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Cheryl and Zoe

New Global Family:

Cheryl and Zoe’s Stories


By Cheryl Paley

How did I get here...

seems like writing about mid-life should be a snap.  It is, after all, where I am now.  And yet it bewilders and confounds me.  Writing about youth for IF magazine was a “no-brainer” – it’s spinning around in my house in the form of a rambunctious, curious, full-to-the-brim 7½ year old ball of little girl energy named Zoe.  On the other end of the spectrum, I find it all too easy to comment on the aging process and our collective response to it.  But something about “being in the middle” is just so hard to talk about.  I think about my life and I begin to spin, landing on the same question over and over again.  How did I get here?

I have always had a close relationship with my parents.  They have seen me through innumerable hardships and crises.  And I am so grateful to have them, still there after all these years.  I left home after college to find fame, fortune and an artistic journey of discovery in The Big Apple.  But no matter how far away I went, they never left me, they were always on the other end of the phone.  And we all just did what we did until a moment arrived, about 3 years ago, when it hit me that it was time for me to take care of them now.  It was time to stop spinning on my own and care for these 2 people who allowed me to spin for so many years.  I just “got it.”  Still spinning but turned around now, in the middle, with my child on one arm and my parents on the other.  A responsibility borne of love and devotion but a responsibility nevertheless.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ll take it.  Whatever “it” may be, taking care of the people who have loved and supported me and continue to do so is highly preferable to the alternative.  Still, it was a jolt.  Because, in so many ways, I am still a kid.  There, I’ve said it.

Mid-life crisis.  Do they still call it that?  A preoccupation with the “how did I get here” question that is somehow attached to a long-standing laundry list.  The “why nots” and “how comes” and “glass half fulls.”  What “might have been” and wasn’t.  I have that.  With all I have to be grateful for – my parents, a wonderful, creative career that includes a real, adult income and writing for this great, great magazine, a beautiful, healthy child, the most wonderful  group of friends one could ever want, with all of that, there’s still “the list.”  Compare and despair takes over, as the items on my list spin me, round and round and round.  And it tends to rear its ugly head, in particular, whenever I spend significant time with those who seem to have everything I don’t.

Coming out of my daughter’s school XMAS presentation it hit me pretty hard.  Luckily for me, my closest married mommy pal was there, sopping up the “glass half full”.  “I’m not sure you get it” she said, walking me around the park the next morning after drop-off.  “You see an auditorium filled with happy couples.  Happy, happy, happy.  But look a little closer and you will see that maybe 25% of them really have ‘the picture’ they thought they’d have at ‘this age’.  75% of them have a partner, but not the one they wanted, the one they thought they’d have.  Or the life they thought they’d have.  Or the career they thought they’d have.  Or even (she paused here and took a deep breath) the children they thought they’d have.”  Whoa.  Sober words but I think she may be on to something.  Even the “happy happy happy” ones are wondering, “how did I get here?”

Am I bumming you out?  I hope not, because there will still always be moments to celebrate the joys and the simple pleasures of life that transcend all of this soul searching, mid-life crisis madness.  When “the spin” becomes a dance.  I believe the universe balances itself out that way.  But the questions that define mid-life, for all of us, single, married, with or without children, with or without parents, gainfully employed, unemployed are universal.  The “how did I get here” must just be part of the experience of “being in the middle.”  I know it is for me.

The truth is, I know exactly “how I got here.”  I made choices.  Some of them didn’t feel like choices, but they were and I made them.  Everyone I know followed the path that presented itself, took one road or the other and life happened.  And the good news is, if we are lucky, we get to keep going, still spinning, making it work “in the middle” and then beyond.  We can no longer wonder what we will be “when we grow up.”  We are what we became when we grew up.  We are here.  We’re in the middle of the “circle game” my brooding teenage idol Joni Mitchell was trying to get me to see when she sang:

“We’re captive on the carousel of time.  We can’t return, we can only look, behind from where we came.  And go round and round and round in the circle game.”

And so I spin.  Round and round and round…


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