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THE SWIMSUIT CATALOGUE

THE SWIMSUIT CATALOGUE

Shiny, sunny, filled with possibilities, the first of many to grace my mailbox arrived yesterday. The last days of February winding down in blustery New England where on the first sign of a warmer day (aka 40 degrees) hardy New Englanders have already pulled out their summer shorts. Down come the convertible tops, with heat blasting bundled up in our winter clothes driving the beautiful routes our coastal communities offer, a sure sign that hope is in the air.

March always fools us though. The windows have been opened and shut a few times to let some of the old winter heat air out and fresh bird chirping air in. The shoots outside tease us and the seed companies have started to advertise sending us their gardening catalogues. And it always snows one more time.

I don’t care though, I have my Athleta, Lululemon and Title 9 spring and summer wear catalogues and email blasts waiting for my credit card. The catalogues have their pages folded to the possibilities, and I pour my morning coffee with the teaspoon of organic coconut oil because fat is good now to have another look.

Victoria Secret stopped sending me their fifteen catalogues a week around the time I turned thirty-eight. I guess they figured there was no hope in trying to get me to see their light with their blond haired, come hither look, six foot, maybe 105 pound models daring me to purchase one of their hundred dollar suits staring back at me from the sands of St. Barts.

No; Athleta and Title 9 are my new best friends as they have brilliantly made yoga clothes and hiking wear look like fashion statements. As I start folding down the pages of all of the active clothing I can’t possibly live without, I think I can actually start smelling sunscreen and sand. Swimsuit catalogues, for those of us who live in extreme seasonal climates, are the first sign that winter is not going to last and all of that circuit training and clean eating you had forced yourself to do in those cold winter months was for a higher purpose.

Being able to possibly order a medium pair of swimsuit bottoms.

These companies are smart. Long gone are the days where you purchased an entire bathing suit in the same size. Or you loved the top, but the bottoms looked like they were made for a five year old and the one hundred and fifty dollars you were about to spend on the suit was really for the top because there would not be a chance in hell those bottoms would be remotely covering your 40 something ass. Well now I have a 52-year something ass so read between the lines, pun intended.

Athleta and Title 9 have figured it out. We 50-year-old women want to stay hip. We want fun patterns and great sun dresses. We still want to wear 2 piece bathing suits and we will regardless of what the male marketing teams think we should be (or not be) wearing on the beach or at the pool. And we also lived through the real Title 9 and know that it means something much more important besides a clothing catalogue.

We have the money. We buy nine hundred dollar paddleboards. We belong to boutique gyms and take private boot camps with other like-minded women who are not afraid to share their love or disdain for companies between burpies and mountain climbers. We shop at Whole Foods. We buy our own homes, our own cars and don’t need men to negotiate. We are finished looking in the mirror and seeing what is wrong, like we did so often in our thirties, (Christ, if I only knew how good I had it in my 30’s as I was fretting about some part of my body that deserved no fretting)

We look in the mirror now and embrace our bumps and bruises, our stretch marks from the beautiful children we raised, our scars from mole removals from the sun we worshipped with baby oil and silver blankets in our teens, our white hairs sprouting from areas we never considered as possibilities. We enjoy the battle wounds of the dimples in our thighs knowing that all of the pizza, nachos and margaritas we so loved in our twenties left their eternal marks on our bodies. Who needs tattoos?

We consider our breasts, either happy we still have them even though no matter how many push ups and full body planks we do, gravity wins. We also contemplate the soon to be removal of them because at fifty our risks are much higher than they were at forty and despite what all of the changes to guidelines about getting our mammograms, we are still demanding them as we also know how to advocate for our own female health.

The catalogues are starting to show “real women.” Or at least their perception of real women. They are trying at least.

The last one I received had the lovely 98 year old yoga grand dame, Tao, blasted on the cover sitting in a cross legged yoga pose in the air because her strength of her beautiful arms was holding her up. The one I received yesterday showed a bodacious dark skinned woman in a two piece and they didn’t have her labeled as “full figured” or whatever crazy ass label clothing companies feel they need to put on clothes over a size ten. This time they added a fifty something, very hip, tan and reasonably fit looking white haired woman who was probably blond in her younger years. I’m guessing it was their attempt to include me in their tribe so I could feel like I belonged (read: spend lots of money to be part of the tribe)

The problem is that every person in the catalogues besides these two stand out women are easily in their low thirties maybe early forties, easily size 4 or 6 and mostly all have long legs except for one or two. So the problem is, as I stare at the twenty five different bathing suits on most of these seemingly real models, is that it is already a set up to fail. We all know that none of us except for them (or my two different personal trainers) look like their bodies when we get our packages filled with five hundred dollars worth of SPF 50 SUP tops and bottoms in our mailboxes.

Our vision, as we remove our winter jammies to expose our pasty white pre Florida body parts to try them on, is how they looked on the women in the catalogue. Even though we know that our bodies are not that, we still unconsciously compare the way we show up in our mirrors. All the work I do to embrace my curves, my hips, my uneven premastectomied breasts, my moles (and not the Cindy Crawford good kind), leaves me for a moment as I adjust my glasses (which I now need to even see myself) to accept and allow the life in front of me staring back.

I realize and know I have done incredible amounts of work to enjoy my body shape as is. This is no easy feat for us women. We have been shown for our entire lives that our bodies are not good enough, our not thin enough, are not fit enough, are not smooth enough. The thing I love about my fifties and all of the like-minded women I know is that despite all of the media telling us how we are supposed to look, our fifties give us permission to say FUCK YOU.

