Goodbye Sucks

airport-signEight years of expat (migrant) living has thickened my skin…to an extent. I can generally hold it together at the flag ceremonies and stand un-quivering through a chorus line of hugs. Depending on where on I am on the roller coaster of emotions I find myself riding these days, you’ll find me anywhere from stoic to sniffly, but I’ve gotten adept at saying goodbye.

Despite the increasing alligator hide thickness of my skin however, goodbye always sucks.

Yesterday I said goodbye to my mother and my sister and my in-laws who had all come to celebrate an early holiday with us. My mother and I had the inevitable conversation, the one about our next moves on the chess board of migrant life.

They are questions for which I don’t have an answer. I wish I did, but I don’t.

If I had to hazard a guess, there would be several phone calls between my mother and myself that stand out in her mind:

Hey, Mom, I met a guy!
Hey, Mom! We’re getting married!
Hey, Mom! I’m pregnant!
Hey, Mom! I’m pregnant (again)!

I know the one she is waiting for now, the one which will likely round out her top five:
Hey, Mom! We’re moving back!

air-travel-scenes-from-the-1930s-to-1950s-10

And yet I can’t make that call and I can’t even tell her when I may be dialing it in. There are too may cogs and wheels spinning that are keeping the whole mechanism running to separate out just one and answer it with any certainty. Why am I telling you all of this? Because all of this makes something which sucks on its own suck even harder.

Like I said, goodbye sucks.

They suck on either end, whether you’re staying or going. They suck the life out of you as well. Every time I see my mother (once every six months or so), I am walloped over the head with the fact that she is six months older. Then, as soon as I raise my head from the first blow, I’m blindsided by the fact that my kids are six months older as well. And that everyone will be six months older the next time we are all together.

And if you’ve ever felt the swift passage of time, let me tell you, when you’re only working in six month chunks, it’s like doing the time warp.

Children get older…and less cuddly, less interested in making gingerbread houses with their grandmother or playing a silly game with their auntie. They get older and grow less interested in spending any real time with Granny and Granddad. It hasn’t happened–yet–but doesn’t take too much imagaination to envision a time when it will.

It could be in six months.

Or six months after that.

airportWhenever I say goodbye, after I get over my irrational fears about planes and fireballs and Bermuda Triangle disappearances, the real fears rush in to take their place.

My kids marching toward teenager-hood is an eventuality which supersedes where we live. But…somehow the idea of my headphone adorned teenager ignoring my mother once a month is more palatable than the idea of him ignoring her once every six months. The idea of my little one preferring a computer game over a game of gin rummy with his aunt tugs at my heartstrings a bit more when it’s only twice a year.

Yeah. LIke I said. Goodbyes suck.

 

Pssst…Millennials–Gen X Here. Can We Have a Word?

10e0ca10f66a0b8442b7f31e3a68ebc7Dear Millennials,

I keep reading about your disillusionment with the political process, about your lack of enthusiasm for the candidates you have to choose from.

I get it.

Try, if you will, to cast you mind back to the 80s. We were a generation that came of age at the height of the AIDS/HIV crisis. We were living under a thinly veiled threat of nuclear fallout. The Berlin Wall was still standing. Nancy Regan was consulting her astrologist and pleading with us to “JUST SAY NO!”

1988 was the first year I was eligible to vote. My choices for president? George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. I can already hear you asking, Michael Who-what-is?? Yeah, I wasn’t very excited either. Neither was the rest of the country. Bush won handily.

I thought the whole country was going to hell during the first Bush administration. I worried the draft would be reinstated, I worried my male friends would be shipped off to the Middle East to fight a war none of us believed in. I was convinced of a lot of things.

Many of us were disgusted with the government. We protested the war. We marched on Washington for reproductive rights. We marched in NYC to take back the night.

It didn’t do any good. No one was listening. And so we started to distrust the system. The same way the flower children started to distrust the system during Vietnam. The same way some of you do now.

