Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Nike to stop making workout clothes for larger women? This formerly large woman is disgusted, and done.



A friend who works for a sporting-goods chain told me last night Nike apparently is no longer going to make plus-size workout apparel for women; her store received the company's 2015 catalog, and it doesn't contain any women's sizes larger than an XL. She’s upset about the decision, because the stuff sells; to her, it’s a boneheaded move on Nike’s part, and she’s hoping other companies don’t follow suit.

I’m hoping they don’t, either. To me, this is all very personal, and Nike’s “business decision” -- if, in fact, this is what the company has decided -- makes me sad and angry. 

Fifteen months ago, I weighed 206.2 pounds. When I made the decision to lose the weight, along with that decision came a second one: to get my size-18 body in shape. And to do that, I was going to need to exercise.

So I bought a pair of size XXL black Nike shorts and threw on a big t-shirt and got out there and made it happen. And happen, it did – in no small part because I had comfortable clothes in which to work out. And quite a few of those items had the Nike "swoosh" on them; the brand fits me well and has the wide waistband that I like, and the clothing is durable.

But if Nike has in fact chosen to stop producing the sizes I used to wear, I can't begin to understand the company's logic. What are you thinking, Nike? That only svelte people exercise? Can a company that monolithic and influential really be that stupid? Some people I see at the gym are in great shape, yes. But even more are the size I was 15 months ago, or heavier. And – kudos to them – they’re working to become healthier.

I don't need to ask what deal is, because we both know: You think overweight people don’t look hot in Nike clothes. Well, they may look hot – as in sweaty, as we all do when we work out – but they don’t look the way you want people to look in your brightly colored spandex. You want people to look alluring. You want people who are working out to look at the hottie in the Nike tank and say, “If I buy that Nike tank, I, too, will be hot. All it will take is that magic, magic tank.”

But look at the woman in the photo above. She's not a size 2 -- not should she have to be. And she looks attractive and terrific, and she represents you well. 

Let me clue you in, Nike. I'm 51 and the “hot” train sailed a long time ago, but my body is in the best shape it’s been since … well, ever. And although I'm certainly no model, I look and feel OK in your "misses"-sized clothes.

But guess what? If I find out you're really no longer going to make clothes for the former me, the smaller me is no longer going to wear them, and I’m going to try really hard to make sure no one I care about wears them. Why?

Because you’re supposed to be about health and fitness, Nike. Your target customer should be the 206-pound 50-year-old who’s decided it’s time to get in shape, because she knows comfortable exercise clothing is key to sustaining a workout, and you make quality clothing, and she has the desire and the means to purchase quality clothing. She also has the desire to sweat that clothing and watch it gradually grow too big. And then she has the desire and the means to buy more Nike clothing in smaller and smaller sizes.

But she won’t, because if you've in fact decided not to create clothing for women who can’t fit into a size 8, that decision is reprehensible. There are plenty of other companies that get that size and worth and attractiveness don’t go hand-in-hand, and chances are, many of those companies are hosting summer sales right now. If your strategy is this boneheaded, I hope you feel its effects at the cash register, and soon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Happy Father's Day, Daddy Sean


When I was 23, I was wrapped up in many things, and all those things revolved around me. I dyed my hair blond. I painted my fingernails every two days and had spiked heels to match every dress I wore to work. I tanned and I did 300 sit-ups a day; I was focused on my job and my looks and my social life.

I sure as heck wasn’t adopting a toddler. And it boggles my mind that I know a 23-year-old who is doing just that tomorrow, and that that 23-year-old happens to be part of my extended family.

Two and a half years ago, the elder of my two stepdaughters gave birth to a little girl. Shelby was young and not married to the baby’s dad, but everything seemed to work out for a while; Shelby and the baby’s dad seemed happy together, and baby Isabelle thrived. But then things turned; the dad turned out to have some serious problems, and Shelby took Isabelle and moved back in with her mom.

We all rallied around the two of them, offering support as Isabelle’s dad continued to behave badly. One day, he let Shelby know he was moving away; he had lost his job and wanted to start over. Oh, and “starting over” would involve no longer being a dad. He wanted to sign away his parental rights.

