I’m dying. I realized it last week when the seat of my jeans gave way in the freezer section of the supermarket.
I was browsing the frozen meals, deciding between a gluten-free cauliflower crust pizza or family-size Stouffer’s mac and cheese, when I suddenly felt a draft across my lower butt. I poked around the underside of my 15-year-old favorite pair of jeans and discovered the seat had virtually disintegrated to the point that no further patchwork or desperate stitching would hold them together.
When I got home, I had to break down and order a new pair of designer slim-fit boyfriend-cut button-fly jeans. When the new ones arrived, it occurred to me: If this pair manages to last for another 15 years, I will be nearly 75 years old when this seat disintegrates. Meaning this could very well be the final pair of jeans I will purchase in my lifetime.
And when I think about the fact that my time on Earth is possibly only as long as the life span of one pair of overpriced jeans, I fall into a panic that tells me I must hurry up. Hurry up and live because I’m about to die. And with so little time left, I need to make these years count. I need to do things that are worthwhile and life affirming and important.
And then I sit down on the couch and binge-watch “Forensic Files.”
There’s got to be something more
I’m sure this will sound insensitive to people who really do die young, leaving so many things left undone. And here I am, alive and quite possibly with an abundance of time left to go — 15 years is not nothing, I know.
When my sister was dying at 41, she was furious about all the amazing things she wanted to do with her life that she was being denied. And if she were here right now, I would say to her, “Like what?” and “Do you have any ideas for me?”
There’s got to be something more to these remaining years than work, restorative yoga, Fitbit challenges, elimination diets and skin-cancer checks.
Parenting felt worthwhile, but since the kids got jobs, they don’t call as much. Why did I think I’d be happy when they were self-sufficient? It’s made me obsolete.
There are no more frantic messages about unjust parking tickets, cellphones dropped in rivers, overdrawn bank accounts. No more questions that only I knew the answers to: What is my Social Security number? Health insurance carrier? Where do you get stamps? How much do stamps cost? Why do I have a headache? Why does my tooth hurt? How long does it take to drive to New York from Boston? How long does it take for Advil to work?
I was Alexa before Alexa. They are handling things on their own now, and I have lost my purpose. I need to find a new one.
Looking for small purposes
I search the internet for things like “Impressive things to do with yourself after 50,” “Admirable life goals” and “What should I do now?”
I talk to my friend Jackie about my plight — but she still has two kids at home and a full-time job, so she’s only half listening.
I say, “I need something to do. Not just work. I need a purpose.”
“I thought you wanted a pig.”
“I’m saying I need a reason to get up in the morning. I don’t have to change the world necessarily. Just a small purpose.”
Jackie says, “I’ve never heard of small porpoises.”
“Why are they small? Do they live with regular-sized porpoises?”
Tasking, not multi-tasking
I used to wake up in the morning like a starter’s pistol had gone off. A script due, inbox and voice mail full of nagging emergencies. Running from TV producing to parenting. Trying to keep my show, “The New Adventures of Old Christine” — my workchild — alive; or during pilot season, trying to birth a new TV child; then rushing home to my real children, who were waiting for dinner to be cooked or last-minute school supplies to be magically pulled out of my [rear] because someone forgot to tell me they needed a three-quarter-inch two-ring binder in canary yellow by 7 a.m. tomorrow.
Not anymore. The kids still haven’t called me back. There are no emergencies. It’s very quiet.
I’m all caught up on e-mail, which wasn’t hard because the only things in there were a special offer from the Sundance catalog, my Virgo horoscope from Astrology.com, a promo code from my pet food delivery service, the e-mail from the porn site I put in my spam folder every single day only to be greeted by it again the next day, plus 472 requests for political donations.
I turned in my latest script last week, four days early, because it was all I had to do. I don’t have to multi-task anymore, just task.
What does one do when they can do whatever they want? I’m free. And I’m paralyzed by it. I’m dying. I’m free. I’m paralyzed.
More time with less time
My time is my own for the first time in many years, and while worry still waits at the edges of my thoughts (I’m still a mother), the hypervigilant state that I lived in while trying to give my kids everything they need while also building my career has relaxed.
All three kids are on paths to productive adulthoods. I managed to steer them away from the pitfalls of my own misdirected youth. They are more secure than me in so many ways, which is all any parent can hope for. My career as a TV writer takes less desperate scrambling than it used to. I’m not quite an old-timer, but I might be a seasoned professional.
I look around at my clean, quiet, and orderly empty nest, French-pressed coffee waiting on the counter, a dozen eggs from my chickens waiting to be my morning omelet and I realize this is not a tragedy. I can do whatever I please. It’s like being 20 again but with better beer.
The years up till now have rushed by in a blur. It seems the pace of these next 15 might slow to a crawl. And even though I have less time, I have more time. And doing nothing, for now, might be my midlife revenge.
A mother’s work is never done
The first morning of my “I’ve done enough” lifestyle, I take the dogs for a walk. When we’ve gone a couple of blocks, I see a political sign has appeared on a neighbor’s lawn. I try to walk past it. Not my business. I’m done. Maybe I’ve done enough. I’m Zen.
We walk for a couple more blocks, and then I find myself turning back the way we came. Damn it.
I lead the two big dogs on either side of the sign as if I’ve lost control of them. Then I do a pretty good act (in case there are cameras watching) where I try to untangle the dogs’ leashes, only managing to wrap them around the sign. It turns into a fairly impressive physical comedy routine that ends up crushing the sign, dragging it down the street attached to my two dogs, then finally leaving it in a heap in the gutter. I couldn’t help it. I’m nowhere near Zen.
I get back home, heart pumping with the exhilaration of crime, and there’s a text message from my son. It’s a picture of a rash, and the message says: “What do I do about this?”
He needs me. I research the best-rated urgent care in the city where he’s working, text it back to him with the directions and a copy of my medical insurance card. He sends back a thumbs-up and heart emoji. A mother’s work is never done.
Happy, I sit down on my couch and binge-watch “Dr. G: Medical Examiner.”
Excerpted from “Aren’t You Forgetting Someone? Essays from My Mid-Life Revenge” by Kari Lizer. Lizer is the creator of the TV series “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
This article originally appeared on NextAvenue.org.