Archive | aging

in which the universe sends me a metaphor about aging

About a week after I turned fifty (see how easily I said that?), I went for a walk on Saadiyat Beach, which is near my house, with a friend.  Here’s a question: almost all the women I know like to go for a walk. We don’t need a specific destination; we just walk. But ask a man to go for a walk and he’ll say “where?”  Why is that?

Anyway, so S. and I were on our walk and we saw a turtle in the water, which is actually kind of a rare event even though Saadiyat is supposed to be a nesting place for the Hawksbill turtle, which is a critically endangered species.  When the lifeguard pulled the turtle out of the water, it was crusted over with shells that were so heavy the turtle was in danger of drowning.

Et voila, a metaphor. Which of course, I used as the basis for my column in Friday’s National.  Here’s a link to the article, which I would love for you to share all over the social media universe.  In exchange for that nice sharing, here’s a picture of the turtle:

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Continue Reading · on February 1, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, aging, urban nature

On Turning Fifty

So I’ve been fifty for an entire week and so far things are going pretty well.

It didn’t look good there for a while, though, because I inducted myself into my fifth decade not only with a horrible cold but also with a violent stomach bug that had me barfing so hard and so long that I threw out my back.  All that vomit, without even a riotous party to precede it.  I followed the sneezing and coughing and barfing by peeling off a chunk of my thumb when I was peeling carrots for soup a few days ago. Left a lovely trail of blood across the cutting board but I’m pretty sure the scrap of thumb-flesh did not end up in the soup.

Fifty. I’m trying to buy into that whole “you’re only as old as you feel” thing and  “fifty is the new thirty,” but then you know what happens?  Some well-intentioned person says “You’re fifty?” which is meant as a compliment but the tone of the compliment sounds like sweetjesusfiftythat’sfreakingancient.  And that means that what’s really being said is “fifty means one foot in the crypt and for someone teetering on the edge, you don’t look half bad.”

Fifty. It’s not that old (and it’s getting younger all the damn time. Like, hourly).  I mean, there are lots of fantastic women who make fifty look good. Sandra Bullock turns fifty this summer, Michelle Obama just turned fifty, Madonna is fifty-four (sweetjesusthat’sfreakingancient).  I figure that  I’ve ridden buses driven by lunatics, I’m married to a handsome brown man, I’ve even danced to “Vogue,” so pretty much I’m going to age as fabulously as they are, right?

Fifty.  When the things you want down (weight, blood pressure, gray hair) go up, and the things you want up (back fat, boobs, good cholesterol levels) go down. It’s like a whipsaw in here as my body re-aligns itself to its new status as an AARP member (the card, I believe, is in the mail).

Of course, I have no intention of AARP-ing myself any time soon; like the plague victim in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” I have to say “I’m not dead yet…think I’ll go for a walk this afternoon…”  At fifty, I’ve still got an entire lifetime in front of me–it’s  just not quite as much “lifetime” as I had, say, fifteen years ago.

Here’s a thing that’s happened as I hit the far edge of late middle-age (or as that far edge hits me, whichever)–a kind of consolation prize, if you will, for the sagging skin and aching joints:  “fifty” gives you license to ignore the “shoulds.” Probably I should’ve learned to do that a long time ago (see what I did there?), but I didn’t, so now I have.  All those scripts that others want you to follow, all those conventional ideas about what a woman should do or shouldn’t do, all those commitments you’ve made because someone thought it would be a good thing for you to do?  Screw it. You’re fifty. Yes, you have a long time left on this earth, but not so much time that you should spend any of it doing anything other than what you think matters most.  You think Madonna is taking meetings she thinks are stupid? Nope. And you don’t need to wear a spike-encrusted bustier to follow her example (I hope).

