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Facing History

I suspect I’m not alone when a glance in the mirror shocks me, because it’s my mother’s face looking back at me.  Why does this unsettle me?  My mom is a feisty woman.  The first generation of her family to go to college, she became a teacher because that’s what her parents told her to be.  She missed both the “swinging 60’s”  sexual revolution  and the “consciousness raising 70’s” because she was too busy working and raising her family.  Both of my parents are part of the Silent Generation, children of parents who lived through the Depression and learned the best way to get along was to conform, work hard and strive for security above all else.

I’ve grappled with identity and transition all my life.  Not that I’m confining this conversation to women, but I’ve found that as a group we spend a good portion of our energy managing physical change throughout our lives.  We undergo many physical changes marked by our bodies:  as we pass from girlhood into adulthood, from month to month, during and after pregnancy, and then, menopause.  And I’m not even going to address the themes of body image and not-so-subtle pressures to maintain a standard of beauty bench-marked by youth.

We also manage emotional and psychological change as become workers, wives, partners, mothers, bosses, caregivers, empty-nesters, grandmothers, even widows.     All of these changes occur over timelines that vary from woman-to-woman, and we look to our friends and elders for insight and reassurance that we’re not going through this alone  (or to reassure us that we’re not crazy, weird or delusional).   So after all this time and effort I put in working on my own issues, why wouldn’t I just look like an older, wiser version of myself?   In my mind I picture my face at 21, but it’s just framed by grey hair and a couple of crinkles at the corners of my eyes and lips.  I forget about the changes the years and environment have made to my skin, that gravity slowly pulls at my cheeks and chin(s). My own twenty-something daughter has taken to raking her hands through my hair to “see her future” in the pattern of its graying.

But just because I resemble my mother it doesn’t mean I AM my mother. We’ve both had different life experiences and outlooks.  Is our shared biology destiny?   Or is it a form of fear that shocks me? I’m fortunate that my mother is still here – so I can compare the arc of my aging to hers, but I’m struck by the realization that I’m just as limited by biology and time.  Lately my mom speaks about her decreasing energy, and how limited she feels by her body and its aches. She is frustrated that everything just seems to take more time and effort, and I get it.

So I am face-to-face with what really scares me, and it isn’t that I’m turning into my mother, it’s that I’m watching the future — my future — unspool before me.  The good news is my mom is independent and healthy, but there is still so much more I want to do, to create, to see, to work on. As  a greedy child I thought my supply of sunny days was infinite, but as an adult I’ve learned that the amount of both sunny and rainy days is finite, and I want to make them all count.  Which makes this blog all the more important to me – and grateful for the eyes who read it.

Thanks, Mom.

 

 

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Mighty, Mighty Marty

Marty Before He Was Grandpa
Marty Before He Was Grandpa

November 17 is Marty’s birthday.  He would have been ninety-eight years old this year, and I think about him almost every day.  He was a one-in-a-million kind of man.  Some facts about my late, great father-in-law.

  • He was a swinging bachelor who hung around Greenwich Village impressing the ladies with his mad skill of tying maraschino cherry stems into knots in his mouth.
  • He was an incredible dancer, and could make anybody look good on the dance floor.  I knew this first-hand.
  • He was color blind but that didn’t stop him from dressing himself with aplomb.  It also made it a lot of fun to play Uno with him.
  • He once grew so many eggplants he took them to work at City Hall and hung them from trees to watch folks’ reactions.
  • He would call his adult sons “Sonny Boy.”
  • He took the hit many times for his grandchildren so they would not get in trouble with their grandmother.
  • His sense of humor was legendary ~ and he was never afraid to laugh hardest at himself.
  • Most days he ate 3 breakfasts and he drank coffee until bedtime.
  • He was like an ant:  he could lift boxes 3 times his body weight.
  • He read a book a day and all librarians loved him.  Just like us.

We miss you Mart.  May your memory always be a blessing.

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Fall Wildflowers

Fall Wildflowers

Viva l’automne!  I like the look of these summer-like purple flowers against the changing leaves and ferns in the background. (So many ferns!) The day was overcast, and that made the lighting feel clearer to me than a sunny day.   I’ve noticed during the fall that the sunnier days are almost painful.  Is that a thing that happens to us as we grow older:  too much color and contrast for our aging retinas to process?

Again, I snapped this with an iPhone, and I have no clue what kind of flowers these are.  Any botanists out there are encouraged to shout-out.

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The Balm Upon My Palm

photograph of logo and can

This is a shameless plug for a hero product necessary to anybody with either hands or udders.  Truth be told, this is not the post I’ve been fiddling around with for the last two weeks.  Rather, I was inspired on the fly as I was scrubbing the down the shower with my unique spray mix of Oxy-Clean  and hot water.  As you might imagine, shower scrubbing does a number on your digits.  (yes, yes, I should wear the rubber gloves, but since I was running the shower while I was scrubbing, it seemed counter-intuitive to be wet everywhere EXCEPT my paws)  I just kept thinking, “My hands!  They will be so chapped and rough!”  Then I remembered my soothing friend in the green tin, and I felt better (The shiny shower tiles also contributed to my sense of well-being). I use this stuff after gardening, cleaning, all year-round, and heartily recommend it to anybody who works with their hands.   Please remember the skin on our hands is thin and needs protection all day.  Like teeth, our hands need to be productive for an entire lifetime.  So give them a teat, treat!

I could not do a better job highlighting the features and benefits of Bag Balm than the charming, no-nonsense website of the Bag Balm folks so I’ll link it here for you to amble over at your leisure.

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This Blog Isn’t Going To Write Its Damn Self!

