I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: May I Be Happy

51

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Abiding Between Youth and Old Age

I am feeling all of my 51 years, no longer young but not yet old.  There is still so much I want to do.  To say.  To be.

I thought I would be GREAT by now.  Free of all my neuroses and at the height of a successful career.  I was never sure what that career was going to be, but I was going to be At The Top.  Brilliant writer.  Transcendent dancer.  Insightful teacher.  Inspiring leader.

It took my 40’s and several years of mid-life reflection to get to 50.  I find that each decade ends in the next one.  And now, at 51, I am fully ensconced in this one.  51 is simply 51.

51 is not the new 31.  I am angry at the marketers who insist we look and behave younger than we are.  I don’t want to be 31.  It was a good year, don’t get me wrong, filled with all the joyful beginnings of a new decade, with a new marriage and a new home and the promise of new life.  But at 51, I have gone through so much more living.  I’ve loved.  I’ve lost people I love.  I’ve had children (one of the experiences worthy of the word “awesome” in my mind).  I’ve lost a few jobs.  And survived.  And learned a lot about myself and other people along the way.

Why dismiss that experience?  Why do we elevate the giddy impulsiveness and anxiety of youth in favor of the patience and intelligence that comes with living life?

I still nervously pick my cuticles, compulsively measure my food, and procrastinate by getting lost in anxious thoughts.  But it is lessening.  I am aware that my tendency toward a sense of depression is a go-to habit – a vestigial way to elicit attention and make an excuse for my perceived failure to be great.  When I notice my tendency to complain, to feel sad or unworthy, or not ready, I now try to do or say something different, something honest.  It allows me to approach my day and the people in it with a more positive and open energy.  Call it happy?  Could it be?

Cyndi Lee discusses the concept of abiding in her book May I Be Happy.  Abiding is the stage between Arising and Dissolving.  Between Inhaling and Exhaling.  Between Birth and Death.  Between Youth and Age.  We work so hard at living.  What will I be when I grow up?  Who will I be with?  Who will my children be?  What will I achieve?  What will be my legacy?  Suddenly you realize that you are grown up and you are what you are.  Maybe it’s time to pause at the transition and just be.  Let go of the grasping ambition, the punishing hard work.  And just be.  Me.  Abiding.

For me, one of the pleasures of being 51 is enjoying pop culture (well, some of it) with my children and remembering parallel experiences from when I was the same age.  My daughter loves Taylor Swift.  I have happily chaperoned a few concerts and admire Swift’s song-writing talent and ability to capture the essence of her age.  Instead of writing an essay on mid-life filled with regret and dissatisfaction, I decided to turn Swift’s tribute to 22 into an anthem for 51.  I figure it will take me a year to perfect the lyrics and record it for YouTube.  At that point, I can call it 52, which rhymes much better with Ooh-Ooh.

51  (Sung – affectionately and enthusiastically – to the tune of 22, by Taylor Swift)

It feels like a perfect night to dress up like yogis

And stay home with the family, uh uh, uh uh.

It feels like a perfect night for reading The New Yorker

And wait up for my daughter, uh uh, uh uh.

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

It seems like one of those days

Noticed jowls in the mirror

Can’t wear high heels, uh uh, uh uh.

It seems like one of those days

Woke up at 4 in the morning

To do list is growing, uh uh, uh uh.

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

It feels like one of those years

Still living for each paycheck

Thought I’d be rich, uh uh, uh uh

It feels like one of those years

Still seeking the perfect life

Thought I’d be there, uh uh, uh uh

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

As for birthday celebrations, I whole-heartedly believe in them, for me and for you.  This is your day.  Like your name, it is uniquely all about you.  Celebrate you and share in the celebration with your friends and family.  Ask for what you want.  Be sure to have a cake with candles and a wish.  I am not a fan of cake.  And virtually refuse to eat it.  It is dry and tasteless and not worth the calories.  Unless, of course, it is my birthday and the cake is chocolate – dense and moist – and ideally homemade.  With icing smeared off from the plate.  And then I allow myself a sliver and I savor every bite.

Glazed Chocolate Cake with Sprinkles (from Gourmet)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • Sprinkles!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter bottom and side of 9×2 inch round pan, then line bottom with parchment.

