“Some beautiful things are more dazzling when they are still imperfect than when they have been too perfectly crafted”
Francois VI, Duc De La Rochefoucauld
“Some beautiful things are more dazzling when they are still imperfect than when they have been too perfectly crafted”
Francois VI, Duc De La Rochefoucauld
I recently spent the day with a close friend. In the past year CF has watched her oldest head off to college, her husband retire, the sale of her present house, the purchase of a new one, and in a few short months her youngest will head off to college. Come September, her entire landscape is going to be different. I worry that she is about to unravel.
She currently lives in a large, rambling old house. She loves the location as she can walk into town and doesn’t have to rely on a car. Her home is filled with family heirlooms and things she has collected over the years. Her new home does not have the room to house the furniture that her parents left her. It does not have the room for the shoe collection that she has never been able to part with (and rarely wear). She is having trouble coping with this change. Rationally, she knows that keeping this house is not a wise financial decision- her property taxes are tremendous, a large house is expensive to heat and cool, an old house requires constant maintenance. She knows that 6 bedrooms is too many for a house with no children.
She is not thrilled with her new house though. I think the only reason they are buying it is because it has a living room large enough to house a large piano, the one family heirloom she refuses to part with. She complained about its distance from civilization (which is hard to fathom because it’s in a suburb of NYC that is rather densely populated and you can clearly read the newspaper that your next door neighbor is reading) It’s a thirty minute (dreaded) car ride to her old neighborhood. As she relayed this information I could see the color draining from her face.
But her biggest worry- the one consuming her- is what will her children do in this new neighborhood? Of course I reminded her that her kids would both be away at college. The conversation went something like this:
CF: But they’ll be home in December and the summer. That’s a long time.
Me: Just because your son is home this summer doesn’t mean he’ll be home next summer. You don’t know what they’re going to do during their breaks.
CF: The new house is across the street from a pool club. I asked about summer jobs for them next year.
Insert a quizzical look from me as to why SHE’S asking about summer employment for her 18 and 20 year old children
CF: I went on the message board of my new town and asked where the teenagers hang out
Insert picture of me as my mouth opens wide and I have to refrain from saying WTF
Unraveling. I started to think that it’s called empty nest syndrome because one of the parents becomes a looney bird- but that would be a disservice to birds. She clearly did not listen to my advice about preparing for children to fly the coop.
So what, as a friend, do I do when I start to see my friend go a little off kilter? We’ve been friends for over twenty years- we met and bonded during a tenure at a high stress job. I’ve walked her through her infertility issues- she helped me through a divorce from my first husband. The boundaries are blurry because we have shared so many life moments. But how do I tell her to get over her kids? Because there is nothing wrong with loving your children and wanting the best for them- but…….
I know change is difficult. I know we often have trouble adapting to new situations. But I’m not quite sure how to help her navigate this new terrain. I still have two more years till my daughter heads off to college- I have no actual experience at complete empty nesthood. For all I know, I may be worse than her. I might move to whatever college town my daughter decides to call her temporary home.
For now, I’ll listen to her complain. I’ll make sympathetic noises when need be. I’ll give her little nuggets of advice when I can. I’ll yell at her if she keeps doing things that her very capable children can handle by themselves. I’ll suggest a new hobby. I’ll just be her friend.
A young man held a door open for my daughter and me the other day. I thought it was nice. My daughter thought it was a crime against humanity.
Daughter- “OMG- does he think we’re invalids unable to hold open a door?”
Me: “It was nice manners.”
Daughter: “How was that nice manners? It’s degrading”
Me: “I’ve seen you hold the door open for people.”
Daughter: “That’s different. I just do it as a courtesy, not because I’m superior……
I decided to drop the subject. It wasn’t worth an argument- especially because it’s her opinion and she’s allowed to think any way she wants. And she has definite ideas as to how men and women should interact. She doesn’t think men should ever pay for women on a date- the cost should always be split equally. She doesn’t believe in door holding (obviously), helping a woman with her coat or her chair. Things that I think of as nice manners, my daughter thinks of as disgusting.
