“Turning Off the Boxes”

In the coming year, I’m resolving to turn off my “boxes” – computer, TV, cell phone – a little more often.  Instead, I’m going to use that time to focus on connecting with a real, live person, whether that person is myself or someone else.  IMAG0393[2]

I confess that I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with computers.  Back in college, I remember taking a computer-based math course, and after only a few weeks of the course, I remember wishing for a tutor to save me from being completely overwhelmed.  I protested the existence of computers altogether because I thought they would destroy our creativity and social skills.  A few decades later, having seen how computers have been instrumental in enabling me to become a writer and to be successful in business, I have to admit that I owe a lot to the “boxes” I’ve worked with over the years.  But I can’t say that my initial reaction was entirely off the mark, either.

Computers do help us become more creative – and to tap that creativity in new and different and magnificent ways – but sometimes we forget that ideas start with a human being.  After all, what good is an Excel spreadsheet filled with numbers if you don’t know what those numbers mean?  And if we’re being honest, surely all of us must admit that we’ve taken to talking less since the advent of the cell phone.  Yes, we text, we email, we speak over the phone, but how often do we seek each other out for face-to-face connection like we did before these “boxes” became such a big part of our lives?

The problem with all of this digital “talk” is that there’s no real depth. I’ve noticed that on all these online dating sites, when I talk to people and they ask how my day was, if I go beyond, “Good,” they lose interest.  I worry that technology has made us lazy, and this laziness has carried over into the realm of our social communication.  We’re all become accustomed to instant gratification and speed and anything that will make our lives easier.  As a result, we’re not willing to put in the time to really listen and connect. Is a “smiley” emoticon really an acceptable substitute for a smile?

For me, it’s an essential truth that nothing takes away from the real.  Touching, feeling, being a part of three dimensions – there’s nothing like it.  Our boxes certainly make us more productive, but they’re also isolating us from each other. When you’re sad and having a bad day, it’s hard to curl up in bed with some great e-mails from your friends. Sometimes you just need real intimacy, and for that you need a person.

For that reason, a little while ago, I started turning off my boxes.  On one occasion I turned off the television for a day.  Then I turned off my computer for a day. It’s interesting what happens when you turn these things off and you have to amuse yourself instead.  You get creative.  You read a book or cook a new meal or simply spend some time outside.  You seek out other people, whether that’s calling your mom or meeting up with an old friend for lunch.  I found that when I turned off my boxes, that time became a gift.

I want to encourage everyone to give themselves this same little gift.  Every day, even if just for an hour, turn off your boxes. Just like a diet, it may be hard to stick to at first, but if you make it “a must,” I promise that eventually you’ll start really enjoying it.  You’ll become more selective about how you spend your time, and as a result you’ll use it more productively and focus more on the things that truly make you happy.  It’s very empowering to realize that you know what to do with yourself if and when the boxes go away.

We all need to devote a little time to ourselves, to doing something different and growing and discovering.  And when we do this, we find that we’re more open to other people as well.  We realize that we’ve been missing out on a lot of information, and all of a sudden we remember how to communicate, and how to let others in.

This year, let’s all stop hiding behind our little square boxes, whether it’s the computer or the television or something else.  Instead, let’s rebuild the foundations of our lives by seeking out more human contact, by getting emotionally involved and being open to deeper communication. There’s no substitute for a real experience, and no connection that can’t be enhanced by taking out the electronic middleman.  Let’s turn off the boxes and make better use of our time, together.

“Minute By Minute”

I painted my kitchen. It’s still gray, but it’s a different shade of gray.  It may not have been a huge change, but it took me a long time to work up to this.  My house needs repainting, but to paint the rest of the house will mean I have to get rid of things, and what I have to get rid of all the things that belonged to my husband before he passed.  I wasn’t quite ready to do that, but after I finished painting the kitchen, I felt cleansed.  It made me feel different and made me smile, and suddenly I was ready to start painting the rest of my house.  I love my husband, but I realized it’s time for him to move out.

Change is really difficult.  And scary. Moving my husband’s things out is very frightening.  I still live at the same address and I haven’t changed the apartment since he died, because I think somewhere inside I know that if I change our home, it will be permanent.  He will really be gone, and it will just be me and this new life that I’m living on my own, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that change.

