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It’s Personal: Riding the Path

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In the next couple of months, several friends are moving away, a couple of friends are having babies (and several more are trying to get pregnant), and most of us who became close when our babies were still actually babies will be sending our kids off to preschool (Jackson starts school two months from today, the day after I turn 38). I am feeling the passing of time and the weight of impending decisions more than ever. I keep watching as people who have been traveling a similar path as I have (or who have at least been nearby or traveling at about the same pace) suddenly veer in different directions and change speeds, and I’m feeling a little sad and a little introspective (should I be veering, too? and if so, which way? should I speed up? slow down? if I stay right where I am, will everyone keep leaving? will new people come to fill the empty spaces?).

It feels very much like a time of transition, and, rather than flowing into the next stage seamlessly, the air feels more turbulent than I’d like. I wish I could slam on the brakes and freeze time as it is now, with my son still young and my cats still here and my family intact–and change far enough away that it isn’t threatening today’s equilibrium. But, of course, I can’t. The clock is ticking, people are moving, babies will be born, and our kids will keep growing, growing. Change, I know, is constant.

I’ve been reading my horoscope more than usual lately, searching, I guess, for answers to questions I can’t quite articulate. When people write to me for advice, what they’re often asking isn’t so much “What should I do?” (Well, sometimes it is). But instead it’s: “What will happen if I choose this?” Or, “What will happen if I choose that?” Will I be happy? Will it all work out? And now I am asking those questions myself. Of course, I’m thinking in terms of having another child, which is probably pretty obvious, but it’s more than that. It’s more than what I’m able to articulate. It’s just … a feeling, and one I can’t quite put my finger on. I guess I’m taking the temperature of my whole life right now, thinking about the big-big picture — like where I see myself not just five years from now but, like, 30 years from now, and what path I need to be on to achieve the things I want. What are the things I want?

I didn’t expect to still be having these kinds of thoughts at my age. I think that’s what’s been most surprising about getting older — that I don’t have it all figured out yet (and my friends don’t seem to either, so I know it’s not just me). I really, truly thought that at some age — and I don’t know what that magic age is, just that it would be some time BY NOW — I’d have a pretty clear idea where my life was headed, or at the very least, where I wanted it to head. And now I’m here, at this stage that I thought by now would be so… I don’t know, set, and I’m realizing it isn’t exactly. Anything can still happen. Directions can be veered. New paths can be crossed. New dreams can be dreamt. And, sure, it’s a little exciting, but it’s also exactly what you’d expect it to be when everything isn’t all set — it’s a little unsettling, too.

I started riding my bike again just last week and I’ve only been out on a few rides, but already that familiar feeling of weightlessness has returned, if only for the brief moments that I’m flying downhill, my feet barely touching the pedals, the wind whistling past, the wheels spinning, spinning, spinning. Every time I go more than a few months without riding and I pull out my bike again, I always wonder the same thing: Why did I stop? Why didn’t I do this sooner?

Next week I head to Chicago for a few days, all by myself. I mean, I won’t be by myself; I’ll be with my friends. It’s a reunion weekend, and we travel from different cities to spend a few days in each other’s company: on the beach, on the deck, in the lake. We sing and cook meals together and share new cocktail recipes and it’s the best. I’ll leave Drew and Jackson and, hopefully, the weight of indecision and the longing to have it all figured out, at home, and I’ll just be. I don’t expect I’ll be any closer to the answers I’m seeking by the time I get home, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t care as much.

The older I get the more I realize there’s so much I don’t know. But I do know this: there’s little in life that a downhill bike ride, a good night’s sleep, and a trip to the water with people you love won’t make you feel a whole lot better about.

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avatar Sue Jones July 9, 2014, 2:18 pm

My baby is starting middle school this fall. It is sad because only a few kids from his elementary school will be at the same school. I felt very connected to moms at his elementary and they and their kids have been my default social group for the past 6 years. Most of my pre-kid friends in my current town have sort of drifted away. Not that we are not friends, but we are at a different life stage. So not only will my son be making new friends, but so will I, apparently… I plan to of course stay in touch with the mommy friends I have but it won’t be the same not running into them on a daily or twice daily basis for pickup and dropoff. We were all a puddle the last day of school… the first time EVER I have been sad on a last day of school. Not only will I miss seeing those familiar faces, but it is also acknowledging that my son is a pre-teen now, he has to shower more often, he needs to wear deoderant, his feet are now the same size as mine (and still growing, soon he will be taller than me!), and sooner than not, here comes adolescence! I know it is all as it should be, of course I wouldn’t want him to stop growing… but I am also feeling the growing pains along with those menopausal warm flushes and night sweats that are now part of my life, and wondering how long to keep coloring my hair (I decided when I go completely white, I will stop – which will be a while as under the dye I am salt and pepper) I wonder whether or not I should botox or not bother and save my money… but to my relief my son still likes to cuddle, he still has the same wide smile he had as a toddler, and still sleeps with his stuffed animals… living in the in-between… I guess that is why they are called “tweens”.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy July 9, 2014, 2:36 pm

