Me and Dr. Midlife : How I Spent $2,100, Exposed My Inner Demons to Strangers, Charted the Pathway to Happiness and Changed My Life in a Week

<i> Karen Stabiner, a contributing editor to this magazine, is writing a book on Chiat/Day advertising agency for Summit Books. </i>

WE ARE DAMAGED GOODS. THE NINE PEOPLE IN THIS ROOM HAVE WORKED VERY HARD all our adult lives to build careers, families or both, only to find that things haven’t worked out exactly as we planned. Or, more to the frustrating point, they’ve worked out just the way we dreamed they would, when we were 20, or 30. We still don’t feel fulfilled.

We suffer, in varying degrees, from midlife crisis, a lingering malaise specific to the portion of the population that has the time and money to acknowledge its symptoms. Our discontent is about to reach epidemic proportions, as baby boomers hit the midlife wall with a resounding demographic thud. Two and a half million people will turn 50 this year, but 3.9 million will turn 40--prime candidates for trading in an old life for a new, better one. The person who walked away from it all used to be a novelty item. Now the solitary exile stands to become part of a parade staged by people used to getting what they want--a generation, depending on how charitable you’re feeling, that is either spoiled rotten or honor bound to reject the status quo.

Enter 57-year-old Frederic Hudson, the Don Quixote of midlife realignment, a graying, pale-eyed dreamer who retooled his own life almost 20 years ago. Anyone with the price of admission--$2,100 for a week’s intensive workshop--can sign up for Hudson’s bimonthly guided tour of the future: grueling 12-hour days that mix 1960s-vintage encounter-group tactics with 1980s time-management skills.

Even in the glutted annals of California self-help history--the epiphanies at Esalen, the catharsis of spending the weekend locked in a conference room with hundreds of fellow seekers, the therapies that outlast marriages--this seems a hefty dose of self-indulgence. But Hudson has a way to assuage guilt, an escape hatch only a narcissist could love: By saving your own life, you can help save society. As our biggest population bubble starts to float downstream, Hudson believes, the very future of American culture is at stake. Left to our own disgruntled devices, we will turn into a generation of inveterate complainers, our energies sapped, our passivity cinching this country’s status as an also-ran. With a new “script,” though, we can save ourselves and rejuvenate the culture.


Participants must, quite literally, leave the past behind and travel to La Casa de Maria retreat in Montecito, a bucolic 26-acre Roman Catholic enclave that is home to all manner of religious and secular workshops. There are no phones, no televisions, no radios, a pictured saint in every scrubbed room. It is a logistic clean slate upon which to write a new story. Which is why nine of us, and Hudson, are sitting in a circle, on what will prove to be excruciatingly uncomfortable chairs, sequestered indoors on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We are here to do what all our friends claim they’d love to try: We are here to change our lives.

WE HAVE LITTLE IN COMMON BEYOND AGE, THE MEANS TO INDULGE OUR INTROSPECTIONS and the rather foolhardy, if fervently capitalistic, notion that we can buy a new life. Linda* and William* are in their late 30s, the parents of a 6-month-old daughter, an extremely religious Christian couple whose outgoing, easy manner masks a lot of tension. Linda is in a hurry to have another child and wants to cut her workload as an organizational consultant to several businesses. William is chafing in his job in the oil industry but needs the income it generates.

Nora* and Stephen*, an urbane San Francisco couple in their 40s, simply don’t know what to do next: Nora has convinced herself that a career as a social worker is not as fulfilling as a career-and-family would be, but she is unable to conceive; Stephen left public relations after 15 years and built a house but doesn’t want to live in it.

I’m a fairly standard flavor, the 41-year-old working wife and mother who doesn’t have time to floss her teeth, the writer who, in times of stress, dreams of being a pastry chef.


There are three coaches, the trail bosses on this psychic wagon train: Hudson, a onetime divinity student and longtime social activist, a man with three grown children from his prior life and three children under 10 from his reborn period; Marvin Banasky, who five years ago walked away from a 20-year marriage and 14 years in the pneumatic-tool manufacturing business, and Laurie Potter, a beatifically serene woman in her mid-50s who is a walking advertisement for middle age. Joanna Candler and Emily Cleaves, self-described “Southern belles” in their mid-40s, have been friends since childhood. This is their second go-round at the workshop--Joanna is a single mother eager to restart her career, and Emily is flailing in the midst of a new marriage. They’ll go through most of the exercises, as will the coaches, but they won’t steal time from the tyros to report on everything they discover.