Before I started painting, my house felt safe.  It was familiar and I could live the same way for years and years, and Sid would still be around me through his things.  But I’d also never grow, never move on, never life my life the way he would want me to live it.  I realized I had to take that leap, make the next step.  And so I started with the kitchen.

Was it easy? No. Does changing my apartment make me nervous?  Yes.  Is it sad?  Absolutely.  It’s not easy to box away good things, like what I had with Sid.  It may be even harder to box away the bad things.  But I guess the best way of looking at change is that at one time or another, whether it’s physically or emotionally, you’re going to need to box things up and seal them away. Those things will always be there, and you need to deal with that fact, but they do not need to be by your side as you move forward.  Change is when we stop letting our baggage move with us.  And we need to do this, because otherwise we can’t feel free and we aren’t able to enjoy the possibilities.  So we need to put our old things in boxes and store them in an appropriate place that allows us to move forward unencumbered.

Change is hard. Taking care of yourself and living life should be your top priority, but sometimes you can only deal with doing one thing at a time, minute-by-minute. After I lost Sid, I needed to live each minute on its own.  I had obligations, but I couldn’t look a week ahead and imagine doing them. So I started with ten minutes. I gave myself ten minutes a day to just go outside and breathe the air and let myself feel good.  Then my walks turned into 30 minutes, then an hour, and then one day I woke up to find that I was excited.  And I’ve just been working on it from there.

So Sid’s stuff is moving to storage.  I think storage is a good place for those boxes, because I know there might come a time when I just need a moment to be amongst his things, to sit there and feel comfortable because I’m in a place that’s familiar.  I made the arrangements and all I have to do now is take the boxes out of the closets and stack them up and someone’s going to come and store them away.  Then I get to start fresh.

Change is always a work in progress, and it’s always hard.  The scariest part is knowing that I can’t go back.  Change only works in one direction, and I can’t change what’s in the past, can’t undo what’s already done.  I can only look forward to the future.

“Celebrating the Holidays in Your Heart”

My first Christmas, I came home with a 14-foot live tree hitched to the top of my Chevy Blazer. Having grown up Jewish, I wasn’t quite sure how to properly string the lights on the tree, so I left that for my Presbyterian husband to do.  Instead, I concentrated on very meticulously hanging an ornament from each bough, and it wasn’t until my husband came home that I learned you’re supposed to put the lights on first.  Whoops.  So to all of you Jews out there celebrating your first Christmas, listen up: lights before ornaments.  That’s Christmas 101.

The holiday season is a very special time of year for me, albeit a busy time.  I ease myself into it each year with Thanksgiving, and then I prepare for the onslaught: my son’s birthday on December 14th, followed by Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years, then finally capping it off with my daughter’s birthday in early January.  Each year I find myself talking about the holidays with all of my friends pretty much incessantly until it’s over – what are you doing, where are you going, who are you spending it with, what are you eating, what gifts are you buying, and so on and so forth.  And all the while I have a smile plastered on my face, since I love this time of year.

It wasn’t always that way, though.  In reality, the holiday season can be a stressful period, and it’s not made any less stressful by the fact that we each feel like a failure if the holidays in our family don’t look a Norman Rockwell painting.  I spent many Christmases being very sad – when my family was going through a dysfunctional period, when I was divorced and alone for the first time, when a loved one had passed away.  That’s hard.  When you’re alone – or when you feel alone, even if you’re surrounded by people – the holidays are difficult.  I remember the year after my husband left me, all of a sudden I’m on my own and trying to make Christmas special for my kids, which is hard enough to do being Jewish and even harder considering that I had no money.  I was on the edge of despair, trudging through the snow one day, and I dropped my glove.  I looked down and was astounded to discover three crisp $100 bills lying right there in the snow. Knowing how much I would miss that money if I had been the one who dropped it, I tried to find the owner but there was no one around.  Eventually I just looked up and said, “Thank you.”  That money changed my entire world that holiday.

Despite my Christmas miracle, that was actually the last year I bought a tree.  At the end of that Christmas, my kids told me that they didn’t need such an extravagant holiday anymore.  They wanted me to be who I was, even if that meant no Christmas.  And their acceptance and love was one of the best gifts I have ever received.

