Grace in the Arena

I am considering attempting to become a certified therapeutic riding instructor (CTRI), a process which takes at least two years in the normal course, and involves everything from learning first aid to mucking stalls to spending a lot of time working with seasoned instructors.

If I go down this road, I will have my nose in books such as the Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship International Standards for Certification and Accreditation. This 241-page tome makes a lot of my law school texts look like light reading by comparison. I will learn how to teach a student about emergency dismounts, though some of my students might be paraplegic or deaf. I must become comfortable fitting helmets, accommodating G-tubes in the riding milieu, and managing as many as three volunteers per rider…

It’s a lot. I ask myself: Grace, you are Not Young, you are no sort of athlete, you have little formal training in disabilities, mental health, OR riding pedagogy. WHAT are you getting yourself into?

My initial argument in rebuttal to those reasonable doubts (because lawyer), is: I passed the bar on the first try after four years of working full time and going to law school five nights a week. I might be able wrangle this CTRI thing. Though really, passing the bar isn’t that big of an accomplishment. Most people who make the attempt succeed on the first go.

When did I acquire my first real increments of backbone and confidence?

You can probably anticipate my answer to that question: When I was a single mom with a baby to care for, going for three years on little sleep, managing the money, the mothering, the everything, and more or less getting it all done. I look back on that phase of my life and just shake my head, but good on me for enduring and to a modest extent conquering the challenges before me. (And I readily admit, I enjoyed a ton of privilege in those years too, and I largely brought those challenges on myself.)

In any case, I did not reflexively think of the young, single mom years as my biggest achievement, my biggest bona fide in the “can handle challenges” category. I have no diploma, no professional memberships, no certifications to validate my sense of accomplishment, despite what those years proved to me about my stores of determination and ingenuity.

As far as external validation goes, my biggest feat of grit is a societal so-what, and I expect that’s true for many of us, especially women. We got stuff done, we know what it took to check all the boxes, and now you’d best not mess with us unless you come to

the battle of grit armed with a lifetime of stamina, wiliness, humor, and love, because those end up being the merit badges that really, truly do matter.

What experiences showed you what you are made of, even if no brass band or ticker tape parade celebrated the moment with you?

PS: A Gentleman Fallen on Hard Times is now available as an audio book from the web store. More Lord Julian audio is on the way!



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9 comments on “Grace in the Arena

  1. As you said, children. The child who about killed me birthing her; the son who was not expected to survive three days. The daughter with severe ADHD who graduated at the top of her high school class, from college cum laude and passed her CPA first go. And tests dead average intelligence.

    Playing in the honor’s recital the year after my former piano teacher told my mother I didn’t have a musical bone in my body was satisfying, too. Performance isn’t my gig, but I was thankful for that opportunity.

    Go as far as it pleases you. You don’t have to prove anything in this arena!

  2. I debated leaving this comment as part of me thinks what I did is no big deal. But others have told me it is an achievement and I should be proud. Anyway, it took me a long time to decide what I really wanted to be when I grew up. I was interested in computers as an undergrad but in the late 1960s at my university, you had to be an Engineering major to enroll in even a beginning class. So I went in a different direction. I was fortunate to have the opportunity, however, to use computers in many of my positions (including replacing an consulting computer programmer at my first job in spite of my Liberal Arts degree) and when I was approaching 40, I decided I really wanted to get a Master’s degree and in Computer Science if possible. My first thought, of course, was “but I’ll be 40+ years old when I get the degree.” But then I read somewhere (this goes back to last week’s question now that I think about it) that I’d be 40+ years old after that amount of time even if I didn’t work on the degree. That gave me the impetus to just do it.
    I worked full time as a computer programmer but took extension classes at UCLA to get the CS prerequisite requirements taken care of and then I applied to USC for the actual degree because UCLA required Master’s students to be full-time in those days. I had been working for almost 20 years and needed to continue to work to pay for living, so I went to USC part-time instead. It took me four years but I was working full-time and teaching CS classes at the local community college at night also during that time (oh, and I had surgery in the middle of it so ended up taking a semester off). When some of my co-workers asked me how I was able to do “all that,” my immediate response was “I don’t have kids.” I only needed to accommodate my partner and since he’s always been the cook in our relationship and we share other stuff, it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t grow up going on vacations every year since my Dad was in the Air Force and with 5 kids, the closest we ever got to vacation was traveling between Air Force bases when he was reassigned so it didn’t bother me to use vacation time if I needed to do a special project for a class.
    I am finally proud of myself for that accomplishment and I did toy with the idea of going for a PhD. But I discovered romance novels instead and I’d rather read them that textbooks any day!

