New Thoughts for The Journey

While I’m sitting here in my cozy room very early on a bitterly cold winter morning, my husband has just left for a meeting at his office about 30 miles away. He is not a morning person, and when a 7:00 a.m. meeting is called, my heart sinks for him because I know how difficult his day will be. He has worked in the professional world for almost 40 years now, and during that time has spent long, long hours hunched over drafting tables and computers. He has crawled through scaffolding in probably every automotive assembly plant in this country. He traveled to China thirty years ago (before it was cool to do so) to instill “American quality standards” in his company’s operational facility in a small village in Outer Mongolia.

But his working days are winding down, and we are blessed that his current job allows him a great deal of flexibility in time and working  conditions. These early morning meetings are rare, and he can often work from home if he chooses. In fact, I was somewhat surprised to hear him say recently that he wouldn’t mind working at this job until he was 65 or even older.

Nevertheless, we are beginning to think about another new stage in our lives. The Third Act is a term I’m hearing bandied about among folks our age - that time when your children have all not only flown the nest, but are independently managing nests of their own, when you’ve “retired” from the daily grind, when you’re still (hopefully) physically fit enough to live without assistance.

I’ve been re-reading Katrina Kenison’s book Magical Journey (which was this week released in paperback). I read the book for the first time last January, and was so moved by the way she wrote about facing the challenges of mid-life and how a woman re-fashions her life during this time of change. But here is what I love about re-reading…now, a year later, I come to the book at a different stage in my own life, and with a new focus and interest. Last year, so intent was I on my own inner journey, that I didn’t fully absorb what Kenison has to say about what happens to a marriage during this time.

To grow without growing apart, to allow the one you love to be different today than he or she was yesterday and to love him or her anyway, even as you struggle to figure out what’s changed: Perhaps this is the challenge that must ultimately be surmounted in every long term relationship if it’s to remain fresh and resilient, rather than growing stiff with age, too brittle to bend and stretch with time. I know my husband and I love each other. But now it seems we’re both coming to see that love alone isn’t enough to keep a commitment alive; we need imagination, too. And enough creativity and courage to create a new form for our marriage, a marriage that’s growing old and being forced to adapt, just as we are.

I think of the evolution of our relationship over the 37 years we’ve been married, how we slipped easily and naturally into roles often driven by the demands of Jim’s work. Because he worked SO much, was gone from home for many long hours, even weeks sometimes, I became the one who kept the home fires burning. The details of domesticity were things I could handle to give him as much free time as possible. When Brian was born, I became the primary caregiver, happy to be a “SAHM" and devote much of my time and energy to making a home. I became accustomed to doing my own thing, to setting my own schedule, to finding ways to nurture my own interests. And although we remained close as a couple and still loved our time together, in some ways we led separate lives which intersected whenever Jim’s workday happened to end.

Now the dynamic is very, very different. I realize I’ve been chafing against that for a while, with one foot in that old life where I run things on my schedule, based on my calendar and my needs. Who is this interloper, I was thinking, this man hanging around my house so much of the time, interfering with my plans for laundry and cooking and piano practice?

But I feel a shift in my attitude these days, a sense of gratitude for his presence, for this extra time we’re able to share. After all those years of being apart for hours and hours every day, now there are many days when we potter around the house together, doing our separate work and meeting in the kitchen for lunch. On nice days, he joins me for the morning dog walk. We start every day (even early morning meeting days like today) with coffee and our books.

"To grow without growing apart, to allow the one you love to be different today than he or she was yesterday and to love him or her anyway, even as you struggle to figure out what’s changed…"

Change. There’s that word again, the one I used to be so afraid of.

But now when I say it, when I think of it in terms of our relationship, I feel a tiny frisson of anticipation. We talk about ways we can spend winters in a warmer climate, how we might even like to spend a few months living in the UK once, just to see what that’s like.  We wonder about ways to pursue our mutual interests in music. We smile at thoughts about watching our grandson grow up and imagine the things he might do. And even knowing there will inevitably be hard changes ahead does not dampen my enthusiasm for this new opportunity to renew and re-imagine our relationship.

