More Birthdays = More Birthday Cake

“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” ~George Burns

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Slightly younger me

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. img_2535

That Time Whip-Nae-Nae Saved The Day

Nothing stinky here
Nothing stinky here

As our children grow, most of their changes occur imperceptibly. One moment you are gazing into their chubby, little cherub face and the next you are looking directly into the eyes of a slender-faced, high-cheekboned teenager and wondering what wicked sorcery changed them overnight. And while their adult appearance seems to develop in the proverbial eye blink, the transformation in their personalities as they mature from tantrum-tossing toddler into too-cool-for-school teenager seems to take forever. My sons both pitched fits in public places that I swore would last longer than the Cenozoic Era. I watched with grateful glee as the tantrums decreased in duration over the years, evolving from epic, hour-long fuss fests into eye-rolling disgust lasting two seconds from start to finish. It was marked forward progress and it was much easier to notice because it directly impacted the level of peace and quiet in my daily life. Over the years, I have become guardedly optimistic about my sons’ potential to become respectful, open-minded, kind, and decent adult humans because I have witnessed their emotional growth firsthand and been present to overhear other adults as they remarked on it too.

On Halloween evening last weekend, our oldest son did something that proved he is more mature than his meager fourteen years might assert. Right around 6:30 pm, as costumed children began serenading us with Trick-or-Treat calls from our front step, our sons finally decided to get their teenage acts together and get into costume for what Joe proclaimed would be his last year trick-or-treating. For the auspicious occasion, he had chosen a demented, shiny skeleton mask in his first-ever attempt to dress in a costume that could potentially unnerve small children. As he was donning his scary costume, however, there was a wardrobe malfunction with the mask that required last-minute triage with super glue. He put the mask on after the quick-fix solution and discovered the fumes from the not yet dried glue made his eyes water. Not good. We waited a few minutes for the glue to dry and he tried again. Still no go. Everyone else in the trick-or-treating party was ready to hit the road, but Joe’s costume was suddenly out of the question. I immediately apologized for not foreseeing the potential sticky situation in my instant glue fix, but he brushed it off without another thought.

In years past, our ADHD son would likely have in the same situation devolved into a weepy mess and declared the holiday a total loss. He might have thrown himself on his bed and cried in frustration. This year, though, was different. I was the one who was irked and disappointed about the worthless $25 mask that could not be worn. He was calm and collected. Reasoning that he was already dressed in full black, he decided he could easily transition his costume from scary death apparition to scary mime with some white face paint. (Mimes are a freakishly scary Halloween costume, you have to admit.) I dug around in the costume bucket only to discover there was no viable white makeup to use for his transformation. Dammit. Joe and I started brainstorming. I ran to the basement to my containers of old Halloween costumes and searched for something he could use in a pinch. The least feminine item I was able to turn up was a headband for a skunk costume. I brought it to him.

“What about this?” I asked, adding, “I also have a black cat headband, but the ears have a glittery, bright pink in them.”

“I can be a skunk,” he announced confidently and without the slightest hint of teenage embarrassment or disappointment.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I can probably figure out something better if you give me a few more minutes to dig around,” I explained.

“Nope. The skunk is good. I can be a skunk.”

We found some white felt fabric in my office and safety pinned a stripe down the back of his otherwise all black outfit. I pulled out a black eyeliner pencil and drew a skunk nose and whiskers on his face. He put on the headband and checked the mirror.

“I look a little bit like a girl,” he assessed, “but I don’t care. I’m not missing trick-or-treating. Luke and Anthony might make fun of me, but I can deal with it. I’ll just tell everyone I’m doing the stanky leg,” he said, giving a nod to Silento’s Watch Me song.

(Thanks to Joe, I spent the entire evening with the watch-me-whip-watch-me-nae-nae chorus running through my head. And now it is probably in yours. You’re welcome.)

I handed him a flannel pillowcase and he was off, taking on the mantle of leader of the pack with confident aplomb. We’ve spent years working with Joe, both explaining and demonstrating ways to transform lemons into lemonade and chicken shit into chicken salad when things did not go his way. While Luke has always been capable of adjusting quickly when things went awry, Joe has struggled for years, full of sulks and things-always-go-wrong-for-me woe and hours of perseveration. Each meltdown has brought with it an opportunity for growth, and we’ve watched it occur slowly. But this time was markedly different. This time there was zero meltdown. This time he pulled a page out of my fix-it-on-the-fly handbook and adapted to the unfortunate change in plan without a second thought. I’m not sure I have ever felt prouder than I did as I witnessed his determination to jump over this pothole on the greatest of all kid holidays. He did at fourteen something I was not able to accomplish until my mid forties. He made a conscious choice not to take himself so damned seriously. And he rocked it.

As for me, I am going to follow Joe’s example and continue to work at not taking myself quite as seriously. Also, I will never again hear that ridiculous Watch Me song without thinking about the way inspiration and strength can come from the oddest things…like the stanky leg.

Magic Mirror On My Wall

Magic Mirror versus Mean Mirror
Magic Mirror versus Mean Mirror

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.

Note To Self: It’s Not About You

Truth.
Truth.

It’s not about you.

I tell my sons this all the time. Trust me. They are sick of hearing it. But it’s a mantra I hope they will embrace sooner than I did because this simple statement is life altering. Although we humans are hard-wired to be egocentric (and our current social media epidemic does little to abate this situation), our self-obsession causes us the greatest amount of emotional stress. There are times when you need to be self-centered…like when you’re in a throng of people and in danger of being crushed to death, for example. Then it’s probably a good idea to be proactive about your survival. Most of the time, however, our unwillingness to recognize how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of planet earth and its long history entangles us in self-doubt, worry, anger, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, and sadness. Acknowledging that the world doesn’t revolve around you can be liberating.

