My grandmother gave birth to twelve children, and of those twelve she lived to bury three of them. Two died as children, and my father passed away as an adult. Of the remaining nine, all left home, married and settled in various areas of the country. She survived my grandfather by fifty years, which wasn’t uncommon for women in the South over seventy-five years ago. The one child who remained was my mentally challenged uncle, Curtis Quince.

As a child I would go to “Mama Lula’s” house with my brother, Patrick; we would sashay into her front door, sit down and talk for a few minutes, then get up and run outside to play. I loved escaping to her house because it was a breath of fresh air from the noise of my seven brothers and sisters. I’m sure the quietness and refuge that I cherished, she had come to hate. There were days I would come by and see her sitting on the porch with a forlorn look on her face: it wasn’t only a look of loneliness and despair, the look said, “no one is going to rescue me from this.” Even as a child, I sensed “Mama Lula’s” relief when Patrick and I would show up, I sensed her thankfulness, and I was equally grateful for the sense of history and peacefulness she had given to me.

It is true that we can spend all our lives as employees, parents, and productive citizens, and one day wake up to realize we are in the house alone. I realized my “nest” was empty after I dropped my youngest daughter off at college. My ex-husband had left a year earlier to build a new nest with a younger, new wife and two other children. I didn’t have time to be bitter; the time that I possessed was spent trying to find a career in post-mid-life and trying to keep two daughters in college.

I joined several sites, became an avid hiker, a prolific dancer, and began to explore the singing skills that had lain dormant for a long time. I found the self who had been buried beneath the needs of children and the expectations of a neglectful spouse. I returned to school and acquired a certificate as a drug counselor. I got a job working at something that required skill and thought. It was a great accomplishment. My days were filled. The nights and the weekends became the gaps. I suddenly realized the children had filled the nights and the weekends until now: they had filled the gaps for ten years plus. Overwhelmingly, I began to crave sharing the most insignificant events. A sunset, a cup of coffee, a walk in the park, a walk anywhere; these things became monumental events set against a backdrop of emptiness.

The gaps are here and I refuse to fill them with minutia. I refuse to fill the gaps with things that I’m not passionate about. I spoke with a woman  I met and is in a similar situation with the children and the spouse gone;I said, “It’s amazing how much space another person takes up in your life, and when they are no longer there how much space is left.” So I must fill the gaps with Joan. I must fill the gaps with whom I choose to be with and what I choose to give my time to. Time is the most precious commodity of an “empty nester”; use it wisely, make it work for you and you will see the valuable return of your investment.



The Meaning of Motherhood

If someone asked me what my greatest achievement in life has been, I would have to say it is being a mother. The highest calling in life is to have the privilege of giving someone life and having the opportunity to nurture that life into adulthood. A mother is a child’s first contact with the world, and if that contact is warm, trusting, and nurturing it can make the difference in whether the child reaches their full potential emotionally as well as physically.

I remember when I first realized that raising my children was a calling, and that I would need the grace of God to do it right. I was in church, and the pastor’s wife relayed to me how God had given her wisdom in how to train her children up in the Lord. I went home and looked up every scripture I could find on child training. I then began reading the scriptures to my oldest child at the time. I wanted the children to know that what I was doing had a Biblical base; that I wasn’t just making things up out of my head. The first scripture I recall teaching the children was from the book of Ephesians, “Children obey your parents in the Lord…” I would make a pointed effort to pray where the children could hear me, in addition to praying with them and teaching them to pray on their own.

Motherhood to me meant a responsibility  to help my children reach their God-given potential as well as instilling in them an understanding of who God is. No parent no matter how much they teach and train a child can give them faith; only Jesus Christ can do that. There were many nights I spent singing, reading, and brushing hair before bedtime. There were planet and star stickers that I pasted to the ceiling, and the children and I spent many nights staring at the ceiling trying to count the stars.

There were also the days and nights spent calming a frightened child, breast feeding a newborn, and soothing chicken pox with calamine lotion. The time that Jaynae developed chicken pox I slept with her on the couch in the living room for two weeks. In between all the sickness there were the prayers taped to the bedroom walls to help Ima remember to pray for healing each time she was sick, and help Uyime recite scriptures when she had headaches also. The years of getting physicals for school stand out in my mind, as well as the years of disputing with school officials of my right to refuse vaccinations for my children.

