Category Archives: generation x

Boring Shoes and Good Housekeeping

I spent the coffee portion of my morning reading the May issue of Good Housekeeping, a subscription that my mother had bought for her mother until Grandma died and then passed on to me. There was a lapse in between of about fifteen years when only my mom received the issues, and whenever I visited her house I read them with a sense of guilty pleasure. Now, I just read them. There’s no sense of irony or guilty pleasure. I’m not out of my league here. In fact, I am solidly in the demographic that considers GH’s reviews on anti-aging products and foundation that clears up skin blotching. This morning, I even checked out an ad for super-comfy sandals with the pillow-type soles. I never would have considered these shoes six months ago, before I inherited a pair of my mother’s Sketchers On-the-Go loafers in a conservative tan color (Tan really does go with everything.). These shoes have become my go-to pair. I wear them with skirts, leggings, and jeans. My husband’s ex, whose fashion choices have always had that tired “mom” look to them, recently complimented me on my very comfortable pair of tan Sketchers with the white marshmallow soles. They’re like walking on air.

I own ten pairs of wedges and nine pairs of heels. In the past six months, I have worn wedges or heels exactly two times—a pair of stilettos for my mom’s viewing, and a pair of wedges for her memorial. And I have some wedgey boots that I wore from time-to-time, but certainly not often. In part because I gained a lot of weight in the last couple of years and don’t fit into most of my clothes, and in part because I’ve started to value comfort in a way that I never valued it before, I tend to wear a lot of yoga pants, t-shirts, and sweatshirts these days. Sometimes, I even find a way to dress these items up enough to wear them to work.

What is happening to me? Was it really that long ago that my writing professor suggested I submit my work to More magazine, and I hesitated because I didn’t think I was old enough to share the perspective of the More-reading audience? Sigh. Yes, it was. I long for More magazine these days; but unfortunately, that sophisticated periodical that applauded older women—their second acts, their successes and struggles, their graying hair—is gone, and I’m left with reading material like Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens instead. They’re not so bad—I’ve gotten great recipes and decorating tips from these selections—but they’re not More. These magazines have the sophistication of a tan pair of Sketchers On-the-Go. And, I’m afraid, at the age of forty-six, I do as well.

America’s Next Top Something or Other

I’ve immersed myself this evening in episodes of Friends and America’s Next Top Model. They give me such a giggle!

First, let’s take a look at Friends. I didn’t watch the show in the nineties because I was your typical nineties nonconformist who didn’t believe in stuff like television or fiction or capitalism. Basically, I was an asshole. But now I think Friends is a pretty funny show.

Anyway, on tonight’s rerun of Friends, Rachael turned thirty, and her five peers tried to cheer her up while she wallowed—just a tad—in some self-pity. I hardly remember turning thirty. Maybe it was bittersweet. I don’t know. It was so damn long ago that my only memory of it was opening up a birthday package from my mom in the hall bathroom. I don’t know why I was opening packages in the hall bathroom. I’m not even entirely sure the package was from my mom. Might have been from my ex-boyfriend. That would explain the hall bathroom. In that package was a coffee mug that said “Yikes! 30!” which I still own.

Thirty. Hah hah HAH. Someone seasoned like the administrative assistant at my college who has been there, done that, and dealt with everything from death to illness to job loss and plumbing issues should have sat me down that night and said, “Sugar, you’re only gonna get older and older and OLDER, so open up your eyes right now and take all this in and remember it.” As it is, thirty was just a blip.

Then, there’s ANTM, another show I never watched, not til this season. This season, we got big girls and old girls and hairless girls in the mix. I can’t stop watching. There’s a 42 year-old woman competing this season, and here’s how she deals with the twenty-something hormone drama in the model house in LA: she doesn’t. She keeps her mouth shut, and she stays out of it. Smart woman. That’s my forty-something girl. Tonight, she wore a very stupid outfit to elimination, some gold coverall shorts with a frilly white blouse—very Goldilocks—but I will forgive her for that because she hasn’t modeled since like 1996, and she’s still a little confused and has a tough experience ahead of her.

