I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: August, 2013

To Do: Be Here Now

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 My List

  1. Yearbooks
  2. Old Navy
  3. Haircut
  4. Key
  5. College prep
  6. Black bean chili
  7. Aspirin

Scrounging for a scrap of paper to write down a few things we need at our vacation house this week, I found this list crumpled in the corner of the purse I brought.  Normally, in my frantic rush to get things done, I would have glossed over this list and just started my new one.  I reuse paper for list-writing with the absurd notion that my attempt to be frugal with bits of paper will help the planet.  But, right now, I am on vacation and I am trying to live in the present moment and to pay attention.  To hear the end of summer crickets, to feel the temperature in the air and the wind on my face, to smell the road-kill on my morning walk, to see – really see – what my eyes are looking at, as Rodney Yee instructed us in the serendipitous yoga class he taught on Tuesday.  It’s just about impossible for me to stay in the present moment.  This week, as my friends with children one year older than mine are dropping them off at college, I am already jumping to a year from now when we will be taking my daughter to college.  I look at the list.  It brings me to a moment in time in my recent past.  When did I write this list?  What was going on?

1.  Yearbooks.  That was a note to myself to order yearbooks for the kids before the deadline.  The year before, when my daughter was in 10th grade, I missed the deadline.  I push everything to the deadline and even then assume I can eek past the deadline and still get by.  Not this time.  There were no yearbooks left.  My daughter’s face crashed with disappointment.  I apologized with shame at my carelessness.  “It’s okay Mom,” she gently but sadly reassured me.  What kind of mom neglects to order yearbooks for their kid?  As usual, I was self-absorbed.  As usual, she pretended not to mind.  I was not going to make that mistake again.

2.  Old Navy.  I needed to order jeans for my son.  Old Navy has the only pair that fits him.  Regular Style Husky.  He is growing but is not tall yet.  He is at that awkward stage where he is stoking up for his big growth spurt.  Most brands are too long and too tight in the waist.  He will be big.  He’s grown a lot this summer, stretching out a bit.  Like a puppy, his feet are now enormous, but his body hasn’t caught up yet.  He’s already outgrown the jeans I ordered for him from that to-do reminder.

3.  Haircut.  The only item on the list that’s about me.  It must have been time for my every 7 weeks trim – my personal hygiene errand.  I can’t even remember to make a haircut appointment any more.  I have to write everything down.  Otherwise I get closed out of the Saturday timeslots at the salon.

4.  Key.  Key?  What was this?  Had we used the spare key and not put it back in its hiding place?  Was it when we replaced the front door and needed to get new keys made?  Were we taking care of my sister-in-law’s dog?  Why did I need a key?  Key to my heart?  Key to my soul?  What mystery was locked away?  Why can’t I remember anything anymore?

5.  College Prep.  Phew, this is a loaded item.  Like I could just check this off as another item on my to-do list.  Get her ready for college.  Check.  No problem!  Her friend’s mother found an SAT/ACT prep class and I jumped on it.  I was grateful that another mom had done the research and found the perfect thing:  5 Sunday afternoons that would focus her productively with test preparation skills, with a friend.  Done!  If only it were that easy.

6.  Black Bean Chili.  This pinpoints the time for me.  The weekend prior to Monday January 14th.  I had signed up on the neighborhood meal train to make dinner for my friend Agnes who lost her husband, suddenly, so sadly, on November 6th.  She was eating more vegetarian choices and so was I.  This was the perfect meal.  Easy, keeps well, and I could make enough for both her family and my family.  I was struggling with how to be a good friend to her.  This was the least I could do.

7.  Aspirin.  My husband does not like to talk about his health.  Whenever I come up with my latest and greatest thought about being healthy, he is quite interested if it is abstract, mildly interested if it is an initiative I am undertaking for my health (Yoga!  Meatless!), and aggressively disinterested if it is an initiative I demand he should undertake for his health.  I haven’t completely cracked this code.  If I can present the concept lightly as something he can opt in to, as opposed to a didactic “You need to do X” he is more amenable.  And so it has been with aspirin.  He has read the evidence that aspirin is an anti-inflammatory that may prevent heart attacks, stroke, and even cancer.  So, we started taking baby aspirin this year.

