I hit the half-century mark today. I have to admit, this birthday feels different but not for the usual reasons. Dennis wanted to get me a fabulous “milestone” gift — an iPhone, a supercharged juicer for my green juicing, some sort of gizmo or gadget befitting a major birthday event. Much to his chagrin, I kept saying, “No.” Nothing seemed right, or necessary. There is no material thing I want or need, certainly nothing I equate with reaching 50 years old.
I think it’s because this birthday calls for something much harder to grasp and impossible to buy, a new perspective, perhaps, rather than a new phone. In the not-so-distant past, my birthdays were cause for what I called the “Birthday Triduum,” not one but three full days of celebration. If my birthday fell on a Friday or Monday, even better because the Triduum could include an entire weekend. Now I’m not sure I need even one day to mark the event. And it’s not an age thing. I long ago came to terms with the fact that it’s downhill from here in most departments. Maybe it’s the notion of turning point. It seems as though 50 years presents a nice, self-contained package of sorts, something to be archived in the basement. And today I’m unwrapping a new, empty box just waiting to be filled, but with what?
My grandmother, who still lives on her own, will soon mark her 100th birthday. As I have said time and again in recent months, if I’ve inherited her genes and determination and strength, I get to live my entire life over again from start to finish. What would I do with another half-century of living?
I don’t want the rest of my life — however long I get — to be only a time of fading, even though part of me welcomes that idea. (I’m continually threatening to live like a hermit in my basement office, but then I have to lead a Girl Scout meeting or drive one of the girls to dance or speak at a Catholic gathering and that idea goes out the window.) I think whatever comes next should be a time of growing in the important areas of my life, as a spiritual seeker, as a wife and mother, as a human being, and maybe in some of the less serious and more fun areas as well, things I haven’t yet had a chance to try but have always wanted to tackle.
I’ll see how post-50 life begins to develop in the months ahead, and you can come along for the ride. In between, I’ll share bits of half-century wisdom about everything from the ridiculous to the sublime. Okay, mostly the ridiculous since sublime is way above my pay grade. Just watch for posts tagged with the “Life in My 50s” headline.
Now I’m off to blow out some candles. Anyone have a fire extinguisher?
When Chiara’s birthday rolled around this year, she opted for pie rather than cake for her party dessert. Initially I thought, pie?!? I’m not a huge pie fan, and, as my sister-in-law and I have discussed, you’re either a pie person or you’re not. Well, if you’re not a pie person, this pie will make a believer out of you. Because it’s not “real” pie; it’s mud pie. Read more
Seven years ago today my beautiful and brave Chiara Elizabeth was born. Seven. Where did the time go? Seven years ago at this time I was waiting for my castor oil cocktail to kick in so I could bring on my extremely overdue delivery without being induced via IV. Called my midwife, told her what I did and to expect me later that day. Right around noon labor kicked in, right on schedule. At just about 7:30 p.m, Chiara entered the world, and what joy she has brought to our family ever since.
I’ve written a lot about the benefits of being an older mom — I was just about 43 when Chiara was born — because every day I am the one who continues to learn new lessons from this fearless little being. Just a few weeks ago Chiara’s absolute courage at the top of the Shotgun Falls at a Wildwood water park inspired me to go down on the chute next to her. Two days ago she insisted on going off the diving boards at the town pool, something I have yet to do. Although I am often hesitant to let her do things out of my own fear, she will have none of that.
Her enthusiasm and sensitivity, her courage and kindness teach me on a daily basis how to be a better person. Happy birthday, baby. I love you, and I’m so glad I decided to forget my old age and become a mom one more time.
Here’s a snapshot view of Chiara’s life:
Noah will officially turn 15 at 7:11 p.m. (technically that’s Central Time). I cannot think of his newborn days without thinking of this song. The two of us danced around our Texas living room to the beautiful words and melody by John Lennon, with me crying the whole time. Even now, tears are rolling down my face as I listen to it while posting. It reminds me of those early days, my first days as a mother, and it reminds me how quickly life passes us by if we’re not careful to pay attention, and even if we are.
Happy Birthday, darling Noah. Here’s our song. (I’ve threatened to dance to it with him at his wedding some day.)
