Where do I start?

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Part of me said this blog wasn’t a good idea.

I am a mom, currently in midlife. I am not just a mom, but once I had children I realized that I had to develop answers to life questions I used to take for granted. Why must I share my toys? Why do I need to wear a helmet? Can’t I just text you? Now that my children are grown and left home, my house is not empty as much as it filled with questions about what I want to accomplish with the rest of my life. When one door closes, another door opens. Right?

However, as the over-thinker I am, I began to drift in thought to times that took me away from the present: regrets I may have had in my past, retirement plans looming ahead, what traditions and memories I leave behind with my family and friends. While motherhood is not a requirement for a successful life, it continually reminds me that no matter what happens in my life, this will never change – and it why I feel the greatest responsibility to ensuring my children’s success. Unfortunately, this overwhelms me with the sense that I am missing out on the present. I am missing out on the moment. Worrying about what I can’t control. Obsessing on how I can balance being the best Mom in Midlife and not lose a sense of myself as an individual trying to leave her mark.

So I am making the commitment to change my perspective on the first step of the rest of my life. Learn to ground myself in where I am by bringing with me the lessons of my mental musings, my maternal worries, and my womanly wanderings through the rest of my journey. Teach myself to maintain moments of mindfulness in an otherwise wandering soul to be better. A better friend, a better mother, a better wife, a better me. Maintaining this blog as a touchstone to my moments.

So, part of me said this wasn’t a good idea. But then again – part of me says I’m willing to take the leap into this moment. Being a better Mom in Midlife. My first act of mindfulness for the new year. Won’t you join me?

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The fabric of friendship

When I was a child, making friends was as simple as telling the other your favorite color, food, and favorite television show. If you had things in common, you became friends. There was no complexity to the genuine nature of being a child. You were guaranteed a friend to play with a recess and someone who would come to your birthday party. No drama or politics to consider. You would share the latest events that took place over the weekend with your family. For me, it was stories like the one from a second grade friend about obtaining strawberry flavored lipstick, and the subsequent heartache when another friend tried to eat it. I have often wondered how life could be if adult friendships could be just as simple. We could have pre-printed business cards with our favorite food, favorite color, and a picture of us in our favorite outfit on a good hair day. No fuss, no frills and a friendship could be made.

Of course, life goes on and friendships become more complicated. Making time for important people is more difficult as work demands our time and children demand our attention. As adults, we engage in screening the people in our lives to ensure they match our values and our schedules. It is not surprising that quality friendships became difficult to develop and keep. At times when my nerves were frayed and my life unraveling, I often didn’t have the network of supportive friends I had also hoped to have a young professional and mother. As an introvert, it was lonely. Weaving the intricacies of a fulfilling and authentic life seemed to be more difficult without connection of kinship.

Considering this point caused me to step back and really think about what this blog was going to be about. It was difficult to focus on the point in writing this piece. Close and lasting friendships were difficult in my younger life and the lessons from that chapter in my life gave me lots to consider. What was it that I was trying to say? What did I really need to learn from this process? Nowadays with social media, many define friendships by connections – perhaps an electronic version of what we knew as children. I had plenty of those, connections I had made over the years. But how many of them would reach out regularly? Who would be there if you needed them? I have family and friends who are really looking at their networks, only to discover that it is still possible to be lonely in the midst of hundreds of “friends”.

It was only in my later life that I was able to appreciate how my life had become stronger with friendships that have lasted me for years. Not the casual acquaintances that are good for a chat at a local bar every once in a while, but true and deep friendships. Friends who wanted to add me to their lives and play a part in mine. Some friends developed into and remained friends, other wonderful people came and went. Some I had to let go of because I was hanging onto them for the wrong reasons. Good people come and go in every life, but a good friendship requires more that can’t be forced. Aspects like genuine interest, respect, timing of one’s life journey. My friends’ lives didn’t always match mine. Some were married and some were not. Some had children and some did not. Even now, I understand that that weaving these friendships in to my life was a difficult but worthwhile effort. The color they brought into an ordinary life made me an even better person that I could have been alone. As my midlife unfolds and I continue my focus on the moment, I can only look forward to weaving more threads into my fabric of friendship.

Reel to Real Life

I can’t recall when I exactly I became fascinated with the movies. I would regularly lose myself in the technicolor drama and my imagination exploded with potential. I became the characters I watched. I was the heroine from a foreign land. I was the adventurer from space or the pioneer woman on the wagon train. When I was old enough to attend the movie theater by myself, something inside me must have clicked. I finally understood that despite the cinematic separation between on and off screen life , each person can pick and choose the influences in their world and create their own life movie. The romance we aspire to, the friendships and family we hope for, and the adventure we seek in an existence which can often be lonely, scary, and full of challenge. Even today, I escape to the movies to what I call my reel life.

