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Aug 12 2012

Finally!! The Benefits of Life After 40 and How I Don’t Care.

A few years ago, I watched some children playing on the swings at the park. One little girl bent her upper body way back as she glided, her hair dragged across the ground with each pass. One little boy bent forward over the swing, on his belly, with arms and legs dangling on each side. One child straddled the seat and rocked side to side trying to crash into the others.

It reminded me of my own youth and the feeling of fun and freedom the playground apparatus brought. I wanted to feel that feeling again.

Idea!!!!

I set out for the park at dusk. I casually strolled over to the swings, the playground was now empty. It was really quite romantic and nostalgic; the sun was setting quietly behind the pinks and oranges and light yellows that streaked the sky. I imagined myself swaying back and forth with my delicate toes touching the edge of each cloud.

I sat down on the swing. Enjoying the lighthearted moment, I tossed my hair back behind my shoulders and pushed off with my right foot. This would be so invigorating.

I didn’t expect to swoop so quickly forward so I held tighter to the chains, my upper thighs colliding into each other as my rear hung over the edge of the seat.  It was a bit of a tight fit.

I made one pass and then two as I pumped my legs to gain momentum.

On the third or fourth pass, I started to feel a little queasy and began to turn green. The nausea that washed over me confirmed that I was getting motion sick.  I dug my heels into the sandy soil, coming to a jarring stop and stumbled off the swing. Slightly disoriented, I staggered off the playground pad and walked back home, never to return again.

This is a post about the benefits of life in the middle years even though it may not be clear yet.

It is a time in your life that you recognize and come to terms with the changes in your external life; your family, your career, your lifestyle and your body. Everything is temporarily out of balance.

I think the changes to your body are some of the hardest to accept. In your mind, you can still dance the night away and finish off with your famous move “the splits”.  In reality, too much thrusting or twisting does really make you shout.  Besides, bedtime is 10 pm.

In your mind, you can still throw your body around and move as swiftly as a ninja.  In reality, you are slower, less agile and not as coördinated as you once were. It’s nothing to beat yourself up over. It just is!

I know some extremely fit people who have been active all their lives.  They get out on that dance floor and gyrate to the beat of the sexy people music.  I’m sure they feel great. I love dancing too.  But the gyrations thing is just a big middle age mess.

No, there’s no reason to beat yourself up over it. You are not the only one.  Don’t let anyone kid you with their claims that their body has not changed a bit.

If it was the norm for the body of a middle year to be the same as a youth, then when is the last time you saw a cart-wheel contest among the 40 plus crowd at your last family or friend reunion?  How often do you see the 40 plus in your neighbourhood gathering on the weekend to build people pyramids or to hang upside down from trees? When is the last time you thought to gather with friends to spin round and round on the front lawn with the only purpose to fall to the ground in a burst of dizzying giggles?

It just doesn’t happen.  You know it, you sense it, and your balance and your back feels it. You accept it and move on.

That’s the first benefit of life after 40. By this age, you are becoming a pro at accepting and moving forward anyway.  That is a blessing.

In your youth right on up into your early thirties, you spend a huge amount of energy trying to change your appearance, your social status, people’s opinions of you, your fate, your history; the list is endless.

You spend a huge amount of time trying to hang onto something or someone that clearly doesn’t want or need to be in your life. If it or they did belong in your life, it wouldn’t feel like such a fight keeping them or it there.

When you get to this age, you finally get that the only thing that you can change is your attitude about the externals while you allow the externals  to happen.  That means you learn to accept what is walking in and what is walking out.  It doesn’t mean you stop feeling, you just stop reacting and tensing your body and mind to it. Things are going to happen anyway, why put up a fight.

You start floating through life; Gliding with it.

Which takes me back to the swing…

The wise lesson I learned:  You can begin to glide through life, but in the literal sense, it’s best to keep both feet on the ground while you do it.

The wisdom to know the difference

Another benefit to life in the middle years is you start getting wise.  You’ve been around the block more than a few times and you get smart.  You get in tune with yourself and it helps you to understand not only what you have done and where you have been and why, but you understand other people, why they do or say the things they do,  their motives and agendas.

You begin to know what is healthy for you and what is not.  You make better choices for yourself in all areas of your life. You realize you can’t change anybody so you stop trying. When a situation arises or someone new walks into your life, you know what is healthy and what is going to be a never-ending project.  There are no subtle hints or communication you have to decipher. 