When things get stressful this holiday, it’s important to remember that you create your own holiday spirit.  Leave the anxiety and the baggage outside the door and let go of your expectations of what a holiday is “supposed” to be.  Understand that the best gifts cost absolutely no money.  Instead, it’s the little things we do for one another that are the greatest gifts.  The emotional side of the holidays is truly priceless, so concentrate on being festive by being generous with your time and attention and love, instead of with your wallet.

When the clock strikes 2012, it will mark a new beginning for all of us.  We should be proud of who we are and should celebrate by remembering the people we love and the people we work with and the people that make our day-to-day lives better.  Let’s support the people who are there for us in our communities and show our appreciation for the little things they do for us.  Let’s all smile and believe that the happiness we see on all those Christmas shows is achievable and that we are deserving of it. And most importantly, let’s all remember that the holiday season is not about the gifts; it’s about the heart that gives them.

“Small Town New York”

My hood

My small town

I live in a very small town.  Just like everyone else who lives in a small town, I wave to my neighbors on the street, I know the owners of the shops I frequent, and I’m up on the gossip about who’s getting married and who’s done what since high school and who’s newly single.  I meet my friends for tennis in the park and bring my dog for walks. Overall, it’s a very safe and happy little town. The only difference is that my small town happens to be located in the center of one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world.  Welcome to New York’s Upper West Side.

View from my deck - roof top deck....

View from my deck

New York can be overwhelming.  But before you say, “Not for me,” you have to remember that I’m a girl from the country.  My dream was a 3,000-plus square foot house with a three-car garage and two acres of property.  Living in an apartment is never where I thought my life would go.  I love gardening, I love to grill, and I love to walk in big open spaces. To live in New York City, I had to learn to look at this city a little differently, to see my neighborhood – or more specifically, the 8-block radius around my house – as my own small town. And as soon as I learned to do that, all of a sudden I felt comfortable and at home.

Just like a suburban neighborhood, my apartment building has subdivisions.  They’re just vertical instead of horizontal. And just like I would wave “Hi!” to my neighbors from the car, now I say “Hi!” in the elevator.  I have a mall with all my favorite stores, but their storefronts are on a street instead of in a building.  I have beautiful parks and some fabulous grocery stores and great local restaurants, only now I walk to them instead of drive.  I hang out regularly with a group at the local bar.  I go to poetry readings and sometimes even brave “open mic night” with my latest blog entry.  I go for sushi with my best buddy and take walks and do those everyday things that small town people do — even though I live in New York, one of the biggest cities in the world.

Lincoln Center

 

Central Park

Central Park on my way to Mid Town

 

 

 

66th Subway Station

 

 

 

After getting lost on the subway or paying too much for dinner downtown, people get discouraged about New York, and then they give up.  But like anything else, New York is open to you as long as you give it an honest opportunity.  Doing the same things and living the same life is comfortable and safe, but it’s also boring.  If you live in the same home and work the same job and visit the same friends and go the same places and you’re unhappy, nothing is going to improve until you change.  New York, for me, was a great way to get out of a rut, and has proven time and again to be a great place to keep me from getting into a rut.  Yes, a city this size can be intimidating, but it’s all about perspective.  If you set the expectation that you’re going to start by learning your own neighborhood – your own small town within this vast city – you’ll soon see that it’s just like living anywhere else.

TRACT 187 CULTURE CLATCH Poetry readings

That’s not to say that New York doesn’t have its own special perks.  You can get practically anything you want at any time, even if it’s an ice cream sundae delivered to your door at 3 o’clock in the morning.  (This is especially fun if you’re hosting a sleepover for your kids.)  Where else can you walk eight blocks and find everything you need, from the everyday basics (grocery store, cleaners, pet store) to the delightful (theater, concerts, and world-class museums)?  And did I mention that I regularly walk my dog alongside legendary rock stars and Oscar winning actors?

I love New York, but when other New Yorkers ask me where I’m from, I inevitably mutter some version of, “Oh, I’m not from here.”  Over the years, however, I’ve noticed that they always reply the same thing: “I’m not from here, either.”  In reality, it doesn’t matter that very few of us were actually born here. What matters is that this is our home now, that this is where our families are and where our hearts belong.  New York is our small town, but it’s also much more than that.  New York is our new beginning.

