Tag Archives: middle-aged

The Armchair Olympian

“I used to be a sprinter,” my husband said recently while lying prone on our couch, watching the Olympics with a bag of tortilla chips placed conveniently on his middle-aged gut as if it was some kind of living chip-dip platter.

Is he being serious? I thought to myself incredulously. “Are you being serious?” my daughter asked from her seat on the floor. “Oh, sure. Back in ’88 when I was in Officer Candidate School down in Pensacola, they recruited me to be a sprinter for Field Day.”

I somehow kept my Diet Coke from shooting out of my nose, and gave my skeptical daughter a knowing wink.

Ever since the 2012 London Summer Olympics began three weeks ago, parents everywhere have been waiting for the opportunity to reveal their inner athlete. Despite our relatively sedentary middle-aged lifestyles, we all yearn to relive our youth, our athleticism, our virility, and our former waistlines. We want to tap into the time when we drove a used Chevette, didn’t pay taxes, ate cold pizza for breakfast on a regular basis, found no use for fiber supplements, and said things like, “Decent.” Ah, those were the Good Old Days.

Thank God, our children didn’t know us back then — they make the perfect audience for our little trip down memory lane . . . or fantasyland, as it were.

“Now, you see,” my husband bellowed from his Barcalounger in our TV room during the Men’s Quadruple Sculls final, “in my crew days back at GW, we had to be in tip top condition to be able to withstand the rigors of the sport.” The kids looked on doubtfully.

I knew the truth, but I didn’t want to burst my husband’s bubble. I knew that crew was something he did in college to enhance his image as the wrinkled-khaki-button-down-oxford-penny-loafer-preppy-frat-boy, in hopes that it might score him a few decent chicks. He milked that gig until graduation, and then never set foot in a crew shell again.

But as he analyzes the sport from his armchair today, you’d think he’d been an Olympic contender. “You see, that one there is the ‘coxswain’ who needs to be small and light — I was far too muscular for that position,” he said between sips of beer.

I must admit, I too, have claimed former athletic prowess while watching this Olympics from the comfort of my well-worn spot on the couch. “You see kids, what you don’t know about your mother is that I swam in college. Yup. We were Mid-American Conference Champions, so it was a pretty big deal.”

I conveniently left out the fact that I was one of only two walk ons to try out for my college swim team. There were only two open spots, so the coach had to take us both. The other girl was way better than me, but she quit after two weeks. That effectively made me the only walk on, and the worst swimmer on the team by a mile. My teammates never really knew my name, and the coach forgot to order me a pair of team sweats. Yea. It was great.

The kids didn’t need to know that part.

With the 2012 London Summer Olympics coming to an end, we parents will have to get up from our lounge furniture and face the reality of our middle-aged lives. That is, until the 2014 Russia Winter Olympics.

My husband will most likely relive the winter he mastered the rope tow on the bunny slope during ski lessons in Maryland. And I will revive the burgeoning talent I exhibited at the Mack Park ice skating rink during those snowy Pennsylvania winters so long ago.

We won’t mention that my husband hated ski lessons, and only agreed to go because his mother promised to buy him hot cocoa. And we will keep it our little secret that I never made a complete rotation around the skating rink without falling.

Why spoil a good story for the kids, right?

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In Pursuit of Panache

I’m sure many things have been said about me, both good and bad, but there’s one thing I can be certain nobody will ever utter in reference to me, and that is: “I like her style.”

Why? Because, I have no style. Never have, never will.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those non-conformist types who protests social norms by allowing her hair to tangle into dreadlocks, eating organic lentils, playing instruments made out of gourds, and driving a rusted out van containing children named “Rainbow” and “Leaf.”

To the contrary, I’ve always wanted style. I just simply can’t figure out how to get it.

As a kid, I was definitely fashion-challenged. This disability might possibly have been triggered by my mother, who forced me to wear thick yarn hair ribbons, saddle shoes, white knee socks, and polyester dresses topped with white cardigan sweaters until I was in the seventh grade.

