60 Years Young

Standard

IMG_1530Yesterday I celebrated the milestone of turning 60. In honor of the birthday I share with the great Martin Luther King, Jr., it snowed about six inches in Chicago. As I shoveled the cold, fluffy stuff in my driveway, I felt grateful that I am still fit and healthy enough to do so as I head into my seventh decade of life. Yikes!

The thing is, I still feel young. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a sense of disconnect between my inner self and the aging face I see in the mirror. For one thing, I can vividly remember things from my childhood, such as playing running bases in the backyard, buying lemon jungles from the Good Humor man, and doing third grade phonics with Mrs. Walsh. Milestones such as high school graduation and my first job don’t seem that far in the past.

Emotionally, of course I’ve changed. I’m a little wiser and less susceptible to peer pressure. But I still have my insecurities, my need to be liked, and my fear of change. And while it’s true that my idea of fun nowadays is a night in with a good movie or book, I’ve never exactly been a party animal. I think that, as they age, people don’t so much change as they become a more mellow version of themselves.

The best thing about getting older has been the deepening of my relationships with my family and friends. My kids are almost all adults now, and it is so gratifying to have meaningful conversations with them. My husband and I have a comfort level with each other that was not there in the early years. I have close relationships with my mom and siblings. And I am surrounded by good friends who make me laugh and let me know I am loved just the way I am.

Just yesterday, a group of friends surprised me at a birthday lunch organized by my beloved older daughter. It gave me such a warm feeling on a cold and snowy day to share a glass of wine, a meal, and great conversation with some of my favorite women in the world.

If this is what turning 60 feels like, I’m glad to say that as of yesterday, I’m 60 years young!

 

Advertisements

Re-Entry

Standard

Jenn+Sander+British+Space+Company+Excalibur+cpE9ytMdARrl

After a prolonged time in outer space, astronauts have major physiological adjustments to make upon re-entry to Earth. The effects of lessened gravity make simple actions such as speaking and walking difficult once the astronaut feels the effects of Earth’s gravitational pull. Astronauts returning from the International Space Station spend weeks being tested and monitored to be sure they recover their health and stamina.

While the post-holiday stress of re-entering regular life can’t quite compare, I couldn’t help being reminded of astronauts’ ordeal as I returned from the holidays and a wonderful vacation in Hawaii.

With a four-hour time change, I am still suffering a small degree of jet lag. I can’t go to bed at night but must arise at what feels like the crack of dawn to see my daughter off to school. And speaking of school, it is hard getting back in our day to day routines after two weeks of holiday feasting, family togetherness, and fun. When my kids are on vacation, I too feel a certain license and tend to let certain everyday tasks go by the wayside. Facing the piles of paperwork and general disarray in my house has been fatiguing.

Re-entry after the Christmas holidays is especially painful to me because there is nothing that depresses me more than taking down the decorations, especially the Christmas tree. Not only is it a tedious task that somehow falls to me alone every year, but it saddens me to let the merriment of the season go. The January to April winter slog is long and sometimes disheartening. I want my jolly back.

By next week, we will have settled back into a normal routine. My sleep patterns will stabilize, and I will be in a rhythm set by my daughter’s school and sports schedules. The holidays will be a distant but pleasant memory. To ease my adjustment, I have started a new program of yoga that I hope will calm me and help banish the blues of gloomy winter days.

Despite the pain of re-entry, my life is pretty wonderful. As soon as I get my sea legs back, I intend to enjoy it to the full.

The Aloha Spirit

Standard

IMG_2959For my upcoming 60th birthday, I wanted above all else to go on a vacation with my family. As the kids have grown, it has become increasingly difficult to have them all in one place. So a logical time to gather my crew was over the Christmas holidays. The logical place? Paradise, a.k.a. the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Kauai and my hometown of Chicago could not be more different. The most obvious difference, especially at this time of year, is the climate. When we landed at Lihue Airport, it was a balmy 70 degrees, as opposed to the single digit temperatures that had descended on Chicago and, indeed, much of the mainland. Winter in Chicago is cold and bleak whereas the seasons on Kauai are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Everywhere we looked was a profusion of color: velvety green mountains, bright green shrubs and trees, pink and red and orange and yellow flowers. Our hotel even hosted a couple of friendly parrots and a host of noisy chickens that wandered the grounds.

images

But the differences don’t stop there. Chicago is a big and somewhat impersonal city. People are in a hurry, perpetually hurtling from one activity to another. In Kauai – and all of Hawaii, really – there is a relaxed and unhurried vibe. Not for nothing are Hawaiians known for the “hang loose” gesture that implies there’s plenty of time, no need to rush. Whether driving around the island in bumper to bumper traffic, being waited on at a restaurant, or interacting with salespeople at shops, tourists need to cultivate a more easygoing temperament to match the Hawaiian way.

