Browsing Tag

aging

Guest Posts, Self Image

Me and My Body – A Tumultuous Love Affair

October 22, 2020
body

By Skye Nicholson

I have always struggled with body image – weight was the major area of concern for me. I have fluctuated up and down in a 50-pound range for most of my life, going through phases of diet and exercise then gradually gaining again as I slipped into complacency or depression.  Determining at which precise angle to lift and tilt my head to avoid multiple chin folds in pictures has been a constant priority.  Sucking in my soft tummy and pushing out my average-sized boobs as I entered a bar made me feel more desirable. I was always frustrated at the last 10-20 pounds that swarmed about me like annoying gnats.

I won’t say I “hated” my body, but I have found it to be an irritating nuisance for most of my life since puberty.

I remember feeling FAT at 14 because a small roll (of skin, probably) would squish out over my tight stonewashed jeans, preventing me from wearing sexy crop-top sweaters like all the cool girls.  Looking at pictures from back then, I see a self-conscious child with a sweet round face. She was not overweight at all, but was weighed down by a look of fearful yearning in her eyes. Like most young girls, she wanted so much to look like the waif-ish overdone models on TV and believed her perfectly-unique self did not measure up.

In junior high we had to wear shorts for gym class – you know, the mandatory Poly-blend uniform shorts that shimmered and chafed. My legs were so white, not like pink-white or beige-white or even cream-white… I’m talking see-through, clear, transparent white. So white that my purple and blue veins shined through like neon ribbons across my shins.  And my leg hair that I begged and begged my mom to let me shave in 7th grade was black as coal.  So even after I won the tearful battle of the disposable razor, that spotty black stubble would inevitably be growing back in by 6th period gym class. My legs under those blue polyester shorts looked like 2 flabby plucked chickens.  (Maybe no one would notice, I would hope every single day in the locker room. But, unfortunately, junior high kids are not known for their kindness and discretion)

It wasn’t until my 30s that I began voluntarily wearing shorts again.

My reflection in the mirror has always been picked over by my critical eye: Is that a pimple? Why are my chin hairs so dark? I wish my freckles would go away. I wish my freckles would come back. Why don’t I have cheekbones? My face is fat. My neck is droopy. My skin is too pale. My skin is too red. Are my eyelashes thinning? I wish I had a thinner waist. My butt isn’t the right shape.

My body was always a thing I had to deal with because, well, it was where I lived every day.

There were times when I would join Weight Watchers and start working out, and I would feel good for a while. But again, it was all tied to my size and shape: numbers on a scale or not having to stretch my neck quite as far to reduce the amount of chins, etc.

I don’t know if I ever looked at my body and felt LOVE for it.

By the time I decided to quit drinking for good I had been on Weight Watchers for about 5 months and lost 20 pounds or so. I had been tracking my points pretty regularly, but I didn’t ever count the points from the 8 vodka tonics at the bar or 4 bottles of wine at home.  I couldn’t face the shame, and so those calories didn’t exist to me.

I started being very honest with my point counting once I decided to get sober. It was a good motivator and a necessary distraction from drinking. If I could get through this ONE DAY without adding any alcohol points to my tracker, then I was winning. And try to do the same thing the next day.

I went and got my old gym membership back. My sober friend Ed said that when he first quit drinking he would go for a run anytime he felt a craving sneak up. Then he would be too tired and too legitimately thirsty to want alcohol. And of course, when you start exercising you release endorphins, and you tend feel a little better about yourself when you are done. Therefore, less likely to hide from life and seek out poison.

I have done much damage to my physical self over 25+ years of heavy drinking. I could feel the aches and pains, the difficulty breathing, the red skin, the digestive problems, sleep problems, etc. I hobbled and wheezed through my first few weeks at the gym. Getting myself there was worth a fucking medal in itself.  I was sweating my ass off and watching my heartrate go through the roof as I flailed around on the elliptical, trying to get my arms and legs to sync up.

But soon I began to be in touch with my body in a different way than ever before.  I started meditating by listening to short guided clips on YouTube, and for the first time in my life I could actually connect with the energy inside my body.

When I was about 3 weeks into sobriety, I went to a Breathwork session. I had never heard of it before and I had no idea what I was getting into, but something was pulling me there. I knew this was something I had to do.

In the Breathwork session, we used our own deep breathing to shift our minds into a state of open clarity. I had the sensation that I was observing my body from outside. As the practitioner moved her hands across trigger points, I began to feel pent-up rage and pain and sadness release through me. As she reached my liver I started sobbing, deep convulsing wails of grief and guilt. I cried for what seemed like hours. In my head I kept repeating “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry” on a loop as I connected with my body in unconditional love.

That experience opened up a relationship with my body that had been silent for decades. I began to fall back in love with my being. I felt a glimpse of the way little kids must feel when they find comfort and awe in their own skin.

I practice yoga regularly now, and many times I am moved to tears as I stretch through the poses. It is my body sharing with me emotions that have surfaced, some good and some difficult. I always feel waves of love for myself when this happens; like my body and I are no longer on opposing teams, but partners in this life.

It is this relatively new loving relationship with my body that gets me back on track when I inevitably stuff myself with Chinese food and feel bloated and weak the next day, or skip 2 weeks of exercise because of sick kids, or get frustrated that my favorite jeans are tight, or feel that familiar tug to go out to the bars for (just one) night.

