Full circle

Caricature of the graduate

I went to my 30th high school reunion and I didn’t get eaten alive.

Not only did I survive, but I also walked away with a smile on my face. That the smile was mostly vodka-induced and not steeped in reality is a story for another day.

In the three decades since I marched to “Pomp and Circumstance” and walked away from the hell of high school, I’ve had an irrational fear of attending any reunion.

For reasons I can’t quite articulate, I felt if I were to attend any reunion at all, the 30th would be the one. The reunion is no longer a one-evening event; it’s an itinerary from which you can choose your level of involvement. I chose the informal bar night. The price was right and I had an exit strategy tucked in my pocket.

Filled with enough false bravado to fuel five teenage boys at their first middle school dance, I sucked in my stomach, ordered a cocktail at the bar, took a deep breath, and stepped onto the patio.

I survived the abrupt halt of conversation, all heads turning, and the first of what would become the evening’s refrain, this time from the mouth of a busty redhead with a cigarette dangling from her mouth: Who are you? Did you graduate with us?  

It was at that moment that I realized how far I’d come. There was a time (in high school) that if someone said that to me it would have simultaneously pushed all my buttons, triggering anger, disappointment and despair. Now? Someone else’s bad behavior is a reflection of that person and not a measure of my worth. I answered her in a light and breezy tone with a smile on my face. She shrugged and turned away. Everything was OK after that. I am OK with me, just as I am. I don’t need her approval or anyone else’s to be here.

Sometimes being in a room full of people who remember snippets of you at your worst is more excruciating than helping jog the memories of those who didn’t know you at all. I gave up trying to convince one person that I was not goth in high school, just depressed.

Back then I didn’t have the maturity or perspective to understand that the extreme dysfunction of my family life bled into my social interactions.  I was angry and inappropriate. I used alcohol and drugs and outrageous behavior to cope. Every day was a struggle of fear, hopelessness, free-floating anxiety and self-loathing. My only friends were other social misfits or rebels. We spent most of our time as far away from our idyllic suburban landscape as possible, preferring the gritty neighborhoods of Detroit.

In the years since high school I’ve slowly overcome my crippling anxiety and shyness. I’ve come to understand that my past does not have to color my today. I’ve mostly accepted that I will never be a sunny blonde, long-legged, of the proper lineage, and have a button nose. I am me, good or bad, big nose, wide hips and all. Over the years people have loved me for it. Imagine.

I treated the night like a cocktail party of strangers with possibility. Here’s what I learned:

  • Very few people still look really good 30 years after high school.
  • Shared experiences are priceless. I didn’t have any with the people at this gathering. While I had great cocktail party conversations, there wasn’t a bond between us that erased the years and reduced us to hugs and laughter. I realized how much I had missed of mainstream teenage life.

Of course I had my people and our memories. They just weren’t at this partyI don’t know where most of them are in this world or if they are in this world. (In fact, a good number of them are dead; I had a phone call in April telling me of two deaths this year.)

  • I walked away a bit smug at all the free drinks bought by men, who as boys, would not give me the time of day, and who wouldn’t quit until they figured out why we didn’t connect in high school. What a fun guessing game.  I was a bit rattled that some of them were so forward until someone told me most of them were out-of-towners traveling solo and reunions are famous for the hook-up potential. Oh.

Reunions are a step back in time but they also are a chance to affirm — to yourself — where you are now.  I don’t spend a lot of time with people my age. It was good to see the familiar signs of latefortyness on those around me, to know that even if I wasn’t like them at all back then, we had some things in common now, if only because we are parents, spouses, have aging parents, underwater mortgages or fears of aging and death. No longer are we the future; we are dangerously close to being the past.

What pleased me most of all was that my exit strategy never left my back pocket. I stayed until last call.

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Is that a pear in your pocket?

By cwbuecheler via Creative Commons

Age moves on stealth feet. Except that tip-toeing is getting noisier with each passing year. In a few years I imagine it’ll be like Gene Simmons, in full Kiss regalia, stomping all the juice out of my youth.

It’s getting harder to hide the signs, such as the under-eye circles (Just how much of that caulk they sell at Sephora can you cake under each eye?) and that flotation device permanently attached to my waist.

