Things I Learned From the Woman Next Door

How many potatoes does a wife peel over the course of her wifetime?

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Last week while I was peeling potatoes in my kitchen I had a flashback. For a few moments, I was transported back in time to when I was 18 years old, a young wife and stay-at-home mom, sitting in the kitchen of the middle-aged woman who lived next door.

I loved this woman. She was a boisterous, thrice-married, functioning alcoholic with a wealth of experience, none of which she seemed to learn from, all of which she loved to share after a few glasses of wine.

Evenings spent with her were an adventure as she told tales of ex-husbands and lovers, of friends’ sorrows, and of being adopted. She would gossip about the doctors at the OB/GYN office where she worked, unconcerned that I was a patient there, knowing I had a mad crush on the youngest of them.

My cue to leave some nights were hints of what would later become knock-down, drag-out fights between her and the guitar-playing, passive-aggressive, alcoholic third husband. To say she led a dramatic life is an understatement.

Despite her crazy life, as a young woman, I learned from her. A lot of what I learned was what not to do. But I also learned that a tough life didn’t have to dampen one’s spirit. She was a loving, if inconsistent, mother and a fantastic cook.

Many of our conversations took place in her kitchen, me sitting at the table while she prepared meals. This often involved peeling potatoes. It was during these moments that tidbits of wisdom emerged.

One of her statements in particular stood out. She told me that when she married her first husband, at the age of 18, she vowed to “count every potato I peeled as a wife.”

Her statement struck me because of how loaded it was with meaning. It implied that marriage was a monotonous state in which a woman must perform never-ending duties for her family, many of which went unappreciated. By counting the potatoes, she was in her small way rebelling against the institution, and placing a value on her worth as a woman and wife.

Even at that tender age she had an inkling of what she was getting in to. Of course she lost count.

As I stood in my kitchen, peeler in hand, her words came back to me. There can be a lot of monotony, drudgery, and duty in women’s work. What we do for our families often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Yet we keep on peeling the potatoes, because that’s what women do.

From this woman next door, I learned that every scrape of the potato skin is an act of love, each chop on the cutting board is an offering.

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A Letter to My Readers

New year, new blog title and tagline, same content – it’s all about midlife.

First, I want to say thank you for reading my blog, especially the handful of you that do so faithfully. I deeply appreciate your time, comments, and likes. And I love checking out what you’re up to each week.

Those of you that have been with me from the beginning know that I started this blog in May 2015 with a frenzy of posts, essentially disappeared from the blogosphere for about four months over summer, and resumed posting again in earnest in December 2015.

When I resumed, I experimented with different themes, changed the title from Middle-Aged Madness to Midlife Madness (more on that later), and have been playing around with different taglines.

Honestly, I consider it a miracle that you have stuck around through this identity crisis.

The truth is, I knew less than zero about blogging when I started this site. I had just completed my master’s degree and for the first time in two years had some time on my hands in the evenings. I also had just turned 46 and I love to write, so thought, “Oh, I’ll start a blog about middle-age. That’ll be fun.”

The title Middle-Aged Madness popped into my head, primarily because I’d just finished binge-watching the entire series Mad Men on Netflix. I thought it was cute and catchy, so I went with it, not bothering to Google the name to see if it already existed.

Mad Men Image via http://consumerist.com

I had no idea that blogging could be so complicated, that people who follow you actually expect you to post meaningful content regularly, not occasional rants about how life can suck. There was this whole blogging world out there and I didn’t know where I belonged in it.

In November 2015, after writing my first post in months, I thought about deleting the blog. I wasn’t sure I had the time or wherewithal to do it properly. I also didn’t think my topic was popular enough to get the readership I hoped to have.

Then I had an epiphany: I’d only been blogging for six months, and for four of them I didn’t blog at all, and I was going to throw in the towel!

I was mad at myself. It’s so typical of me to start something in a flurry of creative energy and then not see it through to the end. Part of it is my personality type (ENFP), but part is a lack of what one of my students once called “stickwithitness” when it comes to my creative life.

