Cleaning my study, I found a folder I’d forgotten about. It contained some writing I did about five years ago as part of a writing course I took at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. My first daughter had just gone to college and my youngest was starting 6th grade. The writing course marked the beginning of a quest for something new to do with my life, post-children.

One of our assignments was to develop 100 word vignettes along the lines of the Life is Short: Autobiography as Haiku feature in the Washington Post. This was a fun assignment – to convey a little shred of life in a few well-chosen words. Here are six of the haikus I wrote for the class, all of which, interestingly enough, seem to be about being middle-aged. I guess they reflected my reality at that time pretty well.


I drove my first daughter to college last week. Some of my friends hold their lips tight to hide their tears. They miss their daughters too much. But I do not. I wanted her to go – it’s her turn to know that everything is possible, to meet friends who will always be there for her, to make choices that only she owns, and to learn from her mistakes. Well, she is excited by her classes. She is making friends. She has met a boy. In her last e-mail she said, “I am happy.” I am happy too.


What is wrong with these pants, I grumble to myself. I tug at the waistband strangling me. These used to fit fine. It must be cheap fabric; it keeps shrinking. You’d think things would hold up a little longer. I pick out a larger pair to wear, burying all the shrunken ones in the dark of the closet with vague hopes for their future resurrection. I know, of course, that the waistbands are not shrinking. I am getting thicker, loosening and settling into middle age. How did this happen? I was going to be young forever.


In class, a woman boasts that her husband does all the cooking. The other women exclaim, “I can’t imagine having a husband who cooks!” I, a single mom, silently mope: I can’t imagine even having a husband! Later, as I cautiously gather the mail, newly fearful of anthrax spores and terrorist attacks intruding on my safe suburban life, my morning self-pity is startlingly trivial: I can’t imagine living where real terror is a daily companion and people struggle just to survive. We may live in one world and share one humanity, but we have six billion separate realities.


What do you do when you’re a single mom and have no one to bounce ideas off? How do you know you’ve made the right choice, from the trivial—“Should I get my hair cut”—to the consequential—“Should I leave my secure job to try something that might suit me better?” You can read, observe other people, talk to someone who really doesn’t know you, or listen to your fears, trying to put them in perspective. But ultimately, you just make a choice and live with it. Unfortunately, so do your children, so you’re back where you started. Unsure.


Whop. “Okay. Turn sideways. Watch the ball.” Whop. My daughter is learning tennis. I circle the fields, waiting. The whops recede as I dodge football and cross-country. Soon I’m beyond, protected by distance and the softly shaking trees sheltering this haven from the rest of the world. Flocking birds wheel over the empty pitcher’s mound as I lean on the fence and feel the dusty October sunlight warm on my face. The muffled sounds of whistles and thudding shoulder pads ride the breeze across the fields. I breathe in the unexpected moment of peace.


“How many moms sit like this?” I ask my 13-year old, as I lay sprawled, legs up the wall, head hanging off the edge of the sofa. Actually, this position feels pretty good, stretching my stress-stiffened 54-year-old neck muscles, but what I really want is confirmation that I am not the boring grown up that my mother was. “Nobody.” she says, with affection in her voice, “You’re a weirdo.” That’s exactly what I want to hear.

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