My forty-something–the only woman on the show who doesn’t make me cringe or giggle with her imaginary insecurities. At our age, the shit that makes us cry isn’t imaginary.

Babies and Grief

OK, my cousin is temporarily staying at her sister’s house where she can play with a baby, and where her puppy can interact with another dog, and where she can be around other people and their normalcy for a time. I’m satisfied that she’s taken care of, at least for a week.

Babies are living antidepressants. The day my Mom died, a ragtag group of people descended on the house. There was my brother, of course, and my aunt and my nieces and my nephew and his wife. And there was the guy who owns the auto body shop down the road, the one who has been friends with the family since he and my brother took auto shop together in high school in the seventies. He’s plowed my parents’ driveway in winter, fixed their cars whenever they hit a deer or a traffic cone on the highway. Sold my oldest brother more refurbished auction cars than I can count on my hands. He’s always been there. And so there he was, at our house on the day my mom died, with his wife and his daughter and his little baby granddaughter.

This guy. This guy is one of those people who doesn’t have the words. He’s kind. He’s affable. He’s witty. But he doesn’t do speeches or drama or serious. A week before my mother died, when I first got to town, I stopped over at his shop to say “hi” like I always do. He just stood there and looked at me. No dumb jokes, no silly banter. I would have found it awkward, except that I’ve known this guy, literally, for as long as I can remember. So we just stood there in his shop for awhile, amid the dirt and oil fumes of gutted cars that brings me back to my childhood, hanging around my brothers while they tried to resurrect vintage Chevy products in our driveway. And then I left. This guy only has one channel—friendly and light. If he can’t be tuned to that channel, he just slips into quiet. And I am grateful for that.

I told my cousin this story. Because sometimes there are no words for tragedy and grief. I’ve told my cousin she’s young, and because she’s young, I’d like to see her feel better, eventually. But I never assured her that it would get better. I never told her to get back out there and start over, or to start dating again. That’s absurd. In the face of grief, you have to choose your words carefully, or just don’t say anything at all, like my brother’s loyal friend, the guy with the auto shop down the road, and the cute grandbaby that he brought to my parents’ house on the day my mother died.

There we were, a distraught family that was feeling some weird kind of relief and release because the suffering was over, at least for Mom.  And then there was this baby, a little thing in a tutu and a bow with big brown eyes, a child who was just beginning to comprehend the world around her. She didn’t know any of the yucky stuff—sadness, grief—she just responded to sounds and lights and color and smiles. Her granddaddy made goofy faces, and she smiled and laughed and shrieked, and he imitated her shrieks. And I enjoyed this baby, and I got FUCKED UP.

Later, after everyone left, my dad said, “I never understood how people could laugh and have fun in the face of tragedy. Now I think I get it. It’s a release.” It’s catharsis. It is. It’s like taking a long hike in the woods. It’s like hanging out with a baby. It’s like being with people who want or need nothing from you. They’re just there, like they’ve always been, with nothing new or profound to say.

My poor cousin. My cousin who gave up everything—her community, her friends, and even her family—to follow this dreamer (or maybe con artist) into the wilderness. She needs something. She needs the guy who owns the auto body shop down the road. She needs community, and she needs a baby. I hope this week she gets it.

 

 

Getting Real–Baltimore, Hon!

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how secretive I thought I needed to be in my “public” blog? In three years, I never said where I was from or where I lived or named names because I thought a confessional type of blog such as this required an element of privacy.

Then I realized that all the people I wanted to protect—my parents, my cousins, my friends—none of them read this. My followers are strangers. They found me on their own because something I said resonated with them. Over the years, I’ve shared this link with family and friends, and by doing so I’ve dared them to read it, and they didn’t. So why should I care anymore about sheltering their feelings or reputations?

The stuff I always wanted to write about was very regional and very personal. Baltimore, my adoptive city, the place where I lived through two marriages and one formative decade, can’t be compared to any other place on this earth. If I want to be real, I can’t be generic. I’m an East Coast blogger living in the Baltimore/DC Metro area and wishing I were back in the Baltimore part of that identification. I live in a safe, clean, and expensive suburb. When I drive to work and back, I cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge between Maryland and Virginia. I can see the Washington Monument through my passenger window.

