Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Techno Teen

My son, Nick, is a technology whiz. If you’ve got a teenager in your house you know what I mean. These kids have grown up on the computer. Burning a disk or laying down tracks on Garageband comes as naturally as sleeping ‘til noon on Sunday. Teens are masters of digital multi-tasking. Nick can simultaneously play a computer game, chat with six “buddies” and consult his on-line math tutorial – all while rocking out to itunes. As you’ll see, his skill on the computer puts me at a distinct parental disadvantage at times.

Nick’s passion for the computer confounds me. I’m certain there’s something really wrong with it. I’m just not sure exactly what it is. To appear like I’m in control, I randomly forbid stuff just for the hell of it.

Look, I love the Internet too. Email is efficient and fun, Mapquest is a huge timesaver, and who can resist Will Ferrell’s funnyordie.com website? Still, most of what goes on inside the expensive machine on my desk is a mystery to me. You can’t blame me for feeling a little fearful. But that’s because I’m old. Like our grandparents hated rock & roll in their day, we parents today fear technology as a corrupting influence. We will never feel as comfortable with the computer as our kids do.

Sometimes Nick’s techno know-how comes in handy. It’s like having our own in-house Geek Squad. When our PC crashed last month, we decided to replace it with an iMac. Who is the resident Apple expert in our house? The fourteen year old, of course. Schools use Macs. Steve Jobs understood the value of getting consumers at the earliest age. He must have known the Jesuit saying “give me a child when he’s seven and I’ll give you the man”. Nick, who created his own website on a Mac in sixth grade, is now completely proficient. So we took him along to the Apple Store to help make our purchase.

It was a good move, because Nick could really relate to our nineteen-year-old salesperson, Jason. In fact, Nick taught Jason a few things about adding widgets to his dashboard (don’t ask). And when we got our bright, new, totally cool iMac home, Nick promptly set it up for us. Relieved and grateful, we heaped praise upon him for his impressive computer skills. Big mistake.

Unwittingly, we had confirmed Nick’s growing suspicions about us. You know, that we didn’t know everything. In fact, when it came to computers his parents didn’t know much at all. Nick liked being the computer authority in the house. He liked it a little too much.

Nick began to assert his power. He made rules about the iMac. “We will each log into our own screen name and log out when we are done,” he instructed. He set and reset our passwords so we had to check with him before we could access our email. One Saturday morning I signed on to review my checking account and found a huge blinking message on my screen “LOG OFF WHEN YOU ARE DONE”. That did it. I stomped up to his room.

“You are not the boss of me!” I yelled. Nick looked up from his book and said calmly, “Mom, the rule is you have to log off every time. That was just a reminder.” “YOU don’t get to make the rules!” I shrieked. “You are the kid! I don’t have to log off if I don’t want to and you better take that obnoxious screensaver off my computer right NOW!”

With a shrug, Nick sauntered down the stairs to the iMac and pressed a few keys. The offensive text disappeared. I glared at him and sat down in front of the computer, huffing in indignation. But, I’d shown him who was in charge hadn’t I?

Now, if only I could remember my bank account password.

“Um – Nick?”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Newly Sporty at Forty

Growing up, I didn’t play sports much. In the late 70’s, Title IX, the law banning discrimination in school sports, was far from being implemented in my small town high school. Most of the sports opportunities and glory belonged to the boys. In my mind, the highest athletic feat I could achieve was being a cheerleader. Instead of practicing my jump shot, I worked on pointing my toes during cartwheels and punching out precise arm moves. While it made for a pretty picture in my Lakeland High School yearbook, cheerleading hasn’t been of much use to me, especially lately.

Now that I’m in my forties my athletic prowess is being put to the test - and it’s coming up short. My husband and I have fallen in with a sporty group, the kind of people who play coed softball every Friday night, and beach volleyball every Sunday afternoon. For years we would come out to cheer them on (something I’m good at), mostly hoping to tag along to the post-game beer and hotdog parties. But this summer we were talked into joining a beach volleyball team. And let me tell you, it’s been pressure.

