Well, I have to admit – the title of this post is a bit misleading. I’m actually not in my 40’s yet. But I’m almost there… very close.
The other day, my husband and I were reflecting on life with my sister in law Tamar. She asked us where we’re at, and I began musing;” We’re like in our 40’s. You know, In your 20’s you’re figuring out ‘who am I?’ In your 30’s, its all about ‘what am I supposed to do?’ And in your 40’s you’re finished proving yourself to the world.”
I’ll tell you about my 20’s. My 20’s were self discovery. I was newly married. Another time I’ll tell you the crazy story about how I got married at 17 (!) and I was having an average of one kid a year. I was busy, I was happy. I was in a constant state of trying.
Trying to be the best mother – to give all the things I supposedly didn’t get (which I since found out my mother did a way better job of giving to me then I ever did giving to my children.) Trying to get the hang of housework (which took about a decade.) Trying to figure out who I was in this land of married people, but being barely out of high school myself. My lifespace and my self perception had a hard time catching up to each other.
I began organizing community events, volunteering and getting involved, all with the suspicious feeling that everyone secretly thought I was a child (18, a child – imagine that!)
Recently, I ran a program for twentysomethings and I was surprised to find out that they experienced the exact same insecurities as I’d experienced. Our lifestyles were light years apart:
I had a been an idealistic young mom in Israel whose husband was in Yeshiva (Torah study program) all day long, building a family. And they were getting their Masters; independent young women beginning their careers and hoping to meet a good guy. Their version of 20’s looked so much more polished: they had cars and apartments and plans… Or maybe my version looked more polished with a good man at my side, a direction and little sweeties who called me Mommy. Who knows. But the more I got to know them, the more the questions sounded the same.
I started to see that the question of “Who am I?” is part of emerging adulthood no mater which way you slice it. There’s a part of you that’s proud and strong and a part that’s tiny and vulnerable and wondering exactly where you fit in in this big world and if you’re really an adult or is this some kind of trick you’re managing to pull on people. [This is why its such an opportune time for young Jews to spend time in a Yeshiva or Israel trip. It accelerates the process ( and the end of the misery!) by literally growing people up through conversations about who are you.]
Fascinating. Then come the 30’s.
By the time you get to your 30’s you’re an old pro. Either you’ve been through a couple of jobs or you are on the career path you’ve been planning for. You know about interviews and relationships. You’ve figured out that its more worthwhile to invest in a few good friends then to party with everyone. You have a few accomplishments under your belt and you kind of know who you are. The next question is “What do I do?
My 30’s were spent in Baltimore where we moved to after living in Israel for 4 1/2 years. We had 4 more kids here (8 all together, Thank G-d) and we were knee deep in family life. I felt good – really good. I took care of my health and eating habits. I homeschooled. I danced in the local women’s performance. I got involved in synagogue life. I made tichel shows for charity and I volunteered for the local outreach center and ended up working for them. I helped my kids through elementary school and navigated their friendships and made more sleepover parties than I can count. And I was also in turmoil.
I finally found out what I was good at and it was making me crazy! If I spent all day with the kids and with housework I would feel like I was exploding with the need to be creative. If I spent hours with the Young Adult Outreach group, I would feel like I needed to be home with my kids. No matter where I put my energies I would be hyper aware of all the things I was NOT doing. It was then that I wrote my four line Mission Statement, the most important line being ” To put my husband and children before any outside person or cause.”
This line taunted me and inspired me every day from the door of my refrigerator. When I accomplished in my outreach work it would fuel me with adrenaline and I would push beyond my natural limits. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I had any limits.Yet I strove to be fully present at home too. I could not reconcile how can I do the very best job at this and also the very best job at home?
Unmarried thirty somethings often experience the same turmoil. This shows up in their dual desire to be married and settled on one hand and to be fabulously secure and accomplished in their career on the other. They can’t find their peace. The truth emerges somewhere in the middle of the decade. You can have both but not both at the same time. Doing anything worthwhile in your 30’s takes dedication and you have to be clear about what you want to dedicate yourself to.
Of course there’s a slight caveat to that: Life is never one thing at a time. So the challenge is to balance the doing . Most of the time both things (or all three things) are important. You can choose what you want to dedicate yourself to but you must stay open to what G-d has in mind as well.
And now the 40’s. I know, I know, I’m not 40 yet. But I feel like I’m in my 40’s. I feel like I’m in an entirely new space. I’m not a girl anymore, I’m a woman. I’m not a Mommy of little kids, I’m a mother of 5 teenagers and 3 younger kids. I am tired. I am content. I am patient.
Turmoil and conflict and overproducing and working late nights are not in me anymore. I have had enough life experiences to know that whatever is happening, however tough it is, will pass. And I know too that something new, some new test will be in it’s place. I see that the Almighty is always pushing me to grow and He is endlessly creative in the obstacle course He designs for me.
I am not in my 20’s wondering who I am – I know what I have to offer. I’m not in my 30’s (oops, yes I am ) trying to do it all. I’m in a new place a place of sweet surrender laced with anxious grateful prayer and a sense of Life and the grand scheme behind it.
When my husband and I were talking about this we couldn’t stop chuckling. It’s just so funny how little you can care about things you used to obsess about. Our human limitations are so obvious we need to laugh and accept them.
Last might I was supermom – getting dinner on the table and all the kids to bed at the right times. Spending quality time with each one of them for a total of four hours ( it’s a lot of kids). It was a good night. I was the type of mom I dreamed of being in my 20’s but unlike in my 20’s when I would plan and conspire for ways to repeat that experience, I’m now simply grateful for it, knowing that every day is different and it may happen tomorrow or it may not. And that’s ok. Supermom doesn’t even exist – Like any superhero, she’s a fantasy.
I’m not where I want to be in terms of time management and other habits that I’ve worked on for years; Some of my children have struggles that keep me up at night and break my heart, but inside I feel a steady glow that is comprised of all the experiences and gifts I’ve had up until now wrapped up with the loving care of the Almighty and I have nothing left to prove to the world. It’s funny that it took me this long to realize that I cannot do it all, I cannot do it perfectly and I cannot control the outcome. I’m just coming along for the ride doing my best.
My (pseudo) 40’s are all about the realization that it’s not about whether you win or lose (and you can’t control that) its how you play the game.
I wonder what the 50’s are like.