I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: July, 2013


August photo at the beach


The shift happened.  Did you notice?

After the heat wave where it took energy just to go out and pick up the newspaper.

(Yes, I proudly read and relish my physical copy of the newspaper.  Saving longer articles to read later.  Bringing recipes home, so sure I will be inspired to try something new over the weekend.   Lugging entire sections around in my chaotic bag for days to share with anyone who is in synch with my sensibility:  You have to read this – it’s funny, fascinating, horrifying!  My energetic optimism for potential reading eventually ends up in recycling.  Besides, I can always find it online.)

After the days and days of drenching rain where I actually took the subway across town (something I never do, preferring to walk), multiple times, because I was fed up with soaking my sandaled feet in the puddles and fighting with the other umbrellas.

After the June first-burst of roses faded and the black-eyed susans took over, the shift happened.

The sound changed.  Did you notice?  Last week.  The cicadas are brurzing.  (One of my father’s invented words.)  The tree frogs are singing.  I heard geese honking the other day.  Flying south already?  Too soon!  I am not ready for September!  It can’t be!

You see, I love August and can’t stand the thought of it ending.  It hasn’t begun yet, but I am already preparing myself for August to be over.  For the Summer to be over.  Kind of like how I both love and dread Sundays.  Or life.  Instead of living it and loving it, I am anticipating my sadness at being at the end of it.

I love August.  The anxious transition to Summer is behind us.  The kids are settled into their Summer.  There is no homework.  Unless you count Summer Reading.

(Who thought Atlas Shrugged was a good choice for Summer Reading anyway?  I am encouraging my daughter to read the Cliffs Notes and don’t care if anyone accuses me of being a bad mother and a defiant English Lit major who should be ostracized for disrespecting the canon!)

The days are still blissfully long.  Minimal clothes.  No shoes.  (Well, I go barefoot year-round.  Thank you Yoga.)  Work slows, a touch.  And we have our vacation week on the horizon.  Resting, reading, writing, walking, cooking, connecting with my family and friends at the beach, free from routine.  I can’t wait.

Then it is over.  September.  The relentless pace will be back.  School, activities, deadlines, pressure to perform.  The kids are in the next grade.  I am another year older.

I get depressed in August.

Last year, I forbade myself to get depressed.  As if by sheer force of will, I could control my mood.  Deny my mood.  Instead, I launched full tilt into two enormously demanding, challenging, and creative projects.  I began teaching yoga consistently once a week.  I started my blog, writing consistently once a week.  (More or less.)  Determined to not quit, I persevered even when my confidence waned and my enthusiasm was shaky.  I find myself looking back on those early yoga classes, those early blog posts, with a blushing mixture of pride and embarrassment at their amateur quality.  Because, you know, I am so sophisticated now.  Beware the sophomore year.  Beware the pressure to perform at a higher level.  Hang on to beginner mind.  I teach because I love sharing yoga and how it makes me and my students feel happy.  I write because it is my way of understanding and revealing who I am in a way I have never had the guts to do before.  It is not about how many students I have, how many followers I have.  Process not results.

This year.  What?  What shall I do with this seasonal pause?  The sabbatical before September.  How can I stay in the present moment and enjoy every minute of this long wonderful month?  I do think one can make choices about ones’ mood, or at least how one reacts.  I can choose to be sad about Summer ending or I can choose to be grateful that my favorite month is here.  I choose to be grateful.  To live and love my life.  Every moment of it.  Every person in it.

It is tempting to set myself an assignment.  To get through August with GOALS.  I will begin to meditate!  That’s it!  I will meditate EVERY DAY in August.  I will post something I am grateful about EVERY DAY in August.  I will connect with one friend EVERY DAY in August.  I will look at the moon EVERY NIGHT in August.

All worthy ideas, but the pressure to perform them makes me feel depressed.  And anxious.  Well, to be honest, the ideas kind of jazz me up to a manic achievement-oriented state.  YES!  That’s how I am going to handle August!  I am going to do ALL of those things!  The depression comes later.  Either when I’ve done all those things and still feel sad or I haven’t done all those things and berate myself for failing.  And still feel sad.

