I am less than three years away from my 40th birthday. This puts me smack dab in the middle of middle age. I am too young to be old, but much too old to be young.
I am finding myself thinking lately about all the things that I should know or know how to do by this age, but for whatever reason, I seem to have missed the memo. Things that I should have done by now, or at least actively chosen not to do. Things that I see other people have, or have done, or know that it never occurred to me to have, do, or know.
Over the past few years, I have made it my mission January 1st to pick one habit of mine that impinges on my life, and on those that I love, and make it my mission that year to replace it with better habits. A comprehensive list is not long, so I will share it here:
- Chronically running late
- Over the years, I allowed anxiety to determine when I would leave my house, or get dressed, or whatever, which would often result in me leaving the house at precisely the time I was supposed to be somewhere. This has resulted in many stressful car rides, as I become agitated that I do not drive the USS Enterprise and cannot be instantly teleported to wherever I was supposed to be.
- Chronic lateness made me a very unpleasant dinner/party/outing guest, as being on time for me was a minimum 25 minutes after I should have arrived. I was late for birthday parties, dinners, play dates, appointments, weddings, plays… and when I arrived, I would bore and annoy my friends and family further by apologizing and excusing my bad behaviour.
- Added to this is a terrible sense of direction, so regardless of how late I was running, I would invariably become lost, exacerbating the lateness further.
- Flaking out on everything at the last minute
- This one was hard for me, as a person who is chronically ill, mentally crazy, and an anxious basket case. I sometimes find myself having to cancel on things that I was very excited about due to any one of the above getting in my way.
- That being said, I was convinced that people were only spending time and making plans with me out of kindness and pity, and overall, they would be much happier to have their time returned to them, and have me cancel, thereby removing the burden.
- I learned that the above is not true and that when my friends and family make plans with me, it is overwhelmingly not out of a sense of duty, but that for whatever reason, unfathomable as it may be to me, they actually enjoy my company! I learned that people find it extremely rude when you suddenly cancel and you are not violently ill!
- Being available to my friends for their problems, rather than worrying that I was bothering them by checking in.
- Keeping all of my opinions to myself for fear of offending people, and simply agreeing with whatever the prevalent opinion at the time seemed to be.
- Keeping a tidy house. (Fairly self explanatory…)
- Understanding my finances, and reining in my addiction to spending more money than I make every single month on things that I do not need, and will inevitably throw out.
Last year, I extended myself some grace, and chose “Keep Dave Alive” as my goal for 2019. I am happy to report that he is still alive, and further and further from imminent demise. I was lucky enough that my beautiful, wonderful sister-in-law took charge of the finances issue, my beautiful wonderful best friend took charge of the tidying and decluttering of my house, and my beautiful wonderful mom took charge of the kids, and the making sure we didn’t go broke when the EI didn’t kick in.
This is where I come to the conclusion that I have missed the memo on several things:
- I should have had a reasonable savings account before my husband was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer, having worked since I was 16, less stay-at-home mom stints, and Dave worked every year of his life since he was 15 years old;
- I should have had a working knowledge of my finances that wouldn’t have required my sister-in-law to make sure that my bills were paid on time and that there was money in my chequing account;
- I should have long ago had a tidy, clutter-free organized home that an average person could walk into and not literally walk into piles of things;
- I should have had a filing system so that when I knew I would need something, I would be able to pull it out and have it handy;
- I should have had a planner/calendar/datebook/ literally anything other than the closest envelop to write important dates like Dave’s chemo appointments on;
- I should have gotten over my anxiety of speaking to people on the phone, in person, in new situations;
- I should have known what my health insurance and benefits would cover and what they wouldn’t.
Further things that I have noted that I missed the memo on, include, but are not limited to:
- Buying furniture –
- I still have 99% hand me down furniture, or furniture purchased from people on Facebook. The only furniture that I have ever purchased new are my son’s bed from IKEA, and… I think that is quite literally it. I do have a new table, which my husband built from scratch, and my daughter has a new bed that was a gift from my parents and my grandmother.
- Cleaning appliances –
- I was aware that fridges and stoves and ovens needed cleaning, but not that dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, vacuum cleaners, etc., needed to be washed!! Turns out, the dirt that they clean off of other things needs to go somewhere…
- Cat dental appointments –
- A few years ago I learned that my cat had a broken tooth… since then, his teeth are regularly checked, but it never occurred to me to even think about his teeth until then!
- Duct cleaning
- Furnace filter replacement
- Cleaning out that horrible vent in the bathroom ceiling
- That windows can come out of the frame to be cleaned –
- Additionally, that they need to be returned in the same direction…
- That the top of my stove pops open like the hood of a car to clean under the elements
- A self-cleaning oven doesn’t actually clean the oven and all the burnt crap on the bottom still needs to be cleaned out
- Fruit flies die in apple cider vinegar
- People really do rake their campsites when they are done with them
These are not all things that I have learned simply over the last couple of years, but they are things that I feel like I should have known sooner. I was raised by very capable parents, and my mom tried to teach me most of these things, with a well placed “I always find that…” and yet I still seem to have missed the memo.
I forgive my 19 year old self for believing that window dressings came with my homes and that unless you could sew, you were stuck with whatever the contractor had purchased. I even forgive myself for not believing in spies, because, honestly, if spies are doing a good job, I probably shouldn’t know about them.
The stuff that I struggle to forgive myself on, and cause me to feel woefully underprepared for middle age, are things like not knowing if I need snow tires, not being clever enough to save money and take my kids to Disneyland as often as I would have liked. Heck, make that not being clever enough to have saved money in the event that I lost my job, or Dave or I became too sick to work. Both of which actually happened in 2019!!!
The stuff that makes me think that I am not a very good adult are as follows:
- My insane desire for approval from everyone and anyone;
- My need to please all, regardless of whether they belong in my circle of caring or not;
- The fact that I know that I have a cavity in my tooth, but am too anxious about COVID-19 to go get it filled;
- The fact that neither of my kids have been to the dentist in over a year;
- That I don’t like to force my kids to do their homework, because it stresses me out;
- That I don’t force my kids to do their homework or clean their rooms or even speak respectfully to me, even though I know that kids need rules and boundaries, and as their mother it’s my job to set them up for an effective life;
- That regardless of how depressed or anxious I feel, the idea of seeing a new therapist paralyzes me and I end up cancelling more first appointments than I attend;
- That sometimes even simple criticism sends me into a teary shame spiral;
- That I slip off the wagon and fall back into bad patterns more often than I would like –
- Binge eating when I should be sleeping;
- Not eating/forgetting to eat/starving myself as a form of self flagellation;
- Overspending on online shopping and then needing to cancel or send everything back immediately because I do not have the budget to decorate my entire Christmas tree in mid-August with an ornament representing every important moment in my life.
How do other people know what is needed for their taxes? How do other people seem to have money tucked away for a rainy day? How do other people know that they should check their credit scores?
I should mention that none of this comes from a place of jealousy. Not anymore, at least- there was a time when I was jealous of what other people had that I didn’t. I didn’t think it was fair when people had nicer strollers, or houses or clothes than me.
Now I know that it is more than fair – people get out of life what they put into it. Other people have their shit together. Other people have goals and measurable steps to achieve them, and therefore, deserve all the awesome things that their hard work has afforded them. It has nothing to do with fairness.
I am in awe of all these crazy talented people who not only got the memo but have tapped me on the shoulder and said “hey, you should probably read this…”
Because by nearly 40, by fully mid-life, I should probably know and do a lot more than I do. Like, maybe, I don’t know… buy some furniture?