Tag Archives: turning fifty

Letting it Out

9 Apr

photo (28)You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting on my blog as much as I have in the past, which I sincerely hope you don’t think is a good thing because that would be a definite blow to my already fragile ego.

I remember when I first starting blogging, I was so in the writing zone—I would post something every few days—my brain was constantly popping with ideas. After a while the posts went down to once a week, twice a month, and then finally whittling down to once a month if at all. You get the picture.

There are several reasons I’m not posting as often. Primarily, it’s because I’m spending what little time I can carve out of my busy day to work on my novel—which, I’ve just begun to realize, is going to take way longer than I thought. I’m up to twenty eight chapters with no end in sight. I never would have thought that writing a novel would consume me so deeply. It’s a very strange process where I feel like my characters are these horrible, rebellious little people stuck in my brain, fighting with all of their might to come out while gleefully taking me down in the process. I hate them at times but mostly I love them.

I’ve also stopped blogging as much because the truth is that I’ve begun to bore myself by writing about the same topics over and over. God knows that if I’m boring myself, I can only imagine how you feel. I can even hear your voices in my head: Please stop making me cry with sad stories of kids with cancer, or For god’s sake, stop going on and on about how happy you are now that you’ve hit fifty and I swear if you post one more picture of your flower garden I will come over and personally drive my car right over your flower beds. I know, right? Sorry. Even as I write this, I’m realizing that these words sound strangely familiar which means I’ve  probably already written this exact post somewhere in the not too distant past. I’d go back and read through the archives to find it, but I’m way too tired to check.

The writing process is often agonizing. Lately I find myself trapped in these moods where nothing is ever right and all I do is moan and groan and complain and try to blame it on my husband or my kids or on the hormone situation (another topic beaten to death) and then I realize that I’m most likely grumpy because I need to let something out and the way I do that is by writing and sharing it with others. Through the act of writing I feel alive and connected with the outside world and even if it’s just a photo on Instagram, a line or two on Facebook (or Twitter, which I’m only now getting the hang of) or an essay on my blog, I feel more alive after hitting  the “publish” or “share” button. If just writing a post on my blog makes me feel so satisfied, I can only imagine the high of publishing an actual novel, so I’m going to keep at it no matter how long it takes.

Talk about good timing. Yesterday, writer Elizabeth Gilbert posted this on her Facebook page and it totally resonated with me. Here is an excerpt:

I am a writer. If I have a story in me that I’m not able to tell, things will start going wrong all over my life. If I have a story in my head and I tell it, “I’ll get to you in 2015,” that story will start to rebel, start to act out, start to claw at the walls. That’s when the shit gets dark in my world. 

Because having a creative mind is something like owning a Border terrier; it needs a job.  And if you don’t give it a job, it will INVENT a job (which will involve tearing something up.) Which why I have learned over the years that if I am not actively creating something, chances are I am about to start actively destroying something. 

And that ain’t good.

I believe that readers don’t need good writers, although that’s always a plus. The truth is it’s the writers who need good readers. Someone  probably already wrote that somewhere and I should find out who it is and give them their due credit, but I’m way too tired to check.

Life can be crazy at times and I’m often too tired to do a lot of things, but I’m not too tired to tell you something important: I appreciate you for being my good reader. Because without you, I can’t share who I am, and then all kinds of chaos breaks out inside my head.

And that ain’t good.

Another shot of my flower garden. It's just too pretty not to share.

Another shot of my flower garden. It’s just too pretty not to share.

Worth Repeating

15 Nov

As many of you already know, I turned fifty years old this past summer. I’ve always liked the number 50; it feels substantial and important—and I feel as if my feet are planted solidly on the ground for the first time in my life.  When I neared the half-century mark in July, I thought depression would descend down upon me as it had when I turned thirty and then forty, but the day passed like any other; there were no theatrical tantrums or crying jags. Oddly, those feelings of tremendous loss I experienced in the past were nowhere to be found.

