Kids, I’m Done Faking It

Kids, I’m Done Faking It

“Change is the only constant in life.” — Heraclitus

Even though I think this is true,  I have never been a big fan of change. That’s just my way.

Still, the thing about universal truths is that they are, well, universal, so I work hard at being ok with the shifting sands beneath my feet.

Take now, for instance.

My husband and I have two adolescent boys under our roof. That, plus my own estrogen “situation”, has made me feel a little disoriented lately. Be the change, you say?

My family is on it.

One of the biggest areas where I’m feeling a shift, is my approach to parenting. Specifically, I am finding that there are certain tricks and strategies that, like my yoga pants from 2010, just don’t seem to fit anymore.

Take, Faking It, for example.

As in (cough, cough) other situations, Faking It in parenting is something that most of us have done, but few of us want to cop to.

Well, I am here to represent!

Whether it was faking that I wasn’t terrified of flying in order to get my then five year old  to board a plane, or faking that I thought the toddler classes at My Gym were fun, and not actually the tenth fucking ring of hell, IMAGE_My_Gym_Children-s_Fitness_Center_4_mediumFaking It has always been a useful strategy in my mommy tool box.

People say little kids can tell when your lying, but I’m happy to call bullshit on this  myth because my boys fell for all of it.

Thank god.

Faking It allowed me to be a better version of myself, and I wanted that for my boys.

The truth is that before having kids, I was the kind of person who didn’t recycle. I blew off voting if it was in any way inconvenient, and I always left my empty popcorn container on the floor of the movie theatre.

I was kind of an asshole, you guys.

But when I became a mom, like, the second the cord was cut, I knew I wanted to be different. I wanted my boys to at least think they had a sane mommy, not some half-baked undereducated woman-child with a boatload of anxiety. Personally, I think it worked, with the bonus of eventually making me a better citizen.

But things have changed. We’ve all grown up a little and for some reason, Faking It has started to feel… fake.

Last weekend, for example, I drop my kid off at his sex-ed class, you know, like you do.

(I’ll for sure be writing more about the whole sex-ed thing, but for now you just need to know that I enrolled my fourteen year old in this class hosted by my awesome UU church because, oddly enough, he isn’t too keen on chatting with his mom about masturbation, genital warts and dental dams. Go figure. It’s a great program you can learn about here.)

Anyhoo…

After dropping him off, I’m in the car with my eleven year old, who’s using my phone to find an age appropriate educational podcast we can listen to on the way to the park, when a text comes in. It’s from the teacher of the class, a friend of mine. From the back seat, 11 reads it to me. “We need fifty condoms, asap”.

Apparently there was some kind of game planned for class that day and they were short a few supplies.

Taking advantage of the teachable moment, I tell 11 all about condoms. I tell him what they are for, how they are used, and that we needed to go buy some for his brother’s class

Unknown-3So far, so good.

But as we search for a parking place at our local Rite Aid, I start to feel a little funny.

(Time out— You guys, I am totally not usually hung up about sex. Seriously. It’s probably one of the few hang-ups I don’t have, but I haven’t bought condoms since, like, Clinton’s first term, and apparently it is now super embarrassing for me to do so. I know, totally dumb.)

After panting through the store like a mad woman, attracting the attention of all the normal mothers who were buying sunscreen and Claritin, we finally find aisle seven, or what I like to call, the Sex Aisle.

“What are those?” My son asks.

“Condoms,” I answer, “like we were talking about in the car.” No biggie, I think, perusing the vast array of choices available.

“Why are there so many kinds?”

“Because each is a little different,” I tell him, somewhat distracted. I just need the cheapest, biggest box, and I need to get it before anyone comes and judges me for being all sexed up and desperate for rubbers at two in the afternoon.

“How are they different?” He asks, peering over my shoulder.

Reader, I’m totally down with this conversation. I read Meg Hickling’s book and at the right time I am capable of answering all these questions and more. But at this moment, I am feeling fifteen years old and I just want to get the goods and get the hell out of there.

I unlatch and lifted the plastic door of what is, I guess, a little condom safe, to grab some Trojans.

DIIIIINNNGGG! An alarm sounds, making us both jump.

“What’s that?” 11 asks, but I’m busy reading the box I’ve nabbed. Twenty-six, not nearly enough. Shit. I go in again.

DIIIIIINNGGG!!

“Are you stealing?” My son asks, as I frantically search for a bigger box, knocking something called a Pleasure Pack to the floor. I’m intrigued, but need to stay on task.

