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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Friday, July 12, 2019

Woman and ageing

I have been thinking a lot about this subject this week. I am likely going to be writing about it more as we go along.

I have been thinking about a few older women in my life and how they are living this stage of living.

I have been thinking of one older lady who lives alone and is totally dependent on her children for her what to do next, "I go where they take me."

I have been thinking of a woman, nearly eighty, who has had a great career and is now holding on to it with a death grip, to the point that this, not her achievements, will be what she is remembered for.

And I think of my 91 year old mother who as usual is doing what no one expected and lifting her broken leg/hip, walking to the dining room and exhausting herself with physio. She can tell you the life story of everyone in the rehab hospital already.

I am thinking of older women and, realizing in certain dopey circles this might include me, and their choices. Or lack of.

It's worth thinking how women if this generation, and probably all generations, I don't see my female students much different, are reactors in their own lives.

It's pretty easy to do this.

Parents, siblings, friends, men, employers, children all need us to do so much for them. When we spend all that time not letting down everyone else, considering always how they feel, there just isn't a lot of space to even think about what we want.

I had a conversation with my mother a while ago. She told me how totally overwhelmed she was by being a housewife. If I have heard once I have heard about 8 million times how my grandfather and father thought it would make them "look bad" if she worked after marriage as a nurse. That woman hasn't nursed since 1952. If you ask her who she is now, she says nurse.

My mom had four kids and stayed at home with us. She completely hated housework and cooking. That is where the overwhelmed part came from. She says for the life of her she just couldn't figure out how other women did it, kept a well run house. She says she always felt like a failure.

Our neighbour across the street at the time has verified this for me. She herself was always an impeccable housekeeper and tells funny stories of the absolute chaos of my mother's laundry room floor - piled high with dirty clothes and an inactive washing machine.

This woman also told me that her own three kids used to say if anything ever happens to you and dad make sure we are sent across the street because it's really fun over there.

I am thinking this morning of women like my mom and others of her generation and mine and even my daughter's and wonder how often we say, 

"This is what I really want to do."

If we do, we first run it in our minds past all the people our goal might affect, children, parents, friends, and spouses. We then also consider the what ifs, like what if I make a fool of myself, what if it doesn't work, what if I am a failure,  or the classic "what if they are mad?"

How many women:

  • went into a career because the family suggested it?
  • ended up in a job because they hired you and one thing led to another?
  • married someone because they asked and who knows if there would be another offer?
  • stayed in a job, marriage, or relationship because other people would be too disrupted if we didn't?
  • said "no it's OK" when it wasn't?
  • were smarter but smiled at the dumb idea?
Add to the list, you get my drift.

How many women do you know have a bucket list? A real bucket list.

How many women when they suddenly have time to themselves because of life changes or even just the realities of age, get sort of angry because so many people tell them to do what they want or do what they are interested in. They just don't know what that is. They have spent their lives not being that selfish. What are people talking about- do what you want?

The most frightening experience of my teaching career was in a writing class where students were asked to write about an issue they cared about. One 21 year old emailed me in a panic, "I am having real trouble with this assignment because there is nothing I really am interested in, does shopping count?"

As to my mother, who appears to be defying all expectations in rehab, I know why she is doing so well.

She told me.

She just loves hospitals.


Shonnie said...

Unfortunately, this is all too true, even for those of us who are supposedly emancipated! I'm printing this out and giving copies to my daughters and my daughter in law, all in their 20s. Maybe it will give them something to think about, while they are young enough that change will make a real difference in the course of their lives.

Mary said...

Large snapshot of my life until I simply had enough of always being at everyone's beck and call, doing everyone's bidding and at 35 took control of my life--even if it did mean being a single mom to four. Like Shonnie, sending it to my mid 30/40 yr old adult children--sons, daughter and daughters/son-in-law. Never too late to learn some home truths.

birdmommy said...

Once your mom is all healed up, maybe she should look at volunteering at a hospital. My MIL (retired ICU nurse) enjoys it; she's still in the hospital, but doesn't have to keep anyone alive. :)

Lynn said...

Thank you for this. I had a successful career by anyone's standards but it is true also that I fell into the field and stayed because the money was good and never did what I really wanted because of my aging parents.

The expectation of being a care givers always hovers over women's lives. It is hard to walk away.