So yeah. I’m fifty. And I can almost say that without wincing.

birthday candles

 image source

 

 

Continue Reading · on January 29, 2014 in aging, Feminism, growing up, me my own personal self, ranting

how to return or, happy birthday michelle obama

You know how when you get an email or a phone message that you probably should return quickly, and then you don’t, and then the longer it goes the harder it feels to return the call? So that what would’ve been a quick little note or a short conversation starts to loom larger and larger, and then it feels like too big a task, so you put it off even longer and the task gets bigger, and maybe it keeps you awake at night because you know you should get to that unanswered message tomorrow, really you should but then you just…don’t. And it drags on until finally one day, for no good reason, you figure oh what the hell, and you return the message and the person on the other end is like “what? what message? Oh thaaat, yeah, I just wondered if you wanted to grab a coffee or something. Whatever.”

Oh. That doesn’t happen to you?

Well then you won’t understand this weird little “blogcation” that I’ve taken. I didn’t really mean to stop writing, I just stopped. Let’s call it a hiatus, shall we? And then the longer it went, the harder it felt to return.

And I know, your lives have been empty, positively desolate without me.

In the intervening month, we’ve been in New York: family, friends, really good pizza, many museums, theater.  Saw “The Goldfinch” painting that is at the basis of Donna Tartt’s ginormous book (which would’ve been a great 350-page novel but was unfortunately 800+); saw a great Magritte exhibition at MoMA as well as an exhibit about applied design that was fantastic (a wind-powered land-mine detector made of biodegradable materials); went to the Met for Balthus and other paintings, as well as a reunion for the boys with their beloved “Arms and Armor” wing.

Then Sri Lanka for New Year’s to recover from all that urban culture:

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In Sri Lanka, there were fresh coconuts, harvested by this guy:IMG_7773

And then the coconuts were turned into charming beverages: IMG_7765

fresh coconut milk, from the coco-mouse, on the left, and a pina colada on the right. Two kinds of coconut fabulousness

Sri Lanka helped me come to terms with my impending millstone milestone: I turn fifty in forty-eight hours. Michelle Obama, my BFF (well, we would be, I’m sure,  if only we’d ever, you know, met), turned fifty already and she makes it look good, so I am comforted by that fact, despite my lack of defined upper arms and political clout. I suppose my AARP card is wending its way from my NYC postbox to my Abu Dhabi mailroom even as we speak. Maybe Michelle and I can get together at a “newbie AARP mixer” or something like that.

There is already much on the docket for 2014 – a book project, another writing project, telling myself that fifty is the new forty, mulling the wonder of Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones.  For the first time in almost thirteen years (which, coincidentally is the same age as my oldest child) I am not teaching this semester, which leaves me with lots of time to read Tom and Lorenzo binge-watch Orange Is the New Black work on my writing projects.  True to form, I am already berating myself for not getting anything done with this mini-sabbatical. I wonder if Michelle O does that? Hmm.

What I have done, however, is slowly begin to remove areas of productive procrastination – you know, those things you do to avoid what you should be doing, which in my case is writing. And yes, in fact, I have already re-arranged the linen closet, complete with using my beloved label-maker to identify which sheets get piled where. I also turned the storage room from this:

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into this: IMG_7814and you will want a close-up of this bag, which I got in 2008 at Economy Candy, the best candy shop in NYC.  I love this bag and frankly, I think Michelle would love it too. I’m telling you, we would totes be besties.

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So. The blogcation is over, the new year has begun, and a bonne annee to you all.

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Written on the sand in Sri Lanka on New Year’s Eve

 

 

Continue Reading · on January 18, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, aging, Books, growing up, The National, Travel

I’ve been fitbit

It started innocently enough. A friend of mine who just had her second child bought herself a fitbit, a little piece of digitized plastic that tracks how many steps you take in a day, the miles you walk, and the calories you burn.  Or the lack thereof, depending.

R. swore by her little doodad; she walked and she walked and now, damned if she isn’t on week four of a  couch to 5K program.  She swears the fitbit got her moving.

How could a little piece of plastic with a happy face on it motivate a person, I thought to myself, tossing another handful of candy corn into my mouth.

