I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: March, 2015

Money Money Money Money



We bought our house 18 ½ years ago, 6 months after our daughter was born. We bought well, thanks to my husband’s eye for a house with “good bones” and a bit of luck with the timing, just before housing values shot up in the late 90’s. It was a scary amount of money and the mortgage was steep. We were younger then and “doing it ourselves” seemed adventurous and romantic. Around the time we moved in, I got a new job that paid well. We were at the beginning of an exciting and expensive time. I was ambitious and thought I would keep getting promoted and keep making more money. I was sure that in 18 ½ years, we would no longer be living paycheck to paycheck and that a comfortable cushion in the bank would make college tuition no sweat and retiring to a comfortable lifestyle filled with traveling a no brainer.


We all know where this story goes. I did not get promoted after that peak job and did not keep making more money. In fact the recession hit and I was laid off. At midlife, I wondered if I even liked my career and panicked if I would ever figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, before I grew old. Now the house just feels too much. Too much clutter, too much to clean, too expensive, and we still haven’t decorated several of the rooms the way I had hoped to do long before now. My kids will be long gone before we ever get around to creating an inviting teen hang-out media room. Funny, it IS a teen hang-out media room. Just not the lovely “decorated” room I imagined it would be 18 ½ years ago. Maybe our serviceable side room is perfectly inviting after all.

Instead of embarking on new projects, like creating a fully furnished and serene master bedroom, or a fun teen hang-out room, or an organized office/welcoming guest room, we seem to be replacing and fixing things that have gotten old and broken. The super high-end trendy dishwasher we bought when we upgraded the kitchen broke within the first 5 years. We replaced it with the super practical Kenmore that Consumer Reports said was best. The list is endless. Life happened. We needed to fix the car, the hot water heater, the roof, the X, the Y, the Z. And suddenly (don’t blink!), my daughter was off to school and the tuition bill was due. And my son is right behind her. How do people do it?

As I was taking one of my long and meditative and very hot showers last week, pondering the meaning of life and wondering how best to be happy and loving and less self-absorbed, my daughter (who was home for Spring break, blissfully!), knocked on the door to tell me that my long, hot shower was now dripping onto our first floor. Whoa! What? A week, a plumber and a tile guy later, the diagnosis is that the lead basin under the shower is leaking. The prescription is to tear up the bottom half of our shower, replace the basin, and re-tile. We’re still waiting for the estimate. We don’t have a lot of financial cushion for these types of unexpected and unwanted expenses. And the joy we had in designing our way-too-expensive master shower 10 years ago is a pleasant memory but not one that either of us feels like reliving. We dutifully went off to the tile store yesterday only to be informed that our beautiful tumbled marble tile is no longer in fashion and will be difficult to find. Really? Only 10 years have passed and beautiful tumbled marble is passé? Do people really change their bathroom fashion every decade? Is that a thing?

I’m not very interested in money. It was one of the topics my father pontificated about, which means it was one of the topics that I refused to learn about. I alternate between oddly frugal (reuse plastic utensils!) and ridiculously extravagant (way too much money spent on clothes in the hopes that looking good equated with being liked and/or being successful – but that’s another post).

I pretend I’m not interested in money. As long as I have enough money. But we all care about money.  It is the currency of intimacy and the manifestation of one’s values. It’s the conversations and decisions and fights about how to spend money that form the partnership glue with one’s spouse. One man’s guitar is another woman’s yoga retreat. And should we or shouldn’t we get a private tutor so that our son stays on par academically with his peers in this competitive geographic area. (We did.)

What is enough money?  Enough money to survive?  Enough money to be able to make meaningful choices about how to spend your money? Which I have. Gratefully. Of course, I wish I had more money. But if I had more money, I would wish I had even more money. Better to be happy with what I have.

I am proud that my career has allowed me to earn a good living. It has made me an equal in the financial conversations and decisions and fights with my husband about how we spend our money together. It has made me a strong role model for our children, both of whom benefit from having a mother with a significant career and seeing a woman navigate ambition and competition and a midlife shift in values. It has allowed me the privilege of affording a comfortable house in a desirable neighborhood with a good public school system.


If I had known 18 ½ years ago what I know now, I might have been less frugal about the small stuff and less extravagant about the big stuff. At the time, the old advice was: Buy the biggest house you can afford! My advice now would be: Buy the smallest house you can tolerate! A smaller house means a lower mortgage monthly payment, which means maybe, just maybe, you won’t need such a big job with such big pressures. Do what makes you happy, give more money away, spend less time cleaning and fixing the house, spend more time with family and friends you love.

Stop Looking At Your Feet


Looking Up

Worn down by a seemingly endless frigid and snowy winter, I was carefully stepping my way across an icy intersection. There was another man in the intersection, an older man – though probably not much older than me – who almost slipped and fell. He recovered his balance and continued on his way, his shoulders hunched forward staring at his feet, hoping that his determined downward gaze would protect him from the ice and a dangerous, incapacitating fall. As we all were. I looked around. Everyone, including me, was tensely hunched, focused downward and inward, stepping carefully.

It’s been a rough winter, filled with loss and anxiety. I pride myself on being fit and healthy, impervious to mortality, but this winter has mocked my illusion that I am in control. I fell on black ice in January, deeply bruising my tailbone and my ego. The pain was so great that I had to take a nap. Seeking healing refuge in sleep because I had no energy for anyone or any activity. Good God! Is this what people with chronic pain deal with every day?