To hell with good intentions and impossible-to-achieve resolutions.  Perhaps I should take a cue from the seasonal pause of nature.  And let myself pause.  Pause and breathe.

And maybe, just maybe, do something completely out of character, like watch Sharknado, with laughter instead of my customary derisive judgment.  Laughter with my family.

August with my family.  I can’t wait for it to begin.

You Will Go To Summer Camp Dammit!


Happy at Home 

I have decided my 14-year-old son should go to sleep-away summer camp.

It’s a little late for me to have decided this.

Especially since he is completely appalled at the prospect.

Which is why I’ve decided it would be “good” for him.

Forget that it’s the end of July. Forget that the kids who go to sleep-away camp have been going since they were 10 or younger.   I actually have found a camp for teens that has a one week option that sounds idyllic.  To me.  Hiking, Swimming, Yoga, Creative Writing.  I want to go.

How could he not want to go?  Why doesn’t he want to go?  How much should I worry that he doesn’t want to go?  Should I force him to go?  Would it be like the time I forced him to go to yoga?  Which turned out to have been not very yogic.  Recalcitrant-son-determined-to-be-miserable prodded by frustrated-type A-mother.  You Will Go To Yoga Dammit.

He seems to be happy.  He plays tennis three mornings a week.  I enrolled him in swimming lessons, much to his annoyance.  A crucial life-survival skill, I told him.  Non-negotiable.  When the teacher said he was doing so well he should join the swimming team, my son told me he was kind of enjoying it after all and might want to continue.  Aha!  See?  I should push him more!

The rest of the time, he pads around the house watching television, checking on his basil and tomato plants, playing with our beloved parakeets, lying on his bed daydreaming.  He’ll practice his guitar and do his summer reading with some nagging.  He’ll even do some chores around the house – though it takes some pleading followed by a stern threat that tv-watching privileges will be revoked.  Occasionally a neighborhood friend of his will stop by, grateful for the tranquility of our house compared to the rambunctiousness of his house filled with siblings.  But mostly my son is alone.  Or leading a parallel life with big sister in another room.  Seemingly happy.

For me, his quiet aloneness raises the specter of my lonely only child summers.  Where watching television meant watching whatever was on one of the main channels at the time:  All My Children, Let’s Make A Deal, or Star Trek.  I renounced television as a pitiful waste of time.  Why watch game shows when I could be Achieving Something Great?  I am still quite disdainful of tv-watching, which means I am regularly condescending to my family because they are quite content planted in front of the television.  While they are, god-forbid, relaxing, I busy myself with whatever it is I busy myself with.  Busy Busy Busy.  Achieving Something Great.  I think they are the wiser ones.  Besides, the offerings on television are now so incredibly varied and sophisticated that getting lost-in-tv is way more entertaining and culturally acceptable than 40 years ago.  Indeed, I am beginning to appreciate getting lost-in-tv and am convinced I am going to wish I had figured this out about 20 years ago instead of now.  I am not sure that my son’s multiple viewings of every episode of The Big Bang Theory count though.  Or my daughter’s obsession with The Royal Baby.  Or my husband’s inexplicable fascination with Pirates of the Carribbean, over and over again.

I am coming to the realization that I am quite possibly the most extroverted, sociable, and exploratory person in my family.  Well, perhaps it is more accurate to claim I am the most neurotically driven one.  To say I am an extrovert is saying a lot, because it is with intentional effort that I have overcome shyness to meet new people and try new things.  I have tested, firmly and on multiple occasions, as an INFP on the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory test.  The “I” stands for Introversion and means I am someone who is happy alone and prefers to think through things myself without a lot of input on others.  Check.  The “N” stands for Intuitive and means I am someone who is creative and can spend a great deal of time imagining and dreaming in my mind.  Check.  The F stands for Feeling and means that I am eager to please and very influenced by the desire to connect with others.  Check.  The J stands for Judging and means I am someone who is measured, planful, disciplined.  Oh yeah, that’s me.  Check.