Funny how this arrangement of seven words sums up so much.  Update this list to now – the present moment – and my list becomes:

1a. Take care of business before the deadline is upon me.  Procrastination cultivates stress and is selfish when other people are affected.

1b. Pay attention to my daughter.  Just because she says it’s okay doesn’t mean it is.  Value what is important to her and try to make it happen when possible.  Don’t be careless.

2.   Buy clothes for my son that fit him properly.  Just because he doesn’t care what he wears doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t help him find clothes that make him feel good about his body and how he looks, especially as he enters high school with some anxiety and curiosity about girls.

3.  Take care of me.  No need to be a martyr.  It’s okay to develop a personal style that doesn’t require a fortune and a lot of professional help.  Enjoy my longer, softer, less edgy hair.

4.  Trust my children with their own key.  Be proud of their increasing independence as they take bigger steps away from me.  Welcome them home with a good night kiss when they come back safe and sound.

5.  Be there for my daughter as she dives into this exciting time, trying on who she might want to be when she grows up.  May she have fun with her friends, enjoy her senior year as a leader in the school, and explore her many options for college next year.

6.  Sustain my friendships.  When I am busy busy busy, I am not good at doing the everyday things that keep a friendship going.  Make time to care.

7.  Tell my husband that the reason I care about his health is because I love him.  I want him around to enjoy our life together as we launch our wonderful children further and further into their own lives.

As for the rest of the list, created at different times on this mini time capsule, the middle set of ingredients (with the exception of shrimp, which was for another dinner) is for my husband’s Veal Bolognese Sauce (adapted from a recipe of Mario Batali’s).  It is delicious.  My husband makes it regularly.  (On the weekends, I go grocery shopping and he cooks at least one sauce that provides leftovers.)  It just so happens that we have leftover Bolognese Sauce waiting for us for when we return from vacation.  But I am getting ahead of myself, as usual.  Right now, I need to buy some coffee for the vacation house and some udder cream (a wonderful moisturizer for sensitive skin) for my husband’s skin which is taking a beating away from home.  After I pause and appreciate the moment.

What Does It Take to be a Champion?

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Good Luck Marion!

When I heard that Marion Bartoli had announced her retirement, tearfully, after losing last week in the second round in Cincinnati, citing constant pain in her body, I sighed.  I get it.  Totally.  I am so glad she won Wimbledon in July!  The pinnacle of a demanding career, she did it!  Nothing left to prove, she’s done.  Just like that, she’s walking away.  Is it an impulsive decision?  Will she come back after taking a well-deserved break?  Who knows?  At 28, highly intelligent, she can do anything she wants.  What an amazing opportunity to forge a new life for herself.

Marion was never the classic tennis superstar everyone wanted to watch because she could be counted on to win.  No, her appeal was in her driven and fierce bulldog approach to tennis.  She was in perpetual motion on the court, bouncing nervously on her toes.  She charged the ball with her two-handed groundstrokes, placing the ball where her opponent was not.  Her service motion was weird, unconventionally reaching her racquet in an awkward motion to the side and back before striking the ball.  Her nerdy, intellectual father-coach hovered in the background, a constant presence.  She was an emotional, smart, and determined player with peaks and valleys of wins and losses.