Two weeks later, I had the first of two skin excisions. No big deal, right? The skin cells were atypical and the dermatologist recommended a surgical excision out of an abundance of caution. I’m convinced it’s part of our overmedicalization and overprescription of procedures, but who am I to argue with the potential threat of skin cancer? I complied. I confidently said to the surgeon, “I can go to yoga this afternoon, right?” He laughed and told me I had to refrain from strenuous activity for two weeks. “You’re kidding, right?” He wasn’t. Good God! No wonder people become more sedentary as they get older. All these damn doctors slowing us down.

Two weeks after that, my gynecologist called me with the results of my over-50 baseline bone density test. Osteopenia. Serious Osteopenia. Oh, and she wasn’t particularly cheerful either. I am really looking forward to my upcoming colonoscopy.

And so, I found myself more cautious and humble this winter. Hunkering down, stepping carefully, staying inside more and opting for the cross-town shuttle in bad weather instead of walking. And so, I found myself more sympathetic and patient this winter. Pain saps energy and diminishes your ability to be generous. Fear narrows your world, keeping you in your box. I get it. My ambitious striving is subsiding, being replaced with more patience and understanding for myself and for others and our struggles. Funny, this winter of loss has made me appreciate what I do have. To treasure my health and strength and to not take it for granted. To not mind this hard season, because the sweetness of Spring is coming.

The more I hunched forward staring at my feet willing myself to not fall, the more I appreciated my yoga practice and how it counteracts the fearful self-protection that can come with winter (or aging, or illness, or injury, or anxiety, or depression). One of my favorite poses is Vrksasana, tree pose. Rooting down to lift up. Rolling the shoulders back to open the chest and pecs, opening the heart. Balance. Happily taking up space, it’s the ideal antidote to anxious self-absorption. It’s a pose that shows you how lifting up, looking up, and opening your heart can change your mood.  Change your life.

When I first took up yoga, I devoted myself to the practice with ambition and zeal, wanting to please the teacher and perfect each pose. My approach was serious, disciplined, and tense. The more I achieved the more I came into contact with others who were better than me. More flexible, more strong, more adventurous, more serious, more spiritual, more more more. It was enough to make me cry. I began to try less hard. To stop comparing. To trust myself. To have more fun. After all, it’s only yoga.

On that icy day last week, when everyone was focused on their feet, you could feel Spring waiting in the wings. The light was longer. The birds were chirping. There was hope that this had to be the end of the dreary, messy, icy, slippy, frigid days, at least for now. To honor the joy and gratitude I feel for my imperfect yoga practice and the community I practice with, I did a happy imperfect tree pose with the first tree we planted when we moved into our house. The tree that will be covered in flowers in a few weeks.  Root down to lift up. Open your heart. Smile. Feel hopeful.

Hey Mom, Could You Sign This?



It’s 7:06 am and in our precisely choreographed busy busy busy morning routine, that means my son has one minute to get out the door to catch the bus. In between my loading the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, organizing everyone’s lunches, and taking a last swig of coffee, my son thrusts a piece of paper at me. “Hey Mom, could you sign this?”

He tried to be nonchalant, but it came across as sheepish.  Waiting for me to yell: “Why do you wait until the last minute? You’ve gotta give this stuff to me the night before! This is just another example of how disorganized and unplanful you are!” But I didn’t yell. I don’t like yelling. I hate it when I yell. I don’t think it helps. He just hides away more, avoiding my judgment. Besides, yelling at him upsets me. Because I love him so much. So, with one minute to spare, I take a breath and calmly look at the piece of paper.

10th Grade Health.  Arguably the most important course he’s taking, except that schools should probably offer this course several years earlier with a more dynamic teacher.  You know the course.  It covers smoking, alcohol, drugs, sex.  And last night’s little assignment.

“List your three top values.”

Okay. Sure. No big deal. Easy.

The clock is ticking.

What should I put down? What are my top 3 values anyway? What should I put that won’t embarrass a 15-year-old boy? Couldn’t he have given this to me last night? We could have had a family discussion. What can I impart of my 52 years of long and hard thinking about the meaning of life into 3 words in 60 seconds. Well, more like 50 seconds by now.

The clock is ticking.

Honesty. I can’t think of any other word. It just bubbles up unannounced. Hmmm. I didn’t know that honesty was my number one value. But there it is. Is that because I’ve spent most of my life chameleon-like pleasing other people, being someone I thought I should be? Now, nothing matters more than for me to be me. Is that because the number one reason I chose my husband is because he was him, the most honest person I had ever met? I write it down. Honesty. 40 seconds to go.

What’s #2? I reach for my yoga, my midlife wisdom. I discard what I might have said even just a few years ago: discipline, hard work, ambition, achievement. Done all that. I check in with my gut. So much wiser than my mind. Ah, there it is. Kindness. Be kind. Lead with the heart. It’s why I wear a heart necklace now. It’s not about me and my ego and my ambition. At least not any more. It’s about love and the people I love and being kind. I write it down. Kindness/Love. 30 seconds to go.

Ack! Now I’m stumped. What’s #3? The clock is ticking. Let’s face it. Smartness matters. I’m pretty determined to be the smartest person in the room. That’s gotta be it. Um, wait. Remember #2. How can I convey my appreciation for all the richness of the world without ego getting in the way? Education? Intelligence? Reading? How can I convey to my son that I want him to appreciate all the richness of the world in whatever way works for him? Ah, there it is. Curiosity. I write it down. 20 seconds.

I sign my name. Pen down! My son grabs his disorganized and jam-packed backpack, he’s ready to go. I look him in the eye, with honesty, kindness, and curiosity, and hand him the piece of paper.

Honesty. Kindness/Love. Curiosity.  May he cherish these values, my values, as he finds his own.

He’s off! 10 seconds to spare. “Thanks Mom! Love you!”

I love you too.

P.S. We had the family discussion later that night over dinner. His #1 value? Family.

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