Lady, Who Will Teach You?

Hey, kiddo, who taught you?

Did you slide your toes, all socked-up, onto your Daddy’s shiny black shoes, and dance to Frank Sinatra in the living room—Frank crooning, your Daddy grinning, and you feeling just like the princess, your tiny hands engulfed in Daddy’s big ones, your eyes carefully watching watching every footfall?

Did your mama take you out into the backyard and teach you to bat, taking no mercy, her wiffleball whizzing by you until you learned to connect?

Did you have a baking granny, one with infinite patience, who let you grease the sheets and mix the dough and drop glomping teaspoonsful onto slick greased surfaces…carefully let you spatula off the hot cookies, and let you be the first to taste test?

Did your big brother’s girlfriend fuss over you, braiding your hair and rouging your cheeks and telling you that shade of blue, honey, was surely your color?

Did your teacher, seeing you were quiet and bookish, slip you books…whispering, “I think you’ll like this; let me know!”

Or did your school days make you cringe or blush? Was there more silence than guidelines in those young days? Were your big people better avoided than engaged with?

Did you figure things out yourself?

How did you learn, kiddo, how to be a girl?


Who taught you to make the transition?

Did you have The Talk in plenty of time; did you put the accoutrements in the closet, looking forward, with intense excitement and almost equal dread, to the big change that was coming? When the day came, did you celebrate or commiserate, or were you just embarrassed?

Did your mother take you shopping, and out to lunch,–someplace grown up and glamorous?

Later, did that brash freckle-faced kid turn his fingers into man legs and girl legs and show you just how they fit together—kind of like Legos! he said—and crash open the glass innocence door, leaving you let down and disappointed at the blunt anatomy of the thing?

Did your coach encourage you to push yourself, to fight to reach potential?

Did the librarian smile when she saw you, telling you about the new books that just came in?

Did boys hoot and catcall when you walked by; did their comments bring you to tears?

Did someone tell you to reach, to stretch, that you could do it, that success was coming? Did someone tell you seven ways to reach your goals?

Or did someone laugh when they heard your plans; getting above our raising, are we, did they say?

When your dreams floated to the surface, was someone there to pop them, or did someone help you locate a breeze to float them on?

Did you find it in a book, in the advice from a cute but superior boy, or figure it out yourself?

Young woman, who taught you to be a teen?


Who took your hand to teach you?

Did you feel soft palms or brusque bruising?

Did your first shy explorations meet with respect or ridicule, trust or lust?

Did you have a long, evolving relationship that let you bloom and grow? Did you have brief, abrupt encounters that left you a little sick, a little longing?

Did you settle in or turn away?

Lovely one, who taught you how to be a lover?


Did someone feed your dreams and say, of course you’re smart enough, strong enough, brave enough? Did someone point out that you have all the markings of a leader?

Did you find expansive teachers, or did you crash into closed doors, stumble on high hurdles?

Did you reach and reach and reach? Did you have to believe, at last, that the time had come to settle?

Did you try one path only to realize it was heading the wrong way, and then forge a whole new journey?

Did you love the life you chose, or did you nurse regrets?

Who helped you to realize what it means to be a woman?


Did you find true mentors? Did your work satisfy? Did you choose to raise children, tend a home, to open yourself up to fur babies, to the world of nurture?

Did you learn to cook so well that others angled for invitations to your groaning board?

Did your work energize you? Did you stumble with tiredness some nights?

Did you deepen your friendships and spend happy nights dealing out cards, pouring some wine, singing along with the tape deck, confiding over thickly iced slices of chocolate cake?

Were there lonely midnights when you wondered why and why not?

Did you develop the fine art of letting go, of saying farewell with kindness and joy, of waving that dear one off with a grin and a thumb firmly up before returning to a newly solitary place?

Did you have shoulders to lean on, wise guides to whisper truth, faithful ones who let you be you, scars and gifts and all?

Or did you think, bitterly, I guess this is all on me, again?

How did you learn to be the grownup you always wanted to be?


And now, dear friend, how will we learn to age, to wrap up our career dreams and settle into our family realities and cope with our aches and the pains…and our losses? Can we uncover the new joys that a new age brings?

Is there a teacher out there dancing, drawing, painting, singing…one who has gone a ways before us, but who will come on back to extend a hand?

How will we explore this unknown land?

Who will teach us to be old?

9 thoughts on “Lady, Who Will Teach You?

  1. Kim Allen

    Pam, This was fabulous! How did you come up with all these fabulous questions? At first sight, each one conjured up memories, visceral feelings, before I moved on to the next. It was like when you shuffle a magazine and the pictures go by fast, an old time video. I am going to go back and answer every one, and savor who comes up and remember and cherish the recall of that tucked away. And in the process know what these tears are that now roll down my cheeks. Thank you…..

    1. Good morning, Kim! I am reading a wonderful book, Elderhood, by Louise Aronson. She’s a geriatrician…a word I never knew existed…and a creative writer, and she divides the work into sections…birth, childhood, adulthood, and elderhood…and that set me thinking about the people who teach us how to be at each age and stage.
      You might enjoy this book! It is dense but beautifully written, and it talks about the sad bias against people of age, but also writes about the vibrancy and depth possible in the elder years. I’m inspired by her words!
      And thank you so much for your words…I am honored by them and appreciate them so much!

  2. Rebecca Allison

    Ditto what Kim said. Elderhood sounds like a good read right now. Or should I first finish the book my daughter gave me after the birth of grandchild #1, What’s Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life! I was always wondering out loud what was going on in that little mind watching him react and develop! On the other end of the spectrum, I am now wondering frequently what is going on in my brain and how that will look over the next few years. Wondering and trying not to be scared!

    All your questions are what make being a grandparent so interesting. Watching my daughter parent as I remember parenting her and now being a small part of influencing her little boys. What will they remember? What will make them better people in the world?

    As so often happens, your writings this week are so timely in many ways. Dennis and I were just talking about the specialty of Gerontology this past week. I am very appreciative of family doctors and what a tough job our family doctor has to be a generalist in a specialized world. Does our doctor make a habit of noting the age on the chart and always remember the unique medical issues of seasoned citizens?

    So thanks for a thoughtful piece, Pam. I have been grappling with aging gracefully for awhile. I just read Olive Kitteridge again? I say again because how could I have forgotten so much of it or is it because at this season of my life the themes are just more timely. What a cautionary tale.

    Whether reading a thoughtful blog or a novel, I love the way Elizabeth Strout puts the value and joy of the experience:

    We want to know, I think, what it is like to be another person, because somehow this helps us position our own self in the world. What are we without this curiosity?
    — Elizabeth Strout

    1. Becky, so many things come to mind! I think it’s so important for children to have grandparents, in so many ways, but especially in that they know and love people from many parts of the age spectrum. Your grandsons are blessed with vital, engaged grandparents-energetic and making a difference every day…I hope they carry that model with them throughout their lies!

      I think you would like Elderhood when you whittle down your reading stack. Aronson is an MD, but she also has an MFA, so her writing is grounded in both science and a love of the language…some very lyrical passages!

      I read Olive, Again, a couple of weeks back and really enjoyed it. One of the messages was that there is life in what some people call “old age”!!!

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