My hiking partner, the woman I cite in many of my posts, was my downstairs neighbor back in those Baltimore days. She left her keys in the door back in 2003, the day I moved into a studio apartment in the former library of a nineteenth century brownstone. She had left her keys in the door, and I knocked. We’ve been friends ever since. And now, you can’t take the Baltimore out of us.

There’s a whole lot going on in Baltimore these days, stuff that makes the news, stuff that indicates that a white transplant from rural Pennsylvania might not make it there. But I never went to Baltimore to “make it.” “Making it” was never my plan.

Gen Xers–Are We Sages?

My hiking buddy and I spent the early afternoon scrambling along and up and over miles of natural rock formations, pausing along the way to take in some of the most gorgeous views that our part of the U.S.A. can offer. She and I make a great hiking duo. We choose a different trail every time we go out, so we always encounter a surprise or two. The fact that we needed to use our upper bodies to traverse this trail that my app labeled “moderate” was today’s surprise, a moderate surprise as compared to some of the other situations we’ve gotten ourselves into. In the end, though, we always laugh. We laugh at ourselves and whatever behavior the hike inspires in us. And we laugh just to laugh, I think. I love days like today.

I talked to my cousin last night. She’s a mess—walking around in a daze, wearing her dead husband’s clothes and shoes, sleeping with her arms wrapped around his urn. Grief has taken hold of her and isn’t letting go any time soon, especially since she drinks all day. If she were working, which she isn’t due to a ruptured disc or something, I think she’d be a bit more in touch with her surroundings. She might have a chance to break out of the depression spell. As it is, she spends all day, every day, alone with a confused puppy that her husband bought her shortly before he left this earth, and drinking.

What can I do? I’m forty-six. I am also plagued with grief and troubles, but of a different breed. I recently reviewed a series of journal entries from 2012 in which I discuss my struggles with drinking, my worries over my cousin, and my fear that I might lose my father. Six years ago, I was where I am now, except for one difference—I was preparing to lose a parent. Fast forward to now. I’ve lost the parent, just not the parent I expected to lose first. While I circle the wheel of same-old-shit-different year, the unexpecteds sometimes throw me off my course, wake me up. I need that. Who woulda thought Mom would go first? I didn’t, but I was prepared for something big. Ultimately, I was prepared for death. My cousin wasn’t.

My hiking buddy told me that this same-old-shit-different-year scenario that I am stuck in is a result of unwillingness to compromise.

“We wanna be able to drink when we want to drink and eat what we want to eat,” she said, “yet we also want to be svelt and fit.” It just doesn’t add up. We gotta compromise. Then she joked about how we can’t say the word “svelt” without feeling like a Jewish mom: “Oh, she’s so svelt!” And we laughed like we do.

That’s what my cousin doesn’t have anymore—the laughter. She gave her whole self, her whole identity, over to that husband. He, in so many words, told her where to live, who to hang out with, how to behave, and what was funny.

“You got Netflix?” I asked her. “Watch GLOW—great eighties soundtrack. Marc Maron is hysterical. It’s a fun distraction.”

You know what she told me?

“I don’t watch anything anymore that would make us laugh.” US. Us. What does a woman do when there is no more “us”? Is it wrong to think ahead? To sit down with our spouses and hash out life insurance and wills?  Six years ago, I was thinking ahead. I was forty, and my parents were in their seventies, and my husband and I hashed out our wills, and we discussed life insurance, and we discussed moving to a place where my mom could live with us… if the situation required it. Six years ago, I was struggling with my weight and with alcohol, but I was also preparing for this shitstorm that is life after forty. My cousin. She’s gotta get there.

I just don’t know what to say anymore. I wish I had sage answers to life’s questions. Maybe I do, but no one’s asking.

