When I was a kid, adolescence always seemed to be looming in front of me like a dark threat. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because my parents spoke so negatively of teenagers, maybe it was because my sweet playful cousins transformed into sulky eye-rollers overnight, or maybe it was just the fear of separation from my parents. Whatever the reasons, adolescence felt like a condition, something shameful to avoid at all costs.
I resisted for as long as I could. Fortunately, my body did too. I come from a long line of late bloomers, so while the other girls were comparing cute bras, I was still undressing in the bathroom so no one would notice my Mickey Mouse undershirts.
The good thing about adolescence though is that it was a known phenomena that lasted for a set period of time and when you emerged on the other side, you were yourself again, only prettier, stronger, more independent. A beautiful, strong butterfly.
At least that’s how it seemed to me at the time.
As it turned out, my teenaged years were very mild. I stayed home, read books, waited out the days until my butterfly wings would arrive.
And arrive they did! College was marvelous. I figured I was done with the big changes, and life was a breeze. I met my husband-to-be at the very end of college, we got married a few years later, had three beautiful children. Things were just sailing along.
Sure, I changed. Motherhood, marriage, new friends, new places, all of those things affected me. But, essentially, I was that same butterfly, just flitting through life.
I knew that things wouldn’t always be the same. The kids would grow up; I’d go back to some sort of job that would still allow me plenty of time to be home. But no matter what life threw at me, I figured I would still be that same self I’d been since the day I got my butterfly wings.
How wrong I was.
This year my youngest child started kindergarten and suddenly, the floor beneath me ripped open, leaving me hanging over an abyss of uncertainty, flapping my wings frantically just to stay afloat.
It wasn’t just about my circumstances changing, it was something internal that switched, some voice inside me that had been drowned out by wailing infants and whiny toddlers that was suddenly demanding to be heard.
I remembered then that term my parents had used when our neighbor bought a sports car and our family friend started cheating on her husband: “Mid-life crisis.”
Is that what this is? This urgent desire to pull back the pieces of myself that have become embedded in my roles as a mother and a wife, to reclaim myself, re-invent myself before all this vitality that is pulsing through my veins begins to subside.
I’ll be 40 this summer. A few generations ago, I would have been considered past my prime, old, even. But, I don’t feel old at all. In fact, I feel younger than I have in years. My kids don’t need me nearly as much as they used to. I’m going out, making new friends, exploring new career paths, and writing, writing, writing.
But, with each of these new opportunities comes a risk as well. As much as I want to do local theater, it would take me from my family four nights a week. As exciting as that job opportunity in NYC might be, it’s an hour and a half from home. As interesting as my new friend seems, our husbands don’t get along and she has no kids. As nice as it would be to go back to school, it’s expensive and time consuming.
Until now, every decision I made was primarily about what was best for my family. That just doesn’t feel like enough anymore.
I’m changing faster and more drastically than I did in adolescence. But now, there’s no set amount of time, no butterfly wings waiting on the other side. Getting through adolescence was scary sometimes, but I was only responsible for myself. The wings that I earned needed only to withhold my own weight.
It’s different now. I’ve got incredible children, a wonderful husband, and serious responsibilities. Every flutter I take I have to make sure that they’re all there with me. Safe, happy, secure.
Some days I worry that if I’m busy with new opportunities I won’t have the same amount of energy and patience to give them as I do now. I worry that as I try to find my way, I’ll use up too many resources, take away too much time from home. I worry that I’ll change so much I won’t fit right in our home anymore, that I won’t be able to be the mother and wife that they’ve counted on for so long. Sometimes I’m so plagued with anxiety and guilt that it seems like it would be easier to give up my own dreams, to keep putting all my efforts into raising strong kids, into being a devoted wife.
Sometimes changes are dramatic, sometimes they’re slower, but they never stop. Not for any of us. Not ever. I don’t fault my family for what I’m experiencing; they’re changing too, finding their own adventures. I would never make them feel guilty or ashamed about that. So why am I doing it to myself?
I can’t stop that voice inside me that’s been calling out, I can’t stop myself from wanting new things, from craving a world separate from my family life. I can’t stop myself from changing.
And neither can my kids. Neither can my husband. Neither can any of us.
Adolescence isn’t a crisis, and neither is mid-life. They’re just life intensified. And life, with all it’s light and darkness and highs and lows… is amazing.