Thursday, July 24, 2014

How do you want to look back on this?

My mother.
I know her game.
My mother and I discuss grown children from time to time because, well, we have that in common now. 

Either because she's gracious or because she really doesn't know, every so often, she'll ask how I've handled a particular situation with my adult kids. If it's praiseworthy, she'll repeat what I've said as if I'm the wisest person she's ever met.

I like that about my mother.

The other night, we chatted about Sam, who is home for the last summer before he goes off to make his fortune and buy his father and me matching convertibles.

"How's it all going?" she asked.

Forget that Sam, like the other kids, is a bright and hardworking young adult who knows when he is and isn't doing his best, and which end of that range to stay at. Or, that he is funny and charming and does impressions. Or, that he breaks into song while he's walking around the house complete with instrumental sound effects, including trumpets. Forget that there's a certain sizzle in the air that I can't describe, but which wasn't there before and will not be there in four weeks.

That wasn't what she asked.

Her question was more about the adjustment everyone makes when a kid comes home to the quiet, tidy and formerly empty nest after living with his buddies for a year  in space he has described to his mother as "You wouldn't like it."

She said, "You hear about so many parents dealing with reintroducing rules and finding compromises and just having so many conversations about so many issues."

"Well, you know,"  I said to my mother, "We 'keep house' differently, and, well, I never really know when he's going to be in and out, and well, we run out of stuff a lot, and well,  the laundry room might be free or might not be,"  and so on. "So yeah, it's an adjustment for everyone, but well... "

Sam has been home since the middle of May. I've made one policy request which is to let us know if he plans to be overnight somewhere. If I could, or should, or might nag him about things in connection with keeping our nest neat, I try to remember that he too, has had to adjust. Suddenly people are noticing and commenting on his comings and goings which have drawn the attention of nobody for a long time. I doubt any of his college peers have stopped in the doorway to his room and said, "How do you find anything in here?" Or, "Don't you think you should hang the clothes that are clean?"

We have reached a tacit compromise. He won't tell us to get off his back. We won't tell him when to come home or how much sleep he should get.

I told my mother, "A year from now when he's someplace else, I'll think about this summer, right now. How do I want to look back on it? Do I want to remember how I nagged him? Or that I learned to just let go of stuff that doesn't matter?"

She repeated this, "how do I want to look back on it?" as if I were the wisest person she's ever met. In truth, she has been practicing the art of shutting up since long before my first labor pain. 

I know her game.

My mother is fond of saying about raising children, "Give them a break, the world will knock them over soon enough."  I wasn't an awful teenager, but I was not the chipper, high-honors, volunteer-at-the-soup-kitchen kind either. She was the queen of break-givers. Only once, did she stop what she was doing, turn to me and tell me that I could keep complaining about having nothing to look forward to for the rest of my life, or maybe I could ride my fanny over to hospital and read to sick little children in Pediatrics. I'm not kidding when I say I love her for that, even though I chose a third option of, well, shutting up about my bleak future.

This last summer with Sam has made me remember that moments pass, but don't disappear. We'll look back on them one way or another, and I don't want to remember issues and compromises and new rules and conversations about coexisting. I want to add these good summer days to my archives and remember trumpet impressions.

If you are in the middle of a "last summer" yourself, or, if you have those issues my mother referred to, my advice is this:

Address things as you must, nobody likes a martyr. But also, in the words of a psychology professor I once had, if possible, "Never miss an opportunity to shut up".

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why fifty is a kick-ass decade worth waiting for

This re-post is dedicated to my good friend and cousin Hollis Cook, who, I suspect, is under her bed hiding from fifty. 

I did not love my forties like I was supposed to. Usually at the salon, I read about women who, at forty were settling into themselves, asserting their independence,  accepting their flaws, embracing  their wisdom and no longer feeling guilty for saying "no" and, I thought: I'm not doing this right

I've caught up.

At the salon last week, my hair stylist, who is lovable, and blunt and not yet thirty said this to me:

"I keep hearing that it's great to be older because you just don't give a crap about all the stuff  that used to upset you. Is that true?"

Well, hair stylist, yes. That statement, for instance did not upset me.

I'd like to believe I would not have sulked over that at forty, but I would have. Possibly, I would have switched to one of those equally sulky,  dressed-in-black stylists in Boston who don't speak to their clients. 

But because I like candid, charming people more than any other kind, I said, "Mine is the most kick-ass age there is. I do what I want, when I want to, and I do it better."

"That is so awesome," she said, hair tools poised, "I can't wait."

Then, someone on the floor chimed in:

"It's true. Fifty is the new forty."

Well, other salon patron, I thought, I hope not.  I hope fifties is not the new forties for two reasons:

First, in my circle, forties was a time for scrutinizing (and maybe pruning) our lives and relationships while ushering our teenage children through high school and into college with as little household stress as possible. While it is characteristic of forties to enjoy a heightened love of life, self and others,  in my rear view mirror, this energetic decade left little off-the-clock time for that kind of zen-ing.  For me, it was hard to be most places without wondering if I was needed somewhere else.

My circle also agrees that for many women in their forties, there is a late preoccupation with appearance because we fear our days of being considered more desirable - professionally, romantically and personally - are numbered.  Even if we are well adjusted as fifty looms, there is pressure to be sure we are, because you only have so much time to straighten the hell out before that axe falls. 

Well, Hollis, and anyone else hiding under the bed, here are too many good things about fifties to liken them to some other age, especially forties. 

I'm generalizing, of course, and using the universal "you" because it's efficient. Feel free to disagree, but here is my take:

  • After being child-focused for years, being self-centered is entirely okay.
  • You don't replay awkward moments or remarks, you say "eh" and think about something else. 
  • You feel comfortable with moments of silence in a conversation. You stop rambling. 
  • You accept criticism without feeling defensive. Often, you are grateful for it.
  • You develop antennae for insincerity, whether you choose to do anything about it or not.
  • You turn your mistakes and disappointments into funny stories and you know exactly who to tell them to.  
  • Things you're afraid of start to fall away except for the things that could actually kill you.
  • If you've had words with someone, you don't waste time.  If the relationship is worth it, you make them come out with you for a glass of wine and fix it. 
  • You understand that you can't, and never could, control how much people like you and so you stop trying which - what do you know - makes you more likable. 
Let's review. In your forties:

You are younger.

The serenity of fifties is worth waiting for in my opinion, but only if you value the improvements in your emotional life and relationships more than you lament changes in your appearance. Because you will be offered views of yourself that take you by surprise:  storefront reflections, dressing room mirrors,  doctors who have not finished having their own children, but begin their advice with, "Well, as we age..."

But fifties have become things they didn't used to be, and not because they became forties again. In ye fifties of olde, we started wearing lavender double knit pants and rubbery beige shoes. Now we go back for degrees, start online magazines (hi Sharon and Anne), write novels (and screenplays, Hollis, screenplays) and travel like nobody's business. 

My hair stylist finished my do and said, "There you go, you're a rock star again."

Fifty is not the new forty. I was not a rock star in my forties.  Fifty is the new fifty. 

And Hollis, Precious, it is kick-ass.