Tag Archives | birthdays

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

Nine

We went on safari last week.

And now I have to pause for a minute because I still can’t believe that I am someone who can say “I went on safari last week.”

There among the wildebeests, the giraffes, and baboons, Caleb turned nine.

NINE.

The baby is nine. His last year in single digits looms just as my last year of “forty-something” heads into its final stretch.

While we were traveling I posted something from the archives about Caleb turning six, which at the time, seemed ancient. Of course, my turning forty once seemed worthy of note, too.  Looking back, six ain’t got nothin’ on nine—and forty ain’t got nuthin’ on what’s looming ahead.

On safari, we saw a full complement of amazingness:

IMG_9389a cheetah “cub” whose mother can barely be seen hiding in the bush to the left

IMG_0401the scariest animal in the savannah (seriously): hippo

IMG_0491mama lion dragging what’s left of a zebra to her cubs

Caleb loved it all, snapped pictures endlessly, thumbed intently through our guidebook of Eastern African Mammals, asked our guide Daniel about eighty gazillion questions.

Ask Caleb the best part of the safari, though and he will say without hesitation: ants.

Safari ants.

On our last morning drive out into the Mara, as we jounced along a rutted trail near Oloololo Escarpment, Daniel, who must surely count an eagle or a hawk among his ancestors because his eyes are so sharp, pulled over suddenly and cut the engine on the jeep.  By now we know that an engine going silent often signals that Something Interesting is afoot, but this time, the interest really was afoot.

A thick line of ants marched across the road and in response to the inevitable question, apparently they were going across the road to get to a new anthill somewhere in the tall grass.IMG_7180

Caleb and Daniel climbed out of the truck so Daniel could show him the big-headed worker ants carrying ant eggs, the soldier ants guarding them and then—the coolest thing ever, according to Caleb—the tunnel that the worker ants make to hide themselves from predators.  The ants build a tunnel out of their own bodies, dried grass, and dirt:

IMG_7179the dark line is ants, the slightly lighter line is the tunnel

Caleb loved the safari ants even more than the termite mounds, which pock the landscape in every size from tiny ankle-high piles of dirt to towers that surround trees and reach even further underground than above-ground, like bug-built icebergs.

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termite queens lay an egg every three seconds

Ants play a starring role in the epic that Caleb has been writing in fits and starts over the past year, although this epic is currently on hold in favor of the “Star Wars” based novel he’s begun, called “Hyper Space Hero.”  Here is the sound of Caleb at work:

[soundcloud]https://soundcloud.com/mannahattamamma/caleb-writing[/soundcloud]

Today Caleb announced that he planned to be a genetic engineer so he could create clones; last month he wanted to work for the CIA. He’s pretty sure that whatever his day job will be, he’s going to be an author.

Unlike his older brother, Caleb isn’t as sure of his many talents; he doesn’t notice that his report card is every bit as good as his brother’s. Caleb is sure that he’s not popular, and I worry that because of his imagination, his voracious reading habit, and his fascination with Star Wars arcana, other kids might think he’s childish, or, you know, weird, and that would be too bad, because then I’d have to kill them. I am hoping that this will be the year Caleb finds a soul mate.

I don’t know what my Caleb is going to be when he grows up but I confess to wishing that he’d grow up just a little more slowly…because at nine, the baby…

cheeks

is now a boy: hattrying on hats at City Hat on Bleeker

Continue Reading · on August 29, 2013 in family, growing up, Kids, Parenting, Travel

Six

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Baby Caleb is six today. He still sleeps with four small bears and a tattered blankie, but his body is long and lean, the shape of the young man he will become.   He is a pirate and a spy; collector of important rocks and sticks; he walks like an Egyptian when we’re out doing errands and then worries that people might be looking at him.

When we go swimming, he leaps into the pool, attempting to do a cannonball, even though he can’t really swim. IMG_1866

He dog-paddles with great confidence, and blows the occasional bubble, but actually swim? Not so much.

Fearless: he never really crawled but learned to walk at 9 months, which is a really bad idea: his brain was still the size of a walnut. I suspect, however, that even in that walnut-sized brain, he was trying to keep up with his older brother. His brother is about 3 1/2 years ahead, but Caleb works hard to hold his own: he will probably be an excellent soccer goalie, for instance, because of all the “practice” shots that Liam has taken at his round little head: it’s basically block or die.

Keeping up with Big Brother may have created a fearless six year old, but also one who is too quick to say “I can’t do it,” probably because he has Napoleon as an older brother. Unlike Napoleon, however, Caleb makes friends really easily, and has even caused a stir in the female population of his kindergarten: one little girl told her dad, while they were watching “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang,” that if she were Truly Scrumptious, she wouldn’t want to marry Mr. Potts–she would want to marry Caleb.

It seems to me that being the second child means always existing in relation: there was never a time where there wasn’t someone else there. That means when Caleb is in the apartment without Liam around, he revels in having the space all to himself: he spreads out his “guys” (his Lego mini-figures, of which he has about a gajillion) and tells infinitely complicated, infinitely explosive stories, complete with remarkable sound effects, happily parading his subconscious for all to hear: “You are not the boss! Come on King Guy you can do it! Here come the bad guys and phfew smash clang now you’re doing it you can make it, get those minions to attack the demon leader guy charge the castle!”  He plays out these stories right here, behind my desk chair, and then when the battles have been resolved, he climbs up into my lap to regale me with the color commentary, detailing all that happened.

