It seems that health becomes more of a gamble and the stakes become higher as we age. I know women who have been dealt breast cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, diverticulitis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fibromyalgia, bursitis, and a myriad of other diseases that are not easily discarded. The ball on my disease roulette wheel landed on Rheumatoid Arthritis when I was 40. That is not to say that the wheel was not given another spin, but unlike actual roulette, I pray that it never stops again.
The strategies to play through health conditions vary from all out battle to acceptance depending on the ante. Never a patient person, my go-to strategy was battle. I learned everything I could about rheumatoid arthritis with a primary focus on treatments because I was determined to beat my disease. When I suffered flare ups and could not function as my alter ego Wonder Woman, I felt betrayed by my body. Many of us enjoy control. I was addicted to it. My performance and discipline had reaped me generous winnings, making it extremely difficult to change my strategy. Losses continued to chip away at my bank of self-esteem until I accepted that rheumatoid arthritis is not my enemy, nor does it define me. RA is part of who I am and I am valuable, although I need another alter ego/mascot.
Winners know that the table changes when a new player arrives. Many women must learn to play a new hand of nutrition, exercise, meditation, chemotherapy and radiation, risky pharmaceutical remedies, or riskier alternative methods with the arrival of a
life-altering disease and/or chronic condition. I was fortunate that my rheumatologist prescribed a pain management program at Mary Free Bed Pain Center where I learned to optimize my play with the help of an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a physician, and a psychologist. I went there feeling broken, damaged and not in control. During my therapy I learned coping mechanisms and body mechanics that I use to feel as good as I possibly can, thereby giving me back some of the control I crave. I went all in by requesting help both at work and at home and by redefining life’s boundaries within what is conducive to managing my RA well. The kindness I showed myself has put winnings back in my self-esteem bank, although the play is at an intermediate level now and my losses seem greater if I fall into my old habits. If or when the disease roulette wheel stops again, I will adjust my play in order to live my most valuable life. My wish for anyone reading this is that you find a winning strategy for whichever health condition the wheel stops on for you.
A sky-high sexist quotient must be a job requirement for morning DJ’s on Rock n Roll radio stations. Channel flipping is my mode operandi in the car, but in the morning I am
a bit slow so every once in a while I am subjected to their stupidity. One slow morning the insidious worm-like opinion that women over 40 should not wear shorts burrowed into the insecure center of my brain. There are no longer any Rock presets on my dashboard because outrage does not set a good tone for the day. Besides, I have Whitesnake and AC/DC in my CD player.
At the beginning of the summer I noted that my inventory of shorts has been slowly replaced by Capri’s and the few pairs of shorts I still own belong in the gym. I wondered if the fashion industry agreed with that DJ when I hunted for shorts that I could wear, meaning they covered my ass but did not have elephant-wide legs. I settled on one pair of jean shorts from the juniors department and 3 new pairs of Capri’s. The stores had racks of maxi dresses and strappy cotton sundresses that pretty young things wear without bras. Bag-like garments do not flatter my small frame and I am only comfortable going bra-less when there are cups in the top. My lower half has always been my stronger suit. Can’t a woman in her 40’s still take a small amount of pride in at least one part of her body without reconstruction? I rebelled this summer by wearing a red bikini… once. Although I was truly offended by the new trends and their collaborative relationship with a morning DJ, I found that Capri’s and cap-sleeved knit summer dresses did not ride up like shorts do when I sit down. Strappy heeled sandals paired with either still turned heads and the cool currents circulating under my dresses were much appreciated. I have relegated shorts to workout wear, but will reconsider if designers create them with 4 inch inseams and narrower legs.
Fall is upon us, so I begin to pack away my summer wardrobe and inventory my collection of tights. Who would have guessed that the colder seasons would be a preferable time of year to display my 40-something legs?
As a Mom I am accustomed to younger folks calling me “ma’am”, but when people my age and older began referring to me as such I could not resist looking around to see who they were talking to. Surely there was a much older woman standing right behind me. “Miss” and “young lady” seem to be salutations of my youth that I may never hear again. I purposely choose the oldest cashier available in hopes of hearing those sweet words, but it is starting to feel like putting on a mini-skirt and going to the club – embarrassingly desperate. I think of myself as a grown woman who has reached a level of sophistication and philanthropy unthought-of by my reckless younger self, yet I digest this form of mature address as an insult. I do not feel refined or respected. What I hear is, “Have a nice day, Old Lady”. Although I am almost certain that the offender has no idea that I feel like he just called me a hag, a small part of me thinks I detected a smirk when he said it. I figure that old women are not known for their friendly demeanor and do not reply unless someone is asking to help me put my groceries in the car. Then I reply incredulously, “No thank you, I can do it”. I frequently accepted offers of help when I was younger because I viewed them as validation of my attractiveness. Now I would be validating that I cannot lift ten
pounds without hurting myself.
I am convinced that there is a higher power that finds me entertaining and provides me with absurd circumstances to hone my comedic outlook. Proof of this can be found in a
recent interaction with the manager at the local oil change place. The manager, who was either in his late 30’s or prematurely balding and paunchy, asked me what kind of oil I would like. This is a stupid question because he has a record of the oil that they put in last time, but I quickly realize he is trying to up-sell me on synthetic oil that is $15 more. I fall back on, “I’ll have to talk to my husband about that”, my standard reply when I do not want to buy something. He then says, “Not to offend you, but many older people do not like synthetic oil simply because it was not around when they first started driving”. He must have thought I was odd, or perhaps demented, when I laughed at
him for a full minute. Whatever he thought, he took it as a reply and walked away from my window. Such an idiotic comment was not only good for a few chuckles, but also reminded me that I do not have to look for or imagine discourtesy. After being truly
insulted, it is absolutely acceptable to address me as “Ma’am”.