  3. Good on ya, Grace! I know you have grit, which is good when it carries you through what you WANT to do or what HAS to be done. It can also be used by one’s psyche for carrying on with things that DON’T have to be accomplished too, and that it where grit trips me up. I fully support you n your grit, if that is what you want to be doing! 🙂

  4. Pingback: You can hear Lord Julian now!!! | Grace Burrowes | I believe in love.

  5. That sounds perfect for you Grace!

    Parenting is probably my biggest challenge that has tested me. Having been raised in an unhealthy home, I had to figure out how to do things differently with my kids who also both have special needs. But the proof is in the pudding and I am very proud of the wonderful humans they are and of myself for meeting the challenge.

  6. As a nurse I have some of that training you are lacking, Grace, and it was tough on me mentally and physically getting there, but I did and eventually made it through nurse-midwifery to the joy of being “with women” (which is what the word “midwife” means) and catching their babies.
    But Grace, I have read all your books and you do understand people facing all kinds of difficulties and your empathy shines. Your professional work with children and families in your legal career is a big part of what makes your novels so good. It is hard for me to imagine anyone better suited to this work you contemplate. GO FOR IT! Even if it means we have to wait a little longer for your future books…

  7. A few years ago I had my professional practice, my house and a bank mortgage. Within a few months the bank foreclosed and I was out on the street. Without any personal or material support I ended up living as a homeless.
    It is impossible to convey to someone who has not lived through it the utter desolation and despair that one experiences.
    The personal hygiene that we all take for granted (washing your hands, showering, brushing your teeth), you don’t have access to. You can’t sleep because you are on the street, the most you can do is to be in a startled sleep. You have no money (I only had a small amount that I had managed to preserve for basic food). You have no clothes (I was carrying in a canvas bag all my belongings, which included a pair of jeans and a T-shirt). You can’t protect yourself from inclement weather…..
    I could not apply for any job because I had no clean clothes to wear.
    I even contemplated the real possibility that I might die in that situation.

    Now, a few years later, I have re-created my life. I can’t say I’m “out of the woods” yet, but here I am.
    And now I ask myself your question… and I look inside myself to see what qualities were activated in me through living through that experience….
    And it is almost impossible to put into words the inner feeling I have of strength, “indestructibility” so to speak, because I recognize that these concepts have a different value for me “after” having gone through that trial by fire… Self-confidence, too. The certainty that there is really nothing that can defeat the human spirit. I believe these are the qualities of the old pioneers.
    And now it occurs to me that we all actually have this quality of tapping into our old pioneer spirit when something really interests us. (This is for you, Grace!)


    • Holy kamoley, Pilar!!! Thank you for your bare-bones honesty and the courage to not “pretty up” your experience. Good on you for holding on to your “indestructibility” and teaching me something about resilience. Blessings be.

  8. Becoming a Mom was the experience that challenged me more than I ever thought possible, until raising said child took over as “ most challenging life event”. I was 47 years old when I became a Mom of my three day old son through adoption. Having been a child and family psychotherapist for 21 years did not prepare me as much as I thought it would. My son was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic disorder, at age 11, but it was obvious to me when he was a few months old that he wasn’t developing normally. I lost count of the doctors I walked out on trying to get a diagnosis/ help for my son. I had to become the expert on a genetic syndrome I was told didn’t exist and cobble together treatment and accommodations for my kid. I knew his multiple medical issues were linked to EDS- I had to stop caring what anyone else thought. Thank goodness I was a savvy mental health practitioner or I could have lost custody of my son and been hit with the label of “ Munchsusen’s syndrome by proxy”. That diagnosis is my pet peeve , along with every other parent of a medically complex child. The good news is that my ( highly gifted) son is, at age 20, a junior in college( he commutes) studying computer engineering. He is still medically complex. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 16 and goes in and out of remission. Watching him overcome one obstacle after another and not give up is a blessing I never envisioned. How I have coped with this year after year is beyond me, but somehow I have. So why do I think I can’t become a writer, which is my lifelong dream? Thanks for bringing this up Grace- it helps to examine that which we have already done to show ourselves that we CAN still do incredible things, despite the challenges of not being “ young”. At 66, I can’t do all that I used to. That’s ok. I wouldn’t want to.