The truth is that you already are what you are seeking. ~Adyashanti
People are prodigious purveyors of the best advice, which they themselves never follow. I have a gift for envisioning paths and solutions for others. When it comes to my own life, however, I have difficulty zooming out far enough to formulate a plan. I am so hyper focused on the micro that I don’t even recognize there is a macro point from which to view the entire dilemma. My successes have been achieved through a series of fits and starts over years of time spent haphazardly careening in the general direction of something in which I had interest. Then, when I finally reach a goal in this meandering and sloppy way, I complain about how much time I wasted getting there. Eye roll.
Negative thought is the constant rabbit in my garden, nibbling the buds of potential while I struggle to pull up weeds. And the curse of negativity is that it works the same way as positivity. What you focus on expands. So if I focus on the rabbit (as I’ve been trained to do) as it wends its way through the sprouts I’ve been striving to cultivate, more rabbits materialize. Cute, furry, reproductive little bastards they are. And when I become obsessed with their presence, they take over completely and I am left standing there on barren ground, wondering what the hell happened. There have been periods of my life when I’ve battled against negativity akin to the Rabbit of Caerbannog.
It has gone this way for me for a long time. Only recently have I gained enough ground to make progress against the rabbits. I’ve learned to notice them increasing in number and then plant some marigolds and install chicken-wire screens to dissuade them. I recently added a border collie to shoo the most stalwart rabbits away. Sometimes the border collie snoozes and a couple sneak in, but when she finally gets after them she pursues them with a renewed fervor that makes them far more cautious and less attracted to the garden. And, in this way, the potential that was always there for me is beginning to flourish. It’s Secret Garden-level brilliant too.
I spent a lot of time cursing the rabbits in my garden. It never helped. The more I railed against them, the more damage they inflicted. But when I shifted my frame of reference away from them and onto the potential I wanted to nurture and protect, I began to make headway where it most mattered to me. Instead of wasting time complaining and being fearful of stunted growth, I moved the frame away and onto protecting what mattered. I began to find solutions. When I stopped fighting against the negativity and started fighting for my growth and my dreams, my life changed. Fighting for wields more power than fighting against ever will.
There will always be rabbits. They will creep back into the yard. It’s inevitable. But I’m learning look at them differently, to take my large portrait frame, step back and shift it in a way that I see how a long-eared, fluffy bunny hopping around a safely protected, well-tended garden is not a problem at all. It’s a representation of life in balance.
Where can you move your frame so it holds the most positive, life-affirming tableau you can imagine, the one that will feed your soul?
I took this photo today because I noticed the light and shadow and angles and reflections in the doorway as I walked to my bedroom. There was something elegant in the simplicity of it all. I love how the sun works her magic. Plants grow. Fabrics and paint fade. People like me burn, while others tan. She shines and in her wake leaves reflections on water and shadows around items that would dare get in her way. I never tire of noticing the ways she makes her presence known. Today was no different. There she was, sneaking through the narrow opening in the doorway. She paid no heed to the imposing darkness of the interior hallway. She would not be silenced. Her audacity is inspirational.
There’s another reason that doorway spoke to me through my camera today. It’s a metaphor for my life lately. I’ve come to a point where I am seeking clarity and lightness. I’ve squandered enough energy on tasks that didn’t matter, people who took me for granted, and paths that led nowhere. Maybe this is coming now because Mercury has recently come out of retrograde? Or maybe I am tired of a year spent living with tasks but no goals? While I am not sure what is causing my fervent need for change and direction at this early point in the new year, it feels long overdue. I am sick of the status quo. I’m finished boring myself. I’ve been a real yawner.
Now that I reflect on it, I’ve been a bit like my dog…standing by the sliding door waiting to be let out, but not quite being sure about crossing the threshold once it was opened. Perhaps someone should have yelled an impatient “In or out already!” at me months ago. It might have helped. Today, though, I stood in the hallway and saw the sunlight coming through the doorway and made my decision. I want out. I’m not exactly sure what that means yet, but there will be changes. There will be some cuts in my line up, some trades for better players, and a few acquisitions to round out the roster, but I’m ready to put something meaningful and real together.
Yep. It’s time to fish or cut bait, and I think I’d like to fish and see what I can reel in this year.
“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” ~George Burns
Midlife is weird. You never think about it until you’re in it and by then you don’t know what the hell hit you. Right around the time I turned 40, I began feeling this sense of urgency, like life was heading into its final stages and I was running out of time. I became stressed out by the act of aging. Every day I would notice something new in my body, a twinge of pain in my wrist or a soreness in my toes as they hit the floor in the morning. I wasn’t so much young anymore. My body was in slow decline, and it became the focal point of my attention. So, I went at life like a bat outta hell. I had things to accomplish before it was too late and I was too old to do all the things. I put exercise and eating right at the top of my list and became so concerned about them that they morphed into a job rather than something to enjoy. I would compare myself to others my age to see how I was holding up. It was all about not looking or acting my age, as if my age were a brick wall I was swerving around. And, in that fog of temporary insanity, I traveled through ages 40-46, too busy crossing things off my to-do list to be in the moment and too tired from doing all the things to enjoy every other part of my life. I missed tuning in for some of the best years of my sons’ lives by being too focused on silly, self-imposed goals that in the end didn’t bring me as much satisfaction or joy as I expected they would.
