Uncautionary Tales: Real Women's Life Leaps

You don’t spend 40-plus years on this earth without learning how to carefully ponder your next move. But sometimes a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do — right here, right now, pro-and-con lists be damned.

By Juliann Garey
Photograph: Photo: C.J. Burton

Taking the Plunge

There will always be reasons not to take a life leap; sound reasons that in the event they haven’t occurred to you already (unlikely), your family, your friends, your mother will be only too happy to supply.

"It’s irresponsible, impractical, dangerous."

"You’re just having a midlife crisis."

"Since when do you know anything about [fill in the blank]?"

"At your age?"

"But what will you do for health insurance?"

Smile and nod. Presumably, they mean well. But it’s your life, and, more important, you’re the one who just had the notion to change it. Here are six midlife women who seized the day.

Took in a Stranger’s Kid — and Sent Him to College

Rosemary Kalikow | 54 | Freelance TV Producer, New York City

Life Before the Leap

Rosemary Kalikow was an accomplished professional with a teenage son on track for the Ivy League when she started feeling the pangs of an impending empty nest. "I tried to convince my husband that we should go to China and adopt a little girl. To distract me, he got me a third dog," she says with a laugh.

Trembling at the Brink

Working as a public affairs producer for Court TV, Kalikow specialized in programs about teen issues. The stories she heard were often heartbreaking. While researching teen substance abuse in South Florida, she met a group of kids who were bucking the odds. "Javier was the 16-year-old leader of the group Drug Free Youth in Town," she says. The boy, who didn’t get along with his stepfather, was being raised by his aunt. "Not only did he go to school full-time, but he had been working since he was 13."

Kalikow was stunned. There was no reason for this kid — who worked hard to help his aunt with the bills and who had virtually no childhood — to be so strong, so good.

"He said his dream was to go to New York and get a college education and learn business, and could I help him? And I thought, yeah, I can help him." Kalikow enlisted the aid of a friend who was a college guidance adviser, and together they helped Javier navigate the application process. In 2006, he was accepted at Marymount Manhattan College. Between federal assistance and scholarship money, his tuition was covered. But not room and board, which was $10,000. "It may as well have been a million dollars for Javier," Kalikow says.

Liftoff!

She didn’t hesitate for a moment. "I’m very lucky to have a guest room in New York," Kalikow says. She invited Javier to live with her for the next four years. The timing was just right — her own son was heading off to Harvard in the fall. To Kalikow, the whole thing seemed meant to be. Her husband had given up arguing with her: "He rolled his eyes a lot and said, ‘This is your project, not mine.’ Which was fair. I have to say, all of my friends were very against it. As was my mother — she was horrified that I was bringing in this stranger."

The View from the Other Side

Kalikow concedes there were some family dynamics to work out. "It’s been a difficult adjustment for Javier too, because he’s never had a mother," she says. "I won’t let him get away with not telling me how his schoolwork is going or what he’s doing or where he’s going. But here’s the deal: This kid is filled with so much human kindness that he’s won over everybody. He has enriched my life. I want Javier to get his degree and move out into the world, and then I want to take in another kid. I’ve reached a stage in life where I want to make an impact."

Quit Her Job…Right After Her Husband Left His

Donna Broder | 42 | Entrepreneur, Los Angeles

 

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