There are times when I get fed up with my body and still catch myself throwing shade at my reflection. But I can’t get mad at my gray hairs or my turkey neck or my wrinkled brow or my tummy roll. My body is not aging to spite me. It’s just biology and entropy.

I am not defined by the imperfect details of my appearance. I depend on the health of my organs to keep me going so that I can pack lunches and remember where everyone left their shoes and buy cat food and listen to my daughter sing the shark song for the nine-hundredth time and be a loving spouse. I can’t do those things without my organs being on board for all this responsibility; and they can’t function without me giving them healthy stuff most of the time, like yoga and kombucha and cucumbers.

Skye Nicholson rediscovered her love of writing after she had been sober for 2 years. She is currently a Stay-At-Home mom living in Indiana with her husband and 2 kids. Skye posts on her blog www.wakinguprazzledazzle.com under the pseudonym Vixen Lea.

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Guest Posts, motherhood

Drawers

October 11, 2020
drawers

By Hillary Richard

When I was a kid, my brothers and I routinely rifled through our single mom’s drawers. We didn’t really know what we were looking for. Clues, maybe? Mom was something of an enigma then, alternately mystifying and terrifying.

While we three roamed the Upper West Side barefoot, bedraggled, and unsupervised, Mom worked as a registered nurse, mostly at night because it paid more. Because she worked nights, she slept during the day. When we feral kids woke her (which was often) she raged. Screaming, hitting, and punishments galore followed. Sometimes, if we really, really misbehaved, she would take away holidays like Halloween or Christmas.

But Mom could also be really fun. A musician at heart, a lifelong pianist, she loved to cook up a big pot of spaghetti, invite tons of people over, and make music. More often than not, though, we sat alone at the kitchen table, eating chicken potpies and TV dinners. Sometimes a live-in student swapped rent for nighttime babysitting. Men came and went. Some were nice and taught us things we loved, like how to burp on command (I can still do this). Some, not so much.

Who was this mother we loved, but whose actions confused and frightened us? The answer, we figured, was in her drawers. My brothers and I were usually disappointed to find only scarves, pantyhose, and underwear. Sometimes, we found matchbooks and notes. We pondered their meaning.

In time, I would find much more.

I now have three kids of my own. I have the luxury of a husband, a well paying job. When the kids were younger, I was able to employ an excellent nanny who not only cared for them, but who cleaned and cooked.

I can only imagine how hard it must have been for my mom to never enjoy the gift of time when I was a child. Just time to play with me or read to me; time free from worrying about how to pay the rent or clean the apartment. I, on the other hand, have clocked countless hours playing with Barbies, endless games of Candyland (which I never let the kids win without a real fight), and hours and hours of reading to them in bed or just laying there, feeling their hearts beat while they fell asleep. These quotidian minutiae shaped my relationships with my three girls. As did my desire to be an open book, unlike my mother.

When I was in third grade, I found some pot in one of my mother’s drawers. I had been fully indoctrinated into the belief that marijuana was a gateway drug that led directly to heroin. Naturally, I was hysterical. I told my older brother Chris, a sixth grader, that our mother was a drug addict, likely to die any day now of a fatal overdose. I thought we could confront her directly, you know: scare her straight. Chris calmly explained that he too smoked pot. Perhaps, he reasoned, if I tried it, I would understand it wasn’t dangerous like heroin. While I appreciated his soothing tone and calming efforts, I demurred. And rather than confront her, I just kept on spying.

Naturally, I grew to learn that weed doesn’t kill you, although alcohol might. And raising three girls firmly convinced me that of the two, weed was definitely the safer option. Alcohol would inspire me to make stupid and risky choices. Pot just made me hungry. My mom struggled with both. I joked that she could get addicted to anything – Coca Cola, aspirin, you name it. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem so funny.

When my middle daughter started smoking pot in high school, I was relieved she wasn’t coming home drunk. I didn’t want her to be vulnerable. Unfortunately, just being female and a teenager makes you vulnerable. But I didn’t want her to be more vulnerable.

Eventually, I found some papers in my mother’s underwear drawer. They appeared to reference a medical procedure. I didn’t understand them. But I remembered the word abortion. Or a word close to abortion. They might have been in Spanish; I don’t really remember. But they scared me.

Sometimes we spent weekends with our dad (dads really, as my little brother had a different one). We never wondered what my mom was doing because we were kids and mostly just thought about ourselves. To the extent we ever thought about it, we just assumed she was at work or at home, like always. I was frightened to think that when we were away, my mom was having medical procedures, or doing who knows what else. But I couldn’t ask without admitting I went through her stuff. Was this taking away a holiday kind of bad? I wasn’t sure of the grade of the offense, and I didn’t want to risk it. Still, I thought about those papers for years.

We left New York for California soon thereafter. My mom married her third husband. We stopped going through her drawers. He had a bad temper and it wasn’t worth the risk. Also, she was home more. She stopped nursing. Actually, she stopped working altogether.

I understand now that she was desperately searching for herself. All of a sudden, she had the luxury of time. She wrote music, poetry, plays. She was finding herself as an artist. We kids remained feral, complicated, and unruly. I’m sure this contributed to the demise of that marriage. We moved on. My brothers left to live with their respective fathers. I stayed behind.