By adolescence, any burgeoning fashion sense that may have developed in the recesses of my brain had withered and died, apparently asphyxiated by those stifling cardigan sweaters. I had to master the basics if I was ever going to survive high school, so I armed myself with simple color matching skills, lots of denim, and a pair of brown shoes. My most fashion-forward outfit was an orange wool sweater, a knee-length denim skirt, matching orange knee socks, and my brown shoes. That was as good as it was gonna get.

But this lack of style was not confined to fashion. Try as I might, I could not seem to muster any distinctive flair for music, interior decorating, or culinary skills either.

In an attempt to develop taste in music, I plagiarized my older brother’s favorite mix tapes. But while my peers were shoulder-shimmying to Pat Benatar and moon walking to Thriller, I was too busy trying to decipher the confusing lyrics of songs by Rush and Jethro Tull.

When I was shipped off to college, I couldn’t wait to decorate my first dorm room with my Kliban Cat bedspread and poster of a kitten hanging from a tree that read, “Hang in there, baby!” Little did I know that I’d been randomly matched with a stylish, wealthy, well-traveled roommate who would cringe at the juxtaposition of my décor with her sleek modern bed linens and poster of Château de Chambord.

After marriage, I still seemed be the last one to clue in to the latest trends amongst my peer group. While the other wives were toasting pine nuts, wearing distressed jeans, painting their walls “Claret,” installing aged-bronze fixtures, and listening to Alanis Morrissette, I was obliviously content in my shoulder-pad-reinforced sweater, drinking a Zima over my Williamsburg blue Formica countertop while humming Juice Newton’s “Playing with the Queen of Hearts.”

No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t find my own sense of style. Just when I thought I’d discovered the latest trend, it was already on a clearance rack at Big Lots or on the buffet at Golden Corral.

Mercifully, I have entered Middle Age, the time in life when a sense of style is certainly admired, but optional nonetheless. I can finally stop the fruitless search for the perfect pair of sunglasses and the trendiest wines, and just concentrate on keeping my jeans from creeping too far north of my belly button.

In a way, all my years of lagging behind the latest trends has supplied me with a certain panache that’s totally unique. I’d like to think I have an eclectic “vintage” vibe with a comfortable no nonsense charm; however, I’m certainly aware that others interpret my style as garage sale frump with a touch of interstate truck stop.

It’s OK. There’s more to life than style, and I’m fairly certain that when my time on this Earth comes to a close, I won’t wish I’d cooked with wood sorrel or quinoa. I won’t regret having never owned a pair of ankle boots or harem pants. My dying wish won’t be to hear the latest Black Eyed Peas single. And I certainly won’t long to finally install cork flooring.

I’ll continue happily perfecting my meatloaf recipe and wearing my brown shoes, because, ironically enough, having no style has a style all its own.

A Different Kind of Super Bowl Party

Today, while everyone is gorging on hot chicken wings, icy cold beers, creamy dips, and spicy chili slathered in onions and cheese, I’ll be guzzling 64 ounces of a pharmaceutical concoction intended to cleanse my bowels in preparation for surgery tomorrow.

Yup, you read that right. Surgery. Tomorrow. Lucky me.

Nothing puts a damper on Super Bowl Festivities quite like pre-operative bowel cleansing, but alas, I am a middle-aged woman who has given birth to three large babies. Internal organs and tissues are not quite where they used to be, and my doctor says it’s time to put them back where they belong.

When I informed my husband of the procedure, he cringed, shook his head, and finally waved me off, saying, “I don’t need to know the details!” Now, he merely explains the procedure as, “Yea, my wife’s going to the hospital to get her female plumbing all buttoned up.”

Apparently, my husband’s reaction is typical of similarly situated men.

Recently I was catching up with my brother on the phone, and asked what my sister-in-law was up to these days. My brother replied, “Well, I guess she’s going to have some surgery done….” Concerned, I interjected, “Surgery? What kind of surgery?” After an uncomfortable pause, my brother responded, “You know, ‘Lady Surgery.’”

‘Nuff said.

Now, when I explain why I’ll be laid up for the next couple weeks, I just say I’m having “Lady Surgery.” If the person I am talking to is female, she usually says “Oh,” tilts her head sympathetically to the side, then offers to cook something for me. Men universally cringe and look for the nearest escape. Either way, no further details are necessary or desired.

