The beginning of May is a tremendously stressful time for my husband. It begins with my birthday on the seventh and it ends with Mother’s Day weekend. Two behemoth holidays (yes, Katy Day counts in my bizarre world) mean that Mike stands at the greeting card racks, suffering in search of someone else’s thoughts to sign his name to.
And as I read the wit and wisdom of Scooter the Squirrel, I began to ponder four decades. FORTY. I’m now at the age I most associate with my mother’s life. An era of maturity and maternity. Yes, at this moment in time, she was holding a newborn. This was headline news in 1973.
But then as I think about the decades that have passed, I also think of the labels that have passed with them. For the first phase, I was someone’s child. For the next, I was someone’s student. Then, in my twenties, I became someone’s employee. As that chapter evolved, I became someone’s wife, and then someone’s mother. That role changed a little as I became someone’s caregiver.
Now that I’m forty, it feels like the “f” word stands for “free.”
I guess I won’t be 100% free until I’m retired in a paid-off house with college-educated children. But for some reason, forty feels different. I don’t feel older or wiser…but I do feel more secure. I feel like I can finally say “NO!” to things that made be feel obligated along the way.
As a child, I felt a duty to obey. I felt a duty to perform well on assignments and tests, because I was being graded by teachers. I felt a duty to land a scholarship to ease the financial burden of higher education that turned a retirement portfolio into a college fund. I felt a duty to show up at work by 7:30 a.m. and stay until 7:30 p.m., to prove my value to a company. I then felt a duty to work at least part-time to help diminish expenses that rested squarely on my husband’s shoulders. I felt a duty to take on every volunteer post and special event to prove my dedication to two daughters and their school. I felt a duty to care for aging, ailing relatives who had loved me when I wasn’t capable of taking care of myself, either. I felt that duty three times.
But now, I’m entering a phase that seems to have a clearer calendar. I feel as though I have some control again, even if ”life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” (according to John Lennon).
Until the day I die, I’ll be a loyal wife and mother. I hope to remain a writer in some way or another. I’m certain I’ll always be a pet owner (because these nine animals seem to be in perfect health). I want to “be” these things. But I’m hopeful that this new decade — my forties by any other name — will be about strengthening a relationship. I hope this is the stretch in which I realize a sense of duty to become a great friend…to myself.