I was glad to see her play a year ago at the U.S. Open.  She wasn’t one of the superstars who got to play inside Arthur Ashe stadium that day.  She was on Court 11 and that was fine with me.  I prefer the outer courts anyway. You can sit up close on the bleachers and see every tic and every grimace and hear the curses and the self-talk.  It’s like sitting in the front row at the ballet and watching the sweat drops fly during the pirouettes and the effortful lifts that look effortless from afar.  Sometimes I even spy the entourage and scootch to a seat near them to hear the behind-the-scenes chatter that goes on, off-screen.  It makes the sport so much more real.  This intimacy is impossible in the touch-the-blimp seats inside Arthur Ashe where we usually sit.  How do you get good seats anyway?  I guess you have to be wealthy and connected and be willing to use your connections.  Oh well, I’ll stick with the outer courts.

At Wimbledon, Marion showed a new side to her personality.  She overthrew her father as coach.  The announcement in early 2013 said it was a mutual decision.  Maybe.  I suspect it was a painful decision that was all hers.  My god, Marion, that took guts!  What were those conversations like?  How much therapy did you require to tell your father to leave you alone?  To tell him “Hey Dad, it’s my life and I’m going to do it my way now.”  Kudos.  She was on a high of exuberant confidence at Wimbledon.  She had a new and supportive entourage.  She was participating in the community of tennis instead of keeping to herself under her father’s watch.  She looked like she was having fun!  Albeit with even more of her usual intensity, focus, and drive.  And she won!  Without her father, she won!

Was that the problem?  She couldn’t sustain her new-found bold independence from her father, her new-found sense of belonging to a larger community of friends and supporters?  It’s hard for us introverts to transition to a more social role, isn’t it?  It’s hard for us good girls to defy our fathers and go our own way, isn’t it?  Especially if there is parental judgment hovering in the background.  Did you feel compelled to be not successful without him?

Oh Marion, I don’t know you.  I can only imagine the years of one-on-one constant, grinding, tennis practice with your father and his intense insistence on your success at tennis.  I can only imagine how you absorbed his dream such that you could no longer distinguish between what was your father’s dream and what was your dream.  Of course you wanted to please him and be a good daughter.  Of course you wanted to win Wimbledon.  You did it!  You won Wimbledon!  It’s completely amazing!  Congratulations!  Are you afraid that you are not a good daughter?  Believe me, you are a good person.  That is all a parent really wants.  For their child to be happy, independent, and a good person.  You can choose to live your own life and still be a loving daughter.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband would lay his head on my belly and whisper to her, “Hit the ball down the line, sweetheart.”  Certainly, he would have loved to have a child who was a tennis champion.  But it is too much.  Constant and grueling, day after day.  The tennis lessons, the discipline, the travel, the expense, the pressure, the competition, the complete focus on tennis, the stress of the tournament circuit.  For everyone in the family.  It’s not just the child’s pursuit, but it is the child’s life that is most affected.  The child has to want to do it.  But how can a child know what they want to do?  It’s the rare child who is truly happy and naturally gifted and who has the ambition and discipline and family support to put 10,000 hours in to become a tennis phenom or a prima ballerina or whatever dream s/he chooses to pursue.  We did not insist on pursuing a tennis life for our children and our children did not choose such a life.  All we want is for them to be happy, independent, good people.  (Bonus, they are pretty good tennis players.)

I watch tennis because I have personal familiarity with the sport.  I enjoy watching tennis because I am fascinated by the stories behind the players.  What drives these players to compete?  Who has the mental capability to win?  They almost all have the physical capability at this level.  It’s the mental focus and ambition, flexibility and intelligence that separate the winners.  What did it take for the players to get here?  What was the parents’ role?  What if my child played at this level?  Would they be happy?  Would I?  And when it’s all over, at such a young age, what next?  Tennis pro?  Tennis commentator?  Or back to school to start a new career?  How do you integrate tennis into your post-tennis life?  Or do you just walk away?

Marion, I wish you well as you navigate your next steps.  I hope that you will own your win at Wimbledon and thoroughly take pride in that achievement.  I hope that you will continue to forge your own path and live your life, independent from your father and supported by your deepening circle of friends and supporters who you are tentatively welcoming into your life.  You have so much to offer, I hope that you will be just as bold and fierce off the tennis court.  Share your passion.  It’s your turn to reflect on what your dreams are now and to go after them in your way.  Good luck.  I am cheering you on.

