Why I’m Ok With Not Being “The Hot Mom”

At my younger daughter’s graduation dinner the other night, my mother and I were talking about perceptions that my friends had of her, as a young mother. My daughter, knowing some of the history, said, “Grandma, you were the cool Mom! And the hot Mom!” Yes, it’s true that my mom was way “cooler” than I will ever be and my house was frequently the place you came to let your hair down, talk about your troubles and of course, party. Times were different and my Mom was only 18 years my senior. As my male friends can attest, my mom was, indeed, “the hot mom” on the block.

Then, an interesting thing happened. My mother asked her granddaughter: “What would you and your friends call your mom?”  Without hesitation, my daughter threw out three words in quick succession: “Successful. Smart. Hardworking.”

Now, I must admit, I’m female and I’m vain, so part of me was hoping she’d include the word “hot” in there somewhere! But all in all, I’d have to say that I felt immense pride and pleasure in her words.  There are so many moments spent raising children, most of them wondering if you’re doing the right thing. You know you are often making mistakes and you just hope they aren’t the sort that will take permanent root in your child’s psyche. The moments when you know you’ve done something right are few and far between, and often don’t come until after your children have become adults and flown the coop. That’s why hearing these words from my younger daughter – with whom I seem to battle so much these days – was so rewarding.

I’ve always been a working mom and don’t expect that to change. I know that I’m fortunate, having been able to start my own business when my oldest was just a baby and to be able to work from home for the past 19 years. I know for many working moms it’s not that easy and they have to add a commute and a typical 9-5 corporate day to their endless juggling. Like every working mother, at times I’ve felt guilt at my desk, thinking about my children, and guilt with my kids, thinking about work. I’ve multi-tasked to exhaustion, questioned my sanity, and wondered if what I was doing was right for both me and my kids.

At the end of the day, work became important not only for my sense of self and to be an equal partner with my husband in providing for our kids, but also critical to the values I wanted to impart to my girls. I wanted to show them that women can be whatever they choose: that they can have both a family and a career, that they can be successful in the corporate environment or forging their own path, and that they can find a partner in life who respects and takes pride in their success.  To find fulfillment in my job and to share that with my girls has been an essential part of my parenting.

So the other night it seemed that in just a few select words, my younger daughter told me all I needed to know about my choices. That she sees me as successful, smart and hard-working, gives me insight into her perception of moms and women, as a whole. And it gives me hope that she understands that hard work, a good education and a whole lot of enthusiasm and drive will also bring her success, in whatever way she chooses to pursue it.

So while she could have really made my day by adding “hot” to the already stellar list of adjectives, I’ll take what she has given me and know that on this long journey we call parenthood, I’ve done something right!

Getting Used to the Big Numbers…or 50 Things I’m Grateful For

At the end of this year, I will have to face a large number, a number that means I have reached five decades of existence. Why is this so difficult? After all, they say 50 is the new 30, a milestone, to be sure, but certainly not considered old age anymore. And as my husband is fond of saying, “it beats the alternative”. Maybe I fear it because I never imagined getting to this number. Like all kids, I couldn’t wait to be 16 so I could drive a car, 18 so I could go to college, become an adult and vote, and 21 so I could drink (ummm…legally). While I wasn’t anxious to reach the age of 30, I imagined where I would be and what I would be doing at that age (the year my first child was born, as it turned out –didn’t figure that!) and I could even see beyond that horizon to where I might be at 40. But 50? That’s just not a number I ever imagined.

So I’ve decided in an attempt to get used to that frightening number that I ought to start making lists of 50 that are not so scary. Like 50 things I’m grateful for, 50 things I’ve accomplished, 50 things I have yet to do, that I’m looking forward to doing some day.  50 places I’ve traveled and 50 I have yet to visit, 50 great novels (definitely won’t be including 50 Shades of Grey), 50 songs I can’t live without (maybe “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” should be on there), and maybe 50 posts I want to write. By making these lists maybe I’ll become accustomed to that scary-looking number by the time I get there….or maybe I’ll just have to drink a lot to hide the pain.

My inaugural list is 50 things I’m grateful for. Here goes:

1)   My health and that of my loved ones.

2)   My husband and the fact that his personality is the opposite of mine.

3)   My daughters.

4)   My Mom and Dad.

5)   My friends who are still my friends.

6)   My friends who are no longer my friends, but who helped shape me.

7)   The people who loaned me money in college.

8)   Every teacher who told me I could do “it”, whatever “it” was.

9)   My first love.

10) Being able to attend, and graduate from, UCLA.

11) Working from home for almost 19 years now.

12)  When I was still commuting to work every day, getting to drive down PCH every morning.

13)  All the clients who have hired me, those who have referred me and most especially, those who have hired me repeatedly to do work for them.

14) A good night’s sleep, when I get it.

15) The fact that my husband likes to cook.

16) The fact that one of my daughters has already taken after him in the cooking department.

17) The unconditional love of dogs.

18) Getting to spend part of my childhood in La Jolla.

19)  Music, music, music.

20) Books, books, books.

