Monday, January 12, 2015

It's my body and I'll cry if I want to...

I can go days without looking in the mirror. And then, something drastic happens to direct attention to your image and terrible things start to happen. You start to notice things. Bad things. This is what happened to me...but first, some background.

Many years ago, I watched Barbara Walters on one of her television show incarnations and she suggested that if women raise their arms above their heads, it lifts the breasts and any other sagging skin in the area so that it doesn’t look so saggy anymore. I wondered how I could walk around with my hands in the air all the time without looking silly. And then, after a time, I forgot about it.

Until the last wedding I attended. (Yes, it’s another daughter’s-wedding/terrible-photos lament) My step-daughter sent me the link to her wedding photos, all 542 of which I could look at online at my convenience. There was plenty of ooohing and ahhing at the really beautiful bride and groom shots, but naturally, within minutes, I had zeroed in on the pictures in which my arms looked like hams hanging in the butcher’s window. In several shots, there we all were, the mothers and aunts of the happy couple on the dance floor thinking we were so hip dancing to funky music when clearly a song came on that required us all to fling our arms into the air with apparent abandon. Repeatedly. There seemed to be more shots of this dance than were really necessary.

These kinds of photos give evidence to many things, most importantly: we don’t really look as cool as we think we do when we dance. The second thing, almost as important: Barbara Walters was wrong. Lifting one’s arms in the air, particularly for the less-toned of us, does only this: the elasticity-less arm skin drapes down the humerus onto the radius and ulna as if it were melting wax. It was both a disturbing and fascinating observation.

Being confronted with the droopy skin on my arms forced me to look in a mirror that reflected more of me than my face.  And now I finally get what Nora Ephron was talking about when she wrote about feeling bad about her neck.  I feel horrible about my neck! When did this happen, this weird shift of fat and skin, this wrinkling, this discoloration? My head looks like one of those children’s books where you can spin the paper wheel and exchange heads, like having a dragon head on an elephant body. (That’s just the first image that came to me.) There seems to be a very clear demarcation between the top of my neck under my chin and the bottom of it near my throat. I am only lacking metal bolts in my neck to complete the loveliness.

Two things surprised me about discovering that my body was starting to look very different than the image I have in my head (which is circa 1986): the first is that it obviously happened without my noticing it at all.  The second thing was how disturbed I was when I did finally notice. It wasn’t a fling-myself-across-the-bed-wracked-with-sobs disturbed, but the specter of mortality did hang over my head for the rest of the day. I was really surprised at how much it bothered me. I’ve always felt that one of my better characteristics (in my opinion...don’t ask anyone else...) is that I have little to no vanity about my looks. (No shock, says everyone, we’ve seen the clothes you choose to wear.) I am vain about a few of my features; my long blond(ish) hair, my blue(ish) eyes and, believe it or not, my feet. Everything else is so difficult to manage and maintain that I have found it easier and more comfortable to just let it do as it pleases. Proper nutrition, exercise and rest, while not optional, are all different for each person and I do the best that I can.  I completed two 5Ks this year, didn’t I?

It’s aging, you know. It happens. People age differently. My husband is the oldest of three brothers and he has a head full of black hair, with only the slightest graying at his sideburns. His middle brother has gone all gray and the youngest has the least amount of hair of all. (Don’t let them fool you; men have just as much trouble with their aging image as many of us women. My husband was complaining to me about the wedding pictures, too, and said he just doesn’t look the same in the pictures as when he looks in the mirror. To test it out, he took a picture of himself while looking in the mirror. It took me about 20 minutes to stop laughing.)

I recently saw a picture of Michelle Pfieffer in a magazine and she looked, in a word, fabulous. She is only a few months younger than I am.  Did I have a few sour grapes to lob at her? Of course I did: She probably has a trainer, a cook, a stylist, a beach house, money to spend on treatments, hair, makeup and lighting.  She probably doesn’t walk around with her arms up in the air, either.  But, you know what? It doesn’t take Hollywood to make a woman my age beautiful. I have friends who look just as stunning as Ms. Pfieffer and without all the trappings. I’m not going to say who, I’ll just let you all believe it’s you...because it could be.

Friday, December 12, 2014

So, Miami?
I treated my husband to a short walk down my memory lane this morning. It is to his credit that he didn’t allow his eyes to glaze over or his snoring to interrupt my story. I told a tale of visiting Miami as a child, actually Hialeah, but we might have driven through fancy Miami beach--just to see it. I helpfully listed the Florida relatives we visited and their relations: Uncle Bert, who married Minnie and had sons Clayton, who married Norma and Junior, who married Betty. Also, Aunt Mabel who never married after her husband went down in a plane during WWII . . . and on and on like that. I know--you’re about to snooze, too. I’ll move on.

