In the Middle of the Night

Note: A version of this column appeared in The Olympian, November 22, 2006.

From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties, and all things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us.

— Ancient Scottish prayer

So here it is, 2:30 in the morning and I’m still awake an hour after helping my 6-year-old stanch his bleeding nose, which left his sheets looking like they were used in someone’s murder. Meanwhile, Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” plays in my head. (At least my insomnia comes with music.) As happens all too often, everyone else in the house, including the dog, slumbers on — some of them, including the dog, snoring gently. Years of marriage and parenting wreak havoc on those recommended 8 hours and, to me, R.E.M. is just a rock band.

So what do we all contemplate in the wee small hours of such a morning?  Well, I’ve noticed that thoughts loom large and things rarely look better in the dark.

This night, I’m contemplating my recent birthday, which has firmly embedded me in the trenches of middle age, with perhaps more of my life behind me than ahead. I’m not at all where I thought I’d be back when I was the age my writing students are now.  Then, I could see only into the next week and had no clue how the real world works. As I tell my students now, adulthood is highly over-rated.

As we go through life, we take our fears with us, moving forward not out of choice but of necessity. (On the other hand, Janis Joplin never made it to middle age and people like Tom Cruise seem to stride fearlessly through midlife, wagging their crises behind them.) By this age, I’ve realized that fears have a way of compounding and are often aided and abetted by our own institutions. Many of these fears have led us to become a nation of neurotics, flinching at the statistics from the latest health and education reports.

My recent fear has been about returning to work outside my home. I am one of those women starting the next sequence of life, leaving my comfort zone where I have some control. Home — where I can pretend I’m queen of the castle and my children, when not dripping blood on the sheets in the night, are pretty loyal subjects.

To change your path in life is a courageous thing. In the years I’ve been away from classroom teaching, the path has changed considerably, mostly becoming overgrown with technology and educational theories, which are not always good things. Fortunately, the core skills I teach remain the same and I have enough enthusiasm to make up for what I’ve missed.

So, in this week of Thanksgiving, I want to say thanks to St. Martin’s University for bringing me back on the path, and to my students for easing that transition (and their input on this column). As we head on through to the end of the year, let’s all make a point of defying our fears and go happily into this holiday season.