Partially because of the disappointment of not finding what I was looking for during my furious race to be everything I was supposed to be in my early forties, around age 46 I entered the who-gives-a-shit-because-I’m-just-gonna-die-anyway phase. During this phase, my husband and I started sharing complaints about our bodies and how they weren’t acting the way they used to. It went from a general noticing into a full on festival of physical misfortunes. Despite our constant complaining about them, our aches and pains weren’t getting any better and our sharing these details (while making us at least momentarily feel better in our not-aloneness) kept our focus on them. This, in turn, led to a depression of sorts. If the period between 40 and 46 was my Bust-It-Out phase, the two years between 46 and 48 were my Give-It-Up-Already phase. I mean, it’s not as if twenty-somethings couldn’t tell by looking at me that I was old, at least by their standards. I wasn’t fooling anyone, so why bother? I swung right from busy and focused on outward appearances to sluggish and apathetic about everything. I ate too much, drank too much, and checked out, trying to come to terms with the knowledge that I would in fact die at some point, whether or not I had everything checked off my bucket list. And who the hell would care about what I had accomplished or not accomplished anyway?
I’m 48 and midlife crisis is mostly finished with me now. My friends who told me I would feel much better on the other side were right. The shoulda-coulda-woulda thoughts are gone. I’m not wasting another minute feeling bad about something I want that others think is inappropriate. I’m on the precipice of IDGAF, which is pretty freeing. I’m not running around trying to accomplish goals, nor am I just sitting around thinking my best days are behind me. I’m living my life where it is now, grateful for the opportunity to do just that. What I’ve learned in the past eight years is that midlife crisis is an evolution. If you’re lucky, you go through it all the way and don’t get stuck either too busy with the future or too depressed about the past to live life in the present.
I’ve been observing older people recently, looking for those who model what I would like to become now that I’ve emerged through the rebirth canal of midlife. What I’ve found is that, like most things, aging largely comes down to attitude. If you think you are old, you are. The minute you start putting labels on what you can or should do at your age, you are screwed. Age is a number. What comes with it, a natural slowing down and some measurable physical changes, is unavoidable. But how you approach those changes is a choice. I have seen 65 year olds who seemed 85 and I have seen 85 year olds who would pass for twenty years younger. The older people I admire most are grateful for their journey. They work at seeing the good around them. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They aren’t afraid to try new things. They don’t care what anyone else thinks. They take care of themselves but they don’t obsess over it. And they never put unnecessary limits on themselves. They are comfortable in the wrinkly, saggy skin they’ve earned by treating their body like the soul vessel that it is and they don’t let its appearance stop them from putting on a swimsuit and getting into the surf. They know life isn’t over until it’s over.
These days, I find I’m not as concerned about the number of candles on next year’s birthday cake. I’m just excited about the possibility of cake.
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” ~George Eliot
When I started on this journey to improve my self-esteem, I knew three things would be crucial to my success. I needed to make time for the things that feed my soul. People who know they are worthy take care of themselves without reservation or guilt. They know that what matters to them matters. Period. So, writing was going to have to become a priority in my life again because writers write. I also needed to find space in my head for positive thoughts. I needed to find self-acceptance and self-appreciation. For me that meant a long overdue return to my yoga mat because yoga teaches balance, patience, and flexibility of both body and spirit. Most of all, yoga teaches you to let go of shit that doesn’t serve you, and I have a lot of shit to send packing. Finally, I needed to go out of my comfort zone to foster a new sense of self, one filled with possibility in place of fear. I needed to let go of who I thought I should be and embrace who I actually am. It was time to become Emmet in The Lego Movie and unlock my true potential.
In third grade, like many children in the US, I was forced to play the recorder. (To this day, if I hear a recorder playing “Hot Cross Buns,” I break out into cold sweats and struggle to keep from dry heaving.) I suffered through the experience knowing it was a stepping stone. In fourth grade when it came time to choose a real instrument, I went to my parents resolute. I told them I wanted to play the drums. The answer to that request (a common answer to that question for many parents, I imagine) was a giant, unequivocal HELLS NO. Drums are expensive. Drums are unwieldy. Drums take up real estate. And, of course, drums are loud. They asked me if I had interest in other instruments. I thought about it, suggested the French Horn with a question in my voice, and was told that might be a bit much for a starter instrument. I then weakly suggested maybe the oboe, as it was infinitely more interesting than the commonly chosen flute but still small and portable. My dad suggested I take up the clarinet. He played clarinet, and I could use his. After all, clarinets and oboes are both in the woodwinds family, right? At this point, being my independent-minded, nine-year-old self and being tired of being told what was appropriate, I told my parents I didn’t want to play anything anymore. And, in a move more self-defeating than rebellious, I gave up on music, unaware I was giving up a piece of myself in the process.