I resolved right then that no matter what, even if my current readers dumped me and I had no new ones, I was sticking with this blog until at least December 2016. I would post once per week. I would educate myself on blogging, and learn as much as I could about the blogging community.

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This is exactly what I’ve been doing. As part of this process, I decided to change my title to Midlife Madness. After Googling Middle-Aged Madness and coming up with some weird video game, and also realizing that the term midlife resulted in more relevant Google links than middle-age, I decided to go with it.

The one drawback is that midlife seems narrower in age, about 45-55, whereas middle-age encompasses about 45-65. I’ll worry about that if I’m still blogging in 9 years.

Then there was the matter of the tagline.

Initially, I thought it was warm and inviting, but according to what I was learning about taglines, it probably wasn’t accurately describing what my blogging goals are, which is to inform, entertain, and inspire people to view midlife as an exciting time, filled with possibilities.  I also want to share the humor in and reflect on the everyday ups and downs of life. (It took me getting serious about blogging to even consider what my goals are.)

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But I couldn’t find a tagline that was working, despite writing an extensive list. That’s when it occurred to me that maybe the tagline isn’t working because the title is wrong.

A friend of mine, who lives in London so we only communicate via email, had told me it was all wrong, but he never told me why. I assumed it was because he associated the word madness with mental illness.

Yes, life can be crazy and middle-age can be riddled with mad moments, but was this the message I really wanted to impart? Now that I was no longer burned out from working on my master’s degree and was feeling better about life, did I want to perhaps send a more positive message about the midlife experience?

I decided the answer is yes. So Middle-Aged Madness turned Midlife Madness is now Midlife Awakenings, with a new tagline to go with it. I feel that the new title better reflects my goals for this blog and this stage of my life. Life is still a little mad, but it’s also exciting , filled with new possibilities and new beginnings.

Again, thank you for your readership and your “stickwithitness.” Enjoy the day!

Over-40 Romance Novels: They Do Exist!

I confess that I’m a romance novel junkie. Despite having an advanced degree in English, I can’t get enough of those steamy, predictable, falling in love stories. They provide the mindless entertainment I seek at the end of a long day.

My favorites are historical romances set in Regency England. As I get older, though, I’m finding that I relate less and less to the young heroines, who usually are under the age of 25.

This got me thinking: Are there any romance novels that feature  heroes and heroines  over the age of 40? A quick Google search gave me an answer, which is a resounding yes!

Here is a list of titles from Goodreads.  Note that the first few are by author Kristen Ashley. I have yet to read one of her books, but already I’m wondering how the love scenes will look in comparison to those with younger lead characters.

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Photo via Goodreads

Here’s an excerpt from a traditional  romance novel, Put Up Your Duke, by Megan Frampton, told from the perspective of the young heroine, who is referring to her under-30 husband: “…that gorgeous, muscular, delicious body.” (342)

Now imagine a similar line from the perspective of a heroine over the age of 40, referring to her equally old lover: “…that sexy, somewhat muscular, slightly beer-bellied body.”

Hmm…which love scene would you rather read?

As if aging bodies weren’t enough to deal with, usually by the time a person reaches their 40s they bring some kind of baggage into a new relationship. This could be emotional baggage, such as a broken heart or career burnout, or physical baggage, like an ex-spouse or a house with an upside down mortgage.

Hardly the stuff of romance.

Nevertheless, I’m going to give one of the books a try. I trust that somehow the author found a way to bypass the baggage and saggage to create a compelling, happily-ever-life-after-40 story.

Has Feminism Ruined Marriage?

I had no intention ever of writing a post about feminism and marriage, but last week, while visiting my local library, I came across a book called The Proper Care & Feeding of Marriage by syndicated radio host and marriage counselor Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

I’d heard things about Dr. Laura, things that didn’t align with the liberal, somewhat feminist working mother and wife I believed I was. Yet I found myself taking the book off the shelf, flipping it open to the jacket cover description.

“Dr. Laura asserts that in order to produce and sustain a wonderfully satisfying marriage, spouses must recognize and appreciate the polarity between the masculine and feminine.”

Not what I’d expected. It sounded almost new age, like worship of a feminine and masculine divine. I turned to the introduction.