You see the red flags and the bright neon flashing lights immediately.  You have acquired the wisdom to know the difference between what you can change and what you cannot.  You have the wisdom and the confidence to slam the door, throw in the towel, stand strong or head to the hills if need be.

With less energy spent on trying to change people and things and circumstances, you have more energy for what’s important. You have more energy to take better care of yourself.

Taking care of you, what a concept!

That’s the third benefit of life in the middle years.  Some call it a mid-life crisis, some call it a wake up call, some call it selfish.  Taking care of your entire self is numero uno in my book.

By this age, many of us have grown children who can fend for themselves although they like to convince you otherwise.  They can feed themselves and drive themselves places and do their own laundry.

I dedicated myself to taking excellent care of my children. I was on top of things 24/7. I fussed and fed and bandaged a cut knee and mended a broken heart. I did the best I could and taught them along the way to take care of themselves.  I worked hard at it.  And then I waited.

I waited years to say these words to my children when they asked me to get something for them;

“Are those legs painted on?”

Or when they asked what I was cooking for dinner:

“Are those arms painted on? Cook it yourself”

Sure I like to put together a nice meal and enjoy my family sitting together over dinner.  Yet, if I’m in the middle of meditating or watching some great Home Dec show or in the middle of a painting or upholstering project and I am feeling relaxed and absorbed and alive, they know where the pots and pans are and how to use them.

My children know if Momma is happy and has taken good care of herself by doing things that fulfill her and getting proper rest, then Momma is gonna be much nicer and loving and focused and authentic when you need her for the important stuff.

You may have to trade the care of your children for the care of your aging parents.  As much as you want to do everything in your power to help them to continue a good quality of life, you have to put yourself first. It’s not being selfish, it’s about keeping your sanity.

 It means saying no to what you cannot do, encouraging them to do for themselves and getting the extra help in when they no longer can’t. You have to be healthy yourself to make the important decisions when they come.

You can’t give out what you don’t got! You can’t fill someone else’s cup from yours if it’s empty.

There is always going to be someone who thinks that a mother or father who takes care of themselves is selfish. There are always going to be people who wag their finger at the daughter or son of an aging parent who took a few weeks off to recharge and regroup.

The world says you are supposed to be all sacrificing and lay yourselves down as doormats even at your own front doors.

The only people who are calling it selfish are the ones who haven’t learned to value themselves and the ones who are afraid of the cost of taking care of themselves in their own life.  They are afraid that if they do, no one will love them or respect them anymore.   Martyrdom is much more attractive. Not!

Listen, you can’t teach your kids to value themselves if you don’t value yourself.  You can’t teach them to be strong and confident and that their thoughts and opinions and feelings are to be respected if you are lying under them and anyone else who enters your home to wipe their feet.

They want someone to admire and look up to and to lead the way and to show them how to live. You can’t tell them how to live, you have to show them how you live and then tell them they have the choice to live as they want to as well.

You can’t be there for someone else if you don’t know how to be there for yourself.

With aging parents as well as your children, the more you hover, the more control you exert, the less confident they become in their own abilities.  They learn to not trust themselves and their choices. Choice is one of the most important gifts we have and this leads me to the next topic.

Oh, the choices…

You’ve got some time on your hands and maybe a couple of dollars in your wallet. What to do?

The world opens up in your middle years.

There are less people needing you and it frees up your time.  You might have some savings that you would have normally spent on your children. The possibilities are endless. You could go back to school, go on a vacation, take flying lessons, buy a vineyard or just redecorate the house and get rid of that old ratty couch. You could buy all of the latest best sellers and read all weekend long.  It’s you time!  The idea is to make your life more comfortable; to get comfortable with yourself and to choose for you now.

 You’re more comfortable with your choices so you don’t hesitate as much to make them. You’ve made some good ones and some bad ones over the years. Some choices have been real whoppers!

But you’ve discovered that you are still standing, despite any mistakes that you made. You discover that the worst thing that can happen from the bad ones is that you learn from them.  Sure, some of your choices may have permanently affected your social standing, your relationships or seriously affected your finances. And you discover, if the choices have brought you to your knees, that in the quiet of that dark night of the soul, the real essence of you, the root of you is still love and you still “are” and that never ever changes.  Then you learn, you accept, you learn to forgive yourself and you move forward to make a better choice another day with what you know now.

By now, you’ve learned a lot and you’re willing to bet that the choices you make now are better because you know yourself better and what works and what doesn’t.

