It looks different than I thought it would. I don’t know that I had a lot of ideas about what my mid-forties would be like when I was younger, but I know that it feels differently than I thought it would.
Forty five is scared. Not all the time, and not overwhelmingly, but it’s a pervasive feeling, just under the surface. I know how quickly a sunny afternoon can turn into a tragedy. How your world can change so fast, and suddenly you’re in a new place, with challenges you’ve never even heard of, let alone faced before. I’ve been through some things. I’ve seen other people go through things. I’ve lost friends, I’ve had friends lose their parents. I know tragedy is out there, waiting.
There’s also a knowledge that goes along with experience, a wisdom in knowing how lucky you are, and also in knowing that luck is capricious. My son was talking about the scar on his nose last night, from the accident he was in a few years ago. It hit me, again, that if the glass had hit his face an inch to the left or the right, he might have lost his eye. If he had hit the car a few inches lower, the damage done to his chin might have broken his neck. I’ve got a daughter with celiac disease, an auto immune disorder with terrifying consequences, but it’s a disease that can be completely controlled by diet. Everything could be so much worse. Everything could still get so much worse. Knowing how fortunate I’ve been doesn’t make me feel more secure, it just makes me aware of how it really is just a roll of the dice.
Forty five is midway for me. I don’t mean that I plan on dying at 90 (although that doesn’t sound bad) but I’m about halfway through raising my kids. Sixteen years in, and at least another decade in front of me. I’m not done by any description but my days of packing a diaper bag and arranging my days around naptime are over. I worry about peer pressure these days, societal pressure to get the best grades, to take the hardest classes. I worry about college and IEPs and dating. I worry about letting them out into the world today, to make their own choices, to sink or swim. I want to keep them safe at home, wrapped in bubble wrap and protected, but know I can’t.
I’m more secure in my own identity, I don’t worry about fitting into anyone else’s definition of what my life should be like. As a Jewish convert, I spent a long time trying to do everything “right,” even when it felt like I was denying a part of myself. I’ve learned to accept my Judaism as is, and to know that it’s sufficient in and of itself. Am I a perfect Jew? I know that I’m not, but I also know that nobody is. I put up my Christmas tree and light my Shabbat candles and do my best to ignore the implied judgement. I’ve learned to step back, to let my children experiment with belief and practice and to know that all I can do is model the behavior.
Forty five is settled into marriage, with a man that loves me absolutely. It’s knowing that we’re together in a way that I didn’t know was possible. I was raised by a single mom, I thought that was the way things were supposed to be. I didn’t expect to be here, 45 and happily married, in a partnership that’s as strong and as vital as it’s ever been. I’m still not used to it, and at this point, I suppose that I’ll always feel as though my marriage is serendipitous and one of the nicest surprises of my life so far.
I didn’t get the career accolades I would have supposed, the glamorous writing lifestyle. I spend my days homeschooling and ferrying kids around, walking the dog and battling the never ending pile of laundry. Grocery shopping. So much grocery shopping. It’s contentment and focus and piles of library books and kids who are growing up so much faster than I’d like.
Forty five is lovely, in the end. Yes, it’s scared but aware the blessings received, the bullets dodged. It’s knowing that while tragedy is waiting, always, a life is built around connections and traditions, intentionality and surprises. Forty five is old enough to be grateful, to be cautiously optimistic, and to always, always know how incredibly lucky you are.