is this it, and other thoughts on (late) middle age, courtesy of an eleven year old

I am walking with Husband and children to a restaurant for dinner. Liam comes up beside me and takes my hand. I squeeze his hand, happy he’ll still acknowledge me in public, and wait for what usually follows this intimacy: detailed descriptions of the new level he’s opened in “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” or the nuances of a goal scored in an international soccer football match about which I know almost nothing and care even less.

Liam: “Mommy, do you think that you could’ve been more than…this?”  He waves his hand at the air. Clearly “this” means my entire life up to the point he’d asked the question.

Me: “More? You mean more than being professor? Or instead of being a professor?”

Liam: “Well…yeah. I mean you were so smart and everything, do you think that maybe if you’d worked really hard at whatever it was, you could’ve been, you know…more?”


We are headed to Pizzeria Olivella, a new pizza place that has just opened and is  mirabile dictu, within walking distance of our apartment. The boys say that the pizza there is almost – almost – as good as their current gold standard, the pizza at San Marzano‘s, on New York’s Lower East Side.  Our conversation – or rather, Liam’s interrogation of my life choices – continues over dinner.

Me: “So what do you mean by more? Do you mean richer? More famous?”

Vigorous nodding.

I realize that to say “more” famous connotes some tiny degree of fame, so I correct myself. “You mean, famous at all?”

More nodding.

Liam: “Did you ever want to do anything else, where if you’d been really serious about it and worked at it, you know, like maybe a doctor or something, then you could’ve done that?”

Me: “I wanted to be a ballerina for years. I danced all the way through college.”

My dining companions about kill themselves laughing. I am wishing maybe I stayed home and ate cat food by myself in the dark.

Me, trying again: “And I always wanted to be a writer – always, since I could hold a pencil.”

Liam: “So why didn’t you just write a Harry Potter story or something, why not write for a living?”

Because I had kids, aka black suckholes of financial need, and had to get a job.

But I don’t say that. That would be mean, right?

Me, instead: “Because, I guess, I didn’t have faith that I could do it? And also because I’d started teaching high school and I really loved it, and then I got a job teaching, and then I got my doctorate, so…”

Liam: “Oh.  So this is it then?”

Me: “I know you think I’m really really old –”

More vigorous nodding.

Me: “But I don’t really think that I’m done, actually. I mean, I think that I’m still doing things and trying things…”

Liam, pityingly: “Right. But aren’t you like almost fifty?”


little does Liam know that while my life might not be “it,” there is a whole lotta IT going on at yeah write. link to the challenge grid, the hangout grid, or just settle in for a lot of good reading. then come back and vote for your faves on the challenge grid. that’s it!



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56 Responses to is this it, and other thoughts on (late) middle age, courtesy of an eleven year old

  1. Alexandra June 19, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    Read your post earlier, commenting now that I”m home.

    You have set the bar high, lady.

    From a wee young age I taught my kids that I am a big fish in a small pond. I am THE lady who makes the muffins for the only bed and breakfast in town, y’all.

    And that’s how you do it.


    • Deborah Quinn June 19, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

      If I knew how to make a muffin that didn’t end up the consistency of sawdust, I’d rule the roost that way, absofreakinglutely. If you’d like to pass along a “I rule the kingdom, mofos,” recipe, I am here to receive it. You’re a pretty big fish in the interweb ponds there, too, madam-on-a-blogher-panel… : )

  2. a guy June 19, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    Interesting and disorienting. I’ve had versions of this conversations with other people’s kids, but usually when they’re a little older (the last one was 26), and I bet it’s just entirely different when it’s your own kids. But I usually play a different card than “don’t count me out.” I usually play “when you’re young, you think some things are important that don’t generate as much heat once you’ve grown up a little.” And I say it generously, as if I think their image of success is really charming. I think that *is* mean, but I think little shits need to be smacked down, only you have to do it in a way that looks like you’re not trying.

    • Deborah Quinn June 19, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

      Oh yes, a smackdown is always useful, especially if it comes gently, as you describe it here. What always cracks me up, at least with Liam, is the total out-of-the-blueness of the question. I mean, what was he thinking that suddenly he decided to scrutinize my life? He can’t quite articulate that … funny.

