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

 

 

Both Sides Now

Death and LifeYesterday, as competitors in the Ironman Challenge raced past our apartment, pushing their bodies to the limit of endurance, I was slowly cycling toward an afternoon meant to celebrate the life of a woman who endured in a different way, who pushed her body to a different limit.

I knew about her long before we met. When she first got sick, she was the center of a buzz of activity: meals were cooked and delivered, the dog walked, company provided, magazines collected. I’ve seen this hive at work before, women swooping in and taking a slice of another woman’s burden as her own. It amazes me every time, and makes me grateful to be a part of this womanhood.

Over time, as her illness ebbed and flowed I met her in person, but it was through these pages she got to know me, and I her. Somehow these words and sentences reached out and connected us in the way that stories have been connecting humans since the beginning of time. Our shared experiences became the thread that tied us together. The knots were newer and looser than the ones which connected her to others, but no matter. Once tied, you’re forever knotted into the fabric of a life, no matter how loosely.

Recently her body reached its limit. All those binds and ties and knots were teased apart and released, but not before they came together one final time to weave a rich and colorful tapestry. Yesterday was meant to be a celebration of that tapestry–of that life–and I was honored to be included.

Yet as her husband talked to us about her wishes after death, I felt sightly fraudulent. Surely all of these people knew her so much better than I had, surely they were more deserving of this celebration. He continued, shifting between Danish and English, and I caught the song playing in the background.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down, and still somehow
it’s cloud illusions I recall.
I really don’t know clouds at all.

It’s impossible for me to associate Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now with anything other than the moment Emma Thompson faces the truth of her husband’s infidelity in Love, Actually. It’s one of those snapshots of everyday life which make you question if love–and fear and happiness and anger–all the emotions that boil and bubble together to make a life, are worth the pain of loss. The soundtrack to that scene is part funeral dirge, part broken heart. It is mournful, haunting, and rueful, the warble of a woman who has seen, lived, loved. And lost.

We’re allowed merely a glimpse of pain before the character swipes at her eyes, straightens the bed sheet, and throws open the door with a forced smile. Endurance of a completely different kind than those athletes hurtling toward a finish line.

Those sixty or so seconds of music and emotion get me every, single time. Yesterday was no exception.

Yet the day was not about mourning a death, but celebrating a life. There was food and wine, music, bright colors and funny quotes. No one seemed to be weighed down by the mantle of her death, what there was instead, present in every breath, was life. Hers, and ours, and in that moment, the culmination of the two.

Both sides now. Life and death, before and after, with and without.

At the end of the afternoon I cycled back home. The athletes were still going, doggedly pedaling by, pushing their bodies to the max. Most of them had a literal marathon still in front of them. It is a stamina I don’t possess, but then perhaps, none of us realize the strength we have until we are tested. Endurance, after all, comes in many forms.

fly free

To swipe at your eyes, straighten your bed sheets, and throw open the door to the unknown.

Is it worth it? How can it not be? I hope that when she threw open that last door it was not with a forced smile, but with the knowledge that her life, though ended, will still live on in the knots of ours., in the stories we tell to connect to one another.

I hope that as she crossed that finish line, the promise of both sides beckoned.

Fly free, Trish. May you look at clouds from both sides now.

 

Under the Banner of Friends

friends 3Marta is the first and only Basque I’ve ever met. Jill, an American Jew, one of so few in our community we jokingly refer to her as our Token (which if you’re familiar with South Park you will only take slight offense to). Marta has been our go-to for all things Spanish, Jill when we need to know the right kind of pretzel sticks to make marshmallow dreidels at Hanukkah.

Both are mothers, though the ages and makeup of their families differ greatly. While Jill’s oldest was starting middle school, Marta was still changing diapers for the twin toddlers she had at home. Both are married to Americans, both have dogs. And that’s where the similarities end. In most circumstances, they’d be been like friend ships passing in the night. In fact, I have trouble imagining a scenario when Jill and Marta would have been friends.

But four years ago, they both wound up in Copenhagen.

I may doubt the likelihood of their friend ships meeting in the night, but what I cannot doubt is that over the four years they’ve shared, they have indeed become friends. Good friends. Their husbands and their kids too. They’ve shared dinners and vacations and parties and inside jokes. For most of that time, I’ve been a part of that friendship, but I’ve also had the pleasure of observing it as well.

You see, in expat life, friend ships that should simply pass in the night but instead go bump is one of the best things about what is sometimes a strange and tiring way of life.

It’s easy to assume a relationship of differences, one based primarily on the where and now would be on shakier ground than one formed on a foundation of similarities and sameness, but often the opposite is true. In my experience, the bonds that hold two different friends together tends to be even stronger. Maybe it has to be in order to get things to stick in the first place. Or maybe you work harder at it. Or maybe, as I suspect, you look after it a little bit more because you know how unlikely it was to begin with.

friends 2

Jill and Marta didn’t have much in common but they found enough common ground in the cold, Danish soil which welcomed them both. They built on that ground and in doing so, proved sometimes being in the same place at the same time is the only foundation you need.

Of the many friends I’ve made on this expat journey, most have been unlikely ones. Folks with different political views, different parenting philosophies. Different religions, different ethnicities, different views on life. Sure, I gravitate toward people to whom I have things in common—that’s a part of human nature—but the fact that this experience has thrown us together in a giant melting pot—which has then fused together some freaky combos? It’s my favorite part of the whole damn thing.