First of all, although everyone says these games are just for fun, they lie. The only purpose of the game is to win, preferably by crushing and humiliating your opponent. As a player, you’re very aware if you aren’t pulling your weight. The first six times I served, the ball plopped lamely into the net. Though my friend Tricia called out encouragingly, “Almost!” I couldn’t help but notice the guys on our team rolling their eyes and kicking sand.

When I wasn’t serving, I was never sure when it was my turn to hit. The ball would sail high over the net, and hang suspended in the wind. I’d squint up at it fearfully. Was it coming my way? Was I supposed to bump it or set it or something? Surely someone else would get it. Splat. The ball would land at my feet. “Oh, was that one mine?” I’d ask timidly. From my teammates’ silence, I gathered it was.

My husband was no help. Growing up in Ireland, he’d never played a day of volleyball in his life. Still, he was able to serve overhand and spike like a pro after only a few games. Apparently he had developed excellent hand-eye coordination in his hurling days. My toe pointing skills were not applicable to volleyball. For three weeks I had nightmares about being cut from the team. I had to try harder.

Eventually, my effort paid off. By the end of the summer I could get my serve over the net most of the time. When a ball came my way, I screamed “mine!” with gusto. I made mistakes, lots of them, but more often than not I kept the ball in play. As we neared the end of the season, our team was winning more and more.

One Sunday, Stephanie joined our team. Man, was she awful. She whacked the ball with such force it flew sideways into the parking lot. She whiffed, missing the ball completely. “Ha-Ha,” she tried to laugh, though her cheeks were burning. “Just for fun, right?” My teammates did some sand scuffing and eye rolling, but not me. I walked over to Stephanie and patted her shoulder. “Absolutely, Steph. And don’t worry, you just need a little practice. Let me show you the right way to bump.”

As I demonstrated the proper form, I thought about how far I’d come that summer. You know, there might be a competitive athlete in me yet.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mid-Life Marriage Makeover

In August, my husband, Liam, and I celebrated our 16th anniversary at a posh restaurant. We toasted each other with champagne. “Here’s to another sixteen years!” Unfortunately, if we follow current trends, we aren’t likely to make it another nine. According to a study reported in Divorce Magazine, only 33% of couples that marry reach their twenty-fifth anniversary. While that does take into account spouses who die, the real culprit is divorce. And more people in their middle years are getting divorced than ever before.

People of all ages are divorcing more often - over half of all marriages now end in divorce. But the middle years are especially tough on a marriage. Studies show that these are the years when marital satisfaction can hit bottom. The decline in satisfaction is often caused by stressful events that occur at this stage of life like parenting teenagers, becoming empty nesters, caring for aging parents, and dealing with financial and career pressure. Also, unlike at younger ages when husbands are the most likely to do the leaving, the wife initiates two-thirds of divorces after age forty.

So statistically, I have a 2 out of 3 chance of getting a divorce in the next nine years and I’m likely to be the one filing the papers. This is scary. I never thought that my marriage might be in danger. But I do seem to have a lot of friends who are suddenly calling it quits. What they are going through is painful and messy, to say the least. If I want to avoid a sticky mid-life divorce, I guess I’m going to need to pay a little more attention to my relationship.

That’s just what Cathy Brody, marriage counselor and co-author of Renew Your Marriage at Midlife, says needs to happen on a regular basis. She says, “Marriage is a constant cycle of renewal and rebalance.” In order to survive, a marriage needs upkeep. But what is the goal? John Gottman, PhD, has been researching marriages for decades. He has found that “happy marriages are based on deep friendship.” This means that a couple shares mutual respect, enjoys each other’s company, and knows each other intimately.

Sounds good on paper, but how do we do that? After sifting through what the experts have to say, here are three things I plan to work on.

