Tag Archives: friendship between women

The Three I’s

17 Feb

This summer I will turn sixty. It won’t be too life-changing, as I’ve settled comfortably into middle age. I love my job, my kids are nearby, and I’ve worked hard to make my lifelong dream of becoming a published author come true. I’m the first to admit that I’m one of the lucky ones.

They (and who the hell are they, anyway?) say that “sixty is the new forty,” but I’m not the only one of my women friends who would beg to differ on this. Actually, most of us have never stopped feeing like teenagers in our hearts and minds, but whether or not we care to admit it, our bodies are telling us another story as we get out of bed each morning.

Aside from the sore knees and sagging bottoms, women my age also begin to face other non-health related issues as we head into our twilight years. I like to refer to them as three I’s: invisibility, irrelevancy, and inferiority.

Let’s start with invisibility. If you’re a woman my age, you’ve undoubtedly felt invisible at one time or another. I usually experience invisibility when I’m standing in line, waiting to order my coffee/salad/donut, and the counter person, (usually a cute college guy) has been bantering flirtatiously with a young, dewy-eyed coed ahead of me in line about some party/college course/road trip for close to five minutes. He does not care one whit that I need my caffeine/ roughage/sugar fix before I collapse onto the floor. Yes, it’s true that I’m becoming more impatient as I age, (this is not unreasonable considering my time here on earth is limited) but to not even acknowledge my presence with an “I’ll be with you in a minute,” is dehumanizing and unfair. Sure, my eyelids and jowls sag, but loose skin has not affected my own extraordinary bantering ability that I’ve honed to perfection over the years. It’s not fair—I want to banter, too!

In addition to being invisible, Irrelevancy has now profoundly entered my life. No matter what I’ve accomplished over the past six decades, I’m pretty much irrelevant now. I get that no one cares that I know all the lyrics to every James Taylor/Simon and Garfunkle/Beatles song ever written, but it’s difficult to face I’m just an old boomer who has ruined the planet (seriously sorry about this) and can’t remember anything past 1989 when I had my first kid. While my adult children still adore me, they have the habit of schooling me at every turn. I can hardly utter a sentence without an exclamation of “MOM! You can’t say that!” or “Careful…” While I truly appreciate their constant and pertinent education on social issues, once in a while I’d really love to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

As of late, I also think I’m regressing somewhat, and find myself experiencing some intense feelings of Inferiority. Whereas in junior high it was an overload of hormones surging through my body that caused me to feel inferior, I now think that it’s the recent lack of hormones that has contributed to the questioning of my fragile self-worth. If I’m lucky, I only have a good thirty years or so left on this planet, and I want to enjoy every last minute. Watching my body change so drastically exacerbates those constant feelings of not being good enough, and this sucks the joy right out of my life. I want to be confident, sassy and interesting, but society is not letting me.

Wah!

Okay, that’s enough, Jess—you’re being a big baby. It’s time to grow up and stop giving a shit about what you perceive others think (or don’t think) about you. It’s time to celebrate your middle-aged self; appreciate your life experiences, and be grateful for that still-functioning body.

It’s time for a sixtieth birthday road trip. Middle-aged women need only apply.

Wine and snacks included.

Leading the Formation

19 Jan

I went to my dear friend, Corrine’s sixtieth birthday party this past weekend. Caveat: it was a small event held at a winery in Paso Robles with lots of open outdoor space and everyone got tested beforehand. It was a delightful affair, where the love for my best friend flowed as generously as the wine.

I first met Corrine when I was an anxious seventh-grader who was terrified of not finding someone to eat lunch with in junior high. Corrine swiftly took me under her wing and together with eight other girls we formed a tight girlfriend formation that has flown together through weddings, births, and funerals, for close to fifty years.

Teenage sleepovers at Corrine’s were epic, as her house in 1974 was like walking into a hippie commune. Vibrant color was everywhere— dozens of oil paintings in bright greens and yellows hung on the walls, Creeping Charlie trailed from macramé hangers, and the coffee table was actually made out of a large railroad cable spool of some sort. It was shocking to me at first— was nothing like the dull avocado and gold hues of my own house. Walking through Corrine’s front door was like walking into a magical land where Fleetwood Mac played in the background and the faint scent of marijuana smoke seeped out from under a back bedroom door. The healthy snacks in the cupboard were mostly unpalatable, but we didn’t care—711 was just down the street, and Corrine’s mom was away at work all day. As long as Corrine completed her daily chores, we had the freedom to make as many prank phone calls as we could fit into an afternoon. Compared to my tension-filled home, hanging out at Corrine’s was like Nirvana.

Corrine and I were inseparable in high school, where she was a theatre geek and homecoming princess, while I practiced the piano and crushed on the boys she dated. She had (and still has) this unique gift of drawing a wide variety of people into her life; she was so easygoing, accepting and non-judgmental that she made friends with everyone.