The detour came up while I was talking about taking a trip to Miami.  I think I’ve only been the one time and that memory is dim, but I may have been trying to justify my plans. None of those relatives even live there anymore, although there’s an aunt I’d love to catch up with in North Palm Beach. My parents and several cousins live over on the west coast of Florida and inland, but for some reason I had Miami Beach in my sights.  As I talked out loud about it, I began to understand why: I really don’t know anyone there.

Of course I love to visit friends and family, particularly when they live in warm, sunny places and have guest bedrooms. What’s better than that? However, my brain kept dragging me off to warm, sunny places in which I couldn’t send a friendly email to anyone suggesting they might enjoy my company for a few days.  I think I began looking up airfares the day I came across a rant on a woman’s Facebook page that complained quite dramatically that she had been drained dry of giving to others and was going to, basically, run away because she was sick of all the takers around her. (No worries, dear readers, it wasn’t any of you. I was creeping strangers' Facebook pages. I know. It's a problem.) I thought she was quite melodramatic about the whole thing and naturally her tirade garnered dozens of messages from her friends, ranging from the sympathetic (“Don’t forget to be good to yourself”) to the equally dramatic (“Don’t move! I’ll be right there! Please be safe!!”) “Ho-hum”, I thought to myself, “so self-serving” and I moved on to the pages of other people I don’t know who might be more positive and entertaining.

Soon after, though, I began visiting Expedia on a daily basis and getting familiar with Google maps-Miami. But it wasn’t until this morning, when I hijacked my husband’s usually solo morning coffee to share with him my plans for a trip, that I realized what I was doing. Depletion from giving my all was showing itself, and hopefully not in as whiny a way as the Facebook lady’s did.  My subconscious, savvy vacation planner that it is, was nudging me to flee to places where I didn’t know anyone so I could take a break.

Life may be a little more stressful than usual, but it’s not like there is anything unmanageable happening. Much of it is wonderful stuff--like I get to have my grandson living with us again for a while. Plus, I like doing things for my family and my friends. But stress is stress; it takes energy to do even the fun and wonderful things.  And, not that men can’t be givers, but it’s usually women who end up providing the support, legwork, comfort and hors d’oeuvres in any given situation. So, I guess I don’t have to go to Miami to take care of myself, but I do have to remember to take a little vacation every once in a while to recharge myself.  Not just remember, but actually do it. Close the door to my room and read for a half an hour. Stay a little longer at the office and creep strangers’ Facebook pages. Take a drive all by myself.  (And don’t offer to pick up milk and eggs! Wine is okay though.) 

Sneaky subconscious. 

Aunt Minnie, Nana (Helen) and Aunt Mabel formerly of Florida, currently in Heaven (most likely).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fifty is the new Fifty: The Flip-Flop Philosophy

A while back, I expressed my feelings about a continuing education postcard I received with the promise that 50 is the new 30!  Personally, I am fine with being 50 and I wouldn’t want to be 30 again, new or otherwise. Being 30 for me was fraught with difficult decisions and the fear of the unknown.  Being 50--or over 50 like I am--is like finally getting past a bad traffic jam and onto the wide-open highway.

The reason this blog (and my book) is titled Flip-Flops After 50 is because I am exploring the evolving attitudes and perspectives of I age. The main theme seems to be: life is different at 50. (I know. That sounds obvious, but bear with me for a minute . . .)  Call us what you like--baby boomers, seniors, slow drivers--we older folk make decisions based on an entirely different perspective than someone in their 30s.  We have the breadth of our decision-making history to consult which contains a whole lot more information than those young whippersnappers who think buying a car without 4-wheel drive in New England is a good idea. (Why yes, my daughter is looking for a new car, why do you ask?) Our decision-making history has the span of time and experience to inform us--whether we heed it or not. We have the ability to make extremely insightful and well-thought out decisions and we have the freedom to make dumb mistakes over and over.  How we handle those decisions is part of the beauty of our age; we accept the responsibility and deal with it or we simply forget about it.