1. Do things together when we are both at our best.
I’m pretty sure I’m not at my best before 6:30am or after 10 pm, which are the main times I’m alone with Liam. To avoid only spending “leftover time” with your spouse, you need to plan fun things to do together. I’m booking a babysitter and buying us concert tickets for next weekend. I’m even looking into golf lessons.

2. Show Appreciation
I think Liam is a great guy, but I’m not sure if I’ve told him that lately. According to the experts, you can’t underestimate the power of sincere compliments or expressions of affection. No one likes being taken for granted.

3. Set Common Goals
According to the experts, teamwork and goal setting is essential for married couples. We used to do this. We used to have actual meetings when we wrote out what we wanted for our family, our relationship, and ourselves. But that was ten years ago and our lives have changed a lot since then. Now we tend to handle things on our own. It’s time to dust off the flip chart.

The realization for me is that if I want to make it to my 25th anniversary, I’m going to have to put some time and effort into making my marriage work. Hopefully, my husband will follow suit. The three areas I’m going to work on are just a few of many things you can do to liven up your relationship. My friend Suzanne has a recommendation that involves a blindfold and a cherry lifesaver. But I’ll save that one for another time.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Feline Fantasy

I want to be a cougar. Not the four-legged animal, silly. I want to be one of those glamorous confident older women who go on the prowl for younger men. Cougars are the “it” girls of choice right now. Fueled by TV shows like Sex in the City and Desperate Housewives, women over forty are now seen as hot stuff. And well-known Hollywood couples like Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher have made the older woman/younger man pairing not only acceptable, but downright steamy.

I’m forty-four, the perfect age to be a cougar. I’ve got the right feisty attitude. In the dim light of a smoky bar, I can look darn sultry. The only thing stopping me from going out on the hunt for a young stud of my own is the brawny Irishman I’ve been married to for the last 16 years. Oh, and my two kids. But a girl can dream, can’t she?

If I wanted to kick it into Cougar-drive, I’d have lots of resources to help me out. Dating websites like GoCougar.com help older women and younger men find one another. The definitive book on the subject was written by Canadian author Valerie Gibson, “Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men”. This guide tells you how to find and identify the different types of “prey,” prepare the perfect seduction, deal with body image problems during sex, and survive the inevitable break up. What more do you need to know?

Women prefer younger guys because they are more relaxed, have more energy, and are just more fun than older men (not to mention their smokin’ hot bods). Many receptive young men, referred to as “cougees,” welcome the attention of more mature women. They admire the gals’ confidence and experience. As one young cougee puts it, “Older women are sassy, bold, cerebral, know what they like, are good conversationalists and are incredibly delicious lovers. These things are a turn on.” Grrrrrreat!

The GoCougar.com website provides guys with tips too, like “tracking a cougar in her natural habitat.” Apparently, one of the most fertile hunting grounds is the supermarket. It’s true; I do spend a lot of time there. Hmm, just yesterday, a young guy was very chatty with me in the Costco meat department. Was I being stalked? A real cougar would have identified the signs and stalked him right back.

A man is considered officially younger if he is at least eight years your junior. But how young is too young? Dating men younger than your children is definitely a no-no. One rule of thumb allows you to date any man who is at least half your age plus seven years. At forty-four, that means anyone over 29 years old would be fair game for me. How exciting! Who could I date?

I eagerly logged onto my iMac to search for some potential targets. Josh Hartnett is 29, so he’s up for grabs. I could hook up with singers James Blunt and John Mayer (both 30) or actors Colin Ferrell (31) and Joaquin Phoenix (33.) Jude Law (35) gets my whiskers quivering, though he’s kinda getting up there. But while these guys are prime specimens, they aren’t exactly baggage free. They’ve got ripped abs and full heads of hair, but they have pasts checkered with messy relationships, legal troubles and children to support.

Just for comparison, I looked up some men my own age. Brad Pitt, John Stamos, Benjamin Bratt, Seal – these hotties were all born in 1963, and meow, they compare quite favorably to the younger set. And come to think of it, so does my forty-four year old Irishman. Okay. It’s fun to fantasize about catting around with younger guys, but I guess I’ll stick with the middle-aged dude snoozing on the couch next to me. He’s kind of cute when his mouth hangs open like that.