“I stepped into marriage twenty five years ago,” Kenison writes, “convinced that passion would sustain us; now I know better. We will endure by the grace of acquiescence, cooperation, patience, and the small daily rituals that keep us close even as change transforms the landscape of our lives."

We have certainly grown so much from those dewey-eyed 20 year olds who committed ourselves together for life, not knowing what would be written on the landscape of our years together. So as we travel into the future together, still not knowing the details, I’m confident in our ability to sustain through the “grace of acquiescence, cooperation, patience, and the small daily rituals that keep us close."

And I’m so grateful for my partner on the journey.

Magical Journey is a transformative book, one I keep on my bedside table to dip into at regular intervals for a dose of guidance and inspiration. It was released in paperback this week, and I was thrilled to have an opportunity to participate in the launch team. I’ve purchased several copies that will be gifted to close friends. You can be one of those people - if you’d like a copy of the book, please leave a comment below and tell me a little about where you are on life’s journey. I’ll choose a random winner on January 30, 2014.


Magical Journey (paperback)

Author: Katrina Kenison

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, a Division of Hachette Books

Pages: 288

Buy a Copy: Amazon|Barnes & Noble





Wedded Bliss

Our Wedding May 8, 1976 Martha-Mary Chapel, Greenfield Village You know what I remember most about my wedding day?

Not my surprise at how many people had packed into the white wooden pews of the historic chapel. Not the moment of panic when my about-to-be husband dropped the wedding ring onto the floor in the middle of the ceremony. Not even the annoying wedding  photographer who kept insisting we smear wedding cake over each other's faces.

No, the memory that stands out most clearly from that day, the one I return to when I want/need to recall the butterflies in my stomach that accompany young love, is a moment later that evening as we drove to our  honeymoon in Toronto. We stopped at a small convenience store, a tiny, cramped little place, the ceiling-high shelves jam packed with everything from soup to shaving cream. I don't remember why we stopped, what "convenience" we needed. But I was alone at the front counter after making my purchase, peering around the overflowing shelves to see where Jim might have wandered off to.

"Is there something else you need?" the clerk asked me.

"No," I replied, "I'm just looking for my husband."

And with the utterance of that word - husband - a shiver I can still feel ran through my body. What a momentous word, heavy with portent and responsibility. Saying it for the first time plucked me from girlhood and instantly, ready or not, plopped me down into womanhood. It was a word that meant I was grown up, with a grown up relationship and responsibilities.

Thirty seven years later, having now said the word thousands of times, I'll admit it isn't always accompanied by a flurry of girlish excitement. When you live with someone your entire adult life, you learn more about them then is probably good for any two people to know about each other. But familiarity doesn't have to breed contempt. My husband's oh-so-familiar habits and attitudes are usually more comforting than contemptuous. Sure, like most wives I complain about the snoring, the TV, the long showers and short conversations. And he still wanders off when we're shopping and I have to look around for him after I'm done.

But mostly I'm thankful that we've turned out to be as compatible as we thought we would be when we took joined our lives together 37 years ago today. Like that little convenience store on the 401 in Windsor, we've stocked the shelves of our relationship with everything imaginable until they're filled to overflowing.

I picked a really good husband. I hope I get to call him that for another 37 years at least.


Worth Keeping

My husband and I were having a late breakfast yesterday morning on the patio at George’s, the restaurant located in our new condo community.  The weather has turned slightly cooler, with a definite tinge of fall dampness in the air, and our conversation naturally turned to the regular routine of fall activities that would soon be starting. “I don’t know,” I said. “Somehow I’m not in the mood for going back to the same old stuff.."

“You’d like to just start fresh?” he asked.

I laughed. “In case you haven’t noticed,” I said, “I’m really in the mood for getting rid of things, for wanting to make a clean sweep of EVERYTHING."

He looked slightly askance at me. “Just as long as that doesn’t include me,” he said. “Just don’t get everything the way you want it and then tell me to get out too."

I laughed. “Not much chance of that!” I told him.

“I don’t know,” he replied, more seriously this time. “Your dad did it, you know. I hope you aren’t going to take after him."