I quickly try to put it back—-DIIINNNGGGG!!

Flashing on all the times I shoplifted tampons just to avoid the teenage boy at the cash register, I giggle and say a little too loudly, “I’m not stealing.” God, I’ve got issues.

With sweaty palms, I open the cabinet fast, and grab a different box.

DIIIINNGGG!!!

For the love of all that is holy,  can a person not just buy fifty condoms without the world knowing??? 

“Security check on aisle seven!” blasts over the store intercom.

“Let’s get out of here,” I hiss. As we made our way to the registers, I grab a few other things— index cards, pencils, Us Magazine, just to round out my haul, so to speak.

“You dropped these,” 11 says, handing me a big box of Trojan Stimulations Ultra-Ribbed. My eyes dart around as I put them in my basket, trying to decide which line to stand in. The woman on register 1 looks a little judgey to me, but register 2 is some poor high school kid. I opt for the zoned out cashier on the end.

The whole time, 11 is watching me with a smile that says, “who are you trying to fool?  

I have to laughI’m trying to fake being cool, but he is almost twelve, and sees right through me. It’s kind of a relief.

When my boys were younger, faking helped me hide. We could argue whether they needed that or not, but the fact was that I needed it. I wasn’t sure I was good enough for them. Actually, I was sure I wasn’t good enough for them.

But now I want my sons to see me.

They see that I am not a rock, and I have no interest in pretending to be. We are all human, the sands shifting beneath each us. Being human is being embarrassed and awkward and falling short sometimes and none of those things are fatal.

When I pick 14 up after class, I share the story of my shopping trip with him, the real story, no filter.

“Poor Mom,” he laughs, and pats me on the shoulder.

Things are changing, for real. I’m trying to roll with it.

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Do What You Love (and also some stuff you don’t)

Do What You Love (and also some stuff you don’t)

You know how everyone says that hitting midlife is so awesome for women because we stop caring what anyone else thinks and can finally be who we are, without striving to live up to some weird made up standard “out there?”

Well all of that may be true but, as always, I gotta flip that shit over and look at the underbelly, because I’ve got an issue.

The truth is that while I am happy to stop torturing myself over the fact that I suck at thank-you notes and drink straight out of the milk carton (sorry),  some of those old self-imposed external expectations worked pretty well, and I miss them.

Take, for one, staying in shape.

Fifteen years ago, I used to go to the gym regularly and I felt great! It was just a part of my every day, a healthy habit. But make no mistake, it was fueled by the mirror and the x-boyfriend and the stupid asshole size whatever-it-was that I thought I needed to be.

All of that is gone, and I am thrilled.

But what motivates me now? If it’s no longer the fear of not measuring up, then what? Of course I want to be healthy as I age, to be there for my kids and husband, to feel strong.

I get it.

But in the face of a night out with girlfriends and plate of garlic fries, let’s just say they those goals get a little bit fuzzy around the edges.

Garlic fries are so yummy, you guys.

And fifty year old me has been a good girl for long enough.

But just recently, I stumbled into a strategy* that totally works for me, and because this blog is all about helping the world, I will let you in on the secret now.

By utilizing the energy of my largely untapped and renewable resource, anger, I feel like maybe I’ve figured out the secret to bringing about positive change in my life, or at least getting some shit done.

Here’s an example: Yesterday, I knew I should go to the gym. (One thing I will never discuss at length here is exercise. 1. Because there are lots of people who do that and know what they’re talking about, and 2. Because zzzzzzzz…..) Anyway, I knew I should go, but I just didn’t want to.

Like I seriously didn’t want to.

I was pissed that I had to take time out of my busy life of doing things that I can’t explain right now but that are very important (not), VERY important (no, seriously not), and the nagging awareness I had that, at my age, it is more important than ever to stay active just served to make me feel more resentful, and therefor more likely to drink all the wine.

Hold up for a sec —

Before any of you leave comments suggesting I simply find an activity I enjoy, like salsa dancing or whatever, let me say that I’m a grown-ass woman. I lived through Jazzercise and Tae Bo and that dumb kind of walking where you wag your ass around, and it all sucks. But I want to be healthy, so I’m committed to figuring it out. (If the tone of this post is not to your liking, I totally get it. Feel free to skip the rest and go do your Prancersize.) giphy

Anyway, yesterday, for some reason,  I did not do what I usually do, which is try to make myself want to exercise. Instead, I let myself be pissed at a glaring flaw in the otherwise perfect human machine, which is that you have to drag it off the couch and make it sweat and breathe hard if you want it to work right. And even if you somehow managed to do that today, you just have to wake up tomorrow and do it all again!