 

 

 

 

 


“A Thanks to Those Who Came Before”

I’d like to take a few moments to say thank you to all the women who came before.  Thank you for standing up and teaching everyone that to be a woman is to be a multi-faceted human being.  Gloria, Betty, Margaret, Mary, Harriet, Patricia, Ruth… these women and many others beside them blazed a trail that has enabled all of us today to be anyone we want to be.  It took me many years to appreciate that, but I now know – unequivocally – that the things these women fought for have made me the woman I am today.

Growing up, I truly didn’t understand how feminism impacted me or the women I knew.  In fact, I’ll admit that I didn’t like feminists and actually went out of my way not to be associated with them.  I thought the women’s liberation movement was too masculine.  I thought they focused on things that weren’t relevant to me or my life.  But I thought wrong.

In my small town outside of Toronto, women would get married and we’d stay home and have kids and we could generally expect to be well supported by our husbands.  In my family in particular, women had the freedom to do anything they wanted.  My female relatives were all well-rounded, educated, active, and seemingly fulfilled.  So I didn’t understand what women’s lib was trying to change.  Everything seemed just fine to me.  What I didn’t realize until I was a broke single mother fighting for child support was that the reason women where I came from could do anything they wanted was because they were financially secure. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, the experience of a working woman was worlds away from where it is today and worlds away as well from the experience of all the women I knew.  To be financially independent as a woman is everything.  But where I grew up, these things never crossed your mind, and so I just didn’t get it.  I thought women’s liberation wasn’t for me.

I was very lucky in that my mother and father taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be. But they also stressed that being a mom was the most important job I could ever do, and doing it right would be crucial.  So I followed that path.  I got married and had two beautiful children, and to this day, I have to admit that I get more fulfillment and joy out of my children than anything else.  But after my first husband left me, I learned quickly that being a mom – especially a single mom – is about much more than changing diapers and making a nice meal each night.  It’s about making sure you have the resources to buy those diapers and get that food on the table.  For that, I needed a job.  And this is where Gloria made all the difference.

Unlike the women I grew up with, I no longer I had the luxury of a steady paycheck brought home by my husband each week.  I had to support myself and my family on my own, and once I got myself a job (which was much harder than it sounds), that job was everything.  I needed that paycheck, so no matter what happened, I had to stay at that job.  And my employers knew they had me, so they didn’t promote me, they didn’t give me a raise, and sometimes it seemed they didn’t even feel they needed to treat me with respect.  Despite this, I worked hard and gave it my best every day, because when you need your job, you do everything in your power to compete and stay ahead, because if you lose that job… well, it’s just not an option.

Over my lifetime, my experience as a working woman has changed immensely.  And much of that change – if not all – was due to the women who fought to put us on equal footing with men in the workplace. Looking back, I realized that these women raised me.  The words they wrote made me a better woman.  The policies they fought for made me a businesswoman.  Their experiences made me smarter in my own life.  And their passion made me able to survive in a world that forty years ago was very difficult for women, period.

These women made so much progress, but our job isn’t done yet.  It’s time for us to take the mantle and continue their fight. It’s so important for us to work together, to mend the rifts which have grown between us.  The career women and the housewives, the mothers and the childless, those who got married and those who didn’t – we are all women. And for any of us to succeed, we need to come together and complement each other and make each other’s lives easier instead of more difficult.  As Gloria and the others have shown us, women can achieve great things together. But before we can do that, we need to like ourselves and respect ourselves.  We need to own being a woman and be resilient against whatever the worlds throws at us.  And most importantly, we need to understand that who we are will trickle down to our daughters and the next generation.  We need to stop competing and move forward together.

Sometimes it seems like we’ve forgotten how to stand up.  Forty years ago, women stood up together, and we are where we are today as a direct result of their actions.  Now we know we can’t accept certain things, like being hit by a partner or harassed by a coworker.  Now we know we need education, to set the foundation for our careers and to fully develop ourselves as people.  And now we know we need support systems, both in our institutions and in our personal lives.  But we still have a long way to go.

And if we stand together for change, we have an opportunity to make things better for women and men alike.  I’m really excited about what’s happening with the protests on Wall Street right now because they’re taking a stand and they’re doing it well, with polite persistence instead of rioting and violence.  They make change look reasonable and welcome and right. So let’s go with them into this bright future – let’s stand together once more, as women, and demand that the world deliver on the vision spoken by Gloria, and by all of the others who came before.  And let’s thank those women for laying out that grand vision and paving the way for us all.

