While picking up poinsettias at a fundraiser, a mom tapped my shoulder and pointed to my boots.
“Are those Dr. Martens?” she had asked with a grin.
Surprised she knew and even noticed my Docs, she shared that her sixteen year old daughter had taken a picture of me, in them, and told her mom that she needed these boots.
I assessed what I looked like. I had dressed in my default style of black jeans, my black Only Music Can Save Us hoodie (with the hood on because I was cold) and the aforementioned Doc Martens boots. It had been my style as a teen but I had not had the means to purchase the boots version. Several Christmases back it was an impulse buy; a black Friday sale, just because.
Initially when I wore them, a few of the book club moms raised their eyebrows at my footwear. I had been happily surprised when one admitted to wearing them as a teen. My sons didn’t bat an eyelash. They know their mom can easily switch from plaid flannel, my other favorite, to business semi-formal in the same day.
The group of moms surrounding us chimed in as I sheepishly answered that Docs are my ‘style.’ “It suits you,” said one and the other countered that, “Only I could wear it.” I had walked away a bit stunned, not expecting anyone to see me after coming home from work. I am fond of the teenage girl who secretly admires the Docs and my smile widened from ear-to-ear.
It was a little win.
For over a year I’ve struggled with the changes of midlife as I parallel my teens. I have been mourning the losses; the loss of becoming an adult and not achieving my youthful hopes and expectations. That as my sons’ hormones peak, mine wane. My boys have their whole lives ahead of them and my wish is that they do not get stuck like their mother.
I count these little wins; short moments in the day that pick me up and remind me of why I am here. That my purpose doesn’t need to be something grandiose. That merely my existence matters among the chaos and unsettled feelings of change that overwhelm me.
When I seek answers, the first place I go to isn’t a person. I seek answers in books. I hesitantly purchased Your Best Age Is Now: Embrace an Ageless Mindset, Reenergize Your Dreams, and Live a Soul-Satisfying Life by Robi Ludwig. I wasn’t enthusiastic but I needed to read something mindless to try to get me out of my funk.
“If we choose to live more aligned with our adolescent selves, we can make choices that work for us that will then positively influence our life. When we remove ourselves from the adolescent way of thinking, life runs the risk of becoming boring, isolating, dull and routinized.”
I made myself get out the door at 5:03 AM. As puffs of breath materialized in the cold pre-dawn I caught sight of the lighted banners along the street as I jogged past my sons’ high school, community park and equestrian center. I returned within the hour; the endorphins penetrating the haze. A win. I overcame my mental barriers of comfort (and sleep); pushing my limits.
Later that same afternoon, fighting lethargy and craving caffeine and sugar, the package arrived from the bff. The youngest and I tore it open expecting to find her chocolate chip cookies that she sends each holiday season. To my son’s dismay he discovered a book. Surprised, we opened the cover and the tears threatened to overwhelm. It was an unexpected care package, sent from 2,000 miles away.
I had disengaged from family and friends as I worked through the conflicting and confusing feelings of loss. Though the bff isn’t physically present; she sent the reminder that she is always emotionally there. How did she know?
We have shared many milestones together, such as being maids of honor for each other’s weddings. But we’ve weathered more milestones with the death of our parents, stressful job transitions, addictions and all things unpleasant. One visit came to an abrupt end when I received the call that my mother was dying and I had to fly home. It isn’t fair that the few times we see one another, we are always carrying heavy burdens.
Is this what life has in store for us now?
After arguing back-and-forth for the better part of an hour, her strident voice came clear across the cell. Let me win. Her offered gift was one I could not accept but her logic was sound. I told her I would think about it through her imposed timeline of seven days.
My answer flashed briefly in its simplicity. I am mourning unresolved issues in my past.
Observing my seventeen year old I’m reminded of my own hopes and dreams and how life did not take me in that direction. I feel stuck.
My fifteen year old pushes the limits, changing his styles and moods, trying to figure out who he is. I feel like I am journeying with him in midlife, trying to find my purpose and who I am.
The tween is entering the hormonal change, just as my own hormones wane. I fortify myself for battle, wondering what life will throw at me next.
The hubs and I consider career options as the manufacturing sector and small business continue to take a hit. This isn’t where I want to be.
My predisposed genetics are resurfacing. Am I destined to get cancer? Dementia? Will I be able to successfully age?
“If we can approach midlife in this new context of taking risks, connecting with friends, becoming more in touch with our feelings and creatively exploring our options, it just may force us into a whole new world of possibilities.”
The visual of my Doc Martens came to mind. I was reverting back, never progressing forward, stuck in my teenage years. Did I not learn anything?
And then I realized I was mourning; that I never did truly resolve the issues of loss felt at age seventeen.
My current diagnosis of borderline stage one cancer brought me back to the endless oncologist appointments for my father; metastasized colon cancer, stage four. It had been too late and I had pledged to become a geriatric oncologist. I followed that path through college and a year of medical school.
I realized this was not my journey. I was not interested in being a body mechanic to fix all ailments. I am a proponent of giving people choices, such as hospice, to deal with darker issues of death and dying. To die, with dignity. To age successfully.
I am a communicator, coordinator and collaborator. My strength is in advocating my cause and bringing people to action, together, to find resolution. I have always fought this pathway, my introverted personality preferring to stay behind the scenes.
In my life journeys and travels, the paths were always returning to the simpler ideals from my childhood but I had packaged these ideals as glamorous and glossy; magazine print worthy. They could never hold up to the simple values of finding a mate, a home, starting a family or a rewarding career. My expectations of success were unrealistic. Comprehension was dawning. This was a win.
Recently talking about the hubs and his career choices, I found my own questions being asked out loud. I found those answers, of all places, on Fakebook. Faces from the past posted pics when the light bulb flickered on.
The guys who chose the upwardly mobile career paths, the same path the hubs walked away from, were all divorced and single; their kids living with their mothers. The hubs had been tired of being constantly away; our sons not knowing him. Taking the financial hit, he wanted to be his own boss. He had chosen, us.
I’m begrudgingly learning to let things go.
I head to church alone, these days, hoping my family will want to come versus being forced. I want them to get something out of it, to seek their own spiritual journey and believe in something higher than ourselves. It is one of the places where I find peace; a sense of belonging in a sea of people who believe in the same thing. My eldest accompanied me last week, on his own. A little win.
The little wins were beginning to gain momentum. They were bright sparks in dark days and were accumulating into a star filled sky twinkling around me. With each win counted I felt comforted. Small as they were, they kindled hope that brighter days would eventually lie ahead.
I sit with my losses, acknowledging them and mourning them. Giving them substance finally allows for resolution. Progress.
I’ve realized the value of my relationships as they patiently wait for me; who flex schedules and understand that I will find them when ready. The childhood friend who connects me to my simpler beginnings and reminds me of where I come from. My dear college girlfriend who sits in hospitals, whether for labor or my surgery, and through life’s earthquakes as things settle. It’s the little things, sometimes, that are more important in the bigger picture.
It’s the friends who walk and talk in the dark times that bring light in our lives.
I count my blessings as it all comes together. A win. I continue to fight on.