“Snow days” with the stepmom

I had hit my snooze button twice, downed my first cup of coffee, and woke up the teenager before I was informed by the kids’ mom that school is once again cancelled. Having been a former high school teacher, I’m conditioned—under any kind of weather threat—to wake up naturally at around 5 a.m. and check the district’s website for potential cancellations. I didn’t do this today because, when I last checked the weather, we were expecting warmer temperatures and rain. Not ideal, not ideal enough for ME to postpone my painting and repairing adventure until tomorrow (I really DON’T want to do it!), but ideal enough for buses to operate and for teachers to drive to school.

Well, turns out the temps in the forecast dropped a couple degrees, and that means that the rain which MIGHT fall around 1:00 this afternoon (40% chance), might freeze to the roads. Too many modals in this forecast to cancel school, in my opinion. Then again, I am over 40; I remember the seventies; I grew up in the cold Northeast. While I didn’t walk ten miles to school barefoot in a blizzard (and uphill, to boot), I remember when the snow had accumulated to at least six inches before the district sent us home. And then the school bus slid off the road and got stuck in a ditch…

Before I defeat the point I was about to make with that example, let me stress that sending kids home early because the snow won’t stop falling is a bit more practical than keeping them home all day long because the snow MIGHT fall around the end of the school day. Today, the teenager could have enjoyed some social time, attended his two favorite classes, and eaten lunch before the threat got real. These kids have been out of school since last Wednesday while life goes on for everyone else. There are too many stay-at-homes in this district who can ease the impact of the majority of its kids never going to school.

Ummmm, and I guess I need to admit that I’m one of them.

School cancellations during my college’s winter break mean almost nothing to me. I’m not inconvenienced. In fact, they give me an excuse to put off doing the stuff on my to-do list (like making repairs at the rental property) in exchange for never getting out of my sweatpants or taking a shower. My biggest problem is that I struggle with the compulsion to entertain the kids throughout these long shut-ins. On Friday, while I sat around in my sweatpants, one stay-at-home parent took our sixth-grader bowling with his friends while another took our teenager to the movies and then ice skating. That’s a lot of concentrated time with a bunch of boys with whom none of us, excluding the one stay-at-home dad, have a whole lot in common. I’m sure if the boys were over at their mom’s house, they’d be baking bread or reorganizing the house or inventing their own elaborate games. Their mom is the “Super Mom” (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Super+Mom).

I’m the stepmom. I just don’t have it in me to orchestrate that kind of frenzied activity.

However, today will be our third day home together, and that excludes this past weekend. I don’t know if I can handle another marathon of Seasons 5, 6, 7, or 8 of The Office. I don’t think I can continue fighting with the little guy to sit quietly for thirty minutes and read a book (always a fight). I’m gonna have to up my game today, or it’s gonna be a long one. Perhaps I will hide the controls to the new gaming system and all of the other electronics and bust out Monopoly. That’ll kill a few hours.

Sigh.

NOTE:  the little guy just woke up.  When I told him school was cancelled, he was pissed.  That’s how long he’s been out of school, long enough to be pissed off that he’s spending one more day at home… or maybe just one more day with his stepmom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GenXers and “Second Acts”

My husband and I made a joint decision to buy rental properties. We already had one, our former home, and we recently purchased another, strictly for renting out. We did a 180, going from hating being landlords (and doing it all wrong) to searching for more properties to buy and researching forms of alternative financing.

I, personally, have always been into real estate—acquiring, holding, flipping, what-have-you. My husband had always treated my obsession with following real estate trends in and around our home as, at best, a distraction that kept me from my real career, at worst, a waste of our time. However, as a former reader and big fan of the now defunct More Magazine, I believed in the “Second Act.” More’s monthly “Second Acts” featured women, all over the age of forty, who transitioned out of their lives-as-they-knew-them and became something new and different. Some women went from homemakers to corporate giants, others abruptly left the corporate world and started small businesses or nonprofits. One woman, whom I remember quite distinctly, left a high-stress, high-paying job and moved to some expansive property in a wild western state and created a rescue farm. 180s, “Second Acts”—they’re the comebacks of disgruntled GenXers. I’ve been dreaming of a 180 since I read my first copy of More Magazine.

