Taking The Road Less Traveled

Or How My Mid-Life Crisis Is Turning Out to Be Super Boring

In a couple of months, I will turn fifty. Not sure how that happened, exactly, but there it is. Fifty. Five-oh. Half a century. Good grief. I guess I am now officially middle-aged!

It’s OK, really. I don’t come from a family in which people moan about “getting old.” I can’t remember my mother ever saying anything of the sort. Ain’t no one got time for that, she’d say. And go back to renovating her attic or taking apart her washing machine. While my dad putters in his backyard truck farm.

My grandmother cheerfully describes herself as “older than dirt,” but she is ninety-six. Women in my family live a long time. Of course anything could happen, but there are no indicators as yet that I won’t get to be older than dirt, too. I’ve inherited a slow thyroid, the blood pressure of a lizard, and good attitude about aging.

Who are you calling old?
Who are you calling old?

One sure sign of middle age: I’ve been an “empty-nester” for over a year now. A little on the early side for my adoptive demographic, but pretty normal for my birth one. My mother was already a grandmother at my age, after all.

The kids—my primary occupation for twenty years or so—are done. Even college is in the bag. OK, I know you are never truly done being a parent, but my two are pretty independent in their own ways. Both are in long-term relationships as well. Sure, they might need us sometimes, but I’d lay good odds no one is “rebounding” for more than a few weeks here and there.

I’d like to see my offspring more often than I can now, just because of the distances involved, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m proud of both my kids and consider their independence to be a job well done. I welcome my quiet, tidy home life, because I’ve earned it!

However, I do find myself with time to fill. A lot of time. Practically speaking, I’m probably looking at least four more decades on the planet. So, I might need some kind of general plan at this point.

I have developed some professional skills despite being a diplomatic dependent since dinosaurs roamed. Unfortunately, the State Department has no use for them. So, an “Eligible Family Member” job is not on the list. Ain’t no one got time for that! I’d rather volunteer my time than spend it as a floating secretary.

Um, nope.
Um, nope. Even though those awesome cat-eye glasses are pretty tempting.

I’m free to travel at any time, but honestly? I’m a little tired of it, especially in central Europe. Czech/Austrian/Polish villages and churches really do start to look alike after a while. Basically, at this point, I travel because I need to get out of my apartment. It’s a nice apartment, but between the lack of green space and looking out at gray skies all the time…

So, here’s my mid-life resolution. My goal for the next 40-50 years. A life that I don’t have to travel to get away from.

Instead of being effectively barred from local employment and looking at an endless stream of virtually identical “EFM” job announcements from an embassy, I’d like to live somewhere where I can at least apply for any job I think I can do. (And not have to wait months for a security clearance before I can start doing it.)

Instead of working very hard to constructively fill my time (and re-inventing that wheel every two to three years), I’d like to be able to continue the activities that I enjoy for as long as I want to.

Instead of feeling great relief when I travel to English-speaking countries because it’s just so nice to be able to fully communicate, I’d like to actually live in an English-speaking country. With a little Spanish on the side, maybe.

Instead of being prohibited by the Hatch Act from working for a political candidate—which really pisses me off, by the way, because I am not paid by the federal government, so I don’t think they should be able to prohibit me from doing this—I’d like to volunteer for the candidates that I want to see in office. Because my country is crazy.

Instead of going to Spain to see the sun in January, I’d like to live somewhere that actually has sunshine in January. At least some of the time. (And hey, sun more than once a week in April and May would be nice, too.)

Instead of going to parks to see flowers, I’d like to grow some flowers myself. And tomatoes and greens and stuff.

Instead of figuring out how to jazz up those ubiqitous flat, white walls to make my apartment less depressing, I’d like to just paint my walls any color that I like—and not worry about having to paint them over again before I inevitably leave.

Instead of finding ways to creatively disguise my stodgy Embassy furniture, I’d like to have furniture that I picked out and that I enjoy looking at.

1957 Drexel ad. Some of this furniture lives in my apartment right now. For real.

Instead of having to make a whole new set of friends every two or three years (lovely as they are) I’d like to just have friends. Of course, I will always have some itinerant expatriate friends, and I will always make new friends. But it would be nice to have just a few friends that aren’t always packing up and leaving.

And you know what? I’d really like to be able to shop at Trader Joe’s and Target. Yep, I’d like that a lot.

Looking at it one way, you could just say that I am getting to be old and boring. But the thing is, if you do anything for three decades, it can go from exciting to…not so much.

Some people live in the same town for thirty years then join the Peace Corps or the Foreign Service in middle age because they want to do something new and different. For me, settling down would be new and different. And very welcome, because I’m tired, people! Thirty years of bobbing around the world like a cork will do that to a person.

It’s time to take some control for a change. Life is too short not to—even if I am pretty sure I have lots of time left.

I have several friends a little older than I am who have settled down for good. They take a really great vacation once a year. Going where they want to go, but without dragging their entire households and lives along for the ride. Coming back to their own beds, and their own neighborhoods.

That sounds pretty darn exciting to me.

Retirement plan
Retirement plan. First, I need a porch.


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