and metaphorical – I’m sharing some of my favorite cover-ups.
1. Red Carter Jumpsuit Cover-Up. It also comes in this style and as a maxi dress to wear poolside.
2. Burnout Cover-Up by Stem worn over the Van Gogh Mornings top and brazilian bottoms by Maaji.
3. Charlotte Cover-Up by O’Neil worn over a Mara Hoffman bikini.
4. Boyfriend Shirt Cover-Up by Tommy Bahama worn over another fabulous bikini by Maaji.