Tangled webs of midlife

I recently spent some time with a friend who caused me to think a little differently about my life, and my path.

It’s strange when that happens – one moment four decades into life you are fairly certainone way or two you have a good handle on where you are and where you are likely to end up. Then after that long conversation or a series of challenges or realizations, you are considering where you might truly want to go and if you should be doing things much differently to get there.

Over the last couple of years, Mr. Bailey and I have witnessed several friends and acquaintances hit a similar, more significant stage, mostly commonly referred to as the mid-life crisis.

It has manifested itself in a variety of ways – affairs, divorces, new sports cars, new homes, 20-something girlfriends and boyfriends, new careers, custody battles, co-parenting scheduling logistics from hell and fresh starts and second marriages.

It’s strange to stand alongside someone who is making radical changes to their life, and it can also be unnerving. The temptation to internalize – or to distance oneself too far – is strong. This could never happen to me, you think one minute, could it? I know exactly how neglected she feels, and don’t I also feel neglected?

But these are not monkey-see sort of situations.

When an individual has the impetus to blow up every part of a well-established life thatbattling oneself generally meets the Maslow needs and involves the innocent lives of their children, it doesn’t happen on a whim. Years of buried anger, resentment, regret, lack of appreciation or half-expressed emotion all play a role. And for some reason there is an internal clock that goes off sometime mid-life, forcing you to wonder – with the time I have left (and who knows how much that is) is this what I want?

When speaking about this to someone they brashly stated they did not believe in mid-life crises. I try not to act like the belief police – and so I absorbed that notion, rolling it around my brain like a good red wine that’s had some time to breathe and tried to place its terroir. I weighed it, I mused on it, and looked up the term “crisis” in the dictionary, as a word wonk like me loves to do. Crisis, defined by my faithful, trustworthy friend Merriam-Webster is “the defining moment.”

It’s fine not to believe in mid-life crisis. But in my experience, they exist. And so do early-life crisis and so do post-college crisis, and post-partum crisis and pre-partum crisis and empty-nest crisis.

As thinking and feeling human beings in relationships with others, we attract crisis. We are complicated creatures. It’s very easy, particularly in an increasingly noisy, distracting and cluttered world, to be so diverted by the banalities of everyday life that we numb out the overarching emotional energies that give us the horsepower to charge our lives, particularly when that energy wanes or does not feel well-placed. Once that begins, it’s much easier to generate numbness than it is to address the broken parts of our hearts, souls and relationships.

And though I’ve had a ringside seat and watched dear friends painfully sort through the
wreckage of a spouse’s mid-life crisis, these reality checks can be positive. They invariably cause growth. They are the way we legitimize our human need to tussle with our reality and rediscover our meaningful place in it.

And here’s another angle: the midlife crises that do blow up families and cause divorces are very visible, but that doesn’t mean there are not hundreds of others that do not inspire such radical results. What aboutkindess not judgment those that create newfound careers, a pursuit of one’s passion, a return to school, a renewal of vows, a new shared hobby, the trip of a lifetime, a fresh start with a beloved spouse, or the reconnection to a soul’s purpose?

They may not make the neighborhood gossip circuit, but my bet is that they are just as likely to occur as those that have tongues wagging from yoga studio to local organic microbrew bar.

In any case, wrestling your way through either crisis is much better than the alternative – a deep denial of feelings or yearnings or reflection, resulting in soul-numbing bitterness you get to cuddle to your grave.

Sounds like a “defining moment” that slipped insidiously by – unnoticed.


Forever summer memories


Sometimes I feel I’m marking the passage of time in summers.

Secondo basks in a mountain valley

Secondo basks in the glory of  a mountain valley in summer.

Prima and Secondo have birthdays at the beginning of summer and so the hourglass makes its annual revolution just as summer starts.

The long days cause us to linger a little longer over dinners, baseball games and family times.

We see each other a lot more. The kids are home, or at day camps, having new adventures with a lot to share about at night. We get to go on vacation together at least once. Friends are out of town, so while we socialize a fair bit, we also seem to circle the wagons and look to one another for entertainment. Every summer for the last few, I read books out loud to the whole family – Harry Potter or Pippi Longstocking or Anne of Green Gables or some other precious tome containing enough escapist magic to change all of our lives just a little.

Plenty of time to goof off during summer.

There’s plenty of time to goof off during summer.

Each summer, the girls seem to discover (either independently or with my steering) a classic television family. Two years ago, it was the Brady Bunch, thanks to a friend who loaned them the complete box set she’d been given for Christmas. It immediately piqued their curiosity when she bestowed it upon them in its green shag carpet box for safe summer keeping before they went out of town.

Within a day – they were obsessed with Cindy, Bobby, Peter, Jan, Marcia, Greg, Alice and Mr. and Mrs. Brady. Like byline-starved investigative reporters, they questioning me about it: Did I know how cute Cindy was? What about her curls? Did I think Secondo looked like Cindy? (They did.) Had I seen the one when they get Tiger? When they broke the lamp? What was up with Mrs. Brady’s hair? Was that actually a popular hairstyle at one point?

When they worked their way up to the double-episode trip to the Grand Canyon, I stopped BB locked in jailwhat I was doing and watched it with them. They were fascinated, riveted. Secondo clutched my hand as Bobby and Cindy weathered the night lost in the canyon and hid her eyes with the mean old Western man locked them in the dusty ghost town jail.

The Grand Canyon is now firmly planted on their places to visit.

Last summer, thanks to an impulse purchase at Target, they discovered I Love Lucy.

We were spending a few days at our mountain house and they were bored beyond all activity: having roamed through the forest, collected pine cones, taken three bike rides and the dog for a walk at least twice. And it was only 10 a.m.

I found the Lucy box set shoved into the TV console and peeled the plastic on that baby hoping I could get them to sit through one show before we had lunch. They were uber-skeptical. Why was it in black and white? What was it about? Did they have to?lucyandethel

Ladies and gentleman, if it’s been awhile since you’ve observed the magic that is Lucille Ball – it’s time to take another look.

My (at the time) 10- and 6-year-old responded accordingly: rolling on the ground laughing, watching for hours on end, talking non-stop about Lucy and Desi and Ethel and Fred, playing Lucy, mimicking her expressions – all summer long.

Invariably, these discoveries and adventures we share remind me of my summers as a child. Most memories involve my three brothers – particularly my youngest brother, who was only a year younger than me. Most memories include swimming in the pool, watching Dukes of Hazard, eating our favorite lunch of micro-cheese (Kraft cheese sandwiches on Roman Meal bread zapped in the microwave for 30 seconds) and then swimming until we were so waterlogged our wrinkled toes looked about to shrivel up entirely. Or traveling to Ohio to spend summers with my grandparents, hiking through the forest and along the creek with Gramps and walking to Arby’s for lunch, or visiting the rose garden at the park and dancing in the gazebo while imagining I was Liesel in Sound of Music.

Each summer, my mother heart – the fortress that carefully stows and stokes the fire of longing for the highest and best for each child, for each precious happy moment, and radiates those yearnings out to God or the universe – hopes together the summer discoveries and the camps, the new friends and the old, the books we read and the museums we visit, the baseball games and the spontaneous trips to Dairy Queen and the jaunts to the mountains and the long drives to the beach, Prima and Secondo will harvest memories of summer to warm them throughout their lives – and that they’ll laugh a little along the way, too.