My friend asked me the other day if I had “hit the speed limit”. I had no idea what she was talking about, since I was at the local farmer’s market, and nowhere near my car. Then it hit me. My birthday had been the day before, and she was asking me if I had hit the age of sixty. It made me smile because I can’t think of any road that has a speed limit of sixty anymore. Now it’s either 55 or 75 most places I drive. But sixty was a significant number for me. I remember reading the obituaries in the paper as a child. I always looked for the age of the person who had died. If they were sixty or over, I thought, “Well, it’s okay. S/he had a pretty long life”. And now here I am – sixty! An old woman! I know. . . sixty is the new forty. But I don’t really feel forty.
Getting older has had its challenges. Because of various health issues, I feel more vulnerable, less in control of the events in my life. I am less aware of details in my children’s lives, since they all live in a different state. I no longer work outside of the home, so the contact I have with others is minimal compared to what it used to be. Both of my parents have died, so my contact with an older generation no longer exists. The truth is, my generation *is* the older generation. Most of the time, I am content with these changes. But sometimes I get nostalgic remembering when my daughters were younger, and they always wanted to be with me.
I think maybe I miss feeling as if I am important. I am confident that I am important to my husband – he shows it all the time, and says it nearly as much. I know that my children love me, but they each have their own full lives, and I am no longer the one they call first when they have either really good, or really bad news. Two out of three are married, both with a daughter of their own. Because we live far away, I am not a central part of my granddaughters’ lives either. I have no more colleagues, and went from being the Executive Director of a non-profit organization to being retired. So I am *the* most important person only to my husband and my puppy.
But rather than focusing on the loss of these roles, I am trying to use this time in my life to get to know myself. That is probably unusual – to get to sixty without really knowing yourself. My life has been dedicated to understanding the needs of others, and then doing all I could to provide for those needs. I was taught never to focus on my own desires and/or needs. My mother actually told me, in front of other adults, “Children are better seen and not heard”. If I argued with my mother, or expressed a different point of view, I was told “Don’t dispute my word!”. I was taught that if you put yourself first – ever – you were being selfish. My role model was my father, perhaps the least selfish person I have ever met. If there was a plate of fried chicken for dinner, he would always take the wing, leaving the more desirable pieces for the rest of us. Following his example, I still refuse to take the last of anything during meals at the table. I won’t take the last drink in the refrigerator unless I ask everyone else if they want it first, and they convince me that they don’t. I was taught that in order to be the best person I could be, I should always think of others before myself.
I never really questioned this way of thinking before, but I am beginning to see things differently. I am lucky to have a husband who doesn’t take advantage of me, but instead encourages me to think about my own needs and desires. When we first met, and he would ask me what I wanted to do, I was dumbfounded. I was not able to think of anything that *I* wanted, but instead, tried to think about what *he* would want to do, and then (sometimes falsely) I would say that that is what I wanted to do. I was rather shocked that I really had no idea what I wanted to do.
I still do this. I still sense what others are thinking, and own it for myself. So I now know something else I want. I want to understand me. I want to learn how to listen to my own thoughts instead of reading others’. It will be difficult. This is a pattern deeply rooted in my identity and my definition of being kind and thoughtful. But knowing that I am in a safe place, where I have the luxury of listening for my own thoughts and ideas, will help me feel better about doing it. Rather than understanding myself only through the words of others, I want to understand my own voice. I think writing will help with this. I hope so. Maybe there will be one more person who I am the most important to – myself.