Maybe it’s because we calculate so much of our lives with the “whole” being one hundred that turning fifty feels like I’ve only reached at the half-way mark. Perhaps it’s because we’re all living longer these days, and there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be around for the next fifty years. Most likely though, it’s that I finally realized that there’s just no going back or going forward—it’s the right now that matters most. By being totally absorbed in each moment, there’s no opportunity for me to latch onto unhappiness. I’ve learned to stop fighting my path and just allow what’s going to happen to happen.

Before you read on, I’ll beg your forgiveness in advance, because I’m just about to repeat myself for the umpteenth time. Please not again, you’re thinking. So her daughter got cancer and she went through some huge transformation and now she’s finally happy—enough already! Can’t she find something else to write about?

Sorry, but this stuff needs to be repeated.

If you’ve read my blog, you’ll see that the central theme that runs through many of my posts is that I allowed my negative childhood experiences to mold me into a fearful woman who never believed in or loved herself enough. I wasted most of my life allowing that insecurity and sense of worthlessness to establish itself so firmly into my psyche that any seed of gratitude was powerless to sprout, no matter what type of nourishment was offered for its growth.

Dissatisfaction is a greedy beast and will steal your life away before you know it. There are huge chunks of time that have been lost to me—mainly those years when my three older children were very young. Seriously, if you ask me what happened between 1989 and 2004, I won’t be able to tell you much, except that I spent most of that time feeling worried, dissatisfied, and believing the lie that I was unlovable. I hardly remember interacting or playing with my children during that period—probably because I rarely did. Thank God for photo albums, because in those albums is the only proof that I was physically there, going through the motions: cooking the holiday meals, planning the birthday parties, helping with the homework. My children reaped the benefits of my being a good mother, but because I wasn’t thoroughly present for any of it, I’m the one who lost out in the end.

Nora, Nino and Leah at Christmas 1996. I wish I could remember it more clearly.

But life is often generous with second chances. When I was forty-two, I received a huge surprise: I became pregnant with my youngest daughter, Isa. Although I was terrified of this unplanned pregnancy so late in my life, I remember thinking that this baby offered me my final chance to get it right. Her birth was such a joyous occasion—the entire family was present as she came into this world squawking like a magpie with a cap of thick black hair covering her head. As I looked into her solemn eyes, I promised myself that I wouldn’t miss out a single moment with this child. I would treasure every minute I had with Isa, and enjoy each one of her milestones with utter delight.

Isa on my chest seconds after her birth

But old habits are so terribly hard to break. Before long, I found myself slipping back into those same patterns of not feeling fulfilled.  Like black mold stealthily growing behind the bedroom wall, those poisonous thoughts once again crept into my consciousness, brainwashing me into thinking that there should have been much more to life than changing diapers, doing laundry and picking up after everyone’s messes. I began to tire of my piano teaching career—it soon became a mundane chore where I perceived only that my students didn’t practice enough nor performed up to my expectations.

My discontent didn’t stop there. Although I loved my husband, I never allowed myself to really understand his point of view—I was the one who was always right and I would not give an inch to compromise. Even though my three older children excelled in all areas, to me, their successes were never quite good enough. Each day I would wake filled with a pervasive anxiety that we never had and never will have sufficient money to pay the bills, let alone go on a vacation. I was exhausted, angry and stuffing my feelings down by constant overeating. I gained over fifty pounds. I let all my good intentions slide, and once again began to distance myself from my present existence— constantly imagining a future that was better than the life I had in right in front of me.

Then the worst thing happened or as I know now, the best thing happened. I had to choose which one it was, and miraculously, I chose the latter. Well, you know the rest of the story… Isa got cancer, and I got another chance.

So fast forward five years. Everything is different. Although I still have to fight off the demons of dissatisfaction at times, I let those negative feelings waft through my brain like lingering cigarette smoke—it temporarily reeks, but after awhile it dissipates into the breeze. It has no chance to stink up my life because there is just too much fresh air circulating around for it to survive for very long.

