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 them 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. Each unto their own time to blossom.

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.

Do or do not, there is no try…

We’ve heard it before. The wise old tiny one from Star Wars -the Jedi Master of all Masters. Don’t say it. Do it. Don’t try, get it done. These words of wisdom inspire me daily on my journey. As a woman, the older I get, the wiser I become as I understand that this world, despite my belief that love is what carries us through this universe, is about those who get the job done – not who just give it the old college try. As a mother, this lesson truly hits home for me as I continually judged my abilities as a parent by the outcome of labor: My children.

Many who read my blog will tell you that I’ve spent a bit of blog space talking about guilt, apologies, and living up to my own expectations. It’s difficult to say if this comes from my mother and her mother, who repeatedly drilled into my psyche that how we present ourselves is just as important as what we accomplish. Fake it until you make it. However, I have also heard the longstanding litany of “don’t worry, just try your best and you’ll be fine”. Fear of rejection, fear of comparing ourselves to others…it’s hard to escape.

I read an article recently that put forth the idea that women are more pressured to be perfectionists for a variety of reasons, and that this can be witnessed in the professional arena as we judge ourselves and others, and as we allow ourselves to be judged. On a personal note, I continue to struggle with the emotional anchor of “you’re only as good a parent as how your children turned out to be”. In my mind, this is crazy talk. I knew better. But in my heart, if my children struggled it was because I failed in some way. How could I live in the moments of mindfulness when my anchors kept holding me to my maternal guilt?

It’s taken a while for me to understand this nugget of worldly wisdom, but acceptance of the outcome means you have control of all the moving parts. I do not have control of my children, my projects, my people, my world. I survive or perish by how I respond to those things I decide are important enough to devote myself to. Midlife has finally allowed me the insight into Yoda’s key wisdom: Do or do not decide what is worthy of YOU. There is no trying to please everyone. Do remain mindful and do not accept the outcome of things not in your control. When it comes to motherhood, I finally understand there is no try. There is just do.

Love means never having to say…

Who are we kidding? Love means having to say you’re sorry all the time. Often being misunderstood as a mother seems a second way of life these days. From the first mutterings of how Mommy was mean to the teenaged tantrums of how “I’ll just go talk to Dad. He’ll say yes”. The journey from mother to meaningful empty nester required a mind shift from one of peacemaker to that of adventuresome independent. I wanted to no longer care about being the mean mom but needed to be proud of reclaiming my individualism. I needed to release the instinct to apologize for being misunderstood and strengthen my resolve as a woman who could move forward in my life without the immediate concern for what others were thinking.

During the early years, I often received advice that allowed me to navigate motherhood by being more of a follower and less of a leader. It was a struggle as I attempted to lead a mindful and harmonious life as a joiner. While I didn’t share in the ideal family life, I had many reminders of how I could be more loving, more patient. I had encouragement to avoid the toxic and seek the healthy. We all have our own parental journey that often isn’t perfect. Each step of the way paved with good intentions but often misunderstandings as well. Figuring out how to be a good parent and spouse with no real support system was challenging.


However, as I became an empty nester, I was able to more easily tap into my memories of LBC – life before children – to regain a sense of my authentic self. I didn’t want to be filled with regret for all the paths I did not take. I wanted to be who I was before I was a misunderstood mom.

Now, my journey to mindfulness in midlife is filled with guilt-free moments. I stay out late on a work night. I am no longer a fixture at my children’s school. I have reclaimed my “nerd-dom” from long ago and made it acceptable in a world where there is a society for everything. I can go to the store in sweats with no make-up and not be the family pariah because my children were too mortified their friends would see me. Little by little, I am learning again that I do not need to be sorry for the life I lived that didn’t meet expectations. I am learning not to apologize for being the caring, hard-working mother who made choices and loved her family in spite of unexpected life detours.

These days, I find myself thinking of my mother as I respond to my daughters in the ways she responded to me – and how my daughters sometimes respond to me like I did to my mother. My apologies are few and far between and are about me learning to let go of the need to be there for all things. My sorrow is for understanding that they will not always need me. My tears are for the things I can no longer fix.

Once I dry my tears, I understand that my children are learning to see me more as a person. They are living their lives as they can, making plenty of mistakes and receiving lots of feedback from their mother. Perhaps much of it unwanted. I am living my life as a leader, choosing a life of love without regret. Like ducklings on a pond, my children have been paddling their way in the direction of their mother. But at some point as they grow up, they will paddle on to shore without me. It may not be where I can see them, but I know they will land where they need to be. And hopefully, I will be nearby.

Where do I start?

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

I am a mom, currently in midlife. Well, 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 have 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 that loomed 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, my motherhood will never change – and it is why I feel the greatest responsibility for 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?