In retrospect, however, I enjoy meeting people and trying new things and have regularly challenged myself to do so all of my life.  At least as soon as I could break free from my over-protective and risk-averse parents.   It was a badge of honor to push myself to do something new.  In ninth grade, I auditioned for the school musical, alone.  A non-singer, I croaked “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Duncan, the most open and supportive teacher EVER.  I never did get a singing role in high school, but I danced and acted and worked backstage.  Being involved with theater is one of the happiest and most fun things I’ve done in my life.  And all because I felt in my gut that I had to audition on that fateful September afternoon in 9th grade.

As my son pauses this summer before entering 9th grade, I panic.  Will he be okay?  Have I done enough for him?  Shouldn’t he have more friends?  Shouldn’t he be doing more?  Shouldn’t he be busy busy busy?  Do the kids who go to sleep-away have a leg up on him?  Should I force him to do more?  Should I let him be?  Where is the balance?  The balance between pushing him and letting him be.  What will be the feeling in his gut that compels him to take a risk?

When we had a family meeting to discuss how much structure to enforce on our kids’ summer schedule for the rest of the summer, my son reiterated that he did not want to go to sleep-away camp and was terrified I would come home one day and gleefully announce that I had enrolled him.  Yep, that is something I would do.  My husband asked him to articulate why he didn’t want to go.

“Why would I want to leave my comfort zone?” he replied, stating what was obvious to him.

Why indeed.  He has a beautiful life.  Loved and safe.  I spent my life fighting against getting too comfortable because I wanted to Achieve Something Great.  I spent my life avoiding my childhood home because it was an unhappy hide-out for me, not a happy cocoon.  We have created a happy life for our children.  A happy life they are not rebelling very hard against.  At least not yet.  Perhaps that is a Great Achievement I should be proud of.

The desire for him to go to camp is my need, not his, based on my fear that he needs to escape the confines of shyness that I struggled against.  I will honor who he is.  Nurture.  Push gently.  Balance opportunities for exploration with time in his comfort zone.  And I will be happy that he is happy at home in his comfort zone.

On the Cover of the Rolling Stone


Beautiful Boy

When I first saw the photos of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I was on the way to Boston with my daughter on our first trip to tour colleges.  We never made it to Boston.  Frightened at the attack and saddened by the losses, we diverted to Rhode Island, where we were transfixed by the manhunt.  I couldn’t bear the photos.  This beautiful boy with soft curly hair and soulful eyes looking at me.  How could he have performed an act of such horror and destruction?  He could be my son, my son’s friend, my daughter’s boyfriend.  A boy poised on the brink of manhood, on the brink of his unique life journey.   But he went terribly wrong.  How?  Why?  What made him face his array of possible paths and choose the violent one?  What drove him to feel so angry and hopeless, so angry and determined, that bombing innocent people made sense to him?

When the May 5th issue of the Sunday New York Times arrived with the photo of Tsarnaev on the cover, I couldn’t leave it lying around the house.  I read the article and then slid the front section with his photo, those eyes looking at me, under a pile of other newspapers in the recycling bin.  I couldn’t stand to look at his young face.  I wanted to hate him, as I hate the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th.  The profile that was emerging was of a young man who was a chameleon, moving quietly among different social circles, well-liked, compliant, private, unknowable.  As grown up life got more challenging and confusing, he seems to have been influenced by his brother and other extreme influences, inciting his anger and demanding his loyalty.  For someone without direction, it must have felt good to feel close to the brother he revered and to have a sense of purpose.  Even an awful purpose.

Two months went by and those of us not directly affected by the bombing went on with our lives.  Then that photo showed up again.  The same photo we all saw on television, the internet, and on the cover of the New York Times, but this time Dzhokhar Tsarnaev made the cover of Rolling Stone, with his rock star nickname Jahar.   Same photo.  New contextRolling Stone, the iconic magazine that confers rock star status with its iconic cover images.  The magazine with songs written about its power and glamour.  How dare they put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover, recalling young Bob Dylan or Jim Morrison with their moody and handsome good looks?  My gut reaction was, and is, outrage – even after I’ve calmed down, read all the articles, and digested all the arguments defending journalism and free speech.