“This is not your typical marriage manual. I’m not going to present the usual psychobabble nonsense that has been dominating the marital therapy field since the sixties which condemns masculinity and disdains femininity.” (1)

Thank God for that. I hated psychobabble nonsense. I’d experienced enough of it to know that I was usually better off working out my issues on a yoga mat or in a journal.

I believe that the single most horrible problem for marriages today is a lack of understanding, not only of what is needed by a man in a woman but also what is needed by a woman in a man.” (1)

How simple; me Tarzan, you Jane. Not that such a backward concept had any place in today’s modern society.

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I kept reading.

“Chivalry is largely dead, and feminism is the murder. It soured both males and females on the joy, awe, wonder, excitement, thrill, satisfaction from, and mystery of femininity and masculinity…Spouses are more likely to suffer from behavior that resembles sibling rivalry where there is competition for resources and power.” (3)

OMG, I had to read this book. I whisked it off the shelf. At home, in my favorite chair, I read.

“Women today do not think of themselves in the context of helping “their man.” Women have been brainwashed into thinking that efforts in that direction are in the category of oppression, subservience, and catering to frail male egos…feminism demoted that singularly magical ability of women to transform deflated men into heroes and warriors into a notion of massaging the frail, pathetic ego of a weak man…” (14)

Dr. Laura’s traditional views on marriage were resonating with me, though they went against the conditioning my generation was raised on. The traitor-to-feminism feelings they invoked reminded me of the time, about two years ago, when I saw feminist Gloria Steinem speak.

At first, I was in awe to be in the presence of this women’s rights pioneer, whose efforts had made it possible for my sex to have choices. Then, about midway through her speech, I had a startling thought: What did this woman — who wasn’t a mother and hadn’t become a wife until late in life — know about the struggles moms and wives face? What qualified her to tell us how to live our lives?

She had never had to place her infant in the hands of another woman 10 hours a day in order to go to work. She had never had to wake in the night multiple times to nurse a baby, and then drag her exhausted butt to a job the next morning. What did she know about the toll this kind of lifestyle took on a marriage and a woman’s soul?

She knew nothing, at least not first-hand. Yet here she was, giving advice, saying that men needed to step it up, as if they were the sole culprits of these struggles, as if women weren’t making choices for their lives that left them feeling exhausted, guilty, and resentful.

Suddenly, I resented her, and have wrestled with conflicting feelings about feminism ever since.

Chasing career and personal goals with little regard to the impact it is having on your spouse and family is a map where all roads dead-end. Men who do this usually end up with heart attacks; women who do this end up with out-of-control families and Valium drips.” (113)

I never want America to go back to the way things used to be for women, when husbands took over their property, when they couldn’t vote, when they were forced to bear too many children, when they felt trapped in abusive marriages because they couldn’t earn a living and would lose their children if they left. Feminism freed women from all that.

I also recognize that there are couples who are making their marriages work, despite both working full-time and/or taking on non-traditional roles.

But what of the slightly over 50% of couples that aren’t making it? Divorce is taking a toll on our children, health, finances, and societal well-being. Men alone aren’t to blame. Women must acknowledge their role and responsibility in the demise.

Don’t use discussions about how bad your spouse is as entertainment with your friends. Do take every opportunity you can to build up your spouse in your mind by relating wonderful, positive stories.” (121)

I’ve been guilty of the former, of picking on my husband rather than finding things to appreciate and praise. Now I see that this says more about my state of mind than his character. Seriously, I could burn an entire meal and the man would eat it without complaining, yet God forbid he leaves his socks on the bedroom floor.

Dr. Laura claims that feminism “soured both males and females on the joy, awe, wonder, excitement, thrill, satisfaction from, and mystery of femininity and masculinity.” (3)

Is she right? Or are other factors contributing, such as the economy, fast-paced lifestyles, materialism?  Have we become a nation of whining, selfish adult brats who expect our spouses to resolve our childhood pains, meet all our needs, and mend our broken parts?

I don’t have the answers, but I suspect that helping one’s husband feel like a warrior goes much farther toward creating marital bliss than getting him to clean the toilets.