21) Daffodils in the spring.

22) Good wine.

23) Good, strong coffee.

24) Mint chip ice cream.

25) The scent of fresh lemon.

26) Pilates, without which I would be an injured, aching mess.

27)  Nordstrom’s customer service – can you beat it?

28) Getting to sit in the front row of the David Cassidy concert when I was 9 years old.

29) Getting to sit third row and front-row, center, respectively, at two Dave Matthews concerts as an adult and experience it with each of my daughters.

30) Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.

31) The beach.

32) Sunsets, especially at the beach.

33) Bangs…without them I might have to resort to Botox.

34) Online shopping.

35) Being able to live in California.

36) Not having to live in Texas.

37) Watching sports on a big screen TV.

38) Sunday’s Los Angeles Times…in print

39) The trip to England, Scotland and France I took with my best friend for high school graduation.

40) The opportunity to spend time in my husband’s native Sweden.

41) Dishwashers.

42) The advice of friends and colleagues who experienced things before me and shared their wisdom.

43) Clothes that don’t wrinkle.

44) The iPhone.

45) Summer.

46)  The Hollywood Bowl.

47) Writers.

48) Getting to watch my older daughter swim at Olympic Trials.

49) Friday evenings.

50) Getting to watch both my girls mature, follow their passions, learn from their failures and enjoy their successes.

Saying Goodbye to Who We Used to Be

This weekend, my former writing instructor, Tod Goldberg, wrote a tribute to Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys, who passed away last Friday. Tod wrote eloquently about what The Beasties’ music meant to him. One line of his tribute really stuck with me:

…you begin to recognize that the sadness you feel isn’t just about the loss of that person’s life, but also the recognition that who you were when you met that person is long gone, too.

This simple truth helped me understand why we can be so overwhelmed with sadness at the passing of someone we’ve never even met. After all, while we might feel like we knew Adam Yauch or Clarence Clemons or Whitney Houston or any of the countless others who we’ve lost recently through their public personas, most of us have never met, much less been a part of these people’s lives. What is it then, that causes the heart-wrenching void we feel when a favorite musician, actor, novelist or other public person dies?

As Tod so perfectly articulates, it’s the knowledge that who we once were, at a certain place, in a certain time, is gone forever. The young child, sitting in a mother’s lap, listening to a beloved story, the awkward pre-teen dressed to impress at a first dance, the college student, cramming for finals in a dorm room, the young parents trying to quiet a restless newborn in the wee hours of the morning. We recognize in the passing of the people who formed the backdrop to our lives that we can never again be who we were then – that a certain part of us has disappeared forever. It’s bittersweet, the acknowledgement that we’ve matured and grown, left behind pieces of ourselves in the process that only seem more dear to us with the passage of time.  Through the faded lens of nostalgia, even the bad morphs into good and we long for the feeling of being in that place and time again.

The loss of who we were seems to hit especially hard at this time of year, with Spring turning into Summer, the time of graduations and moving on. At this time last year, I was planning my older daughter’s high school graduation. Amid the excitement of parties and celebrations and orientation for her new life on a university campus, came the sad acknowledgement that things in our house would never again be the same, that a special period in our lives was about to depart from us forever and that we would all be changed. Walking her new campus during orientation, I was struck with nostalgia for my own college days, so much so that even the tough times began to seem perfect and magical.  It wasn’t simply my youth that I missed. It was the person I was in those days – the person I was before launching headlong into adulthood and the working world and before becoming a wife and mother. It was a time when I wasn’t even aware of all the milestones I was checking off – milestones I now realize are all in my rear-view mirror.

Ahead of me lies one daughter’s middle school graduation, the other daughter’s completion of her freshman year in college, our first summer without two children at home, and at the end of the year, a significant birthday that marks the passage of way more time than I’d like to admit.  I don’t mean to seem so morose – I embrace the future and look forward to all that is new. But I can’t help missing those people, places and times now departed. Because after all, their loss means saying goodbye to who I was when I encountered them – a part of me that I have to let go.

No Virginia, There is no Fountain of Youth

My oldest daughter recently turned 19 and is about to conclude her freshman year of college. I have many feelings associated with this milestone – excitement for her experiences, pride in what she has accomplished, sadness at how quickly the years have passed. And of course, there’s that recognition that if she’s now an adult, I’m beyond adulthood. Yes, I’m, by the standards I set myself as a 19-year old, OLD.  They say that 50 is the new 30. I’ll let you know how I really feel about that later this year, but in the meantime, let me just say that nothing makes you feel older in some ways than having a college freshman. You think it was just yesterday that you were living in the dorms, going to frat parties and rushing from class to class on a campus where it seemed the possibilities for your life were endless. But then you realize, ummm…that was actually a really long time ago.

Complicating the normal feelings that come with the aging process is our society’s continual worship of all things youthful and the ongoing pursuit of a magic elixir that will deliver us from old age.  While the concept of a fountain of youth is not new, it’s only in modern society – and primarily in the United States – where one finds such an obsession with staying young. This pursuit of continual youth is what sociologists would call a “First-World Problem”, given it can only occur among wealthy communities, where the worries of putting food on the table and keeping a roof over your head have been removed.