Intelligent design? I think not.

So I did what I so often do, I vented a little on Facebook:

“Damn you bastard gym! I’m mad I have go to you and sweat in you and smell your stinky smell and listen to your bad pop music and to your grunting hairy guys! I give you thirty minutes. That’s all you get of my precious day.”

Just admitting how I really feel about the whole exercise thing gave me a boost.

This is bullshit, I thought, pulling on my Target sports bra. What a total pain in the ass, I musedas I closed my locker next to a naked water aerobics lady who seemed perfectly happy being there.

Weirdo.

Oh, I kid.

Anyway, before I knew it, I’d done thirty minutes of something that felt like exercise and was free to go! Changing in the locker room, right next to the same lady from before (why does that always happen?), I realized that a good chunk of the negative shit I have around going to the gym is really just me fighting my nature.

It turns out, I don’t have to want to exercise, or go to the gynecologist, or stand and chat with my elderly Republican neighbor with the hair weave who is just a really lonely guy, to do it.

I and I do want to do it. Or at least, I want to have done it. 

Feeling bad about the fact that you feel bad, only makes you feel worse. (There’s some Buddhism in there somewhere, but I can’t exactly find it.)

So, thus concludes the probably one and only fitness tip you’ll ever get from me. Also, I’m not giving up the fries.

(*This might not work for you, especially if you’re a nice person.)

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Will Prozac Make Me Nicer?

Will Prozac Make Me Nicer?

Last week I had a complete physical and received the fabulous news that I am a-ok, which was a relief since lately, I haven’t been so sure.

Don’t worry, this is not another post about peri-menopause. 

But suffice it to say that, in addition to the issues hailing from my fifty year old uterus, I’ve felt tired and anxious, with a fluttering heartbeat and a semi-constant sense of dread.

That, plus pissed.

So boy was I relieved when (what’s left of) my blood checked out fine and, after reassuring me that my experience with The Change is not that uncommon, the doc sent me away with a referral for my first colonoscopy and a crisp new prescription for Prozac!
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That sounds so 90’s.

If Prozac was sold in stores, it would be at Chicos.

It’s the Rachel haircut of anti-depressants.

(Here’s where I stop for just a minute and say that I am so grateful that drugs like Prozac exist. It has helped several of my dearest and best friends out of the dark hole of depression, and I am a fan of people not suffering needlessly. So I hope you won’t be offended if I’m dissing your drug of choice, because I’m not. I am just a very neurotic and small minded person and I like nice things, even if they come in capsule form. Please discontinue reading if you want to, and have a healthy snack instead.)

Anywho—

I’ll admit, I got pretty excited about my 10 mg of self improvement.

“What are some of the side affects?” I asked the doctor. I’m a smart consumer, I thought, as my hand made an almost imperceptible jerk toward the prescription my doctor was writing out.

Act casual, I thought.
She mentioned a short list of issues some people have experienced while taking Prozac, weight loss being one of them. “But you’re unlikely to experience any of those with such a low dose.”

I crossed my arms on the soft flesh of my new middle aged middle and smiled.”Oh good,” I heard myself say, pretty convincingly.

My goal was to get out of the office, get to the drugstore and right away take one of my new pills so that I could be a new person by tomorrow. Why wait? My husband and kids would thank me! No more lectures about

Exactly How I Would Like the Bread Package Sealed Please.

Twist hard,

several times

and then fold over and wrap a rubber band around it.

Don’t forget to squeeze all the air out of the bag

and the reason you can’t find a rubber band

is that no one ever saves them

and no one puts them here in this little space

in the drawer,

where I’ve told you

the rubber bands should always go.

Am I the only one who cares around here?

It’s a small thing,

to seal the bag of bread and do you just assume

I will throw that stale bread away and go buy another loaf?

Is that it?

Well is it???

bread-open

Standing under the fluorescent lights of the Rite-Aid, I had some time to think.

As much as my brain bugs me, what with all it’s shortcomings, I kind of like it.

Or, I’m used to it.

Or at least, I’ve tried to make lemonade, as they say.

I remembered a friend telling me that taking anti-depressants hadn’t changed her personality, it just made her not “stew” on things as much. But who am I, I wondered, if not someone who stews??

