Don't call it boring, call it midlife

Posted: Friday, November 09, 2007

Having kids is sort of like having a therapist. They have a way of forcing you to look at yourself in a different light. To see things about yourself you didn't know were there and to ask the hard questions.

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A few years back I was standing in my adolescent daughter's bedroom. Were we making an attempt at cleaning? Or was I, perhaps, searching for wayward spoons or scissors or my hairbrush (all of which fall into the category of "things that disappear in a teenager's bedroom")? As we sat on her floor sorting through the collection of debris, she was chatting amiably to me about her dreams for her future.

"I know I want to do something exciting, like working overseas. Maybe something with animals or the Peace Corps - something that makes a difference. There's no way I would work in an office at a desk job. That's for sure."

Then came the punch line.

"No offense or anything, Mom, but I know I don't want to end up like you. I mean, having kids and living in a small town and having an office job. Well, you know."

I admit I was taken aback. I mean, really, who of us thinks our life is, well, you know, boring?

"Hey wait a minute, here," I wanted to say, "just whose life are you calling boring? There's nothing boring about my life."

My first inclination was to defend myself. I wanted to recount to her all the adventures my life had involved - the months working in a Nicaraguan refugee camp, the years living in the heart of Seattle and then San Francisco just to experience the heartbeat of urban life, the decade living my dream of working for Planned Parenthood and "making a difference."

My second inclination was even worse.

"You may be full of dreams and goals now, young lady, but, boy-howdy, let me tell you that things change over the years. You may not think so now, but believe you me, you'll reach the point where owning a home looks pretty darn good to you. And how do you pay for that home? Well, maybe one of those boring jobs in an office involving a desk, that's how. Just you wait and see."

Then, once I got past justifying my life to myself and negating my daughter's right to her dreams, there was a different internal conversation. Was my life boring? Did it appear boring to someone looking in from the outside? Was I living the life I wanted to be living?

From the distant past, I remembered a similar conversation with my mother. I was in my mid-20s and soon to be married. Insufferable in my certainty, I was telling my mom how my marriage would be different from hers. My husband and I would both work, for one thing, and we would share the housework and all things domestic 50-50. In so many words, I certainly didn't want a life, well, like hers.

My mother exercised great restraint, I'm sure, since the only thing I remember her saying is, "Your father and I are very happy with the life we have." And I remember sort of marveling at how that could be possible. Hers looked like such a regular life and, certainly, there would be nothing "regular" about my own life.

In the end, I didn't offer any response to my daughter that day. Probably for the same reasons my mother didn't offer me much of one.

For one thing, why would I have a desire to diminish the dreams of any adolescent, let alone my own daughter's?

But, even more than that, by middle age, one starts to get that it's not really the dramatic events that keep one's life from being normal. Any more than the dramatic events are the necessary components that make it exciting. It's not the travel or the risks, or even upheaval or chaos.

Chemistry is boring to me, but that's because I don't understand it. And, how could I? I never took a chemistry class. And if my life looks boring from the perspective of a 15-year-old, the best response is, "But of course, she's never been 47. How could she understand?"

I may never be able to recapture the spirit of being 15. On the other hand, at 15, I would never have noticed the first day there was snow on Thunder Mountain. And I'm sure I would have missed that blue heron gliding across the pond behind our house last Tuesday.

At 15, I was too busy doing what I was supposed to be doing - looking for adventure.

• Carol Prentice is caught in the middle of life, work and family in Juneau.

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