When you give birth to your child, you risk your life, after the child is born your heart is at risk forever. As a mother I was there for each tear they shed in my presence and some of them they shed without my presence. When their hearts broke, my did too, when they were overjoyed, I became ecstatic also. My mind reflects on every dance practice, each dance recital, all the music concerts,(as well as the music practice), and all the violin strings which broke. Oh yes I remember every violin I had to purchase also. By the time the years of teaching them to drive and going to buy prom dresses arrived, I felt that I’d already lived three lifetimes.

I questioned why I was still here after the death of Jaynae, I didn’t want to comprehend my living and her lying in a grave. I was grateful that she’d had a wonderful life. Yet I had difficulty finding the meaning of mundane things in life after her passing. She had taught me so much; even though I was the parent. Even now, when I look at her life, she is still teaching me; she is saying, “Mom keep singing, keep living, keep hoping, I may no longer be with you, but you still have mountains to conquer.”

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I once watched a television program about a woman approaching middle age. She said to a close friend, ” I feel the same inside as I did as a young girl, but when I look in the mirror I know that I’m not that young girl anymore.”  I thought, how can someone feel quite young even when they are growing older? I then surmised that who we truly are-which is what can’t be seen-never changes. It is only the outer covering that changes for a multitude of reasons. Other people only see what we appear as on the outside; yet even as our eyes age, those who really know us can see into our soul.

I was 32 years old and pregnant with my third child when I began to realize my own mortality. Up until then I had never thought of growing older and certainly never having to deal with the possibility of my own death.

How women often approach mid-life changes

For women who have relied exclusively on personal beauty to get them through life, or for those whose livelihood is connected with their physical appearance, approaching menopause may be viewed with apprehension.

Accepting mid-life changes means that we are growing older, and growing older means various things to different people. To some it may mean a change of roles in life: What do I do now that the children are grown and no longer need me the way they once needed me. To others it means a close examination of what they’ve accomplished in life: Have I fulfilled all those dreams which I harbored in my teens, twenties or thirties? To still others it may mean mourning the loss of youthful exuberance. Mid-life brings us to a threshold of setting priorities or possibly assessing our priorities.

Approaching menopause can create a myriad of emotions and just as many questions: Will I still be useful? Will there be a place for me as I grow older? Some women internalize in themselves the same judgments our society resonates about aging.

Aging women battle society’s judgment

Some cultures, such as Asian and Indian societies, embrace growing older as something to be honored and revered. For many cultures, however, mid-life is considered the beginning of deterioration and unattractiveness, especially for females, and some women cling to society’s judgment. We must remind ourselves that who we are does not change as we accumulate birthdays on the calendar.

Many of us face menopause and mid-life with trepidation because we are forced to evaluate our lives in terms of who we are, who we’ve been and who we expect to become. It is much easier to face the inevitable changes that come with mid-life if we have dealt effectively with changes throughout our whole lives.

It seems simplistic to focus only on the physical aspects growing older, such as weight gain and additional wrinkles: instead of trying to answer the questions that lie in the back of our minds about our value, our usefulness, and our place in society. While physical changes do present us with challenges, it is the way we view those changes that lays the foundation for how we will live out the rest of our lives.

Our physical bodies are changing. Estrogen levels are dropping and lean muscle mass is decreasing. Just as young girls are taught to accept the onset of menses and the change from child to young woman; adult women should be applauded for accepting the natural changes that will eventually come to us all.

Women juggle work, family, personal needs

Many women who are entering mid-life also have young children to care for: these are often the same women whose parents are approaching an age when they need constant care. This dilemma can present a range of emotions, from frustration to anger. Some women may ask, “When will I find time for myself?”

Even if our parents don’t live near us, many still feel an obligation to oversee their welfare. Looking at the way our parents age can also stir up emotions and questions such as, “Will I be able to care for myself as I grow older?” “Will the same ailments afflict me also?”

There is a certain contentment that comes with growing older: It is a knowledge of who we are and a wisdom that comes only with varied experiences. It is comforting to be aware of our strengths, our weaknesses, and to be fully confident of who we really are and what we want in life.

It is a positive thing to talk openly with others about how we feel about this stage of our lives. If necessary, grieve your losses; whether it is the loss of opportunity, loss of loved ones, or the  loss of the vitality of youth: but allow yourself to grieve. It also helps to look forward with eagerness to this next phase of your life. Menopause is not an end, but a truly great beginning to the next chapter of your life.