You're Middle-Aged. But Are You Done? Discuss.
So then I asked them the big one—what were their new dreams? What great, visionary things did they have in mind to do next?
Let this be a lesson: Don't get a group of mothers together, spend two hours talking about the hard work and exhaustion of raising children, keeping husbands satisfied, and balancing the books—and then ask them about the amazing, inspiring things they're planning to do with their lives. It's not going to go over very well.
Nobody was willing to call herself a woman without a dream; the very notion of doing so was deeply objectionable. But nobody had any dreams that they wanted to talk about, either. Maybe, as Jody suggested, part of getting older is learning to keep your trap shut until something actually comes true, so you're not left having to account for all your wretched failures and false starts.
I gave them their bath soaps and sent them home and felt a bit better for having seen them. And then Lynn sent me a photograph of some beautiful flowers arranged in a vase. It turns out that she is starting a little floral business, Posy, whose motto is "affordable style." She will undercut any other florists' prices, and stay up half the night arranging blooms she buys from the wholesale flower mart in downtown Los Angeles—if customers will only take a chance on a mom with no references. "It's just a little thing right now," Lynn admitted, almost bashfully, "but if I get a few more orders, I might buy a refrigerator for the garage so I can keep more inventory around."
Now, the reason this news got me excited was, number one—cheap flowers, hallelujah. And number two, I had just read an interesting statistic in Jack Canfield's book The Success Principles. Apparently, venture capitalists rarely invest in business start-ups because so many start-ups fail. But there's one exception: If the entrepreneur is 55 or older, the business's odds of success skyrocket. "These older entrepreneurs have already learned from their mistakes," writes Canfield. "They're simply a better risk because through a lifetime of learning from their failures, they have developed a knowledge base, a skill set, and a self-confidence that better enables them to move through the obstacles to success."
Lynn is 15 years short of an infusion of venture capital, but Canfield's observation captured my imagination. Maybe, as patched together and diminished by age and babies and grown-out roots as we are at this point—maybe we actually know something by now. Maybe all we need are a few years to get out from under, and then, just possibly, we'll be ready to take flight again. I tacked a picture of Lynn's flowers to my bulletin board, and next to it I put a picture of a beach I want to visit someday—and I found one that didn't have a 22-year-old bikini model ruining the view. Right next to that picture, I pinned up a photograph of the most beautiful older woman I've ever seen, the writer Alice Munro, to remind myself that whatever my next big venture is, I'll be doing it as a grown woman, not a youngster. And then, right before I left for carpool, I thought: Maybe there's some dream in me yet.
Caitlin Flanagan's book, To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife (Back Bay), is now available in paperback.