A few things have happened in these first few days of 2011 that make me believe that either a.) This is going to be a very good year, or b.) I am looking at the world through gentler, more welcoming eyes.
First was New Year’s Day, the day Noah, our oldest, was born 14 years ago, which also happens to be the day that my paternal grandmother, affectionately known to all as E-ma because of a nickname I came up with when I was little, was born 98 years ago. But, for various reasons, I couldn’t be with my grandmother on her birthday, so I felt a little sad over that.
We decided to go to 5 p.m. Mass on New Year’s Day, but I was handling hospitality, so Olivia and I went over to church early, set up and figured we’d meet up with the rest of the gang inside. Minutes before Mass was about to start, we tiptoed up the center aisle to our usual spot in the one of the first few pews. I saw Noah at the end of the pew and Dennis and Chiara toward the middle, but who was that old lady sitting between them? Dennis shrugged his shoulders as I approached.
I sat down and smiled at her and she nodded, still not aware, I don’t think, that she was sitting in the middle of a family. Then Olivia climbed over her and Chiara tried to get to me and she had her “aha” moment. She asked if she should move, and I said, “No, you can be part of our family tonight.” Dennis whispered something to me and the lady looked at me and said, “My name is Mary too.” Another big smile. Mass began and Mary was singing her heart out beside me. A few minutes into the opening prayers, I found myself alternately smiling and on the verge of tears. I had my birthday boy on one side and there, on my right, a surrogate grandma filling in for my own.
The woman’s actual granddaughter showed up and sat in the row behind us and, at the Sign of Peace, I reached over to tell her how happy I was to have her grandmother sitting with me and why. (I can squeeze a lot into the Sign of Peace.) I think that made her happy, and maybe made up for the fact that she was supposed to attend Mass with her grandmother and ended up sitting behind her? Anyway, that was one of my first moments of grace this year.
The next day I went back to my first yoga class in a long time. I knew I was taking a chance because it was not a beginner class and I was too out of shape to be attempting anything more intense. But I settled onto my mat. Within minutes of beginning the class, I felt my shoulders relax and tension melt and peace flood into my heart, and I knew I was home (even in a sweaty YMCA studio). I wax and wane when it comes to my yoga practice, but standing there on that Sunday morning with 50 other people, I felt — for the second time in 24 hours — that deeply spiritual sense of community that comes when people join their hearts and minds, and, in this case, bodies in an effort to move forward physically, mentally, spiritually.
My next moment of grace came the next day when yoga class did not go as well. Obviously I was right when I guessed that attempting the athletic yoga class after months away was too much, and my body was rebelling. As I attempted a simple stretch, my elbow screamed in pain. Not being one to want to admit defeat, I struggled through the class, wondering what could be wrong. (The friend who came with me reminded me that it could just be because we’re getting old. Thanks, Michelle. The truth hurts.)
I came home and iced it and rested it on a pillow, admitting that I would have to skip any exercise the next day. And I could feel the tension beginning to rise as I fought back disappointment over my scuttled plans. But slowly, maybe during the night and certainly by this afternoon, I felt a realization that it was okay. (Thanks, Scott, for reminding me that listening to my body is more important than striking a difficult pose.) My body is telling me to slow down, forcing me to focus not on being “the best” or even at the top of my class but on the journey at hand. Gains don’t have to be made all at once. In fact, they rarely are. Bend with the obstacle, rather than break trying to beat it. So, here I am, in a little bit of pain — especially when typing or writing — but at peace with my middle-aged elbow and the fact that I just can’t do all that I once did with as much ease. Then again, it’s not all about the physical stuff, is it?
Finally — And it’s only “final” in this post. I’m hoping for many more grace-filled moments this year — I began reading a book that seems as though it was meant to be placed in my hands at precisely this time. “Prayerfulness: Awakening to the Fullness of Life” by Robert Wicks (Ave Maria Press) came to my attention by accident, or so it seemed, as I flitted around Facebook one day recently. My publisher sent me a copy (Ave also published my Walking Together book), and I just began reading. It is a perfect fit, considering where I was spiritually at the end of Advent and where I am now. It’s filled with great stories, sage advice and practical spiritual suggestions. I plan to post more on the book once I finish it. Still, as I read it and nod my head, I feel more and more grace and peace and stillness settling in. And that’s a very good place to be at the start of a new year.