In a column I wrote six years ago for the Nevada Appeal, I tell the truth about my family, but not about my age. Click on over to learn about this odd little family tradition of believing that age ain’t nothing but a number…
Today would have been my mother’s 91st birthday. This photo was taken at Donegal Castle, Northern Ireland in June of 2004, just weeks before she surprised us all and broke our hearts by passing quite unexpectedly. She was 79. The cane you see is hers, by the way. I was only minding it.
In the intervening years I retired, became a grandmother, and qualified for Medicare. However, the biggest change is that before I turned sixty, people argued when I told them my age. “No! You can’t be that old!” Now when I state my age, they don’t argue. It hurts, you know?
It is with thoughts of that inevitable process of aging that I wrote this piece fifteen years ago. It first published in the Nevada Appeal on December 20, 2001.
I saw her again this morning. My sweet mother. She lives 500 miles away but there she was staring back at me from my bathroom mirror. It’s her all right; there’s no mistake.
Soft brown and gray curls, soft sags of skin, laugh lines, a few age spots. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom and would introduce her to you proudly if she were standing beside me. It’s just that when she looks back at me from the bathroom mirror, it’s … well … unsettling.
So every day I spend a considerable amount of time pushing her back out of my way and finding myself, recreating the person who greets the world. The steps have become a ritual.
To my clean and exfoliated skin I apply a moisturizer with sunscreen. It’s my first line of defense, my armor against any further damage from the sun. Apparently those summers at the beach in Southern California 40 years ago have been burned into my skin as well as my memory.
Next, I sponge on the foundation. When you build a house it is the foundation that holds everything upright and straight, making it endure. This foundation just allows my little illusion to last throughout most of the day. And then concealer. It goes to work hiding dark under-eye circles from the wakeful nights that began when I became a mother in 1976. I have been collecting those little bags through 23 years, two children, colic, croup, curfews, and college.
My brows are alternately plucked and penciled, growing thickly where I do not want them, thinly where I do. Like the lawn. And of course it is made even more challenging by failing eyesight. Dime store glasses and a magnifying mirror aid in this task. Then eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara are applied to enhance what people used to tell me were my best features, but which now lie hidden behind bifocals.
Finally a bit of blush to mimic what I can no longer trust the sun nor my innocence to produce: a rosy glow, an embarrassed flush. I’m not sure the makeup conceals much. Perhaps it’s only an attempt to reveal the person I believe still resides in this middle-aged body — someone who was considered intelligent, creative, friendly, fun and — once upon a time — even cute.
It is getting harder to find that girl with each passing year. I suppose sometime in the future the law of diminishing returns will cause me to reassess how I spend my time.
Although I had an old auntie who put on a fresh coat of makeup every night before going to bed explaining, “If I died in my sleep, nobody would recognize me.” She lived to be 100.
Perhaps one day I’ll accept these little imperfections as battle scars, as medals of honor. Perhaps one day I can wear them as signs of survival and triumph. Perhaps someday. More likely though, as aching joints and old age creep in, I’ll just be grateful for the sunrise and breath. Merely being clean will be good enough.
And maybe one day when my mother isn’t around anymore, I will even find it comforting to see her in the mirror, to know she’s close and that I’ll always have something to remember her by. Right in front of me.
Not today though. Today I will color and curl my hair, carefully apply my makeup, and accomplish a nearly complete makeover each morning. I’ll look into the mirror and see myself again and not my mother. Once the transformation is complete, I’ll put on my control top pantyhose, my sensible shoes with the orthotics, and my bifocals. I’ll take my hormones, allergy pills, vitamins, extra calcium. Even ginkgo biloba, if I remember. I’ll check the mirror once more and walk out the door accepting the fact that someday my mother in the mirror will be moving in to stay. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of my life. Continue reading “Is that you, Mother? I didn’t expect you so soon”
Husband: You know the best part of living up here? You don’t run into people you know at the store.
Me: You know the worst part? You never run into people you know at the store.
For nearly forty years, we lived in a relatively small town. We both had careers, but I also volunteered with the Girl Scouts, PTA and Food for Thought. I taught school. I attended classes at the community center and the community college, went to Weight Watchers, and wrote for the local newspaper. People know me. A trip to the farmer’s market or the doctor would frequently mean I’d run into someone I know. For better or worse. I’m a social person (ask anyone), but for twenty years I avoided one supermarket because it was in the same neighborhood as the school at which I taught. A quick stop turned into a parent conference or a reunion as I tried to discreetly choose a hemorrhoid remedy. Or something for feminine itch. Or a bottle of gin.