Long, Beautiful Hair

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Free Flowing Woman

I cut my hair super short for the first time before entering Intermediate School in 7th Grade.  This was the summer fraught with breasts, bra-buying, and unwanted sexual attention.  I said I wanted to cut my hair because I thought it would make me look older and more sophisticated.  But really, I wanted to stop the clock on puberty.  Since then, my hairstyle has been a barometer of life transitions.

Seventh grade is up there as one of my more miserable years.  When I arrived with my super short hair, I was teased for looking too boyish.  Couldn’t they see my breasts?  I am so definitely a girl.  I spent the next 5 years growing my hair long, twirling it into a ballet bun, only to cut it all off again before college.  And again when entering the work world.  And so on.  Each drastic hair cut a harbinger of some kind of important change.  For me, short hair on a woman is bold and unconventional, two qualities I feel I lack.  Cutting my hair was freeing, allowing me to adopt a braver persona, like when I cut it right before going on a solo cycling adventure.

The last time I went super short was after the birth of my son.  I thought the style suited me.  Super chic for my work world and super easy as a working mom.  I could show off my cheekbones and wear fun earrings.  Strong colored lipstick would emphasize my girl-ness.  My husband thought it added to my aloof allure.   Mainly it was easy.

The man who cut my hair specialized in “precision” haircuts.  Remember those?  Sharp and angular.  I would show up every 6 weeks and sit in the chair and turn over all control to him.  Whatever you think looks good was usually my attitude.  He was the professional.  I trusted him.  He would take out his razor and cut and shape, with precision.  I left, looking like a sharper version of myself, for the day.  And then I would wash my hair and everything was back to the same.

As I got older, sitting in that chair facing the mirror became less and less appealing and more and more of a chore.  I started joking, I don’t care how you cut it, just make me look younger.   Then I kind of stopped looking in the mirror.  It had just become a personal hygiene errand.

Around this time, one of my yoga teachers and mentors gently suggested that my hair was boxy and severe and why not try letting it ease out a bit?  Hmm, but what about my cheekbones?  At midlife, the short hair made my thin face and prominent cheekbones look drawn and stressed, not elegant and regal.  Hmm, but what about looking chic for work?  Doesn’t a trendy male stylist know more about what’s up-to-date than a suburban yogini stylist?  At midlife, maybe chasing after chic no longer meant sharp and angular.  Hmm, but what about easy?  I don’t have time to blow dry my hair every morning.  She reminded me that once it gets long, it would be super easy to pull it back into a chic chignon.   Hmm, but aren’t I too old for longer hair?  Long hair is for young girls and sexy women.  Not for a middle-aged mom.  Hmm, but what about bold and unconventional?  Maybe, I could be bold without needing short hair.  Maybe, I could embrace what is good about what is conventional in me.  Maybe, it was time to be the free-flowing woman I know is inside me, the one who has long, beautiful hair and fabulous scarves and lots of jewelry.  Certainly, she is bold and unconventional.  What an amazing woman!  It was time to let her out.

Since my yoga teacher was a hair stylist by day, I found myself cautiously sitting in her chair about 2 years ago, about the time my mid-life enlightenment was in acute mode.  We looked at me in the mirror together.  Ready to relinquish control over my style, I allowed her to familiarize herself with my hair.  She told me about cowlicks, something I never knew I had!  We discussed the impact of cowlicks on how my hair looks.  My previous male hairdressers simply had cut my hair so short, the cowlicks were cut away.  She laid her hands on my shoulders, drawing attention to how I hold my tension, constantly, and encouraging me to let my shoulders soften.   We talked.

