Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Middle Ground





Some mornings, as I stand at my kitchen sink, I can hear the messages over the PA system at the nearby school in back of my house. “Good morning students! Don’t forget the jogathon this afternoon. Yearbook orders need to be in by next week.”

On a very quiet morning last month, I paused and realized that very faintly, off in the distance I could also hear the PA announcements from the nursing home that sits two blocks from the front of my house. “Mr. Jenkins, we need clean-up in the dining room. Will an aide come to the front desk?”

I stood there at my kitchen sink, considering the voices on either side of me, considering this metaphorical situation, considering where I am in life.

Yikes.

Middle age? Really?

I suppose a big bowl of self-assessment stew seems to make its way to the table of almost everyone at this stage of life. Some choke it down hurriedly while others linger over it. (If lingering, it’s a meal best eaten alone.)

Whatever the case, like grim penmanship teachers, we stop for the mid-semester report.

We begin looking at the slant of our lives, at the loops we’ve made, at the t’s we’ve left uncrossed. We step back to assess our jobs, where we live, how we live and with whom we live. If we have a mate, we may look across the table and wonder, “Why am I with this woodchuck who is slurping his/her soup?”

We all know people who have made drastic changes during this time of life. Some may give up the corporate job for acting. Some may choose to get plastic surgery to set the clock back a little. Some may dump the woodchuck and move to a condo in Hawaii.

Most of us though, stop just briefly in the middle of this pool to tread water and look around. We look back at where we have been, make small adjustments in our trajectories and then dive back under and head for the deep end, not always certain it’s the absolute best thing to do, but because there are people depending on us to finish the swim.


When children are born, giant targets appear over our hearts. We have never had this much to love or to lose. We stand in the halls of the hospital with this new person in our arms and we long for someone to give us a test before we take this helpless infant home. We feel like impostors as we leave the hospital. If only the staff understood that we really don’t know what we are doing, they would stop us!

Women go home from the hospital to find that childbearing has changed the very alchemy of their bodies. A magnetic force has been switched on, one that attracts all the ironclad responsibilities that come with children. These duties land on us and hold fast far into middle age.

After I had children, I became the primary finder-of-things, appointment-maker, and juggler of schedules. Conferences at school, finding day care providers, hauling in groceries week after week—these duties attached themselves to me.

Doctor appointments, dentist appointments, sick children, and injured pets—I took care of them all. During the height of the kid years, I could sign permission slips, untie a knot in a gym shoe, and listen to my son’s detailed plans to build a fort in the back yard all at the same time. I learned how to deal with principals, teachers, coaches, bankers real estate agents and bosses. Got a car salesman? Bring him on! I was a woman who could work a full time job, make a meal in less than thirty minutes, and wrap a birthday present in Sponge Bob wrapping paper wile driving to a birthday party.

These weights became a part of me. For years I swam against the tide, walked against the wind, all the time carrying the clingy, weighty barnacles of responsibility, sometimes embracing, sometimes resenting them.

Now, as my children have gotten older, I realize the benefits I’ve reaped from all that heavy lifting. I’ve developed muscles I never knew I had. I can multitask like nobody’s business. I may not have gone in the direction of my dreams nearly as fast as I wanted to but look at these muscles I’ve developed! Who know I could be so strong?

Alas, unintentionally, we tend to ignore our parents during much of middle age. We are so busy raising children, working at our jobs, and worrying about money. Just when we get things semi-under control, and think we have positioned our children on their own runways, many of us turn to see our parents are beginning to leave us.

The death of a parent can be a blow so fierce that its impact is felt for years. But as we stumble back from the deathbed, we often times bump right into our own children who are there, waiting and watching us. They want so desperately for us to be all right, to tell them we are OK, that we do not plan any sort of exit from their lives soon.

And we assure them, don’t we? However, all the while, we notice that more and more friends start to be taken from us in startling and insidious ways. Brain tumors, car accidents and cancer start to buzz around us like invisible mosquitoes, landing at random, making their presence known more and more as we get older. The girl we went to school with calls to say she has a terminal disease. The man we work with is there on Monday, not on Tuesday. The funeral is on Saturday—the victim of a brain aneurysm. The good man who is the father of three small children is killed in a car accident.

None of it makes any sense.

We stop to realize that the death of a spouse would buckle our knees, send us plummeting into a headfirst dive in a deep river of grief. The death of one of our children would break us into bits, cripple us forever. We hug the people we love. We comfort those around us who lose people they love. We go on with this business of living because that it all there is to do.