My husband and I were conflicted; everyone in the family had grave concerns about the dad, to be sure. But signing away his rights? How would Isabelle feel one day when she realized her dad hadn't wanted her?

As things turned out, we’re hoping that knowledge will impact her less when she realizes that along with her biological dad’s disappearance came someone else who wanted her very much – Sean, the man who will be adopting her tomorrow morning.

When Sean and Shelby started dating, Kevin and I were slow to warm to him – not because we didn’t like him, but because there was a little girl involved, and we didn’t want to see Isabelle grow close to someone who would, like her biological dad, simply take off one day.

But we needn’t have worried; Sean and Shelby had been friends for years, and their relationship grew from that friendship and bore a foundation that her previous relationship hadn’t. And most importantly, Sean was an adult; he was going to school and working full-time in a good job with a bright future, and he spent his spare time volunteering with children with special needs.

As we let Sean into our hearts, Isabelle let him into hers. Although she was too young to remember her biological dad, she heard other kids call men “Daddy” and had begun calling others in the family by that name; it made us sad to see her confusion and to note that she had no one in her life with whom to associate a word she felt drawn to, but didn't understand.

But one day, after Sean and Shelby had become engaged, Isabelle came up with a new moniker all on her own, directed toward the man who had spent the better part of a year reading her stories and calming her tantrums and rocking her to sleep: “Daddy Sean.” And it stuck.

Sean and Shelby got married a few weeks ago; their ceremony was a simple one at the courthouse, designed to expedite the adoption process. The young woman who had once, like the 23-year-old me, cared primarily about looks and fashion and her social life shrugged off the notion of an opulent wedding.“It’s all about Isabelle now,” Shelby said as she signed the papers.

And tomorrow will be even more about Isabelle, and about her new dad; not “Daddy Sean” now, just “Daddy.” Somehow, on her own, she dropped the “Sean” over the last several weeks.

Tomorrow will take me back, I’m sure. When I was just a year or so older than Isabelle, I too had a “Daddy Sean” come into my life; the circumstances weren’t the same, but the outcome was much as I expect this one to be: positive all around.

My mom passed away and my sister, 20 years my senior, stepped in to help raise me. Although my dad lived with us as well, my sister’s husband, Jon, became a second father to me at roughly the same age Sean is now. Jon took me to Indian Princesses and to ride horses; later, he taught me to ski and gave me access to any book on his shelf, telling me, “They’re probably a little advanced for you, but I think you’ll do just fine.”

He fostered my interests in art and music as well as literature, and I credit him with instilling in me the confidence that enabled me to do what I wanted to do in my professional life; to this day, when something good happens at work, his response is, “I’m not the least bit surprised.”

Of all the wonderful adults in my life, he was my hands-down favorite, despite the fact that there was no biological tie between us. I envision the same for Sean and Isabelle, and the memories combine with dreams of the future that make me smile.

Sean posted this on his Facebook yesterday: “In 35 hours, Izzy and I get to have our special day.” He paired the post with a picture of tiny Isabelle holding a gift from her daddy-to-be. “Tonight I decided to surprise her with flowers to get her even more excited,” he noted in the caption.

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone will be more excited than Daddy Sean tomorrow, but it will also be a happy morning indeed for those of us who care about a certain blond toddler with an independent streak and a love of puppies, princesses, and anything that contains sugar.

I found this poem online, and it seems to suit the occasion:

“I didn’t give you the gift of life, but in my heart, I know
The love I feel is deep and real, as if it had been so.
For us to have found each other is like a dream come true;
No, I didn’t give you the gift of life, but life gave me the gift of you.”

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy Sean. And thank you.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"You're in the nicest store in the whole city, Lisa..."


In the Kinks' song "Come Dancing," singer Ray Davies laments the demise during his childhood of a dance hall his then-teenage sister had frequented. "The day they knocked down the palais, part of my childhood died," Davies sings of watching the building fall.

As the downtown Younker's building blazed and tumbled into the street this morning, parts of the childhoods of Des Moines natives died as well. Maybe that's a little dramatic, but it's not at all dramatic to say that many of us were saddened by the knowledge that no more memories will be made in that grand building ... and that there's no longer a tangible location on which to hang those memories that helped shape many of us.

