By Leigh Morrow
I remember when I was about twelve or thirteen, using my babysitting money to buy my first pair of skinny cropped pants as we called them. I remember thinking I was so in vogue, only to have my mother exclaimed “Those are adorable”! I had a red pair when your father and I were first dating, that I loved to wear.” I was shocked. First, that my mother had ever worn something I now coveted. Second, I had no idea that fashion recycled itself through the ages.
Then, when my daughter saw a picture of me in my early teens, wearing a tan leather jacket in high school with the long tassels on the shoulders and down the arms, she squealed, “Mom, that jacket is soooooo “down,” do you still have it?” I suddenly felt my life come full circle. The way styles return through our lives is a clear signpost to maturity, isn’t it? mid-life, like the cyclical patterns of fashion, is as much a repetition of those familiar rites of womanhood, now seen and experienced through the younger women in our lives, and most poignantly though our daughters and our granddaughters. The annoyance of a period, the blush of first love, the thrill of a wedding, the tears of miscarriage all evoke enormous empathy from those of us well-travelled mid-life women. We are by now, the tribal elders, and the wisdom we possess is substantial.
I cheer loudly when a younger friend excitedly calls, her new job promotion cracking the glass ceiling with another hairline fracture. I watch as a working mother waves to her son, his nose pressed on the daycare “waving window,” knowing that painful tug each morning as I too waved goodbye. I listen to the dismal dating stories my single sisters share, encouraging them that being alone is ok, knowing from experience the only sure way to find someone is to be content to be alone forever.
Today’s young women grow up faster than we did, into a world that is far more in peril and pain. The world is so much more complex and competitive it should be our privilege to be the cheerleaders for our younger sisters. By midlife, we know all the myriad of complex changes and re-arrangements that fuel our feminine mystique. We innately know the complexity of human emotions when we give birth, when we share our life for decades and must say goodbye, for the last time. Through all those seasons, we have written an encyclopedia of truths. Truths such as some decisions are best slept on, and that happiness can grow out of our deepest grief. We know that sometimes you have to dig deep to get answers, and other times a gentle breeze is more effective at airing our hearts. We also understand that an older woman as scout, to head up the pass and shout out the best path, can be priceless. Having an ally who has already been through the employment trenches, maternity wings and divorce lawyer’s offices, makes the trip much easier. And for the scouts, deeply rewarding.
So now on this ridge of midlife, it’s time to think of where we’ve come from. We can shrink away and become invisible and go through midlife with the archaic and outdated models society presents to us. Those signposts are everywhere. But why would we follow them? Why would we reach this midway point, and simply lie down and roll over the hill? That is not us.
We were erecting our lemonade stands when equal pay for equal rights was passed, and by the time we were looking for our summer jobs, we were the first wave of females to not find them segregated by gender in the newspaper. Privileged enough to entertain the thought of attending university, we experienced even greater freedom on campus. Once we left the house, we were unreachable. Unprotected sex might get you pregnant, but never kill you. Contraception was freely handed out, and the morning after pill, was an option for anyone who forgot hers. No woman had to be pregnant again if she didn’t choose to. Our women mentors passionately declared in TV shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and in our favorite Ms. magazinethat single women could have careers and marriage could wait, although our mothers would rather we had married a lawyer or journalist than become one.
We left university and got jobs that, just a few years before, had been reserved for men. Our workdays had clear beginning and ending hours, and finishing with just one university degree was your ticket to a well-paid career. We drank coffee and didn’t have to make it as well. We married sensitive guys, who could get their own slippers and knew how to clean up after themselves. We kept our maiden names.
We were able to keep working through pregnancy, and just in the nick of time, the law improved for us new moms, and we were the first generation to have a year of paid leave and bond with our newborns. We breastfed anywhere and everywhere we could, and for as long as we wanted, much to the shock of older people who saw us lift our tops and commence with lunch. The rest we stored in our freezer and pulled out for daycare. We were allowed to return to the workforce, with no penalty for giving birth, our pay and tenure intact. We job shared. Demanding our time was too precious to spend just working, our bosses obliged. We threw enormous energy into our careers, often being the breadwinner, and had our own bank accounts, credit scores and mortgages. We juggled home and office and spent countless hours chauffeuring our children to all those extra circular activities because the streets, where we played knock-a-door Ginger were suddenly unsafe to play in, with released pedophiles living on every block. We didn’t have cell phones to disrupt us.
We turned the music up in our cars, and rolled down the windows, and had a lot of fun. We raised strong confident girls, who could be astronauts or accountants, and considerate kind boys who knew how to cook and take care of themselves. We pushed as hard as we could in the corporate world; acquiring a few bruises from the glass ceiling (which ended up being much lower than advertised), we climbed as far as we could and made a few bucks along the way.
So why would we lie down now? We were the women who proudly showed our pregnant bellies, while our mothers were forced to run home to hide. We were the women who demanded we be paid as much as the boys. We were the women who juggled work and family and danced far faster than any other women in history.
Why would we lie down now? THAT makes no sense. That storm of women trailblazers who had marked our route into puberty, prime, and beyond, has quietly slipped around a bend in the road and vanished. Most have died. Their rabble-rousing never made it to our new age of midlife. This was as far as they came. The rest, the future of our age, is up to us to write. And there is a lot of work to do.
We see the world changing, and not for the better. The earth is beginning a new cycle, make no mistake about it. It will be more challenging for all women as our planet moves into this new phase. We grew up with rivers and lakes we could swim in, and drank water from the hose. We ate vegetables with real nutrients from soil that didn’t make you sick. If ever dear Mother Earth needed some female nurturing, the time is now. Perhaps that is part of our midlife’s true calling – to help heal the earth as only the mature wisdom keepers of the planet can do. We, the elder women, who know the wonder of creation and all it brings.
This is our time to understand the real potential of Midlife and we have been preparing for this time, our entire lives. Midlife, this sacred gift, possesses the wisdom to improve our world, our children’s world and re-live some fashions along the way. Now, is our turn to lay some trails for younger women to follow. Now is our turn to lead by example, demanding a less age-angst world, where our value increases over time, like gold, and heirloom treasures. To never lie or deny our age, as doing so only contributes to this sickness, this obsession with youth, that threatens to make growing older, abnormal. This is our time to speak up for wisdom and elder knowledge, or it is at risk of disappearing. This is your midlife, stake it, claim it, treasure it, respect it, and dress for it, my sisters, in those favorite pants that are coming full circle, and back in style again.
Leigh Morrow, co-author of “Just Push Play” (www.jppmidlife.com) is a Vancouver writer who operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the quaint ocean-front community of San Agustinillo, Mexico. Her house can be rented at www.gosanagustinillo.com