I remember how angry I used to get when applying for a job or some other responsibility and the phrase, “you don’t have enough experience” would slap me in the face. It was the ultimate Catch-22; how was I ever going to get any experience if no one would give me any? I actually still think it’s a stupid rationale for young job seekers, but now I understand the concept a little more clearly. It’s not experience in knowing about a particular field that matters, but experience in knowing about yourself.  Why spend years educating a teacher or an accountant only to tell them at their first job interview, “You don’t have enough experience.” What were all those classes and tests for? I have known enough young teachers who are more than adequately prepared to do the job of teaching; some even better than a veteran teacher. The experience they need, of course,  is not how to plan a lesson or deliver content - that’s fresh knowledge they possess. It’s the knowing how to finesse a parent-teacher conference or navigate a new administration where they are wet behind the ears.  And that only comes with experience...of age.

I’ve always said, “maturity is a wonderful thing.” (Just ask my kids. They’re sick of hearing it.) But it’s true. There are times when there is nothing you can do with a 20-something except sit back and wait for a few months or years to go by. Then watch those youngsters figure out how to make sure they have insurance or buy the car with 4-wheel drive.  At 50+ we’ve probably got all those things taken care of. Now we can just enjoy the ride.

Friday, October 24, 2014


“You seem a little bit mad.”

Words from a slightly worried spouse? Nope. An inquiry from a concerned friend? Nah. These six little words came from the mouth of my nearly-three-year-old grandson, Luca.  The setting: his bedroom. The task: getting him to take a nap. My response? Well, never mind what my response was. When he utters phrases that should be coming out of the mouths of much older--and perceptive-- people (I’m not naming names here...) I can’t help but fight back a chuckle. But quick as I think I am at masking my amusement at his constant pokes at my reserve, I know the jig is up. He’s on to me. He always has been. He always will be. I guess I’m just fine with that.

Let me back up. I began the day bathing with diaper wipes. (Honestly? It wasn’t horrible.) Luca had an in-school field trip at his school, but it wasn’t his regular school day so he was invited to come anyway and bring a family member of his choice. Me, obviously. We had to be out of the house by 9:45 a.m., hence the improvised shower.   Actually, my usual Wednesday toilette consists of a lot less attention because Wednesday (formerly known as Baba-day when Baba was my nickname) is the day I babysit Luca while his mom does her one full day at the office. Typically we start the day with a relaxing breakfast of chocolate chip cookies and milk served in a tiny espresso cup while everyone else scurries around us trying to get out the door. We stay in our comfies until an orange juice spill or the lure of digging for worms outside prompts us to change our clothes.

But I have to tell you, a day is about as much as I can do alone these days with this often non-stop toddler. I heard tell of a woman who is babysitting her toddler granddaughter 5 days a week and she is as old as I am. I don’t know how she does it unless she’s mastered the Jedi mind trick. (“These are not the toys you’re looking for.”) On a day like today, when I had to be dressed and somewhat odor-free in order to go out and be among other adults, it can be slightly draining. I can’t believe that we got out of the house, over to school for the Critter Caravan, ate a little yogurt in the car, made a quick stop at Canfield Corner for a bouncy ball, picked up Papa from work, drove to the playground for a few spins around the new playscape and headed back home for lunch.  So far, so good. Until I set a bowl of buttered pasta in front of Luca. He put both hands on it, swiftly raised it above his head and dumped it on the counter.  Suddenly it was naptime and he became the most intuitive child in the world. 
"Shhh...don't tell Mom I was in the front seat!"
However, I still don’t think I am as stressed as I was raising my own kids, because Luca isn’t my kid. His parents can stress about whether or not he gets into a good school (he better) or plays football (over my dead body).  Children need parents to set boundaries, make the right decisions and help them become fine, upstanding citizens. Grandparents, still parents by definition, have a certain latitude that is intrinsic to the kind of parenting that we get to do. I don’t think it’s simply aging that has changed my parenting energy; I still have boundaries and expectations, but I’m definitely more relaxed about it all. Luca and I have a kind of intuitive friendship as well that I cherish, and hope will continue on throughout our relationship.  So, when, from his carseat, Luca insists that I send a text to his Mom to come and rescue him, as I drive home the long way in an effort to get him to nod off, I realize that maybe a nap might be good for both of us.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

As Is

On Saturday our garage sale was a washout. We had to hold it anyway because we had signed up...and be included in the Town-wide Tag Sale announced in all the papers. It was apparently rain or shine. We decided to extend it to Sunday, which dawned cool and sunny; a brisk, early fall day. I took the first shift at 8am since I had been AWOL at my "day job" the day before. I pulled on my thick gray sweater and grabbed a mug of pumpkin spice coffee, my phone (of course) and stepped outside to the garage. I was on the job.  After a week of all kinds of more demanding work; day job, peddling my book, babysitting my grandson, this was a job I could handle. A responsibility with no responsibility, and it suited me just fine. I was "As Is." 