I was a little girl in the late '60s, a time before shopping malls dotted the landscape; if you really needed to shop, you went downtown. And the center of downtown was Younker's, the grande dame of all department stores; a place where a child could score not only a new dress and a toy, but also a peanut-butter sandwich and fries, a chocolate malt, a copy of Curious George, and, in a white box with a gold ribbon, a hunk of Roquefort cheese. (Smelly cheese in a box, as a treat? Oh, my God, yes -- how I loved that stuff.)

I had a beautiful grandmother whom I idolized, and it seemed one of her fervent missions in life was to teach me to be a lady. To that end, she took me monthly to Younker's Tea Room, and a shopping trip followed; those trips yielded not only the items I mentioned above, but also afforded me time to study this woman who fascinated me so. She was not biologically my grandma, which made her story all that much more amazing; my mother had died, and Grandma was the mother-in-law of my sister, who was 20 years my senior. The task of raising 4-year-old me had fallen to my sister, so Grandma inherited me by default. She often told me how fortunate she was that I was part of her family, but I was the lucky one.

Grandma was chiffon and decolletage, even in daytime; she dusted her cleavage with clouds of white powder, and her signature scent, Tabu, followed her wherever she walked. She was lipstick and stockings and heels; she was Scrabble and Reader's Digest Condensed Books and pastries and poetry.

I was a chubby girl with a pixie haircut that made my head resemble a nest on my shoulders; I had perpetually chapped lips, impetigo on my elbows, a stutter, and shoes that wouldn't stay tied. To be in Grandma's orbit, though, allowed me to dream that one day Cinderella's mice would come, drape me in velvet, touch me with stardust and turn me into a miniature version of this woman I so admired.

As we walked through Younker's -- or, as Grandma called it, Younker Brothers -- we would talk. Not about typical childhood things; she didn't care about the names of my friends or what I played on the playground. We would talk about my schoolwork ("Of course you're doing well; you're probably smarter than your teacher," she'd tell me), about what I was reading (chapter books at age 5, thanks to her influence), and what I wanted to be when I grew up. She had been a teacher until her marriage, and even when I was small, she would urge me to follow my dreams, not someone else's; "Someday you'll grow up and meet a boy," she'd tell me. "But by that time you'll have written a book and will be famous, so he'll just have to follow you around and do what you tell him."

The elevator operator knew her name. This fact never ceased to amaze me, and it diverted me from the fact that we usually were taking his elevator to the chubby-girl clothing section (I'm not being facetious; it was really called that, sadly). Grandma would pick out beautiful clothes for me, and it didn't matter one bit that I was allergic to the wool jumpers she preferred, or that the lace collars she loved would made my neck and chin break out. She thought I was beautiful in them, so maybe, just maybe, I would think, I really will be pretty one day.

Something else magical often happened on those shopping trips; Grandma would talk about my mom, of whom I had no memory. "Your mommy would bring Teresa here for dresses," she would say as we walked through the section filled with, as she called them, "formals." Or: "When you were a tiny baby, Nana and I came here for presents for your layette, and after you were born, we came to see you and you had such beautiful legs and feet, and you could even point your toes."

I can hear her voice as I write those words, and I can see and smell the parts of the store in which we were walking as she said them; the perfume counter to the right, and the purses (or "pocketbooks," in her vernacular) straight ahead, the book section in a little nook off the stairs, the toys right next to that, and the mysterious French Room, Grandma's favorite, just off the elevator on the fourth floor. I can hear the click of her heels and the beige of her stockings; I see her tweed suit and her hat, and the way she would purse her lips as she surveyed the quality of an item.

Younker's meant different things to me later; as a new reporter, I shopped there on my lunch break for the "power suits" and stockings we still wore in 1985; a few years later, giddily pregnant with my first child, I bought tent-type maternity dresses with giant collars, and pants with giant stretch panels in the front. I bought baby and toddler clothes there; I purchased my kids' First Communion apparel in the store's basement. And one of the last items I purchased there, just before the store closed, was a nightgown for Grandma, just before she went to the hospital for the last time.