As a full-fledged teenager, I acted out, fell in love, got arrested, cut classes. My mom played in rock bands, had tumultuous relationships, and went on welfare. She was no longer an enigma to me. I learned she’d had a particularly rough childhood, was orphaned young, then separated from her three siblings in foster care, only to later learn that between her mother’s death and her father’s a year later, he’d remarried and sired another child. I knew that she was overwhelmed by sadness. That she had complicated relationships with men. That she loved us as best as she could, but often felt we were just too much for her.

I was no longer in danger of getting punished for going through her drawers years ago, so at 14, I asked her about the papers I had found.

As it turned out, she’d had an abortion. Not in New York, where it was illegal. She’d been having a fling, maybe an affair, with a doctor at the hospital where she worked. He didn’t want a child, at least not that one, and my mother couldn’t afford another one. So, he flew her to Puerto Rico, where abortion was legal. Indeed, during the 1960s and 1970s, it was fairly common for women to fly from mainland US to Puerto Rico to obtain a safe, legal abortion. My mom could never have afforded that on her own.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened if she had gotten pregnant instead by the violin player she dated for ages, or the Con Ed worker who for a while was a fixture in our house. Would she have gotten a back alley abortion and possibly died? I can’t imagine her having another child when life was already so hard, money so strained, and my mother so tired. Our lives, already in motion, already difficult, would have been so much worse. Not only am I grateful, I’m astonished she could do such a thing. It must have been frightening to leave home, have an abortion, and return to three loud, needy kids, and pretend like nothing happened.

In that moment, I realized that there was so much of her I hadn’t realized. All along, she’d been a nuanced, complex woman with experiences and feelings unknown to me.

I soon left home and set out to live my own complex, nuanced life. About two weeks  before graduating from college and heading to law school, to begin what I saw as my real life, my adult life, I found out I was pregnant. I wasn’t in a committed relationship, although that wouldn’t have mattered. I was going to law school and there was no possibility that I was going there pregnant. Is it awful to admit that I don’t remember exactly who got me pregnant? It was a long time ago. What I do remember – vividly – was that I had a graduation party at Danceteria. I had the abortion money in my clutch (worn with my vintage cocktail dress and combat boots – thanks, Madonna). I guess he had given me his half at the party. I put my bag down to dance and when I looked over, it was gone. I ran off the dance floor and headed for the exit. (I had no money. This was a big deal.) There was the cuprit, fleeing down those steep Danceteria stairs. I screamed at her to stop and was about to jump when she tossed the bag up to me and ran.

My mother, sick with cancer, wasn’t able to attend my graduation. It was the first time I realized just how sick she was because she wouldn’t have otherwise missed it for the world. I didn’t tell her about the abortion; it didn’t seem necessary. And, given her pragmatism about hers, I was confident that she would appreciate my pragmatism about mine.

My mom died during my first year of law school. What can unmoor you more than that? (Spoiler alert: losing both parents.) I went to El Salvador and lived under martial law during a civil war. At least you can’t feel sorry for yourself under those circumstances. I blew up a relationship that probably deserved detonation. I graduated law school with honors. I had another abortion. These things were unrelated. I marched forward towards my real life. After graduation I met the man I’ve now been married to for almost thirty years. We’ve had three kids together. When I was pregnant with my eldest daughter, I longed for my mom. How did she feel when she was pregnant with me? Was she excited? Was I a surprise? I had so many questions that I’d never thought to ask. I longed for the time when I could rummage through her closets, scrutinize her expressions, pepper her with questions, if only I had known the right questions. Indeed, raising three girls, I long for her daily.

I firmly believe that we all keep secrets, even from those we have long, intimate, loving relationships with. Even those of us who consider ourselves an open book as I do. But am I an enigma to my kids? I think not. They know that I’ve had abortions. And they know not to eat any candy they find in my drawers because maybe it’s not just candy. But more than that, we spend endless amounts of time together; deeply together. We talk about things that were verboten when I was a kid: mental health issues, alcoholism, why every girl should own a vibrator, and just what it means to be alive and engaged in the world. Unlike my mom, I have the luxury of time. And I hope to have it long enough that they can ask me (once they are interested) what it felt like to be pregnant with them. How I coped working full time and raising kids. What to do when you find yourself pregnant and you don’t want to, or can’t afford to be. Let the rest of their lives be a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Not me. Just stay out of my drawers.

 

Hillary Richard is a former lawyer and now helps run a social media platform for women over 40 called The Woolfer. She is editor of the weekly newsletter and occasionally writes short pieces for the site. Hillary also writes, is the executive producer, and co-host of a podcast called Raging Gracefully

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aging, Guest Posts, Women

Law And Yoga

September 6, 2020
lawyer

By Jennifer Lauren

I’m lying on the floor in the basement of the Washington Conference Center, my back pressed against my cork yoga mat, wearing Lulu Lemon tights. My feet are bare. I hope no one notices that the snowflake manicure I got before Christmas is starting to chip.

“Extend your left leg. Pull your right knee into your shoulder. Squeeze in to stimulate your right ovary,” the teacher says.

She’s teaching a workshop on “yoga for hormone balance” to 24 over-40 women, all of us lying on our yoga mats, seeking answers to questions we can’t articulate.

“Uddiyana Bandha …” Sanskrit for Kegels, where you pull up your nether-regions tight like you’re trying to hold in pee. “Transfer your attention to your ovaries, and release….”

Two dozen women release breath together. It sounds like a prayer. I translate, their thoughts are my thoughts:

We have everything. We should be happy.

