Text from my neighbor:
Just watching "The Middle"
Is it us?
It was funny to get that text last night because I happened to be watching "The Middle" at the same time and it wasn't even on right then: both of us were watching it a day late on our DVR.
I also happened to be thinking the same thing.
For those of you who don't watch the show, it is a family sit-com starring Patricia Heaton as a mom in "The Middle" meaning the mid-west but it could also mean the middle years. It is uncannily accurate in the portrayal of a 50 ish mom.
In this episode, her character, Frankie, was trying to get a job and the employers kept asking her "So who IS Frankie?" which had set off an identity crisis. After 19 years of parenting three kids she was not so sure anymore. (Parenting three kids for 19 years. Why does that sound familiar?)
My neighbor is a true empty-nester--her singlet is a junior in college. I still have the girls at home--but not for long. Now that everyone is in high-school and beyond...well I haven't moved into the empty nest but I certainly need to start shopping for one.
This is a way harder time than other moms let on. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of honesty on the topic. As I re-read (for at least the tenth time) A Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh while on vacation last month, I came upon this paragraph I had not recalled, in an epilogue she had added some 20 years after first writing the essay book on parenting and marriage:
"When I wrote Gift from the Sea, I was still in the stage of life I called "the oyster bed," symbol of a spreading family and growing children. The oyster bed, as the tide of life ebbed and the children went away to school, college, marriage or careers, was left high and dry. A most uncomfortable stage followed not sufficiently anticipated and barely hinted at in my book. In bleak honesty it can only be called "the abandoned shell." Plenty of solitude, and sudden panic at how to fill it, characterize this period. With me, it was not a question of simply filling up the space or time. I had many activities and even a well-established vocation to pursue. But when a mother is left, the lone hub of a wheel, with no other lives revolving about her, she faces a total re-orientation. It takes time to re-find the center of gravity."
Many of you have careers outside the home so perhaps do not feel quite so lost or lost at all. For those of us fortunate enough to make the choice to be stay-at-home moms, well, I feel like the reverse of that t-shirt that said "Oops, I forgot to have babies"! Mine could say, "Oops, I forgot to go back to work".
So now what? For many of us, age, health concerns, and ailing parents, not to mention a job market that is not exactly looking for a woman who hasn't worked in 20 years, keeps us from readily re-entering that world.
Many will overcome those obstacles; many already have.
I don't know what's next. Like Frankie Heck, I don't know quite how to answer that question, "So who IS Judy."
But at least I know I am not doing it alone. Because if my neighbor feels that way, and the writers of "The Middle" know it, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1975 wrote about it....it's pretty universal.
Best wishes to us all as we seek to "re-find the center of gravity."