Although I never learned to play them, I never put the drums away either. I hear the drum beat in everything. I drum on the steering wheel with the radio rather than singing along. I marvel at the mastery of Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart, and Dave Grohl. During concerts, I focus on the drummer and bang my hands on my hips rather than clapping with the other fans. I go into an altered mental state when I blast Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in my house, air drumming and tossing my hair around like Animal from The Muppets during the raucous chorus. I drive my sons crazy making them listen to drum solos in songs. It’s a little weird, honestly.
At the beginning of the school year, my youngest son signed up for Drumline as one of his electives. I began to live my drummer’s dream vicariously through him. Every day I would ask him about it. I bought him drumsticks for practicing. I asked him to show me what he was learning so I could copy it and learn along side him. When the teacher assigned him to the bass drum, I tried to imagine my little guy holding that big old thing and banging on it. It made me giddy. Not long after that, I was reading the self-help book about badassery when it occurred to me I could do something I hadn’t done before. I could dream a little dream for me. What if I decided not to live my drum fantasy through Luke? What if I decided to be my own drummer and live to my own damn beat?
So last week Thursday, I took my nervous energy and my inability to sit still to my first music lesson. I sat behind a drum kit for the first time ever and I took a risk on myself. I allowed myself to believe that I was worth the expense and effort to learn something that I felt drawn to, regardless of the inconvenience it might present to others. I decided I deserved to try on this dream and see how it felt. Every day since that first lesson, I have practiced stick control, timing, and sticking patterns. I now have a metronome app on my phone, my own drumsticks, and a practice pad. Jeff, my incredibly cool, Buddhist monk (no lie) music instructor assures me I am not hopeless and that with legitimate and regular practice I really can be the drummer I might have been. And, although I am not doing this for them, in the back of my mind I think of my sons and the example I am setting for them as I try something scary and new at the ripe old age of 48. I hope they learn that it’s worth it to stand up for yourself and it’s never too late to follow your dreams and see where they might lead you.
I am standing in the Best Sellers section of Barnes and Noble and, directly below my reason for the visit, a bright yellow book with large black text screams to me. You Are A Badass. I ignore it (of course) and pick up the book I came in for. I begin reading its back cover. Again the book below beckons, this time it tries with a whispered “Pssst. Hey…I’m talking to you.” You Are A Badass. I look behind me. Who? Me? I pretend I heard nothing. I go back to reading. A third time it speaks up. You Are A Badass. Okay. Okay. Enough already. This book is a relentless, attention-seeking menace. So I set down The Girl on the Train and pick up the yellow book. I read the author’s first line in the Introduction, which begins directly under an inspirational quote.
I used to think quotes like this were a bunch of crap.
I decide I like this book. Because I’ve made a commitment to work on my self-esteem, and because I am intrigued and humbled by the way the Universe works and therefore it’s not lost on me that the book I came in for was placed directly above this book on an open shelf in a book store among tens of thousands of books, I buy the damn book. I have no choice.
Truth. I’m a great purchaser of self-help books. Their potential for crushing my issues in a relatively quick 200 pages suckers me every time. Second truth. I am not a great reader of self-help books. I rarely finish them because either they’re too mired in psychology and I get bored or they’re too weighed down by cutesy platitudes and I lose respect. When I get home, though, and start diving into this book, I realize this might be The One. I begin underlining ideas like a being possessed. Nearly everything the author writes is a line I can identify with or is something I desperately need to hear. It’s like one giant hug of You’re-Awesome-And-You’ve-Got-This. And at this point I feel could underline the whole book. I don’t, though, because that would just be silly.
Yesterday, I am reading (and underlining) and I run across this:
It’s not that the things and opportunities that we want in life don’t exist yet. It’s that we’re not yet aware of their existence (or the fact that we can really have them).
I get really stuck on the part in parentheses. Traditionally, I haven’t been brave enough to believe that I deserve my dreams. The voices in my head won’t allow it. What makes you so special that you deserve your dream? Don’t you appreciate how lucky you are already? Get over yourself, keep your head down, and realize that life is about living and not dreaming. Etc. Etc. Etc. Because of the voices, I’ve never allowed myself to have a dream.
