The Middle Wonder Years

Middle age is a kind of adolescence for the almost-old

You wonder about things.

You think about things.

You think about how your grandmother was younger than you when you were born. How your mother was younger than you when you had your first baby. How much of your life is behind you, at 52. Most of the big events — the wedding, the births of your children, their college graduations — those things are done.

You think, what comes next? Where did the days all go, the days spent surrounded by so many people, so much activity? Even as you savor the quiet, you miss the tumult, the crowded schedule, the many lives that were entwined with yours daily, the weekends of cold cuts and football games, a father you still miss every day, a grandmother who reminded you of how happy you could be when you were a child.

The things that fall away as you get older are, so often, the things that defined you all your life. There is no replacing what's gone — no new children to take the place of the grown people you once carried as babies in your arms, no new father to love you the way yours did for 45 years. There is no going back and being a million times more grateful and present in those moments that now are memories that both comfort and sadden you at the same time.

You wonder about things.

Did you do enough? Did you miss out on things that were right there for you to appreciate? Did you take enough family vacations, cook healthy enough meals, say "I love you" enough to everyone? Did you spend too much time reading books and not enough time riding bikes? Were you too often distracted, annoyed, busy?

Were you kind enough?

Were you enough?

Are you enough?

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Middle age is a kind of adolescence for the almost-old. We are, most of us, in the process of losing people, time, youth — even as we are gaining perspective, wisdom, empathy. We look more gently at the people around us, growing aware that we are all, every one of us, vulnerable to the inevitable deterioration that aging brings.

We can rage against time, run marathons, get master's degrees, downsize, cross off items on our bucket lists — but none of it will stop us from losing people, parts of identities, most of our visibility. We have to work twice as hard to stay half as relevant.

Our children set out to have their own lives and we watch them go, painfully proud and a little wistful. How we have loved them, raised them, invested our hearts and souls into helping them become big people. And now they are. Big people. Some of them we adore, and some of them seem like strangers. You just don't know, when you start, how it will turn out.

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At this middle place, between youth and old age, you search for something to define yourself that has nothing to do with anyone else. Who are you, if not a mother, a wife, a daughter?

"Look at me," you sometimes want to scream at the young, bearded, tattooed people you see in the world. "I know things you don't."

But they don't want to hear you. They are in their moments, their losses not yet in their souls, their lives still a mystery in so many ways. Their children are small, their marriages still new, there's so much ahead of them.

You don't want to be one of those people who says, "When I was your age…"

And then, sometimes, when you look at your husband, when you remember the years, the days, the moments — the times when it seemed nothing would ever be good again or when nothing could ever go wrong — you understand. If only for a moment, you understand.

This is where you're meant to be.

Tags: family