Forty-six and Feeling Fabulous?

Kathy- 46
Now

Initially when I thought of the title for this post, there was no question mark at the end. And in spite of my growing ambivalence about making a declarative statement, I had decided to keep the title: “Forty-six and Feeling Fabulous! Why? Because I liked the way it fell off my tongue, the cadence of it, and the verve and vivacity it suggested. “Hey, I am 46 and feeling fabulous!” Wahoo!

Kathy younger
Then

The fact is though, that at the moment of writing this, I do not feel anything like fabulous. Truth be told, this post is one year late. I had intended to write it for my forty-fifth birthday, but I wasn’t feeling very celebratory this time last year. Mom (my mother-in-law) had just passed away and we were dealing with so much. Well, guess what? It is one year later and I am still dealing with so much — new joys but also new challenges. So I got to thinking, that perhaps this is a more authentic title — mirrors more realistically the ups and downs of life. In fact, as I get ready to celebrate my 46th birthday on Thanksgiving Day, I think it is a question I would like to pose to you the reader whatever age you are. Fill in the blank: “_______ and feeling fabulous?” Well, are you?

kathy at graduation
Graduation Day- 1995

My answer is: “At 46 I am choosing to be fabulous!” To be clear that is not a boast, and it’s not a feeling. It’s a choice. If like me, you have been blessed with a few decades behind you, chances are you have made a few mistakes (In my case a lot!). You’ve had lots of laughter and good times, shed some tears, achieved some major milestones, and watched some dreams die. You’ve witnessed a few marriages, graduations, and births; but you’ve probably also lived through a few deaths, broken relationships, and tragedies. Some of these experiences have nurtured you, inspired you and been like a good shot of adrenaline in your arm. Other experiences have perhaps left you wondering if you could make it through another minute, another day.

kathy and annie at the funeral
Burying Dad- 2004

As I reflect on my life experience, I am choosing to be happy, to be amazing, to be FABULOUS– recognizing that both tragedies and triumphs are shaping me into the person I am—stronger, wiser, and I hope a more compassionate individual. So, how do I feel about aging? I’m not even going to pretend on that one. I DO NOT rejoice at each new grey hair, or wrinkle, ache and pain, or extra pound that refuses to go away; in fact, they are all tangible reminders that this party WILL end. BUT, I am choosing to accept them graciously—recognizing that length of life is indeed a precious gift. More to the point, I am learning to be appreciative of who I am becoming through this life journey and the lessons I am learning along the way. And though I feel like I could write a book about these (actually, there’s a thought), if you have a couple of minutes, I’d like to share four of these lessons with you.

Become an Author. I am learning to be an author of my own life story. If you don’t like something about your life, change the script. So the circumstances of your birth weren’t ideal. I hear you. But don’t choose to be stuck in “woe-is-me land”. Let me tell you, the first time I met my mother, I was probably seven. She came to visit us one day, years after she had dropped us off at my grandmother’s house. Long story short—it was a quick visit; she did not stay. Talk about a rotten script! I did not like it, and though I struggled with the thought that perhaps it would define me, I chose to write the storyline that I had imagined. Now, here I am married with two kids and I have to say a GREAT mom! And though residuals sometimes overwhelm me, and I think “What if..,” or “Perhaps, I may still get this thing all wrong…” Guess what? I keep my pen in hand, and I just keep right on working at that new script that I am writing.

Dress the Spirit:  I am not beyond moments of sheer exhilaration at finding that perfect pair of shoes. But the older I get, the more I realize the value of dressing the spirit. You will outgrow shoes and clothes, and throw out pocket books, but your spirit is with you for the long haul. No escaping it. Might as well make it beautiful, FABULOUS even! So I am choosing to invest the time in giving my spirit—the person I am on the inside- a workout, a makeover if you will. Because I’ve got to tell you– this “life stuff” can really do a number on you. Injustices can harden you. Make you bitter, even resentful until you may not even recognize the person you are becoming. Choose to dress the spirit! Work on those old insecurities, attitudes and habits that are keeping you back from being your best self. Just learn to wear the bad stuff like a loose garment, and let it drop.

And on that note—can we all just lose the pretension and impression management for a minute! In the age of selfies, just keep it real that your life is not always great or that your photos are not all AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL and youthful looking. In sum, be  authentic–show people what you really look like inside and out! In choosing to dress the spirit and present an unpretentious picture of ourselves to others, we offer them an unfiltered view of their own imperfect humanity. And that my friend is what makes us truly beautiful.

Get Connected: Make time to nurture three important relationships in your life: your relationship with yourself, others, and your God. And I have to say, “Don’t believe all the hype. Social media is not all that!” Now I will admit that technology does offer some pretty cool stuff to keep us connected. Like I am blogging right now, and I will share this post on my Facebook page, so far be it for me to bite the hand that feeds me. However, value the importance of connecting with others the old-fashioned way. Interrupt your schedule and your digital calendar if you will to talk to someone face-to-face, look into their eyes, hug them close, cry on their shoulder, send or receive a handwritten card or share a simple meal. Choose to get unplugged for a day or more and spend time with yourself and your God. When we get connected in this way, we nurture our spirit; we feed that part of ourselves that has the potential to energize us, spark our creativity and help us live more fully.

