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My birthday and other such traumas

August 8, 2018

OK, so I turned 47. I decided to keep things mellow this year and had my mom and brothers out to our house for the weekend. We ate ice cream cake, threw all four dogs in the pool, put my 9-month-old nephew on a giant inflatable frog, and hit the hay by 10 p.m.

Last year was a different story. I invited 48 friends to lunch, rented a canopy tent, grilled a massive pile of chicken, and welcomed everyone into my fairy-lit garden. At one point a friend said to me, “I mean, who does this for themselves?”

That would be me.

She quickly added, “I love it,” but I was already looking off into the distance with concern.

“A midlife crisis” (Wikipedia tells us) “is a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45-64 years old.”

It gets worse.

“The phenomenon is described as a psychological crisis brought about by events that highlight a person’s growing age, inevitable mortality, and possibly shortcomings of accomplishments in life. This may produce feelings of depression, remorse, and anxiety, or the desire to achieve youthfulness or make drastic changes to current lifestyle.”

Ah, yeah. My husband, of course, put it in perspective.

“But at 47, unless you plan to live to the age of 94, you can’t even really call it a midlife crisis. That should’ve happened a few years back,” he pointed out, helpfully.

Then there is all the physical stuff. It takes at last twice as long to recover from any kind of injury, my teeth are a mess, and I literally cannot read the New York Times without some form of magnification device.

When I complained to an older friend about how I was suddenly buying multi-packs of reading glasses at Costco, he said, “The key is just go to two.” Two? Level two reading glasses, he explained, because apparently everyone tries to cling to level one-and-a-half, but when you just give in and graduate to level two, everything gets much clearer. Except I’m not sure I want to see everything clearer given my teeth, not to mention the current New York Times content.

But probably the biggest irony about my midlife crisis is I barely have time for it; I have three children in elementary school. Think back-to-school forms and annual physicals, not metaphysical. My moments of “Where is all of this going?” get drowned out by sports, open-house, field day and international night. Which is a good thing, but here’s the problem: I still have those moments.

What happened to the idea of buying a shack on some tropical island, renovating it and growing old among books and total mindfulness driven by hours of transcendental meditation with all the awesome friends I love but never get to see anymore? Thinking through college tuition for three kids, this vision of my future morphed into a downsized condo facing a highway. Talk about “feelings of depression, remorse, and anxiety.”

So I went to the source. “Mom did you ever feel like everything looked so different than what you expected when you were younger?” I asked her as we walked down my driveway for a suburban stroll.

“Are you kidding me, Claire?” my mother said with that tone that always, no matter how old I get, makes me realize how clueless I am. “That’s what it’s all about!”

She made getting older sound like the Hokie Pokie.

To be fair, I had my real midlife crisis last year. Back when I threw myself a 46th birthday party that could have doubled as a wedding, things started getting a little grandiose. Enter my “desire to achieve youthfulness or make drastic changes to current lifestyle.” OK I didn’t buy a gleaming black Corvette (my husband did, but that’s his problem). But I flew to England for less than 48 hours to rage with old friends, and briefly tried to re-enter the Chateau Marmont scene in LA that I used to rock (but very much don’t anymore). I could go on.

Now the idea of having 48 people to lunch makes me think of loading the dishwasher. Late nights out mean I miss reading with my kids and tucking them into bed. Things are quieter, slower and fun looks a little different. Then again, I can’t see, my teeth hurt and I live in a semi-permanent state of hot flashes.

I leave you no wisdom here; I am still working my way through the weeds on this one. But eating ice cream cake helps. And counting your blessings.

“And that,” my mother said as she put her arm around me, “Is a very good thing.”

Here’s hoping.

Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films.

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