I'm Out of Order
Eschewing "because I'm supposed to" in honor International Women's Day
My father uttered many infamous lines around the house, such as, “I have gray hair from you five kids,” and “your old man’s not gonna be around forever.” But only one stood out as extraordinary in its wisdom: “I wish I were ten years younger.”
He and my mother married late, at the age of 33. His contemporaries, his brother, and his in-laws were older. They married younger, therefore their children, our cousins, were much older than us.
In hindsight, I’d like to believe us kids kept my parents young. But why did my father, me, and so many others think there had been a definite plan according to age?
When my 56th birthday cropped up after New Year’s, it was a time to take stock. More or less, a reminder. If I hadn’t evaluated my life thus far for the new year, I always received a stark shout out from the universe twenty-two days later. It worked.
By 56, I was supposed to do what? I am supposed to be what?
I don’t know. Perhaps as a result of the pandemic, my life feels as out of order now as it has most of my time here on earth.
When I was little, my mother scolded, “You can’t do everything your older sister does.” I wasn’t old enough to take ballet (nor was I limber enough, she mumbled under breath). Nor was I old enough to attract high school boys, but later, I would marry husbands one and two, six years and four years, respectively, older than me.
I was always ahead of time. Just not my own.
Out of college, my path was ordinary until I started my own business at 28. Then I hit thirty and wham. A premature son. A year later, a young husband diagnosed with leukemia. Three years later, a husband who died. A single mom at 34. At 40, a stepmom to three adolescent and teen girls, while I’d yet to parent my own son through his pimply slide into adulthood.
Then another wham. While several sets of blended family in-laws thrived, my parents were hit with the double doozy of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, when they should have been “ten years younger.” In care homes where I tried to set my eighty-something-year-old mother up for success, I was the younger caregiver. Thankfully the age difference provided me with more energy to endure my mother’s transitions and her taunting, and presumed a greater likelihood I would melt at her smiles.
The kids have since grown, flown not the coop, but the state—and the time zone. I’ve welcomed myself into more spaces to write. You see, I never had a career. Spending a few years in tech, another as an entrepreneur, I hadn’t established one. The inkling of ink on the page started to look like a career (career seems archaic nowadays) when my first book was published. I wondered if I if it was a one-hit because afterward, my energy went into raising children, part-time writing and teaching, and caregiving.
The house emptied of other excuses for me to push against. During the shutdown, despite my continuous efforts to produce work, I asked myself multiple times if I had fallen into writing, backed into it in a way, or had I fully embraced the opportunities presented to me? Having completed my taxes for 2021, and taken a tally of writing assignments, two book projects (plus 20 Substacks) over the past two years, I found the answer was “all of the above.”
It’s hard to say, “This is what I want. This is my space—a literal and figurative one,” when your husband tracks toward retirement (I call it “the big releasing”). A dear friend of mine completed her MFA (she was a former nurse, then had kids, then…). My close confidante and writing partner (with a Masters in counseling achieved while raising kids) is pursuing publication of first book. My time spent in circles at Women Writing for a Change delivered the insight on how often and how much of our lives we women put off. These were insights into the order of operations. Sometimes, life subtracted from you before the multiplication.
In late 2020, the New York Times republished Oliver Berkman’s This Column Will Change Your life. It was a sardonic look at the search for the meaning of life, reminding me of how Mark and I suck at planning, especially when we’re on vacation. In January, we had booked a flight and an Airbnb on the western edge of Puerto Rico and winged the rest. A day and a half in, I became frustrated we didn’t have more scheduled.
Halfway through the week, I dissolved into this structureless time and how beautiful it was to snorkel through this dissolution. (Above photo from when we “winged” it).
We all want to clean out the inbox messages, open the mail and pay bills, clear the desks to view what comes next. Lately, I’ve left my desk messy, unordered, to keep at a novel I am in pursuit of finishing. Oliver must have known how much writers will organize, clean, or do anything before they sit to write, because he states, “We’re going to have to forgo things that we’d actually like to do, because you have to make choices about what matters.”
Like versus matter. For me, walking matters to my mental health. I will forgo a good hair day for a long walk in the rain. Writing matters. Cooking matters. I will forgo dinner out to remake a meal, not kidding. My friends matter. My kids and sibs matter. (And the husband, too).
I write this on the other side of 56, of trying to achieve versus achieving because it matters. It matters that I master this craft in the way the universe has asked, the way I am called to do so, in answer to the urge inside of me.
Numbers on a calendar or birth certificate become numbers. What matters is not the numeric representation, but whether we answer the call (not to every friend who wants coffee or lunch), set to our own frequency, to do the important work.
It matters how I’ve put myself first, after years of coming in last, or at least second to other entities. I’m at the top of the order, lead-off batter for those who are missing baseball like I am. And if I sound angry while doing so, or it seems I’m fighting with the universe, maybe I am.
What matters to you and why? What are you not doing that matters? I’m curious to know. As always, thanks for reading! If you’re not already subscribed, please consider doing so. This post is also public, so feel free to share!
“ I will forgo a good hair day for a long walk in the rain. Writing matters. Cooking matters. I will forgo dinner out to remake a meal, not kidding. My friends matter. My kids and sibs matter. (And the husband, too).” I love this passage. It is you at the core. Wonderfully written. It made me think about my own self care and priorities. Thanks Annette.
I love what you've written here! It's hard to put ourselves first because we've been programmed to feel guilty about it. And that guilt runs deep. Few women have turned to their significant male partner and said "we're out of toilet paper!" Not as in "OMG I forgot to get it!" but as in "YOU didn't get it or put it on the list!" And if you're single, it's still on you. All those "small" mental tasks accumulate. Birthdays, cards, groceries, presents, and then working out, keeping house, etc. And yes, you can put it on the back burner but it's still there or you can reassign but you still have to project manage. Then throw caregiving in.... Exhausting. Thanks!