Monthly Archives: October 2014

What a Boob

Me: So, now that I’m 40, I had to go get a mammogram today.

Max: What’s that?

Me: They squish your boobs in between the plates of this machine to take pictures of the insides and make sure they are healthy.

(general snickering)

Me: The lady there had to squish my boobs with her hands. She must do that to 100 women a day.

Max: I think I just found my perfect job.

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On Turning 40

40th-birthday-cake

There are two types of people who will tell you that ‘Life Begins at 40’ or ’40 is the New 20’ or any of that other nonsense that people feel obligated to console you with as you approach a milestone which optimistically marks the middle of your life.

The first types are people older than you. They have watched 40 come and go and actually miss it, as they have progressed on to an even more withered and decrepit age than you. These are the same types of people who will tell you things like ‘Cherish each moment with your child because they are precious and fleeting’ as they watch you attempting to disentangle your toddler from a rack of scarves whilst having a meltdown in the Accessories aisle of Target or ‘On their deathbeds, nobody ever wishes they had put in more time at their job ’ as you gripe about changing your work schedule each week to accommodate various PTA meetings, play dates and afterschool activities, or even ‘You’ll know what I mean when you get to be MY age’, which is irritating on a number of levels mostly because you give the same advice to people younger than you.

These may also be the types of people who are eager to share horror stories about various medical procedures they’ve endured that begin to become more common after the age of 40. They can’t wait to relate every distasteful detail of their colonoscopies once they learn you’re due for one yourself. ‘It’s not the procedure that’s bad, it’s the 12 hours before!’ they will chuckle, attempting to be mysterious, as if you haven’t already combed through the online annals (pun intended) of Web MD’s colonoscopy message boards.  They are also constantly trying to one-up you – or one-down you – with their medical conditions. “Oh, got high cholesterol?  Not as high as mine, I bet.” If you have a hernia, they’ve had two; if your knee hurts after running, they are walking around with numbness in their leg on a regular basis.  Oddly, they seem to remain energetically argumentative despite the fact that most – per their physicians – are ‘lucky to be alive’.

The second types are people significantly younger than you. They are either in denial that they will ever reach the relatively advanced age that you are now, or they genuinely feel sorry for you that you are so old and want to express their condolences in a politically correct and socially acceptable manner. These are the same types of people who will call you ‘ma’am’ when they are waiting on you in a retail store or restaurant or ask you if you need help carrying your groceries to the car when all you’ve purchased is a pack of sponges and a copy of ‘People’ magazine or suggest you cut your hair in a more ‘age appropriate’ style with bangs and highlights which is code for ‘you probably want to cover those forehead wrinkles.’

These may or may not also be the types of people who, at an annoyingly young age, have discovered their life’s passion or calling or achieved financial, spiritual or emotional success (or all three) while you still ponder whether you should take that continuing education class on poetry or floral arranging. They may say things like ‘I was just in the right place at the right time’ or ‘I’ve always known exactly what I wanted to do with my life’ or ‘my father is well connected’. They will encourage you to continue to pursue your own dreams by reminding you that ‘age is just a number’ or some other factually incorrect statement and give you a signed copy of their latest book or CD or screenplay before they take off for some fabulous destination while you climb back in your mini-van and try to remember to buy coconut milk on the way home.

There are two types of responses that you can have once someone takes it upon themselves to be the merry messenger of your impending middle age.   You can invest in prunes and granola and Sleepytime tea. You can drop your hemline, raise your neckline and buy sensible shoes.  You can Google ‘hairstyles for people over 40’ or ‘age appropriate highlights’ or ‘pants suits with elastic waists’. You can put your dreams – be they writing, painting or learning to waltz – on a shelf and focus on being an adult, no matter how dull, disheartened or dreary it may make you.

Or, you can realize that today is the youngest you will ever be and whether you have 50 more years or 10, every minute worrying about what age you are is one more minute that you could use in a million other ways. The face in your mirror is the least wrinkled it will ever be. The hairs on your head are the least gray. Your legs are the least veiny and your boobs are the perkiest. And whether you say ‘thank you’ or ‘fuck you’, know that 40 is what you make it – so make it count.

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Ex-stink.

Me: So, this animal is extinct. Do you know what that means?

Reuben: No.

Me: It means that animal died out and is no longer on the planet.

Reuben: Oh, I thought it meant it was very smelly.

Me: No, that’s ‘stink’, not ‘extinct’.