All my husband needed to get on board with real estate investment was the right pitch from the right person. That person wasn’t me. It was, ironically, a Millennial. I will hold no grudges, though, since I got what I said I wanted.

After scraping and struggling and acquiring two Masters degrees, moving from venue to venue, I finally found a teaching environment that I truly enjoy, and recently, things started falling into place. I was offered a full-time position, albeit non-tenured. I passed it up. My big plans as the fall began last year to sample a variety of teaching positions while I held my part-time status at my current college until something big came up… well, it came up. And then it went. My choice. I finally got what I SAID I wanted, but all the while, what I really wanted was my second act.

I’m lucky. I’m lucky that my husband has a career that’s too serious to get taken over by today’s bottom line—new, young, and hungry.   You can’t bullshit your way into what my husband does, and freshly-minted graduates are not necessarily the most cost-efficient or valued prospects. My field, on the other hand, is oozing with cronyism and bullshit. It’s time for my 180.

Believe me, I don’t think that real estate investment is going to make us rich, or that it will be easy. At present, our monthly cash flow from rentals is about $100 a month—see, we rented out our former family home to my best friend and her husband with bad credit for a deep discount last year, just because we didn’t want to be landlords anymore, and we knew they’d take care of the property. Our second investment should yield us a $450 cash flow. That’s $550 a month of tax-sheltered income once we find a tenant. That’s what I make, after taxes, hustling part-time in the classroom. And with rental properties, someone else pays down the mortgage. Why not try this out?

I’ve already learned a lot from our mistakes—I know where the unplanned for expenses come from, I know the value of having a contractor’s license, I know that the city where we planned to invest is getting more expensive (taxes are rising, water bills are rising, lead abatement policies are getting much stricter). I know not to rent to friends or family. My best friend threatens to never leave our property. And why should she? She’s got the cheapest rent in town. More airtight leases, better pre-screening practices—I’m learning it all. On Monday, I am going to tackle my first handyman projects by repairing holes in the drywall and the plaster in my friend’s/tenant’s house so that it can pass a lead inspection and become a legal property again, a service that I will charge my tenants for in the future. It’s like getting another degree, but this time it’s hands-on. Lucky me.

Only time will tell if this new path is really a second act, or if it’s just another short-lived distraction. Well, I shouldn’t say “only time,” as if this venture is not an act of free will. It is. And I’m a little scared. Because life gets real when you take ownership of it, and I’ve been in the habit of NOT doing that.

It only gets… worse?

My younger cousin’s husband died today, three days after she posted a picture on Facebook of the Bulldog puppy he’d bought for her, thanking him for his thoughtfulness, announcing to the Facebook community that he was her whole world. If that was really the case, then my cousin lost her whole world today.

No one was expecting it, especially her.

I’m not saying he was a picture of health—the dude was twenty years older, and he lived like he was forty years younger. He drank day and night, and he cooked rich food dripping with butter and fat. We knew her husband would go much sooner than my cousin did. We just didn’t expect that to happen TODAY.

Isn’t that how life and death seems to work over the age of forty? Nothing is guaranteed anymore.

When we’re young, and we experience unnatural tragedy, we have reasons to howl at the moon and cry “unfair!” Now, we can’t curl up into our grief and question the gods and cry “unfair.” Now, tragedy is as natural as some niece or nephew getting married and having a baby and starting this cycle of life all over again. We live in a world in which the younger generation thrives and our parents’ friends die, and we are in the middle. We’re in a place where our parents’ generation dies, and our friends struggle with crises and life-threatening illnesses and death. Sometimes, in this over 40 reality, our friends’ children commit suicide, or our peers’ lovers die quietly on the couch after refusing to see a doctor about their weird heart palpitations.

Shiiiiit… when I started this blog, this 40s are the new 40s thing, I didn’t know the half of it. I thought I was jaded, but this jaded thing just goes on and on. I guess that’s a lesson I’ll take into my fifties, if I’m lucky enough to get there.