We talked about yoga.  Which means we talked about life.  Everything came up.  Love, death, sex, karma, work, friendship, anxiety, depression, eating, monogamy, reincarnation, trauma, diets, vacation, neurogastroenterology, god.  She is outspoken.  I am reserved.  She has beautiful, long, sometimes wild auburn hair.  (She’s a free-flowing woman.)  I have wavy, still fairly short, dark brown (mixed with an increasing amount of gray) hair.  I admired her ability to express strong opinions with assertiveness and confidence.  Chronically non-confrontational, I was not always sure I agreed, but I would marinate on things she said, taking it in and adding it to my mosaic of understanding.  Gradually, we peeled away more layers to reveal more of what is inside.  I was touched that she shared as much of herself as she did.

I have relied on a stream of professionals to advise me on life.  Therapists, Executive coaches, Personal Shoppers, Makeup and Hair Stylists, Bosses, Trainers, Teachers, Attorneys.  Surrogate parents and teachers who I thought knew better than me about what was best for me.  When I was younger, many of these advisors were men, men I relinquished control to.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a conscious effort to choose women, aware of and uncomfortable with the sexist quality of my deference to male authority and of the way I have felt competitive with other women.  The quality of working on a project with a woman is different.  More collaborative and explorative.  As I grow more sure of myself, asserting my opinion first in writing and next, cautiously, in speaking, I am discovering that disagreeing does not mean I have to avoid the person.  I don’t have to be a good girl and do everything they advise me to do.  Rather, revealing what I think and who I am leads to a more authentic and deeper connection.  The other person has a sense of who I am and does not expect me to be just like them.  How boring would that be?

Instead of going through the motions of a haircut making small talk, I am practicing how to develop a friendship.  As I build this friendship and nurture my lengthening hair, nurture the bold and conventional, sexy and nurturing, chic and free-flowing, maybe I am learning to trust myself.  After all, who knows me better than me?

A free flowing woman laughs and loves easily. She is not constrained by rigid rules in her head. She wears original, unusual, creative jewelry and scarves. She is open, not judgmental. She says yes to adventure and has a spark of spontaneity.

One of my yoga teachers shared this poem with me.  (I did not write it.)  But it has informed my metaphorical desire to be like a free flowing river:

Flow
Be as water is
Without friction
Flow around the edges
Of those within your path
Surround within your ever-moving depths
Those who come to rest there
Enfold them
While never for a moment holding on
Accept whatever distance
Others are moved within your flow
Be with them gently
As far as they allow your strength to take them
And fill with your own being
The remaining space when they are left behind
When dropping down life’s rapids
Froth and bubble into fragments if you must
Know that the one of you now many
Will just as many times be one again
And when you’ve gone as far as you can go
Quietly await your next beginning

Saying No to Botox

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Beauty of a Certain Age

Newsflash!  According to the New York Times, the holy grail for beauty for executive women is “eternal early middle age.”  As if working women everywhere did not have enough to worry about, it is now crucial to achieve the “cosmetic sweet spot:  old enough to command respect, yet fresh enough to remain vital.

Phew, I am on trend.  At 50, I am situated right smack in the middle of the ideal 45-55 age range.  But I am closing in on 51.  Only 4 more years left to remain vital!  Only 4 more years to chase whatever elusive career goal I have been chasing.  I still don’t have a corner office.

Maybe I never will.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

When I first started working in the business world, I was very proud and eager to succeed.  I worked hard and moved up quickly.  I started managing people well before I was 30 and felt I needed to look older in order to command respect.  At 25, I was sometimes the only woman in the conference room which usually meant there was an expectation that I would clear the coffee cups.  I was determined to look the part of a successful executive woman and not be the one waiting on the older executive men.   Hello shoulder pads!

When I moved to a glamorous company in a senior managerial role, at 35, the first thing I did was makeover my image to be more sophisticated.  Perhaps if I looked the role, I would prove that I belonged in the role.  I bought new clothes with the help of a personal shopper and updated my hairstyle and took care with my makeup.  My anxiety about whether or not I would be successful in this job was fixated on “looking right.”

