I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Midlife

The Bowl

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A Gift of Love That Can’t Be Broken

Emily, the bowl broke. The one you gave me us as a wedding gift nearly 22 years ago.

I was in the bathroom when I heard the crash. I knew exactly what it was. I had enlisted my son and his friend to do the dishes. It becomes a game when you’re not the one who does the dishes every night after night after night and you have a friend over to help. They were happy and having fun. It’s good I was in the bathroom. I had time to pause and think about my reaction. Not like my husband who blurted out something like “What the hell are you thinking?!” I didn’t know he cared about the bowl. He is surprisingly sentimental and attached to the stuff of our life together.

We received a lot of bowls as wedding gifts to celebrate our marriage. We call it the wedding of the bowls. And why not? The symbolism of a bowl ready to be filled with food, life, and love is apt. I broke a beautiful large handmade pottery salad bowl the first time I washed it. It was heavy and the soap made it slip right out of my hands. It was a gift from a dear friend. I was crushed, unsure I was going to be good at this marriage, and fretted that I would not be able to reciprocate all the dinners she hosted for me. We break out a lovely Nambé bowl on the occasions when we have friends over for dinner. There are the attractive and useful pasta bowls that we use all the time. And there’s the really ugly bowl that is probably still in the basement in its box.

Yours, dear Emily, was special. A set of two handmade bowls by an artisan ceramicist in Chapel Hill. We used the smaller one, the one that broke, just about every night. It held the evening’s sugar snaps, or cantaloupe chunks, or little red potatoes, or rice and beans, or my daughter’s crop of eggplant from the last summer before she went to college. Usually it held Sally’s Salad. We still have the larger one, but it’s the smaller one that was so much a part of our daily life, with its pretty fluted rim.

As I paused in the bathroom, I pondered the symbolism of the broken bowl. The lovely vessel given to me us by my oldest friend, more a sister to me. The container that held so much of our family dinner, our family life, our family love. Is the broken bowl a harbinger of a broken marriage, a broken friendship? Will our marriage survive the transition to dinners with just the two of us? No children? No bowl? Is the break a referendum on how I do friendships? Busy busy busy and self-absorbed, geographically distant. How does anyone sustain deeply meaningful relationships anymore?

I can’t believe we thought you would make it to the wedding. Three weeks after giving birth to your first-born. It didn’t seem possible to set a different date that would work better for you. As we become adults, the relationship with our partner becomes the priority relationship over other relationships. We move to be with them. And then if and when the children arrive, nothing is more important than the next generation. We think we have time. Like a college student traveling in a foreign country who thinks they will come back and have time to appreciate the exotic destination. We think next year I will make time to visit my friend. Next reunion I will make time to catch up with my friends. But before we know it, we run out of time.

After 22 years of marriage and 42 years of friendship, however, the bonds are deeper than ever. More forgiving of past transgressions, more tolerant of differences, more appreciative of shared history, more interested than ever in each other’s lives.

I leave the bathroom, anxious to let the boys know I understand the broken bowl is an accident. I know they feel badly. After all, it is the gift of love represented by the bowl that is what matters, not the bowl itself.

Thank you Emily for all you have given me.

Japanese Bowl

I’m like one of those Japanese bowls
That were made long ago
I have some cracks in me
They have been filled with gold

That’s what they used back then
When they had a bowl to mend
It did not hide the cracks
It made them shine instead

So now every old scar shows
from every time I broke
And anyone’s eyes can see
I’m not what I used to be

But in a collector’s mind
All of these jagged lines
Make me more beautiful
And worth a higher price

I’m like one of those Japanese bowls
I was made long ago
I have some cracks you can see
See how they shine of gold.
-Peter Mayer

The Light Is Always On

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For You

Last night, your first night of your second year of college, I tiptoed into your room and turned on the light. That simple habit I have from your teen years, welcoming you home on the nights you are out late.

I like to go into your room and soak you in. I look at the mementos, always surprised and touched at something new (to me) that you found meaningful that someone gave you, indicating what a rich life you have – apart from me. I smell your perfume and lie on your bed looking at the posters on the wall. And bask in my pride and my wonder of you.

