“I’ll be on a ladder all day.  Checking email only intermittently.”  So ended a recent message from a dear friend.  She’ll be 66 this week.

Sharon regularly travels from her home outside Boston to Maine, where her son and daughter-in-law live. Visiting them is genuinely joyful to her—yet, more often than not, she is there to help with something on their to-do list.  Last month, it was painting a room.

Coincidentally, I, too have been on several ladders this past month—we’re in the middle of a remodeling project that has created tasks that could only be accomplished several steps up.

Though my mother and her sisters were Olympian cooks and cleaners, wonderful washing machine jockeys, and exemplary ironing board experts, they weren’t the types to be painting rooms on ladders at any point in their lives, and certainly not after they turned 60—or maybe even 50.

I have a picture in my mind of my mother sitting quietly in the corner of the restaurant where we celebrated her 65th birthday. I just know that the suggestion that she wield a paint roller or stand on anything other than the stepstool in the pantry would be greeted with the same enthusiasm as the prospect of scaling Everest. Being that age meant you were grounded.

There’s something of a metaphor here, it seems to me.  We women of a certain age in this very exciting era are breaking new ground in being up in the air. Fitter, to be sure, but also unburdened by a notion of propriety or limitation, we do climb things—ladders, mountains, and challenges. Sometimes we take for granted the freedom we enjoy in not questioning whether we are up to something that previous generations would have considered out of the question. It’s a precious liberty to be able to face what needs to be done without feeling that you are not the one to do it. It’s also a great feeling to come down rung by rung and look at what you’ve accomplished.

I salute Sharon, who never met a task she wasn’t equal to—particularly in the service of others. Let’s salute all of our friends and sisters and selves who regularly undertake what has become the new normal in altitude and attitude. The view is really inspiring from up here, isn’t it?

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  • Marissa Bridge March 3, 2012 at 9:39 am

    I’m an artist of 55 who paints on canvas and also has had a decorative painting business to pay the bills for 25 years. I’ve been wondering lately how long I can maintain my work schedule of being up on ladders for months at a time. This story gives me hope that I have at least another ten years in me. Thank you for thinking about those of us who work in non-traditional, physical, creative art jobs.

  • Cheryl Pomerantz March 3, 2012 at 8:35 am

    I’m also smiling at the photo, which shows the 60-something mom in jeans and running shoes. My grandmother at my age (68) was in her sturdy laced up, chunky-heeled shoes in a corset, and always a dress. I can’t picture her in pants of any kind. The clothes, though, are a reflection also of the physical freedoms women now enjoy because of better health and state of mind. In our house it was “Mom’s toolbox” and “Mom’s ladder”.