Independence

Of all the challenges I’ve faced in my lifetime, launching my grown kid into adulthood has been the toughest one. It all began when he turned eighteen and announced with a flourish that he was now a “legal adult.” He promptly dropped out of high school, quit a lucrative job as a Web designer, and assumed a self-absorbed, arrogant attitude worthy of a street thug. He was pumped. I was crushed.

As a single parent at the time, I had no idea how to respond to this belligerent and disrespectful stranger. My initial shock gave way to hurt, which finally exploded in outright fury.

“How could you do this to me?” I bellowed. “After all I’ve done for you!” Oh, I was the irate parent, all right. And I made it all about me.

I had lost control of both my sanity and my ability to respond appropriately to the situation. I knew I was out of my league, so I prayed for the strength to get back in harmony with my family.

My prayers were answered with startling simplicity when I realized that I couldn’t control the actions of my children any more than I could control the phases of the moon or the changes of the season. So I let go.

It was clear that my son wanted to experience the world by his rules—rules that I, in my infinite parental wisdom, knew would not work. But I decided to give him the freedom to try it his way.

“It’s a big world, kiddo,” I said, as I packed his belongings, “and now it’s yours. I’m going to give you the gift of a lifetime—the chance to go out there and sample it all.”

He looked a little baffled as I walked him to the front door, and for the first time in a long time he didn’t have anything to say. I tried to keep my voice steady as I continued my little speech.

“This isn’t exactly what I had in mind for you,” I said, “but I can’t handle your lack of respect. Since you refuse to behave with any decency, I’m setting you free. Go out there and put your rules into play. I hope it works.”

I kissed him on the cheek and gave him a huge hug.

“I love you,” I whispered. “Be safe. And remember—the door is always open.”

I watched as he walked down the front steps and loaded his things into his car. I waved as he drove away. And then I unleashed the tears.

So far, despite a minimum of grace, he’s surviving his solo flight. I swear I can still hear his wings flapping in his room late at night.

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An Ode to Aging

Aging is a state of mind
Be wise—avoid the mental bind
There’s really nothing new to fear
It’s just another stinkin’ year.

Okay…it’s true your boobs will drop
Your bones will start to crack and pop
Your brain goes soft, your gums recede
You can’t remember if you’ve peed.

Your hair goes thin atop your head
And sprouts up someplace else instead
Your vision blurs, your hearing fades
You’ve lost the point of panty raids.

You’re gray in places no one sees
Small mounds of fat embrace your knees
Your feet get wide, your butt keeps pace
You’re winded if you hum in place.

But keep in mind it could be worse
A gypsy could intone a curse
A witch could cast an evil spell
A warlock damn you straight to hell.

Instead it’s just an aging thing
With many years to dance and sing
Your book of life’s not nearly shut
You’ve still got lots of stuff to strut!

A New Brand of Youth

The aging process. Dontcha just love it? As women, we spend years convincing ourselves that we look good—better than good, dammit!—and then one day the mirror reflects back a face we hardly recognize. (“Mom? Is that you?”)

We realize we can no longer pretend that the eighteen-year-old supermarket checker finds us mysterious and intriguing and sexy, albeit in a Mrs. Robertson sort of way. (Okay, I’ll own that one, and it happened a very long time ago.) We have crow’s feet, laugh lines, and jowls. Sure, we’ve earned them. And yes, they are indeed a testament to a life well lived. But they are also visible proof that we are no longer young. On the outside, anyway.

It’s time for denial to pack its bags (of course, it will graciously leave behind the ones under our eyes) and slip from our mindset for good. We’re older. We’re different. It’s a fact of life, and it’s not going to change.

Basically, we have two choices. We can spend gazillions of dollars on cosmetic surgeries—or we can genteelly slip into a new brand of youth. The latter is all about being open to new things…to listening to what others have to say…to being willing to consider a different perspective…to reflect an inner spirit that absolutely shines with agelessness and wonder.

Sounds to me like it’s worth a try.