A year ago, this quiet, occasional ritual would sometimes make me cry. Missing you and wondering where the time went. Now, well, it still can make me cry, but I am so happy you are happy. Confident in your body and your soul, taking your place in the world with energy and intelligence, so honest, wise and compassionate.

While I do miss you, I now know, a year later, that even though your daily presence is gone, we have new traditions for staying connected and a deeper and more mature relationship.

I suppose that a decade from now I will speak with my younger friends about their children going to college and smile indulgently. The trauma having faded. Just like the joys and crises of having a newborn have faded. How could I have thought that was hard! It is SO much harder to have teens. And cope with dying parents. And watch one’s career ambitions shift toward achieving something less material and accomplishing something more meaningful. And cry with frustration at one’s arthritic hip, knee, shoulder. I am looking forward to the increasing peace and contentment that comes with each decade.

But what does terrify me, right now, is that I can now imagine my final good-bye to you. If the last 20 years have flown by, then surely the next 20 or 30 will go by even faster. I try to be present, but my mind races to the future. Like reading the last page instead of enjoying all the details in the middle, I hurry to the end, skimming.

My wish for you as you embark on this next year, this more grown-up year of college, is that you not skim ahead to the end. As you grow up and deal with life’s inevitable losses and disappointments, everyday stress and busyness, new friends and adventures, honor it all. It hurts to see you lose some of your childhood dreams, your childhood heroes, your childhood illusions. But it is through loss and sadness that you gain a richer life with moments of deep passion and joy. May you have a year, a life, filled with passion and joy. And may it move slowly enough for me to savor it with you – as well as apart from you – as we transition to an increasingly mature adult mother-daughter relationship, side-by-side.

The light is on in your room. Always.

Comfort Food

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Jangled

I’m a little jangled right now. My son started his first day of 11th grade, which I dealt with by feeling overwhelmed with stress on the work front. My daughter leaves tomorrow for her second year of college, which leaves me feeling excited, proud, melancholy, and old. Less stressful than Year 1, but still emotional. I took a too-hard, too-crowded, too-much-rap-music (wtf?) yoga class, which made me angry and tearful: My hip is cranky; who are these people who CAN do this class? Clearly I am getting too old. Maybe I will just sing and knit and get fat. Yowza!

Jangled.

Thursday night, I dreamt that my pet parakeet had a new water dispenser and I realized that she could drown in it if I didn’t watch over her at all times. Do you think I am worried about my children? As our pediatrician counseled us at baby-proofing stage, only half-joking: “Never let them out of your sight.”

Friday night, I dreamt that my hair suddenly was much grayer. I wondered if I should begin to color it, debating between being my authentic self and not wanting to look too old. Do you think I am worried about aging? Who IS that woman in the mirror and what did she do with my 35-year-old self?

When doing some back-to-school errands with my daughter, someone made a strange turn at an intersection. I thought about my son beginning to drive and was overcome with the dangers of driving and the fear of losing them to an accident. Which would be devastating.  Which led me to musing at how wonderful both my children are. Precious, good, honest, empathetic, better than me, better than my husband. How is it possible that these two amazing human beings are my children? Which led me me to tears at a stop light. Praying that they survive the dangers of everyday living.  Overcome with love and gratitude.

Jangled.

Clearly, I am in need of some comfort food. The problem is that traditional comfort foods (Macaroni and Cheese, Oreos and Milk, Pot Roast with Gravy) are too rich. I don’t enjoy these foods. I feel too guilty.  And too full.  For me, comfort food is simple and easy, includes favorite childhood foods, can be eaten in large quantities, and is healthily guilt-free.

When I was a little girl, we had a neighbor with an extensive garden who would let me eat tomatoes warm off the vine. They were perhaps the most delicious food ever. I never tire of good tomatoes but am usually frustrated that they never live up to my memory of those garden tomatoes.  Every summer, my mother would make a simple salad of tomatoes and avocado.  She must be one of the first people who put together a simple composed salad without any lettuce. Who needs lettuce!