The liberation of fifty is that the beach is no longer a fashion statement. If anyone was looking at me before and I cared, I was 20 and I didn’t know how amazing I looked. Now I look at me and I enjoy my curves and the weird things that are happening to my body. I just wish some active wear catalogue like the well intentioned Athleta and Title 9 would have the balls to show women really like me in their catalogues so I could see for a change what my uneven breasts, my beautiful hips, my strong thighs, my very salt and pepper hair, my starting to wrinkle neck would look like before I bought my goodie bag of summer.

Probably not a fat chance, but my grownup sassy self can dream, right?

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BEING IN BUSINESS

BEING IN BUSINESS

A beginners guide to starting your female owned business (and yes female business owning is different.)

INTRODUCTION

I was destined to be an entrepreneur. My grandfather along with his brother started a successful textile business shortly after WW2 that sold boys and men’s suits for almost 40 years. My father worked in the business for most of his life until the end of the textile era happened when China took over. Dad went on to open many small businesses throughout his remaining life before he passed away too young at 68 from cancer.

His final business was purchasing a 100-acre campground in the Great Woods of Northern New Hampshire. Everyone thought he was crazy for doing this, after all what is a nice Jewish upper middle class white boy doing buying a campground in gun carrying ATV riding New Hampshire? But that is exactly why, because creating business is about risks and stepping way outside the proverbial box. Opposite thinking. This is the legacy my father gave to me. Doing the opposite of things not just because it is opposite, but because it is part of your gut so deeply that you can’t imagine doing anything but this.

There is a trendy buzzword today for this type of thinking, called disruptive thinking. Who knew that my father’s out of the box thinking of having his employees go roller-skating during break time in the 70s would today be a type of disruptive trendy?

My father was the black sheep of the family. Ironically, in his quest to veer away from all things traditional and all things his father did, he ended up marrying by eloping with my mother when he was 20 and sent a telegram to his very surprised parents to let them know. As it turned out I came around 11 months later so now he was hooked into the life he had really thought he had escaped from when he impulsively married,

He worked at the factory for and with my grandfather for as long as I remembered and I understand it wasn’t something he enjoyed. What I learned from him is never do something for work you don’t enjoy.

I never did.

When he finally broke free from his marriage and from the factory, he went on to do numerous start up companies, but the one that gave him the most joy was when he finally bought the campground and sold his share of the factory building to his longtime partner. That campground was his joy and as much as everyone in the white collar family thought he was off his rocker, he didn’t care. He was happy.

Every job I had I loved and if I didn’t I learned why and didn’t repeat it. Being in business means that I am a conscious activist in my business. My business model is shaped by my own objective and the choices I make as to how I want my business outcome. What defines a successful business is not always monetary success as the main outcome. What defines success is different for every single person with their business dream tucked away on a napkin in their coat pocket when its in its just a spark of a thought.

1. Establish Your Objective

My first question to everyone with the dream of owning her own business is first and foremost “what is your objective?” This is a really important question because owning your own business is hard. It will give you as much excitement and thrill as it does sleepless nights. Without a clear objective from the very beginning, you will get thrown from your path when the times are not all joyous and happy. AND THERE WILL BE THOSE TIMES. You will never know what and when they will hit, but trust me they will. And when they do, your clear objective (the one that is tucked away in your pocket on that napkin) will come out and give you a big sigh because you will know that the rocky stretch is just an opportunity to remind you that you are indeed a female entrepreneur and this is all part of the thrill.

Yes I said thrill. You are an entrepreneur right? The thrill is about knowing how to tame the chaos when it comes at you, to organize it, to go through it and be able to sleep at night knowing that you are the mistress of outcome because of that beautiful objective. And guess what, your objective can change over time. Remember, it is your business so you get to sculpt and mold and play with the dough however you want.

Establishing your objective is the why of the equation. Why do you want to do this? Sure money may be the first answer, but think about where that answer is coming from. When I first started my business I had to release all of the preconceived notions that were implanted in my brain by my grandfather’s definition of success. Once I released this, and it took me awhile, my own definition became clear as a bell.

For me it was to have my business run efficiently without my physical presence. This meant that I had freedom, time with my young son and a business that was positioned to have value without me. This way if and when I wanted to sell it, I wouldn’t be such a major part of the equation that I wouldn’t be able to get its true value if I didn’t come with the package.

This used to drive my grandfather crazy. He worked like 80 hours a week, so did my father. He couldn’t imagine that a business could run like this. But his objective was to make money, lots of money. He had to be in on every single moment to control outcome. My objective was more about time. Yes of course I wanted to make money, but that wasn’t my main driver. Mine was time for my son and my family and as my son grew and became less needy, I would change my work focus to accommodate and the money would come. Maybe not as much as if I was there 80 hours a week, but then I wouldn’t have enjoyed my business or my time as a mother. This is often where the fork in the road of male and female business ownership divides. I don’t know what it is to be a male business owner, my only experience was watching my grandfather and my father.

What I did witness was this, though: my grandfather had his wife taking care of the house and the kids and his life. Female entrepreneurs may have their partners support. Their partners may even stay home with the kids and the house as role reversals are so much more common these days. But most women I know are hard wired differently and life outside of work, kids, house, partners, family, usually occupy at least a part of their brains while they are working. I don’t know if this is as true for our male business owning counterparts. Women who own and run their own business and have families as well take on much more mental responsibility because of the guilt factor we bring on ourselves.

Are we missing our kid’s first steps, or his school play, t ball or dance recital? These thoughts are always around mom brain, at least they were for me and every single woman I know whether they were employees or employers. I see it with my team of 23 young women and all of their peers. Maybe it is a broad generalization but feminism and women’s liberation has only really influenced women in the workplace for the last 40 years, if that, and we still have a lot of work to do to get our cellular makeup to change if ever.

