Tag Archives: Motherhood At Midlife

Walking the Dog Walking the Baby

Dog on leash IMG_0431by Lia Barnes of Into The West


There’s a line of clouds that you can clearly see about a third of the way up Bear Peak and I know that it’s dumping snow up there. Enzo and I just went out for a walk up to the trailhead just off of Shanahan Ridge but all we encountered were a few stray flakes. It’s cold, though and getting colder. We had to go for a walk because if we didn’t I fear that I might have killed him.

It’s just that the lady next door was having her carpets steam-cleaned, or her basement pumped out, whatever endeavor requires a small truck and a large hose; a continuous whiny roar emanated from the truck in such as way as to alarm this small dog who then thought it his duty to alert me to the nefarious goings on.

No matter how I redirected, pleaded, threatened, attempted training strategies with Cheerios, looked deeply into his adorable black eyes to help him understand that we were not in danger, Enzo was fully connected to his instinct and would not be called off.

The only solution was another walk. And so now, an hour later he’s curled up in a contented white ball on the sofa while a fire crackles away in the stove and I sit here feeling foolish for becoming angry at a lovable little ball of instinct.

It makes me think back to when Laura was a tiny baby and I was an emerging young adult, inadequately prepared to handle the day in, day out demands of a 7 pound human being. I remember thinking back then–I suppose I had the presence of mind to realize just how dire the circumstances could be–that I understood how parents could shake their babies to death out of terrifying, unadulterated frustration.

“Why won’t you stop?!” I held my daughter up one time in front of me, shouting at her little body to stop crying. It was in the stairway, on the way up or down, it was probably during the daylight hours.

Nothing extraordinary had happened, it was a regular day in a regular week and I was simply reaching some limit in my ability to safely and lovingly care for my screaming infant. Possessing a certain history of sanity and restraint I didn’t shake her until her neck snapped. I didn’t have to call the police to report that there was something wrong with my baby and oh my god, she’s not breathing. We carried on and to this day no one has ever known how close I came to the edge.

I should have just put her harness on and taken her for a walk.


Blogging to Find Community

Blog_(1)by Barbara Cutting of One Hopeful Heart

We all need to belong.  Somewhere.  With someone.  With others.

Humans are social animals.  And as much as I love alone time, I do need to be with others too.  I need interaction.  Advice.  Acknowledgement. Acceptance.  Attention.  Conversation.  Feedback.  Compliments.  Even criticism is helpful from time to time.

I crave community.  A sense of belonging.  I need to fit. And I realized yesterday–amidst the throes of a weepy Saturday–I’ve spent much of my life trying to find my fit.  Where I belong.  Who I am in the middle of this world around me.

I also realized yesterday, there are precious few places and people where and with whom I feel that fit.  Never found it in high school.  Or college.  And God, I wanted it so badly.  Somehow that feeling of fit was tied up tight with self-concept and self-confidence.  Perhaps if someone else believed in me, then I could (and would) believe in myself.

I’ve come a long way in the years of my living since those uncertain teens and twenties.  I fought to find my fit in my thirties too and finally found my bestest belonging ever–when I became a mother.  Hardest job E V E R.  Still is.  But finally, finally, I felt where I fit best.  I belonged with those boys, and they belonged with me.

So that brings me to today.  To finding my fit in the present.  Because I’m not really needed as a day-to-day mother anymore.  My oldest is off flying jets.  My youngest, off to college.  I’m more of an as-needed, situational mother now.

The adjustment has been difficult.  For me.  I’ve done my job, raised two amazing young men, and, because I’ve done it so well, they’re gone.  As they should.  As they’re supposed to.  They’re so ready.  But I’m so not. I’ve been grieving.  And I’m struggling–again–with finding my fit.  I suspect it will take more than one weepy Saturday to find it.

I started One Hopeful Heart last year only knowing that I needed to write.  Ever since my very first post, I’ve been wondering where I belong as a blogger.  I’m not an education blogger.  Even though I’m a teacher, I don’t feel a calling to write specifically about education.  I’m certainly not a political blogger.  No interest there. And I’m not quite a lifestyle blogger either.

Or am I?  Because in middle all of this wondering about who I am now that my children have grown and gone, I’ve discovered I’m now living a lifestyle I never anticipated.  I need to figure out what to do with the rest of my life now that mothering no longer fills it quite so constantly.  I’m approaching the end of my career as an educator, and while that certainly deserves and receives massive amounts of my attention and effort, that career too shall come to pass.  Once again, I need to find my fit.