I have friends who worked at Younkers; I know people who hosted bridal showers and wedding receptions in the Tea Room. In this city, if you're around my age or older, the store is part of your history. And if you've watched it burn today, you have your own empty place inside, and it will be yours alone, and up to you to define it.

For me, for just a little while, as the building was falling, my grandma came back. In my mind's eye today, she is walking in front of me, and the elevator is chiming, and we're making our way to Fine Furs. "You need to keep your voice down today and stay right here with me; you're in the nicest store in the whole city, Lisa, and you need to be on your best behavior," she says. I know I'll obey; I'm pretty sure a visit to the Tea Room is in my future, and I can already taste the rarebit sauce.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

#LoveYourSelfie: Why I Tweeted My Naked Face to the Today Show



This week, the Today Show kicked off a segment called “Love Your Selfie.” The point: Even though “selfies” are ubiquitous – even the president and the Pope have been caught snapping them in the last year – most of us dislike the way we look in photographs … to the point, even, of being extremely, even cruelly, critical of ourselves.

So the Today Show hosts kicked off the promotion yesterday by taking off their makeup –- a pretty brave thing, especially under stage lights –- and talking about what they like and dislike about their appearances. I know they’re famous and all, but their words were sort of poignant; Al Roker spoke of his well-known weight battles. Savannah Guthrie said she had spent most of her life hating being taller than everyone else. And Natalie Morales acknowledged the way giving birth had altered her body.

At the end of the segment, the hosts invited viewers to take makeup-less selfies of themselves, then tweet the photos using the hashtag #LoveYourSelfie. Thousands of people did, and I was one of them.

But not before I almost had a heart attack, figuratively speaking. You see, my selfie horrified me so much that I almost didn’t tweet it. But then I realized that my feelings were, in fact, the point of the segment, and I took a deep breath and sent the photo.

And all of a sudden, I was back in sixth grade with glasses, braces and bad skin. I felt embarrassed about foisting my naked, 51-year-old face on the unsuspecting masses, and I almost felt as if I were going to cry.

And then I felt very un-evolved, and almost ashamed. And I forced myself to think back to where and how those feelings took root.

In my family of origin, looks were downplayed. Of course we always looked appropriate and presentable, and at times -– usually during growth spurts and after visits to the dermatologist -– I actually looked sort of cute. But the message was always loud and clear: Don’t worry about being attractive. Just be smart.

That I could handle, little spelling champ that I was; I loved books and was at home in the solitude they provided. So I focused on being smart … but I also yearned so badly to be pretty and popular, to feather my hair like Olivia Newton John’s and to be noticed by a boy. Any boy, but preferably one taller than I was.

So while my head was in my books, my eyes were glancing sideways at my middle-school classmates … at Monica with her golden hair and Mary with her effortless athletic grace, at Julie with her blemish-free toffee-colored skin and knee socks that stayed up perfectly. None of them had muffin-tops or breasts that had appeared too early; none of them sported hips or angry patches of eczema on their elbows.

I continued to look around, then turned my critical gaze inward. As a result, despite the healthy messages I was receiving from the adults in my life, I told myself I was a freak, and I began to hate my looks, my body, and, to some degree, myself.

And as the years wore on, that self-hate manifested itself in a lot of ugly ways: After a breakup with a truly nice boy in high school, I set my sights on a series of inappropriate guys who initially made me feel good about myself, then eventually reaffirmed my self-loathing. With notable exceptions (my husbands somehow being two of them, thankfully), that pattern repeated until the years between my two marriages, when a truly damaging relationship finally awakened me to what I was doing to myself.

Things didn’t turn around immediately; I worked hard to focus on the good in my life, most notably my children, my extended family, and my work. And gradually, as I matured, I began to wonder why on Earth I had been so hard on myself, and why I had so often been willing to settle for so little. Without getting too philosophical, I have a perfectionistic, overachieving personality, and I had never felt my looks measured up to my expectations of them. I come from a long line of tiny, pretty women. I was the square peg, and that hurt.

It's all about self-esteem, for all of us. Always has been; always will be.

A year ago next month, I somehow found the time to be right for shaking off all those destructive feelings. I wish I could tie the moment to something big, but I can’t. It was a Friday morning in March, and I knew I was ready to make a change. It was that simple.

