I turned 30 six months after my oldest daughter turned seven. If you haven’t yet had the privilege, thirty is a milestone filled with regret and self-doubt. I’m frustrated that even after all this time I’m still not sure I know who I am. I love my family and everything I get to do as a mother, but something is still missing. I’ve tried a few different business ventures, but those didn’t really pan out and weren’t really what I was looking for anyway. I’m not sure exactly how to be a complete person, and maybe I’m not the only one. When do we finally figure that out?
When I hang out at pick-up after school, my peer group ranges from 25ish to 45ish. For the most part, my friends are nearer the upper end of the spectrum. Our kids are the same age, you know, so we have a lot in common. I determined that because I fit in so well with women in their forties I should just turn this anxiety I felt in the face of my birthday into a full blown crisis. For that matter, since fifty is the new forty, I may as well have a mid-life crisis for the next twenty years. I planned it all out and I jumped in.
So, I’ve been having my midlife crisis now for six months, and this is the wisdom I have since gleaned: A midlife crisis is like herpes– you always have it, even when you’re not exhibiting symptoms. You may go about your life as usual, but having a good day is no reason to drop your crisis before it has really run its course. The next outbreak is going to come, and it will probably be when you are least prepared. We mature ladies have learned to be proactive, so I have had some prepared crisis activities ready for when the anxiety shows up. This has been working for me pretty well, so if you too would like to have an effective mid-life crisis, you are welcome to use the plan which follows to get off to a good start.
The first thing you should do is hate your impending birthday. Talk about it a lot with everyone you know. “Ugh! My thirtieth birthday is coming up and I just don’t want to think about it! Ugh. It just makes me feel so ugh.” The less articulate you are about your anxiety the better others can relate with you. A friend can look at their own decision to stay home with her children and all the freedom she sacrificed in order to make that choice and commiserate with you. Or alternatively, a friend can long to have back those early days which her child spent with the baby-sitter and also commiserate with you. Your disgust with your regrets will be more universal if you don’t describe them thus making your moodiness more inclusive and satisfying.
Next, make an appointment to get a new tattoo or piercing. Why not get one of each? It might help if you go shopping for new clothes first so you feel really young, fresh and carefree before your appointment, but it’s not necessary. While you are in the tattoo shop waiting to get inked or skewered contemplate how when you were younger you wouldn’t have even bothered with an appointment. In your twenties you would have just walked in and gotten a new piercing on a whim! If you linger on this it will make you feel satisfyingly old and miserable. Now that you’re a responsible adult you will take impeccable care of your new body art. You may add a line item to your budget for “body art.”
Finally, plan a “big bash” to celebrate. This is your big chance to suffer so make sure that the party invitation is very public. Facebook event invites are a good choice. Making this guest list is about as difficult as it was to send wedding invitations. Who should come? Everyone from the first half of your life is completely different from the friends you’ve met in college, who are completely different from your friends you’ve made since you had kids, who are different still from the friend you made after the kids started school. Heck, just invite everyone and then obsess over how to get all these people you love to get along. It is just like a wedding! Sadistically enjoy the nervousness you feel on your way to the party as you worry simultaneously that no one will come, or that everyone will come but they won’t get along. You may want to start drinking before the party, just in case.
Inevitably, only about 5 of your closest friend will actually come to the party. Well, your close friends and the one person from your college job. As you feared, this one person will have no one to talk to. But, everyone is an adult now and they’ve all learned how to make small talk, and you’ve learned how to plan a party where everyone can get along. A good place for this type of party is a bowling alley; there is a bar to help break the ice, and bowling so there is something to actually do and you don’t have to continue politely chatting for hours. This party will actually turn out to be great fun and when it’s over you’ll feel satisfied with your life, the people who love you, and how far you’ve come. Maybe you are a nice combination of youthful excitement and experienced stability. Maybe you’re not so bad off after all.
Don’t expect that sense of well being to last. The morning following your party you will just complain about how much your head hurts and how you aren’t as young as you once were. This is both true and cathartic. But honestly, this will be the last time you think about how you are thirty. Life just keeps going. And you keep getting older, keep waiting for the next outbreak.
So, that’s the basic primer. Do not forget that I expect to have this mid-life crisis for the next twenty years. But I’m growing too organized to let it sneak up on me. Just like those women who use the pill to plan their visit from Aunt Flo, I will just plan to annually celebrate my detest for aging. I can question all of my serious decisions for two weeks at a time leading up to my birthday each year to get it out of the way! Responsible Me will work ahead.Here is a list of 19 questions to ask which will produce the proper amount of anxiety and self-doubt annually until I turn 50 and can finally relax and accept myself for who I am:
- Should I finish my college degree?
- Did I start having children too soon?
- Should I have another baby before I get older?
- Is my business failing?
- Have I made too many commitments volunteering for the school?
- Do I look like I’m trying to dress too young?
- Why have my husband and I forgotten to go out on a date for over three months?
- What should I do with the weight I never lost after my last baby?
- Do I talk too much?
- Have we missed our chance to start a new exciting life in a big city?
- Why did I get married so young?!
- How am I going to help my children make good choices without being a smother-mother?
- Should I get a mammogram? What if I have cancer?
- Have I lost sight of my goals? I can’t even remember what they were!
- Am I working too much? (This assumes that I wasn’t failing in business eleven years ago.)
- What can I do about the terrible decisions that my kids have made in spite of me being a smother-mother?
- Why have my kids stopped talking to me?
- When was the last time I called my mother?
- Where did I put my keys?