An Ordinary Privilege, Or, Saturday Morning at 11:29am

I went to my brother’s 50th birthday party last night. The group included artists, lawyers, professors, psychoanalysts, harp players, chess players, public health clinical trial experts, and at least one hedge fund guy. Many Burning Man fans in eclectic dress. All there to celebrate. Happy birthday, GMC, known by the family nickname that starts with a P.

My brother took his time growing up, paradoxically arriving at 50 still a very young man. He will marry this year for the first time. Maybe it’s more accurate to say he took his time growing into himself, since he hasn’t lived an irresponsible, perpetual teenage life. He’s unusual. Followed his own proverbial road, step by step by step. My brother lives very honestly, more honestly than most people can sustain. He thinks about everything. Refuses to mistake the expected for the necessary.

Of course, as family does, he’s driven me nuts more times than I can count. Life is only exalted now and then. Sturdy Gals get impatient with dreamers. Just show up on time, really, that’s all the Buddha wants. But I digress.

Last night, looking around the room and the many midlife people, I found myself thinking not about the passing of our years, not about how how short life is, but about how much time we do have. There’s a lot of time, in the ordinary life span. Lives are cut short, I would not in any way ignore the possible tragedies. Not in any way. But an ordinary lifetime is pretty generous.

This morning, it occurred to me that life is more freely generous to men. My brother’s unusual life was made possible by his intelligence, and his originality, certainly, but also by his gender. From every angle, it seems to me that women’s biological relationship with fertility imposes structure and limits. I mean no political statement, no religious statement, nothing. I regret in no way being female. I begrudge no man his gender. However. Fertility, infertility, unwanted fertility, pregnancy, nursing, choosing not to have children. These things take more space in women’s lives. We’re given somewhat less time early in life to freely carve out who we are, no matter the scope of our imagination.

I’m seeing rock, and the traces of picks.

All of which probably leads to a need to carve ourselves out later, when the ordinary lifespan is an even greater privilege.

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  • Wonderful post, and so true.
    I met my husband when he was 38 and I was 29. When we had our twins I had 32 and he was 41. And despite the many external circumstances that somehow prevented him from being a father at an earlier age (and to which I am thankful for or else we wouldn't have met ;), and all the things he had had the chance to do in the meantime, he looked at Luka, our son one day not too long after he was born and said to me "I fear that I won't be able to understand him when he is in his 20s and it kills me".

  • "Just show up on time, really, that's all the Buddha wants." Only a brother can annoy us so exquisitely. I understand. My own brother turns 50 in less than 2 weeks.

  • I never thought of it quite that way before. I chose to remain unmarried and childless. Throughout the years received many unsolicited comments as to my status. My brothers did not face the same scrutiny with family and friends that I did.

  • Totally awesome post. I think I love you.

  • I agree with you totally that we women have had to invest an enormous amount of time and emotional energy in the fertility issue and we have to schedule our lives around it.
    Congratulations to your brother for taking the plunge and getting married. A happy marriage is a wonderful thing.

  • I wish him well with his new marriage and maybe a family. My FIL was 45 when my husband was born and all worked out well with them.

    When you move the family creating phase of your own life away from the beginning the role of your own parents isn't the same. That's not to say it's better or worse, just not the same.

    Maybe the reason women can't delay childbearing forever is to make sure that Grandmothers get a say in their Grandchildren's lives.

  • Your post touched me in way that is not comfortable.
    I want to respond, yet not quite sure how or to what. You've voiced something… Something that we all have thought about at one time or another, both male and female. For me, this thought process is most pronounced when I connect with women that I knew when we were 16 or 17. This biological disparity is glaring, yet as I have no children of my own, I feel ( just for a brief moment, mind you ) a bit envious.
    (switch thoughts) I love that comment ' Refuses to mistake the expected for the necessary ' I have found that as I grow older and my role in the family changes, So too does the distinctions between what is of the expected and what is of the necessary.
    Delightful post. I will continue to ponder ( who am I kidding, pondering is over…( LOL) until next time.

    Always, Bumby

  • I really understand what you mean…in some ways we can't do it all…all the time…

  • I didn't really think about fertility, just had a couple kids and submerged into parenthood. At this point I am glad I had them young. They are interesting adults on their own whereas many of my friends are still raising teenagers.

  • I'm 30, and was just trying to explain this concept of fertility/time to my dad … while I also don't begrudge the ability to bear or not to bear children, it has certainly altered my twenties and thirties in a way that my brother, also a dreamer, will never understand. Great post.

  • An ordinary lifetime IS pretty generous. Thanks for the reminder.