Sift together dry ingredients.  Beat together butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Add eggs 1 at a time, then beat in vanilla.  Reduce speed to medium-low and add dry ingredients, alternating with milk.

Transfer batter to cake pan.  Bake until cake begins to pull away from side of pan and a wooden toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.  Invert onto a rack and cool completely, 1 hour.

For glaze, bring cream to a simmer in small heavy saucepan over medium heat, then pour over chocolate in a bowl and let stand 1 minutes.  Gently whisk until smooth, then stir in corn syrup.  Coll completely, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.  It will thicken.

Peel off parchment from cake.  Pour glaze onto center of cake and spread to edges with a spatula.  Decorate with sprinkles!

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.

Surya Namaskar Ski

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A Fervent Salute to the Sun

It was a cold and windy week at Stowe Mountain.  My smug celebration of triumph over my anxiety demons vanished with the lack of sun, the bitter cold, and the icy trails.  The smart decision, for me, would have been to accept that conditions were not good, for me, and to settle down with my book: Cyndi Lee’s May I Be Happy.  But it was too early in the vacation week to “give in” to a day off.  And so I fought the conditions, determined to have a magical week.  Our skiing abilities have converged at that happy and temporary moment where we all can ski together.  I wanted to enjoy this week together.  And so I did.

I ski because my husband skis.

We met on a group cross-country long weekend, 20 years ago this February.  I tease him that it was false advertising, because he is a downhill skier not a cross-country skier.  I had my one and only certifiable full-blown classic panic attack when attempting downhill skiing earlier with a former boyfriend.  Of course, I had much to be anxious about as we navigated the fork in the road in our relationship about whether or not to marry.  After sweating, hyperventilating, and resisting the urge to throw up, I decided that downhill skiing was not for me – and I decided not to marry that boyfriend.

I came to more adventurous sports, like cycling and hiking in my 20’s.  I was not brought up with much exposure to athletics and team sports.  I was one of the last girls picked for the softball team.  I discovered physical activity through ballet and loved having a strong and active body.  But skiing was forbidden to ballet dancers, deemed to be too risky.  These adventurous activities were so foreign to how I was raised, that I really got a charge out of the challenge of pushing myself physically.  Skiing, however, added a whole new layer of anxiety and discomfort.

I fell head over heels in love with my husband at first sight.  In my attempt to impress him, I agreed to go downhill skiing instead of cross-country skiing that weekend and fell and hurt my knee.  When we returned from the weekend, he checked on how I was doing post-ski-injury and we began dating.  We had a joyful and passionate courtship and married a year later.

Part of a loving relationship is sharing interests with the other person and doing things that make the other person happy.  I had spent years learning what I was interested in and was very insecure and suspicious about giving up my Self to take on another person’s interests.  This time it felt different.  Somehow it was okay to do things because he wanted to do them.  I learned to ski.

Learning to ski is an enormous challenge, especially as an adult.  It is a scary and uncomfortable activity that requires travelling, carrying equipment, and enduring a variety of less-than-ideal conditions.  For the first few years of our life together, it was difficult to actually ski together because our levels of ability were so different.  I took a lot of classes with other adults at my level.  I was very good in these classes, eager to please the teacher and work towards progressing to the next level.  Then I would ski with my husband and all my eager enthusiasm would dissipate.  I became passive aggressive, going extra slow on trails that should have been easy but I wanted to make sure he knew they were HARD for me.  I would stand at the top of a steep section and my heart would race and my stomach would lurch and I would exclaim that I couldn’t do it!  Somehow, for the most part, he patiently coached me or ignored my save-me-I’m-a-victim theatrics and we built a skiing life together.  It helped that there would be magical days when I wasn’t too cold and nothing hurt and I felt confident and skiing was actually exhilarating. I never gave up on skiing – feeling compelled to prove I could do it; feeling compelled to make him proud of me; and feeling compelled to achieve it because it was such a crazy different achievement from all the intellectual pursuits I had been directed towards by my parents.

