There is a time to admit that one is sneaking up to, perhaps stepping over, the boundary of middle age.

Mathematically, even if you’re generous and make this age last, say, 20 years, the upper limit for being properly middle age would have to be close to where I am this week, when the earth completes its 59th trip around the sun since I was born.

Labels aside, I feel a change in the air. It’s fall, of course, but deeper in me it feels like there’s a new season coming, just as there is for my kids.

Our daughter seems to be turning the corner and coming back, now and then, from the angry teenage planet she’d been hiding out on — she speaks to me, and has been coming out of her room voluntarily! I fear jinxing it by breathing a word about it, but the signs of her humanity returning are undeniable. This just, of course, as our son is searching out the coordinates of this irresistible planet, entering them into his ship’s navigation system.

So I’ve been working on accepting that my kids are growing up. Mourning the cute little things they were, and actively letting in the new reality. OK! They’re independent beings, here on their own missions. I think I get it.

But I feel more than acceptance. Somehow seeing where they really are now, I realize that I too feel done with a certain part of my life. I’m headed somewhere else, even if I don’t know where it is.

I’ve been reading Ann Patchett’s essay collection These Precious Days. Particularly her piece “Practice” has grabbed me. She describes helping her best friend clean out the friend’s dad’s apartment after his death, and after weeks and weeks of this, she vows she won’t leave as much behind.

Patchett and her husband at first consider moving, but they like their house. They decide to pretend they’re moving, getting rid of anything they no longer need, anything that doesn’t, in the Kondo, “spark joy.”

In the way I might once have devoured a travel piece about somewhere amazing, or a sexy romp, I could not put down her descriptions of working her way through her drawers, cupboards and closets, the stories of the things she finds, and what she keeps and what she decides to let go. Surveying unused brandy snifters, champaign flutes, liqueur glasses, and expresso cups, she writes “I had miscalculated the tools of adulthood when I was young, or I had miscalculated the kind of adult I would be. I had taken my cues from Edith Wharton novels and Merchant Ivory films. I had taken my cues from my best friend’s father.” Her essay is a beautiful pandemic-era assessment of who she really is, and what she needs at this point in her life.

Ann Patchett is good company in any essay or novel. The shape and construction of this piece is beautiful. But I’m not sure my 20, 30, or 40-year old self would have been quite so drawn to this piece.

It’s one way I know I’m headed out for new territory. I love the idea of holding everything vital closer to me, and letting the unnecessary go.

I’ll let you know if I have any expresso cups to give away!