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New Essay on The New York Times Parenting Blog

Being a step-mother is very hard. As much as I have wished my step-daughter was my own daughter many times, I have had to face the fact that she’s not.

http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/stepmother-not-evil-not-perfect-not-mom/

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Familiarity Breeds Contempt

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Back in my grunge days, when wide-lapelled polyester shirts made a brief resurgence in popularity, I found myself routinely scouring the racks of the Salvation Army to secure what, at the time, was the height of fashion. As I rummaged through the one dollar impulse bin near the register, I came across a t-shirt that made me pause. It was a red shirt with a black imprint of two Edwardian-era young people standing apart on two sides of a fence, the young woman looking longingly at the man, who was casting his eyes off in the opposite direction. The phrase beneath the picture, written in block lettering read ‘FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT’. As I held it up I noticed the print had been set on the shirt slightly askew, as if constructed in a slapdash manner by a scorned woman herself, hot tears in her eyes blurring her vision and preventing her from making out a straight line on which to place the design.

Of course I bought the shirt, both for its unusual design and for the fact that it was a dollar, and wore it for many years throughout my grungy/Goth twenties. Each time I put it on, I would examine the faces of the couple in the picture – simple black printed expressions with little detail, fading with each washing but still remarkably expressive about the lost love that at one time existed between them. Lovers once with open eager hearts, but now practically strangers – their hearts and minds covered with cold, hard shellac that had grown slowly and steadily during their relationship. I had heard the phrase too, used in some adult context that I can’t now recall, but it had meant nothing at the time for a young girl with ideas in her head about love that were drawn with straight but somewhat fuzzy lines.

In fact, I might have already thrown the shirt away by the time its concept became more familiar and contemptible to me. It lingered in the back of my mind as I began relationships, always with the thrill and novelty that only new love can provide, and eventually ended them – sometimes my idea, sometimes his, always with bitterness and anger and the seemingly never-ending examination of perceived personality flaws and despicable behaviors.  How could I expect to find long-term happiness when it seemed impossible to quell this need to fulfill a fantasy that only seemed to be sustainable by the unknown ambiguity of initial liaisons? In other words, the more I knew about the real person, the more insecurities, imperfections, and idiosyncrasies that revealed themselves, the less interested I was in hanging around.

To be fair, I expected no less than perfection from myself as well, which added to my dilemma. The idea of someone growing tired of me terrified me and I struggled to transform my behaviors to suit my suitor at the time, sometimes to the point of alienating friends and family. Connecting with a significant other seemed paramount – nothing else mattered as much. My parents’ unhappy marriage and eventual divorce seemed to heighten my awareness of the importance of doing it right.  But, my expectations of love were too high and impossible to meet and therefore…weren’t.

Eventually I decided that I could not have it all and attempted to separate fantasy from a reality that I hoped I could live with.  Ironically, I think my first husband suffered from a similar ailment and our marriage was even more of a disillusion to him than to me in many ways. I had never imagined myself divorced (I suppose brides never do), but starting over gave me an opportunity to re-examine my life, now with a child, and force me to put fantasies aside for good.  Or so I thought.

Reconnecting with my current husband, a childhood friend, was as close as I thought I could get to the vision in my head of the perfect mate. We shared a foundation of knowledge, culture and morality. He was handsome without being annoyingly so, educated and ambitious and seemed to become more physically attracted to me the longer we dated. I was confident I had found what I was searching for.

And if we had moved to a tropical island to spend our days lounging beachside and sipping Mai Tais, I’m sure I would have remained as rapturously in love as I was the first few years we were together.

But, we didn’t.

We combined our families of children and were determined to raise them as siblings despite visitation schedules and challenging exes. We had another child fairly quickly after we were married and began the long sleepless nights of feedings and diaper changes. We suffered financial setbacks and legal woes and argued about money and cleaned up vomit and poop and watched each other get sick and ooze with mucus, bruises and rashes. I spent too much money on frivolous purchases. He lost his temper too quickly. I grew discontent and struggled to find myself creatively. He wrestled with his love of travel and adventure and his responsibilities as a father and husband. In short, we are imperfect. There are days that we struggle through to make it to dinner and moments when we wonder why anyone would get married at all, but my definition of love has evolved and I am the better for it. I am a stronger, wiser and more self-aware person and my relationship with my husband has helped to define who I am today.

I still think the familiarity of a close relationship breeds a certain definition of contempt….sometimes, but it’s up to me to move past it. I could choose to live my life attempting to avoid that predicament, enjoying that first blush of lust, anticipation and excitement before it fades into the mundane and sometimes exasperating series of disagreements, divergences and dissents. But, what I would lose is much more important. The progressing and solidifying of another kind of relationship – one that allows you to release that breath that you have been holding for years, waiting for the other shoe to drop. The feeling of having a partner, an equal, someone who has seen you at your worst and doesn’t look away. You force yourself to tolerate someone sometimes because someone is forcing themselves to tolerate you. Not because they just want to tolerate you, but because they love you.

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