BVI
BVI Morning Stroll

Be Gentle with Yourself: I used to be my own worst critic. My husband, Mark has been an equalizing force in my life to help me focus not so much on the things I did wrong or what remains undone on my “to do list”, but to also celebrate the accomplishments, even small ones; to help me recognize that my worst mistakes do not define me, but can be assets in pushing me on to greatness if I value them correctly. In choosing to be gentle with myself, I am choosing to be my number one cheerleader. It is also teaching me to be gentle with others. To acknowledge the frailty of our humanity– that we are all flawed individuals—capable of great and noble things but we do have cracks and rough spots. In sum, we are both broken AND beautiful and most deserving of the instruction: “Fragile, handle with care.”

Before you leave this blog with the mistaken impression that I “have it all together!” Nothing is farther from the truth. These life lessons are ongoing, and they are aspirational. In fact, when I shared a draft of the last lesson on this list with Mark, he just looked at me with an expression on his face that said without words: “Are you kidding me?” Then he asked bluntly: “Are you gentle with yourself?” To which I responded, “Hey, I’m still learning! Okay!”

So here’s to 46 years of life! I am looking forward to more lessons in days and years to come. Happy birthday to me! And here’s to you, whatever age you are: Choose to be FABULOUS!

Don’t Just Pray About It: Be About It!

avery2

Around this time last year, my family and I were hurting as we grappled with the loss of our Mom. This was not my birth mother; it was my mother-in-law. But “mom” is the word that best captures her. She was all hugs and kisses, presents and perfume, laughter and good times, birthday cakes and apple cobblers, holidays and cheer, grandchildren and treats — and we miss her dearly. However, so much has happened this month that has reminded me not just about her but about empathy for people dealing with their own grief moment.

As a professor of graduate students, I often get a peek into the windows of their lives for three months or more during their journey at my current university. These are individuals who all lead busy lives as spouses, parents, teachers/professionals trying to juggle it all in the pursuit of higher education. Yet even with so many balls in the air, sometimes the unexpected happens and every ball threatens to come crashing down on them, like it almost did for our family on November 13, 2013—the night mom passed away.

I have been touched by the tenacity of these students in the face of significant challenges—an only child and single parent mother managing her family and making endless trips to the hospital as she deals with the debilitating health of her mother;  a young man whose heart is breaking as he waits for news about the survival of his first child;  and a mother of two planning funeral services for her last living parent—her mom. These are my students juggling it all in the middle of a busy and taxing semester and my heart breaks for them. And they inspire me in so many ways. What can I do? How can I help?

I am not a stranger to grief. However, this post is not about my grief or the palpable grief I sense in my students. These incidents have made me question my own response to others in moments of despair– death, loss, illness, life challenges. How should I respond? How should we respond?

Last year, while we rode the mental and emotional roller coaster of having a loved one in ICU for almost a month, if there is one phrase my husband and I had grown to despise was: “If there is anything I can do to help..? Though I am sure well intentioned, it was so cliché, so unanswerable—felt almost like a cop out, the thing to say, the path of least resistance. Likewise, while we did appreciate the prayers of friends, how much more meaningful was the food sent over in our time of grief, the advice from a close friend who traveled from Florida to be with us, to help us figure out how to break the news to our 4 and 6 year old daughters, the one who came to stay with our kids while we were at the hospital, and the friend who made the difficult journey with my husband to collect mom’s things….

avery3

As I reflect on the life of Jesus, it occurs to me that when confronted with the grief of others He did not just offer to pray about it, though that would have certainly been enough! Instead,  we see Jesus traveling to Bethany to comfort two grieving sisters; we see him making breakfast for a boat full of weary fishermen, there he is on bended knee making mud with his own spittle and putting it on the eyes of a blind man; can you see him holding the hands of a little girl and saying the life giving words: ‘Little girl, Wake up!’ ?

This world is filled with hurting people. While they can certainly use our prayers, how much more do they need us to be the hands, the feet, the arms, the voice, the money, the gifts, the warmth, the care, the food, the time that gently and lovingly supports them through heartbreaking moments of grief.

Don’t just offer to pray about it—be about it!

In Support of Intentional Parenting

explorers
On a Stick Adventure

Without a doubt, parenting is proving to be the hardest job that I have signed up to do to date. This, mind you, coming from someone, who spent 4 years studying child and developmental psychology and has taught educational psychology at the undergraduate and graduate level for years. But as you probably can attest to yourself, knowing something and doing it are two different things altogether. Moreover, there is a current backdrop in social circles that has taken to labeling different kinds of parenting styles with acclaim for some and disdain for others as deemed appropriate. For example, you would have to be from another planet to have not heard the terms: “helicopter parenting” or “Tiger mom parenting”. Without casting aspersions at anyone, because my motto is “to each his own”, I refuse to be labeled by any other terminology than the one I choose. So although I have read, or rather skimmed an article here or there about the definitions relevant to these types of parenting, I remain blissfully ignorant about the descriptions aligned to any one approach. What I do know is that at the intersection of my professional calling, my faith, and my socialization, I am on a mission to be an Intentional Parent. (Yes! I know, as if we needed a new parenting term). What do I mean by this? Well, I am glad you asked. However, before this posts develops into a rant (trust me that can happen quite easily), let me set a few organizational mile makers to keep me on track– the context and intentional parenting.

creek
The Nearby Creek

When I think about the sociocultural context in which young children are being raised, the words of Michael Jackson’s song come to mind: “All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us!” I have come to accept this as a truism about the cultural and commercial ethos in which we live—this includes music, entertainment, television, books, movies, food and even supposedly educational services and products.