At that point, the lady in line behind me had a full-on passive aggressive sighing fit about the long wait. What a bitch, I thought. Geez! People need to get a grip. Talk about tightly wound! 

Wait, where was I?

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Oh yeah, do I or don’t I need some Prozac…

I peered into my phone, reading about other possible side affects, the ones my doctor had failed to mention. Side affects like clenched jaw, sleeplessness, anxiety (what the actual fuck???), cold symptoms, mild nausea, decreased appetite, increased appetite, loss of sex drive, constipation, dry mouth…

Later, I sat in my car, my little bottle of hope tucked in my purse,

and called Jo Dee.

“I can’t decide if I want to take them,” I said, enjoying the anti-depressant effect of  a bag of peanut M&Ms. “I just don’t know if I’m that bad off. When you look online, most people  say the side affects were nothing compared to how bad they felt before.”
“That’s how it was for me,” Jo Dee answered, referring to her own experience of depression years ago. “I just felt so fragile. Any little thing would happen and I would just start crying and go back to bed.”

“Yeah, I don’t have that. I do think I’m pretty irritable,” I say, stating the most obvious thing ever stated in the history of the universe. “I wish there was just something that would take the edge off when I need it. I should have asked her for Xanax.”

“Is that what Xanax does?” asks Jo Dee.

“That’s what a friend told me. She described it like, ‘Oh, it just takes the edge off.”

“But isn’t that what they say about every anti-depressant? That it takes the edge off?”

“Yeah,” I answer. “Tastes just like chicken.”

I go home, throw the bottle in the top drawer of my dresser, the one with my jewelry and all my boys’ baby teeth, and that is where they sit.

 

My guess is that you haven’t heard the last from me on this topic, because I’m just so full of questions.

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Does my tendency to snap when my estrogen ebbs warrant a daily dose of medication?

Will taking a little bump of Prozac each morning mean I won’t get quite so worked up when caught in the incessant dinging of a group text from the parents in my son’s basketball league. DING!- “who’s snack mom this week?” Ding!- “I’ll do it!” DING!- “You’re the best!” DING!-“Thanks!” DING!-“Thanks so much!”

DING!-

DING!-

DING!

I don’t know. It could be that the bar for emotional health and a sunny disposition is just a little bit high sometimes.

Because group texts are annoying,

and don’t get me started on stale bread.

 

Going With the Flow

Going With the Flow

 

You guys, we need to talk,

and it might not be pretty.

If you are squeamish in any way, are eating while you read this, or happen  to have been raised in the south, you might find this post a bit, shall we say, MUCH. You’ll probably just want to scroll on past this post. I promise to write something nice next week.

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Ok, if you’ve read this far, there is a good possibility that we get each other, which is great because I could use a little help here.

Since preschool, I have considered myself a professional when it comes to my bodily functions. I never wet the bed, spewed milk out my nose in the lunchroom, and never once, in three sexually active decades, did I have an unwanted pregnancy scare. But now I find myself at fifty, completely confused by my own female body.

To show you what I mean, I’ll share a conversation I had with my friend Jo Dee, just yesterday:

I’m leaving brunch at a friend’s house. I had to leave earlier than I had planned and I’m not happy about it. Walking to my car, I call Jo Dee.

