There are pros and cons of having a home office. Where once I was very concerned about fashionable office attire, I now wear the same yoga pants days at a time. There’s no need to put on makeup or even “try” in order to be productive here. And productive! Well, if I am not writing (and quite often I am not) you’ll find me sorting through the sock drawer or doing laundry or (today) eating three home made cookies for lunch. There is no one to see. I tell you only if I want to.
These days I am starting to tell more. Is it some super shar-ey version of “the unexamined life” being not worth living?
Sometimes you just are compelled to tell everything. I think you know what I mean. Nursing a broken heart you sit next to a complete stranger on the plane and blab away. Or, coming back from the doctor’s office with your aging parent you stumble into a grocery line conversation. There are times when we all share too much…emotionally raw times, a heart-breaking event, something that cracks your protective shield. And suddenly you are the one telling someone, a stranger, things you wouldn’t dream of telling your closest friend.
I am wondering if the writing is falling under the “too much information” category? I’ve always been the one at work (when I had a job that required me to get up, shower and interact with others) who dove deeply into conversations. Seeking connection with the people you work with can sometimes make them uncomfortable. But how do you NOT talk about things that matter, not just the great news of a new baby, but perhaps the soul scraping news of death or illness or change? Of course there is the fake layer of “pleasantness”, where you pretend you don’t know and don’t tell. And yes, sometimes this is important…before a big meeting or presentation, or if the person you are connecting with feels too vulnerable. (for example, avoid trying to strike up a meaningful conversation with your boss in front of a big crowd of people).
It’s important to know when to be “pleasant” and when to be real….when to dive too deeply. And we can be both. Sometimes though, the lines are surprisingly blurred.
For example, at lunch with two women of a certain age whom I really admire. They are different in terms of their approach to success (classic introvert and extrovert) but are both pioneers and typically eager to share what they know about life’s journey. And this day, I had questions. As a woman of almost a certain age myself, I wanted to know about the next transition stage…the “change”. Rather than cloak it all in annoying euphemism, I just came out and asked what it was like going through menopause.
There are Menopause Deniers. You read it here first.
Conversation came to a standstill. The first woman demurred, asking me what I meant by menopause. You know, I said, these hot flashes…?
Oh? She raised a perfect eyebrow. Are you going through that? I haven’t.
I was confused, she was a decade older than me, was it possible?
The second woman (extrovert) told me to never, EVER to ask her again; that if it got out in the workplace that she was old, there would be no more contracts. The trick, it seemed, was to lie about your age. Is it true that no workplace wants an older woman?
And yes, that brings me to what it is to be an “older woman”. What is old? 45? 55? 65? 70? True, the closer you get to any of these ages, the less “old” it seems. Also true, my 13 year old thinks I am ancient.
My home office is across the hall from a large mirror and, from time to time I catch glimpses of myself in it. You see things at this age…the pillow wrinkles that take most of the morning to plump back up again. The realization that you are not just “tired”, and a good night’s sleep is not going to bring back the face of a decade ago. What are we as we age? Infertile? Sexy? Eccentric? Valuable?
Sheesh. No wonder no one wants to talk about it. (Except of course for my Baba Grandma, who said there was nothing that sunshine or garlic could not fix).
There is something here though, this next transition time for a woman, something that needs sharing. How can it be that we move into “being a woman” when we start menstruating…only to come out of it decades later? During that time we finish school, create a career (or two), partner, parent (or not), experience heartbreak and incredible joy. Really work on finding out who we are and how to be in the world. Does this suddenly come to an end at menopause? Do we “come out of” being a woman?
I think not. And sharing the experience helps us all. We all carry within us stories of resiliency; it helps us get through life, or Junior High. It’s want to we want to give our kids, ourselves, those we love. Strength and agility. The ability to bend but not break.
My mother’s mother (she of sunshine and garlic) buried a toddler while nine months pregnant and buried her husband ten years later. She was pull-a-plow strong, but vulnerable too, and could cast a light upon you like the meters high sunflowers she grew each summer on the farm. A radiant face that would follow my sister and I, as if we were the sun. Nodding and smiling and loving us openly and without fear. A warm beam of love just for us.