Oh my God, yes to all of this. I’m already thinking of all the upgrades I want to gift myself for my 40th bday in a couple years — boob lift, teeth whitening, and maybe a tummy tuck (I don’t know if I’m serious all all/any of these, but I’m daydreaming anyway). Don’t even get me started on the idea of raising a preteen with feet the same size as mine…

avatar Sue Jones July 9, 2014, 3:48 pm

I have botoxed maybe 3x, the first time they did too much and I looked freaky like Joan Rivers for a month or so… those weird arched eyebrows. The next 2x I asked them to tone it down and I was happy with the results… the issue is it is so darned expensive if you want it done well and not all Joan Rivers-y… and it wears off so you need to keep doing it if you want to erase those wrinkles. But I just hate spending my disposable income on that stuff. It seems so wrong in a way. And if it isn’t done right it looks awful, so every time I have gone in I am questioning myself… if it will turn out OK. It just seems like I could be spending my money in a better, more wholesome way other than trying to not look 53. And it looks really bad when a woman’s face doesn’t match her body. I hate seeing a woman with a young face and an old hunched over body. That just looks unnatural and why bother?

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy July 9, 2014, 7:24 pm

Oh my, I wonder which part of my comment garnered all the thumbs down — the boob lift part, the teeth whitening part, the tummy tuck part, or the part about me turning 40 in two years. I know which one I would thumb down.

mandalee mandalee July 9, 2014, 9:32 pm

lol I was wondering the same thing. My mom had two out of three in her late 30s (let’s just say her teeth are not blindly white haha) and she has ZERO regrets. Two c-sections and hard pregnancies took a huge toll on her body and she has so much more body confidence now. If you want it, even in a daydream, more power to ya.

avatar Portia July 10, 2014, 11:53 am

I’m not a huge fan of these things for myself (who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind after some time), but the first modification thing I’m going to come to is coloring my hair. I’ve always known my mom was getting her hair colored by the time she had me at 30, so I assumed her hair started to go gray in her late 20’s and I’m getting there. I’ve had this image of me going majestically gray but now that it’s actually starting to change I’m getting a little nervous about it…

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy July 10, 2014, 12:41 pm

I started coloring my hair around the time I turned 30 (although redheads don’t go gray or white until much later in life, the color starts fading in early adulthood), then stopped when I got pregnant and never started again. It’s just so expensive and time-consuming (to have it done professionally) and money and time are two resources I don’t have an abundance of, but man, hair color makes a big difference. If I could get away with only having to color my hair like 3 or 4 times a year, I’d start coloring it again, but because red fades so quickly, it really needs to be done every 4-6 weeks and that just doesn’t work for me.

Skyblossom Skyblossom July 10, 2014, 9:48 am

I’m 51, closing in on 52, and the thing that hits me the most is that I no longer have limitless possibilities. There are so many things that I know I’d enjoy doing and have considered going back to school to be able to do but then realized it wouldn’t work. I’d love to be a marriage counselor but when I thought about the student loans required and the debt I would run up and how many years I would be able to work to pay back those loans it didn’t add up. I’m also hitting the age where I have trouble sleeping and am tired too many days to even think about trying to go to class and study. All the women I work with are having the same problem with sleep. It seems unfair but a fact of life that when women hit a certain age they have trouble sleeping for at least a decade.

Lianne Lianne July 9, 2014, 2:24 pm

I know exactly what you mean, Wendy. I know what I want to happen in the short term and yet, I feel so unsettled about life sometimes. Sometimes I think it’s just a restlessness and other times I think it’s just life and the realization that’s just the way you feel sometimes.
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I hope your time away does give you a little bit of clarity. Change of scenery can be good for that :)

shanshantastic shanshantastic July 9, 2014, 2:51 pm

Wendy, this was beautiful. (As always!)