So, I reflect for a few minutes about what the author is saying and try to imagine a world where I could really have a dream. What would that look like? And in my heart the answer raises its timid hand. My dream is one where I get to write every day and someone, somewhere, reads my words and finds a connection with them in their life and their experience, the way there is a connection for me with the writer of this book I am reading. As an added bonus, if I got paid for my work and never had to go back to a traditional workplace again, that would be perfection. Wait, though. Isn’t that what every writer wants? Who am I to….the negativity creeps back in, but I force it out. What if I could be a writer who made that happen? I imagine it. I let the thought in and then allow the possibility to wash over me. Mind. Blown.
A couple hours later, long after I’d stopped my reverie to let real life intervene, I stumble upon a friend’s link to a Washington Post article about a new book by Glennon Doyle Melton. Glennon (aren’t we on a first name basis?) is a blogger who has written several books, the latest of which was picked by The Oprah for her book club. My friend has written this long introduction to the article, talking about honesty and truth telling. And there, near the bottom of her post after she mentions Glennon and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame, I see this:
Oh, and Justine, my beautiful FB friend, your truth, your journey, fully resonates with me. Bless you for being willing to take so many risks – you are the real deal!
I read the post a second time. Then a third. Did she just mention me in the same post along with Glennon and Elizabeth? I let that sink in for a minute. Then I went into a full on cry. The good kind. The therapeutic kind where the emotion of the moment, filled with a mixed bag of joy, surprise, hope, gratitude, dreams and, yes, even self-love, swallows you whole. I let the thought occur to me. Maybe I could live my dream. For real. Kim generously reminded me that I am already on the path to doing what I previously didn’t dare dream I could do. I am writing and when my words strike the right set of eyes there is a ripple in the pond.
I went back to the Badass book to search for something I had underlined.
You don’t have to know exactly where it’s going to take you, you just need to start with one thing that feels right and keep following right-feeling things and see where they lead.
So that is my plan. I am simply going forward doing what I love to do, what feeds my soul. I am going to write with honesty and share my truth. I am going to stop second guessing things that feel right and I am going to stop thinking about who I might offend. I am going to see what kind of ripples I can create and revel in those small moments and learn from them and move on to the next one. Sooner or later, the collective ripples will become a wave, and I will sweep up my tribe and we will go be badass together.
“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” ~Anais Nin
Bra shopping. A task that in my world falls somewhere in relative popularity between cleaning the hair out of a clogged shower drain and hanging out at the DMV to renew my driver’s license. Perhaps that is why, upon realizing I was long overdue for some fresh elastic to keep the girls in place, I reluctantly visited the Victoria’s Secret web site and placed an online order for two bras. At least I could avoid the hassle of mall shopping if I had to suffer the abuse of spending a ridiculous amount of money on clothing designed to be worn under other clothing.
When the package arrived the following week, neither bra in my usual size and style seemed to fit right. Stuff was everywhere and yet not anywhere it was supposed to be. Ugh. Guess I wasn’t avoiding the situation after all. Berating myself for not having braved the store in the first place and causing myself double the humiliation and effort, I traipsed to the mall, returns in hand, prepared to right the wrong and put the ugliness behind me at last. Upon entering the store, I was immediately approached by a sales clerk. I normally avoid help at all costs, preferring, I suppose, to bumble through this process in relative obscurity. But I just wanted to be done with it all already.
“Is there something I can help you with?”
“I got these online but they don’t fit. I need to do an exchange,” I confessed.
“Can I see what you bought?” she inquired. I handed the white, plastic shipping bag over and she peered inside, checked the contents, and nodded knowingly. “These don’t fit because you aren’t a 34B.”
I stared blankly at her. This was news to me. I had been wearing 34B for as long as I could remember.
“I’ve always worn that size,” I told her.
“Then you have always worn the wrong size,” she said, smiling. “Will you let me size you?” she asked.
I hesitantly acquiesced. My goal was to escape with something that fit. Maybe she could help me expedite that process. To my surprise, she didn’t grab the measuring tape. Instead, she gave me a quick once over then asked me to turn around. After a quick appraisal of my backside, she delivered this shocker.
“Sweetie, you are tiny. You aren’t a 34. You are a 32. I’d like to have you try on a 32DD and a 32D.”
At this point, I am pretty sure I audibly snorted. She looked to be in her early 50s, so it was quite possible she needed some vision correction. She went on trying to sell me on her size prediction.
“Do you want to stick with the these same styles? What colors?”
My head was spinning as I followed her around the store while she collected items for me to try. 32DD. Hahahahahaha. This woman is crazy. Did she even look at me? I’m not Kim Kardashian size. Anyone can see that! Before I had time to get my bearings, she had handed me off to the dressing room clerk with three bras and a final plea to trust her and give it a try.
