I used to be "mommy." Now I'm not. While my adult children love me dearly, I am clearly something other than the identity that defined me over much of the past six decades.
But that's not all. I also used to be "Carol Orsborn." Now I'm not that either. In fact, when I turned 63 a couple of years ago, I became something else entirely than the brand that had defined me over the past six decades and twenty books. But here's the surprise: this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I'm surprisingly re-energized about who I am becoming, and fiercely curious about what lies ahead. As I said, this is not a bad thing -- but certainly different. And, may I add, this takes a fair amount of getting used to.
Mother's Day used to be young children serving me breakfast in bed, homemade pancakes in odd shapes resting comfortably near flowers freshly picked from the garden. Then the kids went off to college and built adult lives of their own. I missed them terribly, but honestly, I also relished having the time to invest in my own career as an author of inspirational books for our generation.
Throughout midlife, when old friends called, I always had bright and shiny things to tell them about my life. There was an implicit overarching narrative to my life back then. Of course there were setbacks along the way: obstacles to overcome, challenges to be met. But these were little more than deus ex machina in a life narrative that I believed made for a pretty good story.
Then after a series of setbacks willpower alone could not overcome, I somehow lost the narrative. At 63, I had followed my husband from our beloved neighborhood in a Los Angeles canyon to his new job in Manhattan. Working virtually at a job that defined my identity, I assumed that the move would be business as usual. But when I was unexpectedly downsized out, I found myself unable to open any new doors. I could not take refuge in family and friends, flung out across the country, so my day soon centered around walking my husband to the subway every morning, and going squirrel hunting with my dog.
Not only had I underestimated ageism, but my willingness to sacrifice my belief that the storyline of my life would continue unabated: challenge, struggle, breakthrough, success, basking, yearning for more, setting new goals and so on. Instead, I plummeted into a new stage of my life, one which bore with it all of the hallmarks of an ending to my story -- and none of the promise of all that had come before. In a nutshell, I had grown old.
During the course of that tumultuous year in New York, I kept a private journal. I'd never intended to share my journal but at year's end, on a visit back to Los Angeles, I bumped into an old friend -- or should I say a good friend coming to grips that in the year since we'd last met, she, too, had grown old. In Celia's case, it had been an illness that turned her from a lithe dance instructor who could not only choreograph the steps but do them, into an elderly woman who needed a walker. I admit I was shocked. She looked much smaller, grayer and melancholy. But beneath the veneer of frailty, Celia was still Celia to me.
When she asked what I'd been up to, I shocked her back. I didn't have any glamorous book tour to report. No new client. The fact that I had nothing noteworthy to share was, in fact, entirely uncharacteristic of me. I struggled to find the words to describe this strange new place in which I'd found myself. Then, from depths unknown, I decided to tell her about the private diary I'd been keeping.
"Frankly, Celia, I've been grappling with the unexpected onset of growing older. One day, it was business as usual. Then suddenly, I found myself feeling ashamed for still being alive."
"It's stupid, isn't it," she nodded in agreement. "The biggest emotion I feel about needing a walker is embarrassment. What the hell is that about?"
"I'm not going to lie," I said. "I had a tough year. In fact, keeping a diary was the only thing that kept me going. Writing it all down, I managed to turn myself from victim to witness. Then life got good again."
"Really?" she said. "And you captured all this in your diary? Can I read it?"
That was the day I regained the storyline of my life. Celia opened up the possibility that speaking my journey towards wholeness out loud might actually be of use to others.
Since then, I have discovered that I am not -- and never was -- alone on my journey through the wild side of midlife. There are an increasing number of us who are no longer viewing getting older as something to be dreaded or feared. Instead, we recognize the potential of passing beyond midlife as the opportunity to examine old beliefs, behaviors and situations that no longer serve us, acquiring new depths of understanding about who we are and to what we are being called.
I am gratified that my memoir about this year in New York has found a publisher, and that Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn will be published by Turner Publishing in time for Mother's Day. I may not be "mommy" or "Carol Orsborn" any more. But here's the new storyline: I'm okay with it.
What does Boomer mom really want for Mother's Day? We want to regain a narrative for our lives: a trajectory that embraces both freedom and meaning. And happily, even if there are no oddly-shaped pancakes in store for us this Mother's Day, this is something entirely within our power.
In the words of author Joan Chittister: "Now we are beyond the narcissism of youth, above the survival struggles of young adulthood, beyond the grind of middle-age and prepared to look beyond ourselves into the very heartbeat of life. Now we can let our spirits fly. We can do what our souls demand that fully human beings do. This is the moment for which we were born."
Happy Mother's Day, Boomer Mom. And may you, too, become fierce with age.