Am I wrong? Have I been degraded all my life because I’ve allowed these things to happen? Or is it a generational thing? I’ve worked in industries dominated by men and lived to tell the tale. I’ve earned more money than my male partners. But have I subconsciously turned in my women card by letting a man open a car door for me, or pay for dates? Or have the rules changed?
My daughter is not particularly out of the box with her views. Some of her opinions fall left, while others lean to the right. As a lover of debate she is adept at researching both sides of an issue and understands the pros and cons. As captain of the law team she is good at bossing around all genders with equal aplomb. Her friends are most likely to give her Sephora gift cards as a birthday gift. She has spent two weeks styling outfits for a concert she will be attending this weekend. Her style icon is Audrey Hepburn. Though she doesn’t have a boyfriend, she has many friends who are male. So why is she so against gestures that I consider “nice”?
I have worked in male dominated fields and lived to tell the tale. I have out earned male partners. Back in the stone age, when I last dated, I appreciated men picking me up for dates. I enjoyed someone checking my coat for me at a restaurant. I did not feel they were putting me in an inferior position- I thought it was their way of showing me that they were interested in me. Their way of courting me. But have the rules of courtship changed?
How do men and women interact in a social setting? Is their such a thing as courtship, or is it all app generated hook ups? Is my thinking about dating prehistoric?
It’s obvious that my daughters dating life is going to differ from mine. And that’s OK. But I hope she realizes that sometimes a guy might just be trying to be polite and not think she’s a damsel in distress. Sometimes holding a door open is just an act of timing- both people at the door at the same time- not a game of one upping.
I decided it’s time for a mid-year resolution. I tend to get a little crazy about the small stuff- like irrationally crazy. Like, I have a hard time letting go and it ruins the rest of my day crazy. So last Friday, I decided when something irks me, I would take a deep breath, say “Pins and needles, needles and pins…”(extra points to anyone who gets that reference) and let it go.
Here is a list of all the times I took deep breaths in the past three days:
OK- obviously these things are still annoying me. I rationally know that they are small, insignificant parts of my day. But the older I get, the more annoyed I get at trivialities. I have less tolerance and I know that this is not healthy for my heart or my mind or relationship with family. I know that life really is too short to obsess about things not being perfect. Or done exactly my way.
That’s the problem. It’s becoming set in my ways. It goes against my own first rule of aging (flexibility). I am that stereotypical grouchy old person.
But not for long.
From now on, I’m going to be footloose and fancy free. If someone puts and unused bag in the garbage can I’m not going to ask who did it and give a lecture. If someone doesn’t throw out garbage when the bag is obviously so full you can’t fit anything in it, I am not going to stomp my feet in disgust. (technically, these things should have been on the list, but I’m letting it go…..)
I’ll keep you informed as to my progress….
I heard this term, fakebooking, for the first time the other day. I know- I live under a rock. And I was a little annoyed that I had not come up with this phrase, because it’s sort of perfect. For the uninitiated, fakebooking refers to when you post online so many wonderful things, when the life you lead is so perfect, you make others feel inferior.
To be fair- fakebooking has been going on a lot longer than the internet. Back in the 60’s there was the infamous vacation slide show. You would go to someone’s house for fondue, and treated to not only bread cubes on flaming hot skewers, but 4000 pictures of the grand canyon. From the same spot. All to make you feel bad that you didn’t drive cross country with no air conditioning and three kids in the back of a station wagon screaming “he touched me”, “are we there yet?” “I have to go to the bathroom”. Oh wait- they didn’t tell you that part. They didn’t take a pic the litter strewn across the back seat, the flat tire in Des Moines, or the horrendously bad roadside motel. No, they showed you the glory- not the guts.
I remember my first Christmas as a working adult. December 26 was a very showy day around the office. Women sporting jewels and fancy coats (this was the very ostentatious, go go 80’s) Except one woman. Her husband bought her a briefcase (for those of you born after the 80’s, a briefcase was a leather messenger bag with a handle not a cross body strap). It was evident that a lot of money was spent. What wasn’t evident was the cheating, drinking, lying and gambling that provoked those husbands/boyfriends/married lovers to purchase those gifts. Now it’s been years since I’ve seen any of those women, but even at that time, the only one still married was the owner of the briefcase.
