Do you do your best thinking in the shower? I do. Sometimes I wonder if the puzzles of world peace or missing socks would best be solved if we all bathed together. On second thought…
This weekend I had another one of my water logged revelations. Or maybe they are epiphanies. It was about the theme of several of the books I’ve read lately.
Three of the books I’ve read over the past several months deal with the notion of being lost. I didn’t intentionally choose the books for this theme, but hindsight suggests that maybe I was (subconsciously) leaning toward books that might explain, commiserate, or even guide me through what I am seemingly experiencing right now, which is a sense of being lost. I think I’m feeling this way primarily about various forks along my vocational road, both the ones at my feet right now and the ones I sense ahead. The forks well behind me certainly come into all of this too, though for entirely different reasons.
I feel like I’m feeling my way in the dark so much of the time, aimlessly wandering down a path toward an unknown, uncharted destination.
The sensation of feeling a bit lost also seems to be tied to “where I see myself in the next ten years” (to use a job interview phrase) around the time when I will turn fifty and my daughter will be close to embarking out on her own. I am more of a planner by nature than a free-spirited wanderer, so the past three years in particular have really cut against the grain of who I am (though, surprisingly, in profoundly good ways). Still, I think about how the choices I make right now play into all that is yet to come. I’m constantly thinking about all of this, on some level, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got to make some choices soon. No more wasting time. I’ve got to “find” myself and get back on the map.
The books, you ask?
Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding by Lynn Darling,
Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and most recently,
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit.
There was even a poem that I found serendipitously last week in my copy of Good Poems, selected by Garrison Keillor: Lost by David Wagoner. How apt.
I’ve liked each book for very different reasons—indeed they each involve entirely different circumstances and writing styles. I found myself underlining passages quite frequently in Out of the Woods (which I reviewed briefly here) and A Field Guide to Getting Lost.
At minimum, they’ve shown me that I’m not unique in the experience of feeling or getting lost, even at this age. In fact, I venture to guess that, for many of us, more of us feel this way around the age of 40 than other ages, though no one seems to talk about it. Does this feeling ever subside down the road? I’m going to have to get back to you on that, but I can say that for myself, the feeling right now is more palpable than it has been since I was about 25 or so. It is unexpected, to say the least. Aren’t we supposed to be sure of ourselves four decades in? I’m not so sure anymore.
But there’s a passage in Solnit’s book that seems to help me think about it all with fresh eyes:
…the real difficulties, the real arts of survival, seem to lie in more subtle realms. There, what’s called for is a kind of resilience of the psyche, a readiness to deal with what comes next. These captives lay out in a stark and dramatic way what goes on in every day life: the transitions whereby you cease to be who you were. Seldom is it as dramatic, but nevertheless, something of this journey between the near and the far goes on in every life. Sometimes an old photograph, an old friend, an old letter will remind you that you are not who you once were, for the person who dwelt among them, valued this, chose that, wrote thus, no longer exists. Without noticing it you have traversed a great distance; the strange has become familiar and the familiar if not strange at least awkward or uncomfortable, an outgrown garment. And some people travel far more than others.
She goes on for another few pages talking about butterflies and metamorphosis, with the chrysalis and instar stages, an example so completely perfect and written so compellingly that I highly recommend you seek it out sometime (it is just too long to put down here). But she gets to the nub, I think, of where I currently am, which is maybe not lost after all.
Do you seem to read books in clusters of a particular theme? Is it intentional or do you only realize it after the fact? Do you think it matters if you are choosing fiction or nonfiction as the source? Is one more of an escape and the other a how-to manual?
HOUSEKEEPING: For any non-Twitter, non-Bloglovin’ (or other similar kind of feed) folks out there, I want to let you know that I have created a Facebook Page where you can follow all of my writing, not just what appears on my blog. It’s called “Kristen Ploetz, Writer”. Hope to see you there.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I had my daughter when I was 33. Certainly not ancient, but still on the older end of the childbearing spectrum. I am 40 now and my daughter is seven.
When my own mother was 40, I was much, much older. I think about that sometimes: how just the fact of how old I was when I had my daughter sometimes alters my experience of being a mother, at least when compared to my own mother or any number of women who have children at a younger age.