The Hawaiian word aloha represents the spirit of the islands. Aloha means both “hello” and “goodbye,” but most importantly, it means “love.” From the moment we landed on Hawaiian soil, we were greeted with this aloha spirit. Hotel staff greeted us by placing leis around our necks. “Aloha” constantly came out of people’s lips as they would pass us by. Smiles and friendliness were the norm and not the exception.

Another word that is important to Hawaiian culture is ohana, which means “family.” My favorite part of our Hawaiian vacation was not the fresh fish, the mai tais, or the spectacular views. It was the feeling of being surrounded by my family. We had adventures together hiking, rafting along the exotic Na Pali coast, and snorkeling in the pristine blue waters. But my favorite times were those spent together, on beach chairs just lying companionably next to each other and comparing notes about the books we were reading or the music on our iPhones. Or the relaxed dinners where we reminisced about vacations past and shared our “bests” and “worsts” of the present one.

Too soon it was time to part ways and go back to work and school in various parts of the country and the world. But my memories of this milestone birthday will always be ones filled with aloha for my ohana – and for the Hawaiian spirit that I hope will linger into a New Year in a less heavenly clime.

Best of 2017

Standard

Women's_March_on_Washington_(32593123745)At the end of every year, critics, news organizations, and others make lists of the bests and worsts from the waning year. Although there have been more than enough worsts, in my opinion – a Trump presidency, three major hurricanes, numerous mass shootings, white supremacist marches – I am choosing to bring in 2018 by focusing on some of the highlights of last year, both personally and in the world at large. Herewith I give you my Best of 2017:

  1. The women’s march. As a counter to the sexist, xenophobic tenor of the Trump campaign and unlikely presidential victory, women rose up en masse to let the new administration, and President Trump in particular, know that they are not going to sit back and allow our country to slide back into a Fifties mentality, where everyone took a back seat to white men.
  2. Moonlight, not La La Land, won the Oscar for Best Picture. After the unprecedented snafu that resulted in a declaration of victory for La La Land, it was revealed that the actual winner was a smaller, less mainstream, and less “white” film.
  3. The total solar eclipse. Although I was unable to experience totality, I got caught up in the excitement and wonder of this rare natural phenomenon that brought the country together for a few shining (or not shining) moments.
  4. Roy Moore was defeated in the special election for Senate in Alabama. It’s heartening to know that even in the Deep Republican South, voters have their limits – and those limits don’t extend to adult men with predilections for young teenage girls.
  5. Stranger Things 2. The sheer joy of watching a crew of talented kids defeat monsters in a nostalgic 80s setting cannot be overstated. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the series with my kids, debating which season of the show was better and discussing whether the new characters Billy and Max added to or detracted from the series.
  6. Rich People Problems. Kevin Kwan’s fabulous trilogy about Crazy Rich Asians came full circle to a hilarious and satisfying conclusion. No doubt the airing of the film based on CRA will be a highlight of 2018.

On a personal level, I had some wonderful bests:

  1. My daughter made the varsity soccer team her freshman year. This was a goal she had been working hard toward, and I was happy to see her rewarded for her efforts. It was also a lot of fun to watch her don the red and white uniform of her high school and play her heart out.
  2. My son’s rugby team won the National Championship. He loves to flash his championship ring, but I just loved seeing the camaraderie he had with his rugby teammates in this down and dirty sport. And it was a bit surreal to watch the guys dive into snow banks during the semifinal game due to a spring snowstorm in Denver.
  3. My oldest had a successful business school internship and was offered a job in New York for the coming year. Although I have loved having her here in Chicago while she completes her MBA, I am glad she will get to return to her happy place.
  4. My other son got a new job and a new apartment, both of which have contributed to a huge sense of accomplishment and well-being for him.
  5. My husband and I were able to go to Europe not once, but twice: once with our son and his football team and a second time with our daughter for soccer.

With 2017 in my rearview mirror, I am eager to see what the New Year has in store for me, my family, our country, and the world.

You Better Watch Out

Standard

The-Elf-on-the-Shelf-The-Forgotten-CRMParents have always been a little mean-spirited at Christmas time. When I was a child, I took to heart the admonishment that Santa was watching me. If I was naughty, no presents for me. Looking back, I think that was a terrible message to send about Santa Claus and the giving and receiving of gifts.

As a parent, I realize that it’s important to have many discipline techniques to deal with child misbehavior. And sometimes we’re so desperate to stop our kid’s annoying or destructive behavior that we jump at anything we think might work. But in the case of Christmas threats, I think we are headed down the wrong path.

Take the Elf on the Shelf. Mercifully, my family missed out on this custom due to the age of my children. But my understanding is that the elf is some sort of spy for Santa who lurks in the house and keeps moving around so as to catch the kids in any sort of shenanigans. This is not only a bit creepy, but it gives children the sense that their parents see them as basically naughty and in need of watching at all times.