The way I see it is that someone needs to be thinking about all of the things that need to get done with our lives, our partners, our spaces we live in, or our children and if you have a partner at home that is doing this, awesome. I am willing to bet, though that even if you do, there are likely not too many moments where just a little guilt blasts into your radar a few times a day. So for the purpose of this guide, I am going to make some assumptions and give some scenarios about where you find yourself in your life right now. Every one of these needs a clear objective so take some time and brainstorm yours before you start writing your comprehensive business plan, before you look for financing. This seemingly little exercise will pay off big for all of your next steps.

POSSIBLE SCENARIOS: (I have probably not covered every single scenario, so if I have missed one, feel free to send a comment back to me and I will add it, pronto.)

  • You are a single woman who relies solely on your own income.
  • You are getting ready to graduate from college and you never wanted to be in the major you just completed, but your parents wanted that for you so you obliged.
  • You don’t have children, but are going to want them at some point and you are thinking about starting your own business, establish your objective around the timing of this major decision.
  • You have been diagnosed with something with your health giving you some time contemplate your remaining time on this planet.
  • You are getting ready to get married or move in with someone.
  • You never want children or a live in partner.
  • You have a child and want more.
  • You have children and are done.
  • Your children are all grown and you are in your empty nest phase.
  • You are ready for a second or third career. (being a stay at home mom counts as a career)
  • You are married or sharing life responsibilities with someone and not working but want to start your own business.
  • You are married or sharing life responsibilities and are working but are not the primary breadwinner.
  • You are married or sharing life responsibilities and are working and are the primary breadwinner.
  • You are getting ready to get divorced or are in the process of a divorce.
  • You have been in a career that you want to get out of and have a supportive partner.
  • You have been in a career that want to get out of and don’t have a supportive partner.
  • You have unlimited amounts of support, money and time.
  • You have unlimited amounts of support, but not much money.

Etcetera… fill in here if none of these apply.

You may want to start up a business but need to go back to school or get additional training, this part of the business start up process will follow in the next steps, but before you move on to anything else, you must begin with WHY so onward to the light my superchick entrepreneur.

WHAT IS YOUR OBJECTIVE?

WHY DO YOU WANT TO TAKE THIS LEAP FROM EMPLOYEE TO EMPLOYER (and yes, when you own your own business you will have employees: accountants, lawyers, vendors, for starters and YOU.)

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LETTER TO ANN

LETTER TO ANN

I wish the things that can so easily be said on paper, were things that a face to face meeting to work through as two adult women could possibly solve. I wish we could both go through all of the painful experiences like we were at an alanon meeting, pouring out our soul with no defenses, no criticisms or judgements but just a way to get it all out in the open and move to forgiveness.

Is the relationship not worth the work?

When you and your husband of sixteen years got divorced, you were put in a super vulnerable place, but managed to come out of it surviving and figuring out how to be self-sufficient. This was no small feat as a woman with two children who needed both physical and emotional shelter. He left you. That must have been incredibly scary. People in your circle weren’t getting divorced at the rate that would soon follow.

There were no textbooks for what to do and what not to do. In hindsight, selling the family home, moving to a new community, getting your kids set up in a new school within a few months of your husband moving out was probably not what the textbook that hadn’t been written would have said. Emotions were high. Therapy wasn’t the go to solution like it is today. The tension was thick. Emotionally scarring being left by a man. Frightening as hell to be unsure of your financial survival and even worse that you had to depend on archaic alimony creating a dependence that likely did not give you a sense of inner strength. Meanwhile you had two kids, 14 and 9, trying to wrap their own heads around their new paradigm. They were holding on the best they could separately and together. They were trying to learn how to satisfy the demands of having 2 parents separately who one minute were going for long walks after dinner and in the next battling with such hatred for each other. In your anger you both forgot about the needs of your two struggling children. You were both responsible for this.

When your two children ended up living with their father 6 months into the new world of divorce, it must have been one of the most painful experiences a mother could have. This must have laid the groundwork for layers of resentment that would soon follow. A good therapist may have said to you to stop personalizing every single thing and start focusing on parenting.

Stop yelling.

Stop using the silent treatment as a defense.

Stop.

Once two people get divorced, the worst part is that kids have options. Living with their father becomes an option, a way out from the emotional rollercoaster that was going on in your life as you tried to figure out your new role.

The problem with kids moving out is that the organic process of raising them past the teen years stops too and you never had a chance to see what it was like to move through the teen years. The distance and the resentment kept growing. Living with you again never seemed to be a possibility as you had moved on with your life, meeting a new man, finding your sense of purpose in a new career, becoming economically self sufficient.

When your daughter decided to move in with your sister instead of you, you took it so personally. You never got over that. You never forgave her, or forgave your sisters for not telling you or asking you because your daughter wanted to be the one to tell you.

When your daughter was procrastinating, your brother in law took it upon himself to tell you and you never got over that. It must have really hurt your feelings being left out of this decision, but your 19 year old daughter felt like she had no place to live and you and your former husband were not ever a consideration for her. It never seemed to occur to you to consider the pain that she may have been going through as the priority of your pain, your role as victim, was always the main event. But the reality is that it was your ego that was bruised because if you had really considered it you would have known it was more of the fantasy rather than the reality that bothered you the most.

It was at that moment where the hurts and buttons of your younger life of feeling left out of your two sisters connection began its climb. Instead of feeling happy that your daughter had found a place to live where she could feel safe and loved, you resented her for not allowing you a chance to mother her. You resented that she didn’t give you a chance to get back 5 years lost. So the resentments not yet realized lay dormant and your sister and daughter formed a bond like the sisters you never bonded with. You probably felt left out, but you never talked about your feelings so they went inward again.

As time went on, you moved. Around the time your daughter planned on getting married, leaving her to fend for herself for her wedding dress, her bridal shower and the entire planning of the wedding. This didn’t seem odd to you nor did it seem odd to your daughter until people started asking where you were. Your daughter would just reply like it was perfectly normal, “my mother doesn’t do things like this.” Oddly your daughter thought it was perfectly normal until the day she realized it wasn’t, but it was too late.