This difference cropped up unexpectedly two weeks ago. I was in my bedroom getting dressed to go to my annual physical and first mammogram. I remarked about how I had to remember to not put on antiperspirant that morning because it can affect the accuracy of the mammogram. My daughter heard me say this and then proceeded to ask me what I was talking about.
It dawned on me in that moment that I probably was not even aware of mammograms, let alone my mother having them, until I was closer to twenty. It was yet another way that my experience (let alone my daughter’s) will be different just because I chose to have a child later in life than my mother did.
At seven years old, she’s not quite at the precipice of puberty and changes in her body, though I can already sense they are on the horizon. But she is mature enough to understand some basic things like the importance of taking care of our bodies, that breasts serve an important function, and that there are some routine medical examinations that are preventive in nature (and therefore not inherently scary). So I used it as an opportunity to explain what I was doing that morning. I explained to her the why (in very basic terms) and the how (in seemingly excruciating detail due to a gazillion questions and request for a visual demonstration about how the machine works…ahem). I was comfortable telling her and was very matter of fact about it, and she responded like a seven year old might: lots of giggles about boobs, followed by “Oh, OK, cool, Mommy. Can I have some strawberries with breakfast?”
I’m somewhat of an anxious person, especially when it comes to medical testing. But I’ll be completely honest: this particular test did not have me feeling worried. That’s really never happened before. Instead, I felt a sense of gratitude that I even had this chance to have a mammogram. In fact, while I was in the waiting room at the mammography center, sitting there with about six other women, all dressed only in a robe from the waist up, I felt a silent solidarity with them. Most of them were far older than me (which was evidenced by the inability of two being unable to work the iPad check-in form), and who knows why any of the others were there. Maybe it wasn’t a positive experience for some of them. But I felt a sisterhood, in age and physical form, with these women. We really are all in this together. In my head, I wished each one of them well.
If you want to make your mammography nurse giggle, ask lots of ignorant questions! Turns out the reading of “21.5 lbs” I saw on the digital display while the nurse was setting up my breast in the machine is not how much my breast weighs. It is the pressure being exerted by the machine. The more you know…
My results came by email a week later. Happily, the mammogram was clear. I reported back to my daughter, just in case there was a worried loose end floating around in her (often worried) mind. She smiled. And then proceeded to randomly yell across the house to my husband a few days later, “Hey, Dad! Mama’s boobs are healthy!”
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you are unsure about whether a mammogram is right for you right now, check with your physician or start by reading the guidelines offered by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The procedure is relatively easy and only momentarily uncomfortable.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
She cries like that because she’s a girl.
Even that girl can do it, so why can’t you?
That’s something that girls play with, not boys.
And who can forget the Always #LikeAGirl campaign this past summer?
We’ve all heard iterations of the same thing at one time or another—on the playground, in sports, in the toy store, or at the schoolyard. It is tough to hear, especially when it’s coming from a parent or other trusted adult in that child’s life.
These unfair characterizations are based solely on gender and ignore that child’s individual personality, abilities, and needs in that moment. These kinds of remarks not only cut down the intended target child, but they also suggest to other children within earshot—boys and girls—that these labels are legitimate and meaningful. They become part of a child’s inner dialogue while growing up, and, if left unchecked, will ultimately inform their adult worldview.
And you know what? I’ve had enough. I’m tired of people using “girl” (or any other label) as leverage to define what someone should or should not be doing. I’m tired of adults saying things that, indirectly or otherwise, will affect the way my daughter may be treated or perceived just because she’s a girl.
Time to stamp out subtle sexism. Time for a new plan.
Come find out more at Mamalode where I am honored to have a piece explaining what triggered my new resolve.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
As I mentioned in a recent post, one of the hot button issues I increasingly seem to think (and get riled up) about is gender equality and feminist issues. I’m sure it’s a combination of many things: being a woman (obviously), turning 40, having a seven year old daughter, constant access to relevant headlines and outspoken feminists in my Twitter feeds, just to name a few. I read countless articles and sometimes buy books that seem to touch more upon this theme than ever before. I’m like a moth to a flame, it seems, when it comes to wanting a fair shake for everyone, no matter what’s between their legs.
It got me to wondering, though, what about the rest of my family? What do they think about these things? Do they even think about these things at all?
