“Time May change me but I can’t trace time.”

I have my writing topics I visit and revisit often…love, dating, politics, feminism, mental illness…whatever is orbiting in my moments. There are a couple other topics which fill my thoughts of which I don’t write or speak. One of them is around mortality I guess….watching the years go by and trying to figure out my purpose. I know, sounds a little weird at my age. Just hear me out for a second. You may be going through something similar or maybe it just sheds clearer light on why recent personal disappointments have so deeply affected me when you think they aren’t quite as big a deal as I do.

I don’t know who I am yet. Like, who will I be when I grow up? I have a career I landed in by accident and have done well with despite the early rantings of a nonconformist 18 year old stating I would never participate in a Generation X cube farm (see Douglas Coupland. Monumental book 25 years ago) and now I actually cultivate one. I’m a farmer of cattle. Not the head one…an extension….the pig shit cleaner for the most part. But what do I really want to be? Can’t have it.

I am no one’s wife, no one’s mother. My life revolves around me. I have no complaints about that. I enjoy the solitude of my home and just petting my dog in the dark; the only illumination supplied by an oil diffuser and Himalayan salt lamp. Most of you with kids would give anything just to have 30 minutes if this. I can have it whenever I want. I can travel too. I still have to work hard to scrap the money together but I can get on a plane and leave the country. With kids, I’d be lucky to get to Great Wolf Lodge. I can go out to eat anywhere I want and don’t have to wait because I can grab a seat at the bar. You have kids….you have to wait for a table and you are stuck to basic chain restaurants because you will be one family of many not disturbing anyone with crying kids and food getting thrown on the floor. That’s happening at every other table and your joy comes in being able to leave feeling like your kids are better behaved than others.

When I am at work, I am not worried that I am letting down kids or a spouse. I can put 100% to my work and leave it at the office when I get in the car. You are on non-stop and this work life balance you have been begging for you have actually won. But you probably actually work more now than you thought you would because you feel like you have to when everyone sees you leave 30 minutes early for a soccer game. You aren’t losing your job for choosing your kids like used to happen years ago but you definitely pay a price. You are constantly wondering which side you are letting down so you are amping up on both sides to cover your guilt.

If you are a woman with kids…you are in a desperate race to accumulate as much money and promotions as you can pre-40 because you have to start that momentum early to keep it going, or at least land in a sustainable place for your family if the growth has to stop. If you wait until 40, the start line passed you and you don’t get another chance. You know because you work with that sad, exceptional working woman who you know outperforms you with her eyes closed but never gets her due. You feel sorry for her and terrified of her at the same time. So, if you have to step on her, take credit for her work, suck up and lie….you will do it, even if you say you would never want your kids to do it. You are forced to. It’s not who you want to be but it’s who you have to be.

I have to watch you, with less talent, but better HR friendly check boxes move right past me and I have to spend my days humiliated by that in order to pay my mortgage. I don’t ever have the safety net husband who says “if it’s so bad, let’s crunch some numbers and figure out how to get you out of this and into something else.” You insist that’s not the case for you…..that you are both scraping to get by but it really is a choice you have. I’m at the lowest housing price….you can still go down a few clicks and reduce your mortgage if you have to. You just don’t want to live in a townhouse like me. I have the cheapest car already. You have an SUV. You can get by with 2 car seats in a Corolla but just don’t want to.

The biggest concept of all of this I grapple with is that if I’m not a wife, a mom, or promotable being, then what is my purpose? What is my life? You are a parent. You always will be. You are defined. Your life is probably about 85% defined whether you are comfortable admitting to that or not. I’m not saying you don’t have regrets or “what-ifs.” I’m just saying, you know who are. You don’t feel like staying home on a Friday night means you may have missed a once in a lifetime opportunity. You already got your once in a lifetime. Friday night is like any other night; you want to get home to have dinner with the kids. Same with Xmas Eve, NYE, and all 3 day weekends. You can also have date night whenever you want. You might not always like your spouse but you have access to one so you have access to companionship.

Growing older for you includes visions of children and grandchildren. They will pitch in when you need help. Worst case, you may end up in a Nursing Home but will have visitors. You have a cushion and a legacy. I just want to be certain I am living in a state where I can pull my own plug when I recognize my definition of my life quality is about to diminish. My options are far more bleak and terrifying since I am alone. If I miss the critical decision moment, I get institutionalized without say and never again the opportunity to make my own choices. Living that way is not ok for me. I will have less money than you by then which means my retirement will be a darker challenge. My access to help won’t be too great when I need it the most. I have nightmares about this.

I definitely fill my time well and enjoy a lot of freedom. I know you sometimes wish you could do the same but you would never give up being a parent. You feel, ultimately, you have made the best choice and have the best life. You have purpose. You are defined. There are people in your house at the end of the work day. There’s an entirely whole other life you transition to when work is over. You have a second identity and it’s the more important one so it builds armor around your bad work days. I am just me, naked against my bad days. Work me isn’t my second me. There isn’t a priority above it so when it goes bad for me, there is no reprieve from it. I have to suffer it. I have to suck it up. I have to wave the white flag to it every time because I have no choices. I have no second me and dying without that scares the living shit out of me.

Death really scares me. I have so much left to do….more than you honestly. And I have so little time where some of you have a 20 year head start on me. My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year. I won’t have that. They have grandchildren. I won’t even have children. I’m too old and don’t have the income to be a single parent. Sure, I probably have way better travel photos than you do. But we are aging and we are aging fast. I’m making the best of my time but I’m still waiting for my life to start. That’s where we differ so greatly and that’s the edge of every conversation where I lose anyone’s ability to empathize. It’s a thought which will never actually have to occur to you. You wanted to be a spouse and parent. You fulfilled that. Everything else is a bonus. I have fulfilled nothing. Everything else is survival.