Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Midlife Mama

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I have a friend who's been referring to herself - and, therefore, to me, as we're the same age - as “middle-aged” for several years now. I think she started when we were in our mid-thirties, which to me was way too early. The New York Times agrees with me-a recent article in the Sunday Styles section dubbed thirty “the new twenty-one.”

So there. I am so not middle-aged. I bought four short skirts this summer to prove it.

Still, I have to face facts. I have a teenaged daughter. (She affirmed my fashion choices with the skirts, by the way.) My husband's hair is thinning and graying, and so is mine. I agree with the statement that “sleep is the new sex”--though I do have to wonder: why is everything the new something else? Why can't it be its own old self?

A few years ago I realized that, as a college professor, I was now closer in age to my students' parents than to my students. This was a profound blow to my ego, as I have always felt my strength as a teacher was in my ability to relate easily and comfortably with my students. Lately, though, eighteen-year-olds look like someone else's kids to me, not like adults I should be spending time conversing with. This will not hurt their feelings, as (I have to confess) for several years now my students have been treating me with the bemused, affectionate disrespect most suburban kids accord their moms. They caught on to my age problem long before I did.

So I'm a midlife mama. If my own age weren't enough to convince me, there's this compelling little math problem. If x=hands-on parenting time per child (we'll say 18, just for laughs), then one's total hands-on parenting time is x+y, where y=years between first and last child. In my case, that's 18+7.5 or 25.5. Now, figuring I've been at this game for 13 years already, I find that I'm just over halfway done with my hands-on parenting career. So, voil·! I'm at midlife as a mama.

I promise, that's the only math problem you'll ever encounter in this column.

While Freud may have thought that women ceased to be interesting at age 30, when-he believed-they stopped developing, I'm here to tell you that the changes after 30 are at least as interesting as the changes up to that point. For me, "growing" a new family has been an adventure of self-discovery and change.

In the twelve years since I turned 30, I've finished a doctorate, found a job, piled everything my husband and I owned into a U-Haul truck and driven it 3000 miles across the country to said new job, bought a house, buried my last grandparents, and finally found the courage to have a second child. This took a while, as our daughter had colic for nine months, and our memories are long. Our son was, thankfully, colic-free.

Boring, Papa Freud? Stop developing? Not quite. I'm a tenured professor, a wife, a mother, and now, a columnist. So join me on the ride, as I grow into this midlife deal-which, by the way, feels a lot like adolescence at times, so isn't it a good thing my daughter and I can go through it together?


Libby Gruner teaches English and Women’s Studies at the University of Richmond in Richmond, VA, where she lives with her family. Her academic writing has appeared in SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Children’s Literature, and other journals. Her personal writing has been featured in Brain,Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers the Seal Press anthology Toddler: Real-Life Stories of those Fickle, Urgent, Irrational, Tiny People We Love, and Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life.


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