I get it.

For all our quaint John Hughes movies and bad hairstyles, all our James Spader rich boy sneering, we were you once upon thirty years ago. Faced with political choices that fell flat. Trust me. It was really hard get excited about Dukakis.

polbhem1fed-bldg-sit-in-1991

Gen X wasn’t all Duran Duran and parachute pants. There was a momentum. There were movements. LGBTQ rights were on the horizon, women in shoulder pads were, if not busting into boardrooms, then knocking at the door. There was fire and crackle and sizzle. Rage at the fuddy-duddy process. Demands for faster progress.

So what happened? In the most boring predictable of clichés, we grew up. The economy boomed. We fell in love. Got jobs. September 11 came along and upended the way we viewed the world. Kids were born, parents died. We got divorced, remarried. Lost jobs. Battled cancer. You know, life.

Life happened. And on that spectrum of life you realize things aren’t always as cut and dry as they seem.

I read about the fire in your belly paired with a sense of  helplessness, the feeling no one is listening to your (mostly spot-on, legitimate) demands. Here’s the thing: That feeling’s not new. I think the folks who write these articles forget what it’s like to be in that 18-25 year-old age bracket. Or perhaps they just haven’t left the bracket yet themselves.

But, damn you guys! You have ushered in an era where it is not only easier for LGBTQ youth to come out, but one which supports them, both socially and legally. Don’t think that’s big deal? Go check out those John Hughes movies Generation X are so fond of. There aren’t any gay characters in them. That is a seismic cultural shift. You showed the country there was room in The Breakfast Club for the “gay one” as well.

You did that.

You live in a world where you don’t understand why it’s such a big deal that a woman is on the top of the Presidential ticket. The year some of you were born I sat in stunned silence as Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. And then watched as Congress approved him for the Supreme Court of the United States anyway. Yeah, we’ve still got a long way to go on that one, but we need your help.

Your detractors call you lazy, entitled, apathetic. I think you haven’t had time to live yet.

Life is experience and experience is nuance. You get older and you live longer and you realize, quite clearly, there are terrible things out there in the world. As a young adult there is love. There is war. There is right. There is wrong. There are clear lines in the sand. And that is as it should be. You need that clarity, that focus. If at eighteen you realized how many different ways you could be truly fucked, you’d never get out of bed. We’d lose an entire generation.

You may look at us, slightly pudgy and graying, comfortable shoes reminiscing about our youth and think the fire’s gone out. But the thing about fire is that if you can’t control it, it burns the whole place down, the good with the bad. The trick is learning how to tame the flames enough to make them useful.

I guess what I am saying is don’t give up. You have the elasticity to bounce back. We may be living life with our slightly less radical and slightly more centrist ideas, with our boring policy talk, doing things the only way we know how. But you? You have the opportunity to live the lives never offered us. Use that gift to tame the flames in a way to make them work for you.

act-up-phila-on-broad-stI know you won’t listen. I know because I wouldn’t have when I was eighteen, nineteen. I would have looked at the middle-aged person trying to give me advice as a relic of the past. A pudgy fossil on their way to Shady Pines.

I’ll say it anyway. Don’t throw a bucket of cold water on your fire because it’s not burning in the direction you hoped.

You can’t fake experience. You have to live it. So sure, we may seem stodgy and middle-aged now. It may look like we sold out, became complacent, gave up. But really we’re just getting ready to pass the baton.

It’s up to you to run with it. Don’t sit down on the track before you even start.

Love,
Generation X

Fade to Pink

older-womenOver the summer, I watched my mother get ready to go out with friends. She stood in front of me, smoothing her top, and asked if she looked all right.

She looked fine.

(By fine I mean eh.)

“Come on,” I said. I pulled out a hot-pink blouse hanging in her closet. We dug out some chunky, turquoise jewelry, pulled out a pair of strappy sandals and voila. My mother recently let her hair grow out to a beautiful silvery white and it looked gorgeous against the pink.