I look out the window, where I see the bottom of the sky scraper next door. I had my own office, with a view, in that building. I was a lawyer. A really good lawyer. I wore designer suits and clutched Starbucks in my perfectly manicured hands. I was 27 and gorgeous and ready to take on the world.

At 41, I teach yoga and write novels no one has published yet. In December, just after I got snowflakes painted on my toes, I put my law license into inactive status so I could …. I’m not sure. Follow my dreams?

I didn’t realize my dreams would lead me to the basement of the Conference Center, focusing on my ovaries. Yet here we are, together.

Before 40, we were brilliant. Beautiful. Now we’re strangers to ourselves. We’ve tried acupuncture and green tea. Yoga and meditation. We quit jobs and took vacations and got divorces. But we still feel “off” in a way we can’t explain.

If we were men, they’d call it a mid-life crisis. We’d buy Porches and sleep with 20-year-olds. But we’re women. We can’t afford Porches because we’re paying for dance team and soccer tournaments. We have no time to sleep with 20-somethings because we’re doing laundry and driving our kids to Taekwondo.

“We’re tired, we’re cranky, we’re doing too much, but it’s never enough,” we say to our doctors. They offer us anti-depressants and tell us to find “me-time.” Go to therapy.

None of it works.

So we sign up for hormone balancing through yoga. We read the Goop website when no one’s looking, although we mock it with our friends. We immerse ourselves in the culture of Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown. Follow your dreams. Manifest your magic. Love greatly.

But most of us have no idea what we want to manifest, much less the power to manifest it. So we flounder to find The Thing We Should Do. Maybe we leave good men. Maybe we sell everything and move to Italy, India, and Indonesia for a year.

Maybe we walk away from well paying, prestigious careers just as we hit our prime.

I was a lawyer. I argued in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and externed for the Chief Justice of the Washington State Supreme Court. I second-chaired three jury trials, all with eight-figure demands. We won them all.

At 27, I was on top of the world. At 40, I was buried beneath it. I never saw my babies, even when I went “part time.” When I was home I was on my phone, sure I was one missed email away from a malpractice suit. I watched my babies grow into tweens and teens after work, from the driver’s seat of our SUV.

I’d think, what’s wrong with me? I have it all! I should be happy!

But we aren’t happy: stay at home moms, doctors, preschool teachers, artists. We all stare down 40 and ask, what’s wrong with me? We joke about first world problems because we feel guilty admitting we are miserable in our prosperity.

We stare at our phones. At Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. We see the world fawning over British royals in size two suits and something called a “Kardashian.” We look down at our own thickening waists and download the newest couch to 5K ap.

We’ll be happy when we can run that mile/fit into that dress again/the kids go off to school.

Quit that job.

One gorgeous May afternoon, I left my pretty office with a water view behind. I decided I wasn’t a lawyer anymore.

I took yoga teacher training. I signed up for a writer’s retreat. I purposefully ignored the little voice in my head screaming, what the Hell are you doing?

My friends were jealous of the unimaginable indulgence of spare time. “You’re so lucky,” they said.

But who am I? I wonder. Who am I if I’m no longer a lawyer and my kids will be soon able to drive themselves to soccer.

When we were kids, well-meaning adults said we could do it all: career, kids, sexually satisfy our partner, size two jeans, a plush bank account of our own earnings. As we face middle age, it’s no wonder we’re neurotic. We’re all floundering, trying to find our place in a world where we are increasingly irrelevant.

We smile while making homemade gluten-free soy-free cookies after work for the fifth grade picnic at 11 p.m., work deadlines be damned.

We ask, why can’t we be happy?

We meditate. We take more vitamin D. We blame perimenopause, and try to balance our hormones through yoga.

We lie there, pulling our knees against our ovaries and visualizing and end to the unrelenting cycle of do, do, do. Be, be, be.

And we think: I’m so lucky. I have everything. I should be happy.

Jennifer Laures is a recovering trial attorney living near Seattle, Washington. Ever since she wrote her first masterpiece, The Creature, at the age of five, she wanted to be a writer. But life happened, sidetracking her with pesky bills and peskier, but well-loved, children. Jennifer has worked as an award-winning reporter at a nationally recognized newspaper; fundraising director for inner city schools; and civil litigator for 13 years. In May 2019 she quit her day job to write, teach yoga, travel, and chase her dreams. 

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aging, Guest Posts

Wait, and Hurry Up

April 19, 2020
clock

By Susan Goldberg

The clock radio in my younger son’s bedroom is gaining time.

At first, it was a couple of minutes a day. I’d tuck him into bed at night and notice that the time was off, and sigh, and reset it, syncing it back to my iPhone. I assumed that a child had accidentally pressed the minute button, or that one of the cats had walked across the clock — originally purchased by me at the age of 14 from Consumers Distributing — pushing it ever so slightly into the future.

Except that it happened every night, every bedtime, until I finally clued in that the clock, after more than three decades of service, was dying.

“I think it’s time to replace this thing,” I told my son one evening. He protested. He liked the clock radio, perched like a loaf of bread on his dresser. He liked the way it made mornings come earlier. He thought it would be mean, not to mention environmentally unfriendly, to get rid of it over something as trivial as a few minutes each day, to throw it into landfill when we could just reset it each night.

