Friday, September 27, 2013

Do You Like How You're Aging?

In less than two months I'll be turning 40.  I don't know what people out there are saying about 40 being the new 20 or 30 or some other younger age, and why they would say sh*t like that.  The truth is, or at least in MY universe, I think 40 could be the new 50.  Or even 60.  It could be that I'm just being hormonal right now, taking away my bright-ray-of-sunshine personality (Really?  Am I ever???).  But the harsh reality is that I'm aging and I absolutely can't deny it any more.

At 36, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the hands.  Only a couple of my fingers showed symptoms and I have been able to manage them so it's been no big deal.  Then about a year and a half ago, it was on my left knee.  That has been more tricky as I know that it will only get worse and that my mobility will definitely be affected.  I can no longer run long distances and when I overdo it on the treadmill, my knees definitely suffer.  I also now have a harder time kneeling, squatting and doing some incline walking. 

I thought it would all stop with my joint problems, but how wrong I was.

Recently I went to the drugstore to get some 'vanity items'.  (Yes, I'm too practical to go for brand name cosmetics unless absolutely necessary).  In the past, I'd come walking out of there with lipstick, blush, eye shadow, moisturizer or just your normal foundation.  Never in a million years did I expect that I would ever walk out of there with these items in my my age, at this time in my life....(and no, this is not a sponsored post or paid advertisement)....

But it is what it is.  When I look at my self in the mirror these days, I don't see the 'glow' anymore.  I'm grateful I still don't have acne or real, deep lines and wrinkles.  However, I also look tired and now see more spots.  I swear there are days when I fear I'm just going to look in the mirror and suddenly see a freakin' dalmatian staring back at me!  Sun spots, age spots, they're all the same. They're appearing in places that's hard to conceal and I'm left to resort to the powers of these elixirs.  

I also have dark under eye circles that make me look even more dull and aged!  I can't help but feel nostalgic for those days when I was still teaching and some of my female students would approach me after class just to ask what soap I use on my skin, or if I have a special beauty regimen.  Some of them said I looked 'radiant', whatever that means.  I remember that during that time, I didn't even wear 'serious' make-up just because it was too hot and I would itch and feel irritated.  Fast forward to today when I wouldn't dare step out of the house without making sure I try to even out my skin tone, even just a bit, just so I don't look like a zombie.

And don't get me wrong.  It's not just all about my skin and how I look that makes me feel really old these days.  For weeks now, I've noticed that my farsightedness is getting worse.  Last Sunday in church, I had to stretch my arm all the way in front of me just to see the words on the hymn book clearly. My arms were stretched so far that I almost touched the back of the person knelt on the kneeling bench in front of us.  How embarrassing is that?  I know I need to see a doctor and get some glasses.  I'm not in denial.  I'm simply procrastinating and extending my sense of youth.  Ha!

Aging is inevitable and I'm not trying to run away from it.  I know more aches and pains, spots and wrinkles and other struggles will come.  I accept that. It's just that now, more than ever, I'm realizing that there is greater pressure for me to find and cultivate that 'inner glow'.  Let's face it.  There are really old people who glow and shine in spite of all the wrinkles and spots and gray hair.  And no, it's not because of cosmetics and botox.  I'm talking about naturally glowing OLDER people whose inner beauty, joyous spirit and sense of peace shine through.  That's what I want. That's what can't be purchased at any cosmetic counter or gym or doctor's office.  That kind of timeless beauty is harder to cultivate, harder to possess and even harder to keep.  I just pray I still have enough time to work at it. Tick-tock, tick-tock, I better get to work!

“The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mole,but true beauty in a Woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she knows.”  ― Audrey Hepburn


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

You Need to Know 'All' To Recognize It

Ever since I read this essay sometime last week, I don't think I've really stopped thinking about the concept of 'having it all'.  