I think about this often in my little suburban world where it seems that Botox injections and breast implants are as commonplace as the common cold and where moms frequently wear the same outfits as their teenage daughters. What does it say about our society when people – mostly women, but increasingly (in Hollywood anyway), men – will spend thousands of dollars and put themselves through multiple, elective surgeries to chase eternal youth?

A few years ago, on a summer trip to Sweden to visit my husband’s family, we went to a local, community pool so my now-nineteen year old could get in a swim workout.  In the locker rooms, my two girls’ eyes were wide as saucers. They could not understand how every Swedish woman in the locker room – regardless of height, weight and most of all age – could walk around stark naked so comfortably and without the slightest trace of self-consciousness.  Having been raised in the modest (some might say repressed) US of A, I could not fully explain it either, except to tell my girls that 1) Swedes are much less hung up on nudity than we are (as one example, Swedish television is much more concerned with keeping violence off the screen than nudity and sex), and 2) Swedes, and the rest of the world, from my experience, are much more accepting of differences in body shapes and sizes as well as the aging process, and are much less focused on youth and beauty than we are in this country. Interestingly and despite all of this, Sweden seems to have a very high proportion of beautiful people, who age remarkably well.

The point is, my girls were used to seeing people all around them who fear the aging process and who will do anything to try to keep it at bay.  They are used to having the airbrushed images of fashion magazines and the nipped and tucked celebrities of television, movies and theater all around them.  And even in their own neighborhoods, they are used to seeing moms who fight the process daily with creams, treatments and injections, gym trips and diets, clothing from the junior department and yes, surgical procedures. Given these role models, it made me wonder, what messages were my girls hearing about what should be the very natural, and let’s face it –inevitable — process of aging?

I want to be clear that I am certainly not immune to vanity.  It’s hard to look in the mirror and see skin that suddenly sags where once it was firm and lines appearing on a forehead that was once smooth, not to mention those joints that creak and pop when I get out of bed in the morning. There’s definitely a reason I still wear bangs and buy more expensive bras. And I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t take care of yourself through healthy eating and exercise nor do I think it’s wrong to want to look attractive by wearing nice clothing, taking care of your skin, getting your hair done and using a little make-up.  But it seems to me, you have to draw the line somewhere because no one – no matter what they do – is immune to growing old. And by showing that we view the aging process as “bad” we’re sending a clear message to our kids to fight it– no matter how costly, how time-consuming, how risky or how ridiculous they may look. I say this also on the eve of my younger daughter going in for surgery and as I worry over the risks of anesthesia and the inevitable pain, I can’t help but wonder why anyone would put themselves through this by choice.

I was saddened to read the other day that one of my favorite actresses, Susan Sarandon, admitted to having plastic surgery.  . I realize in Hollywood, it must be hard to compete for great, female roles and the pressure to look young is intense. But I’d hoped that she’d hold out and continue sending the message that aging is ok, that her acting talents are more important than her image and that young girls should have strong, capable women who don’t run from life’s inevitable course as their role models.  I realize Susan is no Joan Rivers – yet.  But I think of plastic surgery as akin to remodeling a house. When you redo one room, the others look tired and run-down by comparison. So you do one more. But you can’t stop there, because the rest of the house doesn’t look as good as those brand-spanking new parts, right?  Next thing you know, you’ve re-done everything. Where does it stop? When you’re spending loads of time and money, and undergoing surgery that can put you at risk, just to prevent yourself from looking older or aging, you have to ask why and what message you’re sending. And if you’re a Mom, you have to wonder what you’re communicating to your kids about your priorities in life and how they should view themselves as they age.

The irony in all of this is that neither Susan Sarandon nor Joan Rivers has succeeded in hiding their age or stopping the aging process – and neither can you or I. The other day I was in the grocery store and saw what I thought was an attractive twenty-something ahead of me, pushing a grocery cart. She had long, flowing blond hair, a tall, lithe body and she was wearing leopard-print leggings, a close fitted tee, a short denim jacket and sky-high heels.  She stopped to grab a box of cereal off the shelf and I almost dropped my own groceries. This was no twenty-something; the woman had to be in her sixties which, despite the collagen lips, very obviously, face-lifted skin and fake breasts, to boot, was quite obvious. I suddenly realized the hair was fake (extensions), the body was courtesy of lipo plus lots of gym time and she’d clearly raided a middle schooler’s closet for her wardrobe. She looked ridiculous. An aging woman chasing dreams of being 19 again.

At the end of the day, you can get new breasts, lift your eyes, pump collagen into your lips and smooth out your wrinkles with Botox. You can wear your teenage daughter’s trendy clothes. But no one will think you’re 19, you still won’t be 19, and you never will be again.  I think that the sooner we can all face that fact and quit fighting it, the less “old” we’ll feel next to those actual 19 year-olds. And perhaps we’ll finally deserve the adage that with age, comes wisdom.