Advice from Midlife

Normal is a subjective word, and I find that I am constantly adjusting to the "new normal." At midlife, I am rediscovering some pretty simple truths: what is normal differs with each stage of life. As an infant, it is normal to be cared for and normal to reach milestones while gaining physical capabilities and life skills. It also appears to be normal for human beings to want to hurry.... when you are a child, you want to be a teenager. When you are a teenager, you want to be 21. When you are 21, you want to be a real adult and lead the life you have imagined (which will end up not being what you imagined at all). In your twenties, you probably want to fall in love, get married, and have children. This is the "normal" progression, at least within middle-class America. The millennials have come of age during a time when achieving as much as their parents did is unlikely, through no fault of their own. Who knows, maybe they will change everything our generation wanted to change, but did not. Millennials may be able to change "the norm" since they have to make their own normal.

Not long ago I heard someone in their twenties say, "we need to have a baby soon so we won't be 'old' parents and too old to have fun after our kids leave." Whoa. That is putting the cart way out in front of the horse. Why not do all of the things you've dreamed of doing, but do them now, before you tie yourself down for the next 18 years plus with children and mortgages and bills that have to be paid? Enjoy your life! Why not have kids in your mid-30s, even at 40? You want to have kids now so you can enjoy yourself later down the road? I have to tell you, there is fault in your reasoning.

How do I know this? I know this because I have lived through everything that you have lived through, and everything you want to live through. I've also lived through things you do not want to live through, but probably will have to. When you get to the side of life where your kids are raised and you supposedly can do what you want, something usually screws it up. It could be money, health, death, divorce, or any other number of things. The time to have fun and live your dreams is on the front side of life. My husband's illness and near death (he had a double lung transplant in 2013 due to Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis) has given me much food for thought, so I will share this wisdom with you (though you probably won't listen because you think I am a fossil, even though I still feel vibrant and young).

Okay, here are some things to think about. How do you know you will live long enough to see your kids grow up? You don't know. Around half of people who marry in their twenties get divorced, so you might have to deal with ending a relationship, though I hope not. I've seen a lot of people get divorced, and it does not look fun... Put kids into the mix and it becomes ugly. It is normal for relationships to fail, and it is normal for them to succeed. You have about a 50-50 chance either way.

When you decide it is time to go have fun, your parents will become elderly. You may need to help them financially. You may need to help your kids out financially, too. You will watch your parents become frail, you may lose them far before their time, and long before you are ready to be without them. Everything you build up, everything you gain as a striving adult must be relinquished as one ages. It is just the way things are; it is normal. I lost my father when he was young and it never occurred to me that my husband could also get ill. He has always been the healthy one, so his illness came as a complete shock. His transplant and its aftermath has changed everything in his life, in my life, and in our family's life. Not exactly atypical for one's fifties, but somehow we just never expected it to happen. How could it possibly have happened? And yet, it has, and this is now "normal."

When I advise you to do it now, I really mean... do it now. Tell people you love them now. Spend time with those you love now. Learn to speak another language now. Walk your dog now. If you want to travel, travel now. Now is your time. You do not have a timetable you have to keep in order to be successful. There is no playbook to follow, so I suggest you write your own. Make your own timetable, and live the way you want to. Life changes quickly, so you have to adapt. In my 55 years I have discovered that the most important life skill is to be able to adapt, to cope with change. Change is the only constant in life.

My twenty-something children both married this year. I hope they lead full, satisfying lives. I hope they find adventure and value and real worth. I hope they take time to enjoy one another, to look beyond their own worlds, to taste all sides of life, and to live life on their own terms. One thing I want them to remember? All you really have is now. Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do to create happiness today. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us... and that is the real normal.