Personal Essays

  • Nothing Like I Expected

    By Lindsey Mead


    If you’d asked me when I was a teenager what I wanted my life to look like in my 40s, I would have probably told you the following: I’d like two children, I’d like to have a happy marriage and a fulfilling career, and I would like to live in Cambridge. I’d risk going further: it wouldn’t be bad to have a degree or two, ideally from good schools. I’d like my parents to be happy and healthy and nearby. I’d like to have done what Dad had been urging me to do since my memory began: find my passion.

    Lo and behold. I am 43, and this is what my life looks like: I have two teenage children who are entertaining, motivated, and tremendously good company. I have two Ivy League degrees and a career that I am proud of. I have a happy marriage to a man I met when I was 23. We live in a house in Cambridge a mile from my parents’ house. I am passionate about writing, which I do in space around the edges of the rest of my commitments. Life looks an awful lot like I hoped it would.

    And yet.  There is so much that has surprised me—so much that continues to surprise me—about adulthood. On every dimension and at every turn, life has startled me with challenges and wonder in equal measure.

    Parenting has been far, far more bittersweet than I ever expected. From the very beginning, when my daughter was born more than 15 years ago, every laugh and every milestone has been shadowed by its own passing. Somehow the arrival and growth of my children has served as a sharp reminder of how short our time here is.  

    I try very hard not to let the sometimes dazzling pleasures of parenthood be entirely occluded by my knowledge of their impermanence, but I find that difficult. Having children has reminded me, unavoidably and indelibly, of life’s basic drumbeat forward motion. Grace and Whit have made me painfully aware of how quickly it all passes, and they have simultaneously made me appreciate life’s extraordinary beauty in a completely new way. There’s no question in my mind these two things are woven inextricably together.

    Marriage has been altogether different than I expected, too, both more difficult (in short: anyone you live with for 18 years is going to get a little, shall we say, irritating sometimes) and more wonderful (the familiarity and intimacy of those 18 shared years creates a comfort I couldn’t have imagined). One of the unanticipated pleasures of marriage, for me, is seeing my husband as a father, and seeing traits of his animate in our children.  

    I can’t remember where I read that marriage is the most private of geographies, but that’s definitely true. After 18 years, I know that I don’t know anything about anyone else’s marriage. Many of my assumptions and high-minded ideas about what marriage is have been destroyed, and in their place is a deep appreciation of the joys that come from making a life alongside one other person.  

    This rooted comfort and intimacy become more important than I could ever imagine in the last few months, because of another of life’s shocking surprises. My husband and I both lost our fathers in the autumn of 2017, 2 months and 3 days apart. These back-to-back losses have bound us together in a dark, sacred space of shared grief and radical empathy. My father’s sudden death from a heart attack is by a wide margin the most significant loss of my life. I’m certain that my experience will forever be split into before and after, with that one afternoon of bewilderment, fear, and gratitude balanced in between.

    My professional life has been yet another surprise. I joined a management consulting firm when I graduated from college, mostly because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I quickly went to business school and then returned to the same firm. I moved into a recruiting-focused role for purely practical reasons (my husband traveled a lot and I could see that very quickly this would be impossible once we added children to our lives). For many years I worked part time and while I knew that I did not want to stop working entirely, my sense of my professional identity wavered, and I felt a bit purposeless.  I wrote about working part-time and the way it meant that I had a foot in two worlds and a home in neither. I felt like I was slogging, alone, up a very long, very climb.  

    And then somehow in the last few years the trees at the top of the climb opened, and I could see the view. It’s worth the climb. I started a company with four former colleagues and I truly love my professional life for the first time. I would never have imagined that I’d be an entrepreneur—and my husband often says the same, with a shake of his head and a smile. I love being a part of founding and growing something, and the joy and satisfaction that I feel professionally has been one of life’s greatest surprises so far.  

    I’m glad my father knew about the company I co-founded, and about our early success, before he died.  He had always urged me to find my passion, and he was proud of how much I was loving the new company. But writing, another midlife discovery, is equally the central passion of my life. I found my way back to the page after 20 years in business, and it was like coming home.

    All of my myriad roles matter crucially to me: mother, wife, financial services professional, writer. None of these individual pieces is simple, and in aggregate they form a complicated, noisy life. There’s no question adulthood is messier and more complex than I’d ever imagined, but it’s also more beautiful.  This is the deepest, truest, and most enduring of midlife’s surprises for me: in the dissonance lies the music.   

    Lindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and financial services professional who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and son. She graduated from Princeton with a degree in English and has an MBA from Harvard, and is currently eschewing her peripatetic trans-Atlantic childhood by having lived in the same house for 17 years. Her writing has been anthologized and published in a variety of print and on-line sources including Torn: True Stories of Kids, Careers, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, So Long: Short Narratives of Loss and Remembrance, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Literary Mama, the Huffington Post, and others. She writes regularly at A Design So Vast.