“Me and Monty”

My best friend’s name is Monty.  Monty and I spend a lot of time together – taking in the scenery in the park, shopping, talking about whatever is on our minds.  Monty has curly black hair much like my own, and we get along great despite our age difference (Monty is only 5 ½ years old, born on February 9th, 2006). In case you weren’t sure, Monty is a dog.

Monty is a classic New York City dog, which is very different from the country dogs I’m used to.  In the city, it’s not just about you and your dog.  Instead, it’s about your dog and the local community of dogs, none of whom much care about the surrounding community of people.  New York City dogs have friends and they have their own meeting places and hang outs.  They communicate to each other in their own ways.  Monty is a big gossip – he sniffs everything to always know who’s up to what, and he leaves his own little rumors on every tree, street sign, and fire hydrant we pass.  Monty’s favorite lunchtime spot is the pet store on the corner of 81st & Amsterdam, The Pet Health Store.  Every day during his lunch walk, he heads across 79th Street, up Broadway, and turns down 81st Street, where he knows he’ll find other animals to chat with and, of course, a hearty rub and a couple snacks from the staff.  His other favorite spot is Sephora, which is the best spot to flirt with all the girl dogs who are out shopping with their owners.  Some New York City dogs – like the one who lives with a little old lady in our building – even wear clothes.  But that was never Monty’s thing.

Only a few months old

Monty as a puppy...

From the second day we brought Monty home, we knew things were going to be different with this dog. Our previous dog, Snowman, was a beautiful golden retriever who lived 15 1/2 years in Westchester, and after Snowman came Edison, who was born in the suburbs but finished out his life as a snobby New York dog.  From the beginning, though, Monty was destined for the city.  As a two-pound Brussels Griffon puppy, he was even apartment-sized, and we welcomed him to our home in a pint-sized playpen with wee-wee pads.  We brought him home on a Sunday and on Monday morning he was greeted by a trainer who brought him to daycare.  This was Monty’s daily routine – eight hours of daycare, where he played with his friends and went for walks and even celebrated his birthday, and then his trainer dropped him off at home.  And despite the gaggle of humans who are always at his beck and call, when I walk in the door at night, he yells at me.  “Where have you been?  I’ve been here all by myself and you’re just coming back!”

Monty is actually my late husband Sid’s dog.  Sid picked him out, chose the breed.  A couple months after Edison passed away, Sid walked in one day and said, “Let’s get a dog.”  After walking dogs for twenty-some odd years, the first words out of my mouth were, “For me to be responsible for?  You’ve got to be kidding.”  No way, I thought.  But Sid said, “No, this would be for us.  It would be our ‘cute and adorable.’”  And with my children being 14 and 17 years old at the time – the age where they’re anything but cute and adorable – and Sid having wholeheartedly taken to these kids, even when sometimes I couldn’t believe they were mine, I just couldn’t say no.  So we went to a breeder in New Jersey and he picked out the dog.  And then a few years later, after the kids had moved out, Sid passed away and suddenly it was just me and Monty.

Monty all grown up

 

Monty’s very protective of me, in more ways than one.  He barks at most people, especially men, and even though he’s small, he makes me feel physically safe.  But more importantly, Monty is there for me emotionally.  After we lost Sid, Monty would lick the tears from my face and bring me a ball to distract me from my pain.  When I was too depressed to get out of bed, he forced me to be responsible, to make sure he got his walks four times a day and his food and his attention.  And in return, he made sure I saw the sun every day, made sure I smiled and that I was never alone.

A dog is all about positive energy.  Everybody feels sorry for themselves sometimes, but a dog won’t allow you to wallow.  If you’re by yourself, like I was, the best thing you can do is take care of something other than yourself.  It sounds silly, but when you have someone there that just wants you to smile, it’s hard not to. If you’ve ever had a dog, you’ll know it’s kind of like having a child.  You have to put them in the car and you have to take them wherever you go and you have to worry about them.  And no matter what, you’ve got to pay attention to them.  It’s a full-time commitment, and one that changes every aspect of your life.  But this responsibility and routine keeps you going, even through your darkest days.  And your dog rewards you by being unfailingly happy and showering you with love, and by showing you that you’re a part of team and a family.