  3. Kim at Mama Mzungu June 19, 2012 at 8:01 am #

    Yikes! Kids really know how to stomp all over your ego. Funny, I always read your blog and think, “Wow. She’s a professor! Maybe if I had… ‘been really serious about it and worked at it’,.. I too could have been an academic.”

    Your son is just too young to realize how cool it is to have a prof. for a parent. Doesn’t he know that smart is the new black?

    • Deborah Quinn June 19, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

      Smart is the new black. You crack me up. “parent” is, I am sure, in some ancient language, the word for “ego-less-ness.” Because lordy, you can’t have an ego and do this child-rearing thing. nope. And in my inner conversations, I think that if I’d just had more gumption, I’d be an aid worker somewhere doing work that really mattered, so there you go. Grass, greener.

  4. KSB June 19, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Howling. To the extent that a colleague passing by knocked to check and see if I am okay.

    Thanks for a much needed laugh. I know this is supposed to be bittersweet, but your excellent ability to laugh at the situation yourself makes it not bitter at all.

    I have to agree with your friend, that Liam will think it is the coolest thing to have a professor and writer for a mother when he gets a little older and wiser.

    That being said, I’m dreading the day GB asks me the same question–I’ll actually be older than you are now when GB is 11, so…! ;P

    *PS: Lombardi’s is out now? 😉

    • Deborah Quinn June 19, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

      They are San Marzano boys, or Patsy’s, or Postos. Big fans. When we were in nyc at Xmas, I think we ate pizza for dinner like six times. Sheesh. GB will think that because you’re his AUNT, you’re the coolest thing ever. That’s what I think about my aunts, anyway.

  5. Louise Ducote June 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    Line of the day: “I am wishing maybe I stayed home and ate cat food by myself in the dark.” Do you not let him read your blog? You ARE a writer.

    • Deborah Quinn June 19, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

      I have this fantasy that, as mother of two boys, I’m going to be an old lady whose husband predeceases her (as they say), and my boys will tell themselves they’re taking good care of me b/c they install me in an SRO somewhere with a case of Fancy Feast and a box of Depends. sigh…

  6. Erin June 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    I agree with Louise!!!!! But I ask this question of myself a lot lately, and answer the same way that you do. Keep doing what you are doing- you are IT!!!

    • Deborah Quinn June 19, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

      aww. thanks. but you know, his question got me to thinking, right, like…er…I AM almost fifty. is this IT? It’s like that Talking Heads song: is this my beautiful life? sheesh.

  7. Christie Tate June 19, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    Aw man, what a great great post. I too wanted to be a ballerina and danced until I was 16. My flat feet and short legs were a huge bar (no pun intended). And the writing….I relate. What a great story. I think I love little Liam.

    • Deborah Quinn June 19, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

      Liam has a way about him, that’s for sure. Little does he know that his mama never even took chemistry b/c she hated math so much, so a medical career was never in the cards. plus i’m about as non-medically curious as you can be and still be alive. I danced until late in college I met two things: the all-you-can-eat ice cream bar in the dining hall, and BEER. wheee….and that was that.

  8. Kenja Purkey June 19, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    Ah, the perspective of an 11 year old. It’s pretty close to that of my 20 year old who said she didn’t want to be like me and work in a bank (it’s a credit union, and I’m a marketing director so I get to do fun stuff like play on Facebook all day. Not that I’m defensive or anything).

    Nothing like that to make you feel about 2 inches tall!

    Oh well, someday they’ll realize that until you are no longer on the planet it is never finished. As long as we keep trying new things, we can reinvent ourselves daily. And besides, almost 50 is the new 30. 🙂

    And I danced in college too. It was modern and jazz though, I was wayyy too uncoordinated for a ballerina!

    Nice post.

  9. Christie June 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    Little do they know, right? I agree with the previous comments that you ARE a writer and that he just doesn’t know how cool being a professor really is.

  10. Lady Jennie June 19, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Once more – a precious post. Loved it. I can relate. And I totally think you make a great writer – and ballerina!

  11. OpinionsToGo June 19, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    Lady Jennie directed me to your post and, I’m so glad she did. You certainly are an excellent writer and obviously a great Mom who has created this very thoughtful and intelligent eleven year old.

    I’m certain you can still do a perfect Plie and Pirouette!

