Middle-Aged Women

I had to go to the county assessor’s office this week to talk with an assessor about our property values. The lady who answers the telephone was middle-aged, and the lady who set up the appointment for me was also middle-aged. When I arrived, the lady who directed me to the assessor’s office was middle-aged. And the assessor was middle-aged.

The county assessor’s office is newly remodeled, with light spilling in from the outside and a view of one of the county’s oldest man-made landmarks, the old Santa Fe train depot. The office space is relatively open and quite pleasant. As you walk from the entrance to the assessor’s spaces, you get a panoramic view of the entire staff.

Everyone working in the assessor’s office is a middle-aged woman.

So the assessor, Christine, and I started out talking about property values, but ended up talking about family values. Like me, she has a few children in college, a husband who doesn’t remember where things like the wine cork or his black socks are kept, and elderly parents. Her father has been quite ill, and she’s had to juggle her full-time job, her duties and joys at home with her husband and children, her ill father, and her distressed mother. And yet, she was able to give me her full attention and thoughtfully consider the input I brought to our meeting.

The receptionist, Denise, was also a middle-aged woman. Her husband of 30 years had recently left her and taken a trip to the Virgin Islands with his executive secretary. She has two teenagers and a daughter in college. Her daughter, a single mom, relies heavily on Denise for child care after work. I learned this because I had chatted with Denise while Christine was with another county resident who also had a property value problem.

So we chatted companionably, these strangers and I, and from time to time I watched as middle-aged women crossed the office space, went for coffee, answered telephones, used their keyboards, talked with taxpayers, filed forms, and otherwise did the work that keeps our county going. I imagined every woman going home to a husband, a child, aging parents. I imagined how they worked 40 or more hours every week, many times dealing with distressed, worried, irritated, and even irate county residents, and then went home and did the work of wives, mothers, and daughters of elderly parents.

I was amazed at them, really. And I’m so grateful for middle-aged women.

Middle-aged women make the world go around. They have borne the babies and toted them on the hip, and they’ve provided the food for their households, and they’ve cooked it. They sort the clothes that are outgrown and they donate them or sell them on eBay or pass them on to friends, co-ops, neighbors, and family members. They clean the house and load the dishwasher, pick up the sock everyone else strolled past all evening long. They listen as their mothers talk with quivering voices of the latest diagnosis, or of how hard it is to live with their now-retired fathers. They plan Easter dinner, Passover dinner, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day; they do the shopping. They buy new Easter basket grass and Paas Easter egg dyes every year, and they spend hours at the table with the children, making rainbow hues on old newspaper or wiping it as it spills down the cabinet fronts.

Middle-aged women light the shabbat candles and say the prayers. Middle-aged women sometimes still wear head coverings to mass even though the Vatican said they don’t have to. They do it as a sign of respect for God and Jesus, and they identify with Mary, whose head is always covered and who lost her only child when she was a middle-aged woman.

Middle-aged women are tired. And yet they keep on giving, keep on serving, keep on keeping on with what they do. They are the hearts and souls of their families. Dad may leave, but Mom hangs in there. Mom figures out how to make ends meet, how to get that bill paid, how to afford new clothes or a new washing machine. Mom knows where things are; mom knows what to do; mom is a wife, but also a daughter; she is a vet sometimes, and a nurse; she’s a psychologist and a miracle worker.

Middle-aged women care about other women: little girls, young women, thirty-somethings who know it all, forty-somethings who doubt it all, other middle-aged women who carry it all, and grannies who have endured it all. They care, and they listen when you talk. They are often compassionate; they mother not only their own children, but other women’s children, too.

Middle-aged women tell young women how beautiful they look. They tell the sacker at the grocery store how strong he is, and they flirt unabashedly with charming men because they know they’re well past their prime, but they compensate for it by saying what they really think. Middle-aged women are among the sexiest women in the world.

Middle-aged women can be blunt at times; they can tell you to snap out of it if you need that. They can say that you need to cut the bullshit. They will tell you that your lover or boyfriend or husband is a loser and you deserve better, but they will say it with tears in their eyes and you know they mean it, and that they’re right.

Middle-aged women are beautiful. They’re strong and they’re experienced. They know what to do, so they help people.

Middle-aged women are tired. Their feet hurt when they get home at night, and their ankles swell. Nobody offers them foot rubs or back rubs or even a cup of tea–except, maybe, another middle-aged woman. Or a young woman who is grateful. Or a granny who remembers.

I’m grateful for all the middle-aged women in our county assessor’s office. I’m grateful for the middle-aged women working at the district attorney’s office, and the university, and the bank, the credit union, the grocery store, the dry cleaner. I’m grateful for middle-aged women around the world, women working in factories, women supporting the whole family, women raising their grandchildren, women sitting by the hospital beds, women worrying in bed late at night.

Middle-aged women praying.

Thank you, my middle-aged sisters. Thank you for keeping the families together. Thank you for being wives, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, neighbors, sisters, employees, and friends.

Oh… and thanks for remembering where the wine cork and his black socks are. We are all better off because of you.

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