Becoming enamored with characters for their wisdom, their ingenuity and their heroism inspired me in ways nothing else could. I had no heroes growing up. As a parent, I can’t say if I was ever a hero to my children. I am, however, a role model. Someone who lives their life in the face of adversity. Someone whose individuality does not waver in a culture of conformity. Someone whose bravery hopefully shines to others in my life during times when it is easy to surrender. I am inspired by the Luke Skywalkers of my reel life. I was inspired by all the role models I did not have but found in the movies.

I think everyone goes through a period of uncertainty, insecurity, or loneliness. My favorite stories brought to life in the movies always seemed to give me solace. Whether it is as a child or as an adult, we grow and cling to what gets us through. For me, the potential of an awesome life is what I found in my youth and what I brought to my midlife. Now, I feel like I have made it to the other side. The challenges of my early life are still there but no longer as crippling. My children have been encouraged to find their own way and to seek inspiration in their worlds. Worlds that I have had a hand in creating. As a mother, I have often worried about the journeys my children are choosing to take. Hopefully, they are finding good things in both typical and unexpected places.

You may wonder why the inspiration and escape I’ve found in movies has remained so constant in my mid-life. Surprisingly, I have found I am not alone. I have learned about networks of others who have been so inspired by their reel life they have cultivated communities of their own whose passion exceeds the confines of national boundaries or age. These people read fan fiction, celebrate fun through cosplay, and join others in their escapism only cinema can provide. While one might argue that movies are not real, they are not a healthy way to perceive life, I argue that for me – they do not dictate what people should be but provide me the framework to explore my own imagination. I am free to believe that I am the master of my own life and I alone can choose how to what I aspire and how high I can reach.

I am fortunate that I can now spend my time worrying less about finding my heroes and more time about being one to inspire someone else. I can find the time to share the stories that will stir others to be bold, to take big steps into their real life. Some are lucky to find these people close to home. Others, like me, found mine in the movies. I may no longer need my virtual light saber, but the soundtrack to my real life still sounds pretty darn good.

Garden of the god(dess)

It was in the throws of late spring and now past summer solstice that I find myself shoe deep in the mud of our yard. Clumps of clay and weed and dog paw prints like fossils changing from mud to dried artifact. I am filled with caffeine-fueled hope that I might master the art of gardening in the potential oasis I call my home. Spring does this to me, affects me in ways that stir me to my maternal soul.

There is something fulfilling about providing the care and nurturing that a garden requires. Something about the control of the new growth, claiming responsibility for the beauty, and the shame in a failed result that reminds me of motherhood. Many of us have heard the analogy of our children being the flowers in our family garden – delicate and in need of nurturing in the beginning, exposure to the elements of the world to help one grow into a strong and beautiful creation, and the occasional requirement of extra fertilizer to boost the balance resulting from growing in the wrong place exposed to toxic elements. Tending a garden is not easy, no matter what kind of plants you choose to raise.

While the mornings are still cool and I can successfully prune and weed, I think fondly of a childhood story of The Secret Garden. Discovering the fragrant trail into the abandon of a special place in nature. Developing everlasting bonds of kinship with those whom I can keep my spiritual secret. Establishing oneness with my world and feeling inspired by the nature growing around me permits my imagination to run wild. In my attempts to remain mindful and live in the moment, I can state that the garden is just that – a spot in the midst of the chaos – where I can meditate on the moment.

I have to wonder if my daughters are also become a part of my midlife Garden. My mindful flowers keeping me rooted in the moment to enjoy the meaning of my Saturday mornings. This is where I do not worry about the things I cannot control. I can only respond to what I am shown that moment. I can water, weed, and sit to enjoy the stillness. While I can claim to be the reason why my Garden flourishes or not, I really know that it is up to the ultimate Mother, the Earth. It is up to the sun and the wind and the rush of mystical sense that sweeps me up into a mindful moment of this inspirational wonder. I am but the goddess of my tiny Garden. A temporary caretaker. It is in the bigger field that my flowers will eventually grow and thrive.

In the meantime, I will continue to dig and weed and work around the clay-like soil filled with “paw-ssils”, thwarting the curious canines that serve as my entourage as I trek into the jungle that is my garden. Focusing not just on what I can do for my Garden, but what it does for me. Like I expect most gardeners believe, I would imagine the success of their cultivated and nurtured secret Garden to be like the sunflower – continually growing, always facing the light, standing tall for others to see. I can only hope that mine reseed and continue to bloom where they are planted.