But you know I’m wearing lipstick and kitten heels the next time I head to Costco.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Coolest So Far

Since I turned forty a couple of years ago, I’ve never been so cool. It’s been a surprise. I thought I’d basically be washed-up by now. But I’ve got it going on in ways I never did when I was younger. And looking around at my fellow forty-somethings, I see I am not alone. The forties are the coolest decade by far.

There isn’t any single recipe for being cool. But cool women usually have a few things in common. They like themselves a lot, show discerning taste and do interesting things with interesting people. It takes some effort to be cool. But it’s actually easier to achieve in your forties than any other decade.

20s – You think you’re cool but you’re not.

In your twenties, you’re young and good looking and have lots of enthusiasm for life. You’re out on your own for the first time and everything around you is new and exciting. All this action makes you think you’re cool. But you’re not.

The twenties are an age of worry and insecurity. The pressure of trying to fit in while you’re still figuring out who you are is intense. There are so many choices and decisions to make you’re overwhelmed. There’s even a term for this phase – Quarterlife Crisis. I certainly suffered from it. After graduating from the University of Michigan, I lived in three cities, worked for four companies, had seven different apartments and a half-dozen half-hearted relationships.

Without an established identity, you tend to be easily influenced by the media and trends. I quit my (second) job in Memphis and moved to Chicago based on how glamorous the city appeared in a brat pack movie called “About Last Night.”

All the turmoil makes for a very heightened, vivid time of life. But you can’t be cool if you don’t know who you are and like yourself for it. Hopefully, by the end of your twenties, you’ll begin to feel more confident. Then you can make informed choices based on discrimination and taste.

30s – Too tired for cool

No matter what level of cool you managed to achieve in your twenties, you are destined to lose it in somewhere in your thirties. Because inevitably, your discriminating choices start leading to more responsibilities. Your job becomes more demanding, you get married, buy a home, start a family. You suffer through pregnancy, lack of sleep, financial pressure and home maintenance.

You swap your Elle and Vanity Fair magazines for Parent and House & Garden. Taking care of your home and kids becomes your priority. You let yourself go to pot. You are flabby, worn out and just plain cranky. You’re too tired to exercise or go out for dinner and you can’t remember the last time you had sex.

As least that’s how it was for me when my kids were little. After a long day feeling inept at work and incompetent as a mother, I was wrecked. All I wanted to do was crawl into my flannel pajamas, slurp down a bowl of chocolate chip ice cream, and get and a good night’s sleep. As for being cool? I couldn’t have cared less.

40s - Discovering your Cool

Then, one day in your forties, standing in your sparkling, remodeled kitchen, you notice something strange. It’s quiet. The kids are in school, the dog is housebroken, and you’ve paid your Visa bill in full for nine months in a row. “What’s this?” you ask yourself uneasily.

Honey, I believe you’ve discovered TIME FOR YOURSELF.

When this blissful point arrives, a woman in her forties must take action. This is not a signal to defrost the freezer. You’ve put your hopes and dreams on the back burner for long enough.

You’ve got more time, more money and more self-knowledge than you did when you were younger. And suddenly, you really don’t care what other people think. You’re ready to take risks. This is your time to be cool!

Women I know are practically flaunting their newfound fabulousness. They are starting businesses, going back to school, exhibiting in art galleries, writing books. These grown-up babes look hotter than they ever did in their twenties or thirties. They understand their figures, dress well, pamper themselves and stay in shape.

Since turning 40, I’ve sung in a rock band, produced my own TV show, and played on a beach volleyball team. My younger self would have been too self-conscious or afraid to try these new things. It’s a combination of knowing myself and knowing how fast time goes by that makes me want to experience things right now.

The forties are definitely my coolest age so far. But I’m wondering about what comes next. Do we women keep getting cooler? Hey, you hip chicks in your fifties, sixties, and seventies – let me hear from you!