I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: September, 2013

When Backpacks Made The Outfit


Now We Are Seventeen (and a Half)

Now We Are Six

When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

– A. A. Milne, 1927

Ah! The first day of school!  So full of promise.  Remember?  This year, I will be organized and brilliant.  This year I will be friendly and popular, a role model.  This year I will be new and different, the amazing me I aspire to be.

When you are a 17-year-old girl entering your senior year of high school, the stakes are high.  Where else to play out your dreams of being a better, bolder you than with your outfit?  The first day of school outfit.  Remember?

It was simpler when a cute backpack gave her all the confidence she needed.

I should have asked her what she was going to wear.  But I didn’t want to attach too much importance to The Outfit.  I’ve spent my life thinking that if I looked right, then I would be successful and people would like me.  I imbued my outfits with so much importance.  I don’t want that for my daughter.  I want her to know she is beautiful, completely and thoroughly, inside and out, regardless of what she wears.  I want her to know she is loved, completely and thoroughly, regardless of what she wears.

Besides, she is more creative with fashion than I ever have been.  She watches fashion in music and entertainment and is keenly aware of who is wearing what and what looks stylish and flattering.  She is my style consultant these days, not vice versa.  (Though she cares what I think.  Still.  Thank God.)

Besides, I believe that at 17 you should be trying on different looks, different personas.  You don’t know who you are at 17.  Now is the time to practice being independent and grown up, especially during your senior year of high school when you have the safety net of a home base.   I purposefully did not ask her what she was going to wear.

When she came downstairs that morning, I paused.  Long enough to think.  But I didn’t think.  I went to blurt-out mode instead.  In my sternest MOM voice, I proclaimed:  “You can NOT wear that to school.  Those are hooker stockings.”  Really.  I said that.  “Hooker” is hardly even in my vocabulary but it poured out of my mouth.  (Ironically, they are my stockings.)  Who was that woman I turned into in that moment?  What happened to all the wisdom I’ve accrued over the years?  What happened to putting myself in her shoes and gently suggesting that her outfit was not appropriate for daytime nor for school?

I don’t want to face the fact that my little girl is beautiful and sexy and ready for a boyfriend, or at least a date.  I don’t want to remember some of the outfits I wore to high school that make me cringe now.  I remember, at the height of my thinness, wearing skinny jeans and stiletto mules.  I wanted to look sexy.  My mother said I looked cute.  I didn’t want to be the mom who was clueless about her own daughter, the way my mom was.  I want to give my daughter support and freedom to explore.  And yet…I lashed out.  Frightened, embarrassed, protective.  Don’t make the same mistakes I made!  Don’t be too sexy!

Don’t be too sexy.  Ah, that is the crux of it.  The judgment about looking too sexy.  Smart girls use their heads, not their bodies.  The judgment about being too sexy.  Good girls have more worthy activities to pursue than dating boys.  The fear.  The fear inherited from my mother’s stabbing.  The fear I’ve buried from my own murky memories.  Did that really happen?  I am not sure.  But judgment and fear – of sex, of food, of all things pleasurable and delicious – is not what I want to pass on to my daughter.

My nasty, thoughtless judgment merely solidified her own uncertainty about her outfit, her anxiety about the day and the upcoming year.  She didn’t defy me.  Another 17-year-old daughter might have said, “You can’t tell me what to wear!”  My 17-year-old rushed upstairs in tears and changed her clothes (to an amazing, adorable, and appropriate outfit, by the way).  I apologized.  She apologized.  We gave each other space.  But there’s no taking those words back.  No getting that day back.

How many days, how many years would I like to get back and do over?  We don’t get them back and we can’t do them over, but we can learn from them so that the next day, the next year, is better than the last one.

When we circled back to speak about the day, it was her half-birthday.  I gave her Rosemary Wells’ Voyage to the Bunny Planet (thank you my friend for the suggestion), where the day that “should have been” gets reimagined.  She said that she was sad that she would never have that day back, the happy and confident first day she had dreamed of and hoped to memorialize with a photo.  She shared her dreams for a fun and social senior year, in spite of the rigors of an AP-heavy workload and the anxiety of applying to colleges.  And then she confided that she wishes she could hang on to being 17 forever.  I too want this time to last forever.  To hold my girl close.  To magically turn the bad days into good ones.  But it is her time.  Her time to grow up, to become a woman, to figure out what makes her happy, what interests her, who she is.  Fly, beautiful girl!  Find your passion.  Live your life.  Don’t let me hold you back.

