Lately, I’ve taken to saying that my goal is to luxuriate in the sweet interludes between moments of crisis. Let me warn my millennial friends now: If you have kids in your late 30s, there’s a good chance you’ll someday find yourself stuck at the intersection of elderly parents, erratic adolescents and the unsettling realization that you’re never going to cross everything off your lists–not the home-project list, not the bucket list. Time is short. Goodbyes are frequent. You’d better get good at emotional triage. Also: You probably won’t make it to the gym.
This is the territory that Cathy Guisewite, creator of the Cathy comic strip, explores in her new essay collection, Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault. She debuted cartoon Cathy in 1976, when she was one of few women writing syndicated comics, and retired her in 2010. Now Guisewite is back, reflecting on being mom to a 19-year-old and a “helicopter child” to two 90-year-olds whose safety she constantly worries about, all while coping with the indignities of aging herself.
Often hilarious and true, the book gets at that tension between the empowerment propaganda women are raised on and the gendered I-am-responsible-for-everyone’s-well-being reality in which most of us still live. Before her father died, Guisewite shuttled from California to Florida to check on her parents as they faced down their 90s with both increasing dependence and defiance.