Here’s the thing: in New York, people walk. New Yorkers walk everywhere and if we’re not walking, we’re running to the subway, hauling ass up and down the stairs.  New Yorkers are like sharks: stop moving and we’ll die.

But out here in the land of cheap gas and big cars?  It’s a bit like walking in LA: people do it, but everyone around you thinks you’re a lunatic.  Plus the long distances between, say, where you live and where your children play football every damn day because you’re a spineless parent who didn’t say no exercise their angelic bodies on the football pitch, necessitate driving, which is why my butt is slowly morphing into the shape of my car seat.

Besides, we are moving into the season of festive eating, which will be followed quickly by the season of omigodimturningfifty and I think it’s time that I rid myself of that pesky baby weight.  The baby just turned nine, and although I hate to rush into anything, I guess I’d like to start my next decade sylph-shaped rather than car-shaped.

I swallowed my skepticism (along with more candy corn) and bought a fitbit.  Not the super-duper fitbit that measures everything, even the efficiency of my sleep (It’s simple: I don’t get enough sleep. Don’t need a piece of plastic to tell me that: just look at the baggage under my eyes.)

For the past few weeks, I’ve had the fitbit clipped to my pocket and every night it syncs to my computer.  It’s a little bit addictive, I have to say.  A person doesn’t want to think she can be so easily manipulated motivated by smiley faces and cheerful messages but . . . the other day I was in my office and had about 45 minutes before my next meeting. Usually I would check in on my other addiction — Tom and Lorenzo — but instead I went for a little walk outside.  Added a few thousand steps to my daily total … all in search of a CHAMP! button.

I don’t know if I’ve lost any weight yet, but now that I’ve finished the candy corn (imported from the States by a visiting friend, who I’m not sure I should thank or curse), I have a fighting chance. And yes, I know I could just choose not to eat the candy corn, but that seems just silly, given that Josh went to all the trouble of bringing it from Brooklyn.

I’m going to fitbit myself all the way to fifty, I guess, but just look at that little smiling face.  Wouldn’t that face make you take an extra step or two?

 

fitbit

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on November 28, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, aging, exercise, growing up, me my own personal self, NaBloPoMo

World Prematurity Day . . . and turning thirteen

On the 18th of November, I officially become the mother of a teenager.

Which seems weird because I’m only 25.

And it’s doubly weird because in some bizarre harmonic convergence, the 17th of November is officially “World Prematurity Day,” a day devoted to heightening awareness about premature birth and to help support the various institutions that work with the families and babies dealing with the difficulties that arise when a baby comes too soon.

In another odd harmonic convergence, the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding Liam’s birth mapped onto the American “hanging chad” debacle that will live in infamy. I missed most of the details of that process because I was busy being put on bedrest, then hospitalized, and then delivered of a child who came almost two months early and weighed less than two pounds.  Being delivered of a baby slightly smaller than a loaf of bread will make a gal forget about politics for a while.

Those were scary days, those early days in November, when my blissfully uncomplicated pregnancy, which had been filled with compliments about how thin I was despite being pregnant (note to lady movie stars who never really look pregnant and then regain their bodies two minutes after giving birth: you’re killing us out here in real-people land) suddenly became something that didn’t look like my life at all. Turns out that when you’re six months pregnant, you’re not supposed to be thin.

Here’s what happens when the ob-gyn does an ultrasound and announces at the end of it, “you have a crappy placenta” and puts you on bedrest:

You will be terrified; you will think to yourself that you did everything right: you ate right and you exercised right and you didn’t have coffee and you didn’t have booze except omigod that night before you knew you were pregnant you had three martinis was it the martinis omigod it was the martinis.  You will make bargains with whatever god might be listening and when people say they’re going to pray for you, you say thank you please pray, and you hope that people are slaughtering goats and chickens on your behalf because any magic, you’ll take any magic anyone wants to send your way if only everything will be okay.