I Know Where The Girls Are

big bang theory

Proud To Be A Nerd?  Shhh, Don’t Tell Anyone.

I am a nerd.  I am the daughter of nerds.  I am married to a nerd.  A nerd is one who probes an esoteric subject deeply and values quiet alone time to pursue intellectual endeavors over social, athletic, or more popular mainstream pursuits.  The derogatory interpretation of a nerd is someone who is on the fringe, socially, and who is athletically inept.  With the rise of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and The Big Bang Theory, nerds everywhere have come out of the woodwork proclaiming their virtues with pride.

Along with the upward trending of nerdiness, there has been a significant increase in girls excelling at math and science.  Natalie Angier reports that girls now make up an equal percentage of applicants to a math/science magnet school and nearly an equal percentage of girls get accepted into the program.  This is fantastic progress!  BUT, a much lower percentage of the accepted girls actually attend than of the accepted boys – thus perpetuating the disparity between girls and boys who pursue an academic program and later a professional career in math and science.

Angier and many others wonder why, despite their clear aptitude for and interest in math, more girls don’t continue along the math and science path.  Really, this is a mystery?  I know where the girls are.  They are socializing.  (As they should be!)  When the social pressures kick in to high gear in the teen years, the girls are busy sorting through how to be young women.  They want to fit in.  While they remain smart and ambitious, their interests expand.  Girls tend to be equally good at “verbal” subjects as they are at math and science and frequently gravitate toward paths that overtly help people, like healthcare and education.

To fit in, there is much more encouragement for girls and pressure on girls to be attractive and social.  It takes a lot of time and money to learn how to do this well.  You have to be connected into popular culture, watching television, videos, the internet.  You have to shop and experiment with your look.  You have to hang with your friends, either in person or virtually.  Being social significantly cuts into the 10,000 hours it takes to become great at a subject or activity.

There is much more prestige accrued to a girl for being attractive and likeable than for being a math nerd.  Indeed, a female math nerd still is likely to be looked on as an anomaly.  She may be liked and respected more than in my generation, but she is still a bit weird.  Just look at Amy on The Big Bang Theory.  Who would you rather be:  nerdy awkward Amy or sexy funny Penny?  Exactly.  Even Amy wants Penny.

My father was a physicist and I did everything I could to feign disinterest and lack of aptitude.  The math and science teachers in my day were beyond boring and dry and there was absolutely nothing cool about continuing with math and science.  So I didn’t.  Even though I was good at math and science, it was easy to follow a different path.  I was a reader and a writer and became an English major.  It wasn’t until I took Calculus for non-math majors in college with an electrifying professor who made math fun and relevant that I wondered if maybe I hadn’t been snookered down the wrong rabbit hole.  I would have been a wonderful scientist.  Quiet, patient, creative, and insightful.  (Ah, the path not taken.)  Even my mother, a scientist, discouraged me from a scientific career, arguing that it was hard to balance family while running experiments.  Well, it’s hard to balance family with any demanding career.  Sadly.

My daughter is a nerd.  She excels at math and science.  Her father is an engineer.  We have championed her interest in math and science.  She had a terrific female math teacher in 8th grade who was a wonderful role model and her Physics teachers are young and hip.  She likes Physics!  Can you believe it?  Physics!  Her math teacher wants her to take a computer programming course.  Yes!  Go for it girl!

She has dutifully started the groundwork for the college application process, declaring her interest in a math major.  Recently, however, she whispered to me, “But Mom, what I really want to be when I grow up is Guiliana Rancic.  How does being a math major prepare me for that career?”  How indeed?  I swallowed my gut reaction, “Stop watching stupid fucking television!”  and tried to put myself in her shoes.  Guiliana is adorable, if too thin (geesh there I go with the weight judgement again), and she has a great job.  Hey, I want to be Guiliana.  Why wouldn’t my 17-year-old want her job?

How do I convey to her that there is only one Guiliana and that there are many intriguing and challenging opportunities in math and science?  How do I tell her that as a journalism and communications major, she’ll be one of a bazillion girls who wants a job in fashion, entertainment, and media?  How do I convince her that she’ll make more money and have more professional prestige in math and science?  How do I reassure her that she will be more likely to meet an intelligent and respectful partner who values her intellectual capabilities and her personality, as well as her beauty?  How do I encourage her to see the potential to help many people in a meaningful scientific career?  How do I help her identify her dreams and realize them in a rewarding way?

