50

 

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Next month I’m turning 50. I’ve always loved my birthday. For me birthdays are a reminder to reflect on the previous year, an excuse to celebrate the future and … I love presents (honestly, I LOVE PRESENTS). I didn’t just revel in celebrating 10 and 17 and 21, I embraced 25 and 30 and 40, but this birthday feels a little different. It’s 50. 50 sounds so grown-up. 

Shouldn’t I be more responsible? Shouldn’t I know more? Shouldn’t I be able to complete at least the Monday New York Times crossword puzzle? Shouldn’t I have learned to switch to water after the second glass of wine?

Like many of my friends reaching this milestone, I’m finding myself thinking about what I’ve accomplished in the last 5 decades and what I see shaping up for the next half of my life (I could make it to 100).

Overall, I’m fairly pleased with my accomplishments thus far. No fortunes made or much notoriety, but I have plenty that I’m proud of. I survived school (which was tough for me) receiving a bachelor’s and even a master’s degree. I married the love of my life, and with him survived more ups and downs than most couples. I’ve had careers as a photographer, a teacher, a writer and even gotten away with being a nurse when needed. I’ve had three books published (you thought Smiles and Duct Tape was the only one? There’s also Squeeze and Jack and the Pumpkin). I’ve managed to always surround myself with incredible people, who seem to enjoy my company and hold me up when I’m falling. And, I’ve raised two remarkable children – by far, my proudest accomplishment.

Of corse there are things that I regret. I wish that I had learned more languages (at least not lost my first language – Spanish). I wish I had traveled more and not given up on my photography. I wish I invested in Amazon and Apple early on. I wish I had always treated people the way I wanted to be treated. I wish I had learned to always think before I spoke. I wish I had taken more videos of the kids growing up. I wish I had learned how to play the guitar, knit, and sail. . I wish I had pushed for an MRI for Jack, just a few months earlier . . . 

There are things I would change if I could, but for the things I’ve had power over – I’m (mostly) proud. It’s the next half of my life that has me stumped. Dan and I will not have the empty nest that many of our peers are experiencing, but things are quieting down a bit. I’ve been thinking of going back to school to start another career, but am wondering if 50 is too old to start something fresh. I’ve been working further on a few book ideas that have been torturing me from my sleep. I’ve even been thinking about starting a program for adults with special needs – if we can’t find it, we may NEED to build it. All sound ideas, but I’m waiting for that kick in the ass that has always found me when I’ve needed it.

Until then, I am going to busy myself by searching the internet for “good careers for people of a certain age” and “appropriate haircuts for 50-year-old women”. I will also continue to work on finding the perfect adult placement for our boy and maybe sign up for some guitar lessons.

Love, Jess

I will also work on remembering to switch to water after the second glass of wine. No promises.

 

I’m a mom

Senior year of high school all the students in my class took a “Career Aptitude Test”. It’s goal was to provide you with ideas for careers that you would be well suited for. I don’t remember the particulars, but there was a long list of personality questions, and I definitely remember cringing when I saw that I needed to include my GPA. I went from being excited about the process, to feeling less than hopeful about the results.

A few weeks after completing the test, we were handed large manila envelopes in homeroom. Although we were encouraged to wait until we got home, without hesitation everyone ripped open their envelopes; eager to discover their futures. I was an outgoing girl as a teenager, but in school I did my best to get lost in the clutter of high school. There was no need to draw attention to my less-than-stellar academic achievements. This was definitely one of those moments.

“Lawyer!”

“Teacher!”

“Chemist!”

People started popping out of their seats as they read their results. I sat quietly for as long as I could, but finally opened the envelope to reveal what the random algorithm had chosen for me. I held my breath as I pulled out the white sheet of paper. There was a list of several suitable options, but the one that seemed to leap off the page was “Cake Decorator”.

 

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Today this quirky career would have been thrilling, but 1987 was a time before reality television highlighted obscure careers. There was no Cake Boss or Top Chef. I had never known a single person in the food industry, let alone someone who decorated cakes for a living. I sat frozen as I pictured myself alone in a back room of a bakery icing cakes.

Instead of sharing that result with my peers, I focused on something else on the list. Something that didn’t include icing. Then, I went home wondering what on earth my life was going to look like. Until that moment, I hadn’t focused too much on what I wanted to be. The only thing that seemed certain was that I wanted to be a mother.

I’d always known I wanted to be a mother. Not just having a few kids within my otherwise filled life, but being the kind of mother who stays at home, making PB & Js and helping the PTA. An old fashioned dream for modern times, but for me it was my greatest ambition. I’ve never judged women with big careers and busy lives (my own mother raised my brother’s and me while juggling jobs, being a corporate wife, getting her PHD and baking her own bread), I just didn’t really want all that for myself.

But 1987 was a time when girls where encouraged to “dream big” and the glass ceiling were getting higher. It would have been as hard to share this 1950s dream, as it would have been to share the idea of being a Cake Decorator. So for years, I sat silent when the the “What do you want to do when you grow up?” question was asked.

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Of course life winds around, and I’ve had a long list of jobs. I’ve been a wife (not that it’s really a job Dan), a teacher, a photographer, a writer (you don’t need to be paid right?). I’ve had my share of successes away from home, but when I look at my life, my proudest achievements have been as a mom. I’m grateful that Dan and I set up our family so that I could focus on my 1950s dream. It’s allowed me to devote all of my attention on my family when it’s been required — and it has been required a great deal.

Now, when people ask me what I do, I always start with, “I’m a mom.” I say it proudly.

Although I haven’t always been the perfect mother, I think that my successes safely outweigh my failures. If I can take even a tiny part of the responsibility for who my children are, I know that I’ve done a good job. Two kids with entirely different lives, and both are happy and succeeding (in their own way) as young humans. People that I don’t just love, but who I enjoy being around – most of the time. I’m still not quite sure what I want to be when I grow up, but so far MOM has been my favorite title.

Love, Jack and Anna’s mom

 

I never did find a job in a bakery, but I have decorated a lot of cakes in my time – just most have been of the “birthday” variety. And, I have come to know a few VERY talented cake decorators and often regret not taking that path. After all, I could have been a cake decorator AND a mom.