It’s Labor Day weekend, and I haven’t been to the beach all summer.
This is very sad, because I love the beach. The hypnotic music of waves rolling in, tang of salty spray on my face, warm sand caressing my feet – the sights, sounds and smells are like a healing balm. I live near the Georgia coast, about 30 miles from the beach at Tybee Island. My husband Ret and I were married on North Beach seven years ago, beneath the historic lighthouse that witnessed our first date. And yet we haven’t visited Tybee at all this year.
Beach wedding 2011
Site of our first date
If the suit fits
Honestly, we’ve had a busy summer. Ret’s started a new job with his company and we have a never-ending home renovation underway. We rarely have the same day off. And…I’m not sure I can fit into last year’s swimsuit.
Okay, I’m pretty sure it won’t fit.
But still, is that a good excuse? Because seriously, the only person who will be worried about what I look like in my black and purple tankini is me. And that’s just one giant waste of my mental energy.
How many times have I squandered a beautiful day mired in unimportant concerns over what others think of me?
In my youth, I was painfully insecure. I was shy and awkward around just about everyone. My curly hair frizzed wildly out of control in the New Orleans humidity, while all the girls I admired were blessed with long, sleek, flowing tresses. I wasn’t interested in fashion, but I was keenly aware that my clothes were all wrong, wrong, wrong. Hopelessly klutzy, with zero athletic ability, the thought of going to a dance left me terror-stricken.
Somehow I managed to overcome this gnawing fear and make peace with myself, but it took eons. Discovering yoga helped immensely with my coordination and body confidence, even though I can’t do a handstand and probably never will. I’m still a work in progress, but I knew I was on the right track when, at age 49, I threw away my flatiron!
30 minutes with a flatiron
Much better, don’t you think?
Every so often, I’ll come across a little reminder to enjoy today: to go forth boldly wearing my nice clothes and using the fine china instead of saving these things for some elusive future date when everything is perfect. Well, I don’t have fine china, but that’s not what’s important. What matters most is that life won’t wait for me. And the ocean thinks I look great just the way I am.
This wild, wonderful world is meant to be experienced, and there are no rules that determine who’s eligible to partake of its majesty. You don’t have to wear a certain size or have a PhD to hike a mountain, picnic in the park or gaze in awe at the watercolor sky. And no matter who you are, if you visit the ocean, it will rush right up to the shore to meet you there.
“If I’d known then what I know now…” Almost everyone
The month of January was named for the ancient Roman god, Janus. Depicted with two faces – one looking forward and one looking behind – Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions. Perfect choice.
During this month, we all become a little like Janus as we review the year that’s passed and plan the one ahead of us. Maybe because my birthday is in January, it’s a double reminder of how quickly life moves.
Depending on my mood, looking at the past can be sweetly nostalgic or remorseful, filled with the what ifs that hindsight brings. Looking to the future, I foresee either exciting opportunities or dreaded obstacles. Perspective is everything, isn’t it?
If I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, would I change anything? In spite of the heartbreak of a failed marriage, I’d never alter the course that gave me my sons. And though I regret living so far away from my parents, and will probably miss my beloved New Orleans for the rest of my days, I wouldn’t have met my husband Ret or have the good life I’ve made in Georgia if I hadn’t moved away. Maybe that’s why we don’t get a crystal ball. We wouldn’t always choose what’s best for us.
But if I could go back and counsel my younger self, these are some of the things I’d say to me:
Those mean girls in school are going to vanish from your life forever.
Don’t listen to hateful people who make fun of you. Chin up! (And don’t slouch.) Stick with the friends who are kind to you and forget about everyone else. People who bully or ridicule others do so to inflate their own meager sense of self-worth. It sucks to be them! Graduation day will come, and you’ll never have to see these people again. They’re irrelevant.
Ditch the pointy-toed stilettos. They are going to destroy your feet.
Believe me, one day you’re going to wish you’d spent the 80s in more comfortable shoes. You might cringe over that big hair in old photos, too, but at least it won’t inflict permanent damage.
Be nicer to your mother.
She’s not going to be with you for long, and you are going to miss her for the rest of your life. Hold on to the memory of the sound of her voice, and the tender way she kissed your eyelids. Remember her playful silliness, and how she loved Coke floats with chocolate ice cream, and that she couldn’t ride a bicycle, and how she snorted when she laughed. And learn to let go of the sad memories. Mama loved you, and she would have wanted you to be happy.
Your dad’s new wife is going to become your best friend.
Sometimes life is tragic. Even now, it doesn’t make much sense to me. But God knew that you would still need a mother, so He made a way for that. And this new mom really loves you. In fact, she’s going to become the person you call first when you need advice, or have good news, or just want to talk. So be nice to her, too.
When the baby sleeps, you sleep.
This piece of advice will come from Ricia, and she was right. Steal a nap whenever you can while Kevin and Jared are infants. No one is going to judge a new mother by her unfolded laundry. (And shame on them if they do!) This time with your newborns is precious and fleeting. Take good care of yourself, and snuggle up on your babies every possible minute. The postpartum hormones, sore breasts and sleepless nights only seem like forever while you’re in the foggy midst of them. It’s over in a blink. One minute you’re pacing the floor at 2 a.m. with a colicky baby and spit-up caked in your hair, and then a few weeks later, that baby has a fuzzy little mustache and wants to borrow your car. Cherish this sweetness while it lasts.
Stop straightening your hair!
