This is a quote from one of my co-workers. We were shivering in the parking lot while the fire alarm brayed and honked from inside the office. "What does it mean?" I said. "I don't know," she said. "Sounds like a great blog title," I said. And here we are.
Today was a very important day--to nobody but me. Exactly 30 years ago today I started working for the State as a social worker, and even though I'm not a social worker anymore, I still work for the State. I can't believe it's been this long, and I can't believe I'm still too young to retire. This is what happens when you get your big job in the 6th grade.
No, don't worry, I was a respectable adult, three weeks shy of my 23rd birthday! I was mature, confident, and self-assured. I was certain that Human Resources had made an excellent decision when they hired me. Ah, youth.
All day long, I thought about being a passenger in the back seat of my own car. A lot of days I feel like I'm hurtling down the road of life at warp speed, and I am definitely NOT the driver. It can be disconcerting. That back seat metaphor was everywhere I looked today.
For example, on my Facebook memories, there was a post from a year ago where I am complaining about the show House Hunters. I clearly remember writing that post, and if you asked me when I wrote it, I'd probably answer, "A few months ago." But it was a year ago! Wait, what?
Today I had lunch with my good friend that I met 30 years ago in new employee orientation. We laughed about how the State was so desperate for social workers that they compressed two months of training into one week. We talked about some old cases that we still remember, and how those children are in their 30s and 40s now. It feels like a lifetime ago--it kind of is--and we are so happy to have moved far beyond those difficult, overwhelming days. Sometimes you are happy to put your foot on the gas and watch some life stages grow smaller in the rearview mirror until they're completely out of sight.
It's one thing when you face forward, marching towards a goal, admiring your own progress. You know that time is unspooling like a tape measure, except the numbers are days and months and years, instead of inches and feet and yards. But it feels like losing time is worth it, because in return you gain experiences with family and friends, and you build wisdom and insight. You're sitting up straight in the driver's seat with the cruise control on, enjoying the passing scenery, curious about what's ahead.
But let me tell you, as a woman in her fifties, I tumble into that back seat all the time. I can't keep up with the momentum of menopause, and the next thing I know, I'm sprawled out, my only view the tree branches whipping by overhead. My other friend and I were talking about this particular out-of-control feeling; she says that menopause is like puberty all over again--your body betrays you by changing in horrifying ways. Except puberty means you're moving into the prime of your life, while menopause is shoving you towards something else entirely.
My friend told me, "It's like I'm staring death in the face!"
I told her, "It's like I'm staring at death ON my face!"
Seriously. When I look in the magnifying mirror, my skin is in SHARP FOCUS and I realize that it looks remarkably like a piece of tin foil at my Grandma's house. I'd be trying to help, so I would take the foil off a serving dish and crumple it into a ball to throw away. Grandma would scold me (gently) for being wasteful and carefully un-scrunch it to use for later. That's my face. Re-used tin foil from Grandma's house. (With really pretty eyelashes. Please see prior blog entry.)
It's not all bad news. If you don't like tin-foil-face, you can get Botox. If you eat too much at lunch, you can put on a sweater and unbutton your pants. (Helpful hint: keep a long-ish sweater in your office if you are over 50.) If you're standing out in the parking lot for a fire alarm, you can remember that you're getting paid to talk to your friends and play games on your phone.
Like it or not, we can't always be in the driver's seat. I try not to panic when I find myself in the back seat. Sometimes you have to take a few calming breaths and look around. Maybe there is an old issue of Cosmo on the floor, and you can take the quiz to find out if you have sex appeal. I believe this is called, "living in the moment."
Some of those back seat times are dark and scary. Hold on tight and get through it. There might be a lesson to learn. You might meet someone in the future who needs you to help them, and your lesson might be just the remedy they're looking for. It won't necessarily make you glad something bad happened to you--but it can give you the ability to take some solace, to create a bit of positivity. Even when you're a passenger in the back seat, it's still your car.
Whenever I'm in the driver's seat, I do my best not to take it for granted. I do my best to stay grateful. When I'm in charge, you can bet there's going to be a trip to the library or a long walk with the dog or an extra tight hug for the hubby. Maybe a silly snapchat to my daughter, or a phone call to my mom to giggle about the foil at Grandma's house.