PsyD., O.P. Living my best life now, "mid-life". I hope the stories I share resonate with Readers, regardless of chronological age. My perspective is that, the more we travel down the road, the more beautiful and resilient we become. Life can be painful, but it is a process that burnishes our strength, and expands our capacity to love -- starting with ourselves. Being able to smile and laugh ( especially at my own foolishness!) is essential to my well-being. I try - when I can - to infuse my stories with hopeful, humorous anecdotes. Enjoy. I'm thinking of you...

Every woman in my circle has bemoaned the way aging eventually shows up in our faces. Thankfully, we seem to have swapped-out hideous words like “marionette” and “crows’ feet”, for “laugh lines”. We’ve learned to appreciate these changes as badges we’ve earned by living and loving, losing and grieving. Life is a package-deal: no one gets out alive (as the saying goes), and no one gets to avoid wrinkled skin.

I, for one, applaud any woman who chooses to enhance her appearance by any means she deems necessary, appropriate and absolutely worth the expense. Having said that, I was surprised to observe lately, that women in their 20’s and 30’s are now the targets of advertising for the product Botox. Listening to the messaging, the underlying claims are that “Your face can, and should be exactly how you want it to be!” “Whatever your eyes do when you laugh? Don’t put up with it! Whatever that space between your brows does when you’re worried? If it bothers you, get rid of it!” Of course, Botox Cosmetic is the benign name for the neurotoxic protein that removes lines by paralyzing facial muscles. The medical hazards are clear, but are playfully minimized by advertisers. And, there’s even more of what the media-messaging doesn’t reveal…

Not long ago I went to an aesthetician (who’s licensed to perform all kinds of facial and body miracles) to have a scar looked at for possible treatment. After checking-in, a young and attractive young woman in a lab coat appeared and introduced herself as my Beauty Consultant. While I waited for the actual professional, my Consultant handed me a pink brochure with a scrollwork menu of cosmetic procedures that were currently discounted (my visit being close to Valentine’s Day; I didn’t see the connection and still don’t).

Not wanting to seem rude, I focused on a few strange-sounding products (that turned out to be what are referred to as ‘injectables) and asked a question or two. My Consultant was not only knowledgeable, but had experienced most of them herself. I could not resist asking, “Howold are you?” Her facial skin, to my eyes, looked as perfect as a baby’s. With total seriousness she responded, “I’m 24, and you should have seen my lips before injectables!” Of course I immediately looked at her lips. They looked pretty average, but my Consultant assured me that she had no lips at all pre-treatment. Ok. I tried not to picture that.

Getting to the point of my story, I was compelled to ask this young woman more questions — not because I was interested in having my lips plumped, but because she continued to relate other cosmetic procedures she’d had done on her face to make it “more perfect”. I had to know the downside, from her perspective. She started with the obvious: the expense. She continued with the fact that whatever gets injected eventually gets absorbed by the body. Read: it lasts for a few months, then your ‘look’ goes away. What floored me was this young woman’s acknowledgment that injectables were a lifetime commitment. “You know,” she emphasized, with her eyes looking directly into mine, “like going to the gym” (I felt that). She didn’t plan on “getting hooked” she said, “But once I saw how my face could be,” she beamed, I just wasn’t happy going back to how I looked before.” My Consultant claimed that most of the business’s clients kept to their four-or six-month schedules and that this was just another beauty routine, like hair appointments. 

If I had ever considered having “work” done on my face before, those thoughts were gone forever.

I’ve been thinking about the recent 2020 Election polls (I know, many of us don’t trust them, with good reason). What’s been percolating in my mind is the fact that — according to pundits — female voters are indicating majority support for the top two white males over any of the female candidates. This is causing some confusion and consternation in our national and even global Sisterhood. (The same phenomenon occurred when the first female candidate for president — Hillary Clinton — was deemed “dissed” by any woman who voted for her rival.)