The author, Delia Ephron, was clear in making her point that 'all' is relative. It expands and contracts.  It changes overtime depending on where we are in our lives and our perceptions of what we can still achieve realistically.  Ephron was also very clear that the American female version of 'having it all' being only interpreted to mean having a career, marriage and children, is 'revolting'. I would even throw in the words "oppressive", "delusional" and "exclusionary".

One of the most striking points Ephron made in the essay, for me, was the fact that she underscored how 'having it all' is statistically impossible mainly because it keeps breeding wanting even more....and then some more!  I've always felt bad about labeling myself 'insatiable' but I bet I'm not the only one.  I feel that it's human nature to keep wanting more, although I'm sure our degrees of insatiability vary.  Some people are just incapable of being happy with what they have, while some can always find contentment with 'what is', in spite of the presence of their 'what could still be'.  

It is within this context of insatiability and my questioning myself about my capability for happiness and contentment that I began thinking of how my definition for 'all' has changed through the years.  

When I was about to start college, at sixteen, 'all' was about getting into the program I had applied for in the top university I wanted with such singular focus.

I got it and so 'all' changed.

At 18, 'all' meant being allowed by my father to drive my own car and have a greater feeling of independence.  I learned to drive, but he was too paranoid at the time to let me.  

I did not get it so 'all' had to change.

Then I thought life would be perfect if only I had a boyfriend, a smart, responsible and good looking boy to hold hands with as I walk the university hallways.  What a great addition to top it 'all' off, completing the magical trifecta of happy family-good grades-love life.  

It didn't happen again and I opted to convince myself that I can't have it all. Family and good grades should be enough for now.  So I moved on to a different 'all'.

After graduating from college, it was 'all' about getting a job.  Then, it was followed by getting a job that I liked and was more related to my degree. Both happened somehow, but still not to the level I wanted.

So I had to go back to feeling that 'all' was really about getting a boyfriend. This time, it needed to be someone who was truly marriage material.  After all, I was already in my mid-20's.  

The first two jobs did not cut it.  And sadly, I still didn't find anyone who was cut for the future husband role.  Maybe a change in game plan was seriously needed, I thought.  So I decided to step back, take a pause.  In reality, this pause translated to going for a master's degree.

Now that would surely give me 'all'!

While in graduate school, back in my beloved (top) university, 'all' became defined by getting accepted for a teaching position.  To live the life of an intellectual, an academic, was 'all' that mattered.

I got it.  I was invited to apply.  I interviewed, and got accepted.  Naturally, 'all' had to change once more.  It had to go back to that one elusive element: a love life.

Then finally, FINALLY, I met someone remarkable.  There I was, doing something I loved and didn't mind showing up for every day, and having someone I could possibly marry and grow old with for the rest of my life.  Now if only he were here with me, physically, that is.  You see, what I had was a long-distance relationship.  I guess, it still wasn't enough to be 'all'.

The relationship didn't work out as I had planned and being in my late 20's at the time, (close to 30 actually), I was sure that what would bring me my utmost happiness and sense of 'all' was to explore foreign lands, start anew somewhere, AND have someone to love and be loved.

I did meet someone and eventually married him.  The relationship also ended up bringing me here, to the States, and so I had to really start (almost) from scratch.

It wasn't as easy as I had envisioned.  And though the 'exploration' experience was not as 'Hollywood-like' as I naively thought, it was and still is worth all the effort.  It's definitely a different kind of adventure, but undoubtedly one that is fit for me and my low threshold for excitement.  

After achieving that elusive love life / marriage, as well as the dream of starting new (which I sometimes still complain about, oddly...), 'all' naturally had to shift to include having a child.  

Again, reaching that objective was not easy at all, but at least I got there.  I got it.  I had it 'all'.

So what is the point of this long list and this looking back?  

What I realized is that, despite my unrelenting complaints and strong tendency for disillusionment, the truth is that I did get  (eventually) EVERYTHING that I hoped for or wanted, everything that I said was to be my 'all'.  I surely did not get them all at the same time but maybe no one does, and that still doesn't give me much justification for whining. The thing is, we so very easily forget what we have asked for.  And if it doesn't show up within 24 hours, most of us just give in to disappointment and accuse life of being impossible, unfair, unreasonable.  