Having spent my entire career in the magazine industry, selling magazines, I know how impactful the cover is for branding and for selling copies.  A strong-selling cover can make a hugely significant difference in the profitability of a magazine.  Frankly, a compelling cover with important editorial content is what magazines are all about and why I love them.  I could imagine the meetings at Rolling Stone.  The excitement building.  It’s a gripping story.  It has some new quotes from friends and classmates.  Published in a timely way, just as Dzhokhar is pleading not guilty and back in the news.  The editor is under pressure to sell copies.  Magazines are under pressure to be relevant.  And who is going to say no to Jann Wenner?  I wonder how much they anticipated the backlash or whether they were beguiled by the thrill of knowing they had a story that would provoke tremendous publicity and sell a lot of copies?  I wonder if they considered putting an unflattering image of Tsarnaev on the cover?  An image vilifying Tsarnaev, like Sgt. Murphy’s now famous photo, might have gotten the same media attention and would have changed the context from rock star to anti-hero.  Now that would have taken guts.

If I worked at Rolling Stone, would I have gotten pulled into the excitement and optimism about having a provocative cover that would get attention and sell copies?  Would I have jumped on the bandwagon disparaging CVS and Walgreen’s for being cowards and refusing to sell the issue?  Or would I have had the nerve to say no to Jann Wenner?  Urged him to anticipate the understandably righteous indignation of Boston and the friends and family of the victims?  Insisted that the cover malign Dzhokhar not glorify Jahar?  Suggested that he put Jay-Z or Willie Nelson or Robin Thicke on the cover and Tsarnaev in a smaller inset?  Always able to see both sides of every argument and eager to be accepted into the inner circle, I suspect that I would have suppressed any misgivings and gone along with the collective corporate enthusiasm for a major piece of relevant long form journalism.

If the accused bomber looked more like what I have come to imagine a terrorist looking like, post 9/11, a bearded and menacing 20-something middle eastern man, would Rolling Stone have put him on the cover?  I doubt it.  It’s the image of a western-looking youth that is so jarring.  It is easier to hate someone who looks and lives so differently from us.  It is more deeply disturbing when it is the boy who lives next door.  Perhaps that is the point Rolling Stone was trying to make.  Mocking us for our racial profiling.  Demanding that we look at our assumptions about what evil looks like.  The magazine certainly achieved publicity, traffic, clicks, and sales through provoking controversy.  After deep reflection, I remain outraged by the cover and mourn the tragedy of it all.

“Enjoy the Food!”


Secret Eating

When I got engaged to my husband, 20 years ago, perhaps my biggest worry was how I was going to keep my eating weirdness a secret.  I recall that I also had more typical concerns, like:  are we still going to be in love 20 years later?  (Yes, but it takes work to navigate the differences as we have matured into our older, more distinct selves.)  Funny, the eating concern is vivid and fresh, like it was yesterday.

Food was and is a big part of our relationship.  In the beginning, dates and weekends together revolved around either eating out at a new restaurant or eating in by picking a recipe and planning a meal to cook together.  We were both very active and thoroughly enjoyed eating a lot to offset all the physical activity.  Cocooned in our relationship, we developed a repertoire of delicious meals together.  Before our engagement, we spent the weekdays apart, where I happily could revert to eating alone my secret meals.

I would eat alone, secretly, so I could indulge my desire for gorging.  I learned to gorge on food that has few calories so I could eat a lot of it without gaining weight.  A classic strategy for a ballerina.  Some of my favorite foods for gorging, because they can be consumed in large quantities with little adornment except for some olive oil & vinegar or plain yogurt, include:  Shredded Wheat, Oatmeal, Quinoa, Lentils, Baked Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Escarole, Broccoli Rabe, and FRUIT.  Staggering quantities of fruit.  So sweet and refreshing, I still eat a lot of fruit every day.  Now I am better able to manage portion sizes and enjoy what I eat mindfully.  Back then, I would make the meal last by reading while I ate and not letting myself take another bite until I finished a paragraph.  There is so much food I did not savor because I was reading and so many books I did not retain because I was eating.  Both the eating and the reading were stalling devices – I was avoiding dealing with whatever anxiety I did not want to face at the time.  Avoiding human contact and conflict, avoiding taking risks to put myself out there in the world to claim who I really was instead of who I thought I should be.  Or who I thought they wanted me to be.  Anyone other than me.

