Normal is a very subjective word. What is normal for one person is certainly not normal for another. At midlife I am rediscovering some pretty simple truths: normality differs with each stage of life. As an infant, it is normal to be cared for, and normal to reach milestones while gaining physical capabilities and life skills: sitting up, eating, crawling, walking, riding a bike. It also appears to be normal for human beings to want to hurry….when you are a child, you want to be a teenager. When you are a teenager, you want to be 21. When you are 21, you want to be a real adult and lead the life you have imagined (which will probably not be the life you imagined at all). In your 20s, you probably want to fall in love, get married, and have children. This is the “normal” progression, at least within middle class America. The millennials have been called an unlucky generation because they are unlikely to achieve more than their parents did. If the economy continues down its current path, this generation will end up with much less, through no fault of their own. Millennials have been born into a changing world, and may actually have the greatest opportunity of all. Maybe they will change everything our generation wanted to change, but did not. Millennials may be able to change “the norm”.
Not long ago I heard someone in their 20s say, “we need to have a baby soon so we won’t be “old” parents and too old to have fun after our kids leave”. Whoa. That is putting the cart far out in front of the horse. Why not do all of the things you’ve dreamed of doing, but do it now, before you tie yourself down for the next 18 years plus with children and mortgages and bills that have to be paid? Enjoy your life! Why not have kids in your mid 30’s, even at 40? You want to have kids now so you can enjoy yourself later down the road? I have to tell you, there is fault in your reasoning.
How do I know this? I know this because I have lived through everything that you have lived through, and everything you want to live through. I’ve also lived through things you do not want to live through, but probably will have to. When you get to this side of life where your kids are raised and you supposedly can do what you want? Something usually screws it up. It could be money, health, death, divorce, or any other number of things. The time to have fun and live your dreams is on the front side of life. I always knew this fact, but my husband’s illness and near death has given me a sharp reminder, so I will share this wisdom with you (though you probably won’t listen because you think I am a fossil, even though I still feel vibrant and young).
First, how do you know you will live long enough to see your kids grow up? You don’t know. Half of people who marry in their twenties get divorced, so you might have to deal with ending a relationship, though I hope not. I’ve seen a lot of people get divorced, and it does not look fun… Put kids into the mix and it becomes ugly. It is normal for relationships to fail, and it is normal for them to succeed. It is just a fact of life.
There are harsh truths to face on this side of the life cycle. When you decide it is time to go have fun, your parents will become ill and they will die. You may need to help them financially. You will watch them become frail, you may lose them far before their time, and long before you are ready to be without them. Everything you build up, everything you gain as a striving adult…must be relinquished as one ages. It is just the way things are…it is normal. I lost my father when he was young. It never occurred to me that my husband could also get ill. I should have known better and remembered what the “real normal” was like, but Randy always seemed invincible. He has gone through a life changing illness, and it has changed everything in his life, in my life, and in our family’s life. This is not unexpected…but somehow, we just never expected it to happen. How could it possibly have happened? And yet, it has, and this is “normal”.
So when I say, do it now, I mean…do it now. Tell people you love them now. Spend time with those you love now. Learn to speak another language now. Walk your dog now. If you want to travel, travel now. Now is your time. You do not have a timetable you have to keep in order to be successful. There is no longer a playbook…so I suggest you write your own. Make your own timetable, and live the way you want to. Life changes quickly, so you have to adapt. I too, have to adapt. It’s normal.
My twenty-something children are both marrying this year. I hope they lead full, satisfying lives. I hope they find adventure and value and real worth. I hope they take time to enjoy one another, to look beyond their own worlds, to taste all sides of life, and to fulfill their dreams….but remember, there’s no rush. Luxuriate in the time you have, and that time is now.
Tomorrow is promised to no one…and that is normal.