For this week’s October Memoir and Backstory Challenge theme of Relationships, I’m comparing my life with my mother’s life at the same ages. I’ve visited two ages so far:
Today, I’m looking at age 48.
When my mother turned 48, she took classes at Eden Seminary. Lots of people take classes there without going on to become pastors, but my mother’s secret dream was to be in a pulpit. The logistics for doing that appeared insurmountable. Her husband, my dad, had a good job in a small town. Although Mother worked most of her life, they were always part-time jobs at near-volunteer wages. She didn’t have the sort of savings that would allow her to live independently. She questioned her marriage, her calling, how she had lived her life up to that point, and what, if anything, she was capable of changing in her future.
When I first read the little green notebook where Mother took notes of experiences during her Spirituality Class, it made me angry at the instructor, at my mother’s church, and at everyone who pushes a “Be still, and know that I am God” form of spirituality. I’m feeling a bit more forgiving as I read it today, especially since I’ve now read some of her later journaling work. The meditative prayer discipline that she practiced, from an outsider’s perspective, was clearly a mismatch for her. In the long run, I suspect she would say that she got something from the experience. It’s just painful to read how much she blamed herself instead of questioning whether the practice was right for her.
All of that came to an abrupt end when I was diagnosed with cancer at age 23 near the end of the semester. She had been flailing around wishing for a purpose in life and, for a few months, she had one — taking care of me.
By the latter half of my forties, I was dealing with some of the same issues my mother had — lack of purpose, obesity, busy days that didn’t seem to produce results and I wasn’t even sure what results I wanted. By my 48th birthday, though, I was several months into a successful weight loss journey. I had a number of advantages over my mother. I learned from her experience (as she encouraged me to do) and benefited from a changed world for women.
- I question authority.
- I value experimentation in my life, seeking solution instead of placing blame (even on myself).
- I never stopped exercising (thank you, Title IX).
- I rely on the latest research about overeating, its causes, and its treatment to guide my efforts.
- My secret dream doesn’t require anything that is logistically incompatible with my marriage.
- I have the confidence that comes from having earned a salary that I could live on if I had to, even though I’m not doing that at the moment.
My mother hoped that a focus on spirituality would be a back door toward purpose and weight loss. It looks like, for me, the weight loss is going to be the gateway to everything else. I find I’m a little embarrassed to write that — and that’s my mother in me. She says: “A focus on weight loss is self-centered and earth-bound. God is all; spirituality must come first.” But, if God is all, then it doesn’t really matter where I start, does it?
Do your parents remain role models in mid-life and beyond?