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  • Furious Awakening

    By Emily Nichols GrossiEmily Nichols Grossi


    The workmen come early, before the rising sun pierces the inky morning darkness. The sounds of hammers on chisels on wood reverberate through my home, and I jolt awake. The aggressive buzz of a circle saw adds to the concert downstairs. I feel joy.


    A friend sends me the circulating images of Rob Porter’s first wife, the one the top Trump aide beat up while on vacation in Italy. The woman’s face looks like Mardi Gras gone wrong—purple, green, and yellow bruises speckle her eyes and cheeks.

    My husband comes home after another long day in a month full of them. I am helping both kids finish their homework, sending a few emails on behalf of their school, cleaning the remains of their dinner, and reminding them that bath time is imminent. My husband lays down on the couch. I am as tired, and I am doing four things at once after having managed a day that included a two-hour snow delay, four carpool runs, and meetings with the contractor managing our kitchen renovation. I have no patience for what feels like servile invisibility. I feel fury.

    “Did you hear that Trump wants a military parade?” my husband calls from his horizontal perch. My blood begins to boil anew as I think about just how many women’s truths have been invalidated by Trump alone, and now he wants a fucking parade? I feel loathing.

    We head to bed early. I insert the mouthguard I had to get in late November of 2016. I was grinding my teeth so intensely that my molars now have hairline fissures in them. I also developed TMJ. I insert my ear plugs because I don’t sleep as soundly as I once did, and my husband’s snores bother me. I take my extra thyroid medicine in the hopes that my low T3, a thyroid hormone, rather than the daily stress of resisting Trump, is to blame for my thinning hair. After an hour of restless fidgeting, I take half an Ambien so I can finally sleep. I am tense.  


    I am a 41-year-old, upper middle class, well-educated white woman living comfortably in Chevy Chase, MD, less than a mile from the DC line. I was raised in the South where femininity and social decorum meant keeping quiet about certain topics in certain venues. I grew up trying to be the peacemaker.

    I am a stay-at-home mother of two sons with whom I work daily to instill a commitment to social justice and environmental stewardship, kindness and manners, and an awareness of the many ways in which they are privileged. The Nerf guns with which they love to play make me deeply uncomfortable, and we debate their presence in our home regularly.

    I am a pacifist who talks to the earthworms in my garden, relocates spiders and ants back outside rather than crush them, and recycles with a nearly manic gusto. I am vehemently pro-choice and committed to separation of church and state.

    Yet for most of my life, I have kept both my opinions and my work on behalf of these issues to myself and my family. That is what a polished lady does, right?

    After Trayvon Martin was murdered by a self-appointed neighborhood guard and Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Philando Castile and Freddie Gray and so many others were slain by policemen—none of whom were punished for their crimes—I found myself unable to maintain my reserve. Only the privileged have the luxury of silence and remove, and no longer could I stomach sitting in complacency. What kind of role model would silence be for my children? How could I ever say that I truly tried to let my life speak if I didn’t use my words publicly? And so I started speaking and acting and writing and canvassing.

    And then Trump was elected, and as America felt upended, so, too, did I.


    The thrill I’m taking in the demolition and noise wrought in my kitchen has been surprising, for in general I like progress and constructive growth, cleanliness, and peaceful quietude. It must be therapeutic, all the destruction, not least because it is purposeful and towards a greater and positive end—a way of channeling some of the rage and worry and disgust that courses through me daily in Trumpland.

    Trump’s election and the many dark underbellies in our democracy that his ascension unearthed removed from my eyes the remainder of the veil that, until several years ago, had shaded my awareness of systemic American racism. I struggle to manage my concern over my country’s future, the one into which I’m raising and delivering my children, as well as my disgust over the vanishing senses of decency and morality.

    Several months after Trump’s inauguration and marching in six protests in response, I told my husband that our marriage was at a crossroads. We could turn right and work toward a more perfect union or we could pivot left and into separation. What wasn’t acceptable anymore was our status quo.

    At that point, I’m not sure I’d have linked my reaction to Trump—an empowered awakening born of fury and fear—to my bold assertion about what I was no longer willing to accept in my marriage. My husband, a feminist who finds sexual misconduct unacceptable, has supported me in every personal and professional endeavor I have undertaken. I have never been sexually assaulted. But as my feelings of being unseen and unappreciated escalated, I realized that my awakening was a multifaceted one, showing itself in both my marriage and in my relation to womanhood at large; my Self as one of many female selves who had been underestimated, undervalued, and taken for granted for too long.

    My husband chose to turn right, into couples counseling and hard work. We are a different and much happier pair now, and that stress has largely disappeared, despite the evenings he takes to the couch rather than ask what the kids and I need.

    But the Roy Moores and Rob Porters and Bannons and Millers and Lewandowskys and Trump himself are still at large, poisoning our country in ways that serve only a few of privilege, that wreak havoc and ill-conceived destruction, that wind back the clocks of reproductive, civil, and gender equality rights for which people have fought for decades.

