I’m currently in the midst of a perfect storm of mid-life transition. My oldest child turned 18, graduated from high school and will depart for college in the fall, and I will turn 50 in a few weeks. These two events happening simultaneously has sent me into a bit of an existential crisis, if not a mid-life one.
My daughter is deep into her senior summer: sleeping late, hanging out with friends, working as a camp counselor, shopping for all of the many wildly unnecessary dorm accessories she must have to successfully navigate freshman year.
My Daughter is My Best Friend
We are dancing around each other as we count down the days until September. She has always been my best friend and valued companion. We are alike in many ways and enjoy an easy rapport, a comforting camaraderie. We’re both sad about her impending departure, but trying to hide our bewilderment behind mindless chatter and defensive bickering.
She makes plans with friends every day and spends hours watching Netflix and knitting. We are slowly and quietly pulling away from each other in bittersweet anticipation of the day her father and I drop her at her dorm and head back to the airport. Perhaps a few tears shared between us this summer will moisten the adhesive on the band-aid, softening the sting when we are forced to pull it off.
To cheer ourselves, we went bathing suit shopping together. There is nothing more humbling than staring down the barrel of your 50thbirthday while standing half-naked next to an 18-year old in front of a dressing room mirror. If there was any doubt that I was turning 50, that afternoon squashed it soundly.
She was encouraging and kind, telling me which styles flattered my figure, as she stood in a teeny tiny bikini, her body an eerie mirror image of my own at her age. Thirty-one years and three cesarean sections later, I don’t recognize myself and am dumbfounded by how quickly the years flew and how completely my physical body has been transformed.
Here’s the thing about raising a girl through puberty and the teen years and then watching her take flight into the world: You feel like you were standing in her shoes only a moment ago. I remember my own high school graduation, my own college drop off day, like they were yesterday and not 32 years in the past. Occasionally, when I’m asked my age, I have to take a moment to think. I honestly don’t remember (that’s called perimenopause), but in my mind, I’m still young: somewhere between 25 and 40, but certainly not 50. Fifty seems impossible.
But alas, here we are.
My 50th Birthday Project
In an effort to combat the approaching gloom of my 50th birthday, I launched an initiative to change the narrative around this milestone event. On May 28th(50 days before my 50thbirthday), I embarked on a journey to do 50 acts of kindness and service, one for each of the days leading up to my “special” day.
I polled friends and colleagues, asking for suggestions of meaningful nonprofits and initiatives that they love. I would research them all, and decide which I might honor with my attention, time and support. I hoped to use my hands and heart, as well as my wallet, to make an impact on these groups and individuals. I decided that directing my attention outward, to the organizations and people facing challenging issues in my community and around the world, I might bring some positive energy back to myself.
It has been clinically proven that service – volunteering, being kind, feeling empathy, expressing gratitude – improves mental and physical health and increases happiness. The giver receives as much as the person being helped. It just feels good to give, and this summer, I am frantically in search of things to make me feel good.
I have spent the last few weeks researching and supporting wonderful organizations and individuals that are making an impact on myriad social justice issues: mental illness, poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, food insecurity, education disparity, reproductive rights, clinical research and support for people suffering from disease.
To name a few of the acts of kindness I’ve engaged in: I volunteered to fill backpacks with nonperishable food for hungry children; I sorted donated clothing for families living marginally; I lobbied my elected officials for important food allergy legislation; I signed up to do a lemonade stand for breast cancer research with my kids; I gave blood. And, because most non-profits are in need of financial support, I’ve made small donations to organizations that I hope will make a difference in the lives of the clients they serve.
All of this energy and goodness focused on other people, addressing issues larger and so much more important than mine, has made me feel exponentially better about my upcoming birthday, my bathing suit shopping angst, and my heartbreak over my baby bird leaving the nest.
This project has gotten me out of my own head, and given me an opportunity to celebrate how lucky I have been to circle the sun 50 times, with a sincere hope that I’ll get to continue to do so, and to put a little more kindness out into the world, for many more years to come.
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Natalie Silverstein is an author, editor, volunteer and passionate advocate for family service. Her first book, Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back, was published by Gryphon House on April 1, 2019. She is the New York Coordinator of Doing Good Together, a national nonprofit with the mission of helping parents raise kids who care and contribute.
She is also a member of the Writer’s Rock in NYC. Her parenting essays have appeared on Grown and Flown and Red Tricycle. She lives in New York with her husband and three kids, the oldest of whom is almost grown and ready to fly. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.