Corrine’s path was a bit different from mine. While I headed off to study music in college, she got married, moved to Colorado and had two beautiful girls right away. Her marriage broke up, but she subsequently had the good fortune to find the love of her life, Daniel, who became the real father to her daughters, Jaylene and Shelby. They worked hard for years to develop their successful business and make a stable life for their family. It paid off. Her children adore her, she travels constantly, and most enviously, she’s the only one in our group who has grandchildren.

If I didn’t love her so much, I’d hate her.

For several years now, the isolation of the pandemic, coupled with the widening dissimilarities in our political beliefs has caused the perfect V-formation of our girlfriend group to fracture somewhat. We are not flying in sync as we have for so many years. For me, this has been quite painful.

But as I watched Corrine’s friends and family surround her with such love during her party, I realized that I need take a lesson from Corrine—that maybe loving others without judgement is the key. That it’s in my wheelhouse to let things go if I choose— that we all are different, but we are all beautiful. Perhaps what I’ve found so unacceptable right now will not always feel so significant in the future. There is hope for healing.

As I celebrate Corrine on her sixtieth, I realize I’m right behind her. When we were twelve, it never crossed our minds that time would run out. Now we understand that we must make each moment count.

Thank you, my precious Corrine, for leading our formation with such grace and love.

With your example, we will soar.

 

Fierce

10 Dec
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photo credit: Kay Bess


Forty-four years ago, an insecure twelve-year old named Jessie stepped foot onto the campus of her junior high school and instantly realized the outfit her mother had bought for her at Sears was all wrong. She nervously tucked a strand of frizzy hair behind one ear before scratching at a group of pimples threatening to erupt on her chin. She felt like crying.

Her previous elementary school friendships had faded away over the summer and Jessie’s main concern that day was that she would end up eating lunch by herself. As noontime approached, her fear intensified. Then something wonderful happened. A pretty, brown-haired angel named Julie sat down next to her in English class and struck up a conversation. She invited Jessie to each lunch with her group.

It was the beginning of a miracle. A miracle that has continued to this day.

After graduation from high school, our friendships ebbed and flowed. Back then we had no social media, making it more difficult to stay in touch. We attended each other’s weddings and baby showers, but as a complete group we didn’t really bind to each other until my mother threw me a surprise 35th birthday party and secretly invited my nine best girlfriends. I don’t think we’ve ever laughed as hard as we did at that party, pouring over old yearbooks and reminiscing about our high school days. I believe it was then that we decided to make it a priority to meet up at least once a year near the holidays. What began as a dinner out eventually turned into an annual three day vacation trip.

Today we are closer than ever, mostly because of our shared history. More importantly, as we age, we find we need each other more. As our marriages end, as our children grow up and leave us; as our bodies begin to fail, we know that we can rely each other for love and support. No one knows me as well as these nine women do. We are free to reveal our true selves without fear of judgement or recrimination. Our secrets, once spilled to the group, are tucked away into the “vault” for all time.

This December, we traveled to Avila Beach and stayed in a lovely house. We had massages and facials. We cooked incredible meals together. We went on walks and bike rides together. We sang, some of us off key, some of us forgetting the words. We laughed so hard we cried.

I still find myself in awe of this unbreakable bond of friendship. When that nervous and insecure twelve year-old Jessie rears up inside my head I sometimes feel lost and afraid. But as soon as I’m with my girls, my strength returns. Because of them, I feel anchored. Because of them, I feel loved.

Because of them I feel fierce.

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Lunch together at Avila Beach, California

Whaddya Need?

23 Mar

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve suffered from a serious personality defect most of my life. This condition probably stemmed from me playing the leading role of anxious pleaser daughter of an alcoholic father/ middle girl child between two boys in my own personal After School Special that ran for most of my childhood. As I grew up, I completely bypassed any opportunity to be a part of the “me” generation in order to focus all of my energy on making everyone else happy. In a nutshell, I’ve been incapable of putting my own needs in front of others since I was about ten years old.

I’ve only just discovered (thanks to a good therapist) that I did this so that I wouldn’t have to face my own painful feelings relating to the experience of living in the chaos of an alcoholic household. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s always been easier for me not to deal with painful emotions. And it’s worked pretty well for about forty years. But as I face the second half of my life, I’m realizing that it’s just not working for me anymore. I want to feel—even if it hurts!

It’s utterly exhausting trying to please everyone all the time, and truthfully, it just can’t be done. This is the year of turning fifty, and I’ve finally realized it’s time for me to pay attention to me. Thanks to some life-altering experiences that have taken place in the past few years (the pivotal one being my daughter being diagnosed with cancer) I’ve begun to do just that—I’m finally starting to try to figure out what I want, whether it be writing again after thirty years of self-imposed literary exile, or even just choosing what I want to cook for dinner.  I’m finally seeing that taking care of my needs and doing what I want to do is not only best for me, but it’s best for those who love me.

