Joining the Rat-Race Mid-Life

 

Over 20 years ago, I sat on the tarmac in Iowa waiting to take off and return home from a business trip. I was in my first big-girl job post-college, and after receiving a promotion, was promptly sent to various cities to work with administrators in the Midwest and Northeast.

Looking out the window at the night-time sky, a red jelly-like substance began dripping over the windows. I asked the flight attendant what it was, as this girl had only been on one plane ride at 18 years old and knew little about air travel.

She explained that the weather was frigid and the plane was being de-iced. I wondered if I should be worried. I was too young to be as fearful as I would certainly be today. The delay was more annoying than anything and I decided then and there to return to graduate school and become a teacher.I’ve spent 20 years in higher education and there were two main advantages for me: 1) It was truly a meaningful career when I began and, 2) It was the best Mom-gig a girl could hope for while raising children.Fast forward a couple of decades and two giant truths now dominate my professional existence: 1) While the cost of tuition has skyrocketed exponentially, our pay has not. 2) The majority of collegiate institutions are about anything and everything except teaching and learning. Of course there are exceptions. However, if you read the data, and have current affiliation with several universities as I do, you will observe a shift in the actual “education” portion that is alarming. I have also held administrative positions along with teaching, so my insight goes beyond the classroom.

With twins just graduating from college and my youngest with two years left to go at her university, well…this mid-life Mama had to get another job. In addition to kids in college…

-We are a part of a destination wedding this August where my girls are standing up and I’m part of the ceremony (more on that in August).

-My husband went through a job change a year ago and his salary dropped considerably at the new company…blah blah blah…there are too many stories like ours to count lately. You can imagine the strain.

-Then, he landed himself in the hospital for a couple of days-nothing serious but the medical co-pays for three days in the hospital blew through his very handsome severance package.

The timing of these several things at once was comical and costly.

So, I cut the on-campus teaching, kept the online professorship, and added a three-days a week position in HR with a small company at their corporate office. Promptly after I started, the HR Director resigned. I’m essentially the entire HR department on a three-day schedule doing five days plus worth of work. I’ve already been working on my days “off”.

To say the adjustment from both a professional standpoint and a personal one has been challenging would be an understatement.Two kids (here) graduated and moved home from college. My youngest is serving in ministry in Texas for three more weeks. The change in the household has been tremendous. God bless the kids, they are doing the dishes, and occasionally vacuum…After 10 minutes of searching, I find the pasta strainer with the syrup (?), but who am I to complain?! 🙂

I’m working more than I have in a decade while still doing most everything I did prior to the new job.

I’m trying to adjust. I didn’t really think it would be that big of a deal. After all, before kids (and life in higher ed) I had a career in business. I traveled for heaven’s sake. I was a working professional!

I’ve changed and I’m waaaaay older.

Driving home in wicked traffic the other day, I was reminded of how this is just normal life for most. Sit and wait while four lights change and we creep up to finally get through an intersection. Wild morning traffic is something most people have been navigating for decades while I purposely set up early morning office hours to avoid. I taught late classes so my husband was home with the kids when I left. I graded papers and lesson-planned from my home office.

Lunch was when I wanted it and it certainly didn’t have a time limit.Oh, the schedule of “regular hours”. It’s laughable to those of you reading who’ve been in the rat race for decades. Up at 6am, on the road by 7am, work work work, eat lunch fast, back to your desk, back in the car at 5pm….

The conventional work schedule alone makes this deep thinker ponder who came up with the 8-5 workday. Why are we all bumper to bumper at 7:30am just to reach the destination by 8am? Why are we again bumper to bumper at 5:15pm? Even though more employees than ever are working from home, or have flex hours, my small company runs a tight, traditional culture with zero flexibility.

Definition of rat race according to dictionary.com: any exhausting, unremitting, and usually competitive activity or routine, especially a….life spent trying to get ahead with little time left for leisure, contemplation, etc.The part of the rat race definition that makes me laugh out loud includes leisure and contemplation. Professors contemplate! We lead our students to think, not just answer questions. We have more opportunity for leisure due to flexibility.

In those years when I had the luxury of being “contemplative”, and particularly when I was in the evening classes with working adults completing their Bachelors and Masters degrees, I spent considerable time discussing the importance of locating the job that would be satisfying after they finally graduated. We wrote out the number of waking hours on paper, subtracting not only 40-hours in a building, but planning for work, choosing clothes for work, drive time, required social and corporate events, buying Christmas gifts for workmates, etc., etc.The ultimate point of the exercise was revealing the truth that full-time working adults work more than they literally do anything else. More time at work than with family. More time working than cooking or playing or creating. I made them take a hot second “contemplating” that stark reality. Really thinking about life in the present – but also what they wanted it to look like in a few years.

Most people work for money and few work because they love what they do.

Most are hustling in the rat-race “routine”, “competitively” working to get ahead, hoping to reach those goals of “leisure” and the luxury of living more “contemplatively”.