Dammit all if she wasn’t dead on. The first bra, a lightly lined 32DD fit like nothing ever had before. There was no seepage out the side, no back fat oozing out under the band, and the ladies looked supported and happy. I had never seen them look so good. Where there had been gapping in the cups, there was none. The cups were full but did not runneth over. Apparently I am a 32DD, at least in Victoria’s secret mind. Who knew? While I still doubt anyone would peg me for a DD if they passed me on the street, the fitting room attendant checked the sizing for me, verifying the other gal’s appraisal. I had entered the store feeling like a big woman with negligible cleavage and was leaving the store feeling like a tiny girl with an enviable bounty. Not sure how it happened, but I’d had an instant boob job!
I am retelling this story here today (after sitting on it self-consciously for months) because it only recently struck me how my own overly critical self perception, fueled by a few negative comments from others that I took too much to heart, affected my reality for so long. It took an objective opinion from an outside party to convince me to test my notions about myself. I have been grateful to that store clerk every day since that visit to Park Meadows Mall in April, not only because I finally have bras that fit but because I am at last willing to question my self perceptions long enough to notice positives I have previously discounted or dismissed. Turns out there is a lot more to me than meets my eye.
Un*#@% yourself. Be who you were before all that stuff happened that dimmed your *#@%ing shine.
If you’re lucky, there comes a time in your life when you wake up. I mean really wake up. And it’s the kind of wake up that comes at the end of a nightmare where you are falling into an endless abyss or your children are drowning before your eyes while you stand powerlessly nearby or you are being crushed under a collapsing building and your lungs begin to burn with suffocation. It’s the kind of wake up that leaves you shaking and stunned and mind blown and sick to your stomach. It might happen from one singular event (“I’m sorry, but you have cancer”) or, as in my case, it might happen over time as the weight of a lifetime filled with little injuries finally snaps something inside of you. Some people never wake up. But, if you’re lucky, it happens, and you can start living consciously.
I went back to therapy yesterday for the first time in nearly a year. I went with the idea that, at forty-eight, it is finally time to get over my obnoxious lack of self-esteem. So, I told her that I need to get my head on straight about myself. I do not see myself as others see me. I self-sabotage my own potential for success. My stinking thinking has got to go. I need tools, I told her. To gain some insight into where we should start, she conducted some basic reconnaissance work.
Her: What if you won an award? What would that feel like for you? What would you think?
Me: *head tilt with impressive pensive expression as I tried to imagine facing success*
Her: I’m guessing you would feel it was undeserved?
Me: Ummm….yeah. But that is not the worst of it. I would assume there had been a mistake.
Her: *consciously trying to keep a neutral countenance*
Me: I would be thinking that they must have run out of other people to give the award to.
Her: *noticeable eyebrow raise*
Me: I would assume I was their last choice.
Her: Wow. Okay. We have some work to do.
Being me, my next thought was that she was making a mental note to determine if my insurance would cover enough therapy sessions to help me out because that, my friends, is how deep my internal negativity goes. I am appallingly cynical. It would make for great sitcom dialogue.
After a little more chatting, we came up with some strategies. I need to write a letter saying goodbye to the person I am now and all the baggage she carries that is unhealthy. I need to define who I think I really am underneath all the old junk and what the new me looks like inside. I need to make a list of things the old me would not have attempted because of fear and negativity and then start doing those things to reinforce positive behaviors. I need to decide on a mantra I can use to replace the old thoughts when they creep in and start messing with me. I need to surround myself with positivity and people who support my goal. And I need to be willing to talk about this journey without judging it or myself, which is why I am writing here today.
All this makes my head hurt. A lot. But, it turns out that the copious amounts of wine I have been imbibing and augmenting with generous servings of Ben & Jerry’s are not helping me feel better either. Trust me. I have tried that therapy for a year. It’s possible that only because that therapy didn’t work I had to go to real therapy. (Well….that and an increasingly obvious waistband issue.) I now have no choice but to do the hard work. My desire to change has finally exceeded the ease of staying stuck in the miserable same. It’s a weird place to be.
Putting yourself out there is rough. It’s hard under the best circumstances, but it’s harder still when what you’re putting out there is a shameful something you’ve spent your lifetime ignoring. If it weren’t for the waking up, though, I wouldn’t be sure it was worth it. If it weren’t for the annoying headache brought on by mental overload, I wouldn’t know for sure I am more awake today than I was yesterday. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right? Well…I’ve done that. Now it’s time to get to work. I am cautiously optimistic that I will like the new me. I think she’s a good kid with crazy potential.
There are a lot of dated features in our new, 1964 home. Terracotta-colored ceramic tile covers the walls in the full bath. The living and dining rooms both showcase half walls connected to the ceiling with carved, wooden spindles meant to open things up while still keeping them appropriately and decorously separated. And the dining room light fixture, which is a perfect cousin to the hallway wall sconce, is an antique bronze monstrosity with frilly, white, opaque glass covers over the bulbs. As I walk by these outmoded design relics now, I cringe with the realization that everything has a time. Someday, the updates we give this home in 2016 will look as garish to a family circa 2056 as these 1964 features appear to me now. To everything, turn, turn, turn. Nothing is immune. Well, almost nothing.