You are almost 10 years to the day older than me (my birthday is the 29th), and I point that out in gratitude that I have you to count among the women I look up to who have been where I am and who are exploring the path ahead before I get there. And knowing that I won’t have everything figured out in 10 years calms my heart from dropping at the thought that I don’t have everything figured out now. So thanks for that. :)

I know you’ll have a fantastic time with your friends and I hope it’s as renewing as it will be joyful.

avatar thenbeckysaid July 9, 2014, 2:56 pm

Perfect timing – I have been feeling so much like this lately. I’m facing different decisions (when or maybe even whether to try to have a 1st child… do I want to think about different career opportunities), but have comparable concerns. I guess it’s the fear of the unknown to some extent. I know that even indecision is a choice. But, it’s good to know I’m not the only one who hasn’t got it all figured out just yet.

avatar Holly July 9, 2014, 3:13 pm

Wendy, I’m totally feeling this way too, except it’s at the earlier stage (I’m 25.) My best friend, practically my sister, is getting pregnant and a house and moving 60 miles away, which doesn’t seem like much but suddenly it’s going from seeing her once or twice a week or maybe once or twice a month. It’s so hard. Another close friend has already gotten married and moved out of state, and I’m almost sitting back and hoping my last best friend stays unmarried and living where she is for a long while, just so I can have something to hold onto.

It’s a really hard time especially because my Dad’s dying from colon cancer, and I’ve never had a family member pass before. I have no idea how to handle it and it’s just exacerbating the feeling of not knowing my future or if I’m making the right choices or if something’s wrong with the fact that very soon I’ll only have that one friend left to really hold onto. Making friends post-college is haaard.

I’m sure the path will find itself…but looking ahead and not seeing what direction it turns is pretty scary.

cmary cmary July 9, 2014, 5:12 pm

Just want to say how sorry I am about your dad. My mom passed from ovarian cancer and it was hard. Give yourself lots of time to adjust and rearrange. I’ve heard it’s often the 3 year mark after the passing of someone close like a parent that most people start to feel like they’re getting back to normal. I guess that’s true for me too. I’m just so sorry.

mandalee mandalee July 9, 2014, 3:38 pm

Wendy, as always, you have a wonderful way of putting emotions to words that all of us can relate to. Somehow, when I thought about being “old” (i.e. not 15 anymore) when I was younger, I pictured this very settled, steady flow to life and was terrified about how bored I would be. Then, as I got older, graduated college and went through a bunch of transitions, I was excited about the settled “boring” lifestyle that was yet to come. Now, years later, I have finally realized that life is full of so many stages, changes, transitions, etc. that it’s impossible for it just stay exactly the same for any amount of time.
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I’m turning 28 in 2 days (ahhh!) and I’m just trying to take things as they come. I’m starting graduate school and I’m trying not to be nervous about the possibility that the time commitment will overwhelming me to the point my relationships suffer. I have friends that are having babies too or moving away or advancing in their careers and it seems like were all over the place and at a time when even the strongest relationships can wane and grow apart just due to all the changes. So, to deal with it all, I sit outside in my garden/patio and drink wine and hang out with my dog and just try to stay in the moment and turn off my thoughts for awhile.

avatar stickelet July 9, 2014, 4:20 pm

I am feeling this as well. I’m in a PhD program and I’m working on my dissertation which isn’t going well. I may have to start over and I’m living a state away from my school. I’ll probably have to move back to Ohio soon so I can finish school since I am not making any headway and I am not really excited about that. I’m waiting to hear if I will receive any money from the school and that will influence my decision. I feel as if I am living in limbo. And I have no idea what I want to do once I finish school which puts me in even more limbo. I also feel my life is on hold until I graduate. I won’t know where I’ll be living/working for a career until after graduation. I feel like my life is on hold until I finish school. In the meantime I am 31 and single and slightly fearful of starting a new relationship since my life is so up in the air. Ugh, it felt good to vent a little. Thanks DW for listening!

avatar something random July 9, 2014, 4:57 pm

I have very similar feelings. My second boy is also starting preschool and my oldest is going to kindergarten. Just earlier this year I felt more than ready to go back to having one at home. But summer is going to quickly and I am grieving the end of an era. I never stopped thinking about my older son as my baby even after I had another one. And now he will be starting full day school and he will be counting his age on two hands! I feel like the time I had to buffer and interpret the majority of his experiences has come to an end. I’m aching a little.

I don’t have the same spinning sensation that I’ve had before because my husband doesn’t want any more kids; he’s too tired to do another baby. But I’m not sure I’m ready to let go yet. And time is prying my fingers loose.

I find consolation in the belief that there if there is an absolute right or wrong way to live I have no way to know it. All I can know is the present. And if everything changes then if I make a mistake and I feel it deeply, that experience too will pass. And if I take one path at the expense of another I’ll never know the difference. So there is no one right way. And I think I can bear the weight of emptiness or regret enough to wade through the other side of it.