Years of smoking and tanning have etched lines on my once-perfect skin. Yes, I once had perfect skin. No makeup needed. Ever. I quit smoking 17 years ago. More than anything I hope my lungs have somewhat regenerated. But my skin, well, the damage is done. I wish every young person lighting up and buying a tanning club membership would consider this. I know I didn’t.

If anyone is guilty of thinking youth would last forever, it’s me. I had it so easy for so long. I always looked far younger than my years. I was carded for alcohol well into my 30s. (I was carded at Target last week for buying NyQuil but that’s something different entirely.) But now? My knees ache and throb after I run on the treadmill. They require ointments to feel better.

I’m getting the hereditary veiny, twisted hands of my mother and grandmother. I don’t sleep well at night anymore. I no longer feel sexy. My body cannot produce a baby. My silhouette no longer forms the hourglass figure of youth.

I am a pear.

I am the pear-shaped princess of perimenopause.

Inside I feel young. I have good energy. I am strong. I have will and fight. Most of the time. I still swing on the swings at the playground and laugh at poop jokes and The Three Stooges.

I don’t want to fight  gravity with shots and creams and endless slices under the knife. Yet, if the money were available, I’d probably submit to “just one” procedure. I’d have my eyes fixed. They are aging me faster than a carton of Marlboro Reds. But, I know one procedure begets another and another. Younger eyes would beg for a smoother forehead and taut cheeks and a tight neck. On and on it goes until you are a cartoon character named Joan Rivers.

So, what’s gotten the pear-shaped princess singing the blues lately? I’m surrounded most days by much younger women. Women at the starting end of the fertility curve.  Women who are worried about getting pregnant while they are pregnant. One day I did the math. Some of these mothers were flying out of their mother’s uterus as I was peeling rubber out of the high school parking lot on commencement night.  I am — gasp — the old mom.  I don’t even know where everyone my age is hanging out anymore. Are they all dead?

God knows, I try to go out and party like it’s 1989. I’m almost always the first to check out. I was called on it at the last girls’ night out. I’d been up since 5 a.m., had one too many glasses of red wine, and had a date with my pillow.

“Lame, lame, lame,” said one of the young moms as she slapped my drooping shoulders.  She had the fiery intensity of a woman determined to get her way.  “You are coming this time.”

So I did. If only to save face, to prove them wrong about being the old mom. I found a second wind and together we christened the newest wine bar in town. I’m glad I did. Even if it meant I had to wear dark glasses to school drop-off the next morning and go home and put an ice pack on my face before taking a three-day nap. The rest of those young things? They looked fresh as morning dew on an Easter lily.

Damned youth.

 

If you aren’t already a fan, check out Bossy’s take on a wishy-washy friend named Peri.

This tree is real

Fake Plastic Trees

Her green plastic watering can
For her fake Chinese rubber plant
In the fake plastic earth
That she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber plans
To get rid of itself

It wears her out, it wears her out
It wears her out, it wears her out

She lives with a broken man
A cracked polystyrene man
Who just crumbles and burns
He used to do surgery
For girls in the eighties
But gravity always wins

It wears him out, it wears him out
It wears him out, it wears him out

She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love
But I can’t help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run

It wears me out, it wears me out
It wears me out, it wears me out

If I could be who you wanted
If I could be who you wanted all the time

–Radiohead

Today is my 45th birthday.

There. I said it.

I can’t believe it, but it’s true.

This song ran through my mind all day today, particularly the line: “Gravity always wins” because it is so true.

And there’s nothing like your mid-40s to make you see physics in action.

This is what I do a lot: I look at my face in the mirror and I pull back my cheeks and eyes to bring it all back to what it used to be. This is what a face lift would look like, I tell myself. This is why all the Hollywood actresses my age look like they are in wind tunnels, like their faces are carved stone. This is why they still look the same and I do not. What have they traded for this look?

Fake plastic trees.

I let go of my cheeks and the skin falls back into place. I wonder: How did I not like the face I once had? How did I not realize how fleeting my youth would be? I think that I’d rather have that face than this one, this 45-year-old face. But that face was traded in for experience and wisdom and all that I have today. To get that face back would be to lose all that I have earned.

That’s real.

Granny panties: public health nuisance?

bigpants

by alessandraelle via creative commons

Aside from fine lines and dark circles and loss of muscle tone, there’s one thing that really deflates my over-40 self-esteem: the underwear choices for the typical middle-aged body.