And here I am 11 months later and 65 pounds lighter, with legs strong from miles and miles of running and the beginnings of muscles in my upper arms. As I shed the layers, I shed the feelings that had kept me wrapped in those layers. And now, most days, I feel confident and capable. But at other times, that sixth-grade girl will reappear, as she did after I took the selfie you see at the top of this page.

“You look old and drawn and ugly,” that girl told me before I sent the photo. “People will see that and say, ‘Yeah, she’s lost weight, but she’s ruined her looks.’ You’re going to be ridiculed and embarrassed. Retract the photo.”

But I didn’t, and I won’t. I’ve lived for 51 years, nine more than my mother was allowed. And with a few notable exceptions, I’ve made the most of that time. My experiences have grayed my hair, loosened and sagged my skin, and left blemish marks on my forehead; I have a surgical scar on my neck and a gap in the back of my mouth that’s waiting for a bridge or implant. My natural complexion is rather sallow; I don’t have long eyelashes anymore, and I plucked my eyebrows too thin long ago and now they don’t match.

But that’s all OK. Here I am; take a good look. This is what a naked-faced 51 looks like. With any luck, I’ll be given nine more years, or even 19 or 29 or 39. And I like to think if I’m given that time, I’ll navigate it with aplomb, because being smart has, in fact, given me the tools to like myself, inside and outside.

Are you used to wearing makeup? Take it off and really look at yourself. Then tweet your beautiful, naked face to #LoveYourSelfie. I’m not sure why, but I’m glad I did.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Coming into the light: I'm a binge-eater. How about you?






So last night, I was lamenting to Kevin that I had eaten an entire (huge) bowl of popcorn earlier in the day. Yes, it was air-popped, I told him … but still, I certainly hadn’t needed the entire bowl.

“So next time, don’t eat the whole bowl,” he responded. “Just eat a little bit.”

Oh, OK, Kev! Thanks! Why didn’t I think of that?

Sigh.

Last year, I lost 65 pounds. Since November, I’ve been working on maintaining my new weight. According to the scale, all is well. But this process is difficult.

Food and I have a relationship fraught with unease. I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life, dating back to fifth grade, when I weighed in at 140 pounds (my current “small” weight, oddly enough) and my pediatrician encouraged me to stop eating Hostess Suzi’Qs and get more exercise (what!?). As much as I wanted to be smaller, I wasn’t willing to do the work, and with few exceptions (growth spurts, mostly), I remained heavier than most.

I tended to carry my weight pretty well, so few people guessed I was as heavy as I was, but when I showed up at Weight Watchers last March, I tipped the scales at 206.4 pounds on a 5’4” frame. I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and I was facing the prospect of my third joint replacement. (My family has small bones, and mine – and my joints, surely – were struggling to carry all that poundage.)

So I put my nose to the grindstone and lost the weight; I’m competitive, so losing it really wasn’t hard. The goal was to see the number decrease every week, and if you give me a goal, I’ll reach it; I ate healthy food, exercised, and relied on the support of my Weight Watchers group and leader and my family, and the weight fell off. I’m not kidding; it was really that easy. I was ready. I was 50 years old and was happy to be 50, but I wasn’t willing to be 50, matronly and invisible. So I made a change, and for a while, I was on top of the world.

But now … now is just really hard.

You’d think it wouldn’t be. I’ve gone from a size 16-18 to an 8-10; I’ve never been this fit, at least not since I can remember. I run at least 21 miles a week. I have leg muscles. I lift weights. I feel great.  I’ve changed the way I look at many foods; healthy foods fuel me and allow me to do what I want and need to do.

Mostly.

Food also calls to me from the pantry. The Oreos call most often, followed by the Jif peanut butter. I’m not the only person who lives in my house, so all our food is not “clean”; my husband and stepson shouldn’t have to get rid of their treats simply because the foods are problematic for me. And truly, they weren’t a problem while I was losing the weight. But now, at my goal, as a “Lifetime” Weight Watchers member, I have to fight the urge to stand in the pantry and stuff cookies in my mouth.

What the heck?