I rarely went farther than my mailbox without my hair done and make-up on. The law of perversity prevailed: The worse I looked, the more likely it was that I would run into someone important. So I always dressed with at least a thought about who I’d run into. My boss? The PTA president ? A school board member?
Now that we live forty miles away in a large city, I have yet to run into an acquaintance at the market. Not one. The people here—except for my family–have no idea who I am. I find it freeing in a way. I can reinvent myself because no one has any expectations. I used to think I did my make-up for me, because I hated seeing that pale, tired-looking face in the mirror. Now, I’m not so sure.
Perhaps it is also the law of diminishing returns. The effort of putting on make-up—and then taking it off—every day doesn’t give me the pay-off I hope to see. Is just being clean and dressed enough now?
In fact, today maybe I’ll just wear a hat, sunglasses and a smile and call it good. Maybe. I’ll see what the old lady in the mirror says.
I like Amy Poehler. She and Tina Fey are two of my favorite Saturday Night Live writers and performers of all time. So, after reading (or rather listening to) Tina’s memoir, I thought it was only fair to read Amy’s as well. It too was made available to me electronically for FREE from my public library.
Amy offers some life lessons from where she stands at the middle of hers. In her mid-forties, she’s the divorced, sleep-deprived, working mother of two. Here’s some of what she’s learned.
1. Be kind. Don’t text anything you wouldn’t want the world to see. While she does drop a lot of names, if you’re looking for juicy, mean-girl gossip, you won’t find it here. Even her ex-husband is treated with kindness and gratitude. Furthermore, Amy apologizes very publicly for an unintentional (on her part) hurt she caused some fine people with an SNL sketch she did years ago, demonstrating that it’s never too late to apologize. It takes a weight off your heart.
2. Find your tribe. Surround yourself with smart people so you can learn from them about the craft you are pursuing. Amy, like Tina, credits years of improv for helping her learn to collaborate. No one does it alone.
“Do work that you are proud of with your talented friends.”
3. Be brave. Failure isn’t fatal. You will survive.
4. Decide what your currency is. Don’t fight it. Be true to you. Honor your innate and unique gifts by putting them to work.
5. Work hard. Amy credits her success to years of hard work and little bits of progress.
“You have to care about your work but not about the result.You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look.”
6. Give back. Teach others and allow them to have what you have.
While the book is not hilarious, it is humorous and touching and honest with some unexpected wisdom and a reminder that kindness counts, even in show business.
Bossypants is the perfect audio book for your summer road trip, especially if you’re traveling with your daughters, sisters, or girlfriends. I mean, Tina reads it herself so it’s like she’s there in the car with you. But seriously, if you are (or know) a male who just doesn’t get why we’re still talking about feminism, it could work too. It’s that good.
Tina is funny and smart and full of self-doubt. She offers her life story as an instruction manual for parents on how to raise drug-free, adult virgins.
She also credits much of her success to the lessons she learned in improv. Whatever the situation, respond with “Yes, and…” rather than arguing. She explains it better, of course. Tina is also a fan of surrounding yourself with smart people. Good advice whatever you do for a living.
Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, the numbers on the scale don’t budge. Or–God forbid!–they go in the wrong direction. There are lots of reasons that can happen, but I know my weight can vary as much as four pounds without doing anything “bad.” We retain water, our digestive system slows down, or we’ve started new medications. The dangerous thing is when we allow the scale to mess with our brain. Down? Great! Maybe I can have pie. Up? What’s the use? I give up. Let’s have pie. See?
Ups and downs are part of the journey. Even people at healthy weights fluctuate day-to-day. It just happens. And while I can’t keep the scale’s roller coaster from happening, perhaps I can help with the emotional roller-coaster.
- First, if you find yourself obsessing over the scale, weigh yourself less often, like once a week. And always at the same time of day. Or do as one friend does and hide the scale entirely. She trusts the process–eating what she should and exercising–to get the job done.
- Take your measurements. If you are exercising and building muscle, your body is changing. You may see inches disappear without an appreciable loss on the scale.
- Pay attention to how your clothes fit. Can you button those pants now? Can you wear your rings again?
- How do you feel? Can you walk for 30 minutes now? Can you climb stairs without getting winded? Tie your shoes? Cross your legs? Touch your toes? Do your hips and knees hurt less? All of those are signs of progress.
- You look great! Compliments are always a mood-lifter. Be gracious and thank the giver of the compliment.
- Remember how far you’ve come and what good habits you’re developing. Give yourself a little credit!
Good health is a journey, not merely a destination. There will be ups and downs along the way. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.