I was inclined to agree. The frugality of his position, his make-do attitude, appealed to me. I, too, liked the clock. It reminded me of the 19-year-old cat we’d recently lost. She had held out for so long, years and years of the same routine: sleeping in her red chair in the corner of the living room, making her slow way up the stairs each winter afternoon to the same bedroom that housed the clock, basking on my son’s bed in the warm light of the southern exposure. She deteriorated so slowly that it was hard to really notice it: the way she weighed a little less, shed more fur, took a little longer to climb the stairs each time. Until a week before she died, when her decline sped up markedly: her eyes suddenly milky, her gait stiffer and wobbly. I found her, one evening, on the floor in my older son’s bedroom, tiny and gone. We wrapped her body in one of the boys’ old satin baby blankets and buried her underneath the rhododendron bush in the back garden, next to the previous dead cat, also wrapped in a satin baby blanket.

In the past week or so, though, the clock seems to have taken its cue from the cat, speeding ahead each day not in increments of a few minutes but dozens. It’s 2:08 PM as I write this; the clock’s display currently reads 3:21. After years of perfect health followed by incremental degeneration, it has suddenly upped the ante. The curve of its demise has turned sharply upward; has become visible, measurable, pretty much literal in its countdown to the inevitable end, when we unplug it and put it in the box with all the other e-waste.

These days, some days, I feel like that clock.

Like this: One morning this past summer, I sat down to journal and realized that the words were blurry on the page. I’d been journaling nearly every morning for more than 20 years, the same Hilroy 5-subject notebooks, the same Pentel RSVP fine-tipped ballpoint pens, and all of a sudden it was almost intolerable, the way the words fluttered subtly on their light-blue lines, the way the pen strokes seemed to bleed.

Or this: at the end of the same summer, I was besieged suddenly with waves of nausea, unexplained, unbidden. Almost daily, I’d close my eyes and breathe through the sensation, sour and shaky: the clammy skin and dizziness, the tightening of the ligaments in my neck. It felt like morning sickness, although there was no earthly way I could be pregnant.

Now, all of a sudden, I am the person with four pairs of reading glasses: bedroom, office, kitchen, purse. For more than 40 years, since I learned to make sense of print, I could easily read the words on a page, and then one day I couldn’t. And now, I have a prescription for Zantac, admonitions from my doctor to cut back on caffeine, alcohol, mint, onions, garlic, fatty foods. I’ve been diagnosed — after a series of highly invasive and unpleasant tests involving tubes and barium and fasting and suppositories — with reflux. The sphincter between my stomach and esophagus is weak, loose; stomach acid slips past it and up into my throat, burning it just a little bit each time.

“And that’s what’s making me nauseated?” I asked my doctor. It seemed incongruous.

She nodded. “The body,” she said, “doesn’t always have the best ways to tell us what’s going on.”

I thought of all those nights, countless nights, in the past few years, when I woke up, chest tight, feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath. The tightness was familiar: it was the same feeling I’d had since 11th grade math class, when I began doubling over in pain around exam time. “What are you worried about?” my doctor had asked me, not unkindly, when I went to see her with my teenage complaints. She diagnosed me with math stress and suggested Tums, trying to relax.

The reflux diagnosis — which came on the Friday before my 46th birthday — felt on the one hand like a relief: I was heartened to know that there was a physical, medical explanation for what was going on (and that the explanation was not, say, cancer), that it could be treated through medication and “lifestyle modifications.” On the other hand, I found it oddly unsettling, even a betrayal: for years, I thought — because my doctor had told me as much — that my gastrointestinal issues were all in my head, purely the result of anxiety. All those times I woke in the middle of the night feeling sick with what I assumed was worry, when I tried to soothe the burning in my chest with calming self-talk (or, in a pinch, Ativan or sleeping aids), I could’ve just taken a Zantac and waited 20 minutes.

It’s strange, to rewrite that kind of story about oneself. Yes, of course I was anxious: about math class, my mother’s cancer, my separation, every other stressful event in the intervening three decades. Yes, stress triggers reflux; the two aren’t entirely unrelated. But I had never thought to ask about, and no one had told me, that its manifestations had physical causes, that I could do something more than breathe through the nausea or up my meditation practice (and be stressed at my lack of initiative when I didn’t).

Most unsettling, though, was that sharp upward curve in symptoms. Arguably, I’ve had reflux since my mid-teens. And then, in August, my body — like the clock — upped the ante, hastened the decline, doubled me over with a queasiness I couldn’t identify and finally couldn’t ignore.

I can see, already, how the same story could, probably will, play out with menopause. Right now, it’s still, mercifully, on the horizon. Despite everything I’ve read in my Facebook perimenopause group, I have lulled myself into thinking that it will be a smooth transition, unnoticeable: cycles that will gradually shorten until they one day disappear, without drama, without fuss.

Logically, of course, my assumption makes no sense: a series of increasingly shorter spans between periods doesn’t lead to a gradual cessation but, rather, to one long, unbroken bloodbath. My friends’ testimonies bear this out, as does math. What I should prepare for is that sudden, dramatic onset of symptoms: headaches, chin hairs, weight gain, insomnia, hot flashes. It’s not like I haven’t been warned. I was born with a finite number of eggs, and, one day, the last one will be released and then, suddenly, there will be no more. (Each month, I am half-amused and half-irritated at my ovaries’ persistent hope that this time might just be the time. “What exactly about my life,” I ask them, “makes you think that what I really need right now is one more baby?”) And yet I persist in imagining that I can get it “right,” that with regular exercise and (even) less coffee and alcohol, and some well-chosen supplements, I might be able to avoid all of that, to continue along my straight and narrow path toward menopause rather than slamming into that sharp, sudden curve of night sweats, broken sleep, the 10 pounds (more?) that will appear over the course of four months, no matter how many carbs I don’t consume.