Does my daughter have a sense yet of some of the unequal treatment and unfair stereotyping that still seems to happen? On the one hand, she seems to have a good handle on “girls can do anything boys can do!”, but then a comment she made while watching an episode of Project Runway suggests otherwise. There’s a boy fashion designer?! Yes, seems the pendulum might have swung too far and there is still much work to be done here. But on the whole, I don’t think it’s hit her in the face quite yet.
Then I wondered about my husband. He is very progressive when it comes to women and women’s rights. He works in a field that is not (yet) equally divided between men and women, but at his particular company it is far better than the norm. He works with and for several women, and has done so for his entire career. He is supportive of whatever decisions I make for myself professionally and personally. He is careful to praise our daughter for her efforts and abilities rather than cute looks or charm. Our house is very egalitarian when it comes to household chores and roles. He plays and hangs out with our daughter all the time—dolls, school, hair salon, movie theater, backyard sports, games, racetrack cars…you name it. It’s all fair and square in this house.
But still, I wasn’t quite sure that he was aware of the headlines that come out regularly with respect to things that girls and women still encounter “out there” on a regular basis. I think a lot of that has to do with his time constraints more than anything. Yet I was slightly curious about why I think of these things so much and it seems that he does not. I don’t exactly externalize or talk about much of what I read in this regard. Maybe he doesn’t think there is any problem. Certainly he thinks that I can (and would) do whatever the hell I want and so can our daughter (eventually), and so maybe the fact that there are barriers (big ones and little ones that add up) hasn’t quite registered.
But a part of me—though it’s hard to say which one (the mother? the female?)—wants him to be as well versed (or at least knowledgeable) as I am about things like Emma Watson’s recent UN speech or the state of girls’ clothing at some retailers.
So, I cornered him. You bet I did. We had four hours to kill in the car on our way to Vermont this weekend and so I asked him point blank about whether he reads or is aware of the examples I just gave (plus a few others). It led to a good discussion between the two of us, and, I’m happy to report, his agreeing to take part in a periodic series I will soon be starting on this blog. In a nutshell, I’ve asked him if he would be brave enough to read a timely and relevant article/essay (that I will choose) and give me 500 words or so about his thoughts. Surprisingly, he said yes. Love that guy.
Why do I think this is important? For me personally, I want to not be the only one actively thinking about such things while raising our daughter. I think he does think about these issues on some level, but maybe not in quite the same way. I think it’s important for her to have two supportive and knowledgeable parents in this regard, and turns out he thinks so too. And from a wider perspective, I feel like if more men took the time to understand even some of the obstacles that women and girls still face, we could move ahead faster with progress. Is that naive or not the right approach to take? Maybe. We will see. But stay tuned because soon enough, we will hear at least one more man’s voice on some of these topics. I hope that others will join in the discussion.
And speaking of gender equality and sexism, I’m happy to announce that later this week I will have a piece over at Mamalode that recalls an incident over the summer where I heard a subtle kind of sexism that I think we need to do away with, and that I am no longer willing to be quiet about. Stay tuned on that front!
What about your household? Whether you have a daughter or not, do you, as a family, talk about gender equality and feminist issues? What do you discuss?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
My daughter is at the age where certain people—teachers, Word Girl, people who work at the American Girl Doll store—wow her to no apparent end. She is impressed, awed even, because these are people that she aspires to become herself one day. I absolutely love that about seven year olds. The world is still their oyster.
Then you reach 40. Instead of oysters, it’s more like Atlantic surf clams that have washed up on shore. Or something like that. You’re at an age when aspirations have more or less panned out by this point. As I sat on the beach this summer, totally admiring the life guards working the rough surf one particular day—no, not because of their hunky good looks, shame on you!—I realize I am less wowed by the people that I used to think I’d be one day, and more impressed by the people I know I’ll NEVER be. Everyday people who can do things that are totally beyond my ability or comfort zone.
To the following people, I give a major hat tip just for being awesome and making me smile:
Police officers and firefighters
A capella groups
Plumbers, masons, and electricians (basically all of the skilled trades)
Emergency room nurses
High rise window washers
Court appointed defense counsel
So, who impresses YOU? Who’s that someone that makes you think, “I could never do that as well as them!”
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
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