Maggie said...

My Mother always said,” never do anything that you can get someone else to do for you”! She also loved the hospital and had a “hospital drawer”, that had new pj’s, gowns, and robe. All ready just in case.

Nethwen said...

I'm in my late 30s and don't have children,so that colors my experiences. Even so, I learned in middle school that if I waited around for others to want to do what I want, I'd never get to do anything, so I did what interested me. I didn't have friends, but I didn't want them as much as I wanted an interesting life. Even now, when I've made commitments to a job and husband, I have more ideas for what I want to do than I have time and money for. Being married doesn't significantly limit me, either. I have a few hobbies that are non-negotiable. He is welcome and encouraged to join, but I'm not going to forgo them because he would rather sit at home in the computer. If I want to take a trip, he is welcome and encouraged to come, but I'll go either way. I'm not saying I've found the perfect balance, but I think there is a way to be thoughtful of others and still live an interesting life that I feel is worth living. I'm sure it helps that my husband is supportive of my independence.

Nethwen said...

Another thought: Sometimes when I feel in a rut, I try to do one new thing for 30 days. Sometimes it's ordering a meal I would never order otherwise. Sometimes it's as silly as looking out a different window in the morning. Doing this makes my brain work differently and also helps to keep the days from all running into each other. Seriously, I remember clearly how absurd, in a good way, I felt at how excited I was the first time I opened the front door in the morning instead of the side door. Nothing significant happened that day,but I remember it as a high point in my life.

mrsmole said...

After living on this earth almost 70 years, my counselor tells me that I have been doing it all wrong all this time. I was told I was too compromising, too adaptable, too nice and there has been no "me" in any of those years with husbands and children and co-workers and clients. So to remedy this situation and lack of voice, I have just purchased a little car just for myself with my own hard earned money and have started saying no to clients and others who want to drag me off to do things that I don't want to do. It is getting easier to see the "me" in my new life. Instead of being care-givers we should all be care-livers...making our own care and sanity number one.

Anna said...

Oh, how this rings true. I am Swedish, one of the most equal countries in the world, with no kids. In my fifties, emancipated, strong - and still I fall into this trap, with regards to my parents, husband, and people around me.

Sometimes I wonder if the mood changes in menopause is just women having had enough??

First time commenter, long time lover of you news letter. Joined because of sewing, stays because of everything else. <3

Judith Newman said...

I chose to stay single - what a liberating decision that proved to be. I was nearly always in a position to make my own decisions. It's been particularly wonderful since I retired and my life is full with my transformation to textile artist, garment maker, sock knitter, friend, sister.... I have had no difficulty reaching out to other people - which has broadened my relationship circle - the problem, of course, is making time to nurture that circle of connections. I am a nurturer by nature, and by choice. I make time in my life to help others in lots of different ways but I feel no sense of burden about that.

Lisa - SF Bay Area said...

I love your writing. I have your book and will buy the next one too.

Your mom is inspirational!! Does she realize she has a following? Will she give us a daily/weekly/monthly note about life from her point of view? I'll just keep begging. I have no pride.

And I am a lousy housekeeper!

love from California!

Anonymous said...

What an inspirational essay this is. Thank you, and especially thank you for sharing an update on your mom.

For your mom, I second the hospital volunteer thought - a dear friend of mine aways wanted to be a nurse but there was never quite time/money. When she retired she became a hospital volunteer, then was asked to manage part of the volunteer program, then was in charge of the (huge) volunteer program, and still did her own volunteer shifts taking flowers and wheeling patients being discharged to the door, usually supplying them with good advice about next steps in their lives. How I miss her - she died 10 years ago and was mourned by so many hospital connections.


Sewniptuck said...

I’m an RN, now a skin therapist and caring for others just seems to be what I do. I had a lovely 18yo boy in yesterday with the worst case of cystic acne i’ve ever seen, pus and blood everywhere and has been on Roaccutane 6mths, so there’s not much more can be done. It occurred to me that his parents have been watching this develop for years, why has he only come to look for solutions when it’s too late, the scarring has already started. Perhaps his parents were busy with their careers? Perhaps they thought it was a rite of passage? I wanted to give him a big hug and tell him it would all be ok, but it won’t. Sure it’s just acne, but every time he looks in the mirror he’ll see those scars - where were his carers? There’s something to be said for caring but absolutely yes, we need to reserve a little for ourselves. I squeezed him between other clients yesterday and am rewarded amply, knowing he’s better for my attention.