You will go to bed for ten days while the country tries to figure out who will be the next President and then, when you’re admitted to the hospital after what was supposed to be a routine check on what was supposed to be all the weight gained by this little shrimp in your belly, you will lie in the hospital bed and cry.

And you will cry and cry, but because you are mostly flat on your back, the tears will pool down the sides of your face, drip into your ears and your hair. You won’t even mind the steroids they’re shooting into you, with needles that look like they were borrowed from an elephant hospital because anything, anything to make the baby be okay.  The steroids, some well-meaning but socially awkward medical resident will tell you, are for the baby’s lungs, which are “just little smears of pink jelly right now so if he was born he would probably not be able to breathe.”  And then you will cry some more because holy crap pink smears of jelly?

My tiny ferocious child, the entire 1lb, 10oz bundle, came into the world by emergency c-section, just after dawn on 18 November. The United States still didn’t have a president but I didn’t much care because the bundle was crying—weakly, it’s true, but crying. Which meant that the smears of jelly were functioning like lungs were supposed to function.

Preemies—preemies as small as Liam was—don’t really look like babies. They don’t look particularly cute or jolly or huggable. They look fragile and terrifyingly old: wizened, their skin hanging in folds around flesh that has yet to appear.

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Instead of being wrapped in soft blankets, they are wrapped in wires and tubes, surrounded by monitors; they are whisked away from you and tucked into an isolette (the plastic shoebox, we called it) that’s basically a small warming tank that keeps the bundle the exact temperature it would be if it were still the proverbial bun in the proverbial oven.

SMP-2011--00000558there’s a baby in there somewhere

I don’t know how we functioned, really, in the days and weeks and months of Liam being in the hospital: we lived downtown on West 4th street, and “Babies Hospital,” as it was called, is on 168th street. Sometimes it took us more than an hour each way on the subway — not that much fun, especially with sore lady bits. But we trekked back and forth every day for our sessions of “kangaroo care:” holding our bundle against our skin so he could feel our hearts beating. I hoped always that the steady sounds of our hearts would drown out the noisy pinging and whirring and beeping that defined life in the NICU.

Liam_Mom_Kanga_week2

The bundle became Liam, became a “feeder and grower” rather than anything more dire, although the NICU was filled with other babies who weren’t so lucky.  I never knew what to say on those days when I would come in and one or another isolette would be empty.  Having a preemie, I realized, is a bit like having a miscarriage: initially you think you’re the only one ever to suffer such a loss and then you realize, sadly, how many people share a version of your feelings.

And now the bundle will be thirteen. I’ve wondered if his formidable character – confident, tenacious, focused – was shaped by spending his earliest months in such inhospitable circumstances.  Or maybe character is a fluke, just like what happened to him was a fluke. No doctor could ever explain why Liam was IUGR (intra-uterine growth restriction, which I think is medical-speak for “the baby didn’t grow”) or why none of the dire predictions came true (no oxygen tanks, no developmental delays, no blindness, no physical impediments…the list went on and on).

Who really can say: maybe all the prayers and burning sage and chanting and whatever else people were doing on Liam’s behalf while he was in the hospital worked; I have no way of knowing.

What I do know? I know that my son is creative and athletic; he loves math and he loves writing; he is funny and beautiful and aggravating, all in equal measure. Liam’s preemie story ends happily; we were lucky in our doctors, our hospital, and in the baby who came into the world so tiny and so strong.

Happy birthday, teenager. The last thirteen years have been amazing; I can’t wait to see what happens next.

liam_minionThis summer Liam decided he’d learn to make stuffed toys: so he made minions. No pattern, just made ’em.

IMG_0552standing on the dividing mark between the Mara, in Kenya, and the Serengeti, in Tanzania

liam_birth_feet-thumb-450x326his feet at birth: actual size

 

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Continue Reading · on November 17, 2013 in aging, birth, family, HGH, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, preemies

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