“Hey,”she answers. What’s up?”
“Oh, just bleeding on myself. You know, it’s the new normal.” I’m referring to my near constant state of menstruation, since peri-menapause came a-knockin’ about six months ago.
“Oh, hon. Did you bleed through your pants?”
“I’m not sure. I’m sweaty too, so it’s hard to know.” I might be whining at this point. It’s mid- April and the LA sun is already blazing. “I’m going home to change.”
“Poor thing. And also, ew.”
“I know. Am I supposed to just always wear a pantyliner now? Is that what people do?” I can’t believe I even have to ask.
“I think so,” JoDee answers, but not in a way that inspires confidence. I have a feeling she’s as confused as I am. “I guess?” She adds. Yeah, I’m on my own here.
“Well then I have to find unscented pantyliners, because the ones I have make me smell like a giant roll of toilet paper. I hate it.”
She laughs. “Gross! Used toilet paper?”
“No, not used, but still. The smell gets all up in my nostrils and I can’t get rid of it.”
“Can’t you get some crunchy granola pads from Whole foods or whatever, with no smell?”
“Yeah, I can get like a coconut-hemp-compostable-diva-liner thing for seventeen dollars a piece.”
“I’m sure they actually do make unscented liners, though. Just the regular kind from Walgreens.”
“No, those are what I have. But they’re not unscented, not really. That’s what I’m saying.”
“I’m going home and smelling mine.”
“Careful, that shit gets in your nose. You’ll smell it in your dreams.”
She laughs. Laughter. It’s my Valium.
I sit in my car, with the air conditioner cranked and pointing directly at my sweaty face. “My body is totally different suddenly. I’m having to learn so much. And I’m buying all these new things, like I have all kinds of tampons now. I have a whole collection, a cornucopia of choices, for every possible situation. It’s ridiculous. They make one kind now, which I’m sure is for ladies in the home stretch like myself, that is huge— it’s like the size of a hamster. For those special days.
“That would just piss me off. You have to spend all this time and money on something you’re not even that thrilled to be going through to begin with.”
“But I am thrilled. I’m not crazy about gaining weight or weird hairs growing on me, but I can’t wait for my period to stop.”
“I know people who say they had a few big gushers and then never had another. They were just done. No problems.”
“Fuck them.” (This may sound harsh, but really, people. Know your audience.)
“Exactly,” she says, and I love her for it.
“But some people accidentally say the wrong thing and it’s really not their fault. I shouldn’t blame them but I can’t help it,” I say.
“Of course you can’t. On account of the the hormones.”
“Like this morning, I’m walking into church and the nicest woman walks right up to me and guess what she says?”
“What?”
“She says, we are having a blood drive next week. Can I sign you up to donate?”

“Oh my god.”

“I told her no way, that I have none to spare, but she wouldn’t give up that easily. She asked if I had ever given blood, and I said actually I’m giving it right now, and if things don’t change I’m the one who’s going to need a donation.”
“What did you say to her?” Jo Dee chimes in. (Oh brother, I say to myself, you’d think she’d know me by now.)
“No, that’s what I said! Those exact words! She looked a little terrified.”
I need to get home and assess the damage to my cute new jeans, but I’m not ready yet. I need to talk right now. As I scrounge under the car seat for a bag of almonds or an old fortune cookie, I imagine JoDee and I in our own Red Tent. We would sit on the straw, sharing stories and binge watching Transparent right on through our moon cycle, emerging only when we were ready to pick up our work again. The caring for the children, the doing of the things. The taking of fish oil and B supplements.

“I saw that you want to start a Facebook group for menopause women and period stuff.”
“Yeah,” I say, tearing into an old fruit roll-up. “I was kind of kidding, but so many women responded, I’m thinking it might be a good idea.”
“There are obviously a lot of us in the same boat.”
“It’s totally selfish on my part. I just want to have a place to ask the nitty gritty questions. I want practical tips. How to’s.”
“You want to know if you’re always supposed to wear a panty liner.”
“Exactly! I want “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” for grownups.”images

We talk for a bit longer, but that’s where my memory fades. Tasting the jelly bean sweetness of dried berries in my mouth, I start the car and head for home, remembering what it was like to be eleven.

Twelve.

Having seen the educational films in health class, and the string that hung between my mother’s legs, I knew what was coming and had a vague idea of what to do.

Sort of.
I had a package of thick pads and a pair of plastic underpants with metal clips that seemed too sharp to wear next to a place so soft. I stole a box of tampons and studied the package insert, chewing on a lock of my hair as I looked at that cartoon of a see-through girl standing sideways.

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I needed more.
I needed instructions from the women who could instruct, and embraces from the women who could embrace. When I was eleven, I looked to Judy Blume and the older girls at my summer camp. Somehow I pieced it all together.
It’s harder now.
I’m a grown-ass woman. I expect myself to know better.
But I’m as awkward as I was back then. I know it will be fine, perfect, even, to unfurl the way nature made me. But the sun is hot, and I am not in control of this.

And maybe,

it could also be

that I know what comes after blooming.

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In which I realize that I am more like a thirteen year old than I thought (plus a contest!)

In which I realize that I am more like a thirteen year old than I thought (plus a contest!)

My first born turns thirteen tomorrow! Holy cannoli, where did the time go??

Ok look, the truth is that I have never been that mom who asks “where did the time go?” It’s been thirteen years, and I am here to tell you that it seems like thirteen years, but that doesn’t mean that my heart isn’t being pulled apart at the thought of my baby growing up.