Your son moved back with you and you got another chance to mother, it seemed as if there was some healing, but then your baby, your only son was diagnosed with cancer and within a year, died. Not in your arms, after all he was 25, but in his apartment with his girlfriend who had been tending his broken body and spirit. You resented this too, but your son died knowing unconditional love from a woman and this was a gift.

You personalized the abandonment and another layer of resentment grew. All this time you and your former husband spoke only twice in the fifteen years of being divorced, at your daughter’s wedding and at your son’s funeral and both were brief and awkward and tense. Your children were watching and it broke their hearts again. You were both responsible.

Once your son died, there was your grief, YOUR grief. We all grieved. There was never a time during this grieving period that you and your surviving child and your former husband came together to process the pain. Each one did it on their own. Your daughter and your former husband were able to bond with the grief as the catalyst, the only positive that came from your son’s death. You went into a deeper despair and the very mention of his name would cause you to go silent in an awkward way so that your daughter never felt like she could speak of her pain and her loss to her mother. You both never had a chance to heal and bond from this terrible experience together. So your daughter figured out how to grieve the loss with her father, with her aunts, with her grandparents and the distance between you both grew more distant. Another missed opportunity for some healing.

Shutting down became the new norm and the distance grew until your daughter had her son, your grandson, same name as your son and there began joy again. A distraction. Your daughter tried to ignore your absence at her baby shower, at your son’s bris, afterall you didn’t do these things. Her bond with your sisters continued to strengthen and your relationship with your daughter was “fine” as your grandson became the light and the joy and all seemed well.

Then your daughter left her husband after 20 years and though you seemed supportive of her decision, the fact that she moved out seemed to trigger some serious old wounds that you could not name and the distance opened up like a scar from years past. The feelings that you had been stuffing with drinking for over 20 years started to bubble and you did not like this. It was uncomfortable, scary, you had moved far away from all family to escape this, it wasn’t supposed to follow you. But this is the thing with feelings, they only move on when you move through and there is no running away. You can run away from a fire in a building, but at some point the fire has to be put out with water or else it will consume everything around it.

Your relationship with alcohol was what grew deeper and the slings at your daughter began with the bar mitzvah of her son all the way to her buying her own house. Occasionally you would let out some of the pain in a screaming match or a nasty letter but it was never constructive, always filled with rage and disappointment instead of a grownup conversation. Through bouts of silence, unspoken resentments grew. Years of unspoken resentments. When your daughter received the news of breast cancer two years ago you had both not been speaking for awhile. When she called to tell you, there was a small chance for the relationship.

She with her ex-husband and her son came for a visit to your new house and it was a terrible visit, sad, painful. Alcohol was the force to be reckoned with and even if there was a sliver of hope, the force of the drink usurped the visit. The fact that your daughter came with her ex-husband and that their relationship was a mature one must have dug old wounds even deeper. The visit gave you a chance to witness what could have been in your own past. It was like Dickens ghost of Christmas past.

The thing about unspoken feelings is that there is always light on the other side, but you have to be willing to do the work, to move through the darkness and it can be really dark. Alcohol makes the darkness seemingly disappear, but that of course is the illusion of addiction. The sadness of shutting off the lights permanently is you never get to the light, to see what is on the other side, Yes there will always be more pain, but there is also so much more pleasure and joy and lessons. You will never know how your daughter coped with her double mastectomy or the way she handled this next phase of her life because you found the pain and the work to be something you wanted to go around instead of through.

Your relationship with your daughter never had a chance to heal because you never gave yourself a chance to heal. You were the parent and you never considered your role as the line leader to work through and help the relationship grow. It stayed stuck in old thought patterns and old sadness where it still sits.

Until one day when you decided that the pain was never going to go away unless you ceased any connection with your daughter.

And so you did.

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THE PARKING LOT

THE PARKING LOT

It is 8:00am on a Saturday morning and I drive into the parking lot looking around at the cars, all there for the same reason. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of vehicles lined up like tanks on a combat mission. We get out of our cars and suvs in our Lululemons and our North Face coats, checking our iphones one last time as we will soon be together for a tech free hour. Pounding, sweating, jumping, pushing, sighing, and occasionally laughing aloud at the absurdity of it all thinking we have some control over our health and the lucky privilege we share living in a coastal community. I don’t think anyone but me notices, but maybe everyone is thinking the same thing as they begin their warm up of running in place or skiiers.

We drive from a variety of locations to be together to get ready for the weekend or recover from our past week, all there for a different reasons. For the young ones, 20 somethings, they are there because they were brought up to know fitness. Fitness is a part of them like the internet. For the 30 somethings, perhaps they are getting ready for a wedding or a baby or post baby making sure that their bodies, in the prime of their lives, stay the way Shape Magazine has told them they are supposed to be.

For the 40 somethings, hampsters on a wheel, knowing that beach season is right around the corner and still clinging on to the bikini from last summer with the hopes that they will continue in their forties fit and healthy like all of the other women in their children’s school look.

For the 50 somethings, me included, fitness has completely moved out of my physical appearance demands and into the feeling of incredible joy it gives my insides. This shift has been a blessing in my life as I work out to achieve mind health first, the rest is pure gravy. My whole life prior to the past 5 or 6 years, fitness was something I never enjoyed. I was raised with women who complained about fitness who dreaded a workout, who couldn’t imagine moving except to the mall for shopping or the grocery store. Fitness and sports were not part of our makeup. Arts, culture, music, were the preferred outlet. It was one or the other, I don’t think it ever occurred to my family that both could be possible. So I drive almost 40 minutes each way to this boutique gym for a workout like no other. To look around at all of the fit women and an occasional man writing checks for ridiculous amounts so we can talk about our battle wounds and share in the many reasons we are there together in the early morning.