There is one piece left behind by the original owners that I have no intention of removing. At the end of the bedroom hallway upstairs, there is a full-length mirror held in place by wall brackets mounted flush with the top and bottom of the mirror. It is a simple piece, glass encased in a quiet, wooden frame with curved sides and a hint of metal for adornment. When we were originally looking at the house as it was staged for sale, it was one of the few accoutrements that I genuinely appreciated in the interior. I hoped the sellers wouldn’t take it with them and was glad to find after closing that they had left it for us. I realize now it would have been a bear to remove, which is probably why it was left behind. Besides, who wants to risk breaking a large mirror right before signing the final sale documents, right? A mirror that size has to be worth at least 14 years of bad luck.
It wasn’t until we had taken possession of the home and I began spending time there working on plans and painting that I came to fully appreciate this mirror that I walk by daily. You see, it’s a magic mirror. Just like the one the Wicked Queen kept in her castle in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it tells me what I want to hear. In it, I feel nearly the fairest of them all. While waiting for the wifi installer one morning, I took a photo of myself in that mirror and shared it with my husband hoping for validation of my discovery.
“Look. It’s a skinny mirror,” I told him handing him the photo.
“That’s what you always look like,” he said, unfazed, while handing back my phone.
I looked at the image again.
“Nuh uh. This is NOT what the mirror at home makes me look like. The mirror at home is mean. I look bigger in that mirror. This mirror makes me about 5’7″, I figure.” (I am actually a statistically shorter-than-average 5’4″.)
“The mirror at home is the liar. This mirror is how you really look,” he said, adding, “I’ve been telling you for years that you look much better than you think you do.”
My mouth twitched sideways while I considered his words, which of course were well intentioned but totally wrong.
“I don’t think so. I think this is a fun house mirror. It stretches you. I am sure the mirror at home, mean as it is, tells the truth. I like this mirror a lot better, though. It makes me feel good. It shall be mine forever,” I resolved.
Now, it wouldn’t matter if the mirror was held in a god awful, neon pink, plastic frame that clashed with the muted and modern decor I have planned for our new home. I would still keep it. Every time I walk down the hall, I marvel at how good I look for 47. That mirror is a gift at a time when gravity is not my friend and wrinkles and gray hairs appear with increasing speed and unkind ferocity. That mirror does something no one else has ever been able to do for me; it makes me feel good about myself one hundred percent of the time. Without make up, with unwashed hair, in sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt splattered with wall paint, I still look fabulous. I have pointed the mirror out to every woman who has entered our house. They have all agreed that it is a surprisingly flattering mirror, and this proves that my magic mirror is a bit of a fibber. I mean, when do women ever look in a mirror and feel happily satisfied with their appearance? Almost never, that’s when. It is, without a doubt, a magic freaking mirror.
I have spent most of my life battling poor self-esteem. I have never felt like I was good enough, smart enough, talented enough, or pretty enough. After years of self-flagellation and denial, I’ve started therapy and I’m working daily to appreciate my positives instead of focusing on the negatives. I’ve put some distance between myself and situations that only fostered greater self-doubt. I am operating from more of a “why not?” posture instead of a “who are you kidding?” stance. And, little by little, I am feeling better.
I’m not sure why the previous owners left the magic mirror behind, but I am grateful. Everyone should have a mirror that reflects their best. We all deserve that daily affirmation. As for the mean mirror in my current house? I’m walking by it with my arm outstretched these days, telling it in my sauciest tone to talk to the hand. I’m not interested in its nasty temperament. It will stay with this house when we move because I’m not packing that shit with me. I’m moving on, lighter, happier, and suddenly three inches taller.
Our son, Joe, has been counting down the days to his first-ever Outdoor Lab excursion with school. Outdoor Lab is sleep-away science camp for middle schoolers. Students head to the mountains for some outdoor education that involves daytime field work in science-related topics followed by nights spent sleeping in cabins with teachers and classmates. Joe class would be studying “snow science.” For most kids in our county, Outdoor Lab occurs in 6th grade. Joe’s private school sends kids to Keystone Science School during 7th and 8th grades. Joe has had to wait this extra year to attend. He’s heard his friends talk about it since last year and he was dying for his chance to go.
