A short reflection on showering

keep telling myself to take a shower. “In 20 minutes, take a shower.” 20 minutes pass and I do not take a shower I do this thing where I look up people I admire on Twitter and see who they admire and then follow them  — half because I want to learn from them and half because I want them to pay attention to me. Not showering yet is evidence that the half that wants them to pay attention to me is diminishing because not taking a shower shows I want education more than I want to be pretty or smell good and so these days not showering is a good sign that the ego (or is it the superego) is deflating.

That

or the fact that my long hair no longer looks better after I shower so why bother. My hair which used to be the best of me after my breasts but now lies as flat as they do, shower or no shower, is no longer a win-win is betraying me is possibly falling out no not now but possibly soon. I think of my Nini that time I walked in on her adjusting her wig in the mirror at the dresser in her bedroom. This was before the cancer and I confirm it with my father who says “her forties, I guess.”

So I better

Their stubborness, their bodies

Yesterday wasn’t the first day I was reminded that we accidentally on purpose train our daughters to give up rights to their bodies.

Even though the more mindful of us will have conversations with our young ones about ownership of their “private parts,” about “stranger danger”, about saying “No,” there is one place many of us do not let our daughters (or our male children) say when and how someone gets to touch them:

At the doctor’s office.

Or in our case, as of late, the dentist’s.

My daughter has been wary of the doctor since she was a baby — before she had the means to communicate with any body part other than her eyes. Our pediatrician at the time, a kind and aware woman in New Jersey, often joked about my daughter’s “stubborness.”

We joke about it, too.

“What does that mean?” My daughter (four years old, at the time) asked one day after being told (by me), “”You are so stubborn!”

“Stubborn means beautiful,” I would say, caught in that uncomfortable place I often find myself as a mother.  I hadn’t meant stubborn as a compliment, but I didn’t necessarily want her to know that. At that time, stubborn meant “willful” or “demanding” or “contrary.” It referred to my daughter’s insistence on pouring the milk by herself; carrying in her tiny hands the two-layered birthday cake that took an hour to ice.

But, the truth is, stubborn is beautiful, especially when it comes to our daughters. For it’s our willfulness that allows us to say, “No” when we need to.

Unfortunately, when it comes to our young daughters (let’s say under age 10), it seems that only adults get to determine when there is a true need to tell someone, “Hands off!”

When our young daughters say no — whether it is to the doctor or the dentist or the tailor trying to hem a dress — we are annoyed at them. We scold them, or punish them. What message does that send? Do we really expect them to have the courage, later, at age 12 to be able to say a firm, “Get off!” Do we really expect them to believe at age 16, “my body, my choice?”

My daughter has had a few traumatic experiences at the dentist lately. The last one was the last straw and I took her and her file out from the free dental clinic provided by our national health care system here in Israel.  I couldn’t responsibly watch my daughter in that chair anymore being told what to do and that “big girls don’t cry.”

What to do, though? My daughter needed two fillings. How could I make her get them without “making” her?

After a few days, we decided to bring her to a private dentist recommended by a friend — something not in our budget, but as I saw it, a necessity. His reputation was for being kind and gentle and good with children.

He was amazing. He treated her, even at 5 1/2 years old, like someone who was in control of her body. Someone who got to make decisions about when someone touched her and how. He told her from the moment she entered his office, “You are in control. You get to decide.” He even created this “trick” by which the mechanized toothbrush would stop spinning whenever she raised her hand up in the air. She, indeed, got to decide.

I know it’s not simple. Our kids do need to see the doctor and the dentist. There will be times when we make them do things they don’t want — get flu shots, have their ears checked, try on new shoes.

But let’s not fool ourselves, those of us who claim to be advocates for women. Let’s not pretend that we give our girls full freedom. That they make the rules about their bodies. They don’t. At least, not always. Not even in families or with doctors with the best, most progressive intentions.

We send our children, our daughters, very mixed messages.

The straight message: Force is force. Whether it’s in the dorm room or at the dentist.

Is there a way to be more mindful of this, as parents, so our children learn early on the message we want them to internalize? I think so.

I think it starts with: Stubborn is beautiful.

 

 

Putting out fires at almost 40

Honesty bursts forth from me in fits, in starts.

This is 40.

This may not be 40 for you.

I realize, for you, this may be 43. Or 38. or 67.

I don’t know if it’s temporal, situational, or hormonal, this shift.

It certainly resembles the week leading up to my period with its moodiness, its gentle swaying between certainty and confusion.

There are moments, for instance, when I can’t speak anything but the absolute truth; even when I know it will hurt, even if I know I will pay.

There are moments, too, when I slip into a dark tunnel, the Hadron collider of womanhood: understanding that I can’t have both what I want and what I imagined I wanted years ago. They can’t live together in my world of almost 40. They will combust there together and set me on fire.

The kind of fire that burns people.

I can’t stretch my arm far enough down to reach the me who slipped behind the back of the sofa. She’s choking on dust bunnies down there, but I can’t reach her.

I almost don’t even want to.

“Sorry!” I yell to her; the one who dreamed of lots of babies. I leave her with the dust bunnies, and run off instead to play Hickory Dickory Dock.

 

 

 

The New 40

“40 is the new 30,” said a friend of mine the other day.

That would totally and completely suck, I just realized.

Yes, my hair was blonder.

Me and my first, Dec. 2003, Tucson

Me and my first, Dec. 2003, Tucson

Yes, my breasts were firmer.

Yes, I had ten years ahead of me still ‘ til 40.

But …

wow. 30. 2004. Mom of one very restless baby. Up to my eyeballs in change … not bad change but the kind that causes upheaval that equals frequent upset. Orange vomit on my shoulder a lot. Not a lot of friends nearby. Unrealistic expectations of marriage, parenthood, community, work, friendship, life.

It’s not that I’m BRILLIANT now.

But I am now aware enough to know how dumb I am. And how age brings a wisdom born of experience that in some ways is better than firm breasts.

The more I speak about and write about 40, the more people (read “women”) say to me:

I loved my 40s

The 40s have been the best years of my life

I really found myself in my 40s

These kind of comments, from real people, are uplifting and have actually started to ignite in me a desired anticipation — the kind I remember feeling in the months leading up to 13. When was the last time we were truly excited for a birthday … not because we had a crazy evening planned or a vacation, but because it was appropriate to celebrate our advance? What happens to our birthday joy as we age?

I have a summer birthday and so I used to be very familiar with anticipation in advance of birthdays. My friends often reached milestones ahead of me : 13, 17 (driving age in NJ), 18, 21, etc. Those last few months before it was my turn were always killer. The summer I was 12, waiting for 13, I remember telling boys when they asked at the camp social, “how old are you?” that I was 13. That my birthday had been in April. For some reason, that mattered then. As if they wouldn’t ask me to dance unless I was old enough to have boobs. (The boobs wouldn’t come for 4 more summers.)

Last summer, when I turned 39, I remember feeling a sense of dread.  It didn’t help that last summer I also suffered from a bunch of moderate health issues, serious enough to impact my daily life . (It’s likely that at least half of them were stress-related, and maybe 1/4 “pre-40” related.)

My 39th birthday, spent with family by the Jersey shore was lovely, but undercut by a constant heartburn. The antacids didn’t help. The gluten-free diet didn’t help. The technology detox didn’t help. I understand now it’s because the heartburn was only partly physical. Much of it was existential. Prilosec can’t help with that. Not even the Wild Berry flavor.

This summer, I am determined to drop the burn. Be all heart. Feel 12 again. I am determined to want 40.  So badly that I pretend like I already am.

Boobs, or not.