    Those who had begun advancing from the strictures of servile invisibility and who in no way wish to go back are and will continue to suffer the most even though they, like the rest of us, want to turn right—into a better tomorrow in which all of us are seen and valued and appreciated.

    In the meantime, when the demolition renders our kitchen returned to its foundation, I will exhale like a marathoner who’s just crossed the finish line: exhausted but proud, both weakened and strengthened. From there, we’ll rebuild, purposefully making the whole stronger and more functional than it was before. The same way my husband and I are doing with our marriage. The way I desperately hope our country will when Trump is finally gone.


    Emily is the stay-at-home mother of two spirited sons and a canning and pie-making instructor who can’t stop cooking. She also writes and photographs Em-i-lis, a sassy mishmash of all things motherhood, politics, and food, and owns Elucido: Make Your Written Work Shine, an editorial consultancy. She grew up in Louisiana and now lives in Chevy Chase, MD.

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  • Do What’s a Blast

    By Ann Imig

    I spent my whole childhood and young adult life singing. My parents invested in years of vocal lessons, and I practiced everyday, everywhere. I sang the FAME soundtrack from the backseat of the car. I acted out “A Hard Knock Life” while we did dishes. I belted Whitney Houston from my bedroom. I drove my family bonkers.

    Singing introduced me to my husband “Ben the Drummer” at a musical theater in Colorado. We moved to Chicago and I kept singing. For a time. I quickly tired of the actor hustle, as Ben tired of the musician hustle. I put my meager day job funds toward hiring a big-time vocal coach, and never practiced. He told me I had what it took but needed to work a lot harder to make a professional singing career happen. Instead, I made hanging out on the couch with Ben The Drummer happen.

    We made our relationship happen, we made marriage happen, we made babies happen. I spent sleepless baby nights walking our halls, singing my entire repertoire from Broadway belters to Italian arias. I didn’t miss performing.

    My kids outgrew the lullaby years. I found a new way to satisfy a resurfacing urge to perform by blogging, creating a storytelling show, and becoming a public speaker. Twenty years clipped by without singing on a stage or for an audience.

    This past summer a song from Sondheim’s “Into The Woods” came on the car radio. I burst into tears. Apparently I missed singing. I felt a pull, but my inner critic deemed it childish and impractical. I hired an accompanist for an hour just for fun. My inner critic accepted that.

    “You sound good,” the accompanist said. “Are you going to do something? You should do something.”

    I wanted to do something. I had indeed thought of doing something. So, I gave myself permission to do something and told my inner critic she could deride me all day long. I would walk toward the stage anyhow.

    In the meantime a new show was coming together with ease, in the way things do when they feel meant to be. Synergy. As I paired my own writing from the past decade with some of my favorite show tunes, the hours flew by. My career coach says when the hours fly by and you hardly notice? Notice that. Do that. So I did. I hired a music director to help me develop my idea.

    I methodically moved forward, determined not to let my inner critic get the best of me. My inner critic grew louder: Who do you think you are? Want to make an gigantic weenie of yourself? NO ONE NEEDS AN HOUR OF ANN SHOW. She insisted I eat all the marshmallow charms from the kids’ cereal.

    Here’s the thing. I love my life. I love my life and also I felt adrift creatively and professionally. I felt blue, stuck in a rut. Yet, each time I worked on the new project it brought me delight. It gave everything else focus and balance: my parenting, my volunteer work, my daily life work.

    I confessed in a text to my friend Lisa.

    “I’m trying to see if the universe wants me to do this or not. My heart knows it would be a blast and my ego says this is humiliating and don’t embarrass yourself.”

    Lisa said: “Do what’s a blast.”

    She mirrored my own words back to me, with a gentle push. It felt like a revelation: have fun. In childhood, fun is a primary motivation. By midlife I’d completely erased it from the equation. Fun doesn’t look for external validation. Fun needs no permission. Fun holds no barometer for success.

    I told Lisa, “I’m a little afraid I’m going to make a fool of myself.”

    She responded, “That’s the risk with anything good and what makes it exciting.”

    Right. I forgot that’s why they call it a leap of faith.

    The show is happening: an evening of songs and stories cabaret-style, and all to benefit a wonderful non-profit cause. Here’s the bonus: I’m more equipped to take the stage than ever before. I now have producing and directing experience and a community ready to support my work. Years of running and yoga give me boss breath control, capacity, and endurance. The richness of love and loss in midlife bring new layers and meaning to the material. I don’t need to act — it’s all there.

    I’m having a blast. I’m taking a leap of faith. I’m terrified, but eating fewer marshmallow charms.

    Are you looking for a sign? For permission? For validation? Do what’s a blast. Thank you, Lisa.


    Ann Imig is the founder of the national live storytelling series LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER and editor of the acclaimed anthology LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now (Putnam Books, 2015). Ann’s award-winning writing has been featured on sites like CollegeHumor, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Huffington Post and The Washington Post. National TV appearances include, NBC Nightly News and the webseries Battleground and The Louise Log.

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