Undeniable Middle Age: What’s Important, What’s Not
I turned 45 this summer, which was an interesting experience for me, because I’m not one of those people who’s ever cared very much about birthdays or age. Turning 30? Whatever. Turning 40? Eh. But for some reason, in my mind, 45 was the point where I could no longer deny being middle-aged. (And really, wouldn’t it be lovely if this was, indeed, middle age? Living to 90 would be a pretty good run.) It’s not that I miss my youth—there’s a lot about my past I don’t miss in the slightest, although 45 years of gravity does have an effect on a person (ahem)—it’s that there’s no longer any possibility of denying that I’m a grown-up.
(You’d think having an adult child would’ve driven that home to me, but no.)
I keep seeing this piece by What Not To Wear style guru Stacy London popping up all over the place. If you don’t feel like reading it (although you should, especially if you were ever a fan of WNTW, because it’s charming), allow me to summarize: London says that as she gets older, she realizes that age is really only what we make of it, plus rules evolve and it’s a lot more about what she really loves than about what she should or shouldn’t be doing. The piece is about style, sure, but it’s also about life.
It got me thinking about what’s important to me these days and what isn’t, and what’s changed over time.
Things Once Important To Me Which No Longer Are
Having a spotless house when people come over
Look, I clean. Sometimes. I definitely keep a sanitary house, albeit sometimes a cluttered one. We’re not living in squalor, or anything. But life is short and anyone who’s going to judge me for that stack of mail or the rug that really needs vacuuming isn’t anyone whose opinion worries me.
Ohhhh, I spent so much of my life needing to be right. Because I was! And it was important that my rightness be acknowledged! I had no idea that would change, and yet, here we are. There’s a very simply solution (or at least there was in my case): 1) Have two children who also really need to be right all the time. 2) Look into the mirror of your righteousness and realize how obnoxious it is. 3) Spend a lot of time sending a gif of Elsa from Frozen titled “Let It Go” via text to aforementioned kids. 4) Discover being right is no longer nearly as important to you.
Not looking old
I struggled with how to word this, because at first I was going to say “my appearance” and that’s not really true—the “just rolled out of bed” look has never been my jam. I do tend to my appearance in various ways; I like to be clean/well-groomed, I have a mild interest in fashion, and I own a wider assortment of ridiculous shoes than I should probably admit. On the other hand, I stopped dyeing my hair a few years back and it was incredibly freeing to not always be worried about having roots or finding time to see my stylist. I have a lot of gray in my hair. I’m sure I look older now than when I colored it. But I dig it—it’s me.
Things Once Unimportant To Me Which I Now Value
I am an introvert on every personality scale test which measures these things, which is funny, because I’m very outgoing and spent the first 3/4 of my life convinced that if I wasn’t being busy and loud, I didn’t exist. Younger me didn’t want or need downtime… or so I thought. These days, loud and busy are still a big part of my day-to-day, but oh how I’ve come to cherish the quiet places in-between. I suspect that younger me felt uncomfortable dealing with… me. It turns out that as I get older, I’m decent company.
It’s not that I didn’t do laundry before or anything, it’s just that the older I get, the greater my appreciation for getting into bed at night, especially when the sheets are nice and clean and crisp. I’m aware of how lame that sounds and I don’t even care. (Get off my lawn!)
I’m fudging a bit on this one, because I don’t know that it was wholly unimportant to me before. Let’s just agree that I didn’t think about it, much. Or I only cared about it as it applied to me. I’m not talking about someone being patient with me, per se, but more about patience in the world in general—seeing various people be patient with my kids, or even seeing random acts of patience out in the world. Everyone’s always in a rush. Patience in our world is a special sort of kindness.
I could go off on a long conservationist rant here about clean drinking water, but the truth is that this point is a lot less shallow than that level of global concern. (I mean, yes, let’s make sure everyone has clean drinking water, and appreciate it when we have it, sure.) No, I’m just referring to the fact that the older I get, the more I realize that a lot of mild complaints can be soothed by drinking a glass of water. Thirsty? Have some water. Headache? Try drinking some water. Too hot? Water! Coming down with a cold? Time to hydrate! I don’t remember thinking this much about water when I was younger. But it’s easy and it almost always helps.
The ability to laugh at myself
I didn’t used to think this was important, probably because I was so busy taking everything in the world very seriously. Getting older, for me, means realizing that I’m often ridiculous, and that’s okay.
Things Which Have Retained Their Importance To Me Over Time
It’s my favorite part of the day. It doesn’t matter what we’re eating, or if we’re at the kitchen table or out at a restaurant; for me, dinnertime is family time. It might be why I had a family in the first place. When someone is missing (if my husband is traveling, for example, or with my daughter off at college), I can spend a whole day unbothered… until we sit down to dinner. My vision of “family dinners” back before I had kids was mythical (because this is not how I was raised) and the reality is, of course, messier, but it’s still pretty great.
Again, this is a wee bit of a fudge, because my understanding of integrity has changed over time. I have always valued honesty. I have always valued sticking to one’s principles. That hasn’t changed. That said, my “more mature” (see, that’s a nice way of saying “old”) understanding of integrity is that it also includes a baseline of kindness toward others. There was a time when I thought being right (see above) was more important than being kind, and I’m glad my continued valuing of integrity has been corrected on this point. Integrity is important. If your integrity includes cruelty, it’s not integrity.
I know a lot of people my age who have a sort of “time is the enemy” outlook, but I’m not one of them. The advantage of having gone through some heavy stuff in your life is that you come to really understand what “time heals” means. The more time that passes, the easier (in general) things become, at least for me. Sure, getting older brings new challenges, and little kids = little problems, big kids = big problems, but I am so much more capable now than I was back when I could still function on nothing but adrenaline and caffeine. Time softens the edges of difficult memories, gives us the space to practice handling ourselves and others, and keeps on going no matter what. It’s a double-edged sword, but I find it comforting, nonetheless.
Alright, my fellow middle-agers… tell me what surprises you most about your values at this stage in your life. (Because I’m pretty sure 18-year-old me is just dying laughing over my affinity for clean sheets.)
Photo source: Disney