“It’s not too…much?” she asked.

“Fuck it, Ma,” (how I love being an adult with my mother—which inevitably involves many four letter words–and booze), “you’re seventy-one. Now’s not the time to fade into the background.”

I wasn’t saying it to appease her, I really meant it. She smiled and then, in an act reminiscent of my kids, spilled something down the front of her blouse. Luckily we found a sunshine yellow one to take its place.

Women are expected, after a certain age, to gently fade into the background without muss or fuss. It’s generally assumed that somewhere between child bearing age and death we should gracefully make room for the next generation of young women who are, presumably, pea-cocking and preening in order to attract a mate.

whenn-im-an-old-woman

Screw that.

I shall not fade gently into that good wall. No thanks.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire, intention, or even capability of attracting attention of the sexual kind. Far from it. In fact, on a night out with a group of women recently, I realized with relief that I have reached an age where I could legitimately be the mother of some of those young men. And not like a teen mom either. Far from filling me with dread, I felt a tremendous sense of freedom, because even though I’ve never defined myself by my sexual attractiveness quotient, let’s face it–I live in the real world and I’m not a cyborg. But just because I’m not interested in attracting sexual attention doesn’t mean I am going to suddenly embrace beige and fade into wall-flower status.

(A note to the young women on the dance floor suspiciously eyeing a group of slightly drunk mothers happily grinding to Justin Timberlake: Rest assured, we’re not competing for the attention of your male peers. Most of us have kids up our asses all day long, the last thing we want is someone else hanging around near there. The idea that a group of mothers on a night out are after anything more than a few glasses of wine and not having to put their kids to bed is….well, hilarious, really.)

The older I get, the louder I get, in volume, opinion, and color. Over the past five or seven years, a swath of hot pink has insinuated itself into my wardrobe and lifestyle. My cell phone was pink. My Danish bike is bright, hot pink. Hell, I even dyed chunks of my hair hot pink last year.

Think about that for a moment. Instead of letting my hair fade to gray, I dyed it hot pink.

Hot pink is not ultra feminine or soft. It’s kind of in your face. I’m old enough to realize I am not ultra feminine though I gleefully embrace certain aspects of femininity. I’m not particularly soft either (unless it’s orphans, then marshmallow soft). I guess I am kind of in your face though.

If the maiden phase of a female is all about sexual attraction and the mother is about softness, then the path to crone is definitely paved with, Oh, hell no.

I’m not advocating if you’re over forty you should go out and drown yourself in hot pink. I’m not opining that you should march into your hairdresser and demand blue streaks in your hair. I’m saying don’t hide yourself away. Don’t assume you have reached a point in life where all you can do is fade away until you blend into the concrete.

I don’t know about you but I have a LOT left to say.

So buy the sequins if you love them. Buy the sparkle. Buy the stilettos or the mini-skirt if you want. Buy the bikini and the screaming orange scarf. Swathe yourself in color. Dye your hair fuchsia. Or don’t. Do what makes you feel good, not what some market researcher tells you you should be doing. Don’t be afraid to call attention to yourself. You still have a lot left to give and do and say.

Don’t buy into the fact that after a certain age we have nothing left to offer just because our breasts are headed south and our asses are starting to sag. Don’t fade into the background. Sing, dance to Justin Timberlake, wear bright colors. Live.

advanced-style-ladiesWhen my mother came home from her lunch I asked if anyone commented on her outfit.

“Oh, you wouldn’t believe how many compliments I got!” she beamed.

At seventy-one, my mother’s got plenty of brightness left.

At forty-six, I’m just starting to realize how much I have.

Screw fading to gray. I’m fading to pink.

 

Women of a Certain Age

I currently have zero f*cks left to give.
I currently have zero f*cks left to give.

Every now and again I come across a clutch of women in a corner. They’re usually talking in low voices about some new atrocity of aging. Some fresh circle of hell that comes with getting older, some hot flash of inspiration that goes hand in hand with reaching a certain..ahem.. age.