Tazza, my decade younger Aussie friend, mother to only girls, who doesn’t swear or like tattoos. Somehow it doesn’t matter. Liz, who pulls a different electoral lever than I do. There are Jill and Marta, my age-tribe mates who do swear but differ from me in many other ways. There has been a bevy of Brits, more than you can shake a stick at, most of whom turn a blind eye to my loud, American ways and strange way of holding a knife and fork. Canadian, Spanish, Dutch, French, Norwegian, Irish, Indian. Many of them I have nothing in common with other than being on this damp, Danish soil together. Together we’ve scratched our heads over Danish customs and consulted Jeanet, our resident Danish expert when perplexed. She graciously indulges our curiosity and allows our exasperation.

Yet in the time we’ve spent together, we’ve learned to embrace our adopted Danish flag and wave it about. Under this red and white flag which doesn’t belong to any of us, but now belongs to all of us because it is the place we made these unlikely friendships.

I’ve spent the better part of this week saying goodbye to many of them, swallowing tears, and at times, failing rather spectacularly. But this life and these friendships–they’ve allowed me to shed the weight of should. Being an expat has allowed me the freedom to be friends with people I have absolutely nothing in common with other than this Danish flag we’re all living under. It’s allowed me the chance to explore these unlikely friendships and watch them grow.

friends 1It has been one of the biggest and most unexpected gifts I can imagine.

For four years Marta’s Basque flag and Jill’s Stars and Stripes took a backseat to the red and white Dannebrog, the same way my own colors have taken a backward step to allow me to make friends. Perhaps it has been the same for you, putting aside differences to gather together under the banner you’re temporarily living under–be it Emerati or Swiss or Canadian, Thai or Scottish.

Under the banner of friendship.

 

 

 

 

Four and a Pizza Pie

ladies pizzaAmong expats ’tis the season, not for tidings and joy, but for leaving parties and gifts, frantic last-minute quests and excuses for daytime drinking. Well, more excuses anyway. June is a tough month for expats. June is packing and wrapping and scrambling and crying and toasting and second-guessing and trying to suck in giant gulps of air to keep you upright.

June is a month full of goodbyes.

Not too long ago my husband and I sat down to confront the eventuality of leaving ourselves. Though we are still firmly on the hosting and attending side of the fence, if I’ve learned anything in the last eight years, it’s that mental preparation is half the battle. At some point the eventualities turn into possibilities and the possibilities morph into certainties, usually the day after you book a long-haul flight or fork over half a year’s tuition. But in the throes of hashing out the pros and cons of staying vs. going, conversing about how hard it will be to set up camp somewhere else and say goodbye to a damn good life, a life which gets harder to leave every additional year we stay, we boiled it down to this:

As long as the four of us are together and there’s decent pizza, we’ll make it work.

Because at the end of the day, what more do you really need?

It’s not easy. Several good friends have been struggling with repatriation or new country postings. Several more are already anxious at how they’ll handle it in a few weeks themselves. But as they make the list of pros and cons, of fears and anxieties, I say the same.

As long as you have your family and a deep-dish, it will be ok.

pizza pieYou’ll be ok. You’ll make it work.

It may take a while. It will probably take a while. In fact, I’d be surprised if it didn’t–it should. Settling into a new place or re-settling into an old place, which can be just as foreign and intimidating as a new one, isn’t easy. There will probably be a lot of tears. Some resentment. An argument or twenty. A lot of second-guessing. That old bugger hindsight will come into sharp focus.

But have faith that as long as you’re together, you’ll figure out how to make it work.

You’ve slogged this road before. You’ve thought it out. You’ve run the numbers, listed the pros, calculated the cons. You’ve looked at it from every different angle and sideways. You’ll be ok.

Maybe you underestimated how different it would be, or how difficult. Maybe it’s not going to be the best country you ever lived in or the nicest house. Maybe you’ll need to hire a tutor for you kids to catch up or maybe your kids will be ahead and lose some of their momentum in the place you’re going. Maybe you won’t have the same friends you had before you left to go away. Maybe you’re going to miss the place and people you left behind.

You’ll be ok.

Because as long as you’re together and you can get a decent slice of pepperoni, it means there’s something normal and right in the world. And sometimes that’s all you need, just a little, tiny bit of normal and right to hang on to.

Maybe this move isn’t going to be the one that pays off the mortgage or sends your career into the stratosphere. Maybe the commute’s going to suck. Maybe the school will suck or the weather or the driving or the lack of decent black beans. But you’ll be ok. Because, pizza.

You’ll make it work. You’ll find a school. Maybe it won’t be a perfect fit. Maybe your kids will be behind or be ahead. But it’s ok, because they’re there with you. You’ll find a house. Maybe the bedrooms will be too small or your landlord will be a dick. But the roof will cover all of you. You’ll make friends. They may not be as good as the ones you made in the last place, but that just means you made some great ones that will always be there. You’ll be able to drive from your house to Ikea and back again without consulting the GPS. And rest assured, Ikea has the same stuff wherever you are.

pizza placeIt might not be pretty and neat, but you’ll figure it out. You’ll figure out what the important things are, like the thickness of the pie crust and the sauce to cheese ratio.

To those of you leaving, those of you who recently left, you’ll be fine, I promise. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow or even next week or next month, but you will: because you’ve already got 95% of what you need to make it work right there with you.

You just need to find the pizza place.