Hudson, who got a Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1968, has walked away half a dozen times--from one academic promotion after another, from a 20-year marriage that atrophied along the way and from his Fielding Institute, the precursor to his Mid-Career Design Institute, recently renamed the Hudson Institute. He is an itinerant educator: The new institute is composed of himself, his fax, computer and phone, a network of available consultants and the reference library that is his brain.

Hudson has boiled down literature on stages of adult development, along with his own experiences, into a concentrated stock. There are references to everything from Yale psychology professor Daniel Levinson’s work on life structure and transition to Hudson’s own seminary days. He is quick to point out that he is not an inventor: “I’m trying to convey a scholarly tradition,” he says. “This isn’t new. It’s perennial knowledge that isn’t spoken about often enough.”

We will pace through seven “life maps” of increasing specificity. By Thursday afternoon we each will have what he calls a “master plan, one that is both visionary and do-able.” It must be an annotated journey: Hudson tosses notebooks into the center of our circle and instructs us to use them.


“If you don’t know yourself,” he cautions, “the world’s going to wag you around. Interiority is the start. Exteriority is the goal. Most people are emotionally dead by the time they’re 40. They just repeat what they’re good at.”

Faced with that numbing thought, we are dispatched, with crayons and big sheets of newsprint, to draw our “lifelines.” We can start as long ago as we like, as long as we end up at today. We can use different colors for different aspects of our lives. The result will serve as our formal introduction to the group.

LIKE SO MANY POPULAR PATHS TO ENLIGHTenment, Hudson’s 4-year-old institute requires us to assume the Blanche DuBois position: alone, away from home and dependent on the kindness of strangers. We are about to expose ourselves to people we’ve never met before.

We plunge ahead anyhow. The last half-hour of this first session is an exhausting litany of divorce, abortion, depression and addiction. William’s lifeline chart looks like a nightmare EKG, from euphoric highs to suicidal lows. Mine actually looks pretty optimistic, if only I had the time to contemplate it.


Then I look around the room and realize that everyone’s lifeline ends on an upswing. If things are going so well, I wonder, what are we doing here?

On Sunday night we start to find out. There’s a masking-tape circle of Map 1 on the floor, about seven feet across, with 10 positions marked on it, naming the 10 stages of adult life. Those of us who find ourselves in the top half of the circle are in a “life structure,” where there is “a sense of immortality, that life is never going to end--until you wake up one morning and you don’t feel so good.” Some people simply revise: Hudson figures that about 85% of the people he sees at his workshops end up keeping a reworked version of their old lives. About 15% plunge into the murkier bottom half of the circle, the “life transition,” where people mourn their old lives, regroup and try on new ones.

Linda, Joanna and Emily, therapy veterans all, sit down fearlessly at stations in the lower depths. Nora sits just above the equator at position five, “sorting out.” With some misgivings, I occupy position two, “launching,” also in the northern hemisphere. I like what I do. I just hate how much there is of it. William splits himself up among sorting out, launching and position four, which is “managing the doldrums.” He’s on a fast track in the oil industry, despite his growing belief that he, and the company he works for, ought to be addressing environmental issues more actively. Hudson comments that William must be awfully tired, living so many life stages at once.

Plenty of people would gladly trade up for these hassles. Midlife crisis, Hudson reminds us, “is a middle-class luxury.” It can also be a middle-class trap, he suggests, if people choose to underwrite familiar misery instead of investing in a riskier future. Hudson does not want to hear about our ample financial obligations, how we can’t change because of the mortgage, the tuition, the car payments or the lifestyle. “We have an additive philosophy,” he says. “Get a job, get married, have kids, get money, get cars, more money, more money, more money, until you’re permanently successful. But that’s a myth. An illusion.”


It may be the myth upon which our consumer society depends, but Hudson will have none of it. He sends us off into the woods, his freedom call ringing in our ears. “The one excuse I hear more often than anything is money,” he says. “It’s the one thing that keeps us constipated. Move to Nebraska! It’s a nice state.”

I WAKE UP BEFORE 6 ON MONDAY MORNING feeling great, and I decide to take a run, exercise being one of the things I no longer have time for. I could get up before 6 every morning and take a run. Then I think, no. I could only do it after a day of sitting around listening to a man who insists that anything is possible, a day when I don’t have to cook, run errands, write, change a diaper or pay bills.

I’m not the only one to have awakened in a superhuman mode and then lost it. There are a lot of emotional loose cannons this morning. The circumspect William burst out of the shower and announced to Linda that he felt optimistic, only to be told that optimism wasn’t a feeling. He got back in the shower.

It is a day for discipline. Map 1 gets divided again, east and west. Those of us whose stages are on the left side, where expectations and reality are in sync, are supposed to push ourselves right now, while those on the right, who want more than they’re getting, should take it easy and plan for the longer range.


Push myself some more. Just what I wanted to hear.

Better still, particularly for someone who gets self-conscious at charades, is the exercise that follows. We all have to get up and march around the circle, calling out each position as we get to it, to remind us that there’s nothing wrong with being in the doldrums or with what Hudson calls “cocooning,” which essentially is stasis without guilt. “There are no real arrival points,” he intones. “Just stations along the way. The master is the one who greets each station.”

Clearly, we have some masters among us, people who call out each station in an appropriate tone of voice, a booming “launching,” a wobbly “sorting things out,” a gleeful “experimenting.” I feel silly. I haven’t walked around in a circle, speaking in a singsong, since we did the hokey pokey in elementary school.

WE BREAK INTO SMALLER GROUPS TO WORK with our coaches--William and I, the two skeptics, the rational minds, will work with Hudson--and by the end of the day we have what Hudson calls a “primitive plan,” which sounds suspiciously like common sense. William needs to find himself a mentor, someone he can emulate and learn from. In turn he needs to be a more active dad, to stop reading the financial pages while his daughter eats breakfast.


He’d also like to be more playful. “My old roommate used to say, ‘William is a one-man party waiting to happen,’ and now I’m the driven executive,” he complains to Hudson. The third part of his plan is music--no more talk radio on the way to work.

We run out of time, since William has such a shopping list of changes, but my primitive plan turns out to be what Hudson calls “fine-tuning.” It sounds to him like I want to do what I do; I just don’t want to drown in it. He suggests that becoming a professional baker could be a long-term goal if I still want to do it once I’ve reorganized my life. For now, why not figure out how to juggle the balls I already have in the air?

We return to the fold and report to the others: Linda wants better sex, Stephen has undisclosed “grandiose plans” and on around the room. We probably all would have said the same thing yesterday, but today we have hope. We are drunk on possibility, euphoric and unfocused. What might have looked like potholes just days ago are surely nothing more than shadows in the road.

NOBODY GETS OFF THAT EASY, OF COURSE. The workshop is a seesaw: We feel good, and then Hudson reveals another obstacle. Map 2 is about the life cycle, about the way we change, decade by decade. We spend Monday night on a cocktail-party exercise, splitting into groups by age and writing down the artifacts of our youth. Marvin, Joanna, Emily, Stephen, Nora and I are in the 40-year-old group, and we have a rollicking time, making a list of everything from burning draft cards to “American Bandstand.”


Foolish nostalgia. Hudson says anyone younger than 50 is in grave danger of leading a bankrupt life. “Subsequent generations have lost the dream,” he says. “They live for material things, for economic gains. I try to reverse that.

“The future depends on our creating pathways. Unless you can imagine your future better than your past, you’re dying.”

We file out, chastened. Nobody ever told us that boredom and nostalgia are terminal.

TUESDAY MORNING BEGINS WITH AN UPLIFTing videotape and a song. Hudson hands out the lyrics and turns on the videocassette recorder; a woman’s voice, of the soaring inspirational variety, begins to sing, “It’s in every one of us to be wise . . .” while still shots of people, young and old, every imaginable ethnicity, all of them happy, fill the screen.


". . . find your heart, open up both your eyes.

We can all know everything without ever knowing why.

It’s in every one of us, by and by.”

People start to hum.


". . . I can see through the tears . . .

I’ve been realizing that . . . I bought this ticket.

I’m watching only half of the show.

There is scenery and lights and a cast of thousands.


You all know what I know . . . and it’s good that it’s so.” By now everyone is humming, or singing along, except for William and me. This tape looks like every treacly greeting card or film commercial I’ve ever seen on TV, and I say so. Hudson says he’s sorry that my working brain, my media-sotted brain, has gotten in my way. I silently say thanks that my synapses still fire in the midst of all this tranquillity. This kind of blanket optimism always irritates me. “It’s in every one of us to be wise.” I don’t mean to be a spoilsport, but hasn’t anyone in this room heard of the Ku Klux Klan? Neo-Nazis? Child pornographers and wife beaters?

THE REST OF TUESDAY IS DEVOTED TO Map 3, Values and Results. The basic values of adult life, according to Hudson, are Sense of Self, Achievement, Intimacy, Play and Creativity, Search for Meaning, Compassion and Contribution. We have to rank them in order of their importance to us, then decide how we’d like to change the order.

Nora, still reluctant, says she knows her sense of self and intimacy are important, but she doesn’t know what to do for them. Joanna’s going to relaunch her career in October, but she doesn’t know as what. Emily would like to look after herself, exercise, quit smoking, but she doesn’t know how to get started. Linda, who has kept intimacy in the No. 1 slot, announces that her future will be full of “laughter, hugs of joy, great guffaws, jumping up and down.” None of us knows, yet, how she and William are going to get there.

I’d like to promote Sense of Self in place of Achievement--to write for me, not necessarily for the byline and paycheck, maybe fiction or a children’s book. All I need is an eighth day in the week or a trust fund. Hudson suggests “layering”: Maybe I could find activities that satisfy more than one category at once.


Of all of us, William is the most volatile, having demoted Achievement from 1 to 4. “My No. 1 priority is the search for the meaning of life,” he says, solemnly. Barely halfway through the week, a man who has lived the past five years in a tunnel of his own devise is suddenly prepared to try anything--therapy, a church group, a new job, a new city, family dinners without the TV on--to escape it.

HALFWAY THROUGH THE PROGRAM, WE ARE all adrift. We’ve committed ourselves to alterations, on big pages that we’re going to take home to inspire or to haunt us. But Map 4, scheduled for Tuesday night, bears the ominous title Internal Obstacles and External Threats. It is time to speak of inner demons, “family of origin stuff,” which is a polite way of referring to difficult parents.

Lest any of us think our problems are insurmountable, Hudson offers up a portion of his own story. In a hushed, melodious voice, he takes us back to Aug. 23, 1943, the day that 9-year-old Frederic Hudson awoke unable to move, except for his eyes, and barely able to talk. He had polio.

He also had an absent father, a frantic mother--and a nurse named Susan, to whom the rest of his life, his work and an upcoming book, “The Adult Years: Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal,” are dedicated. Susan told Hudson, who could only stare up at the ceiling, that his future was there. Whatever he imagined, he could have. She would help him figure out how to get it.


He was in that hospital ward for two years. After six months, he mumbled that he wanted to be a doctor, to play tennis, to marry someone like Susan and have children. She told him to envision his toe wiggling, and when it did she tied a string to it and hooked it up to a bell so he could make noise. She told him to imagine his foot moving, and then his leg, and she set up ropes and pulleys so that he could open the window and door.

“That’s where I learned everything I do today,” he muses. “I just didn’t know it for another 30 years, until I crashed and burned in my 40s.”

We are mesmerized. Hudson’s tale has had its intended effect. We are his, bound by instantaneous awe, ready to take a chance because he saved himself from a much worse fate than mere ennui.

He tells us to close our eyes and pretend we are on a raft, on a river that goes in a circle. We hit white water, and it’s more turbulent than we expected because there’s this huge boulder in the middle of the river. The boulder is our biggest personal obstacle. We almost lose the raft. But somehow we don’t. We get past the current, back to the calm pool.


“Think about that rapid,” he says. “And give that boulder a name. You know what it is. You know you got around it. What you don’t know is how. And you want to know that.”

Most of us reappear lugging parents--the hypercritical mother, the pushy mother, the alcoholic father, the unaffectionate one--and Hudson encourages us to describe them, so that we can see what we don’t want to carry with us into the future. Then we stand in a circle with our arms around each other, a configuration I haven’t seen since a Psych 101 class more than 20 years ago, and say one thing we like about ourselves.

Emily’s bottom lip wavers. “I like my ability to feel.”

“I like the way I love people,” says Marvin.


I want to pass. Those of us who grew up in nondemonstrative households do not do well with public disclosures, but in the spirit of the evening, I have to say something. “I like my spunk” is the best I can do.

“I like loving Nora,” says Stephen.

Nora says nothing.

“I like my music,” says Linda, whose boulder was a perfectionist mother who ruined the piano for her.