My Bible app devotion recently stated: “You have been entrusted with talents… It really matters how you use these.” If only we could all earn a living utilizing our true, greatest talents. I have observed most people at best use their gifts in hobbies or volunteering in ministries. Excruciatingly few can pay medical and dental benefits without a company-job having nothing to do with their greatest gifts. We use our gifts to serve as best we can-where we are.

We are old enough to know that life requires attention. If we’re going to enjoy any of it, we must leave the housework, skip the obligatory visit to the distant-relative’s house and read the book that is collecting dust because too many other things trump sitting down in “leisure”.

I miss my extended quiet time with God in the mornings. I’m way behind in my Bible reading. I catch up on my days off. Things like crafts and baking are time-intensive joys that I cannot afford. My leisure time is spent with my kids doing things together. They will only live home for a limited amount of time and I’m not going to miss these remaining moments living together.

Throughout the years, I could see how my full-time career friends had time for nothing but work. I observed at a distance their counting days off…worried about arriving 10 minutes late or leaving a half hour early to catch their kids’ game after school. Mentally tortured about missing family events and simultaneously feeling obligated to their employer.While I previously watched at a distance, I now live it and while the work is interesting, the schedule is a bummer. I’m thankful that this existence now was not the reality while raising kids. As always, a big hug and sincere admiration to those working parents who legit do it all – and well.

On that note, it’s time to enjoy the weekend and family…

I wish each of you a Happy Weekend! 🙂

Photos: 99designs.com-woman; aviation.stackexchange.com-plane; nyfa.edu/Harvard/-Harvard; robbreport.com/lifestyle/news/would-you-pay-6-5-million-to-get-your-kid-into-yale-2843748/-Yale; ft.com/content/804b928e-6cde-11df-91c8-00144feab49a-RatRace; Cnn.com-man on desk; Colossians: Pinterest

When Your Kids Near Marrying Age


I don’t recall where I picked up the idea, but for several years I’ve been drying the petals of flowers my girls (or myself) have received so they can be used on their wedding day. It was a fun activity with a “someday” thought attached to it. Now, it’s a closer reality as my baby just turned 20. These are the years they will likely meet their future spouses (or perhaps know them already).

Like all the thoughts plaguing my mind in an increasingly quieting nest, the thought of them marrying is both exciting and nerve-wracking. I’ve always told my kids that you can easily change your wardrobe, food, house, location, job…but when you marry, it’s serious business. Follow God. Fall in love first, not lust. Be friends. Be sure. Really observe their parents, their friendships. Watch how your boyfriend/girlfriend handles a crisis, disappointment… how they treat others.We hope all of our investment in our children’s lives leads them to God’s best. One of my investments has been considerable prayer. I was praying about their “future spouses” long before they were dating. What I don’t know is who they will each choose. Free will is real and many pained parents have watched their beloved children suffer through horrible marriages. It’s not only the free will to choose poorly, but it’s the “big reveal” that sometimes happens to the poor souls who gave their heart to one person who turned out to be an entirely different human being once they married and lived together. Heartbreaking.

Marriage is unpredictable. The early years with young children can be tough. What we need at 25 isn’t always what we need at 45. It takes effort to evolve together. Marriage can be difficult.We want to save them from all the hardship. We want to talk and talk and talk in preparation to protect them from the miserable stuff. But, we know the reality. They will walk their own walk.

As my kids live out their early 20’s, I’m still doing a lot of talking 😉 even when they say, “I know, Mom. You’ve told us a thousand times.”  I’m still praying. Our society is increasingly hurtful and as they marry and create their own nests, I pray those nests are safe places…warm, accepting-of-faults places. The place where they can escape from the cold, judging, desensitized world and rest and play and laugh.

I pray they marry into unconditional love.

And, I pray they give it in return.

Remembering to Play When the Kids Are Away

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I read this quote recently and thought of my kids who are all really good at “play”, even though they are now in their early 20’s. They are all playing college sports. The girls still play Just Dance together when they are home and dance until sweat drips down their beautiful faces. My son (gently) swings a golf club in the house and wanders around with a hockey stick in his hand! He is always trying to get guys together to throw a ball or play ice hockey when he’s home.

Over the holidays, when I was with my own kids, other 20-somethings and little ones, I played. I’m good at play when my kids are home on breaks. I sing (really poorly-pretending I’m an opera singer!), play cards, board games, play in the snow, visit the indoor golf range, dance with them and engage in other fun activities.

When my kids are away, I do not play. (Nice rhyme, huh? :)) It’s been hard to play the same when they are not around.

Why? Well, the first thing I could come up with is that we tend to be utterly ourselves in the presence of those we live with. We goof off with our bed-head hair and laugh without the ever-present self-consciousness we possess outside of the house. I am most comfortable with them. They are also fun people, so it’s easier to have fun when people are fun.

I had invited a few women over for an evening visit recently and I suggested we play a game. To my joy, they agreed and we ended up laughing and having a good time. After that, I had over some friends and we did a girls movie night. I realized that I need to start generating some “play” on my own since these kids of mine are spending less and less time in the nest.