Gone are the days of  itty-bitty pretty things in bright colors, accented with lace and beads and bows. Now, it’s all plain and dark and thick. Now, it could double as body armor in a combat zone.

More than anything else about this age, I’m embarrassed of my underwear drawer.

A few weeks ago at a picnic with a friend — who has not yet crossed the threshold into fortysomething — we cursed our big appetites and what it does to our bodies. Then, she revealed a secret to me. She raised the hem of her pink ruffled sleeveless blouse to reveal a heavy-duty bustier that stretched from her rib cage to her hips. She made a fist and rapped her knuckles against the reinforced siding to demonstrate its figure-controlling power.

Wow.

I was floored. I assumed her smooth lines were the result of genetics. Some women are lucky. But for us, pregnancy turned a slab of granite into a bowl of mush. She bought it, she whispered to me over a bowl of Sun Chips we were sharing, because someone had asked her if she was pregnant again.

Ouch.

I feel her pain. As a former member of the itty-bitty bikini club, the crop top and low rise pants club, middle age has forced me to relinquish my membership. I hang with a different crew now, the ones who shop for what at worst can be called granny panties and at best are called figure shapers.

Ugh.

I have discovered some things that make this transition tolerable:  Spanx, or anything Spanx-like.

Shopping for this type of underwear, however,  is a different experience. No longer can I go to the cute  lingerie boutiques and grab a handful of candy-colored “fundies” in my size and pay for them. Now I need to go to stores that have senior discount days to buy something to return my body to what it once was, to smooth and redistribute flesh, to conceal and reshape.

So imagine my horror on a recent shopping  trip when the dressing room clerk plucked the Spanx out of the bouquet of try-on items in hand and waved them overhead.

“No. No. No.” She admonished, shaking her head to and fro rapidly for added emphasis. “You aren’t permitted  to try on undergarments in a store!”

She used words like exposed crotch, and hygiene and public health threat. Suddenly I felt like Borat in his man-thong.

Um.

Well, I wasn’t going to take everything off and put them on, I retorted. I was going to put them on over my own underwear and see how they worked with this rather clingy dress I just bought.

More nos from the dressing room monitor. More head shaking. More talk of dreaded diseases and H1N1 and health department crackdowns.

I know I’ve tried on these body shapers before at other stores. In fact, I clearly recall a dressing-room attendant at a very upscale shop helping me find one to wear with my wedding dress. I’ve tried on bathing suits in stores countless times.

I’m not a germophobe, so much of what this attendant was talking about flies under my radar. I’m also not a shopper. I do not enjoy it. Least of all do I like trying on clothes or having to return them if they do not fit properly.

I looked at those Spanx waving over my head like the flag of doom. I talked of the price tag. I suggested that it was a lot to spend on something if it didn’t fit.

The attendant offered a solution: Buy the underwear, try it on at home, then return it to the store for a refund.

Then — and get this –she said with great pleasure that if the underwear is returned to the store, employees will have to put on protective gloves, render the garment useless, and ceremoniously dispose of it.

Whoa.

Do they have a HazMat team on duty for underwear and bathing suit returns? I ‘d love to see that in action. Do they use big tongs and drop them in airtight biohazard drums? Do they set a granny panties fire behind the store?

I suppose this all makes sense. I know it does. But something about the way this moment played out seemed hysterical and over the top. And now I feel as if I’ve been living in a cave on this matter.  After conducting a bit of online research, it seems that this is a health code rule. It turns out that people are pigs and do horrible things in dressing rooms and to clothing.

There are a lot of Borats out there.

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Feeling 'Bossy' today

Yesterday I gushed about how someone at my husband’s birthday party last weekend thought I had not  yet reached the 40 milestone. Along with the gush was a “photoshopped” picture of myself taken two months ago.

I used this image because:

  • I like it
  • I still had my long hair
  • My long hair hadn’t yet gotten so damaged it had to be cut off
  • I wanted to simulate how I may have looked in the dim mood lighting of the party where alcohol was served. I did so by creating a soft blur with Adobe Photoshop, thereby eliminating all that yucky stuff that shows up in bright light/flash photography.

Inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, Bossy, who isn’t afraid to display less-than-perfect pictures of herself, particularly when it comes to the state of her hair, I have decided to show the Internets a different view of the same subject. A view that will make it clear I am over the 40 fence. While it pains me to post this, I am doing so because:

  • Guess how many chins!
  • Hate.The.Haircut.
  • School called. Lunch lady position available.