I now take pleasure in the smallest, most insignificant things: folding a load of laundry fresh from the dryer while watching Modern Family; inhaling the fragrant scent of Isa’s just washed hair as I brush it in the morning before she leaves for school; a late night phone call from Leah wondering how my day went; the sound of Nora reading Harry Potter to Isa before bed; Nino laughing hysterically at one of my stupid jokes; listening to one of my piano students shape a musical phrase with such lyricism that I almost want to cry; and holding hands with my husband of twenty-five years in a darkened movie theater.

Before my last chance, these things meant nothing. Now they are everything. And the joy just keeps growing.

And that is why I keep repeating myself.

Because that, my friends, is the key to a happy life.

Turning Fifty

15 Jul


When I was a young girl, I remember thinking how very strange it would be to enter a new millennium. My adolescent mind pictured the year 2000 like a Jetson’s cartoon, where people lived in colonies on the moon; where jet-packs were the norm and people flew around in domed space cars. How ridiculous that this all seemed plausible to me. Never once did I imagine anything as miraculous as the internet or smart phones.

I was born into the very last group of Baby Boomers and to be honest, I was quite comfortable hanging out in the twentieth century. The thought that the date would someday turn to the year 2000 seemed unfathomable to me. Once, during my seventh grade Social Studies class, I was so bored that I began doodling the numbers 2-0-0-0 on my beat-up Pee-Chee folder (right next to “Jessie X Brian = LUV”). I did the math and figured out that I would be thirty-seven years old when the date changed from 1999 to 2000.  This flabbergasted me—thirty-seven was ancient!

As did many of the young girls of my generation, I began to resent the sluggishness of time. Back then, the days seemed to move by in an unhurried fashion, drifting slowly along like the carefully crafted origami boats that I folded with precision and let float down the neighborhood creek. The air was pure, the skies were bright blue and the earthy scent of blooming algae drugged me into a state of lazy repose. Only the shock of the icy water on my curled-up toes kept me from falling into a deep sleep under the shady sycamore trees that lined the creek.

I was too young to understand the beauty of those sweet and languorous days. I soon became swept up in the tumultuous time of the early 1970’s and I got caught in the rush to grow up. I became bored with the slow passage of time, and in my impatience I began to long for something more—something better than what I thought I had.

I ached to be older; I wished to grow up as fast as possible and become beautiful and desirable—I wanted to be wanted. I prayed nightly for my body to look good in a bikini, for my period to start—to finally reach sixteen so I could go out on dates with boys. I was more than ready to leave my childhood behind; I wanted to grow up and be a woman. Damaging words began to form in my mind and their weight grew heavier as each year passed: “If only (fill in the blank) happened, then I would be happy.”

If only I could grow up, then I would be happy.

The joke’s on me though, because 2012 is here and today I turn fifty years old. I’ve finally grown up. How did that happen? I only looked away for a second and the years blew by me like the Santa Ana winds that gust through the dry canyons in September. I want a do-over! I want to climb into that girl’s nimble twelve-year old body and run and run, the wind whipping my long mane of wavy hair as I gallop to nowhere.

I wish I could go back in time and shake some sense into that silly girl and tell her to slow down and relish those days when her body was firm and agile and life was simple. I’d tell her to leap off the high-dive into that cold clear water and feel the bubbles tickle her body as she rises to the surface. I’d tell her to stop worrying so much about what was to come, but to spend her time savoring the simple and uncomplicated moments that make up her life.

My obsession with chocolate cake started very early.

I’m now a middle-aged woman living in a fifty year-old body—one that is tired and sore at times, but inside I’m still that girl who wants to run free. What has changed is that my many years of experiences have given me wisdom, and I now realize the significance of the so-called “mundane.” I’ve lived a long fifty years, and I’ve learned that it’s not some intangible future destination that holds the key to my happiness—it’s the “right now.”

Lucky for me, I still have time to learn to be deliciously present in every single moment. It won’t always be easy, but as I take that deep breath and blow out those fifty candles on my double layer, dark chocolate birthday cake, I’ll make a wish for the strength to continue to be grateful for all that I have—right now, at this very moment in time.

 

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.