Now, thanks to social media, we have all sorts of new ways to shame those around us. People post everything. There are pictures of food so meticulously prepared it doesn’t seem real. Pictures of crafting exploits that look machine made. Photos from exclusive events or out of the way destinations. Expensive clothes and toys. Little tidbits about lifestyles that belong in a romance novel, not a twitter line. They don’t tell you about the 150 sugar roses they made before they got the perfect one on the cake. Or the horrible storm that destroyed 90% of their vacation. Or that the toddler son is seated behind a table in the family portrait because you couldn’t get him to put on pants. Or a diaper.
One of my friends recently posted the following on Facebook:
“We saw all the pictures of your relationship. We heard how he was your boo bear and how much he loved you. And then you broke up. Well, we put up with all the other stuff. Give us the dirty details of the break up. You owe us.”
Why do people fakebook? I don’t have an actual, verified answer, but I’m guessing lack of confidence. They need the approval of others or, that someone is a little jealous, to make them feel better about themselves. “I have what you want, so I’m better than you.” They need the reinforcement of “likes” – an internet seal of approval. “This person posted 6 vacation shots, 10 proposal videos and 3 posts with celebrities waiting to congratulate her on engagement. She is rated A1 on the scale of awesomeness. See- it’s right here on the internet.”
Confidence doesn’t come from external sources. It doesn’t come from likes, or making other people feel bad about themselves. Confidence comes from inside. A confident person is the person who shows up every day, and gives their all at whatever task they’re doing. A confident person admits when they are wrong. A confident person realizes that sometimes they are going to fail at things, but they know they have to pick up the pieces and get on with life again. A confident person doesn’t blame others, they don’t blame their tools. They take responsibility for their actions: the good and the bad. A confident person doesn’t need accolades (though they probably like awards and gifts).
There is nothing wrong with posting things on social media- that’s the point of it. I enjoy shots of graduations and award ceremonies and sports victories. Seeing the happy moments in other peoples lives makes me happy. But social media posts are not supposed to make others feel bad, or shame them into doing things they can’t afford. Its just supposed to be an easy way of sharing information with the people you care about.
If you ever feel bad about yourself because of something on social media- don’t- because that’s only one side of the story.
As my daughter successfully navigated her way through her sophomore year of high school, my husband and I navigated our way through what I can only think of as Pre-K. Remember pre-k? Your child spends more time away from you. They make new friends, learn new things- it’s the beginning of independence. This is basically what my husband and I experienced this past year.
For the better part of 15 years, I’ve cringed at the sound of “MOM”. OK- not really cringed, but how many times can you hear a word before you start to dread it? It was a Pavlovian response- I hear Mom and I stop what I’m doing and follow the sound. But that changed this year. I began to hear the word less and less. I was no longer asked to help with homework-( To be fair, I no longer understand the questions she’s being asked. When she showed me a question she had on Dante, I just laughed) Armed with a metrocard and an Uber app, she no longer asked me to pick her up or meet her when she was returning home. A part time tutoring job gave her a little financial independence. Things that I had previously done for her she began doing herself. I was proud of her confidence and her ability to get things done, yet….it was a little weird. I now had more time to spend with the husband.
The husband? Oh yeah- that guy I share the house with. We had more time together. What now?
I have friends who have already experienced empty nest, but now my husband and I got to preview it for free. The daughter is obviously still around- we feed her and all, but she’s got her own life. Now we had to recreate our own life.
But how to start dating your husband after fifteen year?
I tried to think back to what we did when we were dating. Remembering anything can be a challenge, and I really wished my old palm pilot still worked so I could look back at my social calendar. But this shouldn’t be too hard. I mean- I talked to this guy every day….So I came up with a plan and made a list.