How to Avoid the Invisibility of Aging

As “women of a certain age,” many of us fear the curse of invisibility. Our challenge is to find ways to move past the wrinkles and age spots and gray roots and get people to actually see us—and all the wisdom and talent we have amassed over the years. Ours is not a culture that universally celebrates its elders. When the outer shell begins to wither and fade, the glory and beauty that remain inside often go unnoticed. We know we’re still fabulous…and the people who love us realize it…but what about everyone else? What about the generations coming up behind us? Do the women who are not our daughters even see us?

By the time we reach our fifties, most of us have moved past the competitive phase of our femaleness. When we see an attractive younger woman, we admire her beauty instead of envying her blush of youth. And perhaps it is within these vibrant women that we’ll find the answers to our questions.

Take Angie, for example. She’s a striking young woman in my spin class—tall, slender, and leggy—with a figure that does great justice to fitted bike shorts and little tank tops. For months we spent two days a week in the same room at the same time, yet we never spoke. One day after class, I approached her and announced straightforwardly (and perhaps a little goofily), “Excuse me, but you have the body I’ve wanted since fourth grade.” She grinned, then laughed, then said my compliment came at the perfect time because she’d been having a difficult day. Now Angie and I chat on a regular basis, strangers no longer.

Then there’s Carolyn, a lovely Scandinavian woman who’s forty and looks about thirty. Nearly young enough to be my daughter, I assumed I’d never even trigger her friend meter. But one day before spin, as she was about to take her little boy into the daycare room, I commented on how much he reminded me of my own blond-banged son at that age. We ended up mounting side-by-side bikes and chatting during the parts of the class when we could actually speak without gasping. After that day, we sought one another out at the beginning of class. Within a week, we’d made plans to socialize beyond the gym. One event led to another, and we decided to take a chance and introduce our husbands. Now the four of us are frequent companions, and Carolyn and I rarely go a day or two without speaking. She has, in fact, become one of my closest friends.

As time has passed, the act of reaching out to younger women has evolved into a way of life. I relish sharing their attitudes and energies, and I love the wonderful generational overlap that allows our lives to traverse and mesh in such mutually rewarding ways.

Sliding into Sixty

I honestly don’t know how it happened. I swear 40 wasn’t that long ago. And inside I’m still 25. So what’s the deal with this 60 thing?

I used to like telling people my age. It was a kick to see the surprise on their faces when I cockily announced, “Heh, I’m 57.” My all-time favorite response was from a young woman in my spin class who looked at me incredulously and said simply, “Get out!”

“Well, gee – it is dark in here,” I replied modestly, but deep down her comment made me feel giddy. Age’ll never get to me, I thought. I’m one of the lucky ones.

I drew from an Italians-only gene pool, whose surface was marked by a slick of olive oil. For nearly 30 years I wore that shiny badge of heritage on my face, only to emerge in my forties with the relatively unlined skin my mother always promised. My Mediterranean ancestry helped me out in the sun-abuse department, as well. My days of using baby oil and iodine as my only barrier against UV rays left me with less age spots than might be expected, and I gleefully referred to the ones I had as “freckles.” I might have gone on with that delusion for the rest of my life, were it not for an episode that occurred when I was in my late fifties.

I was sitting on the exam table in my dermatologist’s office, waiting for him to arrive for my annual lemme-look-at-every-inch-of-your-skin examination. His young assistant was entertaining me with small talk, when she suddenly pointed to the little brown garden on my chest and asked, “Do those spots bother you? ‘Cause we can fix ‘em, ya know.”

Bye, bye, freckles. Hello, Fraxel.

Looking back, that might have been the pivotal moment when my mindset started its subtle, but definitive, shift. I finally came face to face with the fact that I can no longer count on perky breasts or long, glossy hair to open doors of attention or opportunity. These days, the best I can do in the physical department is flex a moderately impressive biceps, whose majesty is somewhat dampened by the bat wing of skin that sways gently beneath it. And so what? This stage of life is not about youthful beauty.

It’s about the incredible feeling I get when I successfully add ten pounds to the bench-press bar…or when one of my 50-something friends runs her sixth marathon…or when another cycles 100 miles for leukemia…or when another travels to India with Freedom from Hunger to encourage teenage girls to stay in school. And I realize with an enormous flush of pride that we are wickedly wondrous women.

So bring on the turn of the calendar page. We “women of a certain age” are ready to respond with dignity and grace.