Monthly Archives: December 2012

When Families Evolve

resizedAllenEricaWed0218My stepdaughter won’t be coming home for Christmas.  I’m sad about this, and I’m sure her mother is, too.  But she was here a few months ago for nine days which she split between us.

When Jess comes home, we usually gab a lot, sip wine and watch movies on Netflix, visit thrift stores.  (We never go to malls, thank God.)  This last visit, however, her only request was, “I want us to cook together.”  I don’t remember what I taught her, but she took the lead on making a fennel salad and a sweet potato chorizo soup, both delicious.

Jess works as a designer.  Sometimes she’ll bring home plans she has drawn.  Other times she takes me to web pages that display renovation projects on which she has worked.  As she explains the problems and solutions of each job, I think how lucky I am to be able to share her.  Key to my being able to do this is her one, true mother, a generous woman who once sent me a Mother’s Day card that made me weepy.

But this blog isn’t only about Jess.  It’s about my large blended family, and how lucky we are.

My siblings range in age from 25 to 62, and they include one full brother, two half brothers, a half sister and two stepsisters.  I used to joke that we were a family waiting for a call from Oprah.  Then one day as I watched her show, I realized she had called a different family — one with a smaller age spread and no diversity in term of ethnicity or sexual preference. Our group has it all.  Sometime we squabble with each other but mostly we laugh.

When I was single and my half brothers were kids, I’d drive them and my niece and nephews to Peter Piper’s Pizza where they would take it upon themselves to call me “mommy.”  They wanted to shock the waitress that someone so young with no ring on her finger could have so many children.  They counted on her sympathy for free Coke refills which they knew I would never buy.

Until recent years, my siblings and I, along with our partners and children, and all of our parents and step-parents celebrated Christmas Eve en masse.  Those holidays were noisy and hectic but yet pleasantly civilized with my two fathers talking over cocktails; my mother chatting with my half brothers, who, like my nieces and nephews, called her Grandma while my stepmother and her year-older stepson took turns taking pictures.  I’ve no ideas how old the kids were before they sorted out the relationships between us all, but when my niece went to college and was assigned to draw her family tree, she called upon me for help.

People have called our family gatherings “crazy,” which is only true on Father’s Day when our annual ping-pong tournament causes a bit too many taunts and too much blustering.

We have my older brother’s first wife to thank for keeping our family together.  She refused to host multiple holiday and birthday parties after her first child was born. She invited all of the not-so-amicably divorced grandparents and their partners to her son’s first birthday and left it up to them to decide whether to attend, put away their differences and act as adults, which they did.

That was 30 years ago.

The Age of Invisibility? Time to Get Your Mojo Back.

DSCN0130When you are young and pretty, strangers stare.  When you’re older, they look, too.  Perhaps they pity the hunch of your back, the way your feet shuffle.  Or are amazed that you’re still alive, spry, walking, talking.  But at fifty-nine, you are invisible.  You walk the dog, and truckers breeze by, not bothering to honk.  You breakfast at coffee bars, and no one at the creamer caddie gives you a second glance.  At middle age, you are like a tree, a chair, a sign.  Something people pass by.  

The above comes from A Tree, a Chair, a Sign, a short story I wrote several years when I was more than 20 years younger than the narrator.  Not long before I started writing it, I’d noticed construction workers no longer whistled at me as I walked by, and no one coming or going from the 7-11 rushed to open the door for me.  These things and others signaled that I had entered into the phase of womanhood when college students and young newlyweds called me, “Ma’am.”

It was about that same time that my father said, “Now you’re even too old for the old guys.”  He was 61 at the time, my stepmother only a month older than I.  Neither she or I had hit middle age.

So I tried to imagine what women past their child-bearing years were feeling, and that led to the above passage, and the story in which a woman rediscovers her mojo.  Soon after, I found mine.

The reason I bring this up is lately I’ve heard a lot of 40- and 50-something women complaining that they feel invisible.  And not the kind by choice, like on a lazy day when you scoot to the grocery store as soon as it opens so no one will see  you with stringy bed hair and in paint-splattered sweats, scuffing down the aisles in an old pair of Ugg’s.  No, these are women who seem no longer sure what anchors them in the world larger than their own family.  These are smart, funny, talented people with more than enough knowledge for a competitive run on Jeopardy.