If there’s one thing I believe about weight loss and weight control, it’s that we have to change our behaviors around food; to do that, we have to understand why we eat the way we do. Like many people, I eat for comfort, and I eat out of boredom. When I’m happy, I want to eat; when I’m sad, I want to eat more. And I want sugar, and I want carbs; I want soft, sweet deliciousness.

I could get overly philosophical about this; I lost my mom when I was 4, so maybe I’m trying to fill a hole. Maybe I’m eating to ease pain and regret from a failed first marriage and its aftermath, or maybe I’m trying to avoid dealing with the fact even though I’m quite a ways into midlife, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.

But, whatever. Just whatever. We all have pain; we all have regrets and problems and gaping emotional holes. I don’t believe in crutches; we live what we live, we experience what we experience, and it’s up to us to learn and move on.

My underlying issue is this: For whatever reason, I feel a degree of shame around eating; I see “bad” food and become that fifth-grade girl who wants to eat it, but knows she shouldn’t because she wants to be cute and tiny like her friends. So I have to fight the demon-on-my-shoulder thought process that tells me, “If no one sees you eat it, or if you eat it really, really fast, it doesn’t count.” 

Ergo, I’m hiding in the pantry eating cookies, or I’m shoveling popcorn in my mouth at warp speed. Fortunately, I’ve never been anorexic or bulimic, but I get why some people are; I binge, but I don’t purge; I just allow my food issues to make me feel guilty and awful for a while.

“This chick needs therapy,” you’re saying. Truly, I love therapy, and I think we all need to take advantage of opportunities to work out the kinks. But I’ve been there, done that, and I know what I need to do. So I’m writing about it, because that helps me. I’m also learning to help others lose weight in the form of training to be a Weight Watchers leader; although I’m not “cured,” no one is, and I’m pretty good at finding the compassion for others that I wish I could show myself. Helping people who are trying to lose weight also helps me eat less and view good, “clean” foods more positively.

My personality is obsessive but not addictive; I’ve never dealt with alcohol or drug dependency. But like people who are addicted to those substances, I subscribe to a “one day at a time” philosophy. I can’t tell you I won’t eat an Oreo today, but I can tell you I’ll run at least 3.5 miles, do at least three sets of weights, drink a gallon of water, and try my darnedest to eat foods that are good for me. Unlike many people, I can’t eat just one cookie or one piece of pizza; I wish I could, but it’s not in my makeup.  So I use the tools I’ve been given in the last year to work around my cravings.

“I’m a work in progress” is a overused phrase, but it resonates with me. What also resonates is this: the need to love myself as much as I love so many other people, as cheesy as that sounds. It’s hard, but I’ll get there. In the meantime, if you find me in the pantry every now and again, pull me out, into the light. That’s what I’m trying to do here … maybe bring someone else into the light, and tell her it’s OK to struggle this way. If that’s you, I’d love to hear how you’ve made positive changes.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Not sure how this happened, but I don't have any friends.



So it struck me the other day that I don’t have any friends.

OK, that’s a little melodramatic, I guess. But I can say quite honestly that compared with my life a few years ago, my life now is decidedly quieter, and I’m missing the people who once made it so rich.

My sister, a therapist, says for most of us, the majority of friends tend to be situational: Our friends are the people with whom we go to school, or with whom we work. Later, they’re the people whose kids go to school or are on sports teams with our kids.

That makes sense; we spend time with those people. We have common interests, and the friendships tend to last as long as we have those interests in common. And my kids are grown now, so my stage in life limits my options.

There are exceptions, of course. Before we reached an impasse a few months ago, I had a friend – a best friend, I guess you’d say – and our relationship had persisted through moves and job changes and family crises. But there had been issues, and I had swallowed my feelings about a few things, and finally I couldn’t swallow them anymore. After a very direct conversation, we mutually agreed, without saying as much, to part ways. And as sad as that was, it was a healthy decision that needed to be made.

There are a few others exceptions: a couple of women who live in other cities, one with whom I’ve been friends since high school, and another who has been a loyal friend since my days as a lowly newspaper intern. I know each of them would offer me comfort and support at a moment’s notice, but it’s not as if I can call either of them up and suggest a trip to the mall. And I do have a long-time friend who doesn’t live far away, but is busy and prefers to spend her free time with her husband.