And that’s what my blog is finally–and at long last–about.

It’s about finding fit and learning just who I am and where I’ll belong next.

Doesn’t that sound exciting?!

Photo credit: By Cortega9 (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Saving Gracie: a review of the 21st century feminist novel

I have always been an enthusiastic reader. And a fast one. In fact, there have been times in my life when I’ve read upwards of two novels a day. Of course, that was when I lived in London, was moderately depressed, and my drug of choice was fiction.

I had read somewhere about a person who systematically read through their local library, starting at A and working their way to Z  without regard for whether a particular title appealed to them or not. I don’t know why I thought this was such a good idea–now it seems somewhat robotic, not to mention manic–but I have always been impressionable when it comes to things of that sort. I know I didn’t make it all the way through my local library, but I must have gotten at least to the L’s because I swallowed much of D.H. Lawrence whole in a week or so reading orgy.

This came to mind the other night when I was–yes–reading, this time Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, whose heroine, Serena Frome, describes her reading habits this way:

“I went at things in my usual hungry way, and there was an element of boredom too, which I was trying to keep at bay, and not succeeding. Anyone watching me might have thought I was consulting a reference book, I turned the pages so fast. And I suppose I was, in my mindless way, looking for something, a version of myself, a heroine I could slip inside as one might a pair of favorite old shoes….I was the basest of readers. All I wanted was my own world, and myself in it, given back to me in artful shapes and accessible form.”

There are times when I still read that way, when I get excited that I’ve found a heroine who will, as Serena said, let me be “my best self.” I thought I found that a couple of weeks ago when I started reading Saving Gracie, by Jill Teitelman, (Freestyle Press, November 2012) and I even emailed her to tell her so. Here was a heroine, Ruth, who is Jewish, mouthy, single, childless. Yay! It’s me, I thought, looking forward to following Ruth through whatever adventures she would have while saving Gracie, whoever that was.

T’was not to be. Perhaps I read it too fast. Too “mindlessly.” My reading notes are these: There is a curious lack of emotion in this book. When I first started reading it, I got so enthusiastic I wrote the author how much I was loving it. I anticipated sinking into it but it never happened. Rather than the emotional life of the characters, what she does is detail the physical life. This happened and then that happened, but the facts don’t translate to the feelings.

That could be a function of the fact that the novel is cobbled together from short stories she wrote. Or it could be a function of the fact that the author is just too close to the material. It’s a trap writers fall into when they think they’re conveying the sensory and emotional impact of an event that is so etched in their memory not much is required to bring it up fresh to them again.

I didn’t know what I was going to say in this review. In the past I’ve made it a practice not to review works that I don’t at least like a lot. But that’s a cop out, I think, a way of saving myself from being not nice, of being critical. That’s funny, considering I’ve spent most of my professional life critiquing prose. And it seems that I can drop right back into the lit critics shoes when the need be, because as I started to think about what I could say about Saving Gracie, I swung right into the feminist critic’s mode, and here it is:

Women’s fiction has always offered critics a window onto the mores of the culture in which it was produced. The earlier novels, pre-20th century, are known to show the restricted agency of women’s lives during those centuries. Female protagonists had limited choices: they could marry or remain single. The former was preferable; the latter was seen as a punishment for being an aberrant female figure. “Good” women were rewarded with safe marriages; “bad” women were punished with death.

With the feminist movement starting in the 1960s, a new heroine suddenly appeared. She had multiple choices: to marry, to not, to live in sin, to bear children as a single mother. All of these choice were normalized for the contemporary reading public by the novels that were published and popular at the time.

And now we have Saving Gracie, which harks back to that period. It begins in 1984 when Ruth, the protagonist, is in her early 40s. She’s single, childless and enjoying a swinging lifestyle, travelling with and without lovers, but still “[t]oo much freedom is starting to feel as bad as not enough. Why did I jump on the Liberation train without asking where it would take me?”

The rest of the novel presents Ruth’s attempts to trade that train for the one she has come to wish she’d taken, the one taken by her best friend, Grace.

“Instead of studying modern dance and living in Paris, instead of loving and leaving or losing a dozen men, Grace simply got on with her life. ‘She always has that perfect 988.6-degree mental temperature,’ her cousin Roz once told me, both of us envious. ‘When a person has quiet confidence and no fear in the world, but is not overly egotistical or self-involved, they’re perfectly in balance.’”

Of course Grace dies at the end too, which leaves me wondering where in the annals of feminist literature Saving Gracie belongs.