Notes from the Middle Aged Underground

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life32 Comments
One of my favorite parts of the 1979 classic film All That Jazz is that every morning Roy Scheider wakes up, tosses back his Alka Seltzer and pills, looks in the mirror, with jazz hands at the ready, and says optimistically, “It’s showtime, folks!

In 1991, while working as a graphic designer for the American Collectors Association, I had the habit of getting to the office first on account of the option to work a flex schedule. I’d arrive in Edina, Minnesota, every day at 7 a.m. sharp, flip on the lights and get to work. My boss at the time told me she always envisioned me saying, “It’s showtime, folks!” with every flip of that switch.

I guess I was a bit entertaining to work with. That’s one way of putting it.

In 1993 when we bought the house we still live in, I remember seeing that lighted mirror in our bathroom and thinking, “Now THAT is a place to get ready in the morning. Talk about showtime!”

We may have joked about getting rid of that gaudy mirror but here we are, 23 years later, and even if I’m not saying it’s showtime aloud, I most certainly am thinking it. (And no, that is not Jesus on the wall, but rather, Lin-Manuel Miranda.)


Yes. We have a teen who uses acne products as evidenced by the pseudo tie-dyed effect you see on my formerly solid brown towels. It’s amazing how that orange spreads to all of them. I figure once Cole heads off to college, we’ll upgrade, but until then, at least they all sort of match in their orange-stained-ness.

When Cole heads off to college. Geez. Is that really around the proverbial corner?

I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. In fact, one of my top priorities in life is to not do that. I’m working hard to stay in the present and respond to each changing day as it comes. There’s really no sense in lamenting change, right? Because it’s happening on the molecular level every day. Ain’t no stopping that train, ladies. Either get on board or waste your time complaining about it.

It’s weird to be in this place. A place where more than ever, I feel like I have things to say. Things about this experience of being a normal human in the middle part of life. And  yet, I find myself playing it a bit more cool. A bit more safe. A bit closer to the vest, if you will.

I want to practice gratitude in the midst of this middle. I want to make more of what I have. More life. More connection. More truth.

Maybe I’ll figure out a way to write it all out. And maybe I’m still just working through it.

Either way, I’m lucky to be here. Of that, I am quite certain.

At least I don’t smoke in the shower anymore.


Cathy ZielskeNotes from the Middle Aged Underground

32 Comments on “Notes from the Middle Aged Underground”

  1. #1

    Enjoy the process! That’s where you find all the magic. Thanks for letting me witness your growth and change. You are, and continue to be, a ROCK STAR (in the very best way)!

  2. #2

    I remind myself quite often to stay in the present. Focusing on the future of things we don’t know about gets me all full of anxiety. Thanks for the reminder for today!

  3. #4

    We have the same unintentional tie-dyed towels due to my teen son. It took me forever to figure out what the hell was going on 😉 Love your MAU updates from the trenches. 🙂

    1. #4.2
      Audrey V

      So funny, I couldn’t figure out why my son’s pillowcases looked like they were bleached. But now he has gone to college, but I haven’t changed the pillow cases yet.

  4. #5
    Annette Kuusinen

    While we are fully obsessed with Hamilton around here, it never occur to me that I NEEDED a framed picture of Lin-Manuel on my wall. What was I thinking?!

  5. #6
    Amy Goldstein

    My first thought was ” I need that Jesus pic because it looks like Lin-Manuel Miranda”… Awesome!

  6. #7
    Beth Keck

    OK, I already loved everything about you (not in a creepy way! Haha!). But the fact you have a picture of Lin-Manuel in your bathroom just solidified the fact that, in my mind, you are one of the coolest chicks around!

      1. #7.1.1

        Same here. I think I’m going to have picture of him framed in my guest room/mom’s (escape from the boys in the house) room. Definitely one of the coolest chicks ever.

  7. #10

    Great post! I always said I’d change out our towels when my oldest moved out. It’s been more than a year now since she bought her condo and yet, the Proactive-died towels remain. I’m not sure what that means….

  8. #11

    Recognized those towels right away. It’s nice to see that my house isn’t the only one with towels that look like that. I have been slowly replacing white even though the kids don’t live home anymore. They do, however, come for visits often and even though they are in their mid 20’s, they are still trying to control breakouts. White is the new black around here!