Just as in formal negotiations, this stage of life, this middle ground, means give and take. We recognize what we have and what we may lose. Children are given to us; parents are taken away. We feel strong and useful in our day-to-day lives; we feel weak and useless in the face of tragedy. The demands we once made of life are now humble pleas. Our view of life is smaller, but much more textured and fragile.

We are in this middle ground for a short period of time.

We are not the first, nor will we be the last here. All around we see the footprints left from the people who were here before us.

Those footprints both comfort and haunt us.

We realize this middle ground is not claimed nor captured.

It is only borrowed.


92 comments:

Larri @ Seams Inspired said...

I have no words. Hauntingly beautiful post, Betty. Thank you.

Leah J. Utas said...

Well thought out and with a touching honesty, Betty. All we can do is take what we have and do our best with it.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Deep thoughts today. I often think about stuff like this.
Because I'm so busy with kid and school stuff I don't take the time like I should to spend more time with my mom.

Old Kitty said...

Awwww lovely BB!!! You are just lovely, is what you are! And though I refuse to see you as middle of any age - you've done so much and raised two wonderful boys and continue to be very close to your family. That's brilliant!!

Take care
x

Madi and Mom said...

Good morning BB....what a thought provoking and beautiful post...once again I thank you for putting your gift of words on paper to share with us.
Hugs
C

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Thank you Betty for a wonderful post.

Yvonne.

Catherine said...

It gets so over-whelming when we think of that 'middle aged' word. But it's really a false marker when you think about it. My dad was technically 'middle-aged' at 28 years old as he died at 57. If we live to 100, we're not middle-aged until we are 50.

You are so right Betty, our time is only borrowed. We should use all of it wisely, soak it up with everything we have.

You have given me lots to think about today my friend!

Excellent thought provoking post.
xo Catherine

Talli Roland said...

What a wonderfully poignant post, Betty. Thank you.

Nat said...

A beautifully written post, Betty... it struck a chord on so many levels.

Mrs.C said...

Ms. Betty, when are you going to write a book?

This is excellent, and you are an extremely gifted communicator.

I needed this today.

Thanks for sharing your observations with us, and what's on your heart right now.

Anne Gallagher said...

Deep, Betty, so deep. Touches on so many aspects of my own life I'm facing right now. My parents, my daughter, my career, my mid-life.

But you're right, it's only borrowed. I just hope I have enough time to do everything I wanted to accomplish in this life before I go.

Judy said...

Well. Now you've gone and made me cry.
(thanks!)

Cricket said...

Wow, my friend. Raw, like ripping off a scab, but true.

Susan in the Boonies said...

Yes. Only borrowed. I've been living it.

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Wonderful post,Betty. So much to ponder on.

LittleSilkDress said...

The is a heavy and beautifully written post. Haunting. I agree with Mrs.C - when are you going to write a book?

Betty, you are one of the strongest people I know and I admire you more than you could possibly know. Hopefully this reflection has made way into a wonderful, fun-filled day!

Linda said...

You've done it again, Betty. You've eloquently put into words feelings and experiences that many of us have felt and experienced but never could express adequately. Beautifully done.

Linda said...
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Linda said...
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Mamma has spoken said...

This post oh so hits home at this time of my life!
My mother use to tell me to enjoy the moments of life because they go by too quickly. Now that my sons are grown, I see what she meant.
Now to go call me dad....

Mamma has spoken said...

This post oh so hits home at this time of my life!
My mother use to tell me to enjoy the moments of life because they go by too quickly. Now that my sons are grown, I see what she meant.
Now to go call me dad....

Mamma has spoken said...

This post oh so hits home at this time of my life!
My mother use to tell me to enjoy the moments of life because they go by too quickly. Now that my sons are grown, I see what she meant.
Now to go call me dad....

Mamma has spoken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat said...

You are such a gifted writer, Betty. This is both heartwarming and heart wrenching. And oh, so true!

Marg said...

Well that is one terrific post. Not many of us take the time until we are much older to think about all those things. There are just so many things that change the way you look at life. One of many things that I am sorry about in my life is not paying more attention to my parents. Anyway, I really did enjoy reading this post. Good stuff

Out on the prairie said...

Our routines slide away but return for a moment with grandchildren. I wonder now how I maintained all that cool as a single parent.

Out on the prairie said...

Our routines slide away but return for a moment with grandchildren. I wonder now how I maintained all that cool as a single parent.

Out on the prairie said...

Our routines slide away but return for a moment with grandchildren. I wonder now how I maintained all that cool as a single parent.

Out on the prairie said...

Our routines slide away but return for a moment with grandchildren. I wonder now how I maintained all that cool as a single parent.

Out on the prairie said...

Our routines slide away but return for a moment with grandchildren. I wonder now how I maintained all that cool as a single parent.

