Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The View From The Top Of The Hill

I enjoyed my 60th birthday a week or so ago and today is my blog's 6th birthday. I don't know if blogs use dog years or something else, but six years isn't such a bad lifespan for a blog. The birthday would have been more fun if I hadn't had knee surgery less than a week before necessitating a day in a chair or on crutches. My idea of a perfect 60th birthday would surely have begun with a long ride in the desert and the countryside with my sidekick Dory (who is a young 23 herself), but that was not to be. Realising that I was not going to be in the best shape, I sent out an email inviting everyone to the farm on Friday March 13 for an open house/barbecue with a potluck menu. Guests began arriving around 11 am and wandered in until about 6 pm, by which time the birthday girl was ready to relax and put her feet up on the sofa.

We had a lovely array of people on hand, some of my steady clients, old friends from 20 years ago when we lived in Alexandria, neighbours, some high school students who had been guests here at their Week Without Walls visit, every age, though I think I had it on everyone in that category. The relaxing thing about a gathering at the farm is that the entertainment is provided by our denizens. I had the grooms tack up a couple of the horses to give pony rides to youngsters, one of the high school kids decided to try riding our donkey George, and plenty of people had a great time cuddling the goat kids. My staff manned the barbecue and grilled all sorts of things for visitors and then had to find space for the various sweets and cakes. It was a most satisfying birthday.

When my calendar reminded me this morning that it was my blog's 6th birthday, I got to thinking in general about birthdays and their meaning. I remember waiting excitedly for my birthday with its attendant festivities when I was young...somehow the anticipation decreased as I grew older. Turning 30 was a milestone for me much as it probably was for many other young women. For myself, it was the signal that no matter what I was doing as a grad student, it was time to reassess things because I'd decided (why I can't recall) that at 30 it was time to finish school. Oddly enough, I did just that.

Turning 40 is a milestone for most of us, especially women. Until you are forty, you are still a "young woman" but somehow at forty, one becomes simply a woman, a mature woman. Hmm, scary thought. What was I doing at forty? I'd just moved to Egypt and my darling husband decided to celebrate this birthday by getting me a hot new car so that I could drive my kids to school in Alexandria listening to The Police at mind-boggling decibels with the sunroof open. This was a man who knew what a forty year old housewife needed. At the same time this decade also demanded some evaluation of where my life was going. While at 30 I'd decided that I'd given enough of my life to education, at 40 I found myself wondering if I was using that education, a graduate degree in social psychology, wisely. Examining my current life, what was I doing? I was a mother, a housewife...for this I spent about 8 years in university? On the other hand, as I reflected I realised that my educational background was an enormous assistance in my efforts to help my family maintain an even keel in this cultural sea that we were sailing. All my studies on language development, ethics, my classes on communications and conflict resolution...it all fed into my efforts to help my children find their way as multicultural citizens. Talking to other women friends, I've found that sometime around 39/40 a major sense of dissatisfaction or questioning set in and most of us took some time to decide how happy we were with our lives. I'm sure that this process took its toll on our husbands.

By the time I turned 50, we'd moved to Cairo. My children were now teenagers in high school. With them very occupied by studies, theatre, sports, art, drama and their own social lives and my husband totally engulfed with his own career and factory building program, I'd found myself with some time on my hands. I'd been teaching at the American school as a substitute for a few years and also working with a close friend writing and editing for a monthly magazine. I also had become intrigued with a rather unusual equestrian sport, endurance riding, that involved hours of riding conditioning one's horse for competitive sport that involved many miles in a single competition. The sport didn't exist in Egypt, but that didn't really bother me. I was trying to understand the principles of conditioning nevertheless. I had an independent income from my work, a hobby, and a happy busy family...life was looking pretty good. I was amazed to find that at 50 I had so much more energy than I felt that I'd had at any time in my life. A couple of my friends had found turning 50 pretty traumatic. Let's face it, at 50 one becomes a middle-aged woman. Gravity begins having its way with the body, those interesting hormonal changes give the word "warmth" a new meaning...a lot of the physical aspects are not that terrific to be sure. But at the same time, I was feeling a new sureness in myself, a new comfort, and an interest in exploring new horizons.

A year later my feet were utterly knocked out from under me when my husband died in a totally unexpected accident, but the energy that I'd felt earlier certainly came in handy. The last decade was not my best in terms of enjoyment, but I have to say that it definitely taught me a lot. I've learned what I can and can't do, to trust my gut feelings, and that no matter how horrible things may be, they usually won't kill you unfortunately.

And since the conventional wisdom is that turning 60 is the sign that you are over the hill, how's the view from the top? Pretty damn good, even if the knees are exactly up to par anymore. I don't have the energy that I had at 30, 40, or 50. That's too bad but I can live with it. I've done a good job of teaching my horses to be nice to old ladies and novice riders, so I figure that I'm probably good for another 20 years of riding, even if my orthopedic surgeon thinks I'm certifiable. I look in the mirror and don't really recognise the physical individual that looks back at me sometimes but I suspect that I have a lot of company there. I have enough plans and possibilities to keep me busy for at least two lifetimes and I have enough friends to give me the energy and support to try to do at least some of them. Egypt is a good place to be an old lady, I always tell people. The culture instills a respect for old women such that most of us with enough nerve can get away with murder. Hopefully it won't come to that.
copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani