In her debut, Schoenholz coins a new term for an older woman whose children have left home and whose career is likely winding down. She calls her a Belledame, a term that invokes “the beautiful and the mature” and “[she] who moves into elderhood with grace and joy.” After some heavy reflection, the author, a Belledame herself, writes, “I should be moving from the ‘bucolic’ family life I had already experienced...toward the ‘city’ of the future.” Readers learn about her journey toward self-acceptance through journal entries, short poems and illustrations. The author certainly practices what she preaches, as she found a second career as an archaeologist after her children left home. The prospect of rediscovering herself clearly excites her, although she knows that she and other women have their work cut out for them: “I suspect that the better we have been at being the Mother, the harder it will be to become the Belledame. I am discovering…certain freedoms that I long ago suppressed, or repressed, in favor of focus on my family.” Her sentiments are likely to resonate with readers of a certain generation, as will her thoughts on the responsibilities of grandmothering, how to travel as an older person and what sorts of personal accomplishments are worth celebrating. There are a few weak spots, some of them technical: Most of the book is presented in a typeface that isn’t easy on the eyes, and the author quotes Wikipedia as a primary source. There’s also an underdeveloped section about quantum physics and a discussion of personal symbols that seems like it was more helpful for the writer’s own personal journey than it will be for her readers’. But Schoenholz is a likable, honest writer (“So, getting old is indeed a bitch”), and her goal of “[d]ancing down to death” may inspire others to make the most of their older years.
A kind, intimate manual to growing old that isn’t radical but is reassuring and sweet.