Out on the prairie said...

Our routines slide away but return for a moment with grandchildren. I wonder now how I maintained all that cool as a single parent.

Out on the prairie said...

Our routines slide away but return for a moment with grandchildren. I wonder now how I maintained all that cool as a single parent.

Out on the prairie said...

Our routines slide away but return for a moment with grandchildren. I wonder now how I maintained all that cool as a single parent.

Out on the prairie said...

Our routines slide away but return for a moment with grandchildren. I wonder now how I maintained all that cool as a single parent.

Leanne said...

I am in awe of you, betty. How you put these words together in such a way that tugs at my heart . . . I have no words. What a gift you have.

Beautiful post, my friend. I am honored to read you.

Leanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Flartus said...

Makes me feel better knowing I'm not alone in reflecting on the meaning those other footprints.

Brian said...

How very, very true!

Eva Gallant said...

What an amazing, insightful, and beautiful post! It touches the heart of us all!

Desiree said...

This is beautifully and hauntingly articulated, Betty! The power of your words and tremendous insights have left me speechless. I will come back to read this again!

jenny_o said...

Betty, you have nailed it again for those of us of a certain age - that situation, those feelings, this reality. Thank you for putting into eloquent words the thoughts we are thinking and the feelings we are experiencing.

Stephanie V said...

Loved this post. Even the typo in para 3 had me hooked on the voices in the 'ether'. It all worked so well.

As I approach my 65th birthday, I realize that this is as important as my 21st was - only in reverse. In some ways, I stop being a producer for society and once again become a dependent.

The Empress said...

At 51, I am right at this point.Later than others, since I did have my children after 35.

But, they're 16 and 14 and 9 now.

No longer little ones.

That time was so brief, but also so long.

Jules said...

OMG Betty this was beautiful and exactly to the point. What a wonderful read, chuck full of truths and emotions.

A great way to find myself back to the living. BTW, my blog may or may not appear in your dashboard.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Siv Maria said...

Great post Betty. Middle ground is a great place to stand. The view covers such a range of perspective.

Lydia K said...

Beautifully said, Betty. I've been dipping my toes in that middle ground there and there--not quite in it, but still. Your words gave me pause. There is so much to appreciate right now.

That Janie Girl said...

Beautifully written, Betty. And well said.

I'll be back!

That Janie Girl said...

PS - thanks for coming by my blog, and also, for telling me I was chosen for Post of the Week!

Pearl said...

Well done, Betty. Thoughtful, truthful, and well written.

How do we know each other again?!

:-)

Middle-aged and Grateful,

Pearl

Unknown Mami said...

Beautiful, insightful, and true. If this is what you can create from hearing a few PA announcements, then maybe we should set up some more within your earshot.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wish the middle ground would move on. I purchased a sports car - that did help!

Sarah said...

We can only hope we collect every pearl of wisdom along the way, like Ms. Betty, so we don't spend the time here in vain.

Gods Little People said...

Thank you Betty - I don't know anyone who speaks in such a beautiful candid way as you. I do so much appreciate your honest way of writing.

I lost my mother just a few years ago. She developed cancer shortly after my brother suddenly died (after short times illness). Well, I believed she succumbed to grief... It was a time that taugth me that you really never do know what the day brings. It does cause a different kind of appreciation of life when you reach this time of life.

Liz said...

Wow, BB. It sounds like the life changes and loss that you've been enduring as of late has really given you pause and do a lot of thinking.

Ms. A said...

Excellent description of exactly what's been going through my mind, a lot lately. Thinking about how "too busy" I was, when raising my kids, to appreciate my parents. Now I'm an orphan, with an empty nest and lots of time on my hands.

Ann said...

Well said Betty. I'm speechless.

Retired English Teacher said...

You have me thinking again. Thanks for the wonderful post.

Gigi said...

Wow, Betty! Just wow. What an amazing post - so insightful and heartfelt. And true.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

This is very profound, Betty.
Be well.
xoRobyn

Donea Lee said...

Thank you, Betty. This is just an absolutely beautiful and wonderfully written musing on middle age. Poetic and profound. You nailed it.

Baby Sister said...

Wow Betty. That was beautifully written. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

inkpuddle said...

THIS is writing. Beautifully expressed, as always.

Noelle said...

Oh how I love your blog!

Marlene said...

You have a way with words, and it shows, judging from all the fans here. :)

ShirleyC said...

This is one of the truest things I've read. The older we get, the more precious life becomes.

SandyCarlson said...

You said it so well. You said it so painfully, beautifully well. Thanks. Now I know I'm not alone!

Lin said...

