Motherhood came late to me. At the age of 39, following years of infertility treatments and adoption delays, I held my first daughter. Leaving my job as director of marketing and communications for a large non-profit, I embraced motherhood fulltime. My second daughter came four years later, completing our family.
My therapist called stay-at-home mothers the “aristocracy” of our time. While I fully appreciated my privilege to focus solely on home rather than fracturing myself to please both home and work, I found myself isolated and drained. One of my children didn’t fit in her own skin. She was not comfortable on this planet and took out her considerable pain and confusion on the closest and safest target: me. Imagine day-to-day family demands compounded with the fury of an acting-out child. And then imagine the increased intensity that hit with adolescence.
Again, my therapist guided with her wisdom: find a writing group. As an English major, I love words and the way we use them to tell stories about what it means to be human. But I had avoided creative writing courses in college. Fearing the sting of criticism, I was too shy to bring the inside out. Yet at 50-something, I knew my survival depended on it.
I needed a daytime class to fit with my children’s schedules, and more importantly, I needed one with gentle souls to ease me into the world of self-expression. That ruled out undergraduates. Fortunately, nearby Northwestern University is one of 120 universities and colleges nation-wide with an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. I found a writing group with no professor, no grades, no assignments—just the pleasure of coming week after week to share work with fellow adults wise enough to motivate with praise and camaraderie. In the process, I was honored to hear first-hand accounts of crossing the Atlantic to invade France and flying intelligence missions in the Far East. I also enjoyed real-life tales of growing up in rural Mississippi in the Depression, raising children on the Nebraska plains in the ‘50s, and preserving persimmons in Japan.
The course not only enriched my life, it also gave me a body of work that became my portfolio to enter the Writer’s Studio at the University of Chicago. From there I moved into my current writing group, Plumb Line Poets, of Evanston, Illinois. These women, usually between 6 and 9 in number, have overseen the maturing of my writing. They helped me sculpt my words more precisely, nudged me into submitting on a regular basis, and ultimately celebrated the publication of my first full-length collection, “Lovely Daughter of the Shattering” (Kelsay Books, 2019).
If I am a poster child for anything, it is the reality that it’s never too late to start. One of my professors at The Writer’s Studio gave us this advice: “Poetry is the least commercial art form. You will never make money at it, so write for your own enjoyment.” I would add, write for your own enjoyment and wellbeing. It has made all the difference.