Senior Advice

I ‘ve just received a cool request. The mother of 17-year-old twins is compiling life advice from the important adults in their lives for a book to be presented on their birthday next month. These girls have spent a week with us every summer since they were 6 and I love them dearly. As high school seniors they are in the throes of college apps and all the other pressures of looming transitions. It struck me as ironic that I, too, am a senior, of the far older variety, facing the uncertainties of the future and needing to make some big decisions.

Although I usually have lots to say on any topic, I had instant clarity about what to write on the 5 by 7 page I was allotted.

It’s never too late!                                                                                                                                Nearly all choices can be undone so don’t fret about the ones you have to make.              This includes: What college to attend, what to major in, who to marry, where to settle, which house to buy, which friends to keep, which OB/GYN to trust, which career to choose and which day care option to use for your kids. It can ALL be changed.                      You don’t have to get everything right on the first try.                                                                   I gave birth to my last baby at age 45.                                                                                               I found my dream career at age 50.                                                                                                   I met the love of my life at age 55.                                                                                                       It is never too late to start over.

Although that was all I had room to include, I was also thinking that my mom took up piano at 88, the same age at which my first husband’s beloved Nana (a role-model for aging if ever there was one) hopped a train to Colorado to hang with some old friends. My erstwhile boyfriend would sigh fairly often in the presence of the young and say “My only regret is not having kids” and yet I could come up with a dozen women by sundown who would be thrilled to carry his child–even at his advanced age.  If you really want something, GO FOR IT, find a way to make it happen. It is never too late to get the life you want.

I see now that this message may have sprung to my pen so easily because the intended audience was actually ME. The future is looking a little scary, a little lonely and fraught with big decisions. But it will be ok. I will make the choices and if they are not the right ones I’ll make new ones. Lord knows, I’ve done it before.

My youngest daughter loves old people (why not? She’s spent her life with them!) and chose to interview some for a mini-documentary project for school. They shared on camera their life experiences and the changes they have seen in the world. I wonder what wisdom they might have shared with the 17-year-olds behind the camera. What did The Depression, World War II  and other challenges teach them? How were they shaped by these experiences. What would they want younger people to know? What senior advice would they have to impart?

I have seen too many Made-For-TV movies about dying moms leaving videos for their children, chock full of warm wisdom and all the advice they wouldn’t live to deliver. I am not dying (at least right away!) but I still feel a pull to do something like that, to put in words, on paper that will survive me, all the things I would want my girls to know, all the things I would tell them about life —just in case I am NOT here by the time they reach some crucial junction. I miss my dad a lot lately and would love to have a little Bible of Wally’s Wisdom to consult like a Ouija board.  Where should I live dad? How can I be a useful old person? Should I give up on romantic love and just settle in to widowhood? How cool IS it up there anyway? He had opinions about everything and was even surer than I am that he possessed the perfect plan for absolutely everyone’s life. A little of that rock-solid assurance would feel good about now.

But maybe that’s the point. When I turned to my therapist after 5 long years, when I had finally decided to leave Ken, I said, “Jeez Karen! You HAD to have known this was the necessary outcome all along. Why didn’t you just TELL me and save us both 5 years?!?!” But she reminded me that’s not how it works. When other people TELL you how to live your life you resent them or don’t believe them or get mad and decide to do the exact opposite. We have to figure it out for ourselves. Not everything. But a lot of it. We are here to grow our souls–period. And sometimes that is a long, hard, lonely process.

So I hope the birthday twins take in my advice and that offered by all the other adults who love them. But I know they and my kids and everybody else have their own journey to make, distinct from any that’s been made before or will come later. They have to live as they feel moved to live, making mistakes, choosing the wrong detour here and there but getting to the end in the same place we all do.  I hope they have some fun along the way.

Happy birthday K & K. I love you and I’ll be rooting for you.

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