If you need to find happiness and you want someone to share your life with, look no further than a dog.  A dog’s joy is so simple: the way he looks at you with his eyes, how he tilts his face to look up at you or puts his two paws down to rest his head on; the way he rolls onto his back and lies there with a big goofy grin on his face, just waiting to be rubbed.  There is no purer feeling of unconditional love than that you get from a dog.  I wish everybody would experience this. Dogs are a special addition to a family and they hold you together like glue.  They’re a common bond that moves freely amongst you, asking the same questions: feed me, pet me, love me.  And those basic things are some of the most special things in our lives.

Though he may not have known it at the time, I think Sid set me up to be okay.  Monty and I are doing all right.  And we’re doing it together.

Monty chilling at the "studio"

Studio Monty

“Becoming a Parent, Again”

I knew my kids had grown up the day I realized that they didn’t need me anymore, at least not in the same way they always had.  They were successful, vibrant, and happy, all on their own, and I was satisfied with the job I had done as a parent.  Then something funny happened. Not long after my kids stopped needing me, I was suddenly needed by my dad.

I recently returned home from a trip visiting my father in Florida.  We went to a bunch of stores to help him settle in at home and as we strolled the aisles gathering all the little things that piece together a life, I had the strongest feeling of déjà vu.  And then I realized that I had taken the same trip – to the same stores, buying the same things – when I dropped my kids off at college. It was a reversal.  In the span of just a few years, I’d gone from parenting my kids to parenting my parents. Suddenly, I had become the provider again, only this time to the people who had provided for me.

Learning to take care of a parent is an interesting balance.  There’s so much history there, and that history changes you.  It makes you who you are.  All of a sudden you have to put that history aside – all of the expectations, the misunderstandings, the hurt – to be a good child and do the right thing. And for some of us, that can really be a challenge and a surprise.

If you had told me when I was 21 that one day I would be in this role — taking care of my father — I would have said, “Never in a million years.”  When I was really young, my father was there for me.  He put the makeup on my birthmark as a child and was that larger-than-life figure that I could depend on.  And then when I was 14, he disappeared.  He was gone from my life until he stumbled back into it purely by accident when I was 33.  I was going through a divorce, and once again my father was there for me, a strong shoulder to lean on.

I’m really glad my dad came back into my life, but it wasn’t easy.  It took years and years of complicated steps, negotiating a role for him after he’d been gone so long.  It helped that we had a solid foundation, and that I had always believed in my heart that he was that great person I remembered from the very beginning of my life.  After he left, I had always taken my dad’s side, despite my resentment at his absence.  I wanted to look at things fairly and – maybe because I am more like him than I’d like to admit – I tried to understand why he left.  But that didn’t mean I wasn’t still angry at him inside, and that I didn’t still have questions all these years later.  It was hard bringing him back into my life, once again living up to his expectations.  But my experience with my father taught me a huge lesson about being a parent: what you put in is what you get out.

Kids are who they are. As much as you may work at trying to help them grow and improve, by the time they’re four, they just are who they are.  With your love and encouragement, they keep getting better and better.  The best thing that ever happened to my family was when we pulled together and started accepting each other for who we are. When you can accept who you are and feel good about yourself, your kids do too.  As a parent, you get to watch your children’s growth and development, and you grow with your children.  You grow together and beside each other, on parallel roads.  Sometimes you’re behind them pushing them forward, giving them the courage and the ability to go in a different direction, and sometimes you’re in front, leading by example.  When it comes to taking care of my father, it feels like I’m leading by example.

I’ve found that it’s mostly instinctive.  It’s all based on how you would want someone to treat you when that time comes.  You have to set an example.  Just like when my husband died, I had to set the example of how to handle tragedy, and how to overcome devastation.  I wanted my children to have the tools to be able to survive.  And nurturing loved ones – no matter what happened in the past – is a survival tool like any other.  It’s how you make peace.

