The scent of my mother’s Clairol Nice and Easy solution in Medium Warm Brown wafts through our kitchen. I sit at our cherry wood table staring at my Algebra textbook. She unwraps the cellophane from her head and cranes her neck under the kitchen faucet to rinse. “It always starts out a little dark,” she says as I notice the raven shade of her freshly coated locks. For years, I’ve watched this routine as the gray roots emerge every 4-6 weeks.
A year ago, after arranging a babysitter for my toddler, I sit comfortably in a salon chair scrolling my newsfeed. Suddenly, I feel a sting in my scalp. “I found a gray so I plucked it” my hair stylist says. We burst into laughter as if she just swatted a fly.
At my husband’s birthday this Spring, we gathered for some Mellow Mushroom pizza and a few rounds of bowling. We have celebrated birthdays with this group of friends for well over a decade. This year I noticed that everyone seemed to be on a special diet to increase energy levels or curb digestive issues. Only a handful of guests could enjoy the homemade ice cream cake that I made. Perhaps I should bring fruit cups next year?
At dinner, the topic of vasectomies arose and each man shared their account like women telling birth stories. Some of the women were moved to tears as they shared about the grief and freedom of the baby phase being over.
At the bowling alley, three of our top performers were benched for injuries, one shoulder, and two back, giving my husband an edge. His middle-aged body churned the butter at his birthday victory boasting a whopping 210. The men lifted him into the air.
I felt a tension that night. We played hard, danced to 90s music as we touted our bowling moves. I am fortunate to be surrounded by friends who are willing to do inner work. They have spent hours in therapy, small groups, healing conferences and taking risks in relationships and creative ventures. We have less answers than we did 10 years ago, but more presence and curiosity. However our bodies are changing and our collagen is depleting.
These experiences prompt me to seek out a wise professor who I haven’t spoken with in 10 years to do some coaching. We quickly hone in on the theme of living well in the second-half of life. As we engage, he comments on how I carry less shame than I did a decade ago. I name heartbreaks tethered to the tasks of my 30s, grueling years of infertility, the near death of our youngest daughter and two traumatic births. As I sit with him, I feel the pleasure of being with a good man who is well read, wise and self-reflective. I am more alive and less guarded then I was the year prior. I feel more playful. I am curious about his life, his journey, his success and failures.
Wise mentors have told me that growing up is different than growing old.
I have found that some of my resistance to growing up is taking responsibility for the little girl rooted deep inside of me. James Hollis says, “The paradox of individuation is that we best serve intimate relationship by becoming sufficiently developed in ourselves that we do not need to feed off others.”
One of my dilemmas as I face middle age, is surrendering to the idea that re-mothering can come from my adult self. While I invite my clients to this work, little Rachel still carries a longing to be cared for by someone outside of myself. During the last 20 years, I’ve found mentors, friends and therapists who have been temporary homes. While I’ve received deep goodness from these relationships, they always leave me in a perpetual cycle where I enter below and not as an equal. I am in the process of building trust with my little girl and sharing that I have some resources and life experience now to offer her.
As the lines in my forehead deepen, my hope is that I can hold my little girl’s hand while simultaneously embodying the weight of a middle aged woman who is growing in wisdom. Can I bring both childlike wonder and a sense of responsibility? Can I hold both grief, compassion and celebration over crow’s feet and stretch marks? Will I be able to behold and contmplate others and exploit less? When we pray impossible tasks for the human heart in the Anglican Church we declare, “I will with God’s help.” May I commit to struggling well with the greatest task of the second half of life which is to love. I will with God’s help.
Rachel Blackston loves all things beautiful…rich conversations over a hot cup of lemon ginger tea, watching her three little girls twirl around in tutus, and Florida sunrises on her morning walks. She resides in Orlando with her lanky, marathon running husband and her precious daughters, priceless gifts after several years of infertility. Rachel and her husband Michael cofounded Redeemer Counseling. As a therapist, Rachel considers it an honor to walk with women in their stories of harm, beauty, and redemption.