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One thing being a mother has taught me is how possible it is to have two or more emotions flood you to the brim, at the same time. I have found the parenting journey (cringing as I type that. Parenting journey??? Geez. Who have I become?) to be more fulfilling, humbling and exhausting than I expected. With thirteen comes a break in the physical labor of parenting, and a sharp uptick in the mental toil.

I’m ready. (ish)

I know the next years will probably be a bit, shall we say, rocky. As my boy treads in the bracing water of adolescence, I belly flop into the river of peri-menopause, in my Target swim skirt. It’s new territory for both of us, so at least we have that in common. In fact, we are probably sharing more now than we have in a dozen years, back when I nursed him through the night, providing him with milk in exchange for those blessed calming hormones that got me through. I remember in the morning we would wake smiling at each other (no memories of the tense 3:00am cursing under my breath. Oh yes, we’ve all done it), and I’d have just a moment with him before the veil lifted.

Sigh…

Please pardon that little stroll down memory lane that leads,

as you can see,

nowhere,

really.

A side affect of waning estrogen is that I occasionally lose my train of though or forget where I was going. Actually, it probably does lead somewhere, somewhere very profound, only my glasses are steamed up from a hot flash so I can’t see where the hell I’m headed! 

Oh, and that that rage thing? That’s hormonal too. My adolescent child deals with this temporary problem by playing his guitar cranked “to eleven” or doing backflips off the couch, while I head to my trusty key board and type into the void.

My apologies.

Not to change the subject, but hey, you guys! It’s World Poetry Day! And it just so happens that I have a poem to share here, by one of my all-time faves, Anne Sexton.

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She was a troubled soul (understatement) but God, could she get to the heart of things. In keeping with this post’s theme, thus far, please enjoy:

Young

A thousand doors ago

when I was a lonely kid

in a big house with four

garages and it was summer

as long as I could remember,

I lay on the lawn at night,

clover wrinkling under me,

the wise stars bedding over me,

my mother’s window a funnel

of yellow heat running out,

my father’s window, half shut,

an eye where sleepers pass,

and the boards of the house

were smooth and white as wax

and probably a million leaves

sailed on their strange stalks

as the crickets ticked together

and I, in my brand new body,

which was not a woman’s yet,

told the stars my questions

and thought God could really see

the heat and the painted light,

elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight.

Let’s just sit with that for a second. She’s so good.

 

Ok, next up, a contest…

One thing that real bloggers with lots of readers do is have contests. In the spirit of fake it ’til you make it, I am going to have my own Tiny Contest! Please email me directly, or leave in the comments below, or post on this blog’s FaceBook page, a piece of advice you really wish someone had given you when you were thirteen. The first person to do so will get their very own free copy of Anne Sexton: The Complete Poems, sent directly to you! You Can’t Win If You Don’t Enter, as they say, but let’s just face it, your odds are pretty good. (Hope you don’t mind that it’s gently used, since I just found it on my book shelf next to another one of the exact same book. I have an Amazon addiction. It’s a disease).

Maybe I’ll press a flower in it, seeing as how it’s now officially Spring, and all 🙂

 

 

 What My Best Friend Taught Me, Forty Years In

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As William Wordsworth once said, “To begin, begin.”

I have a long scar across the palm of my left hand. The story is that, when I was a baby, I fell on my glass bottle running after my mother, as she was walking out the door. I had good reason to be anxious. When either one of my parents left, it was never certain that they would come back. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. As I got older, sometimes they answered when I called, sometimes the number had been changed. My friend JoDee was the first person who’s presence I had the luxury of taking for granted; I never had to run after her because she never left.

We met in 4th grade, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when we lost our balance, like all middle schoolers do, that we were pulled into each other’s orbit. We both faked our laps in P.E., loved meatloaf day in the cafeteria, WMAK radio, and Queen. Lying on the grass, making clover chains in the heat of our adolescence, we shared stories about our lives (her father, strange and occasionally missing, and me, left on my own at thirteen) until, over time, the stories piled up, undisturbed, and our friendship took root.

By eighth grade, I had a botched home perm and a revolving door of care givers, none of whom lasted. I was like that box of random do-dads left behind when you’re moving— the stuff no one wants to throw away but no one really wants to keep. I wish I could say I weathered this all with grace, but the truth is that I was extremely angry. I was a little mean, an eye-roller, and not up for loving anyone. So, I was basically a total pain in the ass.

But I needed somewhere to go after school. JoDee and I cracked each other up, and her house had an open door policy, so that’s where I found myself. Literally.