Each time I visit my dad is different because we’ve never spent much time as just us.  Spending time one-on-one has allowed me to actually get to know my father in a different way than I ever had before.  It’s been difficult, but it’s also been fun.  It can be really hard dealing with someone who’s sick.  They say incredibly rotten things, things that you don’t really want to know about a person.  Problems – physical, mental, and emotional – crop up at every corner, so you really need to roll with the punches. When issues from the past come up, sometimes you have to let them go and focus on the present.  At this point, the “you did this, I did this, we did this,” probably isn’t productive.  We all know what happened.  Instead of experiencing the humiliation and the hurt all over again, sometimes it’s better to let it go, and release the negativity.  Sometimes it’s more powerful to say nothing at all.

When I visited my father recently, I did something different.  I left some clothes at my father’s place. I didn’t leave a lot of things there, but enough to let him know that I’ll be back.  It’s really frightening for him to be by himself, so I want him to know that he’s not alone.  He took care of me once, and now I will take care of him.  So am I going to go back?  Yes – for him and for me.

West Boca Radiation Oncology

 

My Dad and me

 

 

 

 

 

“Where Do I Go From 50? Finding the True You”

Reaching 50 is supposed to feel like freedom.  Your kids are grown, your career is on track, you’re planning your retirement, and you finally have the time to do what you always wanted.  So why is it that so many of us find ourselves at 50 feeling more confused and constrained than ever?

The funny thing about “freedom” is that having choices about how to spend our time puts pressure on us to make sure we’re spending our time well.  After all, we’re “over the hump” – every minute we have left is ticking down to the end, so we’d better make the most of it!  Right?  Wrong.  The problem with this way of thinking is that it takes all of the enjoyment out of life.  Instead of just doing the things we love and loving the simple pleasure of doing those things, we are stressing about whether we are enjoying these simple pleasures enough.  We wonder if we’re living up to the expectations of others, in the way we live and feel – and we stress about that too.  We worry about making everyone else happy.  What about making ourselves happy?  For me, that has been the key to unlocking the power of 50.

At 50, many of us are experiencing the very real cliché of “empty nest syndrome.”  And many of us have also had the misfortune of losing a spouse or going through a divorce.  Suddenly, there’s no one that we need to take care of every day.  There’s no more routine to distract you from the realities of your life and your emotions.  For the first time in decades, we look up and we’re truly alone.  That can be very scary, but the beauty of 50 is that it doesn’t have to be.  Instead, we need to take this as an opportunity to focus on ourselves, and a time to focus on the things that bring us happiness.

Start with the basics.  Go for a walk every day, cook your own dinner, force yourself to get a good night’s sleep.  Instead of pounding through these things as if they were chores, take the time to enjoy them.  Watch the leaves bud on the trees during your walk, breathe in the delicious smells of your cooking, relax deeply into the comfort of your bed.  These everyday experiences are a treasure.

Once you’ve loosened up and started appreciating the little things, start thinking about the bigger things.  What did you always want to accomplish that you never did?  It may not be too late.  I always had a fantasy of becoming a famous tennis player, but I never had time to pick up a racket.  When I turned 50, I realized I needed a hobby to keep me busy and to give me something to work for, so I took up tennis.  I hired a tennis coach and went to my lessons and practiced and practiced and practiced.  Yes, I was terrible at first.  When I fumbled shots and sent balls flying onto neighboring courts, I was right back in middle school gym class, cowering under the withering stares of my athletically-gifted peers.  But eventually I got better and I let my insecurities go.  Sure, I’m never going to get famous playing tennis, but the simple joy of connecting racket with ball and pounding across the court with sweat dripping from my brow is enough for me.  When I step around the corner off the path in Central Park and see those tennis courts waiting for me, it puts a smile on my face every time.  That’s what we all need – to find those things that make us smile and to pursue them, no matter how ridiculous we may feel at first.

It’s hard, at first, to figure out what makes us happy.  We’ve all spent so many years fitting ourselves into different pigeonholes in our jobs, and in our marriages and relationships.  We change a lot and we move away from the center of who we are.  We need to get back to center.  You can’t reinvent your life without going down to the core.

It’s time to give yourself permission to be who you really are.  So many times we’ve said to ourselves, “Well I’m in this situation.  If I wasn’t, I would do such-and-such.”   It’s time to do that such-and-such.  You need to discover new things and grow.  It’s about improving you, taking care of you, repairing the hurts of the past and letting ourselves live.  And once we realize that, 50’s not so daunting anymore.  In fact, it’s an open door.  It’s time to step through.