We sit together in the hallway with our bottles of concoctions while we wait for the 7am class to come out looking exhausted and energized, sweaty, red faced hoping that the workout we are facing will keep our fit bodies fit. To stave off the love handles, the wrinkles, the flab. To keep the weight off, the heart attacks and diabetes at bay and the cancer safely in the articles streaming at us in newpapers, television and every internet blast.

Sometimes when I am peddling on the spin bike working out with a 30 something partner as she does her burpees and chest presses and every other crazy contortion our 53 year old super smiley super fit instructor has written on the whiteboard, I smile. First of all, I can’t see the whiteboard because I don’t wear my glasses while I am working out so I have to repeatedly ask my partner what the next exercise is. I laugh lovingly as I think about my grandmother who died at 92. At 37, in 1957 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She survived a radical mastectomy and never had cancer again. Her activity was some tennis, some swimming, some bowling but that was about that. Mostly she relaxed by the pool doing NYT crossword puzzles. Mind fitness was her focus. She was. a 92 year old breast cancer survivor way before pink ribbons showed up on license plates. Way before doctors even referred to breast cancer by its name, back then it was ‘female problems’ and no one talked about “it”. Way before there was genetic testing and brch2 gene mutations were even a consideration. I should feel happy that not only can I talk about it, but I can be self defacing, I can cry, I can write, I can take photos of how my breasts look before I go in to have them both removed and new ones put on.

I suppose I should feel fortunate because despite all of this working out, pushups, chest presses, planks, 50 something year old breasts go south. I have had most of the positive experiences my 50 something breasts will ever have so the timing in many ways completes a life cycle. Nipples are no longer in the center of my breast dartboard, they have moved on pointing downward that only a 100$ professional bra fitting can make them look centered in a t-shirt again. I should feel lucky that I will likely not have to worry about the upper body workout I power through so my breasts look like my 20 year old workout gal pals. I peddle faster to ACDC or Eminem looking down at my cleavage and everyone else’s for that matter. I wonder if I am the only one holding on for dear life. Privately knowing about the diagnosis that will soon force me to miss months of these classes that I so love along with the camaraderie of like-minded women I jump around with sharing the war stories of our workouts on a sunny beautiful day in February.

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“TAKE THEM OFF”

“TAKE THEM OFF”

Three words you would never likely utter if you have been in the worrisome situation of having to contemplate the very notion. These three words are the words that go with all of the other words and multiple phrases you would probably never say if even for a moment you had been on the receiving end of a negative diagnosis. “Cut them off.” “Get rid of them.” “Get some new ones.” They all mean well, I guess, their mere intent is to be helpful, supportive, encouraging, positive and kind.

The thing is, though, I like my breasts.

Actually, I love my breasts. For all of the body shaming in our lives as women, it is the one body part I have always been totally happy with when I have looked in the countless reflections of myself for the last 52 years. I also have a loving relationship with the history of my breasts. They have been with me on countless travels through my entire life. They are a part of me and have played a wonderful supporting role during key moments. I am connected to them and they to me.

I have enjoyed their evolution from prepubescent pre teen anxiously waiting for their buds to blossom. I have felt excited about the way they looked in the fitting room in their first double A training bra from JC Penney when I was an eleven year old school girl after begging my mother to get me a bra for the first week of school.

I started the appreciation of my breasts as I practiced the exercises I learned from the teen novel, ‘Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.’

“I must, I must, I must increase my bust,” chanting the words as I pressed my two palms together that every 13 year old flat chested girl waiting for their bosom to arrive was doing in 1977.), How did beloved author, Judy Blume know to normalize young girls’ deep teenage thoughts? She was the first woman in my life who helped me feel like I wasn’t the only girl out there having thoughts about wanting my breasts and periods to come so that my womanhood could alas be defined.

I liked how my breasts looked in my first clingy shirt I wore when I started to realize that I finally had actual breasts and that they had a small shape as I progressed into my upgrade of the new 32A cup. This is way before Victoria Secret got hold of our breasts, before wires and pushups and gel bras were being pushed on 13 year old girls much too fast into the world of trying to look like sex objects. Before Madonna started getting girls to think that if they identified as “boy toys” instead of their own self aware self loving toys that would be considered a new kind of modern feminism. Progress? I don’t know, but my breasts were along for the ride as it least it opened up the gates of self-definition.

I love the memory of my breasts that received their first feel up as a boy tried to get to “first base” in 1979 under the tree in my parents yard when I had to say no because I was a respectable young girl with a predetermined narrative. The attempt though opened the feel good gates with feelings I didn’t know what to do with because our mothers weren’t mentioning healthy sexual desire to their young daughters even though they were mothers of the 60’s. The feeling had the potential of feeling so good. If we had been boys, our dads would have smiled at us with big congratulatory pats on our backs proud their sons had started on their sexual quests. Because we were girls, though, there was an unwritten rule of law we were supposed to abide by. This was the “good girl” role and we learned early on without yet knowing the words ‘double standard’ as we began our journeys into keeping quiet and swallowing our sexual feelings.

My breasts were part my first sexual encounter from a curious unsure young man’s hand placing itself on one or both, stumbling with my bra hooks in the back because bras weren’t hooking in the front yet. If they were, they hadn’t found their way into our underwear drawers surely. The shortness of breath as he slowly unbuttoned my blouse to find his way created electric shockwaves that only young romance knows.

There were the lessons I learned as I was part of the movement of self breast exams where our doctors poked and prodded attempting to teach us young girls what to feel for in the shower teaching me to know and understand my own body and to own it.

My breasts would then go through the travels of marriage and deeper sexual connections that marriage gives permission to. The openness between two committed partners allows a sense of freedom with bodies that is special and bonding.