In those happy years of early marriage and those busy years of raising young children, I did not have time to be so anxious and did not miss being lonely.  My husband accepted and ignored or laughed at my food oddities.  I adapted my rules, strategies, and preferences to our life together, eking out some secret eating time when he had his tennis nights.  But when the weight gain of mid-life settled in and the anxieties of mid-life settled in, I found myself pulling out my bag of tricks.  But this time, my kids were watching.  Desperate to model healthy food choices to my son who would prefer to eat macaroni and cheese exclusively; desperate to model “normal” eating behavior to my daughter who regularly lounges in front of the tv, eating alone;  I became obsessive with healthy food choices and regular meals with minimal snacking.  I lost my 20 pounds but am not convinced there isn’t collateral damage.  I can no longer control when and what my children eat.  Perhaps I never did.

When I found out I was pregnant with a girl, 18 years ago, perhaps my biggest worry was how to raise a girl without an eating disorder.  I vowed to raise a daughter with a happy sense of her self and her body and a healthy approach to eating that included enjoyment of food.  I recall that I also had more typical concerns, like:  will she be healthy?  Will she be happy?  Will I be a good mother?   (She is healthy.  I hope she is happy.  And, good or bad, I certainly am the mother I was meant to be.)  Funny, the eating disorder concern is vivid and fresh, like it was yesterday.

As girls, it makes complete sense to me why we eat alone.  There is too much pressure to eat socially.  Like Scarlett O’Hara, we have to eat a private meal before (or after) the public meal.  We are so laced into our form-fitting party attire and so expected to eat properly, pretending we don’t need or enjoy the sensual pleasure of eating to satiety.

There is too much pressure to eat what everyone else is eating.  Either too much or too little.  What if it doesn’t taste good?  What if it does taste good, so good I can’t stop eating it?  No, better to sit quietly with a vat of fruit, filling up on something healthy and tasty that won’t make me fat.

There is too much pressure to make food choices that are what “normal” people would choose to eat.  The homemade pasta with short ribs sounds delicious, but I am afraid of the calories and am cutting back on meat.  I’d really rather have the vegan farro with grilled vegetables.  Does that make me weird, someone to look askance at?

When the meal arrives, it is unseemly to devour the entire plate load of food.  “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly eat another bite” is what the good girls say, covering their plate with a napkin or mushing the food so that it is no longer appetizing or (my personal tactic) simply dividing it in half mentally and using their tremendous self-discipline to stop.  I don’t believe the thin celebrities who brag that they eat burgers and fries without guilt.  They go to the gym to work it off – or worse if they are bulimic.  They pay a price for their bodies.

Our children watch us, learn from us, imitate us, reject us.  When all is said and done, they take parts of us even as they separate and evolve into their own selves.  I am regularly terrified that some characteristic of me that I can’t stand lives on in my children.  Cuticle picking, secret eating, and all sorts of obsessive-compulsive and perfectionistic anxiety.  But they are not me.  They did not have my parents, my life.  They are loved, I think they know they are loved, and they have different life experiences and coping skills to grow into emotionally strong and honest adults.  Still, I can’t help but have a frisson of terror when I see myself mirrored whenever they exhibit anxious behavior traits.

When my brother-in-law urged me to “enjoy the food!” on a recent trip to New Orleans, I laughed.  He had no idea what a complicated feat that would be for me.  (Or did he?)  Balancing my fear of getting fat with my desire to eat, it used to be easy to lose track of what really tastes good and what really satisfies my body.  Now, though, with years of eating behind me and an increasing yogic sense of awareness of my body, I am more able to choose what I really want to eat and to enjoy it.  Nothing beats a delicious bowl of fruit.  Now, though, I prefer to share it.

From Boy To Man


A Talisman for My Son

We gave away the swing set today.