Weeks ago, he started telling me that he was afraid he would get sick and not be able to make the trip. He worked in extra hand washings every day. As his teachers prepared the class for what to expect, what to pack, and what would be expected of them, Joe would come home filled with details and brimming with expectation. Yesterday afternoon he and I pulled out the packing list, found an appropriate duffel bag and backpack, and located a mummy sleeping bag. Then we set about picking out the right clothing and gathering up gear. 1 pair long underwear. 1 pair ski goggles. 1 pair sunglasses. Sunscreen not less than 35 SPF. Lip balm not less than 15 SPF. 2 water bottles. 1 flashlight. 2-3 pairs synthetic or wool…not cotton..socks. Systematically, we crossed each item off the list as we placed it into the duffel bag he would have to carry from the bus drop off point to the cabin. He was adamant that it all must fit into one bag and that it would have to be easy for him to carry. At the end of the night, we had a medium-sized duffel jam packed with every item on the school’s list, a backpack loaded with sun gear appropriate for hiking at 10,000 feet, and a child who was complaining that time was moving too slowly.
I tucked him and his brother in for the night and fell exhausted into my bed. Of course, Joe woke me up three times between midnight and 4 a.m. and only on the third wake up call admitted to being the tiniest bit nervous about sleeping away from home without his family. We chatted a bit about how everything would be fine, about how being nervous was normal the first time away from home, and about how amazing it would be. I told him I would miss him but he’d be home with us soon. He fell back asleep quickly after we spoke. I stayed awake for another hour and a half thinking about him. My little family of four is my entire world. I was struggling as I tried envisioning us as a trio and not a quartet.
When Joe woke me up at 6:35 (ten minutes before my alarm clock would have summoned me and less than an hour after I’d finally fallen back to sleep), he had already showered and dressed and had played on his iPad for an hour. He spent the morning rushing around, talking excitedly, ready to get out the door. I dragged my feet a bit as it sunk in that he was actually leaving. I packed his lunch slowly, drawing out our last bit of time together for three days. I gave him some cashews to try in his lunch. He chewed one, swallowed it, and then began panicking, imagining that he was going to have an allergic reaction to it and not be able to go. I reassured him that if he had a reaction to the nuts (which he wouldn’t because he’s not allergic to tree nuts or anything else for that matter), the teachers would give him a Benadryl and he’d live another day. I started to wonder if his ingenious plan was to drive me insane so I would not miss him.
When we got to school, we saw many of his classmates had already checked in. The drop-off space was filled with all manner of packed items. There were rolling suitcases, sleeping bags packed in square, plastic, comforter bags, and large, garden-sized trash bags filled with supplies. I started to wonder if I was the only one who had obsessed to ensure my son had all the requested gear neatly packed exactly as specified. The principal came over and told me that Joe won the award for Best Packed Bags. I guess that means I am still a prize-winning rule follower.
I gave him a big hug and snapped a quick photo of him weighed down by his perfect bag. He looked so grown up just then, standing there squinting in the morning sun on the east side of the school. I watched him as he walked toward the stairs for class, quietly sending him all the positivity and love in my heart. I held it together as I had promised him and didn’t even tear up until I was exiting the school parking lot. I breathed a sigh of relief when the school messaged that the group had arrived safely at Keystone.
I’ve been wrong thinking of this as Joe’s adventure. It’s my adventure too. After thirteen years, Joe is off learning how to be Joe without my help. And I’m here learning that he’s not mine. There’s genius in this Outdoor Lab concept. The kids aren’t the only ones getting an education and important life experience. Looks like Joe and I are both getting schooled this week.
Last week we returned from an 11-day trip to Peru. The impetus for the trip was to hike the famed Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, something we’d been talking about doing since we were in our twenties. It was then one of those distant, maybe-someday, sort of things, a long-term bucket list item that we shelved once we had children and the notion of traveling 4,000 miles away to hike 27 miles without them would have raised some eyebrows. Then, late last year, my friend Heather reintroduced the idea. Turns out we aren’t getting any younger, and the strenuous nature of the trek made the feasibility of postponing this adventure much longer a little sketchy. I mean, here at midlife we’re still reasonably fit and healthy, but you never know what’s right around the corner. So we took a chance on ourselves, put down a wad of cash on the trip of our dreams, broke the news to our children (who were less than thrilled to be left behind), and started working out the logistics. Seven months later, we were winging our way to Lima in coach, fingers crossed, trusting that we’d return home safely to children who discovered they could survive without us.
I want to share something of our adventures, so I am going to spend a week or two writing up some memories of the trip. Thanks for indulging me.
July 7th, 2014
After a decent night’s rest at the Tierra Viva Hotel in the Miraflores district of Lima, we were anxious to explore. First stop, sadly enough, was to Starbucks to access reliable, free wifi and to satisfy an intellectual curiosity about the international cost of a Starbucks vanilla latte. (The latte was comparably priced to our local haunt…approximately $4.33 for a venti.) With no desire to sit after a long travel day, headed out armed with a map and a little blood in our caffeinestreams.