Then there was the first pregnancy as my breasts grew to size c or d as they prepared. to feed the baby who had found his home in my belly. Breastfeeding changed the sensation and the desire from sexual to maternal in a nanosecond and the thought of my husband ever touching my breasts during this time felt odd and like it would never happen again.

I never imagined getting the sexual feeling back, but like a loyal friend, it finally returned. After the tiredness only other breastfeeding women can understand and after the first bite from my child’s mouth of new teeth, my breasts started to make a comeback. The shape shift happened over the next 2 years as I wondered if the pancakes staring back at me that used to be my breasts would ever come back to pre baby. They did and actually came back in a voluptuous way that Judy Blume would have been proud of.

It took some time to reconnect with my sensuality, it is hard to go from woman to wife to mom and back to woman, but my breasts carried me along as I rediscovered fitness, and started to really reconnect with my role as a woman. My libido came along with me. My first mammogram reminded me of how old my breasts and I were getting and how vulnerable we had become. I was sure that men must have designed the machines that would sandwich and squeeze and take my breath away as the first pictures of my dense breasts would be recorded.

Push up bras became my companion in my forties after that first mammogram and as I continued to hear about more and more women being diagnosed, I decided to really start enjoying my cleavage. Any chance I got to discuss women and their breasts I would take the opportunity to say something like, “As long as I have them I going to show them. Women are getting them lobbed off left and right and I am going to enjoy them while I have them. “ Women would laugh at my bluntness and I would enjoy the laughter I would get from them not ever imagining that I would be the one having to consider the possibility.

My husband of 20 years and I split up, I moved out of my home, planned a bar mitzvah, moved again, had a flood in my business, moved again, bought a house, moved myself and business, got my son into a new high school and during that 4 years of personal evolution, I met a great man. My breasts were part of the first fluttery feelings of early romance and quickly reminded me that my late 40s body was no longer my early 20s body. Yet despite that, I entered into another phase of self-awareness and I embraced the feeling whole-heartedly. Attention to my breasts took a backseat during that rollercoaster of 4 years and I forgot to get my mammogram while I was busy enjoying my new love, my new home and my solid relationship with my amazing son and a kind connection with my former husband.

When I finally remembered, because my doctor reminded me, the news of cancer came and my breasts and I had to make some difficult decisions. They came along to my genetic counseling appointment and we learned together that I was brch 2 positive. Removing them was not my first or second or even third choice. The whole surgery and reconstruction sounded worse then getting cancer, honestly. I wanted to hang on for dear life, not because of vanity, believe me 2 lumpectomies and radiation are no guarantee for your breasts to remain the way they once looked, but the thought of implants and all of that awful surgery didn’t feel right to me. I elected to try the route of least invasive and kept my fingers crossed. Like breastfeeding, it took about a year before my breasts started to allow for touching again, but at least the sensation came back.

I was just starting to feel normal again, going for my regular appointments like almost clockwork as I am now in the circuit of every 6 month checkups. When you have a genetic mutation, it is like having the hospital gold card. Appointments are a new way of life as the “catching it early” becomes the directive. I never thought that in less than 2 years the cancer may be back and I would actually have to consider the original cut them off idea as the last mammogram showed that there “may” be “something.”

People say, “You’re lucky, it’s not life or death losing your breasts, it’s only breasts.” Of course the pragmatic side of this I know to be true, but this very female part of my sensual identity has been with me for all my life in good times and in bad times. This female part of my body has experienced sexual pleasure, has been a part of the life discovery process, first loves, married love, divorce, new love, been a mother, and everything in between. It is an emotional loss that I am grownup enough to deal with but I don’t have to like it. Our breasts don’t define us for sure, but they have been constant companions in however many years of life experience I have been fortunate to be a part of. Removing them is as much psychological as it is physical. I am humble and grateful enough to know that in the big scheme of things, this really is not a difficult decision. I am an incredibly resilient person. I have had plenty of pleasure with my upper body in my 52 years. What I do know and I will honor however when and if I have to make this decision is that I will grieve their loss. I will miss them as part of my body, but more so as a significant part of all of the stages of my young and lovely life. It is this part that I will be sad to part ways with and to say goodbye to. I am guessing though that this loss is not a period, but a comma at the end of a phase of a life well lived and a new one yet to begin and I know it will be an interesting next phase just like all the others before it.

Breast cancer, Women

OUR SILENT COMRADERIE

OUR SILENT COMRADERIE

The television was particularly loud or maybe it was just loud because of the intense quiet in the room. The show was a round table discussion, kind of like The View, five women interviewing a guest female singer speaking about the life revelations she had as she wrote her songs for the new album she was promoting.

“You wrote a song about your mother, can you speak about that?” asked one of the interviewers.

The songwriter began her story with the happy photo of her mother and her looking freshly bonded and renewed. The singer shared how she realized her mother was just a woman like all of us who had her own baggage from her own life she unknowingly brought to her ability (or lack there of) as a mother.

“We are all women with our own experiences,” she crooned. “Once I realized this, I reached a new level of understanding of my mother and I am so teary eyed thinking of our connection now.” The entire table of women all proudly clapped and so did the audience. The positive reinforcement would have made Oprah proud.

If my outcome today was not a positive one, how would my own mother find out? The last time she spoke to me was in an email asking that I never contact her again. As a matter of fact, this was one of the scenarios that played out in my mind when I contemplated the “never contacting her again”part.

I heard a deep sigh from the woman sitting to my left. The woman on the right was occupying herself with emails on her cell phone and the woman across from me was looking a little impatient with the wait. We all sat there, our little tribe of women in the semi comfortable green velvet-ish, supposed to look, soothing chairs, along with the eight photos of female doctors with their varying degrees and post doctorate work lining the walls like artwork.

