Freedom at Mid Life
The Sunday Express - EYE - December 26, 2010
Who wants to be a traumatized 30?
IT WAS A two-day strategy off-site meeting, that corporate world ritual where senior management people take off to a scenic hotel, and lock themselves up in a room with no windows, wallowing in PowerPoint and endless arguments. The client group was mostly male, and from the consulting firm, there was a young lady, the project coordinator, and her two senior male colleagues. The meeting was to end on the first day at 6 pm, and start again at 8 am the next day. By 4 pm on day one, we had all hit a mental block, and as the CEO put it, we were all perfectly aligned in our confusion.
The men decided that the only logical thing to do was to take a break and reassemble after dinner for a few more hours of work, before the scheduled early start the next day. The young lady also gamely agreed to this, thought she looked very unhappy and agitated. After some persuasion, she admitted that her one-year old son didn't sleep until he saw "mommy". So she had planned to leave after the meeting, drive two hours to her home and then leave again at the crack of dawn the next day to be back in time for the meeting. Motherhood guilt mingled with a desperate need not to appear unprofessional.
As I looked at her stressed state, I thanked the lord that I had long passed her age, and had "been there, done that". I thought with a heartfelt shudder, that I never wanted to be a young mother ever again! It is the same paroxysms of relief that I feel when I get on a plane and see a young mother struggling with two little brats and two heavy bags, yelling, stumbling, apologizing, Growing older has never been so pleasant. It brings with it a blissful empty nest, which, far from being sad, is actually childless heaven. It's almost like a permanently-at-high-volume channel in your head that suddenly switches off, and the rest of the channels in your head sigh in relief as their bandwidth increases.
Who cares anymore if the evening household routine is derailed because you never made it home on time? A friend of mine turned 60 recently. As I sat down to write a note for her, it all tumbled out spontaneously, what every decade of a woman's life brings. The 20s are trouble, the 30s traumatic, the 40s frazzled, the 50s fulfilling, the 60s serene (to recover from the preceding years) and after a decade of serenity, the 70s are scintillating. The 80s are orderly, because by then your daily routine probably occupies the whole day.
The 20s are trouble because of all the anxiety about grades and job choices and career goals and what's the right age for marriage and motherhood, and whether one can have it all. The 30s are traumatic because they are an agonizing grind of children's stuff, scheduling (actually negotiating) "no overlap" travel and weekend work with the spouse, and the creeping realization that parents are getting older, and they are on your responsibility list too.
The 40s are when work is at its demanding peak, and teenagers are eating you out of house and home, and arguing you out of your sanity. The 50s are bliss. You are senior enough to get your own way at work, to tell your secretary with authority that you are leaving early and go shopping, and the kids are in college and taking care to see less of you. The 60s are when you stay serene, knowing that there is less and less for you to mess up. In your 70s, for starters, you can watch your kids getting messed around by their kids. Revenge is sweet. You may even not hear too well, so you spouse's grumbling can finally be dealt with by a vague smile.
I wonder why women worry so much about getting older. I have a sister-in law who looks at me pityingly at each birthday, and says I am brave to say, "I actually like getting older," I really do, because as you get older, the decreased workload and the freedom from guilt more than make up for physical deterioration. Besides, as a friend explained to me, "When I was younger, I had the figure to wear little black dresses but not the guts to do so. Now that I am older, I have the guts but not the figure. So now is a good time experiment with clothes."
To my mother's generation, with their more rigid gendered roles, life began to look up as the husbands retired and power equations changed. This is world phenomenon clearly. I met an amazingly self-assured, lovely Chilean lady at a conference once, and was pleasantly surprised when she said that she had to cross 50 before she had the courage to reply to her husband's question, "And why are there no towels in the bathroom?" with" I don't know. Why don't you look in the linen closet!"
I am asked by some women friends, isn't it upsetting to her shopkeepers call you maaji, and friends' grown-up kids calling you aunty? And I tell them truthfully that I love it, because my need for veneration is far greater than my need for youth. The last word on all this goes to Charles Schultz who said, "Just remember, once you're over the hill, you begin to pick up speed." Especially us women.