We walked to Larcomar, an upscale shopping mall built into the sea cliffs in Miraflores and listed as a must-see attraction in the area. While its location and architecture are worth noting, at the end of the day it’s just another mall with a Pinkberry and a Gap. We were hungry, though, and decided to eat lunch there at a local chain that specializes in pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken). Not eager to encounter stomach sickness before our long hike, we eschewed the salad we might have had at home and filled ourselves with chicken, fries, and Cusqueña, the local lager. With full bellies, we headed away from the coast and walked blocks back into town in search of something that felt a bit more unique.
We found it at Parque Kennedy, which is home to dozens of feral cats who have been adopted by the city’s residents. Local citizens set out bowls of water and food for them under trees in the shade. The park was designed with built-in seating where people can relax with their lunches and smartphones (free wifi in the park too, who knew?). Once you settle into a seat, a cat is likely to find its way into your lap for a warm, cozy nap. I found this local custom perfectly charming. The cats seem to be well-cared for and not at all mangy or unclean. We even saw one with stitches in its leg, which leads me to believe that they are getting medical attention when necessary too. The park serves as a de facto library system for cats. You stop by, borrow one for a while, and return it when you’re ready to leave. I was missing my dog and wanting some animal attention, so I sat down near a cat who was not spoken for and waited to see what he would do. After sizing me up for a minute, he decided I was acceptable and crawled into my lap. There he napped for about 20 minutes while I petted him. Made my day. Pet fix achieved, we returned to our hotel to mull dinner options.
We landed at Panchita, a large restaurant that was more populated with locals than gringos. There were no menus in English, which boded well for an authentic experience. We attempted to conjure up any Spanish-language remnants from high school for about fifteen minutes before our waiter realized we were out of our element and sent over another waiter to offer suggestions in English. Good man! Eager to try some real Peruvian food, we ordered a sampler platter and four different entrees. There was not a thing we tried that we didn’t enjoy. We tried Peruvian Anticuchos (beef hearts), papa relleña (fried, stuffed potatoes), causa (a layered dish with mashed potatoes, meat, and avocado), and some local giant corn covered with huancaina sauce. Steve ordered the lomo saltado (grilled beef with peppers and onions) and I had tamales and arroz verde. For dessert we shared some picarones (Peruvian donuts). You could stick a fork in us because we were so done. Not exactly sure how we ate that much or how we managed to waddle back to our hotel. By far the most unexpected thing about Peru was how wonderful the food was. Everywhere we went we found new delicacies to enjoy. The Peruvians take great pride in their cuisine, and it shows in the flavor and presentation of every single dish. We thought we’d head to South America and lose weight. Tell that to my now tight pants.
July 8, 2014
After transferring our bags to the hotel where we would meet our tour group later, we walked back up one of the main streets in Miraflores to look for our next great food adventure. We apparently planned to eat our way through Peru. We stopped into a sandwich place and somehow lunch became more dessert than anything else. Tres Leches cake and churros dipped in chocolate, anyone? Desperately seeking exercise, we walked toward the sea cliffs to stroll the boardwalk that connects Larcomar to several local parks. Along the way we passed a restaurant where Brazilians had gathered to watch their World Cup game against Germany. It was not pretty. My blonde hair made me feel like sore thumb for some reason.
We strolled toward the boardwalk, which in truth is more of a sidewalk than a boardwalk, with the intention of making our way through several parks. This part of Miraflores is called the Costa Verde because despite Lima’s status as a coastal, desert town, things actually grow green here. There were tons of flowers and bushes, along with cactus, green grass, and palm trees. It was hard to believe Lima was in the midst of winter because it didn’t seem like winter to these northerners. It was never under 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and most daytime temps were closer to 70. While the locals walked in boots, coats, and scarves, we strolled in light jackets. It was chilly, but not a Colorado winter by a long shot. I had read that winter in Lima was grey and dry, and that was no exaggeration. It was continually overcast, but rainless, and still quite tolerable.
Our walk down the Malécon landed us at El Parque Del Amor. There resides a sculpture by Victor Delfin called El Beso (The Kiss). Surrounding the sculpture are walls filled with bright mosaics. There are more built in benches where lovers can hang out and enjoy the sculpture…or not. A local tour guide told us that every year they hold a kissing contest beneath the sculpture. The longest kiss was over 9 hours. That’s more dedication than I have. I honestly can’t think of anything I’d like to do for 9 hours straight. Not a thing. Further down the boardwalk we came across the place where paragliders launch themselves via updrafts over the cliffs. We watched them for a while and, for a few seconds there, I almost thought it would be worth the $60 flight cost. Then I decided that since my main goal in traveling to Peru was to hike the Inca Trail I might be better off saving my flight for another bat time, another bat channel. No need to risk breaking my ankle landing from paragliding the day before our trek to Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the Inca Trail, and finally Machu Picchu. We walked back to our hotel to meet our G Adventures representative and get the skinny on our flight to Cusco in the morning. We were finally on our way.