Some adults are great at play, while others not so much. Many set aside time for weekly game night, poker night, couples night out or whatever. I just haven’t figured out my space yet. I’m better with the empty nest in recent months, but I’m still figuring out a few things, including my play time :).

One lesson I’ve learned is that half of “play” is getting it right in my mind. If “this” isn’t done, then I have no business playing. Wrong mindset. The chores, to-do lists, obligations…they never end. I have also learned to relax more with others, permitting myself to have real fun – absent kids. Play must be prioritized and not thought of as a luxury.

Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, reminds us that play “takes us out of a sense of time and place”. Source. As an adult, I tend to watch “time” more than necessary.

How often do we see kids jump out of the pool, run up to the house and ask, “Is it time to finish my chores? Should I get out of the pool to vacuum? Organize the basement?”

Kids are often unaware of time because they are enjoying themselves. Part of restructuring my life as a Mama whose nest is a little quieter these days includes giving myself permission to lose track of time… See the source image

 

 

You’re Middle Age When…

You try something on in a dressing room and don’t bother to look in the mirror until you’ve determined it is comfortable.

I took 10 items into a dressing room a few days ago. Whether I put on pants or a top, I immediately did a few yoga stretches, squatted down, sat on the bench and did a lap around the hallway.  Only when I felt sufficiently comfortable in something did I bother to look in the mirror.

Yes, I do care very much about my appearance…thus, the shopping (and my eldest daughter is in the fashion world)! Like any other gal, I love cute clothes but they need to be practical for real living. In my twenties, thirties and much of my forties, not so much. I was definitely looking first, worrying about how I felt later.

Now days? I’m so over anything even remotely snug, stiff, scratchy, too thin, too bulky, too hot or too cold. And, yes, appropriate yet trendy and comfortable are simultaneously possible! It just takes me a little more time in the dressing room.

No matter what I’m wearing during the day, putting on pajamas at night is the best-feeling outfit ever.

Happy Friday!

 

 

 

Unlike Most People, I’m Glad It’s Monday

It’s seven weeks into the semester and I’m profoundly feeling the effects of the empty-nest. The weekends are the worst, especially Sunday evenings. Some Moms get through this easier than others, but I’m struggling.

Saturdays were always slow mornings, since we went to church on Sundays. Breakfast, hanging out in PJs and then usually a soccer game in the crisp, fall air surrounded by the changing leaves. We would stop at the local cider mill afterward, picking up donuts and cider slushies. I stopped in on my own recently and wow, it just wasn’t fun.Sundays, I go to church alone. Sometimes I run a few errands and write a bit. I always cooked on Sundays and that heightens the sadness.

No, I don’t miss being in the kitchen for two hours chopping, preparing, cleaning and cooking…I do miss the end result of everyone around the table, eating and talking and bonding. I miss hanging out in the living room on Sunday nights deciding on a movie everyone would like. My older daughter made popcorn. I would yell at my son to put away his phone and just watch the movie :).

It sounds simple, but the little things like sports games, church, meals, their friends coming over and just the constant activity brought our home to life. It feels strangely lifeless.

Make no mistake, with all of that activity came frayed nerves and craziness that wore me out. My son annoyed me. My older daughter sometimes prioritized friends over family. Funny how when they are at college, I tend to forget these things. A little peace and quiet should be welcome.

My work is isolated. I have a home office and in the last year (ironic timing with the baby leaving for college), I decided to teach exclusively in our online program. It pays more and I live in the country. I don’t miss the drive into the city campus, but now I have even less communication with other humans. So, I’m looking for a different job. Not to mention, higher education is nothing like it once was and I’m eager to move forward.

Last month, I started volunteering more, began a couple projects I’m really enjoying and made sure to book some girlfriend outings on the calendar. Still, I’m a Mama. It’s not only how I largely defined myself but I actually enjoyed it. They still need me but it’s sooooooo not the same.

My kids all face time me, call and text every day. We also have a family snapchat and family group text. I hear all of this communication is unusual so I’m really grateful. They are cool kids who tell me all about their experiences (good and bad!), and I am truly thankful.

Like starting the first day at a new high school, groups have already been established and I’m wandering from place to place, looking forward to landing in two or three new things that will slowly build this new, peculiar life. Other parents move on and I will too, but it’s a struggle. I also recognize that I must because my kids need to see their Mom happy and secure.

My twins are a few hours away so I was able to see my son a couple weeks ago and we got a hotel room to extend the time we could visit. Quite joyfully, my daughter recently called to say her roommates are leaving this coming weekend and she wants me to come and stay at her apartment just the two of us! She’s making all sorts of plans and I’m stupid-excited. I’ll be cooking on Friday, jumping in the car with the birds on Saturday, stopping at my son’s apartment to drop food and treats to him en route to my daughter’s university an hour past his.

Mondays are welcome mornings for me. After feeling sad on Sunday nights, Mondays feel fresh, like anything is possible, I just need to keep working toward the new goals.

“For everything there is a season…” Ecclesiastes 3:1