I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Shopaholism

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.

Saying No to Botox

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Beauty of a Certain Age

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

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

Maybe I never will.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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