A few years aback, I walked into my 4 year old daughter’s preschool classroom and was shocked to find them doing warm up exercises to Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies”. And no, I don’t think it is cute! Of all the songs to choose for preschoolers, what is the mindset that would allow an educator to choose this one? I am clueless! On another occasion, just around this time of year, my daughter was crying because she did not want to walk through the hallways and be greeted by ghosts and vampires with blood dripping from their teeth etc. This was more than I could bear. I approached the director to explain that although I did not celebrate Halloween, I respected others’ choice to do so. However, when I told her that I was not in favor of the developmentally inappropriate choices for decorations, she was oblivious that anything was amiss. Could they not use spider webs, or pumpkins, or corn stalks or scarecrows? Am I alone here? Well, needless to say, that facility soon saw our backs.

Television viewing has its own perils. During the last Olympics, our family sat down to watch the games. My husband and I thought what a great opportunity to educate our 5 and 3 and 1/2 year old about good sportsmanship. Unfortunately, the lesson was not to be had because the kids were almost scared out of their teddy bear pajamas! During the commercial breaks, graphic and violent content assaulted our senses about up and coming movies targeted at mature audiences. Moreover, my husband and I could have been sitting on a bed of hot coals instead of a sofa—given the level of discomfort we felt about what commercial would come up next, what sexual innuendos would be projected at them in the name of savvy marketing.

If you think books are better, think again. I am appalled at the content that is being marketed at even kindergarteners in the name of literacy. At a recent book fair, one parent said to me: “You have got to check out this book. It is so funny!” The book was entitled “How to get a girlfriend” and was written by kindergarteners with the help of some, I am sure, suave book editor. And wait for it, this book had also won a coveted award. I was not amused. A+ for application of the idea of helping youngsters become authors but an F for the choice of content for this age group. In fact, this tongue in cheek maturity for youngsters in popular books is now the vogue. If you are interested in a good chapter book series for your aspiring reader, you will realize that more often than not the hero and/or heroine of many popular series is the bratty, rude, obnoxious kid who calls people “stupid” talks about “bashing in their brains” and talks back to parents and teachers. Like really, this is supposed to be cute? Don’t even get me started on the clothing, technological gadgets, supposedly kid movies, sugary, nutrient empty foods etc. etc that are marketed to children. I think you get the point.

books
Books on our Shelf

I do not presume to tell anyone how to raise their kids. However, after reading some of the works of my learned colleagues in the field of developmental psychology, I have to say that I disagree that much of this is “all harmless fun” and “they will grow out of it”. What I can say is that “As for me and mine……”, we have decided to become VERY intentional about our parenting. We have decided to think carefully about where and how we choose to live and be deliberate models for our kids about what we value. Shortly after the Olympic fiasco, we cut the cord—cable I mean. We decided to take control of the media content that we allow “them” to expose our kids too before they are ready for it. So “NO Disney!” you do not get to define the standards of beauty with your commercial and never-ending onslaught of princesses and their limitless assortment of gadgets designed to empty parents’ pockets; my kids are not dollar signs waiting to be realized. Furthermore, you do not get to define what is age appropriate viewing for my kids. I can do that all by myself, thanks to Netflix, Amazon prime etc. etc. What is more, television is SO overrated!! What do my kids do for fun? — play in the yard, explore in the creek, have a stick adventure, collect and sort leaves, find bugs, plant tulips, help out in the garden, paint, draw, color, read a book, play a board game, complete a puzzle, play the piano, learn to make a cupcake, play dress up, plan a concert, write a short story, play hide and seek, swim, kick around a soccer ball and on and on. In sum, be actively engaged in the world! Be CREATIVE! Now there’s a novel idea!

deer watching
Deer Watching

I do realize that one cannot raise a child in a bubble, and seriously that is not my intent. But I agree with David Elkind and his central thesis in The Hurried Child that our culture seems bent on a mission to have kids grow up too fast and too soon. So I am going maverick here! First, I refuse to let the status quo dictate a frenetic pace through childhood for my kids. Instead, I am on a mission to provide my children with an unhurried childhood. Secondly, my goal is to teach my children that in a world buffet of endless choices of food, clothing, media, and entertainment, they do not have to pile everything onto their plate. They can learn to make discriminating choices based on sound principles and values. And I know that you are probably thinking it is an impossible task. And perhaps you are right. Like I said at the beginning, it’s a tough job. But hey, I have always been one who rooted for the underdog. Moreover, it’s just not my nature to back away from a worthy fight—especially one as important as raising my children well. So all I can say is “Game on!”