For all the ways that my mom was a hippie and very progressive she was also conservative. She was not a feminist. She resented having to work and said that feminism had ruined it all - she wanted the old model, dad working, mom at home with the kids. She raised me with the idea that I needed a man, a good man. And I needed to be a mom. She was ok with the Cinderella story. And in my teens and 20's I loved romantic movies - Pretty Woman, Working Girl, Sabrina. The guy always saves the day. And it played out with me desperate to get married at 22 years old. Everyone around me thought I was crazy, for the most part. I'm sure it was also my need to create a new, more stable family. Different than the one I had grown up in.
What does a mid life crisis look like for a woman? Do we even get to have them?
For a “successful man” who has provided for his family and “done his duty”, it looks like him asking is this all there is? I want MORE, I want to feel ALIVE. This other younger, beautiful woman, she makes me feel alive. Let’s have FUN and travel and relax and not have more kids (sometimes this works, sometimes this doesn’t work, because they are younger and still have so much life ahead of them). He might get a fast, impractical car to go with this “new life”. And his "first wife” is taken care of or at least she get’s the house and the kids. And she is usually really mad because she gave her best years to him and then he gets to go off and have fun without her. It sucks for her.
I met my husband when I was 17, he was 27. But he was still young and not yet successful in fully launching his career. So we set out to fulfill our creative dreams together. We moved in together right away and when I started college at CCAC I commuted from San Anselmo. I loved art school! But I was always a little bit on the outside because I didn't live in the East Bay and I was in a relationship. My husband didn't like the mess in the spare bedroom that I used as a studio. He didn't like my "new friends". I made it work for awhile, but after two years of waiting tables and commuting it got to be too much. I took a semester off and I never went back. We moved to LA after we got married. Mostly because I had a vision that I wanted to work in film and I also knew I needed to get out of Marin (where I was born and raised) because everyone was settling down, having babies and the town rolled up the sidewalks at 9pm. Trips to NY and LA had shown me there was more and I wanted a piece of it. I kind of dragged my husband there, kicking and screaming. He does not like change. But he also had always dreamed of going to Art Center College of Design. I thought this is a win/win. He could finally go to art school, I could work on films, we would both be happy.
I worked in film and events for while - decorating sets, shopping for furniture, moving furniture (I learned that a set dresser is actually a furniture mover!) and I LOVED LA. He started at Art Center but didn't get much financial aid. We learned that I could work there and he would get free tuition. I wanted to keep focused on my career but we rarely saw each other with my crazy work schedule and his demanding school schedule. My film work was not consistent and it was stressful to not always know when the next job was coming. Like a good, supportive wife, I decided it made more sense for me to work at Art Center and get him thru school so that at least one of us had a degree. I was investing in him so he could be my hero. I'd get my turn, eventually.
Now I’m “waking up” at 44 years old, married for 22 years, together for 27, three kids and a sweet little life. But the goals I thought we shared have not been reached. He still thinks they will happen “someday” but isn’t this “someday”? If it's not then when is it? And even though I’m a woman I feel a whole lot like a middle aged man in a mid life crisis. I have done my job and done it well. I have cooked, cleaned, organized, cared for, protected and created a beautiful life for my family. All the while putting my needs at the bottom of the list. “If I can get to it then I’ll...”. But here is the thing. Housework and caring for humans never ends. In Cinderella that’s how her stepmother keeps her out of all the fun stuff...do all your chores and then you can go to the dance. And that is the role women have played for so long. Earlier this year I read an amazing article in The Guardian called “A women’s Greatest Enemy? A Lack of Time to Herself” it talks about how we don’t even feel we deserve uninterrupted time to ourselves. And it is true - we feel guilty that we are not “there” for everyone. It also talks about all the creative genius that has not been expressed by women because they have not been given the time and space to create. Long stretches of uninterrupted time. That is what I am craving deep in my bones.
Sometimes women leave. They are called crazy, they are shunned, pariahs. If a man does it, people get a little angry but it’s more of a “oh, he’s having a midlife crisis” shrug. But I can feel it, hiding beneath the to do list, the urge to leave it all. To travel, to think, to create, to have FUN! Because life is short and around mid life we wonder how much time have we got left? My mom died at 53. That is only 9 years ahead of me. I will most likely live well beyond 53 but when I think she only had 9 years when she was my age it really trips me up.
The thing about this life we have built, it has not been abundant. We have traveled little, we don’t own our home, we work long hours for little pay. I have been waiting, ever since my husband graduated school, for him to soar and bring in a solid income. For us to buy a home, to travel and for me to have “my turn” in school or to pursue my creative career. But it hasn’t happened that way. And all my expectation have made us both feel awful. What I'm realizing is that I need to be my own hero. I need to believe in myself as much as I have believed in my husband, friends and children. I need to have a website as beautiful as the ones I create for my clients. I need to take classes and paint and create beautiful images and put myself out there even when I'm afraid. It's ok to make my own dreams come true. I need to stop waiting for someday and do it now. I need to let the guilt go and be “selfish”. It does not mean that I'm a bad mom or not a "good" women. Someday is now. And I am my own hero.
Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the right time... I long for a bygone era and yet I dream of a future that holds the best of technology mixed with the “old ways” that are so much gentler on us and the earth.