By Kara Martinez Bachman
As we age, most women eventually come to a wild crossroads, a confusing place where we must devise a new purpose, or formulate a new self-valuation. It’s a life phase of “fence sitting,” or, for those of us in our 40s and 50s, a time that’s — often disparagingly — referred to as the “midlife crisis.”
Sometimes this crisis is shy and easy, a tiny blip on the psychological radar. At other times, it roars in with a shattering bang and is dragged out slowly, kicking and screaming in handcuffs.
It may arrive with the empty nest, or earlier, with the first gray hairs. It might arrive because a divorce or death in the family leaves us seeking new companions. It might arrive because we’re unfortunately forced out of a job and need to forge new paths, or maybe because career-wise, we feel “stuck in a rut.”
Or, as in my case, it might be because our youngest child has stepped onto the school bus for her first day of kindergarten, and we suddenly have more time on our hands.
Maybe, just maybe, it could happen because we’ve just begun to fully internalize the fact that we won’t, in fact, live forever, so we want to go back to doing the things that made us feel young and alive.
Things like roller skating.
I don’t mean on those lame roller blades; I mean on REAL skates, with four wheels and a disco ball glimmering overhead.
Or, taking to the stage by auditioning for a local play (it was great in high school; it still can be).
Or, even better, buying front row tickets for that favorite band or performer we loved as teens, but for whom we never could gather up the money to buy a ticket.
Now, we can afford it.
In some fashion, though, this need for novelty and change arrives for us all. It might waltz in wearing stilettos, or clomp in donning hiking boots or even tap shoes, but it’s always a weird and erratic stranger, knocking at the door once we’re in our 40s or early 50s. And regardless how scary or new this desire for change might be, regardless what form it takes, in most instances … it’s gonna be okay.
What matters here isn’t the etiquette or methods of this dreaded midlife crisis; what matters is how we respond to it. As someone who found herself slipping into this phase at a still-youthful 39, I can tell you that seeing it as a joyful process — a natural time of maturation, change, and improvement — will serve you well.
While I was evaluating my life — after about fifteen years of marriage and being a stay-at-home-mom to two children for close to a decade — it was time to set a new course. Although the outbound trek was bumpy at first (Did I really say THAT? Did I really wear THAT? How much money DID I SPEND??), things started to calm and all the self-examination bore fruit.
Now that I’m about to enter my 47th year, I’m finally settling back down into a comfortable, quiet groove where I can be “fine” with my life choices and attitude. My husband and I have our family life down to a systemic flow that usually works for us both. Career-wise, I’ve been doing well and having lots of fun. Now that my children are getting older, they’ve become more like friends and less like “tasks,” so we all have time for both ourselves and for each other. Unlike much of the past eight years, things have recently settled into a better place where nothing is perfect, but all is simply agreeable.
The best part of coming out the other side of all this is: I can still roller skate sometimes, when I feel the urge. The catch is to find a rink without too many toddlers, and where the music isn’t designed for twerking; but that’s a whole other subject.
It’s taken years of work, but the lesson I’ve learned is an important one: if you view life as a roller coaster of ups, downs and adventures, it will become one. If you view it as a safe place to “just be,” it will become one. It’s all about coming to a place of acceptance.
I don’t have all the answers, any more than you do. But I do know this: making new waves, charting new courses, and putting on a new pair of shoes that redefines you is not at all wrong; it’s GREAT.
If done carefully, and with consideration for our loved ones, “fence sitting” can be an exceptional time for growing things. That way, when you jump off onto the other side, you’ll find yourself standing smack dab in the landscape you’d always imagined.
Kara Martinez Bachman is author of the new women’s humor essay collection, “Kissing the Crisis: Field Notes on Foul-Mouthed Babies, Disenchanted Women and Careening into Middle Age,” published by Quill Driver Books. Her work has been heard on NPR radio and has appeared in dozens of publications, including The Writer, Funny Times, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Find out more by visiting KaraMartinezBachman.com.