I am that age. But damn if I haven’t earned these chin hairs and this peri-menopausal pot belly. And because I’m on the older side of a lot of these groups, I often find myself running from clutch to clutch answering questions like a walking, talking public service advertisement.

It’s not hard. The answer is always: Yes, it’s because you’re in your mid-40s.

Because I love you I’m willing to lay it on the line. I’m ready to take on the role of wise, old(er) crone as long as I can be the wise, old(er) crone who is still kind of cool with pink streaked hair.

Ready? Here are some of the things you have to look forward to as you make your way through your forties.

You have to eat two-thirds less and work twice as hard to look half as good as you did 5 or 10 years ago. It sucks.

You will have vivid, violent fantasies that involve ripping the face off of someone for taking your parking spot. You will have to physically stop yourself from punching a family member in the throat for breathing too loudly. Or possibly just waking up in the same country as you.

Your period will get wonky and suddenly you’ll realize you’re three weeks late. Unless you’ve taken permanent solutions, you’ll probably have at least one march of shame down to the drugstore to buy a pregnancy test like a teenager.

They really just tighter elasticated pants...
Don’t fool yourself: They’re really just tighter elasticized pants…

You will look at a piece of bread and gain 5 pounds. In order to lose those 5 pounds you will need to do some sort of dietary sci-fi physics which involves time travel and gouging your eyes out in a quasi Oedipal Greek tragic event to avoid looking at the bread you’ve traveled back in time not to look at. Remember way back in your 30s when simply not eating bread was enough? Yeah. Not so much.

You will have some sexual dry spells that make the Sahara look tropical. Seriously. Your libido will approach the missing status of Jimmy Hoffa. It’s possible you may see it on a milk carton one day.  (Don’t worry too much..even the desert gets rain sometimes.)

With the sudden clarity of a EUREKA! light bulb moment, you will gain some understanding into how the world works. (I had one of these Open Your Eyes to the Matrix  moments when I suddenly and with perfect clarity realized that just about everything in this world revolves around male sexual posturing, i.e. willy size. When I confronted my husband with this, he looked around to make sure no one was watching before he briefly nodded, confirming my suspicions). Everything starts to make a whole lot of sense. Which usually, in turn, makes you want to punch lots of people in the throat.

You will truly have no more whits, figs, or fucks left to give. You know that song the kids were singing a few years ago that seemed to just repeat the phrase “I don’t care…” over and over? That’s you. You are mid-40s and gloriously whit, fig, and fuck free!

You will realize why your Nana bought pants with elastic waists. You can try to call them performance wear or yoga pants, but the fact remains–if they don’t have a button, they may as well be elasticized.

At some point you’ll put on a pair of those cheap reading glasses they sell in drug stores and suddenly realize why you haven’t been able to finish a book in the last two years.

You will discover a fully grown, black chin hair at three p.m. which was decidedly not there when you checked at 8 a.m. This will, naturally, be your husband’s fault and you will want to punch him in the throat.

Don't make me do the jumping jacks. Please!
Don’t make me do the jumping jacks. Please!

You will eventually pee your pants a little (or a lot) while you are exercising or sneezing or laughing too hard. I used to poke merciless fun at my younger friends for not being able to do jumping jacks while I jumped around like loon, pee-free. Until that one day in class when I suddenly felt a dribble free-flow of its own accord and spent the rest of the class stinking like a wino. I’ve shut up since then. And wear protection. Karma is a  bitch. And apparently smells of pee.

So, if you’re in your late thirties or early forties and you find yourself crossing your legs while doing Pilates or squinting to read the font on your iPhone to track the date of your last period before you remember that you haven’t had sex for two months? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Don’t worry…it’s gonna be great!

(It really is. The no fucks left to give really makes up for almost everything else. Ok, maybe not the pee, but mostly everything else. Promise.)

Love,
Me