Is there one among us who has not felt their spirit shrivel at least a little when they realize they are, gulp, ‘middle-aged’?? AAACK! Why does that phrase conjure up such visions of drab, boring, and frumpy? Say it ain’t so!! Well, it doesn't have to be so.
Our member, Cara Holman, captures that not so good ‘aha’ moment beautifully and then wittily goes on to tell us how she counteracted the feeling of dread and became seriously cool.
It all started with a chance remark a friend made to me as we were loading Girl Scout cookies together into the back of her van, and believe me, it almost cost us our friendship. “You know,” Cindy said, as she strained at a stack of cartons, “this is killing my knee. It’s a bummer being middle-aged.”
Middle-aged? I never thought of myself that way before. I mean, I guess I probably am about halfway through my life, being almost 50, but that isn’t really the point. In my mind, I’m younger and cooler than perhaps I look, at first glance.
Now, this really got me to thinking. Is that what I had become when I wasn’t looking? Middle-aged and dull and drab, and yes (gasp) BORING? Okay, this called for some serious re-examination here. I did a mental assessment. I was married, with kids. House in the ‘burbs. Drove a minivan. Was not only a Scout leader, but knew the Scout oath by heart. Nuked Trader Joe’s entrees for dinner most nights. My spirits began to sink. Were these the traits of a seriously cool, fascinating person?
Change was called for. I want fun, excitement, heads to turn when I walk into a room, people to talk about me in hushed whispers, and not just to say “If you need someone to drive at the last minute, just call Cara. She doesn’t work.” I want something to show before I morph into the Geritol generation.
I need a new direction for my life, so I turn to the best person I know for dispensing life advice. I dial mom. “Mom,” I wail into the phone, “I’m getting old, the kids don’t need me anymore, and I have nothing to show for my life.” There is a long pause.
I can almost visualize it. Mom is the master of tact. She carries in her head a long list of self-improvement advice for each of us kids, ready on the spur of the moment to dispense it. But not all at once. She’s too smart for that. So now, all the items are rattling around in her head, like Bingo balls in a cage, and she is biding her time, trying to pick out just the perfect one for starters.
Here, I can feel it coming. “You need to get back into a career honey. I think you just have too much free time on your hands.” That’s it! I do have too much time on my hands. Too much time to look in the mirror and bemoan the grey hairs that are sprouting up as regularly as the dandelions in our lawn.
“You’re right mom,” I say, momentarily stunning her, “I should go back to work.” No wonder mom’s shocked; I don’t usually agree with her so easily. However, I have perfected the art of placating her, murmuring “yes mom”, “sure mom”, and “I’ll think about it mom,” at regular intervals. But this time, I think she’s got it dead on. I need to find something that a cool-ish, youngish person might do.
Now what might that be? Immediately, my mind runs over possibilities: rock star, model, actress, multi-millionaire, DJ. All right, back to reality. The problem is, what do cool people do? Hmm, if you have to ask…
Only one way to reason this out. I consult my kids, the authorities on all things cool and otherwise. What do they suggest? “Deep six the van mom and drive a Beemer with leather seats.” This from my oldest son.
My daughter has plenty of ideas.” Dye your hair, get a younger hair style, lose 15 pounds, and those jeans have got to go...” I cut her off unceremoniously, before she can really get going. I’m sure she has at least another dozen items on her list, and my poor ego is already feeling a bit fragile.
My youngest son just eyes me appraisingly. I can read so clearly in his eyes that there is nothing I could do that would make me cool. I’m his mom. Moms aren’t supposed to be cool. They’re supposed to do what they do best: pack lunch boxes, do the laundry, and know by ESP where he last left his iPod.
Okay, I’m getting nowhere here. I pull out the catalogue for our local community college and scan the course offerings: lots of art, interior decorating, real estate, programming, and then my eye lights on it: creative writing.
Writing. It’s so simple, why didn’t I think of it earlier? What can be cooler than writing?
And best of all, nobody what you look like or how old you are when you write. I get to choose my own voice, and you can better believe it won’t be a middle-aged one!
This is too good not to share. I dial up mom again. “Mom,” I announce, “I’m think I’m going to try my hand at some freelance writing. I might even get an MFA in creative writing some day, who knows.” There is a pause there again. Good old mom. The Bingo balls are rattling around again, and I know she is trying to decide if this is good enough, or if she can push me to yet greater heights.
That degree part must have done the trick though, because mom answers, first in a lukewarm tone, and then with more enthusiasm as she cottons to the idea. “That’s a great idea, sweetheart,” she says, “I always knew you had a natural talent for writing.”
Wonderful, I’ve procured mom’s blessing. Now for the real test. What does my teenage son think? How will he react to his mom becoming a writer? “You know mom,” he says, after pondering for what seems an eon, but is in fact mere seconds, the scale apparently tipping in my favor, “That’s kind of neat. You could write a novel, just like John Green.” Wow, John Green. Can I really be that cool?
Cara Holman lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and the youngest of her three children. A mathematician by training, she began writing again after a brush with breast cancer two years ago led her to join a therapeutic writing group for cancer survivors. Several of her pieces have appeared in Along the Journey, Volumes I and II put out by this group.
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