  12. christina June 19, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    oh my word i dread having this conversation with my girl in 10 years when i really am almost fifty 🙂

  13. Musings of a Writer Mom June 19, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Harsh…. that was harsh. But I think we’ve all had a similar conversation before 🙂

  14. SouthMainMuse June 19, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    Loved it. Well, from one who is almost 50 – the worst part of me is not lack of accomplishments, it’s lack of time left to do all I want to do. We who have families have sacrificed some of that time that could have been spending focusing on self but family and children add a dimension that I never, ever can imagine doing with out.

  15. Erin @Momfog June 19, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

    I’m conflicted about this conversation. If my son had asked me those questions, I would be angry at first. “Little snot doesn’t know what the real world is like so how dare he belittle my life?” Then, I’d see his point. There are lots of other things I could have done and didn’t. The fact that he thinks I WAS (definitely past tense–34 is old to a 13yo.) capable of more would make me realize that I AM still capable of it.

    BTW, “Because I had kids, aka black suckholes of financial need, and had to get a job,” is a fantastic line.

  16. Carrie - Cannibalistic Nerd June 19, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    You could say, “what makes you think I’m not famous?” and then pay a stranger to ask for your autograph. Or maybe I’m not getting the point.

    Loved this post!

  17. Carrie June 19, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

    OMG, that is so brutal. Kids ask that stuff when they get older…I am not looking forward to THAT conversation, like at all.

    Great post…even if I dread my childrens advancing age now.

  18. Dawn Beronilla June 20, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    It’s funny hearing how kids view us. Not always “ha ha” funny, but different.
    I hope he remembers this conversation when he is older, because he will no doubt have a different opinion then! Especially if he is ever blessed with his own “black suckholes of financial need”. 😉

    I love your style of writing. I loved the descriptions of what was going on, peppered with your conversations. It was everything a good story should be, in my opinion!

  19. Mayor Gia June 20, 2012 at 3:07 am #

    Hahah oh kids. They can be so accidentally offensive sometimes…

  20. Delilah June 20, 2012 at 3:25 am #

    I swear my ego was removed along with the placenta. With all the unintentional offensive comments that come out of my kids mouths I’m a guessing that’s a good thing. Haha! At the pool yesterday, the 7 year old said “wow mommy, your arms jiggle like jello.” Sigh. Thanks kid. Haha!

  21. Vanessa June 20, 2012 at 3:28 am #

    I can remember once when I was an evil teenager, scorning my mother for settling. Now I realize how very lucky I would be if I could settle like that.

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:45 am #

      oh the things we learn from our kids, right? And the way what we learn forces us to look back at our own lives and the people in those lives…their choices and needs somehow make a lot more sense, retrospectively, don’t they?

  22. Amanda June 20, 2012 at 7:47 am #

    I wonder if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s kids will ask them the same questions when they get older. I’m thinking perhaps they will. Because don’t all kids think all parents live small lives? I guess it’s the wonder of seeing unliminted possibilities in your future.

    I loved your story though. Very charming. Twenty years from now when my girls ask me the same question, I’m not sure how I will respond — probably will wish I was eating cat food 😉

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:43 am #

      actually, in twenty years when *I* ask *him* this question…heh heh heh. I wonder that about Brangelina’s kids – I suppose they think their parents are just standard-issue parental units? hard to imagine, but I guess kids have very little perspective…

  23. Cindy - The Reedster Speaks June 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    This post is awesome. And you tell Liam you are on the Yeah Write grid, so you are famous in some small blogging circles 🙂

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:41 am #

      Exactly – thanks! As I said to someone else, the next time he’s all in my face about my life, I’m going to tell him that once upon a time, I won Editors Choice at yeahwrite, so there!

  24. Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice June 20, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    Your son would bond instantly with mine. Except he thinks I should be more — be rich and famous and utterly fabulous — and still be waiting for him with juice and a sliced apple when he gets off the school bus. We can never win in their eyes.

    Great story.

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:40 am #

      Exactly! Mommy, your boundless ambition won’t in any way conflict with my needs to be mothered at all times and in every single possible way, right?

  25. Julie June 21, 2012 at 1:07 am #

    I hope my kid doesn’t wish I had been “more.” I’m with my journey thus far, and I wish the same for him.

    And um, are there ballerina pics anywhere here? I wanna see.