I never imagined I’d ever be one of those middle-aged women who needs “Lady Surgery.” In fact, throughout my 20s and 30s, I thought I was invincible.

I was proud of pushing 9-pound babies out of my 5 foot 4 inch frame without drugs (stupid, I know.) I figured I was Western PA “hearty stock” and could handle childbirth, heavy lifting, gutter cleaning, power washing, lawn mowing, and other strenuous activities completely unscathed.

But then, somewhere in my early 40s, I started to notice that women my age behaved quite strangely in certain circumstances.

When the aerobics instructor at our local YMCA demanded that we do jumping jacks, I noticed that, three or four jumps into the exercise, all the 40-something women ran to the restroom. And I was soon fighting them for an empty stall.

I didn’t feel old, and brushed these incidents off as minor inconveniences. But then, a year or two down the road, I noticed the same embarrassing phenomenon happening in other situations.

I used to really enjoy a good sneeze. That tickly feeling in your nose, the slow inhale as you surrender to the natural forces of your own body, and then the spontaneous blast that leaves you feeling cleansed.

However, sneezing in your mid-40s is a whole other ball game. When the tickly sensation hits, I can usually be heard saying “Uh oh” as I scramble to clench my legs together in a defensive posture. Inevitably the sneeze cannot be stopped, and I utter “Terrific” or “Lovely” as I am left to deal with the consequences.

Soon, hearty laughter, coughing, and other normal body movements became risky business. I started to think about my actions like never before. Mowing the lawn? Sure, why not. Moving the couch? Hmm, maybe. Jumping on the trampoline with the kids? Definitely not.

Suddenly, I was accessing my daily activities in terms of whether or not they might cause my internal organs to drop out onto the floor. It was definitely time to get a medical professional involved.

My doctor allayed my fears by clearly explaining the surgical procedure with both words and rubber gloves. That man could take an ordinary surgical glove, and with a few twists and turns, form it into any one of the assorted female reproductive organs in order to explain my condition. It was truly amazing. I started to wonder if he worked at kids’ birthday parties on the side.

So today, while my doctor and every other red-blooded American is out there gobbling gallons of queso dip, I’ll be having an entirely different kind of super bowl party getting ready for tomorrow’s surgery. Unfortunately, the bowl that will have my attention is located in my powder room.

But it’s OK, I’m ready for The Show. I’m at the line of scrimmage, prepared for the blitz, and I’ll go into overtime if necessary. I just hope I’ll make the conversion from Wide Receiver to Tight End without too many stitches.

My Hips Don’t Swing That Way, But My Stomach Does

Out of sheer boredom and motivation to reduce my ever-expanding waistline, I somehow found myself trying a Zumba class at the gym this week. An old veteran of the now out-of-style step aerobics craze, I figured, “How hard could it be?”

“Zumba,” a Latin-inspired dance aerobics program, is the latest thing to hit the fitness world. Gyms across the nation are now offering Zumba classes, which incorporate salsa, meringue, hip-hop, African beats, samba, reggaeton, cumbia, Bollywood and belly dance moves into group fitness routines.

I had seen a Zumba DVD infomercial once, with spandexed men and women writhing and jumping to Latin, Caribbean and tribal beats, claiming that you could “party yourself into shape.” It made exercise look more like a wild night out in Tijuana than a workout, so I was intrigued.

After placing my keys and water bottle in the corner of the cramped little exercise room, I tried to find a spot where I could remain anonymous. The rest of the participants, which ran the gamut from a buxom African American teen to a tiny Filipino lady in her seventies, seemed to know what they were doing. I, on the other hand, did not.

I was relieved to find that our instructor looked like a middle-aged mom just like me, and did not have a figure that screamed, “I am obsessed with fitness and I am about to kill you.”

She put on some catchy Latin music, and next thing you know I was kick-ball-changing, single-single-doubling, and body rolling my way around the room as if I had been doing it all my life.

But after about 30 minutes, the mild-mannered instructor bid us all adieu and told us that our “warm up” was finished. The real Zumba class was about to begin, and the real instructor would arrive momentarily. What?!