We were here in the middle of our workdays and our personal days while the kids were away at college or at school or at daycare. Some women were fully made up, hair coiffed and high heels, looking like they would head back to work after this inconvenient but necessary interruption in their lives was complete. Some were in work out or casual clothes, obviously their day off headed afterwards to Whole Foods to stock up on the clean, no sugar, no dairy and organic cart full of food that was supposed to help stop the estrogen flow that caused the first round.

I had already gone in for one round of photos and was waiting for my next appointment with the tech. The woman on the left of me had a super hip short haircut. I was trying to figure out if it was post chemo or intentionally cut this way.

Why aren’t we talking? Why is this silly television show on instead of calming classical music? Why did the singer just happen to be on speaking about this healed relationship with her mother reminding me of the one I never had or would have with my own? Why are the flimsy gowns so flimsy? Why are we so quiet as we sat with each other in our private torture trying to feel relaxed.

The woman with the short hair cut was nervously deep breathing. She didn’t have to actually say anything, I could tell she was nervous, whether it be from anticipation from her first follow up or worry knowing she was there for a concern. I decided to take the plunge and speak to her, “I love your haircut, it looks really hip.” I said. Her hands immediately went to her head. My question broke the silence. “I’m here because my doctor found a lump,” she said. We were all here for some reason. The silence was the heat of our minds stirring with the what ifs. We were comrades without knowing each other’s names or life’s story, just waiting in our too thin too small gowns with the ”opening in the front” ties in the wrong places. Who designed these? At least they weren’t pink. Just sitting there vulnerable and quiet as women mostly in our 50s was enough to link us.

“Silvia?” The tech came and got my shorthaired friend and off she went. Meanwhile I waited to be called for an ultrasound after having been already called back for one more detailed mammogram. The waiting was an opportunity to take some deep breaths rather than be tempted to peruse my cell phone pulsing in my bag. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back.

Silvia came back out quickly looking happy and relieved, as the lump was nothing. Yay Silvia. The thought flashed through my mind that my chances of a negative outcome just went up because of Silvia’s good news. Any statisticians out there? Likely there is no basis for this rationale, but it was my first thought post being happy for her. Always happy, always smiling.

“Alayne?” The tech came out to get me for my ultrasound. As I lie on the bed, breasts exposed, I started thinking about how I could improve the experience. Warm towels and blankets for starters. Warm gel squirted, cooling down because I swear they had the air conditioning on. (Insert warm towel feedback here) After lots of slipping and sliding and clicking to capture the image, the very kind tech lets me know,

“We’re all done, I’ll have you wait here while the doctor looks at these and then she will come back in and speak with you.”

Alrighty then. I got up, wiped myself of the sticky ultrasound goo and lay back down on the bed trying to stay warm and calm as I awaited my fate. I had been in this rodeo two years ago so I was familiar with the possibilities of the doctor’s diagnosis.

When the doctor came in with the sullen expression that doctors have when they have to tell you anything other than good news, I knew it was a repeat. That is the thing about breast exams, there is no happy medium. Either it is thumbs up or thumbs down.

I could tell immediately it was thumbs down as she explained the new spots and that I would need to get a biopsy pronto. I hate fucking biopises. They are worse then lumpectomies of which I am a double fisted seasoned ticket holder.

So much could be worse. This I know. I am the queen of half full. But I have to say that I felt like I was in the movie, Groundhog Day, repeating the story all over again. The pictures she showed me looked almost identical to the pictures of two years ago when I discovered I had early stage breast cancer. Before genetic testing, before learning what the word prophylactic meant, before Ann asked me to never contact her again.

I left to go back to the waiting room and all of my silent comrades had left or gone to their own appointments. I would never know their outcomes except for Silvia’s, but I knew mine.

As I changed out of my gown, I realized that the unique experience of sitting with strangers in silence awaiting our fates from our mammograms binds us together. Even though we will likely never see each other again, like soldiers from war there is a bound by experience that creates long lasting connection and that only women who sit in flimsy gowns. amongst each other in the middle of their workdays understand.

Uncategorized

THE MAGNIFYING MIRROR

THE MAGNIFYING MIRROR

Five diopter magnifying mirrors should be banned from purchase once a woman goes through menopause, especially surgical menopause. Like the speed of light, white eyebrow hairs start appearing, hair starts sprouting from areas on the face that should only be sprouting on a man. This all happens at the same time eyesight starts to disappear so that close up vision of anything is a near Olympic feat. Is it my imagination or is the font size on everything getting smaller? I had to buy a new phone the other day and I dreaded having to read the wifi password on my modem since the print is made for, well I don’t know who it’s made for, but surely “they” didn’t have menopausal women in mind when they were emblazoning the font on the sticker.

Brown spots appear overnight from all of that sun my grandmother told me to stay out of when I was happily baking on my foil blanket loaded up with Johnson’s baby oil, listening to my am radio trying to get burned so it would magically turn into a tan before my five day Florida visit to my grandparents ended.

“Alayne, you are going to get burned, come inside,” my grandmother would mildly yell from her condo situated on the white sands of Siesta Key. She may as well have been a character in Charlie Brown because my 12-year-old head would translate that into blah blah blah. Oh Grandma, you were right. The brown spots, the lines around my upper lip staying in their lined position even after I change my expression are just a few of the post 50 changes occurring on my once smooth lightly freckled complexion.

How about the bloat factor? I long for the good old days where I could eat pizza, drink wine and have no evidence on my midsection to show my indulgences. The evidence of post menopause is apparent like there is air pump that goes off as soon as the first glass of biodynamic pinot goes in. And it doesn’t leave like the old days where I could simply eat a salad the next day and drop the 3 pounds that a night of drinking and carbohydrates added to the scale.