The local tomatoes have been pretty good this summer. And, ballerina-eating-trick: you can eat vast quantities of tomatoes without incurring a lot of calories. No need for lettuce, the tomatoes form a delicious base for salads and require minimal dressing. While I don’t eat very much meat any more, I do love chicken and indulge in it occasionally.  This is one of my favorite go-to salads and is what I had for lunch on this day of mixed and jangled emotions.

Grilled Chicken Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 1 small grilled chicken breast
  • ½ cup leftover brown rice
  • ½ beefsteak tomato
  • ½ avocado
  • Corn, cut from 1 leftover cob (I always make extra corn on the cob for leftovers)

Dice everything into roughly equal sized small pieces. If you are OCD, like me, you can even make sure that you have the same number of pieces of each ingredient, insuring that each bite has a little bit of everything.

Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 2 Tablespoons plain greek yogurt (ballerina-eating-trick: Replace some fats with plain greek yogurt. Adds tang and has fewer calories and fat. I use plain greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches.)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

Whisk together and spoon over salad.

1 large salad for lunch – good for jangled nerves, especially if you share the salad with your college-bound daughter.

Striving For Contentment

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Summer Vacation

We have done some variation on the family beach trip every year. My daughter is 19 and my son is 16. That’s a lot of memory-making. Each year we bring the previous years with us, hanging on to our favorite experiences and recreating what we can of those good times. Each year, though, we are a little different, a little older, a little shifted in a new direction. Last year’s trip, or that really fun one from years ago, cannot be recreated. Each year builds on the past and is a bridge to the next year.

The week always puts the kids growth and maturation into sharp – shocking – relief. Remembering a year ago, or five years ago, stuns me. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was sitting in the shade of an umbrella with an infant son and a bright little girl? Now I am going for long walks with my daughter, a beautiful young woman who amazes me with her bright light. Listening to her sort out her thoughts and aspirations. Counseling her when I can, but mainly listening and loving her, in awe of her humanity.

It’s humbling to have lived through 53 summers. I feel every one of them this year, each making me who I am – the quiet and sensible one who occasionally surprises everyone by dashing spontaneously into the ocean – not the funny one, not the gregarious one. A little sad, a little more relaxed than I was as a young woman, but a little more urgent about not wasting time. After all, how many more summer beach trips will we have together?

When I travel, I make a point of taking a yoga class at a local studio. No matter where I go, I feel at home in a yoga studio. The rituals are the same. Take off your shoes. Set up your mat. Breathe. Move into the familiar poses. Listen to the teacher. I usually hear something in a new way from a different teacher as I listen to my body. Be. Me. This particular beach vacation morning, I knew I needed the grounded familiarity of yoga and snuck off to a class. The studio had Angel Cards. I had never experienced Angel Cards before. I figured it would be fun and was mildly curious as to what I would get. You close your eyes and reach into the bowl and pick a card. What would it be? Wisdom, Birth, Healing? Something powerful and inspirational I was sure. I closed my eyes, stirred the cards, and picked one. Contentment. Contentment? Contentment?! Boring. I laughed and said, “Well, that was not the card I was expecting.” The teacher wisely said, “It usually isn’t.” Indeed.

But, that’s my work. Especially on vacation. How can I be content? Happy with what is instead of unhappy with what isn’t. How can I appreciate where we are right now and not wish for it to be different, longer, more joyful and not dread the end of vacation and the return to another busy busy busy school year and the constant challenge of work.

My 16-year-old son, who likes to stay up late and sleep in, made a firm determination that he wanted to see the sun rise while on vacation. The youngest of the extended family group sharing the beach house this year, he was the one who had (perhaps) most changed, at least in obvious ways, shifting from boy to young man in the last year and taking his place with the men of the family. The first morning, he came down to the porch around 6:45 and learned that you can’t see the sun rise from our porch view. He took some photos on his phone but was teased that he must have taken these photos at noon because the day was already so bright.