The most important thing I realized given all this is that, for the most part, my 'having it all' almost always had to do with love...being loved and having someone to love.  That was the perpetual element that I constantly craved, whether I declared it out loud or kept it to myself.  

I was never sure I would be a successful career woman.  I was never sure I wanted to be part of the rat race.  I also never clearly declared I would be happy and content if I became a millionaire.  All I was ever sure of was that I would not be happy if I didn't find someone I could love and who would love me, and yes all this boils down to having a family, having and giving love.  

Is there really anything more than that?  For me, that was all, and this IS 'all'...(at least for now, as I'm sure something else would change).  This may be different for each person but we just have to go back to how it makes us feel, instead of being rigid about when or how 'all' shows up.

Have you taken the time to define what 'having it all' means for you?  You might be surprised to realize that you've had it all along.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Urge to Purge

Travel is great and could be exciting.  However it's a fact that packing and unpacking are painful to do. Well, at least for me, and I suspect, for most mothers with children as well.  This past weekend though, after our Labor Day weekend break, I realized that there is at least one good thing, a gift if you will, made possible by packing and unpacking.

As I decide on what to bring, I found myself emptying bags and purses to make sure I streamline my 'stuff'.  After all, no one loves to travel with unnecessarily bulky and heavy bags.  During this purge, as expected I found old notes, post-its, expired coupons, tickets to some museum we visited which I thought I needed to preserve and felt sentimental about at the time, and lip glosses or moisturizers I don't often use and can certainly do without, at least for this trip.

This got me thinking.  If life is indeed like a long journey, or series of journeys actually, then wouldn't it be interesting if we practiced the same kind of purging with people?  By no means am I suggesting that people are dispensable and should be treated like objects.  What is true though is that sometimes, we hold on to people in our lives who should no longer be there, people who have served their purpose, and most especially, people who are simply unnecessary 'baggage'.  I'm not telling you to sever ties with people just because they no longer have any use for you, in a purely utilitarian perspective.  

What I'm suggesting is that we need to make a review, an honest assessment of the people we continue to choose to 'keep' in our lives, one journey after another. Have we really asked why?  Are these people we truly value and who value us, or are we just choosing to keep them for sentimentality's sake, for politeness, even though a real relationship doesn't exist? How many 'friends' do we keep in our network even though we don't really know a thing about them, bother to keep in touch in the real sense?  Or worse, how many do we keep in our network even though we are certain that we share absolutely nothing in common with those persons, or they've shown without a shadow of a doubt that they do not value or respect us?  Is it really worth being 'polite' with someone who clearly dislikes and disrespects you?  Is that person's 'weight' worth carrying around in the journeys and years to come?  A person who brings only negativity, and one who teaches you no other lesson but to either hate them or hate yourself for allowing them to be present in your life, needs to be cut off, released from your space.  That way, you can make space for better and more useful things in your life.

I don't mind having my bags full and heavy.  As a matter of fact, I'm known for always carrying big bags.  The bigger and the more compartments, the better for me.  But what makes it easy to carry my huge bags is the knowledge that what are inside are indeed necessities, things I can't simply do without, and things I will be grateful I have in case of emergencies.  

I want to practice the same with people.  I want to keep the company of those who I truly connect with.  I want to be with those who I really share common values with, perhaps a cherished past that continues to nurture me, or maybe someone I don't mind sharing my future with.  I want to be with people who are capable of loving me (and those whom I can love), whether it's tender love or tough love. It doesn't matter.  Both will nurture my spirit even when it doesn't feel good or sound good at all times.  Love is love, and it's always worth carrying with you around, and making space for.  Having people in your life who you know love you gives you the confidence that you can tackle any journey that lies before you.

Are you willing to go on this purging project with me?  Or maybe you've already done it before and would like to share how the experience was.