Women pay obscene amounts of money to have curls like the ones you inherited for free from your Sicilian grandmother. Save the 5,382 hours you will spend over the next 20 years trying to make yourself something you’re not, and embrace who you are – in every way. (It’s futile anyway; you live in the humidity capital of the US.)
And another thing: in your 40th summer, you’re going to be tempted to highlight your hair. Resist! Otherwise, what will start out as a summer fling is going to turn into an annoying, expensive, long-term commitment, complete with more bad hair drama than any one person needs in her life. Be a happy brunette. Trust me on this.
Use that 5,382 hours you’ve saved and write that book.
Enjoy your artsy side. Write. Draw. Play your guitar, for heaven’s sake, instead of letting it gather dust in the corner, vowing you’ll get to it one day when you have time. Yes, you have a duty to take care of your family and earn a living, but don’t let months or years go by without indulging your creative soul. It’s what makes you, you.
Oh, and don’t listen to anyone who says you aren’t talented enough, especially yourself. That’s not the point. It’s the process that matters, not the end result.
Find out about this weird thing called yoga.
No, not yogurt! Yoga is going to change your life, giving you grace and strength you can’t imagine. If only we’d discovered it back in the 70s, when regular folks thought it was bohemian and outlandish, it might have dramatically altered the way we navigated our teenaged years, pregnancy and new motherhood. Maybe we could have even avoided some of these nagging health issues I’m dealing with now. And we would have learned to relax a long time ago.
Save, save, save money!
Seriously. Having to work for 40-plus years is just as excruciating as it sounds. And credit cards are evil. They suck you in with false promises of the good life until you wind up in bondage. Don’t fall for it.
And finally, this too shall pass.
Whatever you’re struggling with now, I promise it will come to an end. You will survive high school chemistry, fickle friends, getting fired and immense, consuming grief. You’re going to earn a bachelor’s degree at age 40 while working full-time and wonder how on earth you did it. Facing the shattering end of a long marriage will temporarily tear your heart to bits – but it will also forge your unbreakable spirit. Your cranky, never-let-you-sleep babies will become adorable little boys. Then those adorable little boys will transform into exasperating, petulant teenagers whose behavior keeps you up at night all over again. And then one day, they’ll hug you, say, “Thanks for everything, Mom,” and move away to build their own lives.
Nothing lasts forever.
So, the best you can do is take it one day at a time. The only thing you can control is yourself; give the rest to God and let Him be responsible for running the universe. Trust that whatever unfolds in life will ultimately be for good, and your responsibility is to do your part, the best way you know how. Have faith. Love people. Give yourself a break.
“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” Max Ehrmann, Desiderata.
There’s an age spot on the back of my left hand.
I find it amusing, really. It’s a pale, tiny thing, as if it knows it’s new and is afraid to assert itself. This little speck reminds me of a hand stamp at a festival – you may now enter middle age.
Time changes things
Ever since my 50th birthday a few years ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about this phenomenon called aging, taking note of the changes that come with the package. For example, gravity is somehow much more powerful now as everything seems to be sliding downward. I can still hear a pin drop next door but I can’t read a darned thing without my glasses anymore. Body parts that were once maintenance-free are sometimes stiff and cranky for no good reason.
I recently had to see a specialist to evaluate a mysterious pain in my right wrist. At random intervals it literally locks up on me, sending a stream of fire down to my fingers and rendering my wrist immobile. It is unbelievably painful. The first time this happened I thought it was dislocated. My primary care physician thought it was a nerve disorder. After an EMG performed by Dr. Frankenstein, I learned it is not a nerve problem.
At first I was really happy to get a diagnosis. After all, I’d been struggling with this malady for years and had no idea what caused it. And then it hit me: OMG! I have arthritis. Old people get arthritis. How could this happen to me?
Yoga over 50
When I’m on my yoga mat in the privacy of my home, I feel strong, flexible and balanced. My body sings. I stretch and breathe, feeling vital and alive. This is how I always want to feel, completely at home in my body.
However, when I am on this very same mat in a sea of other people in a yoga class, I feel differently. While I’m not normally the oldest student in the class, I’m never the youngest, and it’s hard not to make comparisons. My back doesn’t bend as much as it once did. Women two decades my junior are dressed in tiny yoga pants and skimpy tanks that I’d love to wear if they could contain my, um, femininity. There was a time when I jumped around in a vinyasa class, but I just don’t have that energy level anymore, and besides, it’s hard on my joints.
It took some time for me to understand this new reality and find a sense of acceptance, and even appreciation. Because I really don’t want to sweat my way through a vigorous yoga class anymore. I want to allow stretches to unfold gently. I want to hold challenging poses a little longer and notice how my body and mind react. I want to slow down and savor every pose.
I want to slow down and savor my life.
Celebrate every birthday
Some people say they dread having birthdays. I’ve never understood that. No birthdays means you’re dead! I’m grateful for every single birthday I get and I plan to celebrate them all with candles that set off the smoke alarms. I’m happy to be 54. I’d never trade the wisdom I’ve gained for the 25-year-old body I’ve lost.
My dark brown hair is sprinkled with silvery strands, and as weird as this sounds, I kind of like them. Each is hard-won. The laugh lines around my eyes and mouth stay there when I stop laughing, and I don’t really mind. They mean I’ve laughed a lot over the years.
Life leaves its marks on all of us. The most important ones can’t be seen. My mind has opened as I’ve come to understand how very much I still don’t know. My heart is softer and more expansive with every dear one I gather into it. It’s been broken many times, but miraculously hasn’t lost its capacity to love again.