Love now; look forward; live with grief

I canceled today’s visit with my shrink because I didn’t want to pay him. He kindly offered to meet with me now and bill me later, but that would have defeated my intent to not spend money at all. I rescheduled our appointment for next month. In the meantime, our new insurance will kick in, and I’ll go and find a psychiatrist who can prescribe my meds at a fraction of the price. He’s a great guy, my psychiatrist—old-school shrink and counselor all rolled into one. Four years ago, the old man put me on the right path. Now, I’ve outgrown him.

I outgrew many things this autumn. Amidst the grief and the sadness, opportunities have presented themselves. It just took me some time to read the signs.

My husband and I take “signs” quite seriously. The week after I met him, I sent him a goodbye email on a Saturday morning, only to run into him later downtown on his way to a free concert. Ten or eleven blissful hours after that, I warned him not to read his email. We’ve been together ever since, thankful that, at that time, he didn’t have an internet connection at his place, and I didn’t go out of town that day like I had planned. What would our lives be like now if he had read that email, if I had left town? I shudder at the thought. These are the signs we reflect upon when life doesn’t work out as planned.

Over the years, more signs came our way, inspiring bold decisions. Big changes in our lives came in clusters. 2011 was a pivotal year. During that year, we moved to a new city, thus solidifying fifty-percent custody of his young children who had moved there with their mother three years prior. I became certified to teach ESL, opening up a new path of career possibilities for me in this new city. And I got my Master’s degree in Nonfiction Writing, something I didn’t necessarily need in my field (most teachers went for the subsidized M.Ed.s), but something that I wanted, and something that allowed me to teach at the college level. It was a big year, marking a complete shift in my lifestyle and my thinking—I became a parent, for real, not just on Wednesdays and every other weekend; I set myself up to leave public school teaching for good (big sigh); and I made peace with the suburbs and a quieter life.

Just as everything changed after 2011, this year looks like it’s gonna be another big one.

In the fall, four things happened: my mother was diagnosed with and quickly died from pancreatic cancer; my husband started a new job; we bought another house; and I was offered a full-time position at my college.

My husband’s last job was going south quickly. He was unhappy, and he took a risk with another company doing work outside of his comfort zone. Because he knew that the first six months of this job, at least, would require tons of travel and training and meetings, he told me he was thankful that I had a light and flexible schedule at the community college where I teach ESL. He would need me to be around more often to help him get the kids to one of their many lessons, practices, games, or activities. I was secretly happy to put off looking for a full-time teaching job to help out at home.

When I taught full-time, I did it because I needed to. I didn’t want to arrive at work at before the sun rose and stay until it went down again. Even when I could get out of there on the earlier side, I paid the price by taking the work with me. While a full-time community college position would not demand as many physical hours of my time as a public high school, I’d been part-time too long to appreciate the difference. Some people, when they’re underemployed, don’t feel busy enough or whole enough, or (I don’t know, I’ve never felt that way)… something… when they’re not immersed in their career. I’m not one of those people.

Then there’s the house. We didn’t buy it to move into it. We bought it to be an investment property. For nine years, I have been stalking real estate as a hobby, watching prices rise, noting flips and changing values. I tried to get my husband on board with the real estate thing after we moved, when the prices in our expensive suburb were comparatively low, but he thought real estate was a fool’s game. Suddenly, over the summer, he became obsessed with real estate investment (Note on his personality: He has two extremes—all in or all out and nothing in between.). I won’t go into detail on how that happened, I’ll just say that now, he relies on my time and my interest to legitimately pursue this risky venture.

These days, when I’m not teaching or cleaning, working out or cooking, or writing, I’m learning about licenses and inspections, tweaking leases, new software for landlords, value-estimating spreadsheet calculations, gleaning private money. And I like it. My work with this house, with establishing new social networks of real estate investors, and with researching the business has felt like earning another degree, except this one is hands-on, complete with the debt and the with the potential for financial growth that come with conventional degrees.

Finally, that opportunity I had thought I always wanted came my way—a full-time teaching position at my college. Full-time positions at the college-level, even non-tenure-track positions like this one, are rare these days. And even more rare is one invited into the position. I’ve spent four years at this college demonstrating my worth. My students respect me. My colleagues respect me, and for at least the past two of those four years, they have encouraged me to try for full-time. That is why I got the TESOL degree—it was the one last step to a full-time position in this field. I was finally getting what I had said I wanted for six years. Except I didn’t want it anymore.