I had only a moment to wipe the sweat from my brow and slurp some water from my bottle, when in walked our torturer, er, I mean, our instructor. She had Beyonce’s muscular thighs, Pamela Anderson’s generous bust, and Charo’s wild hair and rolling “R.”

Suddenly, driving African beats blared from the sound system and, using only crazed facial expressions and minimal hand motions, Charo ordered us to rhythmically gyrate and flail our arms while in a semi-squat position.

A few minutes later we had moved on to reggaeton, whatever that is, and were ordered to stick out our rear ends and rotate our hips in complete circles from right to left while pumping our hands out in front of us. For some unknown reason, I was able to rotate my hips counter clockwise, but as soon as we were asked to go the opposite direction, I was unable to maintain the fluid roll of my hips, and could only swing them jerkily from side to side.

I thought, maybe this was due to the magnetism of the Earth’s polls – and perhaps, like the water in the toilet bowls, I can only swirl one way in the Northern Hemisphere, and would have to go south of the equator to be able to rotate my hips in the other direction.

Halfway through the class I was soaked with sweat and we hadn’t even gotten to salsa and meringue. The rest of the participants seemed excited to move on to these classic Latin beats. I thought maybe I’d fare better with something that I’d at least heard of before.

Despite the fact that everyone around me seemed to have the basic salsa steps down pat, I was so confused I just started marching in place. We moved on to meringue, which for me, was more of a lesson in how to sprain one’s ankle. I prayed that it would all be over soon.

Somewhere between the Brazilian samba and the Colombian cumbia, Charo started jumping three feet into the air. Like lemmings, we followed. Finally happy to have a dance move I could understand, I leapt like a gazelle. But then I remembered – I am 45 years old and have given birth to three large babies. My innards are not where they used to be, and might decide to drop out onto the floor at any moment.

Thankfully, the jumping routine ended before my uterus broke loose, and we moved onto our final dance – a Bollywood belly dance. At first, it seemed that Charo was merely putting us through a cruel endurance test when she demanded that we get into a deep plie squat while holding our arms out in a sort of King Tut position. Just as my quads were about to snap, she began to twist and turn her torso back and forth, rising like a cobra from a basket.

I left the class feeling exhausted, sweaty, and somewhat humiliated. My northern European genes had made it nearly impossible for me to perform the sexy writhing movements required to do Zumba correctly, but I was proud that my stomach, at least, performed its own wiggling dance, all by itself, and had kept perfect time to the beat.

The Agony of Da Feet

A few months after birth, human babies discover two chubby feet affixed to the end of their tubby legs. They gaze, fascinated at these perfect appendages topped with wiggling tiny toes. As soon as they can grasp their feet with slobbery fingers, they shove the newfound toes into their drooling mouths.

Mothers find babies’ soft feet and dimpled toes to be irresistible as well, often smooching or blowing raspberries on the padded soles.

Fast forward twenty years later, and those formerly kissable baby tootsies have become purely functional body parts, requiring meticulous personal hygiene to ward off potent foot odor, locker room fungus, planter’s warts, and a most foul substance known as “toe jam” – a repulsive combination of sock fuzz and dead skin cells, bound with sweat. Ew.

Recently, my family of five packed into our mid-sized SUV for a twelve-hour car trip from Maryland to Florida.

“What’s that smell?” I asked about a half hour into the trip. My keen olfactory nerves were picking up a repugnant aroma that might only be recreated by locking a jar of beet pickled eggs in the back seat of a 1974 Galaxie 500 over a long hot weekend in August.

The smell grew in strength, and soon our daughters were pinching their noses shut. We pulled over to locate the source of the odor. We searched for a carton of curdled milk in the trunk. We looked for a rancid tuna sub under the seats. We opened the glove box half expecting to find a dirty diaper. We looked to see if a stowaway squirrel was decomposing under the hood.

Finally, our noses guided us to the third row of seats, where our teenage son sat obliviously listening to his iPod, his huge flip-flopped feet tapping to the beat of the music.

Hovering my nostrils carefully over his hairy toe knuckles, I took a big sniff.