We introduced our children to skiing at as young an age as possible and have been skiing as a family for 10 years.  My skiing, our skiing, has changed over the years.  In the early years, it was a lot of work to manage their equipment and our equipment and get them to ski school on time.  My daughter, an obedient first-born girl, unquestioningly and energetically went off to ski school every year and has become a beautiful and technically proficient expert skier.  My son, never one to separate easily, resisted spending the day away from us in ski school.  We insisted and he has also become an excellent skier, though I see elements of my anxiety and passive-aggressiveness in him.  I also see how he enjoys the thrill and the challenge when he skis in the woods and the terrain park.  My husband has become a more patient skier, willing to take breaks and ski less advanced terrain.  And I have lost my anxiety – most of the time.  It still lurches up when I am cold or the wind is blowing and I can’t see well.  But when the sun is shining, I love skiing.  I never thought I would say that or feel that.  It took 20 years – and I really only feel the joy when the sun is shining.

I use all my yoga on our ski trips.  I remind myself that nothing is permanent and that the bitter cold chairlift ride will not last.  I remind myself that my anxiety is a bad habit that I can change, have changed.  I remind myself to breathe and to change the tape in my head to something more positive.  I remind myself that I have nothing to prove and that my reason to ski is to have fun with my family.  I remind myself to be grateful for the happy moments, patient with the uncomfortable moments and compassionate with the different moods that swirl in close quarters.

I have such sympathy for the children and the parents snapping at each other as they struggle off to ski school, such sympathy for the woman at the top of a steep section yelling at her partner that she can’t do it or frozen with panic, such sympathy for the woman who says I am going to go to the spa.

With only one or two exceptions, we’ve spent every annual family ski week at Stowe.  Just as our family skiing experience has evolved over the last 10 years, so has Stowe.  Stowe has always had an active town with many shops and restaurants and plenty to do for non-skiers year round.  Like all ski towns, though, it welcomed a rugged attitude:  “I’m just here for the skiing!  I’ll ski anytime, anywhere, with any conditions!”  Toughness was embraced.  It took several years but the new resort at Spruce Mountain, the Stowe Mountain Lodge, has changed the tenor of the town and the skiing experience.  I wonder what locals think?  The new resort is beautiful, very expensive, and adds a level of luxury and comfort that didn’t use to be at Stowe.  The older resorts seem faded, as if they can’t grasp how to compete or to respond to the new type of person visiting Stowe. Most of our vacations have been spent at the Golden Eagle Resort, a mid-priced resort with not a lot of luxury.  It is familiar, but very dated and awkwardly large and spread out.  Tired aura.  At The Firefox Inn for a basic Italian dinner, we were shocked at the drab décor and the ungracious service.  Bad aura.  Frida’s Taqueria is crowded and doing a good business.  The food is authentic and the service is friendly.  Good aura.  West Branch Yoga exuded yoga.  When we walked in, we looked at each other and smiled.  It smelled like yoga.  We were welcomed generously.  Warm aura.  As for the luxury resort at Spruce, it is not my favorite place.  It is well-designed and convenient, but very expensive and haughty, with closed off sections “for members only.”  The guests there seem self-absorbed and in their ivory tower.  Narcissistic aura.  (Full disclosure – if I could afford it – I would probably stay there.)  I feel for the town and the older establishments as they face this junction in their business.  The more frugal die-hard skier still exists but the money to support the businesses will come from the affluent visitors.  I’m looking forward to heated seats on the chairlifts.  Surely that will be the next upgrade.

Friday, our last day, was the warmest day – though still no sun – and we were all eager for a good day after all the cold days before.  Rested from a day at the spa, I was ready to feel the exhilaration and to conquer the mountain.  We tackled Lift Line, a double black diamond trail, a rare event in my skiing repertoire.  My son wanted to say he did a double black run and my husband wanted to get it in before his knees failed him and I didn’t want to be left behind.  As we headed for the run, the anticipation of anxiety got the better of me.  Just making the commitment to do the run made my heart race.  It’s a nerve-wracking chute down to the top of the first drop off.  I got there and giddily sang:  “Hello Terror, My Old Friend” and made the mistake of stopping instead of just jumping in.  Frozen, I had to talk myself out of panic.  Once I jumped in, the run was fine.  My son was so excited to have done it.  He too conquered his anxiety.

We enjoyed every moment of the day.  Perhaps it was our last in Stowe.  What will our skiing life together be like when my daughter goes to college?  Is it time to give Stowe a break?   Finally, on the last run of the day, the sun tried to break through and we found a faint rainbow in the sky.  Magical.  Good-bye for now Stowe.  Thank you for some wonderful family moments and memories.

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