When I was 35, I remarried. Soon after that, Rick and I became disillusioned with our jobs. Consequently, we sold everything we owned and set out to see this wonderful country on a motorcycle. We have a beautiful, diverse county. I hope you have time to get out to see it. But, after about 3 or 4 months, we were tired and plagued with thoughts like "We should settle down and start a new life."
We had felt that twinge that said, " You have reached a crossroad." We had questions like: What do we still need to do? What have we learned so far? What do I want; what does he want? How much time do we have to do what we want to do? It was an exciting, scary time with new horizons and great adventures.
In a culture obsessed with youth, this time can generate fear and crisis for many. As we approached 40, we noticed more gray hairs, extra weight, wrinkles, and we needed longer arms to see well. It was a time of disassembling. It was also a time for "seeing the light" and for renewal. We were shaken into a re-examination of our lives and we came out on the other side with a new sense of self and vitality.
We reassessed our careers in terms of what was realistic, but also what we liked to do. We asked ourselves, “What is something we have always wanted to do that we have not done yet? Do we want to scuba dive, write, open a restaurant, take ballet, garden, or learn Karate? What do we really want to do?” We finally bought a little country store in the Appalachian mountains about 35 miles from where we started our midlife trip across the country. We took up Karate and achieved brown belts. We did more social work out of that country store than you can imagine. Our store was the first place many in the tiny rural community brought new babies and the first place they came with problems. We did the best we could with what we knew then. It was a good down to earth life, but it was often also a hard life. We made lots of mistakes and we learned much.
Mid-life people often take up neglected interests or start new careers. When people only lived to be 40 or 45, there was no opportunity for a second career or a new undertaking. Today, most people are vital and active into their 80's and 90's. This leaves plenty of time for a new venture in the second half of life. We said to each other, “Lets think of something that we have always wanted to do, but could not find the time. Maybe, now is a time to follow old passions and dreams. This can be the most exciting time of our lives.”
At 42 I decided to go back to school. Almost everyone in my classes were in their 20's. They looked like teenagers to me, but they were so bright. It seemed as if learning and staying up all night to study came so much easier for them than for me. But, I made it through. I often thought about giving up, but I just kept going. I was 48 years old when I received my Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus in 1995.
Mid-life was a time when every unresolved loose end of our lives rose up to the forefront. It was a time to consolidate the totality of who we were. Every suppressed thought, feeling, or action confronted us now. Buried parts of ourselves demanded to be heard. We found ourselves face to face with those traits that, in our youth, we called our faults or darker side. Facing up to our shortcomings can be very disconcerting. However, we began to see the value of those long forgotten pieces of ourselves.
In the search for ourselves, we disassembled the people that we had become in order to please parents, grandparents, and children. We now reassembled ourselves and included all the parts, previously wanted or unwanted. The new, reassembled people were much more than the old ones could ever hope to be, wiser, more stable, more skilled, more humble, and with more to offer.
The recklessness of our youth carried with it an energy and creativity that we wished to regain without some of the mistakes that go with youth. The rigidity that we gave up years ago, when renewed, helped us organize our lives. The simplicity of an earlier life took us back to basics. I tell people, “I am a child of the 60’s. We thought we could change the world and maybe we will.”
In the back of our minds was always an ill formulated dream. I have wanted to be a writer since I was old enough to hold a pencil. But, of course, writing is not a "practical" career. And you must have talent and perseverance and enough money to live on while you are "making it." I was not sure I had those things, until now. I decided that I could be anything I wanted to be. I decided that I would do whatever it took to get where I was going. I felt I had a mission.
Once I had my license as a psychologist, I worked in an adult male prison for a while, but then decided to start my own mental health practice. Shore Counseling ended in about a year. We were broke and unable to make a go of it. Then, I worked as a psychologist for someone else for a while and I was not satisfied. Consequently, I decided to try my hand again at a mental health practice. My belief was that all children, rich or poor, deserved the best mental health services, regardless of ability to pay.
The most important words for me in Mid-life were "Let go of old restrictive thoughts and beliefs. Move away from external validation to internal validation. Find peace within yourself.” I was reborn with a greater capacity to love myself (all of me) and others, as well.
It is a paradox that when we reach our prime, we realize that the end is in sight. I became aware of a change in my sense of time. This became a decade where the by-word was "hit the deck running." I felt that there were only a limited number of years to complete my life long goals. Women, who have concentrated on careers and have delayed having families and children, feel that their biological clock is running out. Women who have been primarily caregivers following someone else’s dream now see new opportunities for careers and creativity. I shouted, "It's my turn! I can choose to focus my energy on a life-long love of psychology, research, teaching, writing, or whatever I want. Yeah!!!!"
At 53 years of age I had a wonderful, loving, supportive family. I opened a new mental health practice, Eastern Shore Psychological Services (ESPS). My son’s mother-in-law was my secretary. My best friend was my program director and my niece was a therapist. The year was 1999. I had 5 employees.
