12 Jul Reflection On My 50s
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 12.7.21
A writerly friend and I were having lunch – one of those long-overdue catch-ups after not managing to cross paths for a while. There is a book she wants to write – and I hope she does because I want to read it – and I told her about my super top secret project (I tell everyone) that I am sure will be brilliant but I can never find the time to get it started. Fewer lunches and gas-bagging about it would probably help.
I mentioned that I write this piece here each week and she said, “Oh, yes, your advice column” and I choked a little on my tea. My life feels too much of a shambles for me to be offering wisdom to strangers. Honestly, if you had seen me this morning trying to scrub something unidentifiable off my kitchen sink using two types of cleaners and muttering, “I have no idea what this even is!” to no-one in particular, you would steer well clear of any life advice I tried to give.
What I often write down, though, is what I’d like to tell an earlier version of me. The stuff I would have found useful to know in advance and possibly didn’t need to work out the hard way.
Think of it like I’ve just run an obstacle course and – though I’m no athlete – I can tell you which bits I found tricky, where you might want to save your energy, and how deep and mud-sucky the water hazard is once you’re in it.
So this week, as I leave my 50s behind, I’ve been making a loose list of the things I wish I’d known when they started. It has been a glorious decade – definitely my favourite so far – full of milestones and red letter days and plenty to write home about. If I had a chance to have lunch with 50 year old me, this is what I’d tell her.
This is the decade when you will feel most like yourself. You get to be in the world not just as someone’s mother, or someone’s daughter or wife, but also as the person you have grown into. You get a little more time in your day to work out who she is, what she wants, and what she can create. You’re one of the lucky ones who finds menopause works like a boost of energy, and you are delighted to be past the point where you care if you are attractive to strangers – which coincides neatly with the moment when much of the world finds you invisible. No one is shouting at you from a building site which leaves you blessedly free to go about your day.
You are still, though, someone’s mother, daughter and wife and there will be moments in the decade where you are caring for a teenager and, simultaneously, ageing parents while also tending to your primary relationship. Not going to lie, it can be a bit of a squeeze. Ultimately, it is an honour to be needed and be useful. One word of advice – in amongst the doctor and hospital appointments for everybody else, don’t forget your own check-ups. It rarely turns out that ignoring things makes them go away.
But not every niggle is a nightmare. You will be amazed how, with the right attention and effort, something like a wonky knee can be entirely cured, not just “managed”. Don’t buy into that nonsense that your body is inevitably falling apart and there is nothing you can do about it. Ride a bike, get yourself some funky reading glasses, and don’t be too ready to describe yourself in negative terms. You’re middle-aged, not dead, you glorious thing. Plenty of party left in you yet.
Remember what your grandmother said about always keeping a clean, nicely ironed handkerchief handy because big things will happen and there will be all kinds of tears. This is the decade I lost both my parents, and also welcomed both my grandchildren. These things happen in different decades for other people – older, younger – so just know that these events change you. Make space for other people who experience them sooner or later than you do. There are few things as big as these. Allow their grief, and take a moment to look at the photos they want to show you. One day you will be bursting to show them yours.
Learn to say “no” faster to things that don’t bring you joy – I can barely remember examples now because, as hard as they were to turn down at the time, they ended up entirely forgettable. And your favourite things from this decade will be the result of saying “yes”. Yes to offers of work, to requests for your help, to invitations to travel, to joining communities and spending time with friends.
And I’m turning around to say “yes” to this next decade, which might be my favourite yet.