ACT I – CRUNCHING THE CRUMMIES
The most common invaders during our midlife years (which I define
as that phase of life anywhere between forty and death) are the FIVE
CRUMMIES.

They are CRUMMY HEALTH, CRUMMY KIDS, CRUMMY PARTNERS, CRUMMY JOBS, and
CRUMMY DEALS. They come in pairs or trios, or even a quintet. They
break down your defenses, cause you to stumble, even to fall. The
following are some specific antidotes and action plans when the
CRUMMIES hit.

CRUMMY HEALTH only starts with menopause or peri-menopause. The ante is
upped when you add chronic back pain (from lifting those grandkids or
hauling those reams of paper to the copier), fibromyalgia, adult onset
diabetes, hypertension, and the psychological disorders that strike
women in their midlife years such as depression and panic disorder. Top
it off with the serious stuff like breast cancer and we\’re about done
in even before we\’re actually done in. Women, in their caregiver
capacity, would have their charges off to the doctor for diagnosis and
treatment in a jiffy if even one of these CRUMMY HEALTH bugs attacked a
loved one, but they often ignore the signs and symptoms in themselves.
Or, when they do get a diagnosis, they do not get off their feet as
ordered or take their meds or go back in for a follow-up appointment.
Again and again I see women, not intentionally, ignore their own health
while tending to the health of others (others who are usually not
cooperating in that effort). So the advice is, pretend you\’re someone
else, give yourself an endearing name like “Honeypie” or “Pumpkin”, and
then take care of HER in exactly the same manner as you would take care
of others.

CRUMMY KIDS come in a variety of flavors. There is the ordinary
run-of-the-mill hasn\’t matured and wouldn\’t pay you rent on a bet kid.
There is the seriously addicted in-and-out of jail kid. There is the
sweet kid who\’s going through a divorce, job loss, or health problem.
There is even the no-kid kid (that shadow lurking in the back of your
mind as you enter the phase of life where reproduction is impossible
and adoption improbable). The biggest mistake women (and male-type
parents too) make with grown children is to try to make up for
parenting errors made when their children were still children (being
too strict, not being strict enough, not having enough money to give
them what they needed, etc.) by committing more parenting errors when
they are adults (letting them live off you for free, bailing them out
of jail, paying their bills, etc.). What mothers of adult children
don\’t realize is all that inappropriate mollycoddling of adult children
not only enables them to remain addicted and irresponsible but fosters
a deep sense of incompetency within them. Our goal as parents is to
rear competent, independent adults. Tough love, where lessons are
learned in the arena outside the home and consequences are far more
severe than Mom being upset or disappointed, is the only answer. Even
an adult child with developmental disabilities often grows and prospers
in a supervised setting outside the family of origin home. Smothering
is not mothering.

CRUMMY PARTNERS can come along at any age, but what was once mere
annoyance with a partner can become deeply felt resentment as the
decades pass. Often women have followed the same pattern in
relationship after relationship, in marriage after marriage. They may
no longer be with the alcoholic they married in their twenties nor the
batterer they ended up with in their thirties, but they are often still
swimming in a cesspool of verbal abuse or a wasteland of emotional
neglect. Good marriages tend to become better, to provide comfort in
our midlife years. Bad marriages become more intolerable at a time in
life when leaving may mean economic disaster and a life lived alone.
Does leaving or staying seem like being between a rock and a hard
place? Absolutely. The answer can be programs like Al Anon where the
skills of loving detachment are learned. When we know that we can have
serenity in our lives whether HE keeps being HIM or not, then staying
or leaving becomes a less important issue. In the case of severe abuse,
of any kind, leaving is still the best answer regardless of a woman\’s
age (and community and mental health support is there to help with that
difficult choice).

You would think that the CRUMMY JOB bit would be a moot point by the
time we near our retirement years. Not so. When we decided that we
could easily work until 65, we were only 35 and had no idea how tired,
how burned out we would start feeling as we entered our fifties. This
is particular true if we haven\’t had the opportunity to work in a field
close to our heart and instead have plowed along in a field not of our
own making. Plus, the worries of being left without a decent pension or
losing the one we had understood we would have adds to the worries.
There isn\’t time to start over. But there is time to do some soul
searching and uncover some of the unexplored or forgotten dreams, those
heart\’s desires that have gone untended. Even if it\’s an acting or
craft class or a special trip with a woman friend, economy class or
not, these are the years to start injecting some joy into our daily
lives. I\’ve found Martha Beck\’s book Finding Your Own North Star:
Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live very helpful in moving past
the CRUMMY JOB (physically or at least emotionally).

The CRUMMY DEAL is sometimes simply the combination of all of the
above. Other times it is related to loss. I think of the woman who has
had the long-term supportive marriage, who is anticipating with great
joy years of shared time in a retirement filled with travel and
grandkids, and who suddenly finds herself a widow when her husband
drops dead of a heart attack. Or the single woman, who has accepted
being alone, found great happiness in friends and hobbies, then
develops a debilitating illness and perhaps suffers the tragic loss of
an adult child. None of us is guaranteed that our fondest dreams will
be fulfilled. But few of us can avoid a bitter reaction when our worlds
fall apart. Faith and friends, a good support group, and living one day
at a time may be our best bet when that CRUMMY DEAL comes our way.

Would life be better if we could avoid all of the CRUMMIES? First of
all, I don\’t think it is possible. Life is a series of losses in one
sense or another. The loss of our youth, our health, our loved ones,
our hopes, and, yes, even many of our dreams. Scott Peck in The Road
Less Traveled talked about maturity being a matter of how we handle
those losses. Do we sulk, rage, cry, and give up? Or do we breathe,
reach out for help, pray, and laugh? Choosing joy is a gift that our
Higher Power leaves on our doorsteps. We just need to open the door and
pick it up.

NEXT MONTH: ACT II – MASTERING THE MALADIES
The MALADIES are the FIVE most common conditions that make
overcoming the CRUMMIES more difficult. You probably have one or more
in your life that complicate getting and staying healthy. They are
MALTREATMENT, MALFUNCTION, MALIGNANCY, MALPRACTICE, and MALARKY.

IN TWO MONTHS: ACT III – SCRAPING OFF THE OVERFILLED PLATE
Although you may escape the MALADIES, you rarely escape the
OVERFILLED PLATE. You find your plate heaped high with a three-layer
GENERATION SANDWICH, plus two helpings of EMPTY BIRD\’S-NEST SOUP, and a
side of ROTTEN EGGS.