That's how we were selling all our stuff: As is. Meaning of course that we weren't going to repair the VCR or buy a lampshade for the brass floor lamp. I did go around with a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Windex to symbolically clean some of the really grimy stuff. The seatbelts on Luca's old stroller seat ("It's a travel system!" insisted Annie) had some unidentifiable schmutz on them, but it wiped away pretty easily. The bed tray needed two paper towels and several spritzes of cleaner, but the books looked just like almost-new with one swift pass. Here it is folks: As is. We took care of it as well as we could, but now we offer it for your consideration. Like it or not, take it or leave it. Well, buy it or leave it. 

It's kind of like how I think about myself these days. As is. This is how I am folks; take me or leave me. When I went out to the garage it occured to me that I should make more signs or rearrange the 400 shovels and rakes we have propped up against the garage wall. As I looked around I saw 10 different areas that needed 20 different fixes, all of which would require my attention, endurance and coordination. I took note of all the plastic crates that still needed to be sorted out and designated to yet another storage area or the trash and I acknowledged (to myself) that many of the projects I had started over the years now sit in various forms of completion in this very garage. It was a Sunday, I was up early and I had the day in front of me. There were dozens of things I could do. 

Instead, I did just one. I sat down in a chair (for sale), enjoyed my pumpkin spice coffee and checked my Words with Friends games. I watched nobody pull up to buy anything and I smiled as a couple of squirrels tumbled out of the long-neglected garden on the side of the driveway and scurry across the street, where they ended up yelling at us for the rest of the day for encroaching on their territory.  The rest of the family roamed in and out of the house throughout the morning; Annie put up more signs for our sale and managed the cash box, Luca set up his cookie and cider stand and Angelo and Tony started the fall clean up in the backyard. The sun moved around the house to shine a little more directly on the driveway, so I gave up the sweater for sunshine and found a different chair and I continued to be as is into the afternoon.

We made a couple of sales and then we packed it in for the day. There's only so much selling off of one's household that can be done in one weekend. (So we went to Target afterwards to buy more stuff.) I enjoyed selling off some of our unused furniture and household goods, but the best thing that happened was having that time to myself where I didn't feel beholden to some demanding task that only exists in my own sense of responsibility. I was able to direct my sense of responsibility to take a break for once and just be in the moment of the day. I'll be honest, it was a lot of moments, but being as is was nice for a change.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rude and Oblivious

There are days when I can’t handle going outside. It’s the rudeness of others that really ticks me off and it is getting so that I am not sure I can be counted on to not say something to the offenders.  This is why I love getting older...I can consider reprimanding people and not feel bad about it. Does that make me rude? I don’t think so. I think I would be doing all of society a favor.

Today’s offender put both Angelo and I in a bad mood.  Here’s what happened: Deciding to get some fresh fruits and veggies into our house, we happily pulled into the Adams grocery store parking lot.  (We decided about the fresh fruits and veggies because we had just eaten lunch at  G’s Burgers and were feeling a little...uncomfortable.) Spotting a space close enough for carrying the bags back without a cart, but far enough away to count the distance as a “walk” in our fitness plan, Angelo began to edge our van into the space.  He slowed because the woman driving the Acura next to us was still closing her door and needed to move her cart out of our way. But she didn’t move the cart...she left it in the middle of the space and walked around to the driver’s side and got in. We were stuck partway in and partway out, thinking she would certainly notice an enormous silver van pulling in next to her, but her head was crooked downward tractor-beamed by her smartphone’s screen and she didn’t budge. I jumped out and moved the cart, but between Angelo stubbornly staying where he was and the proximity of all the other cars around the space, I had to push the cart down a row before I could get it out and put it in the corral, right next to the Acura. I made a bunch of noisy ahems and coughs so the lady could see the error of her ways and apologize. I even walked right past her window and looked in, but she was glued to whatever important information was coming at her through her phone. Once on the other side of her car, I opened my door and said, maybe just a little loudly, “she didn’t even look up!” to Angelo. (These are the kinds of statements that make my daughter cringe when we’re out together. I am learning to only act this way in the company of others who are 50 or older.) Still nothing from the Acura driver until she pulled out of her parking space and zoomed off.  

Angelo parked and we walked into the store but this microscopic little incident had the power to irritate us both to the point of crabbiness. To be honest, he was crabbier than I was and I realized this when he objected to my choice of pasta for the evening.  
“Really? I have to get a different pasta?” I asked since I was now three aisles away from pasta.
“That one won’t go with my sauce,” he said.
“We’re not having sauce, just olive oil, broccoli and parm,” I said.
“We’re not having sauce...?” he said with a slight pout and I knew I was changing our dinner menu.

