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A New Identity for a Mom of a Graduating Son: Part I

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It was already near midnight and drizzling when my plane landed in the Seattle airport. Walking out of the baggage claim area, I was surprised to see a very pretty woman in her 30s holding up a sign with my name on it. I know I shouldn't stereotype, but I wasn't expecting a long-haired, 5'8" brunette to drive me to my hotel at this ungodly hour.

She could have been one of those women you see on TV in soap or shampoo commercials. You know, with radiant skin and abundant hair. She greeted me with a smile and reached for my luggage. As she led me through the automatic double doors, a wet wind slapped my face, and the glaring headlights of an approaching car swept over me as it drove past. I reflexively shut my eyes, but even through my closed eyelids the light was dazzling. It was as if I had just entered some sort of dream world, and I caught myself thinking, "This will be strange trip."

It seemed that the universe conspired to make my off-handed comment a reality. I spent a restless night and got up near dawn to go to a studio for an early morning TV interview. I should have been overjoyed and excited. This was the first leg of my book tour. At the age of 42, I had fulfilled my long-held dream of writing a book, and was putting myself out in the world. I had been a psychology professor at a local university, I had organized women's workshops, I was involved in charitable organizations, but somehow I had always felt the radius of my life was not as wide as I wanted it to be. Even so, for many years, I was content -- very happy, in fact. I was glad I could be available for my two sons; I didn't want to miss out on their growing up years.

I remember when I was in graduate school, the chair of my thesis committee asked me what I wanted to do once my thesis was approved. "I think I want to start a family," I said. We were walking down a sloping path toward her office and she paused, flashing her blue eyes at me. "You know," she said, "research shows that careers don't go as far when women have kids at a very young age. Sometimes it helps to have a few years of work under your belt." I knew she was right, but deep inside I felt otherwise. My husband and I wanted to start a family, we were ready.

As the kids got more independent, I started taking writing classes, thinking that perhaps someday I would write a book. Everyone said, "You know the statistics on finding a publisher? It's nearly impossible. And you want to write a memoir, with poetry, art and travel stories all interspersed? That will make it even harder to pitch." But I went ahead anyway, not worrying about pleasing a prospective publisher. I'd long since realized that if I'd to relied on statistics to make any of the major decisions in my life, I would have been a very unhappy person. So I went ahead and did what I loved to do, without thinking about the end result. And as it happened, I found a publisher within months. Now there I was, on a bona fide book tour.

Maybe it was good that I was so calm at the studio. I seemed relaxed and the interview went very well. Afterward it was raining, so I went back to my cozy hotel to rest a bit. My room had a magnificent view of the harbor. I positioned a chair by the window, put my feet up on the windowsill and stared out. It was starting to sink in. This was my book tour, I'd made it happen, I was finally on a business trip of my own. It's not that I don't travel; as a matter of fact, I travel quite a bit. But on most trips I am with family, friends, or people whom I know. Now I had a whole day ahead of me with no one to please but myself, and no appointments or appearances until late afternoon. The day spread out before me with a list of possibilities: a massage, window shopping, going to a museum -- all the things I postpone doing while I am busy back home.

It stopped raining. I grabbed an umbrella anyway and went for a walk. "I'll go with the flow today," I thought to myself. I felt incredibly light. My days tend to be highly structured; I was giddy at the delicious thought of allowing myself to do whatever struck my fancy at the moment, rather than parsing my day into preordained segments. Smiling to myself, I made sure I didn't step in the large puddles on the sidewalk as I passed the rows of restaurants and souvenir shops on Union St. I saw a small shopping center to my left and on a whim I went in. Music was blaring from a nearby restaurant. I recognized the song, it was the Pussycat Dolls singing, "Don't You Wish Your Girlfriend was Hot Like Me" It made me laugh, it seemed so out of place coming from such a dowdy little restaurant.

Then I noticed a store with a diagram of the sole of a foot in the window, showing which internal organ each part of the foot apparently corresponds to. A sign above it read, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and reflexology. A short, stocky woman with spiky hair appeared by the front door, grinning at me. "I give wonderful reflexology. It's $50.00 for an hour. You should try it," she said. I smiled and kept studying the map of the foot. I never knew kidneys had anything to do with your feet. She didn't take her eyes off me. "I mean it. This massage will change your life," she proclaimed with an air of utter confidence. Well, that was a statement! I'd had plenty of massages, and while they may be relaxing, they certainly don't change anything (except according to the poster, one's kidney functioning), but I found myself saying, "Sure. Let's try it."

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