It will feel sudden, but it won’t be. Just as, although I persist in thinking of the nausea as coming out of nowhere, really it’s the culmination of decades of acid, the slow weakening of muscles, associated nerves finally frayed that nanometre too much. Ditto, I imagine, with my vision: it’s more dramatic to think of my need for reading glasses as sudden, but isn’t it really the culmination of years of gradual decline? Aren’t we all dying from the moment we’re born? What’s that saying? Even a broken clock radio is right twice a day.

Can we really prepare for the passage of time? More specifically, can we really prepare for the number it does on our bodies? More and more, I’m inclined to think that I’m asking the wrong questions. You don’t really prepare for decline. You confront it, the way you confront grief, in stages: At first you deny its possibility, and then you ignore its symptoms, and then you rail against it, compensate subtly for it, think you can overcome it. Finally, with more or less grace, you get used to it, incorporate it into your daily life. The curve flattens out, becomes the new straight line. Until you’re hit with the next curveball.

I think of my friend J, whose own stomach upsets were, in fact, cancer. Ovarian. I’ve watched her move through precisely that cycle: ignoring or putting up with the symptoms until she had to drive herself to the hospital, puking in the parking lot from the pain. Her initial impulse to “get cancer right”; to arm herself with information, make the best decisions, to leverage every ounce of privilege and training and gumption she possessed (and she possesses all those things, in spades) to be the best cancer patient ever, to elude (or at least best manage) side effects, to stay in control of this whole thing. As a friend and fellow perfectionist, I have watched how cancer, how the system itself, has steadily countered these impulses. Ovarian cancer, her doctors told her, is now considered a chronic disease, one more damn thing to incorporate into daily life. I think of my own mother, diagnosed at 37, dead at 59, the decades in between and how she, how we all, learned to incorporate the disease and its possibility into each day. What she taught us, what I see in J, was how to live in a state of grace, gritty and hard-won though it may be.

If you’re lucky — and I think I’m lucky, so far, knock wood — you notice the grace within the grit. In the midst of your various declines, you begin to notice some sharp trends toward the better: how the friends you have now are the best friends you have ever had. How you are so much happier living single in your own house than you ever were married in it. How wonderfully sharp the reading glasses render the words on the page, your reflection in the mirror — now you can see every chin hair in high definition!

Your focus sharpens in other ways: now, all of a sudden, you no longer have any patience for the friendships that drain your energy, and give them up, revel quietly in the space their absence creates, the increased calm. How you stop beginning your sentences with the phrase I think or I might, and start saying I want or I am. Or I did — because you’ve stopped asking permission in advance. You have enough money: to buy a new clock radio for your son, for plane tickets when you really don’t want to drive, for new lingerie (not the utilitarian stuff) when perimenopause makes you spill out of the old bras.

You unplug the clock from its outlet and can’t quite help running your hand over its 1980s-brown plastic casing. You were so young when you bought it. You feel a bit silly, laying it down gently rather than tossing it into the box with all the other digital and electronic detritus: the immersion blender your former mother-in-law gave you one Christmas, an ancient cell phone with a cracked screen. You think of every milestone the clock witnessed, the way it kept the time, held the space, even and unruffled, all those years. If you had one handy, you might have wrapped the clock in a satin baby blanket. You think, but don’t quite say out loud, the words Thank you.

Susan Goldberg’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Catapult, Full Grown People, Toronto Life, Stealing Time, TueNight, Today’s Parent, and a variety of anthologies and websites, as well as on CBC, to which she is a regular contributor. She is the coeditor of the anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. She lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Upcoming events with Jen

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THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

 

Guest Posts, parenting

Leaning Into The Pain

June 27, 2018
nest

By Claudia Hinz

“Ooh, look at the babies!” my daughter exclaimed at dinner. I hurried around to her side of the table from which she had a clear view of the park outside. Over the years, we have all held to our assigned spots at the dinner table, although my husband has moved into my 19 year-old daughter’s chair since she left for college. The other seat, my son’s seat, has been vacant for a while, but I leave a fresh cloth napkin and a placemat for him.

The baby goslings tottered around after their mother who nosed them in the right direction of the water. The sun was low in the sky and my eyes are not what they once were, so the goslings appeared as electrified yellow balls. Cute, as my daughter pronounced, but also dangerous in their vulnerability. I knew that in mere days they would be transformed into gawky, unsteady juveniles, the cute baby stage left behind.

This morning, there is the smell of perfume in the kitchen. She has left but I still smell my daughter in here with me. It is her voice on our answering machine. A message recorded when she was probably in middle school, the voice of a young girl, my baby. She is now 18. She just voted in her first election and will be headed off to college in less than four months. Still, I can’t change the message. We never use the home phone, but I am reluctant to cancel the service because I cannot bear to lose my daughter’s voice on the machine. Continue Reading…

aging, death, Guest Posts

Threshold

May 17, 2018
assisted

By Deborah Sosin

“It’s a funny thing. You’re just not prepared for how the mind goes. It’s not something they ever tell you about.” Eda says this every time I visit her, in the same way, with the same inflection—more revelatory than bitter or sad.