Sometimes I’m so impatient and snappish with my kids that I think I must be delusional to think I could happily parent more. But I ache at the thought of this being it.

Thanks for sharing, Wendy. I wish all the restorative power of a sunny beach on you. Hope you have a great trip.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy July 9, 2014, 5:10 pm

Thank you. I feel so much of what you describe too.

Nutella Nutella July 9, 2014, 7:37 pm

This really hit home for me as well. I’ll be 36 in the next few weeks and feel more lost than I ever have. I’ve never been one to want children and haven’t put much emphasis on long term relationships and usually just enjoy the company of whomever is around at the time. Lately, I’ve had many people move and leave my little world that I’m lonely and finally feel like I want something/someone more permanent. Along with this feeling there is one man in my life whom I’ve been friends with for a little while and although we’ve always had both a physical and intellectual connection, he recently has made it so that our emotional connection has become much deeper as well. Despite all the good feelings that have come with our relationship changing, it just brings to light all the other complications that currently surround us. He won’t be home for about another month or so and I’m excited and nervous to see what happens when he does return. I’m not anticipating that the world will change when he does get back, it’ll just be a new beginning of sorts although probably a little messy as well.

Additionally, my day job has always been slow and quiet and its getting to me a bit lately but my boss treats me way too well for me to leave and my evening/fun job has been leaving me feeling unappreciated even though usually that is the one place I feel I have a sense of purpose. I’m really just floating thru life right now waiting for the next current to pick me up as I’m not sure what if anything I can change at this point which just makes me feel helpless and obviously doesn’t help the feeling of being lost.

Lyra Lyra July 9, 2014, 7:54 pm

I totally get this. Today my boss had meetings all day so he left me alone to get my work done and I kept on thinking about where my life is headed and what I want to accomplish and how much I want to explore and it just made my head swim. Some days I feel so ridiculous going to work, coming home, going to work, coming home…and it seems like this ruthless cycle. I’m glad that I’m not alone in the feeling of being “lost”.

avatar Christy July 9, 2014, 9:50 pm

This was great, Wendy. Right now I feel so in-the-groove with life and work that I feel like any change is hard, and I will never actually veer to something else. And while I like what my life is doing right now, I should probably consider that my life is not locked in at 25.

avatar CurlyMomNJ July 10, 2014, 9:20 am

At 31, I have 2 tiny kids, a good, solid career, and we’re moving from our starter home into the McMansion in the ‘burbs at the end of the month. Yes, I am very grateful and blessed at all that I have. But I also get these terrors of “Is this it?” I’ve always been a very motivated person, so I was early to marry, have kids, achieve job success, etc. But now, I feel so very DONE, like every box on my checklist has been checked off, and it scares me. Will I still love my husband this much in 10, 20, 30 years? My career is good, but could I reach for more, knowing my time with my kids would take a hit? Do I want more kids? I have a boy and a girl, so everyone assumes that I’m done, but I don’t feel it. I’ve been thinking about writing a book during that October writer contest, but is it worth it? And on and on…

I will say this about having a second baby – we had our daughter when my son was 2. I was stressed about having 2 little kids so close together, but their love for each other and this incredible bond cannot be explained. It makes up for all of the hard times that come with parenting 2 little ones. And my son has absolutely thrived being a big brother. It’s been so special to watch.

avatar Wendys Dad July 10, 2014, 10:26 am

Wendy, this is your father speaking. When you are flying downhill on your bike, I hope to hell you are wearing a helmet. Please say that you are. Also, wear sun screen, both when on the bike and when you are on the beach in Chicago! OK, father duties are now complete for the day.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy July 10, 2014, 11:19 am

Yes on the helmet and the sunscreen. And I make sure Jackson is wearing some, too!

freckles freckles July 10, 2014, 11:54 am

I also feel this way. I’m going to be 29 this year, and I’m stressed out about whether I want kids of not. I keep leaning towards no, but I’m just not certain. I keep worrying that no matter what I pick, I’ll have regrets – if I have kids, will I regret not having as much freedom and money to explore the world, and if I don’t have kids, will I regret not having that family unit as I get older? My first close friend is also having a baby soon, and while I’m super excited to meet him, I’m also sad that that’s changing. I can already see the changes too, in that she can’t join us on several short trips and rendezvous we’re planning. Also my company might be transferring me to another country, which I want so badly, but it’s not 100% yet, so I’m stuck in limbo on that one for a little while. I don’t even have a timeframe in which I’ll have an answer! Which is frustrating. And I’m stressed out about where I want to settle. I don’t want to live in DC forever, but where do I want to move! Ahh. I’m also glad I’m not the only one who feels a little lost and up in the air. I just want to feel settled!