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Donna Highfill Headshot

The 50-Something's Version of You've Got Mail ... You've Got Flail

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I cried my eyes out the other night watching the movie "You've Got Mail." Maybe it was because I have the flu and I always cry easily when I'm sick, but the scene in which Meg Ryan's character shuts down her mother's bookstore just destroyed me. And, somehow, that particular moment in the movie reminded me of what life has felt like in my 50s.

I always thought I would be this amazing, together 50-year-old who other people would want to emulate. My business, which has been successful for years, would hit a pinnacle, and I'd be turning down one client after another. I would release my children to their adult lives and be the wise mother they came to with their biggest questions.

I would rock menopause and be in the best shape of my life.

Then something happened. I looked at the metaphorical AOL email account of my life and saw the words, "You've Got Flail."

My flailing began before I hit 50. I sat at my daughter's last soccer game in high school and thought to myself, "This is it. I won't have a place in these stands anymore. Now I'll be the older lady who walks up the stairs with her husband carrying a thermos of hot chocolate and a plaid blanket to watch a game even though she doesn't have a child who attends the school anymore."

It was then that I broke out in a sweat that would soon be my constant companion.

I pulled myself together for the rest of her senior year. I made it through her high school graduation without a tear, and if I could listen to "Pomp and Circumstance" without blubbering like a baby, I figured I had made it past the flailing and wailing stage with grace.

A few weeks later my daughter and I packed up for a college welcome weekend in Missouri. I knew it was going to be a tough weekend, which was borne out from the get-go when the plane we boarded had propellers.

On the second day of the welcome I felt totally in control, joking around with other moms and skipping parent classes with other dads. That ended when my daughter busted me wandering around campus when she knew I was supposed to be in class.

Anyway, I thought my flailing days were over until later that evening my daughter looked at my legs and said, "God, mom, what's wrong with you?"

Having been a parent of teenagers, I was used to this question and almost ignored it. But then I looked down and saw the horrible red rash that had taken over my legs.

I had hives.

My daughter went on to college, and I continued to flail. Apparently, my body decided that my mid-section was starving to death.

Every ounce of fat rushed there to protect my middle. It erased my waist and caused some folds that I felt when sitting on airplanes. In fact, an alarmingly high percentage of my flying time was spent pushing my stomach down, sucking it in and looking for pens and silverware that had gotten lost in there.

The flail continued as my desire for a professional-life change accompanied my body's change. I was suddenly, inexplicably, dissatisfied with the work that I was doing.

I didn't want to leave a cold, corporate environment. I owned my own business. I just wanted to pack a little handkerchief with lunch, put it on a stick over my shoulder and wander away.

Much like Meg Ryan's character in "You've Got Mail," my life was changing. Just as she had to close down her mother's bookstore, my body was putting a "closed" sign on my reproductive system. Much like the note that Meg's character posted on the front door the last day of business, I jotted down a note from my reproductive system to the rest of my body:

"After 35 years of business, we are closing down. We are grateful for the two wonderful children that resulted from our relationship and thank each of you for being the best partners a reproductive system could ask for."

So, my 50's have been filled with flail, but it's getting better. I've started exercising again, and the other day, I heard a pen I've been looking for drop to the ground.

Like Meg's character post-change, I have my Tom Hanks and my Brinkley. My kids are happy, and I've been reintroduced to the great love of my life, which is writing.

But I am a realist, and I know that on the day I least expect it, I will be walking through my life and feel a sense of total confusion. In that moment, I will plop in front of my computer and hear these words: "Welcome. You've got flail."