Gabe said...

My mother was Dux at all her schools and always said the Public Library service kept her sane during the 30 years she did stay-at-home child care. She was sooo envious of a friend who got the new job of Shopping Reporter for the local radio station as that was an acceptable job for a lawyer’s wife to do (reporting on the latest stock in high end stores mainly). She didn’t really come into her own until one of her many volunteer activity groups made her a conference delegate but she was clocking 60 then. When you think of the possible contributions of so many women of that generation gone to waste it was a crime.

Sarah Wale said...

Wow! Best blog ever. You speak to and for so many of us and reading your thoughts and those of your followers, I realise I have a whole world of like-minded women friends out there. I love the sound of your Mum and hope I am just like her ... I turned 70 in May and it is the first birthday that made me realise that this is it, life is not a rehearsal.
I have been extremely fortunate in that I met the perfect man when I was 17 and married him when I was 20. If your maths are right you'll have worked out we're about to celebrate our 50th anniversary. I can honestly say it was his encouragement that made me the successful woman I am today. I have several varied and interesting careers behind me and have a beautiful daughter, son-in-law and grandsons as well as a dream home and the aforementioned perfect husband. I am truly blessed.
I also have some serious health issues, was disabled as a result of a botched surgery and am now unable to walk unaided. I was brought up in a dysfunctional household that would probably keep a family therapist busy for a lifetime!
I guess the reason I am telling you all this is that it is possible to either sink or swim in this life and it is, largely, up to us which we decide to do. When bad stuff happens (like a botched surgery!) own it and move on, bitterness doesn't help you and doesn't endear you to your family or friends, well, not after the first few whines and grizzles, anyway. It takes grit and determination to 'get over it', whatever 'it' might be, and I know some people will say it's easy for me ... it isn't, but only I know that. Barb's Mum knows what I am saying - she's the proof of it. She probably also says, as I do, and my mum did, that I am still 19 from the neck up and if my body doesn't always do what I want, at least my brain will (most of the time!).
Hope this helps anyone out there who is struggling. My best wishes to you and your family, who are also struggling with health issues, Barb, and keep up the great communication. Like one of your other followers, I signed up for the sewing but now look forward to the friendship and your unique brand of philosophy. xxx

Kansas Sky said...

ZINGER! What a beautiful piece. You are so right, every word. Lucky us, your readers.

Jacq C said...

Thank you - you are a gifted writer and I often find you inspiring but this post is stand out the most powerful blog post I have ever read. I relate so strongly this has been a very emotional read x

Anna said...

My hope is that some day soon one's gender does not predetermine their destiny. Thank you for writing this blog post.

Cathie said...

Love your post, and all the great answers! I am soon to be 70, and it is very important to take good care of ourselves - health, mental and physical! I have had a challenging life, and also some issues result from a medical mix-up.... However, creativity is the best. I am also often shocked at how much many women dislike me. I thought Irish Step at 48 was a great idea. Like wearing bright red now, and going to Jazzercise. I look out for the lively, creative women. And no. 2 husband is VERY supportive, as is no. 2 child. My family calls me "mad" (the rest of them). Who needs it? I say. Cathie, near Montreal.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I certainly can relate to all you wrote. I enjoy your writing and thoughts very much. It has been good to read other people's comments. This post has encouraged me to sit and think about my own life and changes I could start to make. I retired from work recently. I am glad to hear your Mum is recovering well. You have had many challenges to deal with too. I love your spirit and your "get up and go" energy. Take care of yourself. Best wishes to you. Dianne

Nursebennett said...

I am blessed with a supportive husband, but he is 24 years older than I am. I’m 57 and he will be 81 next month. We adopted a four year old family member with special needs, who is now 8. I’ve helped take care of my grandson since he was 18 months old, now 13. I’m caregiver for my parents, 81 y/o mother with dementia and 80 y/o father with end stage COPD and debilitating arthritis. I’m an RN who retired due to health issues of my own. I pray daily that I can have enough “life” left in me when the 8 y/o is 18 that I might get to travel. That truly is my only desire. I’m printing your thoughts and giving a copy to my two daughters. Life is short and should be fulfilling. Thank you for this.

bbarna said...