He set his ambition with more commitment. He researched the time of sunrise. 6:42 am. We discussed whether this meant the sun would emerge at 6:42 or whether the sun would be fully above the horizon at 6:42. We shared some stories of sunrise watching and sunset watching, considering the benefits of each. He resolved that he would get up at 5:30 so as not to miss a speck of the dawn. I insisted that that was too early, but he was quite adamant. His plan was set. Everyone wished him well and went to bed, pretty sure none of us would be joining him at 5:30 and pretty sure he would not emerge that early either.

Around 6:20 am, I jolted awake, the slight shift in light through the window rousing me. I tiptoed out of bed and down the stairs to get him. He was already gone! Really? Proud and excited, I gazed out from the porch and saw a slender figure in the distance sitting on the beach. He had made it. I headed down the stairs and over the dunes toward that lone figure. When I got there, we knowingly smiled at each other, sharing in the quiet beauty of the moment. The clouds at the horizon were gray, purple, pink, orange, the light gently spreading across the expanse. We gazed. And waited. Waited and waited. Like watching a pot of water prepare to boil. We waited some more. The clouds were heating up with a burning glow. You could see where the spot would be. We gazed and stared and waited some more. Finally – suddenly – the crescent sun peeked above the clouds. Then steadily and quickly rose. There it was! A new day, new hope, new beginnings. I did a sun salutation dance and babbled on about how this was the real meaning of “awesome.” But my son put it best, using a word I had never heard him say before. Majestic. The rising of the sun was majestic.

Filled with awe and love, how could I not be content?

Another vacation, another year is behind us. It was an important week. A week of growth and love and sadness and nostalgia and intimacy and connection and hope. With glimmers of an elusive contentment. It was the kind of week that builds memories as we all grow older by another year.

Photo Credit:  Aidan Murphy

Wisdom

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Or Maybe I’m Just Lazy

August is here. My favorite month. Slow. Heavy. Delicious. It’s like Sunday – a pause before the busy, busy, busy-ness kicks back into high gear. September used to be my favorite month. When I was young. I loved the start of school. A new year full of hope for reinvention and ambitious achievements. My ambition is quieter now. I’m a little less jealous of other people’s success and wealth, a little less determined to achieve some kind of fame or greatness, a little more comfortable with me.

A little.

So when I woke up this morning and thought about my usual Sunday activities (Yoga! Laundry! Grocery Shopping! oh my!), I felt tired. And a little sad. Anticipating the end of August before it’s hardly begun. I’ve been operating at my usual relentless pace and along about now, August to be exact, my body and my soul say STOP! I used to get migraines – forcing me to get into bed and slow down. Or I would get depressed, crying and overwhelmed, unable to get out of bed. Now, I feel the warning before it gets too bad. Slow down. Change up the routine. Do something different.

I decided to take a Restorative yoga class. Slow. Heavy. Delicious. You sink into props, focus on your breath, and float. Savasana all the time! What could be better? I felt guilty. Negotiating and arguing with myself. What’s the matter with you, you lazy slacker? Where’s your enthusiasm for Downward Dog and multiple vinyasa’s? You’ll get fat! Come on! Get out of bed and go to yoga! NO. My body and soul said. I need rest. I need to give myself permission to rest.

When I got “into” yoga, at midlife, in my mid-forties, I latched onto Ashtanga yoga. It was the perfect practice for an aging ballet dancer Type A personality. I loved the vigor, jumping back and forth, flinging myself upside down, contorting myself into twists and binds. I adored my teacher Constanza. ADORED. Like a loving, but stern ballet teacher with a whip, she would insist “You must put your whole palm on the floor!” Lying on me to get my head to my knees or pressing my arm clasp to the floor behind me or wrapping herself around me to get my arms into the proper bind. Exhausted, I had no breath to chant the closing invocation. I would collapse, drenched in sweat, into Savasana at the end of class. Emotionally drained, I had a few sobbing savasanas. Midlife was hard. She would hug me, look me in the eye. “Sally, (which she pronounced “Solly” in her low voiced Colombian accent) you must breathe. Yoga is a breathing practice.”

