Musings of a Middle-Aged Iranian Woman

When you are middle-aged, birthdays don’t really mean that much. They depress less than they used to, but also delight a lot less. I must say, though, that I am surprised at experiencing another “growth-spurt” at this age. It isn’t a physical growth-spurt; well, if you don’t count my losing battle with bulge and gravity and grey hairs defying all efforts to hide them. It is an emotional growth spurt which is bizarre and totally unexpected, as I would have thought I had the worst of life behind me by now; but Lo’ and Behold! Here comes another era in my life which might equal my terrible two’s, my teen-age years, and the painful years of my life when I struggled with relationships and issues of identity, all put together! This one is right down awful!

It starts with being middle-aged and single mother to two college kids. It goes on to a career move I made a couple of years ago. It also entails yet another relocation from Iran to US for me (my fourth). Some days I have to give up the building tension and uneasiness in my life, and start laughing at the comedy, appearing as the lunatic that no doubt many think me to be on those days. Here, in random order, is what I’m thinking about these days:

Children: Motherhood has been the single most rewarding experience of my life. My two sons, 18 and 21, are no longer kids I need to continually nurture and maintain. They are grown-up young men who are more like my roommates than my kids. We live relatively peacefully together. They are slobs which get on my nerves to no end; but they are also thinking and feeling young adults, who increasingly serve as caring friends and companions. I have finally come to the realization that they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon! Living at home with an easy-going mother is probably a lot more convenient than battling it out for themselves in the world. As their private lives go, what I don’t know does not hurt me, at least on most days! Weighing things out, I would say they can stay for as long as they want. There goes my long-awaited dream of a cozy two-bedroom in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, once my kids move away. Life in suburbia will have to go on for now.

Family: In the new phase of my life, I continue to be a terrible family member to the rest of my family. I call them seldom and miss gatherings routinely now. Something bizarre is happening on that front. Much like me, my siblings are aging; however, they are settling down, which I simply can’t yet. They watch football games, have poker nights, and follow several weekly television programs. I do none of those. I am a bore to them and I just can’t seem to get into the groove in which they live. They think my cultural and social activities are bordering obsessive, and I think they are becoming old fast. It’s a good thing we do love each other so, and I hope to get over this stage and join them sometime just before retirement.

Relationships: All of a sudden, I’m single again. Part of me misses the companionship and comforts of a relationship. Another part of me celebrates my new freedom and my relief at not having to worry about and take care of yet another person all the time. The resultant schizophrenia gets too much to bear at times. Part of me wants to look into the few outstanding “invitations,” looking for the excitement and the potential. Another part of me wants to run away from having to figure out how to date, how to say yes, and how to say no, skills I never really learned having been married so long. I know how to start a million conversations with countless other people. I simply don’t know how to do it when male-female interests are present. Some of the time my empty bed is so sad to observe, and some of the time my pillow and blanket and I make the most peaceful corner of this world. Driving to and from events by myself was a really hard thing to learn. Arriving by myself used to feel so odd. I’m getting used to the fun of being solo, deciding when to arrive and when to leave as I please. I do miss the whole process of getting ready to go with someone else and looking for directions together, and showing up as a couple. This part of my life continues to be puzzling and bewildering to me.

Men: I thought I knew men. Of course I knew men. I was married and I have brothers and I have sons and I have male friends. As it turns out, I don’t know men at all! I look at them now, trying so hard to figure them out, hoping that I will figure it out with what I already know. I fail miserably every time. Outside of my familial ties and my friendships with them, Iranian men win the “most confusing” category of species every time! The ones who are my age are looking for women a lot younger than themselves, sometimes 20 years younger! The ones who are looking at me appear to be entirely too old, getting ready to retire. With all due respect for age, it is a turn off to look a man in the eyes, and see the cataract lining around them! Getting married when I was 18, I never learned to “come on” to men, as committed relationships don’t normally lend themselves to acquisition of such skills! These days I think I must look pathetic, appearing as a worldly and experienced middle-aged woman, yet feeling shy and inexperienced in relationships. Yikes. This one is more awful than I can bear to discuss further.

Politics: Whatever happened to America? Has Washington gone completely mad? While American democracy as I knew and loved has been compromised, giving the Government permission to step into private affairs of its citizens, there is talk about “exporting” democracy to other parts of the world. I wished all efforts could be concentrated on bringing democracy back to America and leaving the rest of the world alone. It must be just me, in my new crazy stage of life, wondering whom exactly US soldiers are fighting in Iraq? Come to think of it, US is fighting Iraqi’s in Iraq! Fighting them to give them democracy? I hate how surreal everything feels at my new stage of life. I used to feel so proud of being a registered voter of the Democratic Party. Watching Democrat Representatives and Senators sign off on the worst measures and laws this country has ever seen has been something like an out of body experience! At my new station, politics suck more than they ever did.

Iran: I think the Iranian American community in the US is the single most schizophrenic emigrant population of this country! Quite obviously we have moved to a country that we believe has given us opportunities we couldn’t enjoy in our motherland. Leaving Iran, though, has never meant stopping loving it. Looking at how things are enfolding, I feels such pain and concern for Iran and Iranians continuing to suffer, live around or under poverty line, and have to put up with a government that fears nothing as much as a democracy for its people. Iranians not only need to battle daily violations of their basic human rights, they now have to worry about their very existence and safety with war plans drawn and flaunted everyday. Living here and watching those plans discussed and advertised, not a day goes by when I feel peace of mind and comfort.

Work: I have had to learn new things at work, and unlearn things I had learned working in Iran. I have to rejoin the rat race and fend for myself. My contemporaries have gone on to assume a lot higher positions than I can reach for right now. Everyone is younger than me, including my boss, my boss’s boss, and her boss! It gets frightening some days to think how far away I am from retirement, and how hard I will have to continue to work just to stay abreast of my specialized field. It matters not how many years I have worked, and how many more years I will have to work. It matters that I stay in the game for the duration and sometimes it becomes overwhelming. Whereas once in a state of self-actualization I thought I had it all figured out, these days I am back to dwindling between living to work and working to live.

Do you see what I mean now? The “growth spurt” is not just a figment of my imagination, I hope you agree. It is an equally scary and exciting matter. As I grapple with it, aching some days and finding sheer delight in it some other days, I celebrate my middle-age for it is as real as things will ever get. I will write about some of these topics in more detail soon.

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