Birthdays and the beauty of contentment + “A Window Opens” by Elisabeth Egan


I had a birthday last week, and I loved it and hated it at the same time.

Birthdays mean I’ve lived another year, and I get to celebrate that with my friends (and this year, with family also!). But they also mean I’m getting older, as my body tells me everyday.

But even as my body falls apart, I feel like my mind has gotten better. Wiser. I’m able to see what’s important in life. All those sharp edges and huge emotional elbows have simmered for awhile, developing into a mellow stew. Those spicy, big emotions of youth have stop burning me so often, mixing with my age and experience to make a more palatable concoction called contentment.

Contentment is a deeper kind of happiness: its a calmness that radiates into my very essence. When I look around at my family, seeing that they are settled and happy, I filled with a sense of satisfaction and ease.

Contentment is more than happiness, its a serenity that seeps into life on all fronts, sneaking through all other, sharper emotions. Through the arguments and the emotional upheavals of everyday life (especially with preteen girls), contentment percolates, sneaking into the most unlikely of moments.

So yes, I would love to be 21, or 25, or 30 again. Life at those ages seemed limitless, my possibilities endless. But I would love to have the insight I have now. To know that I should embrace everything, be proud of who I am, and stop hiding behind who I think everyone wants me to be.

I’m not that old: I’m not facing death in the face (as far as I know). I’m firmly in my middle years. These are the years when my age sneaks up on my body, but also when I get wiser, when my mind becomes a little more settled, a little better in general.

So, I look at the candles as proof that I have been around enough to find a sense of peace in the everyday. Yes, my body is slowly falling apart, but my mind and my quintessence are just finding their groove.

The candles mean contentment to the soul.

Okay, onto a new favorite book: A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan.

Can a woman really have it all? Work, home, motherhood, happy marriage? Or is it a myth? These are the questions facing Alice Pearce in this wonderful novel.

The Premise

Alice has a the best of all possible worlds: she gets to be home to raise her children, but also gets to work part-time in Manhattan as the book editor for a fashion mag. She lives near the train station, the elementary school, and the quaint downtown of Filament, New Jersey. She grabs coffee with friends after spin class one day, then catches the train to the office the next.

But, when her husband announces that he’s leaving his comfortable position at a Manhattan law firm to open his own office, Alice makes the decision to go back to work full time.

When she lands a job with the hip startup company Scroll, Alice feels like she’s hit the jackpot. Scroll plans to bring the bookstore feel to electronic book buying, giving the readers a place filled with high end snacks, comfortable chairs, and fast downloads for e-readers. Even as she feels like an un-hip fish out of water, Alice is ecstatic.

But can she really have it all? When her children seem to be slipping away, her marriage seems to crumble, and her father falls gravely ill, Alice’s tenuous grasp on balance starts to fall away.  And the amazing ideas at Scroll start to change, become less about books and more about money, making Alice question her choices even more.

Alice must ask the question that every working mother asks: Where do you draw the line between work and family? And, when push comes to shove, which one will you choose?

My Thoughts

First, let me regale you with some favorite Alice Pearce quotes:

On the limitations of time:

You can’t create more of it. You can sleep less, plan more, double-book, set the alarm for a 5:30 am spin class, order winter coats for your kids while you’re on a conference call, check work e-mail while your family is eating breakfast — but ultimately there are only so many hours in one day, and you have to spend some of them in bed.

And on that moment every parent I know has had:

I yelled so loudly, the tendons in my neck ached for days. (Name one parent who hasn’t suffered from this affliction and I will show you someone who is not my friend.) It was a depressing turn of events but also cathartic, and a powerful reminder that there is no scripted fun where kids are concerned.

Elisabeth Egan is the book editor at Glamour, so the character of Alice Pearce probably isn’t that far off for her. If she is as charming and disarming as Alice, I can see why she is described as ‘beloved.’

Alice made me smile, laugh, and cry. I loved Alice Pearce, because, in many ways, she is me. She is also every mother I know trying to figure out the world.

A Window Opens really hit home for me. I was lucky enough to fall into a job that let me work from home, but it keeps my feet in both the stay-at-home and working-mom camp. I flirted with a while with working full-time, freelancing at a company that took its ‘hipness’ way too seriously (especially for a medical advertising agency). I felt very out of place (but I mostly worked at home for them, so that was good). As Alice says:

I wasn’t part of the high-powered commuter set and I wasn’t a PTA insider, but I got to dip into both worlds.

Alice is the best kind of heroine, FLAWED. After I put this book down I felt okay about myself as a mother, a wife, and a daughter. She does many of the things that I do, and she is still perfect in many ways, because of her flaws.

So, basically, I loved A Window Opens. It’s funny and fun and perfect in nearly every way. No, it’s not high literature, but it is the best kind of written entertainment. Smart, quirky, and just plain delightful.

4.5 stars. Wonderful fun.


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