As I have grown, I have become very interested in the renaissance of life that occurs for women when they hit 50.
I see it often happening in this way. A mother spends the bulk of her young life caring for her children. Even if she has a job, for the most part, she is more intimately concerned with raising children because of the joint demands of biology and cultural tradition. This is not true in all cases, but the majority of women have to make life sacrifices in parenthood that men are never asked to make. Although I have seen exceptions to this, it seems to me that men may keep their hobbies and be fathers; mothers are not so lucky. A mother’s entire life is wrapped up in her children and she does not have any time to think of herself.
This was certainly true for my mother. I realized she didn’t have any time for herself when I was about 9. That year I was charged with writing the family Christmas letter. I went around the house and polled everyone on their favorite hobbies so I could write about what they did for fun. Kelsey told me about gymnastics; Grace told me about fashion and painting; Sam babbled about basketball, football, soccer; Dad played tennis.
I asked Mom what her hobbies were. “Umm… well,” she said, thinking. “Raising you kids?” I frowned. “That’s not a hobby, Mommy.” She smiled. “Well, I don’t really have time for hobbies.” And she didn’t. She didn’t do anything that wasn’t directly related to raising us, homeschooling us, and running her retail business. I think I finally made something up and wrote in the letter that Mom’s hobby was making scrapbooks. I was sad about this, even at the age of 9.
This why I find so much joy in seeing women become empty nesters. After 20 to 30 years of child rearing, these women finally have some time to themselves. If anyone deserves a peaceful retirement, it’s mothers. I imagine that it could often be a frightening stage of life, though–to have poured your whole self into parenting and then, suddenly, you are left home alone and wondering what your life calling is now.
My mom still has Sam at home, but he’s the strong, silent boy, and so she’s eased herself into early mothering retirement. Today, she has a plethora of life-giving hobbies. She is a prodigious gardener and her plots are the envy of the neighborhood. She took a beekeeping class and is planning on acquiring her first hive soon. She is becoming an amateur birdwatcher. She goes to daily yoga classes with her new set of friends, a group of similarly emancipated mothers. And it makes me extremely happy to see her doing all of these things; no one deserves time to themselves as much as my mother does.
I also think of my friend Catherine’s mother, Janet. Janet is a wonderful example of this life-after-50 renaissance. Janet went to law school after all of her kids had left home. She wrote a book about the dire need for conservation of Falls Lake. She turned Catherine’s old bedroom into a Room of Her Own and put a sign on the door that reads, “The Falls Lake Center for Social Justice.” She is fun, sassy, beautiful, and opinionated — and it is delightful to see her enter into this new stage of living.
All of this to say, I am looking forward to being 50. Not that I want to skip over the whole process of being young and raising kids, but I am excited about the freedom that American women are allowed to experience once they are middle-aged. One day, it will be good to be old, to acknowledge that my life is half over and not to balk at it, but to be gracious, to take heart in it.