I am only one cheese lover with similar reasons for my love as millions of other people who relish cheese: the creamy smooth flavor, the sharp bite that pairs perfectly with red wine, the quick protein-filled snack, the naughty high-fat indulgence, and the perfect addition to most dishes. In my case, I have equated cheese with privilege since I was a child. Half-moon chunks of Colby and boxes of Velveeta indicated a flush pay period. If we had cheese, we likely had pickles and pop, and we would not be eating beans and rice more than once that week. Mom limited snacks to foods she deemed healthy and that we had on hand. Cheese always trumped apples. I served cheese trays with Ritz crackers to appreciative guests at sleepovers. The only cheese they had at home came in the big boxes doled out by the welfare office. I am not certain that Velveeta was much different from welfare cheese, but it was definitely a brighter yellow and came from the store, so it was better to us. An audience of cousins was attentive during readings of my latest stories and poems, giggling and “ooohing” at the right moments as long as there was cheese and Kool-Aid to wash it down.
I have hosted and attended few social gatherings during any season where cheese was not served. It is not only simple and universal, but daring and unique. Cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella and parmesan add another level of taste to everyday dishes, are savory eaten alone, and are an easy go-to snack for Moms harried by children whining that they are hungry. Feta, goat cheese, Havarti, Brie, and blue cheeses are loves that I buy for specific dishes, salads, and special occasions, and the children I know do not like any of them.
As you may have guessed, cheese has been a staple in my home for most of my life. In my 40’s cheese has taken on a different kind of daring persona, no longer limiting itself to my palate, but lending an air of unpredictable adventure to my digestive tract. Most of the changes this decade has foisted upon me have come as surprises, but few have been as uncomfortable as the one I suffered after eating a helping of six fried mozzarella sticks. Apparently the ranch dip did not contain nearly the amount of fiber required to fully digest the cheese and it sat in my gut like a leaden ball for 3 days. I panicked and railed against another change that would mean me giving up something that I enjoyed. Would I be able to eat cheese anymore? After I calmed down and the leaden ball was gone, I did what I always do when threatened by the removal of one of life’s rewarding constants. I experimented and found that mozzarella was less kind than feta, cheddar, and goat cheese, especially if they were on a salad. I learned about the importance of fiber after an uncomfortable lecture from my doctor and discovered that by adding a daily ration I could enjoy 3 fried mozzarella sticks without any problems. Cheese no longer trumps apples every time, but I can have both. I adjusted to cheese not being an everyday staple, but only because I had to. Even so, I tempt my digestive limits often, because I have a hunch that the cheese situation may change again in my 50’s.
Who are you? A complete answer to this question requires a level of honest and unattainable self-assessment, because being a mother has been the singular constant of who I am since the moment I laid eyes on my little girl. My entire being changed in that instant. She became the strongest influence in my life, every decision made with
consideration of my primary responsibility as Emily’s Mom. I simply did not have time or the inclination to ponder ideas without involving my role as a mother. I pursued my ambitions within the context of what I believed would one day promote my child to a happy, healthy, and hard-working adult with strong values that I can respect.
And now that day has arrived. I now fully understand that old adage “it is not the destination, but the journey” because although I will always be a mother, the bulk of my job is done, leaving me with memories of what is bound to be my greatest trip. I am grateful that college provided me with time to adjust to less responsibility as well as time to heal from the teenage years. Perhaps God makes teenagers so full of angst and defiance in order to lessen a mother’s sense of loss when they move out. My giddiness regarding my freedom and much-cleaner, serene home was short-lived however, as I soon discovered an excess of energy with no outlet. Still, I fought my longing to call her every day and my desire for her to come home every weekend because my need for my child was outweighed by her burgeoning independence. It would have been like trying to reshape an almost complete sculpture that was the most breathtaking piece of art I have ever seen. I tried to fill the emptiness with work and found myself defined by something that was temporary and not nearly as meaningful. I celebrated by acting like a teenager who has the house all to herself, one with an exceptionally hot boyfriend. After two years of scrambling about trying to find something to take the place of motherhood I stopped, realizing that it was futile. There would be no letting go, ever. I will always be an influence on my child, just as my mother is on me. Being a role model is as important as it ever was, just as sharing my mistakes honestly with her has always been. I often told my daughter as she was growing up that if I am not always the best role model, at least I can provide an example of what not to do. So far that has worked well and she has avoided my mistakes. Why would I not continue to share the lessons I learn in hopes of her navigating life’s challenges easier than I have? This requires a different form of communication, no longer a lecture, but a discussion between friends. I am still working on that, motivated by a love that is as indescribable as I am.
It has been six years since my daughter left for college and two years since she moved away and became self-supporting. This year she married an extraordinary young man and I am confident that their palpable love for each other will endure. Her old bedroom still sports fuchsia and lavender on the walls, even though I told my husband he could use it as a man-cave two years ago. He likely knows that repainting that room is something that I need to do when I am ready. Almost there…