I don’t know why I let the oblivion of others get to me. Of course I think it’s gotten worse in the smartphone era. When I was waiting for a flight one day last week, I looked around and nearly every single head was angled downward and a sea of forefingers flicked here and there navigating screens.  But I do that...take the opportunity to check my mail (mostly spam), the weather (still warm!), my book sales (plummeting), and Words with Friends (their move) whenever I have a free five, ten minutes or so.  But I hope I don’t do it to the exclusion of the rest of the human race.  I’ve seen people walk through doors without holding it open for the person behind them or leave wads of dirty napkins on coffee shop tables because they are oblivious to the world around them and the idea that someone else might want to bring their coffee to a table without having to clean up after someone else’s who-knows-what kind of schmutz crumpled up in a napkin is an idea that occurs to very few these days.

As usual, the lesson here is that I can’t change anyone but myself. Fine.  Then, I guess the key is to remember to not let myself get so caught up in my virtual world that I forget that I am a part of a bigger, human and, let’s face it, more interesting world around me that I can hear, touch, smell, see and taste. Or yell at.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What makes it all worthwhile

I am going to try very hard to not sound like I'm bragging or being otherwise obnoxious, but I have to write a little bit about something that happened yesterday.

There I was, minding my own business at a local winery (Connecticut Valley Winery if you must know. And you should because they have wonderful wines there) hovering about with my fellow AAPG authors at an event called Wine Stories. The winery paired their wines with our books and we had a chance to talk about them when each wine was introduced.
It wasn't a difficult way to spend a potentially rainy Saturday afternoon, particularly because we were encouraged to try out the wines that our books were paired with. Which we did. (Mine was Olรจ Sangria. Yum.)

Of course, most of the folks who showed up, including a bus tour and a bachelorette party, were there to sample and purchase wines, not books, so I wasn't terribly busy. However, I enjoyed chatting with the other authors, meeting the vintners and checking out which wine I might have to bring home after I was done for the day.

About halfway through the afternoon, a woman walked up to my table and introduced herself. She told me she had picked up my book at a bookstore in Kent, Conn. (House of Books...another charming place to visit - and not just because evidently they sell my book) She told me that she had come from her home almost an hour away because she read that I'd be at the winery that day. She came specifically to meet me because she wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed reading my book and how easily she had identified with the topics I covered in my essays. She said that she enjoyed the humor and, quite honestly, she said a whole bunch of other really wonderful and lovely things but I was so astounded and flattered it was all I could do to keep my jaw from dropping to the floor. I think I had this stupefied look on my face and I was slightly aware of trying not to sound like an idiot as I tried to convey to her how much it meant to me that she had made such an effort to come and tell me these very meaningful things.

I mean, seriously. How lucky can I be to have had an experience like this? But wait. It gets even more astounding.  A little bit later, a friend of mine showed up with a crew of five wine-loving friends in tow. That in itself was a huge gift to my authorly aspirations. Places like wineries and bookstores like  it when an author can bring in customers.  On their way out after their tasting and book-buying (because they supported the other authors, too. It's a good crew) one of the women hung back and came to speak to me. She told me that after she attended one of my readings and heard me speak about publishing my book--something I had always wanted to do--she was inspired to begin taking the music lessons she had always dreamed of and is now playing the violin. Again, I hoped that the look I had on my face conveyed gratitude rather than flabbergasted as she shared this very personal accomplishment.

When I published my first book I imagined Ellen or Oprah would call, but in reality I knew they wouldn't; they don't have my phone number. I guess I thought I'd sell some books, visit some bookstores and then write another book. Or something like that. I'm not much of a business-person, and I didn't really have much of a business plan. Or any realistic business expectations at all. I suppose I thought my reward would be the financial one, if there even was a financial reward after all the costs associated with this little venture of mine.

But as always happens in life, there is often a very different reward in store when you embark upon your heart's desire. Nothing could have prepared me for the depth of appreciation and gratitude I feel when someone tells me that reading my book has given them pleasure. Or made them laugh, or think. I don't know about other writers, but hearing that the words I pull out of my heart have the ability to ring true with others is a gift I have yet to come to terms with.

So, business-wise, my day ended in a loss. I only sold two books--to other authors--and bought another author's book myself. And some wine, obviously.  But writer-wise, my day was right up there in the top ten.

Thank you Terri, Heather and Nancy for one of the best days ever.