crisis (noun) a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.
I’m almost 47. This summer. I’ve been married for 22 years. To the same man. I have an almost 15 year old. She’s incomparable to me at 15. Knob kneed, freckle faced, ghost of a girl. She is wise and beautiful and solid. I’m at a place in my life. There are labels that go with this time: mid-life crisis,, perimenopause, middle age. I’m supposed to by products to minimize pores, wrinkles and smile lines. Why would I want to get rid of my smile lines? I’m supposed to at least consider highlights for the strands of gray, no longer just peeking through, but cascading. I’m supposed to start thinking of things I haven’t done, or the person I’ve yet to become. Bucket lists and such. I’m not really sure what all “this” is, but I can feel the tectonic  plates shifting beneath me. I’m moving into a new part of my life. I’m not scared really, but so much of who we are as women has to do with how we look. It’s hard to imagine not being valued for the way I look. I know I’m supposed to start valuing other things, but I’m not quite there yet. I’ve watched some of the most beautiful women I know in their 50s and 60s and I know enough to understand that this could be the best part of my life. Something is truly shifting. All of a sudden the pressing question is: Who am I if I’m not my daughter’s mother, my husband’s wife, a motherless woman, a recovering alcoholic, an abuse survivor? When I’m stripped of my teaching job, what do I “do” for a living? Where do I begin and my family members end? Who am I? All of a sudden that question is front and center. I watch my daughter pounding out a short story on our computer and I wonder where my dreams of being a writer went. I worry about not being sexually attractive to my husband, and I wonder where does my sexuality lie…in a man’s eyes or is it in me, my flesh, my divinity, my innate beauty? If I didn’t have a man or a woman as mine, would I be my own love, my own lover? All of these things outside of myself…my teacher heart, my mothering of my daughter, the ideas that my family and friends have of me, my passions, my beliefs, where do all of these things call home? Who am I? That’s what this is. It’s the same longing and angst I felt as I moved from childhood into womanhood: who will understand me, who do I speak to, what color am I, which song is mine, which words float around me and describe me, who will I love? All that I say to my high school students is starting to resonate with me as well. The difference is that when I was moving into adulthood, I needed someone else to understand all of these things about me. Now I’m the only one that needs to know.

My Aunt Judy

Today is my Aunt Judy’s birthday. She’s an incredibly important part of my life, and I want to wish her the most wonderful birthday.

Her influence in my life is intricate and profound. She’s been like a Johnny Appleseed of sorts, dropping the seeds of beauty, love and compassion throughout my years. We have so much in common that I don’t always share with others. We’re both odd ducks, and it’s always been nice to have a kindred spirit in her. She has brought me countless blessings and gifts that it’s hard to see where my interests and ideas end and her’s start.

From as early as I can remember, she’s shared her love of bicycles, picnic lunches, show tunes (which she’d play in the house and the car), an appreciation for delicate treasures and art. She carried on her mother’s work in teaching me so much more about plants, flowers, birds, and sea shells. She introduced me to two of my most favorite places…Sanibel Island and North Redington Beach. We’ve spent hours talking about other cultures, color pallettes, design and decor, politics, recovery, healing and health.

She has been an example of how to stay married for a long time and not lose who she is in the process. She has been a grandmother to my daughter…never missed a beat. Picked up were my mother would’ve wanted to be…with love, humor, childlike mirth and understanding. She has been a mother to me.

But the thing about Judy that I want to celebrate today is her fierce independence and refusal to be held down. She and I have both survived difficult and painful childhoods. She has climbed the stairs faithfully towards being the woman she knew she was meant to be. And in her early adulthood, faced with more difficulty, she struck out on her own with her child in tow, and created a steady, reliable and loving home for them both.

In that process she faced a lot of discrimination as a woman and single mother. It was her experience that made her an activist for all genders, races and cultures to be respected equally. Because of women like her, the rest of us that follow have choices between working outside of the home and working within. Her worked paved the way for women to have vocational choices other than, teachers, nurses, and secretaries. Now women all over the world run successful businesses and lead countries. Because of women like her, women’s votes count and sway. Because of people like her, people of color and different cultures and genders can now dream about becoming president one day.

I say this because, as women, we don’t experience the kind of discrimintion that my Aunt Judy, and so many others experienced…to the extent that they’ve suffered. Women today forget that it hasn’t even been 100 years since we were unable to vote (1919). My great-grandmother was the first woman in my family who was able to vote as an adult…only four generations ago.

In honor of Judy, and her service to equal rights, I implore you to become involved in the upcoming presidential election. I don’t care who you vote for, but you better damn well vote. Things that go unused become devalued. We, as women, can’t afford for that to happen. Teach your daughters, that their freedom is still young. Encourage them to be fierce, independent, and just. That’s the priceless legacy my Aunt Judy leaves us all.