They always say in writing – use a title and the first few sentences to grab attention and the reader will want to see what you have to say. By my title, you have probably ascertained that I have made reference to a couple things: Wonder Woman, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” and traction. While lately, I have suffered from writer’s block and lack of time to work on my writing, I have also found myself in another place of suffering that has me in traction at least thrice weekly.
It is in that spirit that I reflect on my former status as the infallible wonder woman – the mom of 4, who works full time, teaches, writes, supports her family, is in the middle of writing a dissertation and who started this new year as my year to “Lean In” and really excel in my career – to the current status of fallible woman, mom of 4 trying to stay afloat in all of her obligations, dealing with difficult sibling and teenage bantering as well as (thanks to a begging daughter spouting promises of responsibility) a Siberian Husky puppy and a resident 10 year-old Boston Terrier who now demonstrates the epitome of love-hate relationships, to prioritizing projects in order to keep everyone happy while I try to heal, attend physical therapy, and manage newfound pain and limitations.
In this post, I offer my [brief] thoughts about aging and struggles when a body, probably abused through pushing too hard, but also enduring the normal wear and tear of aging, begins to betray you while trying to come to terms with to a new normal of limitation within your own being – “adapting” if you will – a skill that I believe women have come to master well.
Throughout life, we all face our shares of limitations and encounters with mortality. Lately, it seems like I have encountered one thing after another. However, as these events arise, life must inevitably move on – but, moving on does not mean ignoring what just occurred. Rather, time needs to be taken to understand and appreciate each of these things – even if things do not go our way.
Road bumps are a normal thing for me. I am a non-traditional student trying to make my way in the world while working on a Ph.D., supporting a family, and teaching – publishing – and keeping up with the other Ph.D. students with activities, memberships, and paper presentations as well as publications. Before I returned to school, raising 4 daughters while working 60+ hours a week, I nonetheless had an immense void and time on my hands. The house got quiet, and I became stir crazy. Certainly the calm of those days has passed, but I sometimes yearn for them (only sometimes – usually when I am sleep-deprived or merely want to binge watch a new series for a weekend instead of working!).
I encountered a physical limitation over the last 4 weeks that has me falling behind and has caused anxiety and an anger at the betrayal of my body – and frankly has made me irritable and upset. This betrayal is exacerbated by the impending anniversary of my birth as it comes nearer and nearer to another decade mark, accompanied by the rash of departures from this earthly life, both in my personal life and actors/musicians I admire or grew up with in the news. And while I struggle with day to day activities and something as simple as sitting in a chair, I also berate myself for my misplaced anger. Certainly many people live their lives experiencing the level of pain and maybe more throughout their lives that I am currently enduring. Others have lives with incredible limitations or maybe they wish to see that decade mark or to have a child or a parent to cherish as they age another year. So do I really have a right to be upset or frustrated?
Coming to terms with the aging process and deterioration of our own bodies is difficult. Mentally, at least for me, I still feel much like my 20-year-old self – just that person with more years of experience. This is something my grandmother told me; she had this mind-set until her 83rd birthday. Physically, my family is so used to “Wonder Woman” doing it “all” that my call for help is viewed as an inconvenience (and I don’t want to ask because I don’t want to deal with the pushback or attitude – sometimes physical pain becomes a better option).Then there is watching those close to you, including your parents and children, as they age. This past week, I had the great opportunity to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary: it is surreal to view my parents as that “old.” Tomorrow, I am looking at houses as my eldest child and her fiancé begin to start their post-college “adult” lives. Time speeds by faster and faster the older we get. We stand toe-to-toe with our own aging – our own mortality – new limitations and not being able to do it all.
Women seem to have the expectation of themselves and others have this same expectation – that we can be and do everything we want (because we always have made it seem so or made it work) – when we want it (never missing an appointment or deadline) – in other words, we are wonder woman! Success is the only option – failure is never an option. For Wonder Woman, limitations do not exist. We can do it! We can have it all!
I have never been a big believer in failure and always believed that I could do anything and everything. But after a minor health set back and following the funerals I have attended lately – I think the best I can do at this point is to prioritize my obligations, learn to ask for help (even at this stage in my life), accept the help offered, and most of all, give myself a break when the to-do list or deadline isn’t always met.
In the world where we want to “Lean In” – – sometimes leaning can be painful (especially these days) or laden with roadblocks – – I am not saying to give up, but rather try to balance and remember even though we are women and dynamic, we are most certainly still human.
Michele Stopera Freyhauf is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and a Member of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University as well as an Instructor at John Carroll University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies and Ursuline College’s Department of Religious Studies. She teaches in the area of Religion, Culture, Terrorism/Violence, and Biblical Archaeology. Michele has an M. A. in Theology and Religious Studies from John Carroll University, and did post-graduate work at the University of Akron in the area of History of Religion, Women, and Sexuality. She is also a Member-at-Large on the Student Advisory Board for the Society of Biblical Literature and the student representative on the Board for Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society (EGLBS). Michele is the 2015 recipient of the P. E. MacAllister Excavation Fellowship where she participated in the Bethsaida Archaeology Project. Michele is a feminist scholar, activist, and author of several articles including “Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia” and lectured during the Commission for the Status of Women at the United Nations (2013 and 2014). She also wrote “The Catholic Church and Social Media: Embracing [Fighting] a Feminist Ideological Theo-Ethical Discourse and Discursive Activism” that appears in the recently released book, Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century: Technology, Dialogue, and Expanding Borders, edited by Gina Messina-Dysert and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Michele can be followed on Twitter @msfreyhauf and @biblicalfem. Her website can be accessed here and is visible on other social media sites like LinkedIn and Google+.