Many internet memes have blithely skewered the image of the Elf on the Shelf by posing him in compromising positions with Barbies and such. But others are troubled by the surveillance and reporting aspects of the toy. Digital technology professor Laura Pinto worries that the Elf on the Shelf is normalizing a police state mentality for a generation of children. (Washington Post, Dec. 16, 2014)

Another new technique I have seen popularized on Facebook is this: A parent wraps a bunch of empty boxes with Christmas wrap. Then, when the child misbehaves, the parent tosses one of the gifts into the fire. Whoever came up with that idea most likely thinks of themselves as clever, but I think it’s downright cruel.

At the very least, the idea of tying children’s behavior to receiving gifts on Christmas is the antithesis of what Christmas is supposed to be all about. The birth of Jesus was a gift for all mankind to save us from our sin. Quite the opposite of being expected to “behave” in order to receive it, the gift of Christ was given precisely because we do not deserve it.

Christmas should be a time of selflessness and love. Let’s retire these mean-spirited traditions and confine Santa and the elves to jolly singing in the workshop at the North Pole.

 

Winter Solstice

Standard

stones-wintersunset

A few days ago, I arose at 4:30 in the morning. My head was spinning with holiday to-dos, and I just couldn’t sleep. At 6:45, I went up to my daughter’s room to wake her for school. But it was so incredibly dark in the hallway that I had to check the clock again to make sure I had the correct time.

As we approach the winter solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere, the darkness seems to envelop us. Night comes swiftly and lingers into our morning awakenings. We are approaching the day of shortest daylight and longest night.

Early cultures marked this winter solstice with festivals of light, such as the Scandinavian Jul, from which we derive the Christmas word “Yule.” It is no coincidence that Hanukkah and Christmas, two festivals of light, are celebrated around the time of the solstice.

We are a people afraid of darkness. At the holidays, this darkness can take the form not only of physical night, but of sadness, loneliness, and depression. Loss of loved ones feels more keen at this cold, dark time of the year. The holidays themselves, of course, can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. Hence my 4:30 am awakenings.

But for me, the winter solstice is a time for rejoicing. Not only is the great feast of Christmas around the corner, but the days will begin to lengthen again. In the midst of January’s sometimes bitter cold is the reality that the brilliant sun shines more often and lasts longer into our days. The New Year will give us new resolve and hope for a better life.

The whole season of Advent is one of waiting in darkness for the coming of the light of Christ. HuffPost writer Caroline Oakes sees the meaning of Advent enriched by the ancient pagan traditions surrounding the solstice. In them, she recognizes the Celtic culture for “its keen awareness of humanity’s deep, inner connections with the rhythms of the natural world.” (HuffPost, December 21, 2012)

So we wait in the darkness. In Oakes’ words, “This is Advent — when, as sleepers, we awaken to our own light of love, deep within us, waiting to be reborn again in the dark stables of our own souls.”

 

Christmas Is For Lovers

Standard

IMG_1485Our first Christmas together, my husband did not want to get a tree. He reasoned that we would be spending the holidays with our families and were at home so little it wasn’t worth the effort. To me, no Christmas was complete without a real tree shimmering with lights and tinsel. So I was feeling glum as I made my way home from my teaching job one cold and wintry December evening. When I walked in the door, I was surprised to find my beloved kneeling at the base of a lovely tall fir tree, screwing the posts of a tree stand into its trunk. Next to the tree were boxes of lights and shiny ornaments he’d bought. He had carried the tree on his back for three blocks and up the three flights of stairs to the condo where it now stood in all its majesty at the big picture window. I was thrilled and touched.

Something about the holidays moves us to be kind and generous to each other. And over the years, it has been a time when my husband has gone out of his way to show me how much he loves me.

One of my favorite Christmas tree ornaments was given to me by my sister. It is a Precious Moments ornament with the inscription, “Our First Christmas Together 1988,” and I have always given it pride of place on our tree. One Christmas, one of my kids was attempting to hang it on the tree when it slipped out of his little hands and broke in two. I was inconsolable. Of all the ornaments we had collected over the years, that one was irreplaceable. That Christmas morning, in the pile of presents from my husband, was a small box with the very Precious Moments ornament I thought was gone forever. My husband had searched for its replacement and special ordered it for me.

Through the years, somehow my husband has found ways to give me gifts with deep emotional meaning. One year he had restored and tinted a favorite old photo of my sisters when they were little. Another year, I unwrapped three fancifully decorated letters of the alphabet representing the initials of each of our three children. But there was a fourth box of identical shape. When I opened it, tears came to my eyes. It was the letter “O,” representing our hope for the fourth child we were in the process of adopting.

Christmas is an emotional time for many people, and I am an extremely sensitive and emotional person. The year my father died, I could hardly bear to celebrate Christmas. The holiday that had always been marked by my father’s birthday on Christmas Eve would feel so empty without him. That year, my husband gently coaxed me through the season, helping me decorate the house and reminding me that our kids needed to feel the joy of the season – but also allowing me space to grieve.

The true magic of Christmas is that it can bring us closer to the people we love. That has certainly been the case with my husband and me over the years. I cherish the memories of almost three decades of Christmases together and pray that we have many, many more.