For twelve years, I worked long hours and lived for a paycheck. Then I moved here, and I began to explore life outside of constant work. The new path that I have chosen by reading the signs this fall is a riskier one. I’ll be doing all kinds of work from now on—teaching, raising the kids, writing, researching investments. I won’t have a single career to point to when people ask me “what I do,” which I think is a stupid question to begin with. So much more defines us than our careers—the opportunity, for instance, to watch our oldest disappear through neighbors’ yards on his way to the bus stop as the sun rises; or to drop our youngest off at school in the morning because his cello is bigger than he is, and he can’t manage it on the bus. That’s what I signed up for years ago when we moved away from my urban life as I knew it, to this quieter, slower suburban life. No more excitement, no more regular happy hours and foody hotspots with tattooed waitstaff and disturbing art on the walls. And no more road rage, no more anger and prejudice, no more living only for the weekend, and resenting the kids for ruining it. These days, I look forward to our weekends with the kids as much as I look forward to those weekends without them. I just look forward to being here, period.

When I received that full-time job offer and realized that I had the opportunity to turn it down, to pursue anything that made me tick, I felt very, very fortunate. Since then, I’ve gone to bed sober every night and awakened every morning without a headache, feeling optimistic instead of rundown. Because I can be happy.

Yes, I still burst into tears at random when I, say, look at the Christmas gift list that I had started for my mother, or even when people ask me about her. I still can’t keep it together if I really think about her. But grief can’t define life, just affect it. And while it affects my life every day, I believe I can live with that. I wouldn’t want to forget mom, and I wouldn’t want to stop feeling that sense of loss. It’s a tattoo. And while my father would think I was crazy for turning down a full-time job, security, benefits, to be a part-time housewife, part-time teacher, part-time writer, and part-time investor, my mom would toast me with one of her special alcoholic drinks that she only drank on cruises or on New Year’s Eve, a “Dark and Stormy” or something else that’s more sugar than booze. She never had to articulate it. She was always in my corner.

The New Forties Means our Parents are the New Sixties… at Least.

I interrupt my grief mantra to resume this blog’s original flavor—the 40s are the new 40s. This blog is about the forties, for better or for worse. Last week introduced my 46th birthday. I am finally the age that I have been calling myself for the last year. For some reason, I never even acknowledged forty-five, that middle of middle-age that you’d think I’d want to cling to for as long I possibly could. Instead, I immediately thought ahead, to the years beyond forty-five. I don’t know why, but I have a hunch—I spent my forty-fifth year preparing for THIS.

What is THIS? This is the forties, the real forties. I woke up on my forty-sixth birthday in the same clothes I’d worn the previous day, and the same jewelry, some of which was my mom’s. Like many black-out nights before that one, I hadn’t brushed my teeth because I hadn’t been in control of when I went to bed. On my forty-sixth birthday morning, I completely missed the kids before they caught the bus for school, and my husband both spoiled me with every cooking gadget I’d ever asked for while also reminding me of how much I am slipping.

“Happy birthday,” he said, and he hugged me. Then he said, “Maybe not today, or this weekend, but maybe we can talk about your drinking.” Happy birthday to me—I am a concern to my family.

I guess I am a concern to myself as well. My experiences and memories are sort of pixilated. Sober days are high-definition days. If I take off a ring to put on some hand lotion, I remember to put the ring back on. On a low-tech day, that ring is anybody’s fortune. I never wore rings until my mother died, so if I lose a ring on a low-definition kind of day, that ring is just gone, as is another piece of my mother’s history.

But I didn’t start this blog to talk about my mother exclusively.   However, I have a lot of friends my age who know this kind of grief. It is, in many ways, a product of the forties. I am certain that my focus on the themes of the “new forties” will eventually stray from loss and grief and return to all the other experiences that make this decade so meaningful. For now, I am a skipping record. And if you know what that is, then you know why the forties are NOT the new thirties!