JoDee’s mother, Dee, took me in and, as far as I could see, treated me like one of her own. She didn’t mind that I walked through their front door without knocking and went straight to the fridge for onion dip and Tab. She didn’t mind when I called her Mom, and best of all, she usually answered. I wonder how that must have felt to JoDee, to have the finite resource of her single mother’s attention stretched to nourish a kid as hungry as I was. But I didn’t think about that then. Instead, I made myself comfortable on one side of JoDee’s queen size bed and plunked my toothbrush down by the small bathroom sink.

For years I gave JoDee’s mom all the credit for this arrangement and how it changed my life, but even though I still am deeply grateful to Dee, now that I have kids almost the age that JoDee and I were then, I realize I need to share that gratitude with her, too. In a pattern that would repeat for decades, JoDee made room for me when I needed it.

How long did I live with her in high school, what was it, weeks? Months? I can’t remember. It seems like a lot of my Freshman and Sophomore year was spent at her house, piled together on the La-Z Boy watching MTV or lying on her bed staring at the pictures of Sting that papered the walls of her room. It wasn’t a perfect world. We got up to a lot of teenage shenanigans (sorry, gotta leave that part out in case her kids read this), but at JoDee’s house I didn’t have to jump when an adult entered the room, and I let myself experiment with not being afraid.
This was great for me, but again, I wonder how it was for her. She was the first one I’d call when a boyfriend dumped me, or when I needed a roommate, a car, an alibi, a pep talk, a date, a meal. She saw every terrible play I was in and stayed awake during most of them. I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.

JoDee thinks of herself as a fixer in remission. She’s come a long way and works very hard now on not taking on people’s problems and not feeling like she has to rescue every stray person who lands on her doorstep. I hear her struggle with that tendency still, and cheer her on when she manages to let people handle their own shit. But the truth is that if she had been a little less of a fixer, I’m sure I would have stayed broken.

I would love it if she had a list this long of the ways I helped her through the first half of her life. I could say that I plan to help her just as much during the next half but, thankfully, neither of us need that kind of help anymore. She is the most grounded, big-hearted person I know. She has a wonderful husband and kids, a job she’s good at and a community of friends who know, just as I do, how special she is. So, yeah. She’s all good.

I have to accept that our friendship wasn’t always even-steven, and guess what? No one is keeping score. When I see the memes and read the popular advice that you should “only surround yourself with positive people!”, I thank my lucky stars that JoDee didn’t do that, back in the day.

One of the great things about reaching middle-age is that I can see trouble coming a mile away, and I make a sharp turn to avoid it. When I see someone whose life is full of a suspicious amount of drama, I make myself scarce. (Oh the irony.) A friend told me recently that she admires the fact that I “do not suffer fools.” I think she’s probably right, and even though I’m glad that I’m not surrounded by people who drain me, or come attached to their own personal dark cloud, I wonder if I’ve missed some lovely friendships just for sheer lack of patience.

JoDee, I’m grateful that you suffered at least one fool, and that was me. I may not be able to change my tendency toward self-preservation at all costs, but, just like I did years ago when I crashed your family, I can experiment with not being afraid. I can try to have just a little more courage and make a little more room for foolishness. Who knows what could happen?

So you may not have been able to teach me how to drive a stick shift, or talk me out of bringing that guy back from Paris when we were eighteen, but see?

I’m still learning from you.

Turning Fifty Without A Plan

11224118_10208237445398500_8333939483683415706_nI’m about to turn fifty. Like my twelve year old son, I’m experiencing changes in my body that are, at best, confusing, making me feel like an amateur at things like hair removal and feminine hygiene. My girly hormones are in retreat and can’t remember where I put my keys, ever. Or anything, ever. I have a mustache and orthodics  in my Clark’s shoes.

Midlife is a game changer, but like the old cliche says, “it beats the alternative” and, although it has its pitfalls where the ego is concerned, I’m not bummed about turning fifty, not by a long shot. Turning fifty is exciting, a milestone and I’m lucky to have made it here. Not since I packed my car full of record albums and candles, heading off on my own for the first time have I felt such curiosity about what the future holds. Of course, this time I have a husband beside me and two kids in the back seat, but the feeling is similar.

People expect you to do something BIG on your fiftieth. It’s a thing. So important is this rite of passage that some people plan their fiftieth celebration for years. They take safaris and things like that.