It's a funny place, this middle age. My body betrays me, my kids leave me, and my mom....well, I'm torn between treasuring her and wanting to kill her these days. It's a hard place to be, but we have the wisdom and patience of the years past and we take it all in stride. I feel like I'm on the threshold of I-don't-know-what's-next. Or I do know and I don't like what is coming.

I'm gonna sit here at this middle place for awhile and just enjoy, I think.

Kazzy said...

It's a great but shaky time. I really like rediscovering myself, but it is intimidating at the same time. Great post. Thanks!

Barbara said...

Wonderful post. I'm right there with you on borrowed ground.

Poetic Shutterbug said...

Betty, I think you hit the nail on the head with it is not captured but only borrowed. Middle age is a time of reflection and seeking happiness and peace from within. I think the key is to live in the moment. If we delve too much in the past we get caught up in all those emotions and if we look too much to the future we lose the now.

You've given us much to think about with this post and dealt some inspirational messages.

Thank you.

Brian Miller said...

can you just be my therapist? i find myself there...and balancing the world on my shoulders here in the middle...thanks for the honesty...

Lazarus said...

Wow. That was my first thought. Wow, great post. Really provocative, insightful and honest. Thanks BB.

Shan said...

Whoo, there are so many thoughts that come to mind from this post. So many little arrows hitting home.

Zuzana said...

Absolutely wonderful read! You have described so eloquently what many of us feel, that time in our lives when we seem to be standing between ages, wondering what will be next. So much has happened and yet there is still so much that have the potential to unfold, even though suddenly there is a limited amount of years left to do it all. The assessment our our past, the doubts whether we are where we are suppose to be - or want to be for that matter.;)
I guess ultimately all we can do is just to accept the one single fact that life is short and we can only do the best with what we got.;)
xoxo

slommler said...

Beautifully written. I enjoyed the look and feel of this journey you have described.
Thanks
Hugs
SueAnn

blueviolet said...

I can relate soooo much to this. I've been through so many of these stop and assess life changing moments. What a terrific post!

Sara said...

I love your metaphor of heaving lifting and building muscles. So perfect!

Beth Zimmerman said...

Wow! Beautiful, hauntingly beautiful! Thank you for sharing your heart!

The Adorkable Ditz said...

And all of this is a part of growing up and growing old.

http://theadorkableditzmissteps.blogspot.com/

Nancy @ A Rural Journal said...

As a middle-ager myself, I often think about these types of things -- only you put them into words, very beautifully. :)

Susan Fields said...

What a powerful post! I love what you said about the giant target over our hearts when our children are born - that is so true!

Daisy said...

Wonderful post, Betty. We are the filling in the generational sandwich. I'm not sure how we got here so quickly, but here we are.

Joann Mannix said...

Betty, this was extraordinary, so powerful and so true.

I'm feeling your words so strongly these days. I've been calling this brief period of time in my life, the salad days. The days in between are good and way too fleeting.

I loved this post, Betty.

Joanna Jenkins said...

Wow, that was incredible Betty.

I have no children but I'm at the middle part of life where you start taking care of your parents. It's role reversal like I never imagined. Now I know how my parents and you feel/felt.

xo jj

Peggy K said...

Sweetie...you need to write books. This is truly one of the finest of the many fine posts you write!! I'm seriously considering looking at Blog2Print to see if I can make a book out of some of your essays. Not sure it's possible, but I'm going to look into it. I could read you over and over!!! Thank you for .... for your words. They truly move me!

Tabor said...

Stunning post. I have been away from reading blogs and will never catch up, but so glad I caught this one before it left the middle ground and disappeared down a long list.

Theresa Milstein said...

Wow, Betty. LIke Tabor said, stunning.

I relate to this post. While I'm not quite in the stage you are, I've experienced some of it, and I know the rest is coming. When it does, I hope I can face it with your insight and eloquence.

I'm sharing this on Facebook.

gayle said...

Beautiful post! I am there!

Pat Tillett said...

Betty, this is just one awesome bit of writing. Sad - to joyous and all stops in between.
Beautiful...

Jami said...

A beautiful perspective, Betty. I am just at the beginning, starting to see friends' marriages fall apart, or kids diagnosed with something awful. It can be a little scary. Treading water sounds good some days.

lisleman said...

just found this blog and I noticed your last post tells of you being out for a bit. Have a good trip. This post was recommended on FB by a friend and I'm very glad I followed the link. I noticed in scanning the long long list of comments (little envious) many other bloggers I follow. Great description of life - but not all men and women step up to the plate like you have. It's sad and frustrating that some just walk away from parenting and caring.
Great writing.

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