I’ve been pretty quiet over here. The last couple of months have been a time of deep internal reflection for me. Winter 2015 has certainly aligned with my need for slowing down and shutting up. It’s supported me as I transition from one stage of my life into a different stage. And part of that transition for me has been exploring new ways of being, trying out new perspectives, taking on new habits. I quit drinking. After making it through the first few weeks of triggers (apparently apron on = wine poured in my world!), I’ve found teetotaling to be not too difficult to maintain. I’m about 75 days in and in a very different space with regards to alcohol and the space it takes up in my life than I was at the completion of 2014.
A lot of my internal reflection has revolved around rediscovering myself. I gave birth to my first son (Dylan) in September 2006, just before my 30th birthday. That was 8 1/2 years ago. I lived in San Diego at the time, worked in the mortgage business (it was a good time to get out!), and was the primary bread winner in our family. On the surface, my life today looks nothing like it did in 2006. We live in New England. I traded earning a paycheck to take on what is arguably the toughest job of all. Flip flops are no longer appropriate footwear in January. Last week my second son (Cooper) turned 5 years old. This September, both kids will be in school 5 days a week. I will turn 39. For the first time in 17 years I’m back in school. 2015 represents a big shifting in the life of our family, and the question I’ve been sitting with is “What does Danielle want?”
Humans are adaptable creatures. We can really adapt to a lot of not-so-pleasant things. Biologically, there are certain behaviors that help propagate the species that are perfectly appropriate for moms to adapt to when we have infants or toddlers. But as our tiny humans grow larger and are more able to fend for themselves, I see many moms who find it difficult to let go of the habits that were originally in place to keep our little people alive. For me, I have spent the better part of the last 9 years (cuz ya know, it starts in the womb!) prioritizing other people’s needs above my own. My kids are 5 and 8–logistically they are of an age where I should be eating hot meals again. But after 8 years of eating semi-warm fare at dinnertime, it’s become such a habit that I find ways to distract myself at the beginning of every meal time. Jerry thinks I’m nuts, but 8 long years of feeding others before myself doesn’t just break itself overnight. And my mouth needs to refine its sensory impulses again. I’ve burned my tongue more in the last few months than I have in the last decade.
If it isn’t our children’s needs we’re meeting, we often have the demands of a partner or spouse to be aware of; responsibilities at school or work; pets that require love and daily food in/food out support; plants that need watering; and hey, those toilets ain’t gonna scrub themselves. As life speeds up (which it scientifically does as we age since time is relative–check out “Through the Wormhole” for a better explanation than I can give!), it’s easy to skim over our own needs as we meet the needs of everyone and everything around us.
But then…something happens. The kids go off to school full time (or move away for college). We get laid off or quit our job. We lose someone close to us or experience a serious injury or illness. Something shifts in our lives that causes us to look at things from a new perspective. For some people, reaching a certain age or stage of life triggers that sort of a reaction. Our American culture is fond of the term mid-life crisis, defined as “an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age.” What a disempowering way to describe something that I’m starting to see is likely a natural part of aging and growing up. I spent the majority of the last 8 1/2 years nurturing and learning from two young children who relied primarily on me to organize and source their whole world. The interesting thing about 5 and 8 year olds is that they actually have pretty clear ideas about what they like and don’t like, and what was appropriate parenting methodology for my 1 year old is no longer appropriate for my 2nd grader. I’m so fortunate to have two bright, thoughtful, and kind boys to grow with on my parenting journey. They genuinely like each other and they genuinely like us, their parents. Their lives are independent of mine, their minds are their own, but I get to be a person who partners with them and supports them as they create whatever awesome life they want to create in this world. How cool is that? And wouldn’t it be strange if I didn’t have some sort of shift occur in my own world as their lives shifted away from being mostly dependent on mom? Why do we have to call this stage that I’m in a crisis (the first definition that popped up calls a crisis “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger”)? Why not call it a redirection? Or a refocusing? Isn’t that more appropriate (not to mention empowering)?
Of course, your mid-life refocusing may have a different trigger. But I imagine many of the results are the same. We start to consider our work choices and to weigh our values differently. We consider making changes around our eating habits or level of physical activity. We reflect on how we spend our leisure time; maybe we go back to school. Humans live longer than we ever did before. Spending some time in reflection and redirection as we age seems like a smart and healthy way to move ahead in this world. In nature, the opposite of growth is death. And for many of us, we grow by making mistakes or trying things out. Even if the steps we take sometimes lead to a dead end or we sometimes need to double back and set out again, the path we are on is where the treasure can be found. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of our lives (Happy St. Patty’s day anyway!). Each step on our own journey has the power to inform and empower us, if we slow down long enough to hear the message.
And so I challenge you to ask yourself this, wherever you are in your day, wherever you are in your life: What do YOU want, really?