We’re both foodies, so I started researching restaurants. My goal wasn’t to try the top 50 dining establishments in my city- I wanted it to be fun. We love ethnic street food, so I picked a staple (hand cut and knife pulled noodles) and began visiting establishments that served them. We compared our favorites, discussed why we didn’t like certain dishes. We tried new places and explored neighborhoods we didn’t know much about. We created new memories of just the two of us.
I read up on things to do in the city (OK- I live in NYC- there is literally something happening all the time) Pinball, shuffleboard, indoor driving ranges. Galleries, lectures, outdoor concerts. Instead of planning activities that we thought the daughter might like, we concentrated on things we might like. When we were home during the week we played backgammon or darts. I’m guessing we’ll eventually take up bridge. (My friends Mother in law said that you can’t survive empty nesthood without learning how to play cards) It really didn’t matter the activity- it was being able to connect with one another.
We also upped our double dating game. I made a conscious effort to plan outings with our friends. When the kids were younger, I didn’t like socializing with friends because the outings often included children. ( I know. I’m horrible. But I don’t love hanging out with other peoples children. Everyone is allowed to parent their child any way they see fit. I just don’t need to see it) But an “R” rated evening- maybe PG13- is always welcome. And the husband got to see how great a wife I am. Sometimes side by side comparison is your friend.
There is also some compromising involved. I watch Ranger games with the husband. (This is especially hard as I grew up in the shadow of Nassau Coliseum as an Islander fan) He goes to video installation art with me (I’m obsessed with any sort of edited footage of different events to create a story- him- not even close).
The biggest challenge is learning to communicate without your child as buffer. Conversing for an hour or so without mentioning the kids is often difficult. You know how acquaintances will start discussing the weather? Parents just automatically talk about the kids- and it’s a hard habit to break. Each partner needs to make a conscious effort to talk about other things. Remember when you were dating? Remember the conversations? You didn’t talk about kids back then- don’t do it now.
Preparing for the nest to be empty is a work in progress. There will be bumps in the road, but we just have to figure out how to handle them. Baby steps- a little more each day.
DAUGHTER: How am I going to survive junior year?
MOM: Wake up. Eat breakfast. Do your best.
DAUGHTER: My grades…..
MOM: Do your homework. Study a little every day. You’ll be fine.
DAUGHTER: FINE? Fine won’t get me into Yale……
MOM: Freaking out won’t either. There’s no spot on the application that asks how much you freaked out.
DAUGHTER: Tennis and the clubs……community service…..
MOM: Do what you can. Say no to what you can’t.
DAUGHTER: I can’t
MOM: Yes you can. You tell me no all the time. It’s apparently easy for you.
MOM: You will survive because you are a survivor. You can do anything you set your mind to. You amaze me. It will all be fine.
Apparently, a remake of “Dirty Dancing” was made. I saw a commercial. I saw some of the stars being interviewed. What I did not see was the actual remake. I refused on the grounds of….I just don’t want to.
I remember when the original came out. I loved that movie. I thought it was an amazing coming of age story. You watched Baby learn how to navigate an adult world, toeing the line between being a teen age daughter and becoming an independent adult. It also gave the viewer a glimpse into the historic cultural changes that were about to hit in the 1960s.
Debra Messing portrays the Mother in the remake. I saw her interviewed. I love Debra Messing as an actress. She is funny and warm and intelligent, and she starred in on of my favorite all time sitcoms. But when she talked about how you were going to see much more of the mothers story…….stop. Stop right there. This isn’t about the mother. It’s about Baby becoming Francis. That was the beauty of it.
So watching the remake was never going to happen.
I couldn’t help but wonder: why remake this movie? This movie that people adore?
Can something become more iconic?
Or are we just trying to recreate a perfect experience?
Sometimes things need to remain a memory. Sometimes things need to remain in the past. There are no do overs.
When life gets tough, we often think back to “the good old days”. We look at old pictures, watch video, reread journals…..anything to bring us to a better place. We want to recreate the good feelings that we had. But you can’t recreate an exact moment, an exact feeling. A unique set of circumstances happened in a unique order to create a singular experience. A guy walks into a room exactly when you turn your head…..Love at first sight. You can never remake that specific moment. That specific feeling.