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:40 am #

      Ballerina pictures are safely non-digitized and yellowing in my mother’s attic somewhere. But I did love it when I was doing it, I have to say. Then somewhere towards the end of college I noticed A) beer; and B) all-you-can-eat ice cream in the dining halls. And that, as they say, was that.

  26. tara pohlkotte June 21, 2012 at 3:02 am #

    oh – the way kids ask the questions we think we’ve gotten over, or through, or past. then they ask them and we have to redefine ourselves. you my dear, are just fantastic. you ARE “IT”. 🙂

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:38 am #

      aww, thanks. his questions do have a way of getting me to re-examine…I wonder, hmm.. did I make a choice somewhere along the line or did it just…happen this way?

  27. erin margolin June 21, 2012 at 5:00 am #

    kids have a way of making us feel like shit sometimes. unintentionally. and we have to let it go. but damn, it’s hard!

    you are a writer, you are on this grid, and i really related to this.

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:37 am #

      that’s what I’ll say the next time: I’m on the grid, dude, BACK OFF!

  28. thedoseofreality June 21, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    I almost fell off my chair laughing at the cat food line. This is so awesome. I love this.

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:37 am #

      I have this fear that, as the mother of sons, I’m going to end up in a boarding house somewhere, alone, with nothing but cat food and Depends for company (not even cats), and my sons will call one another from their busy, glamorous jobs and say “oh, yeah, mom, she’s fine, I ordered her a whole CASE of the Fancy Feast.” Mothers with daughters will be squired around to senior citizen pedicures and lunches out…

  29. Michelle Longo June 21, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    Oh, these children. They just don’t get it. And yet they kinda do. They think the world of us, they think we can do anything (like pop out “a Harry Potter story” and become famous. Gotta love their innocence.

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:35 am #

      Totally. his confidence in me is unlimited, even as he’s decided that what I actually *do* is not all that exciting. Keeps me humble, I guess. : )

  30. Write Rinse Repeat June 21, 2012 at 7:06 am #

    This post is excellent. That’s all I can say. Excellent.

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:35 am #

      Well thanks! I like your posts too…And I think sometimes that the word “kid” now translates to “fodder” ….

  31. Shiftless Mommie June 21, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    Kids. So wonderful, what with their curiosity and innocent wonder as to why we don’t live up to their expectations. Very funny story.

  32. 50Peach June 21, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    Ah, youth. If only they knew that one day they’ll be *fifty* in someone’s eyes. 🙂

  33. Jay- The Dude of the House June 22, 2012 at 12:27 am #

    At what age do kids develop a filter? Not that his questioning is wrong, or shouldn’t have been asked, but when do they learn to keep things to themselves? I only ask because I have a 2.5 year old and have no clue.

    And no, you aren’t old, and it sounds like you’ve accomplished “more”, whether your son realizes it or not.

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:34 am #

      I find that fifty is younger EVERY DAY. As for that filter…I dunno. The eleven year old *thinks* he’s developed the filter but as this conversation illustrates, he sort of hasn’t. I mean, he didn’t think he was insulting me, I think he was genuinely curious about how people make the choices they do. The insults were just a casual side-effect…

  34. stripeyhorse June 22, 2012 at 5:52 am #

    Hehe. I don’t know about you, but i was definitely that sort of eleven year old. When I have kids I guarantee they’ll be having this conversation with me, probably more as karmic retribution for all the times I gave pitying looks as a child to my surrounding adults.

    Yeah. Who’s laughing now (they’ll say).

    Great post 🙂

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 8:32 am #

      Parenthood is just an endless playing out of karmic “gotcha,” I figure. I suppose the loop comes round again when/if you become a grandparent…!

  35. Christie Tate June 22, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    I thought you belonged in the top 5 this week in Yeah Write. Am I allowed to say that?

    • Deborah Quinn June 23, 2012 at 7:59 am #

      *blushes* thanks. i do love yeahwrite, and I’m always curious about how the stars fall, as it were. Thanks for the compliment. There was (as usual) a lot of good writing on that grid – and one of the upsides of the link up is finding really good writers who I would otherwise not have met, like you (returns compliment!)


  1. Monday-ish listicle: if I had a thousand dollars I would… | MaNNaHaTTaMaMMa - June 19, 2012

    […] what Stasha is giving us to play with this week. Having just been told that my life choices were less than fantastic by my eleven-year-old son, I decided to cut him out of this listicle (HA! that’ll show him, […]

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