The only other thing that may have affected your decisions in the past is what would people think. After all, you didn’t want to embarrass yourself for making the wrong ones.

By the time you reach middle age, worrying about embarrassing yourself decreases significantly.  By this time, you have embarrassed yourself more than enough.  There was the time you tucked the back of your skirt into your panty hose when you were running late for work. There was the time you spit food across the table as you made your point at a business luncheon. There was the time you walked naked down the hall at the hospital on the second day after you gave birth and had just finished a sitz bath to heal your episiotomy that went from here to places no one should go.

The nurse in training had used a heat lamp just prior and put it to close to your parts.  Then she sent you off to the bath without a towel and the emergency call button was out-of-order. You tried to be discreet as you shimmied your dimpled behind and swollen mammary glands back to your room during peak visiting hours. You wonder how many people heard you yell,” Dear God, no! Someone please make those babies stop crying” as your glands responded to the call.

Embarrassment is no longer part of my vocabulary or any part of my decision making process.

I talk to people and let them know that they have beautiful eyes or a wonderful smile if I think they do. I talk more openly about my life experiences.  I think life is interesting, bumpy, messy and delightful. Someone might need to hear there is another person on the planet that has experienced the same thing. I’d rather embarrass myself a bit than to let someone think they are alone or small or a weirdo.  I admit, sometimes, I’ve probably been considered weird.  But weird is interesting and better than being called dull.

Sometimes I trip on the sidewalk and no longer bend down pretending to tie my shoe. I just steady my balance and walk on. Who cares whose watching?  I’ll bet they’ve tripped too.

Frankly, I don’t much care about what anyone thinks of me anymore.

This is the best part of life in the middle years.  You stop caring about a whole whack of stuff.

In fact I find myself saying that a lot. Who cares? Do I look like I care? Find someone who cares!

You stop caring what people think of your appearance. Some mornings I sit outside on the front porch drinking my coffee with a couple of curlers in my hair and still wearing my pajamas.  Who cares?  I even wave to a neighbour if they pass by.  I do not hide.

Seriously, what is the worst thing that will happen?  They might say, “Wow, she must have just woke up” or “Gee, she looks like heck in the morning.” So what!  I do look rough in the morning and so does the rest of the planet.

But I’ll greet you with a smile and a cheery hello.  If that’s not enough, there’s nothing else that I can do.

You stop caring what someone would think of you without your make up on.  If they stop wanting to be around you because you’re not wearing the right foundation or your eyelashes aren’t curled up to your brows, then good riddance.  I’m here talking to you because I want to get to know you, not impress you with my impeccably applied eye liner.  I like you because you are you, not because your face is wrinkle free.   I want to talk to you, not at you, while you look over my shoulder to the mirror to make sure your hair is not out of place.

I’m not saying you don’t keep trying to look your best. You do. You look your best because it’s a manifestation of how good you feel on the inside. It has nothing to do with external opinions. If you get beautiful on the inside, the outside takes care of itself.

You stop caring so much about what people think of you. Period!

I used to stay up nights replaying conversations in my head; wondering if I had made a good impression and had I said the right thing at the right time.

With all the people I have met in my life or known, it didn’t much matter what they talked about, or their social rank, we either connected or we didn’t.  It’s not personal, it’s all about personal tastes and interests and personality traits that work well together. I don’t take it personal if someone doesn’t connect with me. They just don’t.

On occasion, I slide back a bit. I do this especially when someone very close to me doesn’t approve of my attire or my opinion or of the choices I have made and they decide they need to tell me so.  It throws me off my game for a moment and then I remember this:

I don’t give a flying Frisbee what you think of me; especially when it has to do with external surface stuff.  You don’t need to tell me what you think I am doing wrong. I’m old enough to know if I’m still choosing to live my life this way, I have a very good reason. It’s working for me. When it stops working, I’ll think of something else.

And then I think of this quote whose origin has been claimed by more than one person:

“Your opinion of me is none of my business!”

By the middle years, you’ve been through the battles, with your kids and your spouse, your job and the bank.  You’ve tackled your demons and at times had your behind kicked by them. You’ve made a lot of choices and either stood tall with your chin held high or picked up the pieces of others with your tail between your legs.

You’ve come to accept that stuff happens and some of the stuff you worried about didn’t. Either way, you can handle it.

You realize that the better way is to not resist but go with whatever comes.  And if somebody still wants to argue about it, you can say from the depths of your heart:

“Find somebody who cares!”

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