You can’t remake your innocence.
The reason past experiences seem so much better is because we viewed them with less mature eyes. Getting older is simply adding more life experience to our bodies, to our minds, to our hearts. As each day passes we may suddenly understand something better, form a new hypothesis. Conversely, things could get a little more confusing, add new questions to our already overloaded circuits.
We can’t remake our memories because we are no longer the people we were.
Remember the past
Plan for the future
Live in the present
Molly: I get the impression you don’t like him.
Polly: I don’t.
Polly: He calls you fat.
Molly: I am fat.
Polly: No you’re not.
Molly: I certainly give the impression of being fat.
Polly: How is that?
Molly: I weigh over 200 pounds. I am barely five feet tall. I can’t ride a roller coaster because I don’t fit.
Polly: He still shouldn’t call you that.
Molly: At least he calls me. No one else does. Except you. And you’re my sister. Who fits in a roller coaster seat. And has people calling her.
For my most recent birthday, my family gifted me with a spa certificate. The aesthetic of this particular spa is soothing water based relaxation, featuring steam, sauna, plunge pool and jetted pool. The goal of an experience such as this is pure relaxation. Pure relaxation can lead to thinking about varying things, both deep and shallow…..So, in no particular order, are the things that pure relaxation brought to mind.
1) There is no reason to post a “Maximum Occupancy 2” sign above an ice cold plunge pool. I didn’t see one person go in past their ankles.
2) The locker room made me self conscious. I am not thin, nor am I heavy. But my body has changed with age. Since Voldemort (I’m using this word because I don’t want to use the dreaded “M” word) I have gone up a few sizes. My body has shifted uncomfortably south. Changing into my bathing suit in a locker room of extremely fit 20 somethings was a little intimidating. I felt judged (and honestly, I probably was) and I wanted to scream ” talk to me in 30 years…after you’ve had a kid”) For the first time in my life I changed out of my bathing suit in the stall( to be fair, the location was practical).
3) Two cups of chamomile tea, three glasses of lemon water and the sounds of a waterfall are not great on a post childbirth bladder.
4) The smell of eucalyptus in a a steamroom is intoxicating. I am going to buy a dram of eucalyptus oil to sniff whenever I want to get to my Happy place.
5) Mothers and daughters visit the spa together. I could never do that with my Mom. First off, she would hate the spa experience. She would not find water therapy relaxing. She would not enjoy a massage. But more importantly, my Mom is not my friend yet- she is still clearly trying to control any situation we are both involved in. This wasn’t a new thing I learned at the spa- it just highlighted my relationship issue with her. After 53 years the relationship between my mother and I is still in the rough stages. My goal is for my relationship with my daughter will be better. I don’t know how to fix my relationship with my Mother.
6) I don’t understand why people want you to be quiet in a loud coffee shop, but have no problem being loud in a whirlpool tub with only classical music and rushing water sounds as backdrop.
7) I found the steam room to be a little claustrophobic at first. I almost didn’t want to shut the door because I had this insane fear that I wouldn’t be able to open the door again. (I think I saw that scene in a horror movie) But it was also about how steamy the room was (duh)- I couldn’t see in front of me.
8) I found myself in the sauna with two men. No, I didn’t feel self-conscious about my body (that special privilege is reserved to when I’m around women). But I had to laugh, because I think men just always talk about sports. I learned way more than I ever wanted to about the basketball playoffs.
9) Warm towels are spectacular. I can think of no other word to describe drying off with a big, fluffy warm towel.
10) When the masseuse asks if there is any part of your body that is particularly tense, it’s easier to list the parts that aren’t tense.
Alas, my spa day ended way too soon. When I returned home I found to my dismay that I was not exempt from:
1) walking the dog
2) baking brownies for a bake sale
4) buying peaches and eggs
5) accompanying my daughter to her annual check up
and so on……
But while it lasted, my day was perfect, for body and soul.