  9. #12

    Always a good read!!! Thanks Cathy for keeping it real. Now about those towels…. I got sick of looking at ours ( plus they were 15 years old!) so I tossed them all. A person can forget, in the day to day, that new towels are so nice! I went with all white, in ALL the bathrooms. No more splotches! Also, no more arguing over which towels go where – now 4 go here and 4 go there and so on! 🙂 When they get grungy because someone decides to clean their makeup sponges/brushes on them,I just toss a little OxyClean in and out they come, just like new again!! White towels for the win!! 🙂 ….*deep sigh* yeah, I’m seriously loving white towels these days!

    1. #12.1
      Cathy Zielske

      So OxyClean, huh? I have a problem with whites. But it’s very likely my 20 year old washing machine which is literally on its last leg. We are heading out to start looking for a new one this weekend.

      Maybe mama will ask for white towels for Christmas! Now THAT would be a gift!

  10. #13
    Jenny B.

    I love reading your posts, Cathy. I’m especially encouraged by your “middle-aged” ones. 🙂

    On the acne note, I have a tween boy who is just starting to break out. Anyone have acne-fighting tips? I gave him the soap and gel treatment stuff I have used for years, but then I thought about when I started breaking out, and my parents gave me a bar of Neutrogena soap. That was definitely not the latest and greatest option in the late 80’s. So, I’m thinking my methods may be old-school by now, and there might be something better.

    1. #13.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I know that Proactiv is good stuff, but all the tips I tried to pass along to my kids, well, they just did what they wanted. However, Cole does use a cream by AcneFree and it’s call the Terminator 10 Maximum Strength. Comes in an orange box and it helps his skin a lot.

  11. #14

    The towels … oh yes the towels ! We have matching sets Cathy and I have told my children when they leave home and go someplace else those are the very towels they get to take along with them. My friend was way smarter – she just bought white for the bathroom her son uses 🙂

  12. #15

    The line “Maybe I’ll figure a way to write it all out” especially struck me as I think you already did write it out and did a really good job of it too!!! Even though my love of scrapping has sort of gone by the wayside, I still love to read your blog cause I love your view on life!!! You are who you are, and that’s good enough!!! Thanks for sharing with us!!!

  13. #17

    When you can Fosse in front of your mirror, of COURSE you need a framed photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda there, too! (And we have white towels in our teenage household.)

  14. #18

    My sister and I just had this conversation about women our age–the kids are starting to leave the nest age–and how hard it can be some times. So many changes. Not only for our families, but for us. And, we as women don’t talk about it much. When our kids were babies and young children, we and our friends were constantly talking about changes, advice, our bodies, our moods, but as we’ve gotten older it is not the same. Now we are entering middle age and many of us are in the middle marriage part of our life and things are sometimes not very easy. And yet, so many of us are “playing it cool, a bit more safe, a little closer to the vest.” Not sure why other than maybe we are afraid of the emotions swirling and the changes that are coming. Anyway, a long-winded way of saying thank you for broaching the subject and hoping that it starts some conversations.

    1. #18.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I think you’re onto something. Why is this area of life one to close things up? Maybe we need to be MORE open about it?

  15. #19

    Thanks again for writing from the heart and being real. I just turned 40 last weekend, and this whole middle-aged thing is new to me, but I look up to Chicks like you who are rocking it and it makes me think I can totally rock my middle age, too!

  16. #20

    Thank you for this kind of post. It makes me think about getting a network in place for the future, a network of women to support each other.

  17. #21

    Your timing is right on for me, Cathy. In the last two years, two of my three kids have married and left to start building their own nests. The remaining kid is following suit in a few months, so he won’t be here with us much longer. Just navigating the meal planning is weird now, because I’m no longer feeding that army of starving teens except in my head!!

    My husband and I anticipated parenthood with such joy, and we wrung every drop of goodness from those days, knowing they were only for a time. Now we are moving through these days trying to help one another adjust to our new reality. Bittersweet, this chapter. At least till we figure things out. You’ve made me consider writing some letters about this experience so when my younger sisters get to this stage, they will have some encouragement. Thank you so much for writing about it!

  18. #22
    Cathy Zielske

    “we wrung every drop of goodness from those days, knowing they were only for a time. ”

    Wow. That is just so on point.

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