In spite of the tremendous strides women have made and society has made in embracing and celebrating women, their interests and their achievements, I believe that women still need money and a room of their own to be freer from chores and to have the space and quiet, the support and security, to pursue their intellectual ambitions.  To be proud nerds.  As long as popular culture glamorizes fashionistas and housewives instead of mathletes and scientistas, we will all be shortchanged.

Photo is from a fansite for The Big Bang Theory.

Every 3 Hours, A Drunk-Driving Crash Claims the Life of Someone Who Was Not Driving Drunk


Elizabeth, My Surrogate Sister

It is the anniversary of my cousin Elizabeth’s death.  She was killed by a drunk and stoned driver in 2002 on Labor Day weekend.  A tragedy that stunned me profoundly.  I think of her regularly, and always on Labor Day, and wonder what might have been had she lived.   What more might we have shared?

She was eight years older than me and did not live geographically near me.  It was not until we were both adults that we became close.  I was an only child, so she was the closest I got to having a sister.  How I wanted a sister!  How I still want a sister!  A sibling is not only a built-in playmate and confidante, they share your family history.   How amazing it would be to have someone to share the burden of aging parents and mid-life questioning.  Did that really happen or am I crazy?   Cousins are also uniquely special.  They share your broader family history, while offering you a chance to experience your family through an expanded lens of memories and perspectives.  A different connection can emerge.

One of my first memories of her as her own person was when she visited us one summer.  She must have been 16 or 17 and I would have been 8 or 9.  She slept late.  That is my main memory.  I wanted a sister and companion!  I didn’t understand the teen clock.  My parents wouldn’t let me wake her up early.  Elizabeth was always a night owl, while I was always a morning person.  My parents threw a party (a rare occurrence) during her visit to introduce her to some people her age.  I remember being jealous that my favorite baby-sitter and she hit it off.  I desperately wanted to be older and didn’t understand why they didn’t want me tagging along.

My parents and I visited Elizabeth in 1980 when I was 17 and she was 25 and living at Twin Oaks, an intentional community.   I always admired her idealism and her desire to live according to her values.  This visit made a big impression on me.  I had very little exposure to other ways of living other than how my small family lived with its controlled and orderly routines.  A community of people and families who lived with limited privacy, ate communally and shared resources was eye-opening and mind-boggling to me.

As adults, we cemented our bond during our times together at family weddings and funerals, sharing confidences that we shared with perhaps no one else.  Her sister-in-law’s too-young death from breast cancer.  Her wedding.  My wedding.  Her niece’s wedding.   My family was so small that I felt compelled to value my relationship with Elizabeth at any cost.  She was extroverted and social, idealistic and spontaneous – quite a counterpoint to my shy and careful reserve.  I adored her.  As any little sister would.

One of our most obvious differences was in our weight and our approach to food.  She was sometimes quite heavy, especially when younger, struggling with overeating and what she considered to be an addiction to sugar.  I was sometimes quite thin, struggling with over-exercising and an overly controlled rules-driven approach to eating.  Our dialog about weight and eating was one of the first truly intimate and honest exchanges about the psychology of eating that I had with anyone.  I came to see our struggles as the flip sides of the same coin.  Heavy or thin, we are all connected in our challenge to balance a healthy enjoyment of eating and a confident sense of self and body image.

She found the perfect career for her personality as a nurse-midwife on the Texas-Mexico border.  Her intelligence and her nurturing empathy endeared her to all.  At her funeral, the church was overflowing with people.  Hundreds of people, from near and far, shocked by her senseless loss, wept and mourned this wonderful woman with so much zest for life.  I learned how to be a friendlier and braver person from her.

Elizabeth left a 10-year-old daughter who will be 21 this month.  She is beautiful, with her own (but similar) personality.  Curious about people and the world, gentle and determined, intelligent and adventurous.  When Elizabeth was killed, I vowed to stay part of her daughter’s life.  Aside from sporadic but heart-felt support of MADD, it was the best way I knew to deal with my shock and my grief.  While our connection ebbs and flows, through emails and occasional visits, our attachment is genuine.  I still cannot fathom why Elizabeth was killed.  I can only hope and trust that my relationship with her daughter will stay strong and serve a purpose.  I can see the essence of Elizabeth shining in her daughter as she grows into her own distinct self builds her life.   Elizabeth would be so proud.

Don’t drink and drive.

Source:  NHTSA 

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