Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Backyard with Benefits

I’m enjoying a new, secluded vacation spot this week - my backyard. For the last fourteen years, our backyard has been pure kid territory, but this week, it belongs to me. My 11-year-old daughter, Emma, is off to overnight camp, and my teenager, Nick, has a job! So it’s quiet back there. No kids bouncing on the trampoline, running through the sprinkler or demanding popsicles. With my newfound backyard access, I’ve discovered a few luxurious pastimes that I can’t do anywhere else.

I’ve embraced wanton, shameless sunbathing. Oh, I know all about the dangers of UVA and UVB rays. But I live in Chicago, man, and sometimes a northern girl needs a fix of vitamin D and some genuine, natural color. In my backyard I can put on the ratty bikini that I wouldn’t dare wear to the beach and sprawl on a blanket without worrying about my flabby stomach or razor stubble. Age spots be damned; letting it all hang out in the sunshine is bliss.

Another pursuit I’ve taken up is tacky decorating. I’ve been combing the sale aisles of Marshall’s and TJ Maxx for little treasures to spruce up my favorite new space. Silly, cheesy doodads that are too trashy for the inside of my home look charming and whimsical when dangling from a tree branch. Bird houses, ladybug garden stakes, alligator stepping stones. I’d never appreciated the garden gnome before, but mine looks so cute peeking out from under the rosebush.

Last, I’ve found the joy of something I haven’t really done since I was a kid: daydreaming. It’s not even close to meditation, which I’ve always found to be way too much work. I mean pure daydreaming, staring up the sky and letting my mind flit idly from one inconsequential topic to the next. Why do I only see robins on the ground, never up in trees? Is my right big toe bigger than my left? Would it be wrong to drink a Corona with a slice of lime at 11:30 in the morning?

I’ve only got a few days left of privacy, then my kids will reclaim the backyard along with their lemonade-swilling, soccer ball-kicking, water-squirting pack of friends. But for now, I’m making the most of my daytime retreat. I may even try the trampoline.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Aunt Mary's Life Lessons

Last week, I imagined what I’d tell my 24-year-old self to do differently based on what I know now, 21 years later. I realized that while it was too late to change the person I was back then, I could take advantage of the wisdom of older women right now. Since my female family members have never been shy about expressing themselves, they seemed like a good place to start. Seeking advice, I called my 67-year-old mother, Jane, in Florida.

“One thing I learned from having breast cancer”, she said, still out of breath from her three-mile walk, “is to stop and smell the roses. Don’t be so overscheduled – that goes for your kids too.” Wow, that sounded really enlightened. I wanted to hear more, but my mom was running late for her painting class, book club, and library board meeting.

So, I moved onto Mom’s younger sister, my hip Aunt Mary, who has always lived life with flair and enthusiasm. Aged 64 and a former therapist, Aunt Mary has a lot of knowledge and experience to share with women our age. She emailed me this comprehensive list, and I am now passing it on to you.
  • Forget the word "don't." Think "do."
  • Enjoy the present. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Not only is "a lot still going to happen," a lot is happening right now.
  • Talk to your 60 and 70-year-old mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles. Get to know them now. Encourage your children to do this too.
  • Planning for the future should be part of your present. Have frequent talks with your partner about the values, ideals, desires you each have and what kind of future you would like to have together.
  • Find some way to give to your community. Make it a priority.
  • Stay healthy with exercise, a good diet, and yes, frequent sex!
  • I have a prediction: You will go through a period of uncertainty, even chaos, and you will get through it. Be patient.
Okay, the uncertainty and chaos part is a little unsettling, but overall, I really appreciate Aunt Mary’s advice. Older chicks really are wiser and there’s a great body of knowledge out there for us to tap into. If we think we’ve learned a thing or two since our twenties then we can expect to become even savvier in our sixties and beyond. Until we get there, let’s value the lessons already learned by our more mature friends and family members. And if you discover anything juicy – post it here!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Advice to my 24-Year-Old Self

I've been keeping a journal since I was fifteen years old and I still have every volume. This morning I leafed through my journal from 1987. Ugh. I had just ditched my boyfriend and well-paying corporate job to move to Chicago and start over. While I searched for a job, I lived in a tiny studio apartment near the lake.

I was lucky to have some good friends in Chicago, but it was still an unsettling time for me. Reading through my journal entries, I can see now that I was insecure. I was lonely. Oh, I have to face it - I was an idiot. Why did I waste so much time obsessing about things that have turned out to be completely unimportant? I wish I could go back and give my 24-year-old self a few sound pieces of advice.

If I could sit myself down over cocktails, here's what I'd tell me:

Shut up, you look great!  Stop being so critical of your appearance.   You're not fat and you're not ugly; you're young and gorgeous. Embrace who you are and stop comparing yourself to other people. Don't take your perky breasts, tiny waist, smooth complexion and bright smile for granted. Give yourself permission to celebrate your body and the unique way you look.

Leave those old boyfriends in the past. You broke up with them for a reason; now let them go. So you haven't found anyone new in Chicago - that doesn't mean you can reel your former lovers back in whenever you need an ego fix. Let those guys get on with their lives and stop depending on them to make you feel good. Move on.

You will not end up alone. Honey, you are just getting started. You're not supposed to have everything all figured out right now. There are a lot of places to go and people to meet, including a charming Irishman who hasn't even set foot on American soil yet.  Relax, enjoy the freedom of being single, and spend some time getting to know you. A lot is still going to happen.

If my younger self were still paying attention, I'd advise me never to perm my hair, wear stirrup pants, or do shots of Jagermeister. I'd also urge me to save more money, visit my grandmother, and join a gym. But by then, my 24-year-old self would be heartily sick of being lectured by some middle-aged shrew and would have slipped off the barstool and out the door to flag down the nearest taxi.

I know there's no rewriting the past. The only self I can influence is the one who is 45 years old, sitting right here and now. Perhaps I'd better focus on the advice that she needs to hear. Anybody got any pearls of wisdom? It's a topic we'll explore next time.