I may be a little biased, but I happen to think my mother, Monica, has some pretty excellent perspectives on adulting. Monica is a college and career counselor in Atlanta, as well as an organizing queen, book worm, and gardening fanatic.
The most surprising thing to me about becoming an adult is how much fun I’m having now that I’m in my fifties. Of the myriad ways to describe me in my twenties, thirties, and forties, a girl who “had fun” would not have been an appropriate moniker. My expectations for myself would not have really allowed the frivolity that the term implies.
I do not envy where many of you are in your lives right now (although it’s going to get better fast!). I remember the day I graduated from college. It felt other-worldly, as though my feet were floating an inch off the floor and I had no grounding. My ten-room dorm/house was a tsunami of suitcases and boxes and our caps and gowns were lying like ominous black puddles all over the house.
I liked but did not love college the way some people do. I sometimes felt like a fish out of water—a Yankee in the Bible-belt of Vanderbilt University. Still, at this juncture, I was not ready to be thrust into the adult world. I only knew that I did not want to return to my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, nor did I want to stay in Nashville. On the advice of my friends who said “move to Atlanta, you’ll love it there!” I packed up my car and moved to Atlanta sight unseen. This was a very un-Monica thing to do. Typically a planner and researcher, with a hefty inbred dose of fear, this was exceedingly impulsive. And, as you might guess, it all turned out beautifully.
When I first arrived in Atlanta, I literally slept on the couch of a friend (who had just had a baby!). I remember having a job interview and, as a person with a highly dysfunctional sense of direction, I didn’t know which way to turn on Peachtree Road to go South. I worked temp jobs (one even at the Atlanta bureau of the New York Times which I loved) until landing the job that set me on my way—as a banker. I can’t say enough good things about this time professionally. I was in corporate lending where I was exposed to many different industries and businesses and grown-ups doing interesting things. Most importantly, I was mentored by several truly kind people (men, primarily—it was still the 80’s!). Most days at work felt a bit dizzying; there was just so much to learn, and often, although I was an economics major, I felt like I was faking it. I didn’t really understand a loan-to-value ratio or know how to do a cash-flow projection, yet I was doing a lot of them….
I thought that I was desperate to be married. I jumped into every relationship as though it was The One. When, at 24, I became engaged to a terrific guy, I started to feel that I had a three-pound weight on top of my head. A close friend said “Monica, I think you need to buy yourself some time.” The church had been booked, the invitations ordered, and a gorgeous terrine, an engagement gift from my future mother-in-law was sitting on my table. I broke that engagement and the weight lifted instantly. Even then though, I was still afraid I’d never meet the right person. I had dreams, almost every night, that I was forty and without children. I’d wake up panicked.
My career was cooking along and I became the youngest Vice President at the bank at 28. I loved most days at work (although I missed terribly the ability to nap in the middle of the day—don’t underestimate the value of this!). I never understand why people say they hate meetings. Our Monday morning credit meetings were some of my favorite parts of the week. There was a lot of laughter and inside jokes about credit-worthiness!
Then, at 29, I met Mr. Right. I almost couldn’t believe my good fortune and I’d wake up in the mornings pinching myself. We married when I was 31 and had a baby (Caroline!!) ten-and-a half months later (yes, my dad counted backwards). The joy in this is truly indescribable. But the responsibility of it was breath-taking. I remember day five of her life; the relatives had left and her daddy returned to work. And I thought to myself “I am solely responsible for keeping her alive all day.” A day or two later the papoose of her rolled off of the sofa when my back was turned and I have yet to recover from the guilt.
Her little brother emerged exactly two years later, and boy did I have my hands full. These were extraordinarily happy times, but I still couldn’t call them fun! They were busy-every-second times combined with ‘please don’t make me have one more tea party’ times combined with ‘oh my God, what if they don’t get into the right pre-school’ times. Worry after worry after worry.
It went scarily fast. There is no truer statement than “the days are long but the years are short.” And suddenly I’m 40. I remember thinking that I should be depressed, but I still pretty much felt 30. (That is another thing about adulting—you will ALWAYS feel at least ten years younger than your biological age). I switched careers, taught public speaking, built a small computer training business, drove a lot of carpools, and stayed busy, busy, busy. I consider this the “striving” time: striving to develop great kids, be in the right schools, striving to make our home lovely and livable, striving not too lose myself. It was all highly rewarding and fulfilling but very hard work.
And now for the fifties…. I had so feared my empty nest but find that, for the first time, I can do all of the things that I wanted to do in my 20s, 30s and 40s. My career as a college and career consultant literally feels like play (most of the time). I’m taking an art class and drawing obsessively at night. I’m cycling miles and miles and miles with my husband. I’m reading three books at the same time, doing board work with the public library (a very “grown-up” feeling), trying new kinds of yoga, building fires every night and staring into the flames. I’m having fun.