William likes his enthusiasm, and Joanna likes her willingness to take risks.

“I like my quiet joy,” says Hudson.

THE CURRENCY OF OUR CLOSED SOCIETY IS the confession. The more we are willing to divulge, the more valued we become. By Wednesday morning, an important, if subtle, shift has taken place. Now we act like allies in a new venture, a pact built on the secrets we’ve told. There is an unspoken pressure to keep those revelations coming, even if there isn’t much to say.

Nora comes in depressed because she still can’t give a name to her boulder, let alone get around it. Although she’s been very articulate about everyone else’s problems all week, she hasn’t let on about herself. Now she feels “behind” and seems extremely sad. On the other hand, the usually restrained Emily is ready to burst. Sobbing, she tells us that she thinks her cigarettes are her link to her mother, who died before the two of them could be reconciled. Mom smoked. Emily smokes to keep the memory of her mother close. Hudson tells her to keep good things about her mom and let go of the smoking. Emboldened, Emily announces that she’s going to quit. On Mother’s Day. Cold turkey. And we believe her. We have to.


ASSUMING (AND WE ALL DO, BY NOW) THAT we can overcome the obstacles we’ve identified, we need to figure out how we want to spend our improved time. Map 5 is a circle composed of work, family, couple time, social time, leisure and personal time. We have to divide it, as it is now and as we want it to be.

Everyone who’s working wants to work less for the same pay--except for me. I’d keep working this hard if I were a little better paid, surely a symptom of being a prose writer in a screenwriters’ town. The people who are edging back into the work force want nicer jobs than they used to have. Some people in the room are in a financial position to vamp till ready--Hudson, Laurie and Marvin, Joanna and Emily. The rest of us are not yet prepared to pack it in and move to Nebraska, where our money would stretch further.

Whatever happened to the lesson of learning to get along on, and be grateful for, the statistically substantial chunk of capital we each bring home? No one dares raise that question. By this point, reason has succumbed to desire. Why not ask for the moon? Hudson has us stand up to chant his mantra, “Hold On, Let Go, Take On, Move On,” a roomful of superannuated cheerleaders waving our psychological pompons, trying to work up enough steam to propel us back into the real world.

On Wednesday night, he puts us through one more exercise. We close our eyes and lie down on the floor while we listen to more inspirational Linda Ronstadt than any Bonnie Raitt fan can be expected to stomach. Hudson describes a journey down another river, from here to 1993. Then we have to write down what we saw.


William wins the dream sweepstakes with a vision that Hudson calls “transformative"--full of violence in the short term, as he and Linda try to fix what’s broken, followed by calm, as he takes control of his symbolic little raft and they paddle happily to shore.

“I felt fear,” says William, happy to be feeling things at all. “I got that one.”

“The purpose of fear,” says Hudson, supportively, “is to wake you up.”

His wife’s dream is remarkably similar in structure, panic followed by a rebound that includes butterflies, flowers, a picnic and Linda playing piano and singing love songs to William. Stephen and Nora also have complementary dreams--a couple of adopted kids gliding downriver with them, a pleasant cabin in a small town and none of the professional concerns that have always defined their existence.


My dream looks Italian, complete with an incandescent peachy sunset, a few book-signing parties and then a picnic under the stars for my husband, toddler daughter and me. I’m amused to see a favorite dog, now deceased, gamboling on the lawn. I’m pleased to see my father, also deceased, hovering near his granddaughter. . . .

Before I can finish that sentence I have begun to cry, in front of people I do not know, because my father will never meet my daughter, save in my dreams. I am heartbroken, embarrassed and furious with myself for losing control, all the while wondering: What the hell does this have to do with a better life?

I sit down and make a great fuss of cleaning my glasses. “I’m not going to say anything else,” I say.

WILLIAM AND I HAVE groused all week that the others in this workshop speak a foreign tongue, but I wake up Thursday morning having cracked the code. My father embodies all the things I’ve cut out of my terribly efficient life--family dinners and parties, music and a tendency to emotional slobbery. Yet he was a workaholic who took all too literally the joke about how we expected him to fall over dead at his desk rather than face what he perceived as the desert of retirement.


He managed to work and live. What he didn’t do was waste time moaning that he never had enough time, a circular little exercise at which I am sadly adept. If I cut out the daily agonizing and get a little more organized, I might have time to enjoy my life. Hudson had given us each a stack of index cards upon which to immortalize our new plan. I set about mine with a vengeance.