Let me give you an example of the struggle I face when thinking about doing something for myself. First of all, I need to let you know that I’m the least spontaneous woman on the face of the planet. I’m a complete homebody and rarely go anywhere, preferring to stay home and putter about the house and garden. But this past weekend, I did something totally out of character. I left the kids and husband, got in my car alone and drove five hours north to Bass Lake (near Yosemite, California) to spend three days in a spectacular lake-front cabin with nine of my junior high school girlfriends (you can read how we met here https://allegronontanto.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/my-girls/) to celebrate that we’re all turning fifty this year.

Now most of you wouldn’t have thought twice about going, but I, on the other hand was my usual pathetic worry-wart and worked myself into a tizzy about whether or not I should cancel my Friday and Saturday piano lessons. I fretted about not showing up to play piano during the church service on Sunday, and I got anxious about leaving my youngest daughter for the first time. I knew I couldn’t miss this reunion for the world, but I wondered 1) how in the world my family would get along without me, and 2) who was I to think that I deserved to do something enjoyable just for me?

But the thought of missing out on this reunion weekend for any reason was just too unbearable, so I rescheduled lessons and managed to figure it all out. Friday morning, I dropped the kids off at school and hit the road.

It was a soothing and quiet drive to the lake—it was incredibly peaceful with no one asking me for anything, no one telling me what to do—I was free to stop and get coffee and listen to whatever I wanted on the radio. Yet I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing something wrong—that I didn’t deserve to be so blissfully happy. Why in the world did I feel guilty?

I arrived at the lake house to a clamor of squealing teenage girls masquerading as fifty year-old women and almost burst into tears of gratitude that I was actually there with all of them. The house, with its view of the lake and surrounding pine trees was more beautiful than I could have even imagined. I took a deep breath and decided to let it all go—all the useless worry and guilt and angst that I’ve held onto for so long and just be. If this house on the lake wasn’t the perfect setting to relax and regroup, well then, I might as well give up the dream right then and there.

“Whaddya need, Jessie?”                                    

I had been rifling through the kitchen cupboards of the lake house, looking for a loaf of sourdough bread on which to make a sandwich, when my friend, Corrine yelled those foreign-sounding words at me from across the dining room.

At first my girlfriends and I all cracked up, because it was so hilarious at the time—the way Corrine said it so loud and fast, like she was an impatient New Yorker and it was her job in life to figure out what I needed at that precise moment and then tell me where to find it. It became our pseudo-mantra for the weekend— when anyone was looking for something, or even if they looked contemplative or distant, we’d all shout, “WHADDYA NEED?” in a gruff, nasally voice. It was actually quite funny.

It may seem like a silly thing—having someone ask you what you need—but as women with families and relationships and responsibilities, we aren’t often asked what it is we need. How truly magnificent it was to hear someone ask me what I needed! And for me to ask my friends the same question back, over and over, even if it had become somewhat of a running joke, meant something to them, too.

As the weekend went on and the conversations became more personal and intimate, all of our hurts and secrets began to spill one by one like little droplets of red wine onto the spotless white tablecloth. It was useless to try to wipe up the stains—it’s nearly impossible to clean up all of life’s messes, no matter how hard we scour and scrub.

There was some deep and serious stuff revealed around that table—painful and devastating tales of sadness and loss were told involving our husbands, our children, our siblings.  As we talked and laughed and cried, I suddenly felt less alone. I began to understand that every single one of us was dealing with some sort of pain. Every woman at that table was still just a little girl inside, worrying about the mess they had in front of them, and how in the world they were going to clean it all up.

This is why I love turning fifty. Our differences have become less defined. All of us are getting older and our bodies are not what they once were—wrinkles and gray hair are our common denominators. But it no longer matters now—superficiality and vanity has flown the coop like a couple of squawking chickens. We’re at the point where we can truthfully admit to each other that our lives are not perfect and that we’re vulnerable and scared and often sad, but that’s okay. We can lay it all out on the table and feel safe in the knowledge that we’re not going to be judged or criticized. We recognize our own fragility and imperfections in each other and that’s what makes our love for one another even stronger.

A storm blew in on Saturday night and the rain pounded the roof like an arsenal exploding above us. It suddenly stopped in the middle of the night and I thought the tumult had finally passed. The next morning it was eerily quiet as I awoke to a soft cotton blanket of snow wrapped around the lake and mounds of creamy whipped frosting on the trees. An early spring storm had dumped over a foot of snow on the lake.

The snow sparkled like quartz rock in the early morning sunlight. I went out on the deck and breathed in that cold clear air and thought about how the worry and anxiety that I carry around on my back and in my heart were gone for the moment. My pain had been covered up by the blanket of love and support offered so freely by my friends.

“Whaddya need, Jessie?”

I know that the snow will melt eventually and reveal the dirt and dust underneath it—I know that there will be many more of life’s messes to clean up.  But at that moment, staring at the beauty of that uncontaminated white snow, I know I’m part of something so miraculous I can barely put it into words. I’m part of a group of women who love me for me, and that’s just what I need.

And I don’t have to think about anything else except that the love we share is like the newly fallen snow—glorious and pure and full of grace.