May 2013

It’s nap time in the day care. All the littlest ones are sound asleep, except our chatty gal..a one who spends as much of nap time talking to herself as she possibly can. I am here resting on the couch, reading e-mails and preparing to write an observation, when I overhear her say, “That’s my book. I’m not done with it.” Clearly, the gal is learning how to share and how to keep track of her stuff. Practice, practice. 10,000 hours and all that. It takes a lot of work to learn to talk. This gal is putting in the time.

Now she’s singing the name of a one-year-old friend. A minute ago it sounded like a Christmas Carol. Now, “Yeah. This is my potty. My potty. My potty.” as she turns over the pink plastic doll potty in her hands. “Go away, go away, potty.”

Meanwhile her three year old friend, who is in underwear for the first time all year, and has not let out a single drop into the toilet all day, though she did manage to sit awhile with Alice’s persuasion just before lying down, is fast asleep on her mat, gal who rarely sleeps anymore likely to wake up soaked. We debated a diaper, but given that she normally stays awake, and the diaper seemed like an invitation not to use the toilet, we didn’t offer or suggest.

This is the caregiving we do all day, every day, forty eight weeks a year, eighteenth year of West Family Day Care. Lots of kids here have learned to talk and use the toilet, to nap and rest and fight and give in, to spill and make mistakes and clean them up and move along. Our task as caregivers is to keep the work interesting in our minds so that we can continue to take Mary Oliver’s words to heart:

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”


Its now been four years since my ex and I came apart. Valentine’s Day 2009 we told our children about the impending divorce. A year and a half later it was legal. Six months later their dad remarried and I was with a new man who I was to spend two and a half years getting to know before that ended, too. Our oldest left for college last summer. In less than two weeks he’ll be home for the summer, girlfriend of one year by his side. When we split up our children were children, eight, twelve, fourteen. Now they’re not, twelve, sixteen, eighteen. Those four years were huge.

I don’t know the cycle of grief by the books. I do know it by heart. Forty years ago this year my father died. That one I’m still grieving. Along with the much more recent deaths of my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Somehow, though, this spring feels lighter than many springs before, even though I’m on my own again and the kids are growing up and away and plenty of uncertainty is in the air. I’m wondering if it’s what Krista Tippett was talking about with her guest this week, Rex Jung, who discussed Creativity and the Everyday Brain with her, that aging process where we learn slowly to get perspective, to let go a bit of our intelligence, to embrace our creativity, to settle some of the losses of our early life, and to release ourselves a bit as we age.

I do find myself curious about the unknown. With so much change at midlife and the view behind and ahead from what I hope is not quite the midpoint of my life, the not knowing has become the way to be, scary, yes, exciting, sometimes, surprising, still.

I’m a person who spent much of early life on the track of a successful person, good student, good grades, good schools, good work, good life, early marriage, three kids, two houses, large circles of friends and family, large life. By midlife, most of that is shrinking in importance. The degrees were over half a lifetime ago. The marriage ended. The friendships ebb and flow as do the connections to family, shrinking now, and I wonder if that is the new trend, the shrinking of my social world, the introspection, the seeking of one-on-one and small group connection over  activism and large movements in the outer world.

I wasn’t expecting these changes. Most of us seem not to, but many of us experience them, if James Hollis is right.

There are piles of poetry on my bedside table, along with novels, a memoir, some nonfiction. The newest addition is James Hollis’s The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Mid-Life (Studies in Jungian psychology by Jungian analysts), shared with me by a friend with whom I was discussing midlife and offering my favorite James Hollis thus far to him, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, a book offered to me five years ago, which I read without stopping on vacation, stunned to find it just after forty when these patterns had not been clear at all, and needed words to come to the surface, a gift from a good friend who also shared Composing a Life.

I wake up in the morning this spring, often well-rested, recently emerged from a dream I can mostly barely remember, and it takes time for me to move from that state to wakefulness. In some ways that is midlife for me, that waking from a dream into wakefulness middle ground, where things are emerging, unclear, the creative brain and logical brain mixing up their terms, new life forming while the other fades into memory a process more visible than before.

I’m rambling now. My friend needs to talk. My girl and I need hair cuts. Later there will be an appointment, dinner out, a play. Tomorrow they’ll be at the ballet with friends while I walk or attend Quaker Meeting with mine. We begin to share interests as we begin to part ways, my children and I shifting subtly some days, profoundly on others. We’re trying to plan the summer, to negotiate this middle passage between childhood and adulthood for them, between young adult life and old age for me. Maybe there’s a novel to guide me. So far, I haven’t found one. Seems more likely I’ll find the story elsewhere, in poems, in memoir, in Jungian analysis, inside. We’ll see.

Happy midlife Saturday if you’re here with me, or Happy Saturday if you’re not.

Enjoy the Krista Tippett podcast if you have an hour sometime soon. It kept me company while I made a delicious dinner last night, caesar salad being the new recipe we all loved, garlic lingering on my tongue this morning with the dreams, and gave me some more sign posts on the midlife journey.


« Previous Page