It’s not about you.

I’ve been struggling with some personal revelations, dark things that I had buried so I didn’t have to deal with them. As these thoughts have risen to the surface through a fissure that recently appeared, I’ve suffered emotionally. This is what I was hoping to avoid with the whole stuffing process in the first place. But now that these thoughts are in the forefront of my mind and I’m feeling the negative effects of their presence, I have a choice to make. I can become angry or upset about what my ego perceives as slights, injustices, and infractions, or I can accept that none of what I’m blowing out of proportion is about me at all. It never was.

It’s not about you.

When someone else says, “It’s not about you,” well…it really isn’t. It’s about them. You just feel it’s about you. But that feeling is a choice. We choose to feel hurt, betrayed, belittled, and injured. It’s a mental decision we make. We could just as easily say, “It’s not about me? Well, that’s a relief. I wish you luck wherever you land,” and move on. We’d be much happier if we could accept that most times others’ seemingly negative comments or actions have more to do with them than they do with us. They’re hurting, lost, searching, damaged, or antsy. They need a change. They’re insecure. They’re frightened. They’re simply not able to be open and give. We can’t help them in their struggle because their struggle is not about us and their journey is not ours. They’re doing us a favor by picking up their bags and moving on. We need to let go and take a step forward.

It’s not about you.

At the end of the day, we create and hang onto more than is necessary in this life. We do this because we’re not conscious that we have another choice. We absorb others’ negativity instead of accepting that it’s not about us. We don’t have to own someone else’s snarky comments. We can acknowledge them and let them go. It is possible. I’ve been storing junk that doesn’t serve me. I’m sorting through it now, determining what positive information I can glean from it and use to make myself a better me, and hitting the delete button on the snark because it’s simply not helpful. It’s a daunting task, but I suspect it will be worth it. My next step will be to move away from taking everything personally in the first place and to venture toward keeping things in perspective so I don’t have to go through this process again somewhere down the road. Life has given me as much luggage as I can handle. It’s time to leave others’ bags with them and move on with a lighter load because what really is all about me is my attitude. That’s all I’ve got, so I’d best make it a good one.

When Life Lobs A Dodgeball

Luke has invented a new comic book character named Lord Zen. I find this encouraging.

I am not, by nature, the most positive of people. I try not to be cynical, but I am never surprised when someone disappoints me. This tendency towards negativism is one of the reasons I started this blog. I was trying to find myself a better attitude. Aided by the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle (among others), I’m working towards becoming a more complete version of my best self, even though it’s not an easy journey. Just about the time I feel I am coming closer to reaching a better place, some new challenge presents itself and I’m back in Eeyore mode again. Luke’s recent diagnosis of dyslexia is the latest in a recent string of course corrections my life has taken. I’ve been trying my hardest at every turn to put a positive spin on the things I never asked for but got anyway.

Today, I went to a Lunch and Learn lecture with Luke’s new tutor. A local pediatrician was speaking about diet, exercise, and health, especially with regard to raising children, and Marcy invited me to join her. Given our boys’ difficulties, I figured that at the very least I would have an opportunity to learn something new by attending. And I had to eat anyway, right? Sitting there with other parents and individuals concerned about their health and eating habits, it hit me that two weeks ago I hadn’t even met the woman who was my host at this luncheon. It’s incredible how quickly changes come at you sometimes and how fast a new discovery will broaden your horizons if you let it. The experience I had today was just a small part of what will be a new adventure in my life. If we have to change schools or move, the adventure will alter the landscape of my life even further.

Today I determined that life is simply a giant game of dodgeball. I have two options: 1) go on the defensive and duck, weave, dive, and avoid or 2) go on the offensive and catch the ball. Attempting to avoid what’s being thrown at me seems a bit defeatist. So, I’m going to catch the ball and get in the game. Who knows what I might learn about myself along the way?

“You can never win or lose if you don’t run the race.” ~Psychedelic Furs

Don’t Give Me Your Bull Or You’ll See My Horns

Check out the look on his face. Priceless.

Sometimes I think my children don’t know me at all. You would think, given the extraordinary amount of time we spend together, that they would know me quite well. Apparently not. This morning, we were getting ready to leave our mountain house. Because it is literally our home-away-from-home, when we leave it, we need to clean it first. We don’t have a cleaning service because we are the cleaning service. So, as hubby and I were working on getting the place cleaned up, I asked my oldest son if he would kindly take the recycling out to the bin. He looked at me with attitude.

“What are you going to do?” was what he asked with an unbridled audacity I have not yet seen in his young (and now potentially short) life.

“Excuse me?” I replied with a glare.

“I just mean while I’m doing this what are you going to be doing?” he stupidly repeated.

“Well…I was going downstairs to clean. But now, you will be cleaning while I watch.”

He stared at me with all the pre-teen annoyance he could muster. Unabated, I dragged his sorry butt down the stairs and proceeded to direct him while he cleaned our bathroom, dusted our rooms, and vacuumed our floors. All the while, I just kept muttering quietly to myself in utter incredulity. Had this stupid child actually implied that he works harder than I do? Had he lost his frigging mind? I suppose I just sit around while he slaves the day away. I wanted to smack him. Instead, I pointed out helpful things so he could do the job more effectively.

“When you dust you need to clear off the surface first. Then you wipe the entire surface and replace the items.”

He rolled his eyes. I ignored. He whined. I pointed out his next task. Eventually the house was clean, although not as quickly as it would have been if I had done it without my little helper. I think Joe might have figured out that when I ask him to do something his best course of action is simply to do it without lip. I learned something today too. My kids do not do nearly enough housecleaning.