“What do you want to do for your birthday?” Friends ask.
“Why do I have to know?” I answer. “It’s six months away.”
“Well, if you want to plan a trip or something—“
“I don’t want to plan a trip.”
“Well what do you want to do then?”
“I don’t know. I’ll figure it out.”
“But definitely plan something. Fifty is a big deal!” The conversation plays out over and over, in much the same way.

“Do you know what you’re doing for your fiftieth?” Asks another friend.
“No. I haven’t decided.”
“Let your husband throw a big party for you!”
“I don’t think I want a big party. That sounds just super stressful.”
“Why?“ She asks, utterly confused.
“Because you mix friends who don’t know each other, you piss people off who aren’t invited, or you have some huge thing that feels overwhelming.”
“Well, definitely plan something. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”
This last comment is sort of the friendship equivalent of your mother saying “Put a sweater on, I’m freezing.” Some friends have major regrets over not planning a big fiftieth thing, others are working through anxiety about what to do for their own, looming on the horizon.

It’s not like I haven’t thought about it. Originally, I figured the best plan would be to get started on something early so that, when November 30th arrived, I would ring in my second half century feeling great.

This is why, a few months back, I decided that I would lose weight. I have put on almost twenty pounds in the same number of years and decided fifteen of them had to go. I resolved to go to the gym and got that little point counter thingie on my iPhone just for, you know “fun.” A newly trim body would be my birthday gift to me!

Ok, fuck that. Moving on.

Then I decided I would start meditating again and take this herbal supplement that a very smart and healthy friend of mine told me about. During the last year I’d noticed an increase in anxiety of the snapping, steering-wheel-gripping kind, and I was looking for relief. Twenty minutes of mindfulness meditation, a pill, and within a month or two I would hit fifty feeling full of energy, in a good mood and that my elbows wouldn’t hurt. I shelled out the bucks and bought a few bottles. Lets just say the jury’s still out, but yesterday I cried on the phone with Time Warner, so draw your own conclusions.

Like many of us, since having kids, my personal productivity has gone down the drain. I do all kinds of things for my sons and husband, but have I’ve left my own creative aspirations dying on the vine. To me, turning fifty means reclaiming what I’ve let fall away. I decided that I would challenge myself to fifty days of writing a thousand words a day, but to do that I’d have had to start on October 10th, and I think I was busy that day swallowing herbs and calculating the calories in half a Pop Tart with the frosting scraped off, so I missed that window.

I knew that if I set a creative goal of any kind for my birthday month, I needed accountability, a plan, and NaNoWriMo seemed like just the thing. To win the month long writing challenge, you write fifty thousand words of fiction in thirty days, spurred on by the energy of thousands of other writers doing exactly the same thing at the same time. It’s like running a marathon but instead of running you type and eat muffins. I’ve always wanted to try it, but that’s a lot of words and November is a busy month. Still, if I managed to succeed, completing fifty thousand words of a novel ON my fiftieth birthday (the poetry of it all!) then that would really be something, wouldn’t it?

I don’t feel a lot of shame when I don’t finish a project, or when I’m not the best at it. For better or worse, I’m sort of used to being embarrassed, as that is practically my default setting, and fear of failure doesn’t tend to play into many of my decisions. But failing on the very day that I turn fifty might be too much, even for me. I want to feel like a winner that day, is that so wrong? Maybe NaNoWriMo should wait a year.

This whole thing has been a little stressful. My friends can see it. In the past month alone, people have suggested I try yoga, take a vacation, get regular massage, hypnosis, one texted me the name of a doctor who can check my hormone levels and “work wonders”, and I’ve received a pile of Xanax and a baggie of Valium, separately, as gifts. People know I’m in the weeds.

Then, I saw this poem by Mary Oliver. I had read it many times before, but this time, as I read the first few lines over and over, they resonated through my body, like a bell:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

That reminder, gentle and perfectly crafted, unscrambled my weary mind. Like so many of my women friends, I have been walking on my knees and repenting for most of my life. The career flubs, family issues, weight gain, lack of education, lack of accomplishment, lack of patience or talent or goodness— correcting or covering all of these imagined shortcomings is the equivalent of walking a hundred miles through the desert, and the last thing I want to do is meet the end of my fiftieth year like that.

What if I celebrate this birthday by forgetting, for once, the tweaking and improving, the five year plan and the thirty day challenge, and simply let my body “love what it loves?” Right now I love the quiet hours I devote to writing in the early morning. I love drinking a glass of wine with friends. I love walking. I love the family that has grown up around me, like a miracle, and I love the frosting on my half a PopTart.