Eda, who is ninety-four, is tired of waiting to die. Every night, she prays she won’t wake up in the morning. “I have no purpose. How am I contributing to society? I’ve had my life.”

When her husband, Howard, died a few years ago, after sixty-six years of marriage, Eda moved to a retirement village near Boston to be closer to her daughter. Growing up, I knew the Goldmans—another erudite, witty Jewish couple in my parents’ large circle of friends. My father and Howard had met at the Navy’s Japanese Language School, right after Pearl Harbor.

At first, Eda lived in one of the independent townhouses, a charming two-bedroom dwelling facing a wooded patch of land. I’d visit every month or so, gifts in hand—Hershey Kisses or daisies for her; tuna Whiskas for her tiger cat, Beau. I often brought her to my choral concerts until she could no longer hear the music. Sometimes we’d get lunch—“off campus,” we’d joke—but mostly we’d grab a bite in the facility’s café or formal dining room. “They cook for the aged people,” she’d say. “No salt and no flavor!” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

Only A Whisper

March 26, 2018
mother

By Vincent Fitzgerald

The opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth blared through my cell phone, and I knew someone died. I assigned it as my mother’s ringtone to honor her knack for breaking news of neighborhood fatalities. In somber tones she eulogized the deceased and made death feel safe. That was before Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) ravaged her lungs, and withered her voice to a rasp. Now when she calls, screeches and gasps remind me her end is near, and what remains of her voice will go with her.

The disease has no cure; there is only relentless progression and the passage of time. My mother’s lungs never forgave her for thirty years of smoking, supplemented by tons of second hand smoke. When I was a child I often mistook her cigarettes for a sixth finger. She smoked in place of breakfast, and didn’t even pee until she ingested at least two. She always leaned against our washing machine with crossed legs while I wondered how those nasty things could be better than peanut butter. Continue Reading…

aging, Guest Posts

Frozen

March 4, 2018
freeze

By Stella O’Leary

In your forties, it’s either freeze your face or freeze your eggs. If you’re financially astute, both. But what is in our best interest? Is tricking your face into the visage of a younger you while scooping your reproductive material into a little egg hotel the greatest thing? Or are they in fact, working in conjunction against each other? If we had accepted our age, would we be making more ‘appropriate’ choices? Or is this a culture that suggests we should all be tens with careers, and babies. (No worries!) An impossible line of bullshit.

I have put off fillers. I have put off egg freezing. Last week my commercial agent asked if I would go in for ‘a union job that shoots in Uruguay. Must be willing to have botox injections. In Uruguay.’ I passed. The next day they emailed again- was I passing because schedule conflict or botox? Now trust, I’m a writer who dabbles, not an in demand actress. The commercials I have booked have always surprised me. Girl on a date, girl fighting with boyfriend at diner, girl making vows on a water fountain. Mostly in life, I am girl in overalls writing in coffeeshops.  Then my mother called, and offered some egg freezing. Because despite my protestations, I am not girl, I am woman. On good days, with rose oil and sunglasses, I may trick you into see a maiden, but I’m full mother stage (despite not having established who father is gonna be.) So at the offer of eggs money, I perked up like a thirsty iris. Continue Reading…

aging, Guest Posts

Forever Stardust

November 24, 2017
stardust

By Mary McLaurine

I just celebrated my 62nd birthday with my two kids. We had a grand time and I soaked up their compliments on how great I look for my age. They say the fact that my scalp hasn’t sprung a sprout of gray is testament to my staunch belief that age is merely a chronological number.

As I lean in to blow out the nine candles donning my decadent Chocolate Mousse Cake, one for each decade, two for each year in it, and one for good luck, I’m momentarily transported back to birthdays past and wonder if these boys will ever know the wild and carefree girl still residing inside me. Looking at them through the same sapphire-blue eyes I used to bewitch bashful boys, I’m filled with gratitude for their love, happy this girl grew up to be their mother.

I’m a fire sign, a Leo, a lioness: fierce, wild, nocturnal and willing to fight to the death to protect them. This they know of their mother. But what about before I was their mother? Do they ever wonder who I used to be? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Humor, Owning It!

Eulogy For an Aging Book Guy

November 20, 2017
book

By Timothy Eberle

I’m thinking about giving up my identity as a “book guy.” (Which doesn’t mean that I’m giving up on reading per se; simply that I’m considering no longer so aggressively inserting that particular pastime into my outward facing persona.) And not because “book guy” has somehow become any less gratifying a façade – if anything, my affection for its particulars have only strengthened with time. (I love the thick-rimmed glasses, the t-shirts adorned with faded images of out-of-print novels, the smug sense of superiority I get to feel as I stare over the spine of “Infinite Jest” on the subway – the teeming mass of my fellow commuters immersed in the decidedly less-worthy diversions of “iPhones,” “newspapers,” and “not desperately trying to impress a train-ful of strangers with a faulty air of intellectual authority.”) The honest truth is that I actually really like being a book guy; it’s simply that, as time progresses and mores shift, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to justify the “book guy persona” as anything resembling efficacious. (For one thing, I’m finding that, past a certain point, people are unwilling to tolerate the use of a word like efficacious in what was, up to that point, casual conversation.