  • I liked this post… Particularly as you have said we have a lot of time left – this pleases me no end. You have no idea how much as I do often have a problem with the "DP" – you have now given me unofficial permission not to worry quite so much and for this I thank you LPC. p.s. my brother (known as VDB – (very difficult brother!) also turned 50 last week!

  • so much humanity, so much wisdom, so much truth in a few words, in one post…
    You are unique! Thank you!!!

  • I just read your post. I have nothing to add. You said it all. Thank you for your beautiful post!

  • I've been confronted lately with what kind of time women have at the latter end of life, so your post is stirring up noise for me — it resonates but confounds enough that I shouldn't say too much here. But I've been saddened by watching women who gave up much to nurture well now engendering irritation and impatience as their male partners, loving but busy-at-work while their children grew, mellow in their old age, to the delight and admiration of their adult children. Not sure how widespread this phenomenon is, but it's a troubling spectre as I head in that general direction myself.
    So I'll try to focus on your more optimistic assessment. . .

  • Such a meaningful and thoughtful post!! It is all so true, though now in this current world many women are waiting until later years to start their families, rigth when we are ready to enjoy life with a few less obligations.

    I will always work as it is so gratifying and my art is such a passion. It is important to reflect though!


    Art by Karena

  • thank you for making me look at something from a different perspective ! Have a lovely week

  • Brilliant observation about the way that women's time is measured differently. Men do have more freedom and that's just the way it is. I think we have a generous amount of time if we manage to use it wisely. I often feel I've slept through a lot of my years, figuratively. Nothing for it but to try to stay as awake as I can now: pay attention and make conscious decisions.

  • You've hit the nail on the the head with this post Syke Peal/LPC. Mr FF is 10 years older than me and no one would ever think to ask him if he plans to have children with me, nor if we did would anyone expect him to put his career on hold and care for them etc. Panic about dwindling fertility is something that consumes my single female friends in their 30s, but I've never heard a male friend worry.

  • Marcela – How interesting that's how your husband felt. I never looked at it that way.

    Louise – Happy birthday to your brother. I hope he shows up on time:).

    asky13 – We are uniquely responsible for the species survival, whether we want to be or not…

    Splenderosa – Oh thank you!

    Belle – Thank you. We are very excited for my brother.

    RoseAG – In China the grandmothers always RAISED the children:).

  • Bumby – Thank you for listening. And pondering:).

    Jennifer – True that…

    Susan – Not thinking about it probably simplified much and complicated much.

    glaciercounty – Thank you. I hope your dad understands.

    ChristineB – You are more than welcome.

    Semi – Thank you. My brother's not very difficult, if I am honest, just exasperating sometimes.

    Anna- You are too kind.

  • Mette- Thank you very much.

    Mater – I'm curious, of course, but privacy is important. Optimism is my general philosophy…

    Karena – Having work you love all your life must be the most amazing feeling.

    Ballet News – You are welcome! And welcome here:).

    Shelley – Thank you. The early years can be like sleeping, or sleep walking, in a way, right into babies. Much loved though they may be. So being a wise woman is particularly important.

    FF – Yes. It's annoying sometimes, isn't it.

  • I wish I could have been at that party. I am very curious about your brother as we are in the same field. And, any party you are at would be one I would love to attend.
    From my former life as a Jungian;-), Jungians would say that men have the choice of being a Puer Eternus(forever boy) or the Senex(Saturnian/Wise Old Man). It seems that many men go the Puer route. There are advantages that come from a prolonged youth and yet, as with every choice, there are prices to pay for that choice.

  • I have had thoughts too, about the luck of men and virility…but having children easily when I wanted them, -it became a fleeting thought. The part of your post that captured my attention the most was your mention of life passing so quickly. Having lost both of my parents in the last 5 years, and having 4 grandchildren born in that time as well as knowing I am the "next" generation….I have suddenly become very philisophical about life! It stops my heart as little each time I watch special life moments and think about my parents.
    Thanks for a good post!!!

  • I spent a lot of time thinking about this post over the weekend, mostly while I was recaulking my tub. That is all.

  • Your paucity (comparatively speaking) of words that then turn on themselves and shout volumes is fully in play here. I suppose your brother now knows how blessed he is to have you as his sister. I know that I feel more now that way about my four years older sister than at any time in my life.

    Thanks also for articulating the plight/lot/assignment/procreative mantle of women so fairly, without being a man "non-liker." Ok, I'll be quiet now.

  • Happy Birthday, GMC! And congratulations on your upcoming marriage.

    Maybe having to manage our fertility in the context of our younger lives, in addition to living our actual lives, prepares us for a lifetime of multitasking.

  • I absolutely love Patty's comment – makes perfect sense to me! Just had to share my enthusiasm for the track her brain is on today.

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