With some regret, I decided Ashtanga yoga was not good for my chronic neck pain and I gave it up. But I can’t quite give up an athletic practice. However, I am now so tuned into potential neck pain, that I am more and more the person in the class who rests in child’s pose instead of striving for another vinyasa. These athletic classes are filled with ego.  Filled with many younger-than-me people ambitious to be thin and strong, to achieve a high level of skill in the pose, to win praise from the teacher. Oh yeah, been there done that. When one of the younger men in the class said to me something like: “It must be good to be your age and know when to rest.” I was flummoxed. My age? Surely I am no older than you? But, the truth of the matter is that he is easily 10-15 years younger than me. Wisdom? Enlightenment? Self-knowledge? Or maybe I’m just lazy?  Or worse, OLD.

At the same time that I discovered Ashtanga yoga, I also discovered Restorative yoga. It was a January and the studio was filled with new years’ resolutions yogi’s. The active vinyasa class I planned to take was full. My heart sank. I rolled my eyes. Oh okay, I’ll take Restorative. I reluctantly placed my mat, annoyed, waiting to be bored and unimpressed. Instead, one of the wise “old” people in the class was friendly and introduced me to my now-favorite yoga book, Meditations from the Mat. Then class began and I floated off into bliss, not boredom. Reminding me that you learn something from every yoga class, every yoga teacher, if you listen. I still hear Constanza’s voice, “Yoga is a breathing practice!” But more and more, the teacher’s voice that I listen to is my own.

Slow. Heavy. Delicious. Breathe and enjoy August.

Mother’s Day Presence

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My Teachers

I’m feeling a bit subdued this mother’s day. Kind of dreading the cheerful saccharine. Not sure the world needs another mother’s day post. What about all the people who have difficult relationships with their mothers? What about all the people who have lost their mothers? What about all the people who want children but can’t or won’t? What about the women around the globe dying because of poor maternal healthcare? Better to spend the money allocated to mother’s day gifts to helping women and girls around the world. Better to spend the time spent shopping for those mother’s day gifts with people you love. Basking in their presence.

My friend just told me about a student of hers, a high school senior, whose mom is dying of cancer. He is spending mother’s day weeping. It makes me cry. This young man is still a boy. What must this woman be going through? What is it like to know you are dying and to be saying good-bye to your children? I can’t imagine! Well, actually, I can imagine. Sigh. Can’t I just enjoy a nice mother’s day without ruining it with questions and angst?

I am so lucky. I want for nothing. I’m like ridiculously happy that we have a new garbage disposal. We’ve spent the last year (or more) finagling the old broken one. We had a system. My husband would go downstairs and turn on the electricity. Then I would plug it in and let it grind. Then he would turn off the electricity. Then I would unplug the whole contraption. All while yelling up and down at each other.

I’m like incredibly relieved that it didn’t cost $1,000 to fix the minivan with 120,000 miles on it. Come on Honda! You can make it to 200,000 miles and a couple more trips with dormloads of stuff.

I’m like ecstatic and at peace now that my daughter is home from her first year of college. I really don’t want anything. Theater tickets are always on my list though. My husband wants to buy me a tree, but the yard feels as cluttered as the house. Maybe next weekend I’ll feel the urge to plant. All I want today is a day with no errands and chores. And to feel loving presence.

I remember carefully making handmade cards for my mother and picking flowers (aka weeds) for her. When I got older I would bake something special for her. When I no longer lived at home nor near enough to visit easily, I would buy her a nice card, send her flowers or a book, and call her, of course. She always seemed thrilled with whatever tidbit I gave her. She completely understood that I was busy busy busy. Never did she say: “Why don’t you visit me more often? Please come visit me!” Did she not think that? Do I wish she had said that? Shaken me and knocked some sense into me: “Life is short! Stop being so busy busy busy! Come visit me dammit!” But no, she would never have said that.