I know I’m not the only person in this situation. By this point in life, most of us have collected an assortment of acquaintances; like many others, I can’t go to the store without running into several people I know. But would I call any of those people to share a problem or a joy? Nope. We say, “We should get together sometime,” but we know that probably won’t happen.

And I love my social-media friends; that’s a whole other category, because when I’m on Facebook, I feel the warmth and support of real friendships. The problem is: Many of them, again, aren’t local. And others are people I’d like to be “real” friends with, but I can’t just inject myself into their lives.

What is this phenomenon? As my sister says, it’s probably situational. But I think there might be something else at work.

My life looks like this: I work full-time and freelance on the side. Within a couple of months, I’m going to start leading a Weight Watchers meeting every week. I have a husband, two grown children, three grown stepchildren and a teenage stepson, and an adorable 2-year-old step-granddaughter. I have an extended family and a dog. I work out, I travel a little for work, and I try to stay on top of a bunch of reading (and often fail miserably).

So at the end of the day, I’m tired. Face it: I’m not 20. I spent years and years working at one job all day, then going to cover meetings and write stories for another, so I’m happy to go home after work. I’m also not much of a partier; this tends to limit me socially, as so many activities seem to revolve around drinking. (To be clear: This isn’t a judgment call; I just don’t enjoy the taste of alcohol or the way it makes me feel.)

And I think many of us are in the same boat. Our lives are full, and we’re tired. On a Friday night, going to bed early can sound a whole lot more appealing than going out for a beer. So our social lives take a back seat, and our relationships with people outside of our families suffer.

There’s also something else that’s a little harder to address: Many of us, when we get to a certain point in life, have fully formed our ideas about the world we live in; we’re not on the fence about politics or religion or social issues, and we’re not shy about sharing our opinions. True friendships can be difficult with people who have strong opinions that directly oppose ours. Those relationships are not impossible, and I don’t for a minute think everyone should believe the way I do. But friendships shouldn’t be fraught with arguments about ideals we hold dear; it’s just too hard.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m unbelievably fortunate, and I count my blessings daily. My adult children seem to enjoy spending time with me, and I treasure those relationships above all others. I’m married to a wonderful man who makes me laugh; he’s my age and works hard and also feels tired much of the time, so he’s fine with staying home. And as I’ve focused on my health the past year, I’ve met some wonderful new people with whom I’m spending a little time each week. Those budding friendships give me hope, as does a new friendship with a woman at work.

But I feel a pang as I watch my daughter live her life and I see how dear her female friends are to her, especially as she begins to plan her wedding. And I think back to the first time I was married; I had seven bridesmaids because I couldn’t possibly have excluded any of the important women in my life.

And I look around now, and those relationships – and those voices, and that laughter – are just not here anymore.  And while my life is by no means empty, there’s a void.

I know and believe the saying, “To have a friend, be a friend.” I know friendships don’t just happen, and I know I haven’t worked on them. So the onus is on me to change things. But have I forgotten how? It’s not as if I can just show up on someone’s doorstep with my Barbies or “Mystery Date” game.

Be warned, then: If you know me well enough to say “hi” to me in the grocery store, I may call you up and ask you do go to the mall. If you humor me and go, I promise not to write any more whiny blog posts.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Donny, Tony, Duran Duran ... and James Spader? Teen fantasies still serve a purpose.


When I was growing up in the ‘70s, I, like most girls my age, had a collection of posters. In fact, I had an entire wall that was surfaced in cork so I could poke thumbtacks to my heart’s content and not worry about harming the perfect robin’s-egg-blue paint that adorned my walls.

As I recall, I hung giant pictures of Donny Osmond, David Cassidy and Tony DeFranco; a poster of Peter Frampton featured the questionable song title “I’m In You” printed above his shaggy blond head, and that one resided just above my headboard. Later on, in college, I used my half of the dorm room to pay homage to Duran Duran – fragile-looking little guitarist Nick Rhodes was my favorite – and Robert Smith of the Cure. And when I had my own apartment, I hung a giant Howard Jones poster on the back of my door, and tried in vain to find a comparable representation of the guys from Tears for Fears.