It’s a complicated relationship we have with our Sisters. I can recall, as a teenager in the 1960’s, the tensions between factions of women who were either ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ in their views pertaining to all things female. Does the name Phyllis Schlafly ring a bell for anyone? If not, take note: Schlafly was an active and even aggressive anti-feminist who opposed choice in women’s reproductive rights, and successfully campaigned against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She lived and worked at the same time other Sisters, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan (among many others) were protesting on behalf of equality and choice for women. “Women’s Lib-bers” (they were called) argued with “Homemakers” on the news and in the streets. Even as a teenaged young woman this seemed crazy to me and I wondered: “Why can’t women just do what they want, the way men do? Marry or not; become mothers, or not; work or go to school; have a career or become a home-maker (that word feels as questionable to me now as it did then). Why is it different for women?

When I was in educational administration I had a male friend and colleague who posed an interesting question. First, it’s important to understand that the women (like myself) who worked in this male-dominated field had an inherent toughness that’s essential; not unlike women in construction, or engineering, or any other profession where men prevail. This friend of mine — quite an evolved guy — understood this and didn’t, like a lot of men, disparage strong women. What he couldn’t understand, though, was why — from his perspective — female leaders tended to sabotage, versus support, one another. Here’s how he introduced his question: “If I’m in a meeting with men, after a little jock-talk we get the job done. But if my team is a group of women, there seems to be an overlay of suspicion amongst the team; like there’s something going on between them that I’ve not going to be privy to. What is that?

In Organizational or Business Psychology, there are clear differences between how females interact with one another, versus how they interact with males. Without going crazy in-depth here, it’s worthwhile to consider how our complexities as women can unite, or divide us. Through the very traits that make us exceptional beings — primarily, our capacity to feel and act with profound depth in our connections to ourselves, others and our planet — we can just as easily appear to turn on one another.

In this election cycle, with so many quality female candidates, it’s my sincere hope that my Sisters and I can judge each one based on “policies, not pantsuits”. You probably know what I mean…

Conjure up the most desirable image of your dream house you can think of. Mine is by the beach: just about anywhere fairly close to the ocean would do. I can see the beauty of it, feel the calm and smell the sea. But — a house is just a house, no matter the location — if life all goes to hell.

Growing up— the youngest of three — my family was “middle class” but I always felt poor. Both of my parents were community college professors who scrimped constantly: shopping bulk and “warehouse” before warehouse was in vogue, always generic items, and only necessary staples. (All of our veggies and fruits were from our own back yard — an oddity at that time.) We never went hungry, but there were no luxuries. New clothes came from places like K-mart; our cars were old: out of style and convenience. If ever there was talk of buying a new appliance, the lecture began, “What’s wrong with the old one?” Even if the oven door had to be held closed with a strip of metal my father had screwed on it — the ultimate Survivalist Handyman.

None of this mattered in my childish perspective until it did — coinciding with our change of home just as I entered the 6th grade. Suddenly I lived in what was known as “the rich people’s part of town” (even though our house was actually small and funky-looking, compared to the artful and luxurious homes around it). I attended school with children of heart specialists, surgeons, lawyers, and wealthy ranchers. I knew in an instant, by looking at clothing, perfect hair and even makeup (in the 6th grade??), that I was an outsider. But, I fell into a girl-group that actually stayed intact until high school, when we all went to different colleges, chasing success, learning life lessons.

I never attended the announced high school reunions until — I think it was my 40th. I was so curious as to how these women, the childhood friends I’d been so envious of, were living their lives. I soon found out that my envy was completely unwarranted. “Barbara”, who’d always wanted children, had been in a horrific car accident which prevented her ever getting pregnant. She and her husband had chosen to adopt, but the child turned out to have significant behavioral problems (the home-wrecking kind). “Jackie”, a close friend of Barbara’s, had married for money (dropping out of college) and had recently come-out to her husband and children. Jackie told me she’d known she was a lesbian since high school but lacked the courage to reveal who she really was. She continued to live under the same roof as her husband for six years, having affairs as women appeared in her life. She was living in agony but was in a holding pattern. Jackie was also ostracized by her son after she came-out and was mourning not being invited to his wedding. As Jackie told me her story, she also told me that Barbara had actually — on top of everything else going on with her adopted son— fallen in love with a married man who had just dumped her claiming overwhelming guilt over the affair.

