Jackie Gingrich Cushman

"What is the meaning of life?" my middle school daughter asked me recently as we were lying on her bed one evening. After a few minutes of contemplation, knowing that the answer was not about acquisition of money, fame or power, and that material items might provide ease in life, but not meaning, I responded that it is "to experience and then to allow God's Grace to shine through you to others."

It seemed to satisfy her at the time, but has left me a bit uneasy and questioning. This, combined with my 45th birthday this week has left me more than a bit introspective. At 45, it's official: I can no longer call myself "young." I'm not yet old. I fall begrudgingly into what is termed middle age. There has been no defining moment in my life since the birth of my second child. Instead, one day slips into the next.

With a child in middle school, while I am hitting middle age, the questions she asks seem to compound the ones that I can't answer. Watching her rapid growth and development makes me long for those days of rapid growth, as well. Instead of rapid growth, this period of my life seems to be defined more by plodding rather than springing forward.

Last month, New York Times' columnist David Brooks asked those over 70 "to write a brief report on your life so far, an evaluation of what you did well, of what you did not so well and what you learned along the way. You can write this as a brief essay or divide your life into categories -- career, family, faith, community and self-knowledge -- and give yourself a grade in each area."

While I have 25 years to go to make the official cut, I'm going to provide what I hope will be my midlife report (if I am so blessed to live to 90).

What have I done well so far? The best thing that I have done so far is to have said yes to my husband Jimmy, when he asked me to marry him. Deciding who you marry is, to me, the most important decision you will ever make in your life, especially if you are lucky enough to have children (we have two).

Your spouse will have more influence and effect on your life than your parents, your children, your boss, coworkers, friends or anyone else. A good marriage can provide you with a safe harbor during storms and a solid foundation from which to grow.

What have I not done well? Well, there are so many things. I'm still easily overwhelmed by clutter, constantly battling it in the house, never winning, but often frustrated. Watching my middle-schooler begin to develop executive functions of planning time, organizing and prioritization, I realize that I need a remedial course in these areas, as well. My tone is often sharper and harder than I intend, and to make matters worse, many times, I don't even notice.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.