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The Deep Middle. More Than Just A Target For Volleys



My husband and I own a construction company. We started it over 20 years ago from a janky roll top desk in our bedroom. We’ve spent the last three years designing and building what we hope to be our fourth and final home in Arizona. It’s a beautiful project, a modern and minimal mix of concrete, steel, and glass. It’s almost finished and we’re hoping to move in by February, but as anyone who’s built a home before knows, that could change. In the middle of the build, there were days my husband wished it would burn down. I’ve been tempted to abandon it all together myself. Although the facade is simple, making things seamless is quite complex. It’s been one of the most challenging projects he's ever managed.


I know not everyone who reads this is a tennis player, so I’ll explain that between the baseline and the net is an area referred to as “no man’s land.” It’s the most undesirable position to be in on the court. You’re too far back to hit an offensive volley, and you’re most likely to have balls bounce right at your feet. It’s not where you want to be. It’s only meant to be a transition point. The middle of the court, the middle of building a home, the middle of a career change, the middle of rehabilitating after surgery, it all seems like a disaster. Whenever my kids have come to me with dilemmas like, I hate this class I want to drop it, I hate this job I want to quit, I hate living here I want to move, my advice has always been the same. “Have patience, everything looks like a disaster in the middle. If you can be patient enough to see it through to the end, you’ll be glad you did.”


Is the middle of life any different?


Kate Spade. If you’re not familiar with Kate Spade, she was a fashion designer and created an empire of handbags, clothing, housewares and more. When I first became aware of designer handbags, it was all about Kate Spade. If you were lucky enough to have the little black nylon shoulder bag with the Kate Spade logo on it, you were winning at life. On my first trip to New York City, one of my first stops was the Kate Spade boutique in Soho. I wandered around in awe of the beautifully curated store. It was a fantasy land of lovely items. She created something truly special. In the summer of 2018, when I first heard the news that Kate had taken her own life, my heart sunk. More than just the sadness of losing a unique talent and all around beautiful person, it felt so personal. Here was a successful, beautiful, intelligent woman who accomplished so much, gave so much to the world, had so much to live for, yet she was so overcome by the sadness of the middle of life, it consumed her. This may or may not be true, but in my mind, it’s always been how I’ve viewed her passing. My heart still breaks when I think of Kate Spade, it always will. If someone like her couldn’t survive the middle, what does that mean for the rest of us?


Midlife is something entirely different for women, and I don’t know that it’s talked about enough. I don’t really want to talk about it! It's a new year, people are filled with optimism and hope, but here I am, in the deep middle. I jumped into adulthood early, so it's no surprise I'm in the transition period from being a full time mom, to being, well, I don't know. I've shared about this before, but it lingers. The one thing that fulfills me and has always made me feel good is tennis. Although I know it's only temporary, recovering from surgery and being unable to play has been rough. I miss the court, my friends, the sunshine, the competition, the endorphin release. All of it. I feel stuck in no man’s land and it’s not an ideal place to be.


Grace. I’ve never been here before, and I’m definitely not the first woman to be here. I have to take my own advice. Accept that this part of my life might feel disastrous, not unlike the middle of most things. I often feel ungrateful, like a horrible person. I know what I should give myself is grace. I’m not a horrible person. I’m a good person trying to navigate the middle the best way I can. I am grateful. Grateful for so many strong women in my life who are examples, and proof that there is happiness if I can just get through the middle.


Lastly, I'd like to share an example from tennis. Tennis has a way of emulating life, and it's one of the many reasons I love it so much. My favorite tennis match of 2023 was the semi-finals of the US Open, Aryna Sabalenka versus Madison Keys. It was a late night match, one I didn't want to miss. These two players play my favorite kind of tennis, hard hitting, aggressive, all-out tennis. I was so impressed with Madison's performance at the start of the match. She was focused and relentless. She couldn't miss! She was ahead 6-0, 5-3 and the match was hers to win. I felt for Aryna. She's one of my favorite players on the WTA tour. She was being outplayed, outhit, out performed. She was visibly frustrated and she was going to lose. I imagine she felt like a complete disaster.


Aryna came back and won the match 0-6, 7-6(1), 7-6(5).


"It was crazy," said Australian Open champion Sabalenka afterwards. "I was all over the place. I was just, like, 'What can I do? She's playing unbelievable, just crushing everything, I'm not able to do anything'.
"I had zero control in the match. You just have to keep trying, keep staying there, and keep pushing it. Maybe you'll be able to turn around this game.
"Lucky me, somehow magically, I don't know how I was able to turn this around."

I was heartbroken for Madison Keys, I actually lost a match at Nationals this summer after being up 5-0 in the first set. It's brutal. More than Madisons loss, I was so impressed by Aryna. Her fight, her belief, and her example is one I think of often when I feel down. When I feel like I have zero control, I know that there's still a chance, if I just keep pushing through.


I hate that this isn’t a message full of rainbows and butterflies, but it’s my hope that if you find yourself in the middle, when you want to give up, quit, burn it down, that you can find comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Feel the sadness, the frustration, the hurt, and pain. We can learn from all of these feelings. We can support one another, and give ourselves grace. “Have patience, everything looks like a disaster in the middle. If you can be patient enough to see it through to the end, you’ll be glad you did.”



XOXO,

Val



ASKING FOR HELP

The suicide rate in the United States has seen sharp increases in recent years. Studies have shown that the risk of suicide declines sharply when people call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK.

There is also a crisis text line. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.

The lines are staffed by a mix of paid professionals and unpaid volunteers trained in crisis and suicide intervention. The confidential environment, the 24-hour accessibility, a caller’s ability to hang up at any time and the person-centered care have helped its success, advocates say.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.


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