I draw up a week’s schedule, down to the hour. The others stare in wonderment at the meager slice of my life devoted to personal time--a couple of hours on Friday, if nothing else intrudes--but that is more than I walked in with. I feel like a success.

As does everyone. Linda’s plan includes everything from dancing and a “night of massage and intimacy” to negotiating with her employer to pay for a nanny so she can travel with her daughter. William wants things he didn’t know how to ask for a week ago--a nightly meditation, time for introspection, an “inspiration-integrity chair” in which he can rest after his daily run. He’s going to investigate working for environmental groups, in case he can’t fix the job he’s in.

“We have a one-week introspective genius here,” crows Hudson.


Stephen’s plan is an outsized one, after his week of telling us he is OK just the way he is. He has a handful of entrepreneurial ideas, from opening a product center for personal-consciousness items--where people can take that biofeedback machine for a test drive--to consulting with owner-builders on construction projects. His wife’s plan is much smaller in scope, focused on time for herself. The only problem is that he still wants to sell the house and she still wants to keep it--and nobody has an index card that says how they can resolve their disagreement.

On Thursday night, we take our cafeteria food into a separate room bedecked with flowers, candles and balloons for a farewell party. Worldly chatter is a bit awkward after all this soul-baring, but we do our best to discuss events of the day, to swap anecdotes, to be sociable. Someone suggests that it would be fun to go around the table and pick the song that characterizes each one of us.

Instantly, Stephen launches into “I Won’t Grow Up” from “Peter Pan.” He gets through a full verse and then looks around, frantic. He can’t remember what’s next. I jump in with the refrain. No one is more surprised by my performance than I am.

HUDSON WARNS US ON FRIDAY morning that re-entry will be difficult. “The war will go on in everybody’s head here,” he says. “It’s the re-entry process. The sooner you link up with a coach,” provided by Hudson for three months of weekly sessions for an additional $800, “the better you’ll feel. If you wait two weeks, you won’t even want one. You’ll fall back into old behaviors. This will seem a foreign experience.”


We gather in a circle one last time to say goodby and whatever else comes to mind.

“I never, ever-- ever-- sing in public,” I say. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” comes the group reply.

I feel very happy. I feel like a blithering idiot. Which might be better than feeling harassed.


THE PROBLEM WITH AN ARTIFIcial environment, just as Hudson warned, is that it fades, and with it, resolve. The institute seems to work for the week that people are there. It also works for people who are free of economic imperatives because they can examine and experiment as long as they like. Does it stick for the middle-class working stiff?

It depends on your definition of stick. This is not, after all, like buying a Thomas Bros. map and driving into a new neighborhood. Six weeks later, no one who attended that workshop has done everything they intended to do. William and Linda haven’t found the time they want together, for all of their progress in the workplace and with their child. Emily quit smoking for a single day and then went back to half a pack a day, down substantially from her usual pack-and-a-half but not the quitting she hoped for. Joanna won’t know for another month if her plan has worked. Stephen and Nora still haven’t decided what to do about their house, nor have they looked into adoption possibilities--although they say they will as soon as they put the finishing touches on the house.

The difference is that people seem to believe in their plans, even if the plans take a bit longer than expected. “There’s a sense that we’re working on things,” says Emily. “It’s irrevocable. We’re never going back.”

As for me: Although I haven’t written a single word of children’s prose, I have stuck to the rest of my schedule, most days, and refrained from beating myself up when I can’t. I do have friends over for dinner more often, and they always get a homemade dessert--even if, as Hudson predicted, I’m no longer in such a hurry to take my baking show on the road.


In a masterpiece of layering, I was driving to the bookstore recently to 1) pick up a book for my husband, 2) pick up a birthday present, 3) browse for myself and 4) spend some time roaming the children’s section with our daughter, Sarah. Since there was nothing good on the radio, I started to sing--just la-la-la--to the melody that went with the videotape Hudson showed, the one I so disliked. Startled, I stopped.

From the back seat, a small voice piped up. “Mo’ la-la, Mommy.”

I wouldn’t sing the words, which belong to someone with a much sunnier outlook than anyone who reads the papers has a right to. But the melody, at the moment, belonged to my daughter and me.

I shrugged and started to sing again. Mo’ la-la it is.


* Names and some identifying details have been changed.