Ten years ago, at the peak of the building euphoria when we completed the renovation of and addition to our house, we bought this childhood accessory, fantasizing about the fun times our children would have flying through the air.  They were 3 and 7.  We had some metal monkey bars from a neighbor, but I wanted swings.  I had had a swing set as a child and was determined to provide this accoutrement for my children, hoping it would attract friends and laughter.  Happy solitude would be okay with me also.  The swing set got a lot of use that first summer.  Pretty quickly though, the slide didn’t seem very slippery or very steep.  The monkey bars were wood and gave my son splinters.  He preferred the ugly metal hand-me-down from before.  My daughter could no longer hang upside down without her head touching the ground.  The squirrels chewed up the canopy.  The next-door neighbors used it more than we did.  It has completely languished for the last few years.  Finally, it was time.  The decade of having young children has passed.  The neighbors up the street eagerly accepted the offer, carting it away and power-washing it with enthusiasm.  The swing set has new life.  They completely surprised me with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine to say thank-you.  Four and two, the young girl looked me in the eye and handed me the bouquet of flowers.  It was all I could do to not cry.  It is time.  I wish them friends and laughter; happy solitude; and the sensation of flying to the sky when they swing.

My son turns fourteen this week.  My sweet boy is turning into a young man.  He doesn’t ask for a lot, but when he does he is very determined to get it.  We usually come up with a way to give him what he wants if we see it is important to him.   When we asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he surprised us with a thought out answer. He wants a coin on a chain, like my husband.  Many of his peers wear a chain with a cross.  I suspect he may want a chain like theirs to fit in.   But we are not Christian, so he knows the symbolic cross does not belong around his neck.  No, better to aspire to the trappings of manhood that his father has adopted and make them his own.  My husband’s grandmother gave him an ancient Roman coin that he had mounted and wears on a chain.  He treasures this coin and never takes it off.  A talisman of extraordinary power and magic.  What son would not want the same?

My husband and I were both touched by his request and set about researching the options.  My husband found a coin with Neptune/Poseidon on one side (my son’s favorite god) and a boy on a dolphin on the obverse.  The boy on the dolphin is, Taras, Poseidon’s son who was rescued from a shipwreck by a dolphin.  It also could be the boy version of Genius – representing the notion that a divine inner spirit resides within us and guides us and determines our character.  I like that interpretation.  And don’t we all need a guardian angel?

As my son turns 14, we are saying good-bye to so many of his childhood ways.  His voice is changing.  I must get a video of him – IMMEDIATELY – before his young voice completely vanishes.  I feel quite urgent about this.  He no longer crawls into bed with us.  Really.  Finally.  It is over.  For 14 years, he has slipped into bed with us eager for a comforting snuggle, a soothing backrub.  When he was a little boy, this was a nightly occurrence.  Gradually, it became just weeknights in the early morning hours around 4 am.  On the weekends, non-school-nights, he was more relaxed and able to sleep deeply and securely.  In the last year or so, the early morning visits have become less frequent – though he remains an enthusiastic hugger and snuggler at other times of the day.  Now, I can’t quite remember the last time he came in.  Just as well, he is getting so big, he really doesn’t fit – galumphing in between us to find a spot.  We knew this day would come.  We were pretty sure he’d stop climbing into bed before he left for college.  And with high school right around the corner, he seems to be on schedule.  I miss my little boy.  I am holding my breath for the man he is going to become.

One of the many things I feel I have missed out on by not belonging to a religious community is the tradition of ritual.  As he transitions from boy to man, it is an occasion to celebrate with a rite of passage.  Without a Confirmation ceremony or Bar Mitzvah, I feel the need to mark his growing maturity and sense of responsibility in some meaningful way.  We will have a family party and make a favorite meal and gift him with his Roman coin.  We will dance to the Beatles’ Birthday song.  And perhaps we will share our thoughts on what makes a good man.

My dear son, as you make the transition from boy to man, know that I am so proud of you.  We tend to think of good men as handsome and strong protectors.  These physical characteristics don’t last.  It is the strength inside you that will make you a good and honorable man.  I wish for you to have the courage to speak what is true and important to you and to live according to what you value.  Accept responsibility.  Seek adventure.  Be generous, patient, and loving.  Fight for truth.  Fight for love.  Live with integrity.  Live like you have only one life.

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