Unfortunately, I got rid of those posters as my tastes changed; what I wouldn’t give now to have that mint-condition likeness of Donny, leaning against a building in a groovy outfit that included purple socks and a jaunty beret to match. But the posters long ago settled at the bottom of some long-forgotten landfill, and I’m left wondering if it’s appropriate for a woman of my age to once again affix cork squares to a wall so I can indulge my fangirl passions.

What I’m getting at, really is this: I want a poster of James Spader.

Not the James Spader of my formative years, the one who played Steph in “Pretty in Pink” and the creepiest guy in “Less Than Zero.” I want a poster of the bald James Spader as he appears in The Blacklist – wearing a fedora, and looking a little puffy and world-weary from having to kill bad guys all the time to protect maybe-his-daughter-maybe-not Lizzy from the likes of international terrorists and her own husband.

What does this mean? I’m not sure. I’m happily married and not delusional, so I haven’t set my sights on James Spader as I’d set them on Tony DeFranco in junior high (hey, he’s Italian, I’m Italian; our families would have approved); most people my age stopped being “cute” a long time ago, so, fedora aside, the guy  looks like the branch manager of your bank.

But then again, for most of us, as we age, our tastes keep up; while I don’t see Justin Bieber as attractive, there’s something in the balding Spader that takes me back and makes me feel … well, not so old. My husband looks at his celebrity crush, Meg Ryan, and doesn’t see that her plastic surgery made her look like Batman’s Joker; he sees Annie from Sleepless in Seattle and probably thinks back to a hopeful time when the possibility of finding a perfect romance with a virtual stranger seemed entirely plausible. I look at the 53-year-old Spader and see myself as 20 and wearing pearls and a sorority pin, giggling as I made drunken snow angels in the middle of a blizzard.

I’m wondering if looking at a poster of Spader might cause me to take an even longer trip in the Wayback Machine; to pretend I’m Demi Moore and sneak cigarettes with the hope of making my voice deep and husky, and to watch “About Last Night” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” while taking notes on how to make a spiral perm look just-so. I wonder if I’d deconstruct “Pretty In Pink” and "The Breakfast Club" as I did in the old days, knowing I should prefer the jock but really did have a hankering for troubled, slightly grimy Judd Nelson.

I’m expecting too much of a poster, but I’m wondering if it might transform me, even for a little while, to a time when I dressed like Madonna (“Borderline”-era Madonna, not “Like a Virgin” Madonna) and really, truly thought Rolling Stone would swoop me up and send me on the road to write about Billy Idol or the Bangles. I wonder if it might take me back to a time when I thought I’d leave some sort of professional legacy.

A saying I like to repeat warns us all that while others might not remember the things we say or do, they’ll remember the way we make them feel. My posters, my silly celebrity crushes, made me feel – as warped as this sounds – as if anything was possible. Not only could I meet Robert Smith, but the rest of the world was also waiting for me and my fingerless lace gloves and my typewriter and my pithy, witty words.

Thirty years later, I don’t see the world the same way; I love the life I created for myself, but I’m also sad for what could have been, had I been a little braver. “Why haven’t you ever written a book?” a friend asked me yesterday. My real answer: Because I've been afraid. Somewhere along the line, I stepped inside a corporate box and stopped thinking I could be anywhere else.

But into the night, late, I wonder sometimes: Does that have to be true? They say 50 is the new 40 or 30 or something …. could there be a second act out there for those of us who took down our posters a long time ago and began collecting crock-pot recipes?

After running some 5Ks in the fall, I created a small bulletin board in our kitchen. Onto it, I pinned my race bibs, a couple of political buttons and bumper stickers, some quotes I found meaningful, and the receipt from my first pair of real running shoes. When I look at it, I almost see … I don’t know … possibility. Promise. Something that takes me back, but also might move me forward.

I still can’t quite explain why this would be, but if the board were bigger enough, a poster of James Spader might look pretty good, right smack in the center. And he’d tip his fedora, and who knows? Maybe I might find the courage to think back to that girl with the fingerless gloves, and wonder if she still might be able to shake things up a little.