Sometimes I start saying something – once, then twice, then it gets a laugh or a knowing nod, and I keep repeating it until it becomes something of a mantra. Before I know it, I’m no longer simply using a phrase, I’ve become it.
When I first started thinking about buckling down and taking this grueling series of tests, I found myself having to talk about them with other people a lot. That’s probably because I’m always busy doing something – family stuff, work stuff, school stuff, travel stuff, church stuff, friend stuff, creative stuff, house stuff, stuff stuff. I had to start saying “no” to a lot of this stuff, and saying “no” is sort of hard. It’s much easier to decline when you have a reason, and I had / have a perfectly valid reason. “I’m studying for exams.” That should have been enough, but for some reason it just wasn’t.
I felt the need to be extra dramatic about this state of being. “I’m too old for this,” I would say, and I’d roll my eyes and dramatically slump across the table for emphasis. Carving out time in the day to study is impossible, but waiting until all of the bare necessities of the day were complete meant that it was usually nine o’clock at night before I could even begin to tackle my aggressive reading and note-taking agenda. By that point I was really, really tired, and it was a challenge to keep my eyes open. The material wasn’t necessarily hard, and the practice test questions weren’t so taxing. The biggest challenge I’ve had to deal with is just sitting down and doing it.
Somehow I’ve come to associate this kind of bone-tired feeling with “feeling old”, and I’ve been thinking about why this is. It’s not like other periods of the life cycle offer ceaseless energy or stamina. Kids can go-go-go-go-go, but they still crash for afternoon naps and ten hour nighttime sleeps. Teenagers might be night owls, but they can sleep til noon or beyond to make up for it. I most closely associate late night studying with my graduate school years – and now that I am almost two decades beyond that time period, I contrast my current struggles with nocturnal academic endeavors with those golden years of boundless energy and drive that knew no alarm clocks. So what else could I be now, other than old?
Digging a little deeper into this revealed a lot more under the surface than I first acknowledged. It started last Sunday at church, when the message talked about the challenges of getting people of different age groups to communicate, and also about the concept of “third-agers”, a term that I wasn’t really familiar with. If first-agers are the young, and third-agers are settling into 60’s, 70’s 80’s and beyond, then I’m most certainly a second-ager. But it was the discussion of what third-agers are really doing – what they are accomplishing – that really hit home with me. We tend to celebrate (glorify) the accomplishments of youth (celebrity), but when I’m asked to think about people whom I truly admire, and those accomplishments that I find truly admirable, the vast majority of them are far older than I am. I don’t know why I’m constantly declaring that I’m too old to be taking tests, why I’ve decided that professional advancement is for the young only. Or maybe I do.
I think I make a joke about being too old for this because I’m embarrassed that I waited so long to buckle down and do it. I’m the last in my office, I’m about the last of my peer group as well. I always felt like I had very valid reasons for not doing it – but now I wonder if it was just easy to say I was wrapped up in busyness of family life. People everywhere juggle so much, family, jobs (or more than one job), schooling, illness, etc. I’m not any less capable of handling this load now than I was when I was 25. In fact, I think I’m better at it. I know what I’m doing, I know just how much time I can devote to it, and I know how to make the most out of that limited time. I get a gold star in multi-tasking most days.
One night this past week I was studying at the kitchen table and E came down after her shower to make her lunch for camp the next day. She stood behind me while I took a practice exam, and she wanted me to read the questions aloud to her and explain the answers. The entire time we did this she massaged my shoulders to work out the tense spots, and a few minutes later, when her lunch preparations were complete, she threw her arms around my neck and kissed the top of my head.
“I’m so impressed with you, Mom,” she said, and she headed off to bed.
Right then and there I told myself to stop hiding behind my age (and my insecurities, and my fear of failure – literally and figuratively). There’s absolutely no reason why I can’t do what I’m doing now at this age or at any age. The last thing I want for my daughters to think is that they have to hurry up and accomplish everything they want to before they are forty, and then rest on their laurels and talk about the weather and how tired they are. I am tired, and the weather’s always a popular topic around here, but I’m more than that.
I have no illusions that I’m the same person that I was twenty years ago. She was a swell kid, but I have no desire to be her again. I loved my husband at 27, but I’ll take the 40 year old any day, hands down. My girls impress me more with each passing day. So I’ve removed the excuse “I’m too old for this” from my lips this week, and I hope my girls (and others around me) will get that message.
I’m three exams in, with four more to go. I’m taking a five week study hiatus to relax with family and help the girls transition into the school year. Speaking of hiatus – our family is also unplugging for the next week. It’s going to feel so good – I really can’t wait. I’ll see you on the flip side.