The sun cures anything. (And maybe she was right, witness the dramatic need for more Vitamin D). Perhaps my reticence to sit in the sun is foolish. I am vain and want to look young for as long as I can. My grandmother was outside as often as she could be and loved it. Once, when I was about my daughter’s age, she turned me to with her wonderful wrinkled face and said “Oh! When I was your age I looked exactly like you!”
Whoa, I thought. Am I going to be old, with boobs down to my knees and a wrinkle moustache when I smile?
I won’t lie, there is a hint of a moustache (but then didn’t I see the same thing on Julianne Moore at the Academy Awards?).
There was nothing glamorous about my grandmother. She was all soap and water and sensible. She brought up her two surviving children to focus on sunshine not the darkness. She could talk about the weather for hours (the Saskatchewan way) and played a mean hand of crib. She hugged you close and long and hard. But there was no hardness in her. Such softness. And the smell of Noxema. Such love and light moving outward and shining on …on me.
How is it possible to have such light after moving through such dark? How do we go on when we think we cannot?
My beautiful strong amazing grandmother did move on. She married again, to a kind man I knew as my grandfather. He snuck forbidden sugar-coated cereal into the house just for us…a store bought treat among truly organic soups and peroghy. Together they fed us well and loved us even better.
And we needed love. Perhaps it’s love that is lacking in the modern diet…of dance classes and gymnastics, soccer and science fairs. We are so very busy moving around from place to place, giving our own kids every advantage…there’s no space for full time love. Parents have always done for their children, (like moving to a new country where you don’t speak the language) to give us something better. The way they showed us love, is to just keep on going. Keep on living, providing food (and in some cases land). Scrimping and saving so their kids will have it all.
Do we have it all? A university degree? New car, a beautiful home, maybe two? What else do we really need?
I sorted through my grandmother’s old house with my brother the other weekend, and in the end the “stuff” we took were photographs: 6 carefully packed boxes, loaded into the back of his truck. Boxes of images, taken when images meant something. When getting your picture taken marked an occasion: a birth, a death, a wedding. My grandparents didn’t have endless hours of video footage of their kids. My parents don’t have hours of me. Yet most of us have hours of footage of our kids, our occasions. Hundreds of photos and videos in digital storage. We are nothing if not well documented. Is that how we examine our lives now…by documenting?
There are several amazing photos of my grandma, with three small children, then two. Dressed in funeral black, then colourful homemade dresses and, always, a huge smile. There were other things too: hand written recipes and yellowed private letters full of secrets. She never spoke of these stories: betrayal and sickness and redemption. She was one to put it behind her, leave the examining to someone else.
I notice my own mother, at 86, is simply getting tired of examining. She’s okay with it, has forgiven most of it, like her mother is grateful for all of it. Am I grateful? Some days. Sometimes I choose busy or angry instead. Sometimes, instead of working, I pull out an old recipe (Mother’s Cookies) and bake them for lunch.
Spring is pushing through now, reminding me to get outside and move my body. It’s been ages since the last time I have gardened with my daughter. I’ll tell her that I looked like her when I was her age. And then I will watch her reaction. We need more sunshine. And more love.
Mother’s Cookies: From the Alvena, Saskatchewan Homecoming Cookbook
NOTE: I substitute all over the place and even add things (including a little good cinnamon) to nice em up. Don’t be afraid to change the recipe!
1 c butter
1c sugar (mix brown, white, coconut, etc.)
2 eggs beaten
1c. flour (brown, white, mix in some barley flour)
3 c. quick cooking oatmeal
about one c. good chocolate chunks or chips
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 c cocoanut (or add raisins and coconut…anything nice to make one cup)
1/2 walnuts (or granola or pecans or almonds…)
Cream together butter and sugar. Add beaten eggs and vanilla. In separate bowl mix flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Add to oatmeal, chocolate and everything else. Then add this dry mixture to the butter mixture. Do a test teaspoon on cookie sheet in 375 oven for about 5-7 minutes and see if you like the consistency. If too runny, add more flour or dry things to mixture. Not enough chocolate? Add that to mixture too. When you have them they way you like them, spoon out on cookie sheet and bake about 10 minutes per sheet. Check often. Cookies should be brown on the bottom and crinkly on the top. Not too brown! Makes a great lunch.