Love in the time of sentiment

It was after I had struggled a while with the thought of going through my accumulation of sentimental items that I encountered a novel idea brought to me by a new friend. While the things I had saved and stored over my lifetime would not allow me to share the happiness I lived, it would enable me to tell the stories of the love from my life. Sharing the story that was prompted by my treasured item would go much further in depicting the love and warmth it brought me than handing down a naked item with no sense of value or purpose in the hands of another. The story, the sharing of a bit of my soul with the important people in my life, would allow me to pass forward the lovely fragrance of my grandparents’ patio orange tree or the tastiness of my mother’s quiche in ways a picture or knickknack could not.

As the oldest sibling of a small family of divorce, my early memories of my childhood contained some emotional nuggets that over time, became polished in the recollection of my sister and me. As we grew into adulthood, the bad times fell away and our favorite experiences took on a new fondness as we tried to share them with our children and other special people in our lives. Once our parents died, the realization that no one else would understand these special memories scared me. I wanted my children to appreciate people they had never met, homes they’d never seen, and wonder they hadn’t experienced. Unrealistic as I was, I became overwhelmed with the guilt that an entire family’s story would go untold, and determined it was up to me to ensure that my parents, my grandparents, and their ancestors before them were not forgotten.

I saw my salvaged, sentimental things as a way to pass this on to my children. Little did I understand that a doll in the hands of a little girl is just a doll. No history. No sentiment. No curiosity. Just a doll. I could not accomplish the feat of having my family story not forgotten unless I told it myself. Unless I found a way to share the love and memories myself in ways my family could appreciate. It may seem silly to those who grew up with their extended family surrounding them. However, for those of us who had no large family gatherings, no family traditions to speak of, or may have survived the break up of family through divorce, we want to hold on to things that give our experience meaning. We keep the little things that accompany us through life because they are ours and serve as witness to our story because there may be no other who can do this.

So now, I am going through my long held knickknacks asking myself, “What story do I need this to tell? How do I use this item to reinforce the fabric of my family quilt?” This will be challenging for me. It will require thought and care, but I am certain that my love in the time of sentiment will make its way into our hearts. Our holidays, our gatherings, and our time together will never be the same.

Eat, pray and love me by taking a second helping

It was after an eventful vacation to the Mediterranean last month that I started thinking about our next trip. My husband and I had decided to take this trip of a lifetime, which represented our quest for adventure as free spirits from our work-a-day obligations. Our 12 days away from home and into the restaurants of Italy, Greece, Croatia and our cruise ship introduced us to flavors we were uncertain of – some blessed us with Buddha smiles and full bellies, while others made us wonder how the recipes we thought we knew could be so different than to what we were accustomed. In the end, each meal was an adventure spent with friends.

We returned from our trip, anxious to embark on a new trip to parts unknown. We loved the possibility of what we could learn, but better yet – we loved the meal times we spent with those close to us. During dinner on the ship, we were regularly sat next to a family of what could only have been a family of adults and their children. Each evening, they spent an evening in food, wine and conversation. Reminiscing about my international experience, my weekend self spent an afternoon watching the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love”. I soon came to the realization that I too loved the opportunity to eat and share with friends. More particularly, I enjoy the adventure of eating something tasty and filling and the conversation that resulted.

It seemed that not that long ago I was worrying about whether we had enough food to accommodate the friends my children had invited over just minutes before. Meals were stressful, often served on the fly, and often not quite meeting the four basic food groups. But as a recent empty nester, my children were no longer home requiring that I be there every mealtime. Casual entertaining with food and friends and people who were a pleasure to be around provided a satisfaction like nothing else.

I’ve spent much time considering what is making me happy in my midlife. Clearing out our drawers and shelves that have been stuffed with the “I might need that someday” items has cleared the way for what might follow a life of raising children. The smiles on the faces of my friends and family, the adventure of going places I’ve not gone before, and the warm feeling of company sharing their time. What I have learned is that the breaking of bread, the sharing of the meal, can be a catalyst for all of this. A moment of one of my favorite movies, “Under the Tuscan Sun”, taught me that life is rarely how you expect it to be. However, if you keep your heart open, it will be fulfilled in ways that may even exceed your expectations. These days, my heart remains open and in addition – my dining table is ready and can always be set for one more.

Does this lipstick make me look fat?