Best question ever

Me, with the "under 40" blur filter

 

There was an all-day snowstorm.

Our babysitter canceled.

One of the main party helpers came down with food poisoning.

Yet — husband’s big 40th birthday party went off without any further hitches. Everyone had fun.

It was not my night, not my moment. I was deep background. Still, I had a fleeting exchange that made the night for me. This night that was not my night.

Amid all the black tablecloths, balloons and “over the hill” signs, one of the party guests sidled up to me and asked: “So, when do you turn 40?”

Maybe it was the lighting.

Maybe it was the wine.

Doesn’t matter.

Thank you, sir.

Thank you.

Welcome aboard, matey

My husband — my younger husband — turns 40 today. 

He seems to be handling it OK. We have a big party planned for the weekend.

But it wouldn’t be a milestone birthday without some good-natured ribbing.

So, here goes:

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU ARE 40

First, buy these:

Soon enough what you are reading will begin to look like this:

Then stock up on this stuff:

 

 

 

To help prevent the eventual onset of this:

Prepare to trade this look:

for this:

Remember, after all these years we are still together, happy and in one piece. There may be some tape involved but we are together.  You have a touch of gray, maybe not quite the jackrabbit 29-year-old I started dating in the 1990s. As for me, I’ll bet you didn’t know I was hiding a spare tire and so much junk in the trunk when you asked me out.

credit: www.wingsfortheheart.com

credit: www.wingsfortheheart.com

Thanks 40, for that gift.

Remember: we were happy we married young enough for me to still be thin and not look obviously like an “older wife” and for you “to have all your hair.” We pledged to love one another no matter what Father Time and Mother Nature doled out.

But let me tell you Mister Mister, don’t make me buy one of these:

Because I’ve been practicing my crazy bitch act for a while now.

Oh, c’mon, you knew what you were getting into when you married me. Happy Birthday!

Still pretty in pink?

***Post edited on July 24 to include photos****

Last night I stayed up really late to watch the reissued version of “Pretty in Pink,” the ’80s classic featuring teen icon Molly Ringwald.
Two things:
First, I miss John Hughes movies like I miss my youth — his movies were pretty true to the times without being overly cynical or sappy. I love the characters, the soundtracks, and the milieu that seemed to mirror my life so well at the time.
Second, I realized a girl with whom I graduated high school had a bit part in the movie. How did I miss this before? In fact, despite having owned the movie soundtrack and playing the cassette to the point of unravelment, I’m wondering if I’d ever watched the movie in its entirety. (I think it was a ‘date movie.’)
Third, OK, I lied about it being two things. The ’80s need to stay in the ’80s. I think it’s great that my teen daughter wants to see all the “Brat Pack” movies of my youth. I think it’s fabulous that the storylines are timeless. But those fashions need to stay in the vault. Girl from the West came back from her month in Europe with a suitcase and boxes packed with ’80s fashions and a interest in Molly Ringwald movies. She is obsessed with all things ’80s. The big belts, big shirts, big glasses, tiny little boots and the ginourmous earrings.
Her wardrobe is a mirror of mine 20 years ago minus the REALLY BIG HAIR. Yeah, at least that hasn’t come back yet. What did we do to our hair in the ’80s? Look what I did to mine:

This is me, now, no longer inhaling perm solution:

After the movie ended I couldn’t sleep. I felt a pang of sadness about the past. Had more than 20 years passed since that movie came out? I think the last time I was in Kohl’s I heard the Cure playing on the piped-in Muzak system.

WTF people, the Cure? In Kohl’s? That’s enough to make you want to slash your wrists right there in the hosiery department.

Finally, the reissue DVD featured interviews with the cast today. Let me tell you, none of those fresh-faced teens looked so pretty in pink anymore. Molly Ringwald least of all. I barely recognized her without her short ‘do and angular figure. She looked more like a suburban soccer mom than a Hollywood sensation. Both Andrew McCarthy and Jon Cryer just looked like typical middle-aged dudes. Biggest shock of all — John Hughes is now a semi-recluse? Refuses interviews? What is this about? Is he creating a mystique about himself or did he just fade away?
Ah, well, better to fade from shocking pink to pale purple than to take the Botox Express to Freakville.