I worry about him, this six-year-old boy of mine.I worry that he’s overshadowed by his brother, that his parents are distracted and too busy, that in his rush to Keep Up he is perpetually exhausted.  Embedded in those worries, of course, is simultaneous nostalgia for vanished babyhood and the stunned realization that ohmigod these babies are growing into…boys.

Boys. I’m raising boys, who as they get older become more and more emphatically not me. It’s as if my tomato plants suddenly sprouted beans, or strawberries. My round little Caleb now leaps around making gun finger, or karate chops trees, or quite literally bounces off the walls of the elevator in his effort to be SpiderMan. How did that happen? People tell me that “boys are easier” and that “boys are nice to their mothers,” which may all well be true. Maybe I won’t end up alone in a studio apartment eating cat food when I’m 87 while both boys assuage one another with the thought that they called me, you know, just last month and I seemed to be doing fine… Still, though, it’s strange to think of these babies of mine moving irrevocably towards a place I’ve never been: manhood.

What’s that sound, you say? Oh, that’s just Husband, snickering at my melodramatic spin on things: he points out that Caleb is turning SIX, for god’s sake, not SEVENTEEN.

Okay. True. I’ll save the melodramatic musings for a decade up the road and take comfort in the fact that my fearless six-year-old still reaches for my hand when we walk down the street, still climbs into bed for a morning snuggle, still insists on his bears and his blankie.  I know he’s growing up…but just like all the books say, I didn’t know it would happen this fast.

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Funny to look back at this post and remember that I thought six was all grown up.  Now that little boy is about to be… NINE. My last year of a child in single digits. Seems impossible, given that I myself only in the last century recently turned twenty-one.

Continue Reading · on August 23, 2013 in family, growing up, Kids

Twelve? twelve? … TWELVE

If you’re a person who writes a blog and if that blog should talk about your children if you have them (or your pets if you don’t, although really it’s about the same thing, isn’t it?), then the occasion of a birthday – theirs or yours – might call to mind a blog post.

And if you’re going to write a blog post about a birthday, you might find yourself wandering in the thicket of photos on your computer, and it might be that these photos, which were going to be organized last year five years ago weekend but then there was that thing that happened so you couldn’t get to it and then – well, anyway, the thicket of photos might prove to be an endless forest in which you would wander for hours, lost in thinking about that tiny baby, who is now…

twelve?

Twelve?

And you would emerge blinking from your dreamy visit in the digitally preserved past, like so much pixelated amber, and say to yourself, that teeny burrito-sized baby, twelve? 

Because twelve — well, to be twelve, you might as well already be thirteen. Twelve is but the pause, the deep inhaled breath before the exhaled hormonal hurricanes begin.  But what’s that, you say, boys are easier? Less tumultuous, fewer emotional high-wire acts?

Hmm. I’m skeptical. Liam has never in his life, as near as I can tell, followed the conventional path anywhere:

He sets his alarm for 5:49 every morning, gets out of bed, showers, gets dressed in his school uniform, and is already playing his computer game before I’ve stumbled out of my room ten minutes later. He’s been reading Isaac Asimov’s book Atom for fun; he came to a book talk we had on campus a few weeks ago about Yann Martel’s Life of Pi — of his own volition.

At twelve, this boy is torn between being a physicist, a professional soccer football player, a chef who specializes in chocolate desserts, and an inventor – and who is happiest building intricate, self-designed Lego creations. At twelve, he can’t find the “off” switch on his competitive engines, even to play a “friendly” game of Monopoly. He’ll gut you over Boardwalk without batting an eyelash, will wheedle for you to do a trade with him until you give in…and then slam you with rents so high you’re bankrupted.

At twelve, this boy–who lives for football, and finds fart jokes vastly amusing, wanted two things for his birthday: a fuzzy bathrobe and bath products.  It’s as if he’s channeling Hugh Hefner, but he has no idea who Hugh Hefner is.

At twelve, he wants to be a good big brother…if only his younger brother would leave him alone. Except when Younger Brother does leave him alone, Older Brother suddenly feels lonely, suddenly aware that having an in-house companion is a pretty spectacular plus.  And mostly eight and now-twelve have found an equilibrium, realized that in our expat lives, where transience is a fact of life, they’ve mostly got each other – so killing one another is probably not in either of their best interest. A few years ago, Caleb’s joke present to Liam – a rock, ala Charlie Brown’s Halloween – would’ve given Liam apoplexy. Now, in his mature twelve-ness? He laughed.

Twelve. Old enough to be left alone for a bit if I have to run to the store; old enough to be interested in things like nice-smelling shampoo and having his hair look just so in the morning. But young enough to still sit on my lap, to ask for a hug, to want me to tuck him in at night and “say good-nights.”  And as I whisper our good-night ritual, I trace the outline of his face with my finger. In the dark, it’s twelve years ago, eleven years ago…it’s all the years, and I’m rocking a baby to sleep.

 

 

psst, guess what? (yes, I’m whispering; the baby is asleep) there’s a challenge grid going on in the yeahwrite world for those of us stupid brave enough to tackle NaBloPoMo. Yes. A post a day. Might not keep the doctor away but it may bring on tendonitis. And a lot of good writing. So click on the badge and look around the grid: you might find some new favorite writers to keep you company through Thanksgiving, US football, rainstorms, and whatever else is coming down on you these days.

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Continue Reading · on November 18, 2012 in growing up, Kids, legos, Parenting, preemies

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