The scale, yes, besides the fact that I have to put on glasses to see the number, I don’t even get on the scale not because I am worried about the number, actually I have made peace with the scale number and I have found the less I pay attention to it, the less it fluctuates. I have a classic vintage scale from my other diet obsessed grandmother. It actually says the word ‘Thinner’ etched into its metal plate under the numbers. I keep it along with her mirror as a reminder to not go down the rabbit hole of fretting and worrying about my looks and my weight like she did for her entire life.

I looked at my calendar this morning to see what the week plan is and I chuckled as I saw 4 doctor appointments. 6 month mammogram, thyroid ultrasound, blood work, teeth cleaning, almost all maintenance appointments from that dreaded diagnosis a week after 50. I remember the good old days when I had a annual pap smear, an eye exam and two teeth cleanings. Now it’s the breast surgeon, the genetic counselor, the endocrinologist, the internist, I am actually laughing aloud as I write this because with menopause comes this lovely self deprecating humor that I wouldn’t trade with the 20 somethings for anything despite a cancer diagnosis.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complaining themed essay. I’d like to call it an observation themed one because everyone told me that once 50 enters your world, these things start to happen at a rate of speed that one can only experience when one experiences the reality. There are so many highs of going through menopause. I have managed to successfully (knock on wood) stay out of the clutches of the pharmaceutical industry. Sorry big pharma, you are not sucking me into your evil empire.

With this crazy hair growth, comes oddly not a loss of locks, but a gorgeous full thick head of silvery hair which I am grateful for its bright color.

I am also struck by my level of fitness at this age, seriously the most in shape I have ever been in. I can begin and finish a beach boot camp and not blink an eye. Sometimes I imagine what kind of definition my body would have if I had started these fitness routines about 25 years earlier, but water under the bridge, I have learned that fitness at 52 for me is more about how good it makes my insides feel. There is nothing like the feeling of inner fitness. The strength and beauty it brings to my being is nothing I have ever experienced. Fitness forms alliances with like-minded people. I find myself talking about the specifics of the workout the previous day sharing my battle wounds with my partner and my workout friends like a badge of honor. It has replaced the war stories of previous nights of partying we used to share back in the college years.

Ah the aging process. It is so ironic that as the outward appearances do their shifting and moving about at the same time that the insides are strengthening and making their kickass selves known. Quality relationships, release of negative ones, confidence, truth, honesty, no bullshit, no drama, saying no with no remorse, wisdom, saying yes to the things I really want to say yes to, a still sparkling healthy (knock on wood again) sex drive, delight in small little pleasures, an intuitive sense of daily gratitude, these gorgeous elements of my insides happening at the same speed of light.

I’ll take this anyday.

Health, Women

THE LOCKER ROOM

THE LOCKER ROOM

The first time I seriously went to a gym was about 22. The image in my mind is the varying shapes and sizes of the women in the changing room. Modesty, blatant nakedness absent of inhibitions and in between bodies of women of all ages. The locker room of a gym is where you see the vulnerabilities, the insecurities, the confidences and the beauty of women. It is one of my favorite observatories, but it must be done in a subtle way because the unspoken rule is not to glare, stare or gawk. This is difficult. I find the energy of it all such a study of the interesting ways women are.

When I was this age, just beginning my young adult path, the locker room was a wakeup call of what can happen to our bodies as we get into our older years; at 22 this was about 40. At 22 I remember the little girls who shamelessly walked into the group shower with their little bodies staring at the multitude of bodies and vagina hair. I loved the group shower. There was something so uninhibited about the experience of showering with strangers. As I caught glimpses of the older women, it barely occurred to me that one day I would be standing amongst them crown and cape on knowing that I would be them.

The distinction between youth and age is found in the locker room. The scars and the victories show up there. The abuse and the care show up as well as the histories of significant times in our lives. The warrior wounds and the self-care are evidence of the lives we have lived in the rawness of the light of the locker room. For example, tattoos and their placement on the body usually show the era of a woman. Perhaps their tattoo is on the shoulder or the ankle or the hip, all signs of a life change for a 40 something. Maybe it was a divorce, or a death of someone close. A tattoo in this area is a way to give voice to the pain or the changes that are relevant to the event. Tattoos all over the body are often the 20 somethings where tattoos have become a sport with vigorous competition on quantity, uniqueness and color.

There are the children, innocence abounding, smiling, giggling, gawking, starting to feel their worth of their own appearance as they begin the entrance into the constant comparisons of how they think their little bodies should be.

There are the crones with their saggy breasts and their carbohydrated bellies getting out of the pool in their one piece bathing suits and their bras that are more like soldiers in battle holding up breasts that have fed a multitude of children over the years, the hands that have ironed their husband’s shirts and their fit bodies, despite the sag, of tennis clubs and learning to care for their cardio later in life. I am the young body next to them as I was the young body next to me 25 years past. I cherish this tribal experience that has no spoken word.

Yesterday it happened. The transition in the locker room happened. I was standing naked surrounded by 20 somethings and I realized that it happened. The torch was passed to me as I saw a little girl sneak a peak at my shape. The torch was passed as I watched a 25ish girl get ready for her workout with her tight fit oh so perfect 25 year old body fixing and fidgeting her sassy workout clothes as she looked in the mirror more than twice to make sure the snugness was snug in the right places. She hadn’t had a child yet, hadn’t lost a sibling, or a parent, hadn’t had an extra 27 years of sun exposure or had seen the way her hair color would be changing and deciding what to do about it. She probably never had any type of vagina hair as brazillians had been in her generation the moment the first hair sprouted. She hadn’t yet seen the changes that would happen to her body from the varying diets and food stories living for 52 years brings or the changes in her once perfect and firm breasts from surgical menopause and two lumpectomies. The innocence was affirming. Satisfaction of a life well lived with all of its cuts and scrapes as its teacher affirmed the cape and crown well deserved.

I earned the torch.