When I was brave enough to ask for and talented enough to get a 4-day workweek after the birth of my son, I made the mistake of not cutting back on my shopping.  You see, I was still ambitious for the corner office.  Still optimistic that I would get promotions and salary raises, advancing in my career and paying for my shopping crutch.  Still anxious that I needed to look a certain way in order to succeed, I filled up my insecurity with expensive clothes that the saleswoman picked out for me, because I did not trust my own taste to find my own style.  As I spent more money, I became more secretive with my shopping expeditions, hiding the packages in the back of my closet.  Of course this story ended badly.  My husband found my credit card bill and was shocked.  Rightly so.  It was shocking.  I had to take out a loan to pay it off and return to a 5-day workweek.  I jeopardized my marriage and squandered my precious time, precious time with my children, just to “look right.”

When “early middle age” hit (newsflash, it’s not eternal) and I realized that I was not going to achieve the corner office (and didn’t really want to chase after it any more anyway), and that it mattered what I did not what I wore, and that my kids were quickly growing up, I went to the other extreme.  Rather than cover up my gently sagging skin with more makeup and rejuvenating injections, I now wear less makeup than ever, barely managing a swipe of lipstick.  I don’t want to spend money or time on extravagant trendy clothing or weekly manicures.  What little disposable income I have now goes to the college fund.  And my gray hair?  So far, I don’t have a lot so I don’t color it.  I refuse to color it.   I’ve spent my whole life dressing up as someone I thought I should be.  Now I just want to be me.

I feel sad and somewhat dismayed by how much time, money, effort and energy we women spend on our appearance.  When young, we are so afraid we don’t deserve our job.  When middle aged, we are so afraid we will lose our job to a younger, more stylish and up-to-date competitor.  We are so preoccupied with other women and their appearance, judging them on how they look and not always on what they accomplish.

I am not naïve.  I know attractive people tend to be better liked and more successful.  I know that feeling good about how I look can help me feel and behave more confidently.  I know that if I had the money and the time and the corner office, I might gladly be swayed to spend it on rejuvenating treatments.  And who knows what I will do when I hit “late middle age.”  It’s easy to be defiant, even disdainful, when you still feel in your prime.

But surely there is something to be said for a woman of a certain age.  She has lived and loved and learned who she is.  She has experience to share.  She has earned her gray hair, her wider hips, her worry lines and her laugh lines.

I remember when Botox first became accessible for cosmetic use about ten years ago and thinking how strange it will be if no one’s face ages and no one’s face shows emotion.  At that time I decided I did not want to succumb to Botox but wondered if I would be able to stick with that decision as I got older.  My mother had a facelift after surgery left her with an ugly scar on her neck.  I was surprised that my beautiful-to-me mother felt the need to look younger and prettier…more vital.  If my mother couldn’t stand “late middle age,” how was I going to cope with it?

For now, the role models I admire are many.  Annie Lennox baring her face and her soul, when she was 48, on her solo album Bare.  Cyndi Lee embracing her gray hair in May I Be Happy.  Jamie Lee Curtis writing empowering children’s books on self-esteem and discussing body image with More.   Hillary Clinton, whose hair is still making the news and whose accomplishments are truly impressive.  Perhaps the best role models of all are my beautiful middle-aged friends (early, middle, and late) who still dance at the ballet barre or ace their serve on the tennis court or stand on their heads in the yoga studio or rule the executive suite or cherish their families.  My beautiful middle-aged friends awe me every day with their love, courage, resilience, intelligence, humor and grace.  Beautiful because of their wrinkles earned from living life.

When I look in the mirror, I visualize the same face I’ve always seen in my mind.  But when I really look in the mirror, and see, really see my face – I see the dark circles, the loosening skin, the mottled complexion with “age spots.”   I see the jowls (yes, jowls!).  I see the wrinkles.  I also see my clear and hopeful eyes that are no longer too shy to make eye contact with anyone, not even with me.

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