My dad is very lonely. He deeply misses her presence in the house. He sometimes expresses surprise that I am not more grief-stricken. Me too. But I have mourned her loss for years. She faded to such a shell of herself over the last decade of her life. I was always wondering when she was going to die. It was a relief when she died. Finally. This is how she dies. Now we know. This is how we go on without her. This is it. Life. Flying by. Busy busy busy. Until we die.

Her presence. It’s true. Even as she faded away, her presence still permeated the house. When I did visit, her face would light up and she would forget that she was 92 and forget that she needed a walker and would try to get me food (always food!) or other items I might need or want. Sometimes I see an old woman who reminds me of her. I smile and send her love. When I slow down enough to breathe, to concentrate, to remember, I can conjure her presence. I feel her.

I feel all the women who have touched me, helping me to become who I am. The teachers I idolized. The babysitter I wanted to be. The other moms, my friends’ moms, especially Margie, all unique and different from my mom, adding their own perspectives on how to be a woman. Later, it was my friends who were my teachers. A community of women all worth honoring and celebrating this mother’s day, even if they weren’t or aren’t moms.

It is my own children who have taught me the most about how to be a mom. Their wisdom, their neediness, their resilience, their intuition, their amazing love for me and my breathtaking love for them that has taught me that life is short. Be less busy.

We are past the stage of handmade cards and weed bouquets. But my children are home. I am basking in their presence, feeling my mom with me and all the women who have been moms and mentors to me. Soon enough my children will be grown up and no longer living at home. And if they don’t visit me, well, then, I just might have to visit them.

The Dance of Marriage

Eventide

Eventide

Marriage is hard. It is easy to understand why couples decide to call it quits. It is perhaps easier to be alone or to try to find someone else who has the characteristics your spouse doesn’t have but that you wish he did have. Of course if you find that someone else, that other person will be missing some other desirable characteristic. And while your own problems/issues/neuroses may be masked in the euphoria of a new and different relationship they will reemerge sooner or later, leading to serial monogamy without the joy of a deeply committed and evolving marriage that weathers the challenges.

For my young readers who believe in the romantic notion that there is only one soulmate to hold out for, bah! Disabuse yourself of that ridiculousness. No one person is your perfect mate. But do choose wisely. Choose someone who is responsible and loyal, loving and funny, a partner in parenthood (should you decide to have children), a friend, and someone who gives you that frisson of passion, even after 21 years of seeing you at your worst. And at your best.

I saw the Paul Taylor Dancers perform Eventide. I went with my 20-something niece who is at the age where some of your illusions have been burst but you don’t quite know who you’re going to be yet. An exciting and hopeful and confusing age. (Aren’t they all?) I didn’t go with my husband, because enjoying dance performances is one of the characteristics I wish he had but he does not.

It is a very beautiful dance that a 20-something can enjoy, but may require being 50-something to appreciate. Paul Taylor choreographed Eventide when he was my age. Interesting.

It opens with 5 couples. (All male-female, which is notable because Taylor has made so many wonderful dances for all sorts of combinations of people!) In the beginning, the couples look the same and move in unison to the same choreography. And then. Each couple dances their dance. The story of their relationship. Or perhaps it is five phases of one relationship. There is the woman reaching for another lover while her partner movingly invites/pleads/demands that she stay with him. Compliant, she tries to stay, but her body language is distant and resistant. Their dance ends with her tragically alone, with neither lover. There is the woman returning to her lover apologetically. Can he forgive her? Can he trust her? Can they love again? Cautious. There is the couple ecstatic in new love. Each movement thrillingly joyful, in unison, inseparable.

Haven’t we all been there? The excitement of new love where you can’t bear to be apart. The temptation of another love or another path that promises to be different, better, more right. The unequal balance after one partner hurts the other, betrays the other. The deep comfort and bond and friendship and simmering passion of a long marriage.