It’s true - my father really did walk out on my mother after 42 years of marriage. He really did run off with his secretary, just like a bad Lifetime movie, moving out of state and out of our lives for what seemed like forever. It was a horrible time for our family. But over the past 22 years we’ve all made our peace with it.

At least I thought we had.

Friends have asked me if my fathers actions make me uncertain about my own husbands fidelity, less trustful of men in general. But I’ve honestly never felt anxious about my husband’s loyalty, at least not because of what my father did.

It never occurred to me that he might feel anxious about me because of it.

The “midlife crisis” is an old joke by now, but there are some things about it which are fatefully true. When you advance into that “second half of your century on earth” (as I call it), it’s not unusual to start thinking about all the things you haven’t done, the feelings you haven’t felt. You pine for the excitement of youth, the delicious anticipation of romance, the thrill of dreaming big dreams.

And you realize that time grows short. Every day you hear of another friend in your age group with cancer or heart disease. Someone dying or already dead.

It’s depressing.

It’s frightening.

Looking back on it, I understand how my father became a victim of all these feelings, how he allowed them to override not just his common sense but his moral character and sense of responsibility. So his actions definitely had an effect on the way I look at my own midlife experience. I understand the longings, but I also understand how easily one can get carried away by them and make huge, life altering mistakes.

It’s possible that my burning desire to get rid of all this “stuff” that’s been accumulating for the past 35 years, and this huge impetus I’ve felt to get settled and squared away in a new neighborhood that will last us into our old(er) age, is my own personal reaction to the kind of middle-aged crisis that struck my dad so hard.

Perhaps I do take after him, do need to make some big changes in order to move forward at this time of my life and not feel like I’m being buried by the past.

“Getting rid of stuff is one thing,” I told my husband firmly. “But getting rid of your life’s companion is something else again. I only have one of those, and I intend to keep him.”

I hope I reassured him.

I hope he’s feeling some of the same excitement about our future that I am.

Because I want to go forward into the second half of our century together.

And he’s definitely a keeper.

It's Time to Have "The Talk"

It's time to have The Talk with my husband. Not the diet talk.

Not the money talk.

Not even the sex talk.

It's even more delicate than all of those put together.

I never thought this day would come. Clearly, what was once a pleasant diversion has become a serious addiction. I'm afraid if he doesn't confront this issue soon, serious problems will develop in our relationship.

My husband is addicted to his electronics.

It started three years ago when got his first Blackberry. At first the easy accessibility of email and internet was little more than a lark. But within months, he was constantly checking for mail or scanning his "favorites" list for new updates. Then he discovered the convenience of using alarms as reminders for everything from taking medication to taking out the trash. Even more alluring was the ability to set different sounds for each alarm, and before long a near constant barrage of bleeps, tweets, and song snippets echoed through the house.

In the past 12 months things have escalated beyond all control. Sadly, I have to take responsibility for this myself. Last year for his birthday I bought him an iPad and since then he has become a virtual slave to Apple. From the moment he wakes to the moment he goes to sleep, the iPad (or Patty as I not-so-affectionately call her) is his faithful companion. The lure of social networks, streaming video and radio, and international shopping abilities all within the confines Patty's sleek chrome package has been too much for him. He is completely and utterly besotted.

As is Patty were not enough, last month the Droid joined his harem. The super fast, super fine Galaxy S phone replaced his old Blackberry, offering ever so many new options in speed, ease of control, and, yes, sound effects. So now Droid joins Patty at the breakfast and bedside tables, providing him with every possible element in the electronics spectrum.

The only thing he doesn't do yet (electronically speaking) is blogging. Should he start a blog, monetize it, advertise, and start counting clicks, it would be impossible to part him from his electronics.

I am at my wit's end. There's no way I can compete with the lightning speed and multiple functionality of these devices. Not to mention their attractive designs, supreme intelligence, and ease of handling. I'm beginning to feel completely useless and outdated.

My biggest fear? That somehow, someway, they'll come up with a computer that can cook. If that happens, just roll me over and call me done.

So Talk we must. "Honey," I'll say...

On second thought, maybe I should just send him an e-mail.

At least that way I'll be sure to get his attention.