When I was 20, 40 seemed old. When I was 30, I was sure 50 would be the moment when I would become a grandma type. Yesterday I celebrated my 50th birthday.... in Paris. The same place I celebrated my 40th birthday. I didn't feel old 10 years ago and I still don't. What a lovely surprise. I'm sure anyone who has passed this birthday, as well as their 60th or 70th, feels the same way. Your body might betray you periodically but your mind still believes in its youth and is always a little surprised by the years it has acquired .You wonder where the time went but at the same time you celebrate the gifts that time has given you. Yes, my feet hurt and I have to work a whole lot harder to stay in the same size jeans. I can't stay up for 48 hours or go longer than 6 weeks without touching up my gray roots. But what I've gained is worth more than comfy feet and a tight stomach.
I have two grown, wildly creative and funny children who are mostly on their own and whom I adore in spite of, or maybe because of, their problems, foibles, and youthful angst. I have a family, some related by blood and some whom I've chosen as family, who love me and care for me, in spite or, or maybe because of my problems, foibles and not- so-youthful angst. I still have my sense of adventure but it's now tempered with the ability to relax and not take things so seriously. I spend far less time worrying about the little things, like the dirty windows or whether or not my dessert is home made. I'm less critical and judgmental of other people and let myself enjoy their eccentricities. I seem to observe and see more things than I ever have before. And most importantly, I can still laugh my fool head off for almost no reason at all.
Of course there are bad things that come with age. Losing someone you love to old age. Watching friends begin to succumb to the diseases of time and living.... like the big C. Feeling the pain of friends as they care for an aging parent while caring for a grown child who has lost their way...and knowing my turn will come. Worrying that my generation did not do a good job as caretakers of the earth and leaving a better place for our children. Knowing my knees might not make it through a full day of mountain climbing. Not being able to sleep until noon, even if I really need it. And reaching the ripe, not- that-old age of 50 and not knowing what I want to do when I grow up!!
When I was 20, I was sure I would be doing something important when I was 40. When I was 30, I was certain that once the boys were older, I would find that fabulous career that I had decided to put on hold until they were in school. When I was 40, I knew it was just around the corner.
I've turned a lot or corners since then and I still haven't found it. I've done so many things and enjoyed them all. I've been a trail cook in the mountains of British Columbia, a television journalist, an educational director for a non-profit agency, a computer trainer, a designer, a florist, and an advertising executive. But none have brought me to the point where, at 50, I know what is next. How does a person reach this age and find herself in this predicament? I envy those who were certain from the get-go and happily remain steadfast.
So here in France, I'm not only on a travel and cultural journey but it's personal as well. Trying to find my place in the second half of my life. Should I begin the struggle of trying to become a writer? Have I got it in me? Should I start the travel business I've been thinking about? Or do I settle for finding a job that gives me insurance and a retirement fund, both of which are just a wee bit important at this stage of my life? Much more important than they used to be.
My boys sent me a song for my birthday that they wrote and recorded. It's called 50 Is The New 20. It's hysterically funny and, of course, it's more than a bit of a stretch, but , in a way it feels sort of true. At this juncture, I'm more like a 20-year-old than a 50-year-old and I've really got to get serious.
Soooo......within 5 years I swear I'm going to be a grown up. I really mean it this time. I'll have a plan. Yes, a plan, and a bank account and possibly even a lease (in an apartment with an actual oven)! After all, I could have grandchildren by then and I'll need a place to bake cookies and rock them to sleep. I'll need money to take them to Disneyland and Washington DC.
On the other hand, they could visit their granny in her tiny apartment in a faraway, foreign country, sleep in a drawer, learn to make mousse au chocolate, which requires no oven, and enjoy their odd collection of acquired family that will most certainly be living in my apartment (currently, while I'm traveling for a month I have a 19-year-old Swedish au pair named Alessandra and a 56-year-old French businessman, both of whom are temporarily homeless, living in my apartment). I could introduce them to my friend who speaks 5 languages and is learning Apache. Or the Irish barman who remembers every single book he's ever read (and the list is extensive) and seems to know the etymology of every English and French word in both dictionaries. Then, I could show them the Roman aqueducts scattered haphazardly around the countryside and take them to real castles, built in the 11th and 12th centuries.
My 50th in Paris. Curiously, everybody at the restaurant sang to me....in English! I was kind of bummed.