If the beginning of a relationship is an ecstatic dance in unison, the eventide of a relationship has more complex choreography. Frequently, after the kids arrive, you divide and conquer, creating parallel lives that forget to intersect. When the kids leave, you’ve forgotten how to intersect. The dance moves from unison to parallel solos to, if you choose, a wiser mature love with special moments of intersection and connection. You may need to revisit some of those earlier dance steps in order to remember.

My husband and I are looking to weave back together. We have each changed after 21 years of marriage and our relationship has changed. Sometimes we marvel at our longevity given our many differences. It seems to work best when we treat each other like we love each other. To talk, to listen, to hold hands, to look each other in the eye, to laugh, to be proud, to compliment each other, to be polite, to be kind. We’re revisiting things we liked to do when we were dating, like finding new recipes and cooking together. Then we go our separate ways. And come back together again. It’s a dance.

Photo:  Paul Taylor’s Eventide

Money Money Money Money

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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.

Ha!

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.

But.

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

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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.

Losing People

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Losing Friends

I am not a Trekkie, but I watched a lot of Star Trek episodes growing up. In the old days, when there were only four channels and you had to watch what was on when it was on whether you wanted to or not, it seemed like Star Trek was frequently the only tolerable option. So I watched a lot of Star Trek episodes growing up. I wasn’t a big fan. But I did like Spock. He was intelligent, honest, loyal, and funny. Kind of like my husband. Hmmm. I’ll have to give that some thought.

The funny thing about watching all those episodes growing up is that even though I wasn’t a big fan at the time, I am now very nostalgic and appreciative of the campy costumes and plot scenarios. So ridiculous now. So inventive then. Perhaps because I am not a Trekkie (Oh. Wait. Maybe I am!), I have loved the recent movies, non judgmentally and with no expectations. Star Trek Into Darkness was one of my favorite movies of 2013. That was the year my son and I went on weekly movie dates and saw just about everything a 13 year old boy would want to see. Sucked into the movie from the opening inferno scene, we were both a bit shocked when I started sobbing at the scene where the friends press their palms together. The important cameo by Leonard Nimoy was a thrill, for this child of the 70’s. He seems like he was a wise, kind, funny, wonderful human being.

And so, I am sad. Another important person in my life has died. The third in three weeks. They say deaths come in three’s. Well, this is my third. After the death of my mother, life seems precious and fragile and too easily taken for granted.  When someone dies, it hits me hard.

I am not a business person, but I have a career in the media business. (Oh. Wait. Maybe I am a business person!) I would force myself to read business journalism, because I thought I should. For my career, you know. It was dry and boring and I had to read each sentence twice to retain the information. And then I discovered David Carr. Every Monday, he tackled the exact most relevant topic that was top of mind in media and made it compelling. Clean and honest prose, he said what he thought and revealed who he was in his writing. He loved print and embraced digital. The print world lost their champion when he died. Monday mornings with the New York Times are not the same. I am sad.

When I first moved to New York, I had my first job in the media business and had given up my dreams of being a ballerina. I didn’t know anyone, so I found friendship and familiarity in a nearby ballet studio where I took classes with other accomplished but amateur adult ballet dancers. I met Elaine at this time. She was older than me and in love with ballet. She was not a great dancer, but she had a gentle elegance and genuine curiosity and kindness for all the dancers, both the children and the adults. She was a constant touchpoint for me during that difficult year, transitioning to a new job and a new city on my own. She was a friend, though I don’t think I appreciated it then. I met my husband and stopped dancing, too busy with that career in business and raising our children. When my daughter was 7 and it became time to introduce her to ballet, I enrolled her in a different nearby ballet studio. And there was Elaine! We reconnected, though I was too busy busy busy to really resurrect much of a friendship. I returned to ballet again for a few years, but found it too challenging, both physically, emotionally, and logistically, to keep up with ballet. So I let it slip. As I let slip my friendship with Elaine. She passed away 3 weeks ago. You never think you’re never going to see someone again.  I am sad.

I didn’t know Leonard Nimoy nor David Carr.  But I did know Elaine.  Your lives touched mine and you are part of me. I honor you with deep love and appreciation.

Live long and prosper.

 

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