(Originally published on Huffington Post Divorce.)
I just realized the other day that I’m at the age where I should be having my midlife crisis. In fact, when I think back, my parents went through theirs right about this same time of life. They separated in their mid-forties and my dad moved out. He bought himself a shiny red MG convertible and started dating a woman closer to my age than his own. Although I don’t recall my dad cooking a single meal during my childhood (except BBQ, which every Texan male does starting at birth), he took up gourmet cooking and started shopping for high-end ingredients at the fanciest market in town, where we had never shopped as a family. He became interested in fine wine and turned one of his closets into a wine cellar. He learned to ski — by far the best part of his midlife crisis in my opinion, since he started taking my brother and sisters and me to Lake Tahoe with his girlfriend.
My mom’s midlife crisis was equally profound, although more a schizophrenic combination of 1980s feminism and “Oh gosh, I better find another man.” Raised in the 1950s, she’d been the typical college-educated woman who left her career upon marriage to become a suburban housewife and mother of four for 20 years. After the divorce, she got a second master’s degree and returned to the workforce. She became a board member of a nonprofit for homeless kids. She attended parties and cultural events with her sophisticated female friends in the city. She started investing in the stock market.
At the same time, she lost 10 pounds and got a push-up bra and white veneers on her front teeth. She dated a judge, an architect, a banker, a physicist. In between her feminist pursuits, she was on the hunt for a man. I remember one night sitting on her bed while she was dressing for a date. It was one of those close mother-daughter moments like you see in a Hallmark commercial. She must have felt it was the perfect moment to pass on some generational wisdom. See, my mom never liked her rear end, so as she hooked up her bra, she leaned over and said to me intently in a hushed tone: “The key to dating is to wear a push-up bra with a low-cut sweater. The guy will be too busy staring at the boobs to notice the butt.”
As I remember this wild ride that was my parents’ midlife crisis, all I can wonder is why I’m missing out on this myself. I’m getting near the end of my forties and I’m still plugging along the same. When do I get to stop being responsible and serious? When do I get to have my second adolescence and do ridiculous things and stop thinking all the time about my kids and planning their future?
I posed this question to a friend. She gave me one of those “isn’t it obvious” looks and replied, “Sure, it would be great, but we just don’t have the time!”
Bingo. I think a lot of us did it all wrong when it comes to midlife crisis planning. Because we spent our twenties focused on school and career, we married and had kids much later than our parents. So, here we are past our mid-forties, with kids still at home (some of us even with a child in elementary school)! Like most of my friends, I am just too darn busy to think of a midlife crisis. Between driving the kids to school and sports and music lessons and overseeing homework and being involved in their class and starting to think about SATs and college, the last thing on my mind is buying a push-up bra or getting in shape and rediscovering myself.
I have only one friend my age who’s an empty nester. She had her kids in her mid-twenties and both are now away at college. And yes, she has lost weight, works out, bought some youthful clothes, looks and feels better than ever, travels with her husband and her two new lap dogs, is having a great time doing weekends away with her girlfriends and rediscovering herself. She even leased a Lexus convertible (“it costs less than what we used to spend on the girls’ dance lessons,” she justified). Is this a bona fide midlife crisis? She and I aren’t sure, although some of it feels like it. Whatever the case, I’m envious. Certainly, I could do some of these same things with kids still at home — but when it comes down to it, it would just be one more thing to add to my To-Do List.
It’s not just the age of my kids, I realize, that’s getting in the way of my midlife crisis. Thirty years ago, my parents still had two teens at home when they launched themselves into theirs. My younger brother and sister had to fend for themselves a lot more than my older sister and I ever had to… and they got away with a lot more too.
At our last family reunion, my 42-year-old brother told us everything he and my sister did while I was away at college and Mom and Dad were trying to recapture their youth: sneaking out after curfew, the late-night rides on his moped to meet friends in the park, the unauthorized party at our house when Mom was out of town with girlfriends, my sister’s boyfriend hanging around all the time. I do remember once driving home from college to find my brother, sister and her boyfriend with several friends in the hot tub, holding big red plastic cups of soda and bags of chips, Mom nowhere in sight. And my sister said Mom and Dad didn’t even ask much about her grades during high school, they were so busy with their own pursuits, and she let her grades slide. Yet, both my younger siblings managed to graduate from high school, get into good colleges and top graduate schools and have successful careers.
Part of me would love to neglect my kids the way my parents did during their midlife crisis, but that just wouldn’t fly today. It’s in our Parent job description now to hand-hold our kids through the over-the-top academic rigors of middle and high school so they can get into a good college, not to mention the endless organized sports and activities that turn us into personal secretaries and chauffeurs for more than a decade. Yes, I think I’m screwed and I’m not going to get a midlife crisis. Poor planning, different times.
To console myself, I thought, perhaps I can have it in 10 years when the kids are gone… sort of a delayed midlife crisis.” That fantasy was shot down by a guy I was talking with while watching my son’s soccer game. He told me he tried this at 57 when he divorced and his son left for college. “The party scene was exhausting… I’d be wiped out the next day… the seats in my convertible had no lumbar support… my dermatologist told me I needed to apply sunscreen every time I put the top down.”
Ok, I officially give up. Fortunately, I can take solace in the fact that my husband is 59 years old. I may be missing my midlife crisis, but he’s going to be missing his retirement.