The shape of a life

I haven’t yet reached the age where I feel that I can be considered really old but at the same time, I can no longer be termed a youngster either. I still have friends who are older than me and by that I don’t mean people just a year or two older but older by at least 10 or 15 years. It won’t be until I reach that pinnacle of age where all the people whom I know are younger than me, that I can call myself truly ancient and possibly worthy of being called wise. In spite of this lack of lofty ancientness, I still spend a bit of time, sometimes more than a bit, looking back at my life and trying to make sense of it, trying to push and pommel it into a shape that I can understand.

When I was still a daughter of living parents, I spent a lot of time doing this to my parent’s life, especially my mother’s, and let me tell you, she didn’t come out looking all that great. I used the shape that I had created of her life as a sort of guidebook of how not to live my own life. From the time I was 18 to the time I was 40, I pretty much decided to do everything differently from the way my mother had done it. I guess I saw my mother’s life as a complicated series of poor choices. I can now say complicated because as I grew older I was able to see the complexity behind those choices and I grew to understand them and have sympathy for them but still…they were poor choices and effected her entire life and not really in a good way. And, yes, I admit it…I am judgemental…live with it.

The big difference between my mother and me and which contributed to my being able to live a much different life than she did was that my mother had a mother who was a real bitch and I didn’t. At my grandmother’s funeral my mother was very insistent that the Rent-a-rabbi who did the service didn’t do the usual thing of speaking of the deceased in glowing terms. The best compliment she allowed the rabbi to utter was that Bertha was a strong woman who was able to do the things that she needed to do. It was left unsaid that being able to do those things didn’t necessarily make her a very nice person. My grandmother was bossy, opinionated, domineering and narrow-minded. She owned my mother. And left scars. I am grateful that my mother chose not to be like her. And until this very moment, as I write this, I never realized that like me, my mother made choices to be different from her mother. So I guess we actually have that in common.

From the time my mother was 13 or so, my grandmother was busy looking for boyfriends for her because, after all, what other point is there to a girl’s life but to be married. My mother graduated high school and continued living at home while she was working and contributing income to her family. She got married at the age of 21 to my father who she had known for barely a year. She once told me she married him because she felt comfortable with him and I guess that was as good as any reason for marriage, especially if you had your mother breathing down your neck. But when she told me that, when I was 16, I thought that was a terrible reason. After getting married, my parents moved into the second floor  apartment of the two family house where my grandparents lived on the first floor. Eight years later, when I was 4, the five of us moved from Jersey City out to Budd Lake. At least then we had separate houses…though still within walking distance. And that’s where my parents stayed until my grandfather and later my grandmother died.

I, on the other hand, left my parent’s home when I was 18. It wasn’t a distant journey, just 60 miles away and I moved into a college dormitory that was mostly paid for by my parents. I moved back home the summer after my freshman year but after my second year at college, I never moved back home again. I studied Art like my mother would have liked to do but never got the chance to do. From the time I was 25 I supported myself as a commercial artist, never needing to use the typing skills my mother was so good at and which she insisted I learn in high school so I could support myself. My mother worked at the same job for 30 years. It was just a job, not a vocation. I worked doing something I loved doing and which I had a talent for. And I never stuck around in one job longer than 2 years. Most of my time in New York I spent as a freelancer moving from one project to another. I never allowed myself to get tied down in a relationship either.  I waited till the age of 38 before getting married, after knowing the man who would be my husband, for eight years before deciding to make the plunge. And the plunge required that I move to a totally different country. All the choices I made in my life were diametrically different from those my mother made. I was never going to be like her!

And then my son was born.  And as he grew from a tiny blob of baby into a small child, I found that when I opened my mouth, my mother’s voice came out. Imagine my surprise!

My mother always served dinner at 6pm. Her dinner plates were filled with her 3 main food groups; a form of protein either chicken, beef or pork; some veggie; and some kind of starch either noodles, potatoes or rice – except on Mah Jongg nights when we got served TV dinners. After I moved out, I never made dinner at six. As long as I lived by myself, I ate what I could find in my fridge or made something bought at the last minute that day. Supper usually consisted of broiling some meat or chicken and steaming some broccoli. I often ate out with friends or had small dinner parties at home when I cooked more elaborate meals. But when my son started daycare, suddenly dinner at 6pm made sense. I discovered that my mother had been right.

But now my son is 27 years old and about to move into his own apartment. My husband and I will be on our own, like we were in the beginning of our life together. And I find myself sitting here examining the shape my life has formed.

A friend pointed out recently that I would soon be an empty-nester. But I wasn’t one of those people who moved almost directly from being a child in a parent’s home to being in charge of a home with children in it. I was alone in my own nest for a very long time before finally having a nest-mate and then a nestling. And while I will miss my baby boy and will enjoy his visits (that he promises he will make) I think that being an empty-nester will feel like a return to who I once was rather than a totally new, uncomfortable state of existence. And my nest wont be empty – Håkan will still be sharing it with me.

My father lived to 77 and my mother to 85. That’s only 10 to 18 years away. And given that the past 10 to 18 years have passed so quickly, I assume the coming ones will too. There must be some kind of law of nature that states that the older one gets, the faster time moves. So I stand here on the cusp – one part of me planted firmly in who I have been and the other part facing what still might be to come. I have no great bucket list of things I want to do or places I want to visit. I pretty much have done the things I wanted to do. I didn’t want to jump out of a plane when I was 25 and still don’t. Same for climbing big mountains or skiing down them. I have traveled to various places – most of them had people I knew living there – the people living there were more important than the place. I never really had any wanderlust. The only place on the planet that I can ever remember desperately wanting to be was New York City. And I lived there – and now I don’t.

So here and now, I find myself at the age, which when I was 20, I would have described as, “Wow, she’s pretty old, man!” And since I no longer have any living parents to torture with my examination of their lives, I find I am left with examining my own.

Is it a good life? Did I fuck up a lot? Did I do what I wanted to do? What did I miss out on? Was anything I did important? Was I good at anything? Could I have tried harder? Has my life had meaning? To who? Where is it I have landed? And then of course the really biggest question of all – What is the point of this whole shebang – this thing called me?

I guess maybe I do have a bucket list after all – Its trying to find the answers to these questions – to discover the shape of my life.


4 Responses to “The shape of a life”

Leave a Reply