In 2000, I began to notice many similarities among children who had problems with violence. I researched and developed the CARE, Child and Adolescent Risk Evaluation. Research Press published it in 2003. I wrote several articles about my research and spoke at many national conferences. I found my dream to write by writing scientific articles and poetry.
I was able to borrow some money from the bank and from a friend to support ESPS, but it was not nearly enough. So, I “maxed” out my credit cards and kept on going. By 2004, ESPS had 100 employees and 4 locations. Our services included a home visiting program for new parents, mental health services, psychological evaluations, school-based mental health, case management services, and a small school called Hope Creek. We still had not made a profit, but we were close to breaking even. We will likely make a profit this year and we have done a lot of good work and helped many families. We are known for our good work and I have a wonderful and loyal staff. We have had many trials, including a couple of late paychecks and many original employees still stick with me. It’s a miracle and a testament to their integrity and dedication. At one point, I borrowed money from “Count Me In,” a wonderful NY organization that lends money to women entrepreneurs. This helped keep us going.
My husband, Rick, had spent much of his young adult life owning and running businesses. He, as others do, hit midlife and realized that he had a softer side that longs for home and family. Our children were grown. I was now pursuing a new career of my own. It was a time when we need to re-evaluate our relationship and perhaps revamp old ideas about our roles as partners. Rick, who is now retired, found he had a very strong interest in psychology and ESPS. He completed his Ph.D. at the age of 65. Rick has specialized in working with sexual offenders and he is very good at it. He also does a lot of household chores, leaving me time to write at home. I believe that I can contribute to the reduction of violence and crime in our society. Rick believes in and supports me. We are both pursuing our missions with a passion.
My children and grandchildren are not so late in my story because they are less important, their lives are intertwined with my journey. I love them with all my heart. Sometimes I feel like they fill my heart so much it could burst. Between us, Rick and I had 4 children and 7 grandchildren. John and Melissa have three children. Jordan is a beautiful teenager (almost 18) and she loves to write poetry and shop for clothes with me. We have created a book of our poetry that gives our families joy. Max is 7 years old. He loves cars and can read almost any book I give him. He has a crew cut like his dad and he loves his mom-mom. Gracie is 4 and we call her Miss Independence. She loves soft and silky fabrics and has a smile that can light up a room.
Kirk and Karen have two great teenagers, Laura and Ami. They are smart, gifted and loving. Lisa has two boys, Shawn and Andy. They are grown and starting families and careers. Sarah, newly married to Kenny, is going back to school for a nursing degree. She would like to be part of ESPS someday. Rick, Sarah, Jordan, and I just took a trip to Paris. It was a growth experience for all of us. All of our children and grandchildren have been loving and caring, even though I don’t spend as much time with them as I should.
But this isn’t the end of the story. I scraped every nickel I could find to go to South Africa with a group of social psychologists from the People to People program. I was changed by that trip. The South African people are struggling to survive and do good work with far less resources than we have in the US and their hope and faith is huge and almost palpable. The experience of the South African history, people, and landscape touched my heart forever. I returned to the US enriched and energized.
I came back with a renewed hope of supporting change in Maryland’s public mental health system, so that all children and families receive the best care. It is not enough to say poor children don’t count. It is not okay to say that abused, neglected, traumatized, and mentally ill children do not deserve or need quality services. As long as there is a breath in me, the fight for better health care for poor children will go on and so will ESPS.
I also made a guided imagery CD and journal. A talented friend helped me put it together and produce it under “Soulight Publishing." Then something happened that caused me to write this post script. At ESPS we had a bookkeeping person we called uncle Dave. He was a large burley man with a great sense of humor and a heart as big as Texas. One Wednesday, I was working in my office. I heard someone shouting, “Dave needs help.” I ran down the hall to his office shouting, “Call 911, we need an ambulance, NOW!” Dave was slumped in his chair and he was lifeless. His face was turning grey. Three women from the office could not get him out of his chair into the floor. With Rick’s help, we laid him down. I felt for a pulse. There was no pulse. I was thinking, “There has to be a pulse. I’m doing this all wrong.” As if coming from a long way away, I heard Rick say, “Start CPR. Give him breaths.” Rick began compressions. We worked for what seemed like both hours and a few minutes, all at once. The Paramedics arrive and continued to work. They moved him to the ambulance and then to the hospital where he died. For two and a half days, my staff walked around as if they were in a daze. Not long after that, our friend, Bob, also an ESPS employee, was killed in a car accident. We were like a close family and we thought our hearts would break.
In the ensuing days people said to each other, “Every day is precious, live every moment and please take care of your health, we can’t take another day like this.” So, I sit here and write the end of this chapter of my story. While only a very broad stroke, this has been my story. I hope you enjoyed it and take something of value from it. Remember, life is for living. The opportunities are endless. Enjoy the train ride and where ever you are going in life and GO FOR IT!!