I came away from this high school reunion pretty much stunned by how things had turned out for my friends: two women who’d grown up with all the advantages wealth could provide. All of the competition, mean-girl bravado about who had more perks (a horse at the nearby stables, the promise of a posh summer camp every year, a second home at Pebble Beach ) was so irrelevant and stupid. On the long drive home from the country-club venue of the event, I repeated Gratitude mantras until my eyes became teary. I let myself enter into a full blown sob (brief, but cleansing) as I pulled into my own driveway. What a relief to be reminded that comparing ourselves to the progress and outcomes of others makes no sense at all. There’s always a story we can’t see, until it’s time to see it.

Since my transition from an 8-to-5 career to one that allows for more creativity, flexibility and actual brain space to consider the world around me, I’ve started noticing the way that Media targets our sensitivities about food, diets, body shapes and — of course — weight loss. While I’ve never been one to moralize about the personal habits of others (although I do usually speak out against tobacco products), I take note that we’re all susceptible to the repetitive messaging that coerces us to commit our cash to achieve perfect health, vitality, longevity, whatever goal they believe will resonate with us. Checking-out the grocery store magazines: Paleo, Keto, Vegan Delights, Juicing and Mindful eating. There’s nothing wrong with any of these options, of course. On broadcast and cable television there’s a slightly different spin: packaged and delivered pre-portioned meals (Jenny Craig)- as if we didn’t already know how much is “too much”. The “new psychology” of eating (Noom)-as if we didn’t already know about how our emotions impact eating. And, the challenge of Peloton and Peloton digital: planting a niggling notion in our brains that competitiveness is essential to the mastery of fat burning. “To each, his (her) own”, as far as any of these tools go.

What I observe is the constant insertion of Media into our personal choices. If it really wanted to help, instead of simply sell products and subscriptions, it would back off and let us all figure out what foods and portions work best for us. This is, after all, a personal responsibility: a choice that we make each time we feel hungry (physically or emotionally). There’s plenty of information out there about the importance of clean, versus processed food and how it affects overall health. We pretty much know our stressors and triggers (I used to binge Oreos after a grueling day at work). Living lives at high-speed and often in a state of exhaustion, we under-estimate and even ignore our inner voices: what our bodies tell us is needed in terms of food, sleep, exercise, relaxation. Today, and hopefully tomorrow, I’ll choose to honor myself by listening and consciously choosing what my body asks for. Hey Media? I don’t need any prodding, thank you.

Full transparency: I was a reluctant mother. No, I didn’t have an unplanned pregnancy; being a mother just wasn’t very high on my list of things I felt I absolutely needed to experience.

Getting there. It wasn’t my father, telling me I’d “never feel complete without a child” (total bunk, but that was his perspective). It was being newly married, and my somewhat older husband really wanting another child (he was estranged from his daughter from a previous marriage). 
I convinced myself that I could retain a professional life and be a mom, so I agreed to this new adventure.

Sparing my readers the tedium of yet another “hindsight” story, I’ll cut to the salient bits. Birthing my son was an ordeal ( he was 10 lbs.), but he has — without a doubt — been my most satisfying life experience so far. Not without struggles — the years between 18 and 21 were pretty rough — but an amazing growth experience that continues, even with my “baby” almost 26 years old. Still,choosing to bring a life into this world is not for the faint of heart, even when conditions are prime (health of mom and baby, adequate resources, supportive partner). It’s a decision that I made consciously and rationally; one from which there was no turning back.

Being a Mom, with a formal day of celebration each May, isn’t a title that is only for women who’ve made a baby (or two, or three). The emotions of mothering are very like what any woman feels when nurturing another person, pet, or project. Love, protection, security and total devotion; playfulness, joy and gentle guidance are all aspects of mothering.

So, Happy Mother’s Day to all women who are nurturing something or someone. We all need your love and the power it has to transform our world.