Compounding the issue is the fact that, at some point over the last several years – a time which was for me primarily spent agonizing over the decision as to whether or not taking up pipe-smoking would be seen as a bit too “on the nose” – television has apparently become really, really good. Not to overstate the fact, but the near universal consensus appears to be that we’re living in what can only be described as a new golden age of the medium, with legitimate auteurs reshaping the television landscape through a groundbreaking combination of breathtaking cinematography, innovative storytelling, and an eagerness to confront even the most pressing social issues of the day. Which is – of course – objectively good for humanity.

But it’s objectively terrible for me. Continue Reading…

aging, Guest Posts

Grief Is Not Always About Death

January 22, 2017
senior

By Marlene Adelstein

We were about to renovate our bathroom, a total gut job, so in preparation, I began to empty out the vanity. Into the garbage went wands of gloppy mascara, old lipstick stubs, and ancient condom packages. In the back of one drawer, I found a blue cardboard box that I hadn’t touched in a while and I felt a surprising surge of wistfulness. It was a box of tampons, for God’s sake, and I was teary-eyed! It had been well over a year since I’d reached for it which meant…I had officially gone through menopause.

No, of course, I didn’t miss the inconvenience, the cramps, the bloating. Those unpleasant feelings had been replaced, first with perimenopausal, and then menopausal symptoms like night sweats, moodiness, weight gain. My bible on all things menopause, herbalist Susun Weed’s book, Menopausal Years, The Wise Woman Way, called it time of the Crone, which did not sound sexy at all, despite her encouraging words to embrace the change. Even though my longtime boyfriend still told me I was sexy, I wasn’t feeling it. What was it about the blue box that created a jumble of emotions? I wasn’t ready to figure it out so I left the damn box in the drawer.

The next week I had my annual gynecological exam, and my doctor, a no-nonsense woman looked up at me from between the stirrups and said, “Your vagina is pale.” Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

The Difference Between a Father and a Dad

October 20, 2016

By Alisa Schindler

I call multiple times in the hope that when I arrive he will be outside waiting. There’s the wakeup call. The check in an hour later to make sure the wakeup call actually prompted some movement. The, ‘I’m getting in my car’ call, the, I’m ‘five minutes away’ call, and of course, the ‘I’m outside waiting’ call.

Depending on his coherency and agitation, I judge whether it seems sane to actually wait for him to come out. In about 1 in every 10 or so visits, I actually pretend that he might just walk out without my assistance, so I sit and play on my phone or read a few pages in my book letting the minutes disappear along with my hope, before eventually giving up and heading in.

Walking into his apartment my face immediately falls, but I am quick to pick it up because the floor is disgusting. Even with a home health aide there six days a week, he spends much of his alone time upsetting any attempts at cleanliness or organization she may have accomplished.

It is Sunday, the aide’s day off, and already the apartment looks ransacked. Pills everywhere – purple ones, pink ones, yellow and white ones dotting the floor like dropped M&M’s. Multiple red Solo cups darkened with colas, crusty mixes of yogurt and cereal and more pills stand up and out in the clutter of papers piled all around. Cabinet doors suspend open, cereal boxes ejected to the counter, Kashi and Cheerios strewn onto the floor. Clothes covered in food stains and old cigarette holes hang on the backs of chairs while a pizza box that was apparently used as a plate for what may have been his middle of the night snack of eggplant parmesan, remains discarded on the couch. Continue Reading…

beauty, Guest Posts, Self Image

The Bare Truth

July 22, 2016
aging

By Leslie Wibberley

I step naked from my morning shower. My calloused feet leave damp shrouds on the tile floor as I move towards the gilt-framed mirror that holds court above the double sinks in our bathroom. My belly jiggles. Silvery threads drawn in lacy patterns across my pale skin by my two beautiful babies dance in a gentle rhythm. They remind me that my daughters are now adults in the eyes of the law, although never in my own. My small but pendulous breasts play a counter melody, softly slapping against my chest with each step.

I am fifty-seven years old. Fully clothed, I can pass for fifty-six, on a good day. But here, in my birthday suit, bathed in the unforgiving brightness of this early spring morning, I appear much older.  The mirror reflects back an image that has, in the past few years, slowly begun to resemble that of my mother.

Horizontal lines groove my forehead. Etched by twenty-three years of motherhood, worry, stress, and exhaustion. Matching channels run from the corners of my nose, to the edge of my lips. Marionette lines, I’m told. Lines easily erased by fillers, Botox, or, as far as I am concerned, other equally implausible solutions to the ravages of time. These wrinkles are balanced nicely by a series of crow’s feet that fan out from the corners of both eyes, and a few parallel lines running just above the tip of my nose. From scrunching when I smile, I think.  These are my happy lines. Drawn by decades filled with triumphs, big and small, and endless joyful moments. Continue Reading…

Birthday, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts, Jen Pastiloff, Jen's Musings

Getting Older is Everything. Don’t Believe The Lies. A Message To Young Women on Jen Pastiloff’s Bday.

December 12, 2015

By Jen Pastiloff
For as much as I talk about telling the truth, I still get butterflies when sharing my age. My friend Michelle Filgate had an essay in Buzzfeed yesterday about how she used running to treat depression and then she got injured. She interviewed me and it said, Jen Pastiloff, 40 years old, and I sat up and had a moment where I thought how could they have gotten that wrong? I am so not 40 years old.

But I was. Yesterday.

Today, I am 41.

It mortifies my mother-in-law that I tell people how old I am. Especially here in LA, we are not “supposed to” do that.

Youth is a commodity! You’re not “supposed to” age!
I call bullshit.

Continue Reading…