Another great blog post. So glad your mom is recovering well.
I often feel I went from my dad's home, to my boyfriend then to my husband. I have never been truly on my own. Compromise is a constant. Right now I am trying to support my younger sister as she looks after my mom (she has dementia). As well, I have adult children and grandkids that also need a hand. My husband suffered several head injuries over the years and is showing signs of memory issues. My happiest times are spent in the sewing room, making things for myself and others. I have often been told that I get an enormous amount done around our home and with my sewing, but truth be told, it is my way of coping with the chaos around me. I have always had some form of OCD, and this is my way of keeping some control over things. I guess what I am trying to say is don't be too hard on people that seem to have it all together, because they might just be hanging on by a thread so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Yep. Hanging on by a thread while you make it look easy and present a positive view cause no one like a Moaning Myrtle. I can so relate to that comment and many others.

Nethwen said...

Do you read the Journeywoman website? I believe she was in her late 70s/early 80s when she went on an expedition to the Antarctic. That makes her sound like superwoman, but having followed her for over a decade, I can say that she's relatable.

Josie said...

Hi Barbara
Thanks for your thoughtful post. I am your typical RN, caregiver to others. Personal care not so much. I teach nursing now. I feel like a failure at home. Housekeeping is not my priority. Sewing yes. Marriage yes, kids no. I really didn't feel like I could be a mother. Having reproductive organs, a waste on me. I have no opinion on women with children. My focus, selfishly has been professional growth. That's after helping my mother raise 2 girls. I now have a calmer,content married life. Sharing my nursing knowledge with others is awesome! Forgive me if my sentences makes a English teacher reach for a red pen. I am trilingual( never quite know the right verb conjugation, sentence structure in all 3 languages). I am adaptable. I follow your blog for a while, this has been a great opportunity, to read, and ponder. I find your life in Canada amusing, so kindly of you to share. I am "new" to sewing(10 years). Love to read about your sewing skills, and life stories.
I love working at hospitals too. I start at 19 until now at 61. My childhood life was chaotic. Hospitals is like that too. Then, after the chaos is over, a spiritual calmer space open up and bathe us all into life's beauty. At the end of my working day I am tired, happy that my day really matter. The time I made someone's laugh, as I hand them pain meds while singing (off key) "Spring time with Hitler in Germany". All in a day's work. Yeah! I have my own issues, age, sick parent, retirement. A house that fight with me and won't clean itself. Who doesn't like a husband who enjoys cooking? Yet, I want to travel more, sew more, play piano, guitar and belly dance. As if my life depends on it because it does.
That's my story and am sticking to it

Great conversations, Good read
Josie H RN

dlh said...

Love this post.
"How many women do you know have a bucket list? A real bucket list."
I was the woman who never did anything without thinking if my partner would agree, or if it would affect others. But at the same time, working as a nurse I met many people who said they thought they would retire and then do all these wonderful things, but ended up with medical issues. So, as the last of my children got independent, I decided I was not going to wait until life was 'perfect'. I did not want to reach the end of my life and say, I wish I had done...whatever. Just came back from a 3 day tour I took by myself-biting fingers-and I really enjoyed not having another persons desires to consider. I did what I wanted. So refreshing.
Most of my bucket list is done-need to make another LOL. Fear of heights-walked the high ropes and zip line. Back to school for BSN. Never used it, but it was a goal I was determined to accomplish. And of course travel solo. Maybe next is sky diving? hmmm, maybe not.

Su said...

So thoughtful and so true! My dad had strong opinions and feelings about what women should do. My mom kept house for the 58 years they were together - she cooked every night for us. She has always disliked the term housewife and would tell people or put on forms that she is a homemaker. She takes great pride in a neat and clean home. But I'm sure at times she was fed up with the cooking and cleaning. My dad hated restaurants so we only went out a few times a year. Now that my dad is gone when my mom and I do things she wants to go out to eat - try something a bit different and freed from the food prep, cooking and clean up.
If I would have been tougher nearly 30 years, I would have probably gone into psychiatric nursing instead of the specialty I went into. I would have never heard the end of why are you looking after crazy people from my dad.