I had already started thinking about writing this post when I saw a rerun of The New Adventures of  Old Christine in which the title character griped to her brother that she had become invisible.  When she finished her rant, he responded, “It sounds like you need Mojo Rehabilitation Therapy.”  Ah ha, I thought, remembering how I energized my life.  MRT.  That’s it.

Sometimes, all of us, men  and women become too comfortable or too tired to change our lives. We don’t change jobs because we can’t risk losing our retirement benefits or health insurance.  We keep to same group of friends who are much like ourselves.  Nights out for dinner are set, except for the month of December. Family vacations revolve around family, taking the kids somewhere fun for them or visiting relatives in other states.  We stick to the same genre of books when we have time to read, although free moments are scarce.  The worst part?  The future doesn’t look so different from the last 12 years or so.  More of the same old, same old, except maybe a kid or two will move out.  Or not.

There  are millions of way to get in touch with your mojo, and it doesn’t have to be costly.  My first step was setting up a makeover at Sephorra.  Perhaps that sounds shallow and a bit vain — I do come from a long line of vain people, but it’s amazing how a cosmetic artist can alter a face with color, which, in turn, can change an attitude.  As I left the store with my new look and strolled through the mall, I kept admiring my reflection in the glass windows of other shops.  I couldn’t decide whether I looked like a French actress or a high-class Parisian hooker.  It didn’t matter.  I no longer felt invisible.  I felt reborn, not unlike my younger self that hopped on a plane and spend three months on traveling alone in Europe and Great Britain without a plan.  Unpredictable yet powerful.  Full of moxie and mojo.

For my more mature self, this last rebirth led to new travels to third-world countries, which, in turn, gave me a new perspective of where I fit in the large world.  When I returned home, I continued to shake up my life by giving up my job and enrolling in graduate school where I was often the oldest student in the class.  Sometimes even older than the professors.  Bigger things happened later.  All because of a bright sexy red lipstick that I had never imagined wearing.

Note:  Stuck?  Need help taking that first step?  Take a look at The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Or. . .call Sephorra.

Forget what I promised. . .

ResizedStellaWhen I started this blog, a friend advised me, “Keep it short,” and stay on one specific topic. I took half of her advice.

I set out to write here what I wanted and when I wanted, but I forgot doing so isn’t always my choice.  There are days when I can’t write.  The words aren’t in my brain.  Even though I worked for more than three decades as a writer, I can’t remember all the rules of grammar and punctuation.  I have a hard time identifying errors or typos while I’m writing.  Sometimes it takes days for me to recognize them.  That’s a small part of what happens when you have Lyme Disease.

What I didn’t say in my short bio is that I have “late stage” Lyme Disease, also known as stage three.  I seldom say that out loud.  Even thinking the term makes me cringe, because no one has named a fourth stage.

I’m fairly certain, however, I’m not on my way out since I entered this point of the disease probably 15 or more years before my diagnosis in spring 2012.  Back in the late 1990s, I was diagnosed as having Adult Onset Type One Diabetes and hypothyroidism. Soon after came the swelling of my brainstem that caused me to need a cane to walk. (Although I couldn’t walk on my own, I could stand, and I could run.  So I kept playing doubles tennis, staggering as I served.  Often aces in our mid-level group. )  After six months of reeling around town like a drunk, a wonderful physical therapist taught me to retrain another part of my brain to compensate for this dysequallibrium.

Okay, enough, blah, blah, blah.  I don’t intend for this to be a blog about Lyme Disease or Diabetes, but sometime I won’t be able to avoid the topic.  Especially since there are days like those between this post and the last when I started another treatment that led to a temporary cob-webbing of my brain.  Again.  And in these instances, I will talk about what’s up. Meanwhile, I advise all of you interested in the details of dealing with Lyme and its treatments to follow  The young woman writing that blog is extraordinary in her prose skills and her endurance for the most difficult of treatments.

So, after my last post I started the beginning of a Reishi extract treatment which will increase during the next two weeks.  Today is the first day where I didn’t retreat to my bed for at least two hours with chills that three layers of clothes and a quilt couldn’t ease.  Today has been full of doing, and for that I’m both happy and grateful.

So please bear with me on these days.  I have others during which I experience extraordinary moments that I’d like to tell you about.

By the way, that handsome dog you see?  That’s my muse, Stella.  The other two, Frankie and Gracie, could care less about writing.