I admit it, we have officially passed lazy season at CanITakeANapFirst, and moved right to NappingIsAllYouDoAnymore.  True:  I’ve been going to work everyday and doing some haus frau chores (but even those have been picked up by the  original Nappy, Jenna, home for winter break), but then I get distracted by the Twitter feed or a Words With Friends game.  And that’s another distraction:  my itinerant children whom I enjoy more than I ever could have dreamed.  Those of you who have raised up humans may nod here, in recognition of the fact that you may not recognize the transformation of the laconic, slack-jawed teen into a young adult who got his/her act together without any nagging/interference from a parent.  HUZZAH to us all!

Which brings me back to the folder of blog fodder and the nagging feeling of “Just Do It.”

So here’s the word of the day:  “laolaiqiao.”  It is a Chinese word that can be paraphrased rather inelegantly in English as, “mutton dressed up as lamb.” (don’t you just love how Chinese words can be whole phrases?)  But in this case it means “old people doing young things that even young people wouldn’t do.”  I found it in the Wall Street Journal in their coverage of a young female clothing entrepreneur who uses her beguiling grandfather as a model for her on-line boutique.  He’s very thin so the clothes look great on him, and it seems he has found a second career as his own stylist.  Sales are up!  See China’s New “It” Girl here.

So if a 72-year-old Chinese man can get his act together to model for his granddaughter’s business, the least I can do it put some real clothes on and fiddle out 298 words before I lie back down on the couch.

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Respect Your “Largers”

Dr. Reubin Andres passed away September 23, 2012 at age 89.  What makes Dr. Andres special to me is his controversial theory that as we age we should both expect and plan to get heavier. Now, he didn’t say to let yourself go; he said that some additional adipose in our aged bodies would give them extra reserves to fight off disease and injury.   For too long we’ve been focused on all the stuff we lose as we get older:  hair, hearing, sight, mind, telomeres. So take heart in the thought of gaining something (besides the elusive Wisdom).

Here’s my favorite quote from Dr. Andres in a 1985 interview with the New York Times:  ” For some reason the idea had grabbed us that the best weight throughout the life span is that of a 20-year-old.”

Maybe the diet industry thinks this is their hook:  the idea that we should still weigh what we did as we entered adulthood.  But really, would you characterize the health habits of your 20-year-old self as ones that would sustain a long and productive life?  You eat crap and function on woefully few hours of sleep.  In short,  you abuse your body all sorts of ways just because you can thanks to those seemingly bottomless reserves that young bodies take for granted.  As my pal, Billy the Exterminator, says, ” With age, comes wisdom.”  … and a more discerning view towards food and drink.  I’ll bet most of us smarty-pants Napsters can say we follow more self-care now in our prime than we ever did in our collective, callow youth.  (unless I have some elite athlete followers I don’t know about — you guys just keep your medals and thoughts to yourselves for now.)  Our bodies are machines, and you have to keep up the maintenance and fuel for optimum performance ~especially as the mileage creeps up.

I will also share the wisdom of the late OG, Estelle, who herself was a life-sized woman.  Towards the end of her life she was very insistent that older folks just looked better heavier.  They filled their skin better, as it were.  She was clear-eyed and honest in that she felt the same as she did at 30, and it sometimes came as a shock when she’d see herself in the mirror and an “old lady” looked back. I don’t think her shock was motivated by vanity insomuch as how surprised she was that the physical changes of aging happened so subtly.  My goal is to follow in her footsteps and embrace the changes as the price of admission to living a long and happy life.

Dr. Andres obit did not mention his weight at his death, but the NY Times link is here.

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Unfinished Business Or You Are Never Too Old

Stories like this make me want to be a better woman, or at least embrace the future with optimism.  It’s the story of Kathy Martin, 60, record-breaking elite runner.  Forgive my inelegant link, but it’s an inspiring story of a “real” person with a job and obligations in the day-to-day world who is just quietly breaking records in the master class of athletes.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/02/sports/runner-kathy-martin-60-is-speeding-through-records.html?_r=1&ref=sports

I am not an athlete although I do enjoy and appreciate movement and have a special admiration for natural athletes and folks who are experts in their sport.  Being the devious and lazy thinker that I am, I thought I might have a lock on becoming a “late in life” athlete.  You know, those folks who get the biggest rounds of applause at 5K races just because they look “old”  but can still pass the out-of-shape?  My thought was that if I keep up with speed walking all I need to do is survive to age 70 and I’ll be the medalist in my class.  Well, folks like Kathy Martin are making that harder for under-achievers like me to recognize my late-in-life athletic dreams.

Or maybe not.

Because we’re finding out that the human body is capable of incredible things, and if we put a some effort and energy into ourselves we have a pretty good shot at maintaining, or even improving, our fitness level.   Our beloved Aunt Belle broke a hip in her 80’s and still went to physical therapy to regain her strength.  Well, a funny thing happened from all the upper body work her did to regain her stability:   she got a rock hard set of biceps at age 89!  OK, so she couldn’t hear all that well, but she sure could hear us when we asked to her to “Show us your guns!”  And she would proudly flex for us…. wearing her lovely short-sleeved “model coat.”  For those of you who have no clue what a model coat is, please see below.

But there was another aspect to Aunt Belle that may have played a part in her stellar recovery.  She was one of the most optimistic, forward-thinking (in both personal philosophy and in how she viewed time) people I ever met.  Her apartment was always the gathering place in her neighborhood.  And it has been documented that elders with social connections retain more of their cognitive skills and suffer less depression than solitary elders.  All of these things give me hope that I can age with dignity and humor…. unless I start wearing these model coats.  Well, at least I’ll have the humor part covered.

Image Courtesy of national.com
Model Coat: Partner to Men's Banded Bottom Polo Shirt