You wouldn’t think something as simple as lipstick would be such a defining item as one marches on into midlife. Not so newsworthy coverage of how to remain visually appealing in one’s older and wiser years seems to be all I see when it comes to beauty tips and fashion trends. While I am struggling with an ever changing profile, gray hair and how to adapt what little make up I do wear, I find myself spending more time making decisions about how I can grow older gracefully while maintaining the image of a woman who still makes an effort.

I no longer focus on hiding the flaws and but embracing the “less is more” mentality. I don’t want to become that fifty-something with such a manicured, comprehensive look that the extreme color in anything looks like I’m trying too hard. What I wouldn’t give for the “I’m the aging but still cool-looking hippy mom with the natural beauty of a Norwegian supermodel” look. How I would cherish the toned and tawny tribal look of the outdoorsy, soon-to-be senior who felt at home at an outdoor music fest or during a weekly nature hike. But alas, I am the “haven’t seen much of the sun”, “I’d rather be reading” minimally active parent and grandparent who now finds herself truly asking herself if she can still pull off the red lipstick on date night.

My journey into this updated image started with a little sparkle. I’d received a gift of a glittery eye shadow palette that has since provided me with gleeful moments in the mirror as I accent my look with sunlight, rosegold, or twilight eye sparkle. How could midlife feel so dangerous? So experimental? Sure, Gwyneth Paltrow would be contacting me for input for goop.com. The power of self-assurance was heady.

So, imagine my amazement when shopping for an upcoming vacation, I find tinted organic (yes, organic) lip balm with colors that were perfect for me! My new color choice, symbolic of my wrestling with graceful aging, was at last within my grasp. Something easy, flattering, yet nothing too polished that a kiss from my husband or a chocolate brownie couldn’t disturb. My heart was happy – and my spirits soared. Could I pull off this sassy but simplistic new self image? My sense of self was being restored by tinted lip balm.

My embrace of this sparkle and gentle bloom of color reminds me to bid farewell to another closely held illusion from my 40s. My youthful aspirations I must release have now seeped into my soul keeping me young at heart but promoting my acceptance of that which I cannot really change. These days, I am focusing on my next big plan for my life, which includes more adventure as a mother and reflection on being a grandmother. Maybe I’ll go on a few more nature walks. Maybe I can still hope for the cool-looking hippy mom vibe. But now, I am mindful of what I am as my new lip color shouts my new life motto – I am ready to be the new me. And no, I’m not Norwegian but I’ve always wanted to go there.

The time for reflection

As long as I can remember, I loved to dance. Dance while with my friends, dance while no one is looking. The energy and love I exude while moving to the musical beat put me in a state of happiness that I simply could not recreate elsewhere. Body and mind were one. Until I started getting older. My mind moved one way, my body another. I shimmied while I shook – but not in unison. My outer self no longer reflected by inner self. While feeling betrayed by age and life, I’ve begun seeking how I can find my happy place in the middle age of motherhood.

I recently started back up with a Zumba class, energized by the Latin beats and inspired by fancy footwork of our instructor. Our class is full, with all levels of participants. I am filled with a feeling of safety as I recognize my limitations and making conscious choice to still have fun without the guilt of underperforming. I get lost in the mamba motion, imagining how skilled I feel by tackling these steps. Until the group shifts and I am standing in front of the mirror.

A wave of disappointment crashed over me as my inner joyous self met my outer midlife self. How could I be fooled enough to think I was mastering my joy over my midlife unfitness? I felt guilty. I felt cheated. Why did I have to step in front of the mirror? My thoughts, these days, have been about mastering my own destiny, charting my own course, creating my own happiness. I recognized the time for change.

A quote attributed to Marty Rubin summarized the lesson I was about to learn:
“Mirrors: they show you what you lack, not what you have.” This gym class mirror couldn’t show me all I achieved, all that I was to those in my life. It was showing me what I lacked, and I was placing too much importance on this. I have made this my new mantra – frame the way you live your life in terms of what you’re doing for health and happiness – giving it to others, but now – even more – giving it to yourself. Your life before was more about what you did for others. Don’t regret it. Don’t feel guilty that you were unable to place yourself more of a priority then. Doing it now is a step in the right direction on your journey. What you see in the mirror is capturing what you are doing right. What you lack is buried in the past.

So, as I lace up for another class, I am going to find the strength to stand in front of the mirror. Truly open my eyes and my heart and see what I am doing. I am going to take each step in front of the mirror and it will remind me of my mindful journey. I will just have a meringue rhythm to keep me on track.