I realized about the time I turned 50 (three years ago this coming weekend) that I was just getting started. I had spent my 30s building my career and creating my family. I had spent most of my 40s working a lot of hours at stressful, and some unfulfilling, jobs to pay my mortgage, save for college, and keep my family afloat. I was sandwiched between my school-aged daughter and elderly parents. I wasn’t unhappy. But my life was about the roles I played, what I was to everyone else, being needed, not personally fulfilled. Read more
I procrastinated on this blog all week. I had an idea weeks ago. Wrote a draft. Re-wrote it and then, just now, deleted it entirely. Truth be told, I needed the last couple days to decompress from the weekend before I could figure out what I wanted to say. My emotions were a bit jumbled and I was mad at myself for that. It had been months since I felt this way.
Once I got through Thanksgiving, escaped to be with my family in Ireland for Christmas and made that monumental decision in early January to quit my full-time job to pursue my passion, I was feeling pretty good. Very, very happy honestly. The happiest I had been in a very long time. Cue I Can See Clearly Now (the Jimmy Cliff version from the Cool Runnings Soundtrack, of course). People have noticed and commented and that has made me feel even better. But this weekend, I slipped back into a bit of a funk. And I was mad at myself for that.
Only today, was it finally pointed out to me, that what I was feeling was valid. I must stop being so hard on myself. Saturday was my birthday. Sunday was Mother’s Day. For someone like me, given what I have been through, experiencing the losses I’ve experienced; this was a very emotionally charged weekend. That is my reality. I am not being selfish for feeling this way. It is what it is. It’s not something I have that much control over.
But I tried. I filled my weekend with lots of activities and I am grateful for friends who invited me out both Friday and Saturday night. When I woke up Saturday morning, it was raining. Hard. It was also pretty chilly for May. The alarm was set for six because I had to be at the start of our town’s 5k race. This race was the graduation race for both my Let Me Run boys (which I wrote about) and my running club’s beginner to finisher program. Not a great day for a 5k.
I was planning to run with a few of the boys who had set a goal of finishing in under 30 minutes. I knew from our training runs and what they reported from their mile time trials at school last week that this was a realistic goal. I gave them explicit directions: “We’re going to go out together. We are going to take the first mile slowly. Stick with me even if you feel like we’re going too slow. In the second mile we are going to pick up the pace a little. Once we hit the 2-mile marker and have only a little more than a mile to go, I’m letting you lose to run as strong as you can to the finish.” They followed directions!
Everything went according to plan. Two of the boys finished in 27 minutes. I was still running and pacing a boy from the younger group in that last mile. He was running so strong! I kept encouraging him. I wanted this for him so badly. When the finish line and the clock came into view he saw that not only was he going to break 30, he might break 28! He took off! I was so happy for him, happier than I might have been if it was my own personal record. His official time was 27:59. Mine was 28:01. I finished 4th in my age group. No medal for that. Not my fastest race. But it will be remembered as one of the most special moments in all of my 21 years of running. I walked back to my car in the rain. Smiling. I had forgotten for the moment that it was my birthday.
Mother’s Day started with a 10k race (hey, I had 6 miles on my training schedule anyway) and then my daughter talked me into a road trip to the Philadelphia Zoo. Driving for two hours after running a 10k might not sound like fun for mom, but the prospect of at least 4 hours round-trip in the car with my teenager would mean some good quality conversation – which we had. Plus her suggestion of the Philadelphia Zoo spoke to my soul. As a college student in Philly, the Zoo was a place I frequently went on my own to decompress. In Philadelphia on Sunday, it was warm and sunny. And the Zoo was even better than I had remembered it.
So, on paper, I had a really nice weekend.
Still there were the unspoken emotions ever present as I navigated days that were once shared with people no longer there. That is my reality. I have to remember that and be kind to myself. I have come a very long way, but there are still triggers. There are still – occasionally – difficult days. No matter how much I think I’ve prepared, they still sneak up on me. Now I know to make self-care paramount. Run. Meditate. Take the dog for a long walk. Make one of those “as needed” appointments with my therapist. Maybe go to the Zoo.
I have two birthdays. Like presidents, I have a legal holiday and the actual day I was born. May 14th is recorded as my legal birthday. It appears on my birth certificate, driver’s license and any other official documentation. It’s the date I have to use when asked for my date of birth at the pharmacy, doctor’s office, and on road race applications, which makes me feel like I’m lying since that’s not the day I was born. It is however the day on which I celebrated my birthday for the first 29 years of my life. Just before my 30th birthday, I found my biological mother who was quick to inform me that I was actually born on May 13th. She’s the only person I know who was there, so I will take her word on it (plus if you were to look up the date in The Secret Language of Birthdays, May 13th describes me accurately, the 14th does not). There are some theories on what happened. Someone may have thought that the 13th was unlucky or maybe it was an efficient approach to record keeping at County Hospital in Roscommon, Ireland (all the week’s births being recorded on the Friday).
It really doesn’t matter. My (adoptive) mother told me that she had celebrated her mother’s birthday in August all of her life. After her father died, her mother informed her that her birthday was actually in March. Apparently when she met my grandfather she needed an excuse to invite him to her house and told him it was her birthday…and through 40-some years of marriage she never fessed up. Some people were born on February 29th and can only have a “real” birthday every four years. And I’m sure I’m not the only person with an improperly recorded birthday. The important thing is that we mark the passage of time and birthdays give us one day every year when we as individuals get to feel extra special.
I now mark the occasion on the 13th, but tend to celebrate a little on the 14th too (it’s still the anniversary of a lot of great birthday celebrations and the day I got my driver’s license). But regardless of what day you want to recognize, it just past. I’m now 51; no longer simply 50, but “in my 50s.” I’m okay with being in my 50s. I’m happy with who I am and what I’ve achieved and proud that I have met the challenges that could have prevented me from getting this far, this well. I’ve already dealt with aging parents, assisted living, and their deaths. I’ve had cancer. I had a colonoscopy. I’m a widow and received social security checks. I wear reading glasses, joined AARP and last week, broke down and got a hearing aid. Aging isn’t about lying down and giving up. It’s about regular maintenance, fixing what needs to be fixed, and getting back out on the road. Honestly, my 50s are starting to rock!
I loved when the American Cancer Society started calling themselves “The Official Sponsor of Birthdays” even before I was a cancer survivor. They said, “Together with our millions of supporters, the American Cancer Society saves lives and creates more birthdays by helping people stay well and get well, by finding cures, and by fighting back.” From my perspective as a non-profit professional, it’s a fabulous campaign. Now as a cancer survivor, I understand it’s truth more fully. As a survivor I relish every birthday and have respect for every year.
Some people lie about their age. My grandmother (who obviously had no problem lying about birthdays) always said if you’re going to lie, you should lie older, not younger. If you’re 50 and you tell people you’re 40, they will just think you look old for your age. But if you tell them you’re 60, they’ll think you look good, right? Runners can’t lie about their age because it gets plastered all over the race results. But most runners I know are okay with aging, because every five years we get to be the “youngsters” in a new age group. And honestly, I’m often shocked when I realize just how old some of my fellow runners are. I was speaking with someone at the New Year’s Day race and he mentioned he’d be moving into a new age group this year. I said, “the big 6-0 this year, huh?” He said, “No! I’m turning 70!”
Every year I notice more and more people winning age-group awards in the 80 and over category. I imagine when I reach that milestone there will be a lot more competition and I won’t be getting awards just for showing up. Being a runner not only makes me look forward to birthdays and new age-groups, it makes me feel better – healthier and stronger – when I get there. Some people stress about getting older. Most of them aren’t runners…or cancer survivors.