“Found it!” I yelled, and stumbled faintly back to the trunk to find a fresh pair of socks and some emergency talcum powder so we would all survive the rest of the trip.

But unappealing foot odor and toe jam become mere child’s play a couple decades after raging teenage hormones quiet down. Forty something feet are a veritable Three Ringed Circus with cracked calloused heels, curled thickened nails, burgeoning bunions and their dwarfed sidekicks, “bunionettes.” Add a painful corn or two, and you’ve got a real freak show.

How does one go from playing “This Little Piggy” with smooth perfect baby toes to the knobby hardened feet of middle age? Let’s face it: the Five Piggies are getting old. After 40 or 50 years of going to Market, The Big Toe Piggy has decided to take a detour and is now pointing in the wrong direction, The Piggies who stayed home and ate roast beef seem to be doing relatively well in their snug sedentary routine, but the Piggy who had none has collapsed onto his side from severe starvation. The short Piggy on the end isn’t crying “Wee! Wee! Wee!” anymore. Apparently, years of anxiety have caused him to curl up into a fetal position, and he is now hiding under the adjacent toe.

Many forty-something folks make a vane attempt to stave off the aging of their feet, investing hundreds of dollars annually in pedicures, toe rings, polish and exfoliating devices such as “The Pedi Egg,” which could double as a nifty parmesan cheese grater.

Unfortunately, nature has dictated that our feet get kinda ugly no matter what we do. So during the summer sandal months, please do keep your tootsies clean and trimmed, but don’t get too carried away. After all, what’s the sense in putting lipstick on your Piggies?

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The Agony of Dieting Defeat

One week of Lent and I’m already spent. It seems like just yesterday I was struggling with my New Years diet, then I was stuffing super bowl food in my face, followed by the obligatory splurge of Fat Tuesday, and now I’m expected to deprive myself of some desirable food item until Easter, when I will likely attempt to consume a pound each of ham, scalloped potatoes and chocolate in one sitting.

 For yo-yo dieters like me, the cycle of self-sacrifice and reward doesn’t start the day after Fat Tuesday.  Religious and secular holidays provide a year-long timeline for our dysfunctional habits. But this year, I can’t hack it anymore.  Enough is enough. 

 “Don’t ever underestimate the rewards of yoyo dieting, “ my brother-in-law recently warned when I told him of my plan to finally quit a 30 year battle with 15 excess pounds. “Nothing feels as good as losing a few pounds, so why would you ever want to deprive yourself of this pleasure?”

He has a point, but at age 43, dropping those few pounds seems more difficult than chewing my own arm off. Could it be that I’ve lost faith after years of watching myself fail on every diet? Or could it be that, at my age, I’ll never look good in a bikini no matter how much weight I lose? Gravity, birthing three large babies, and breast-feeding has taken its toll. For my middle-aged body, losing weight is akin to removing potatoes from an old burlap sack. Not pretty.

Or could it be that the laws of nature are written in stone, dictating that the human “animal” in all of us will slow down, hunt less, gather less? Our metabolism will gradually decelerate and our aging bodies will more efficiently store every calorie of every meal. 

But the animal in each of us no longer eats a meager diet of roots, berries and an occasional saber tooth steak. Today, humans have a never-ending supply of tasty treats our cave-dwelling ancestors never imagined. Guacamole. Egg rolls. Lasagna. Doughnuts. Nature’s innocent wisdom has inadvertently dictated that today’s human gets old and fat. Oh, joy.

 Realizing this, do I prolong the futile battle to banish my bulge? There must be a better way. A way to stop the Binge-Gain-Guilt-Deprive-Fail-Surrender-Binge Again routine that I know so well. It just doesn’t work. 

According to pop psychology, true contentment requires “loving” oneself as is – bumps, bulges, jiggles and all. But females like me who grew up in families with “weight issues” are doomed to a life of warped body image and preoccupation with diet. Satisfaction with myself seems impossible, but worth a try.

On a recent shopping trip, I experimented with this silly “self love.” Bearing all under the fluorescent lights of a dressing room has always been intolerable, so I routinely make the mistake of buying things off the rack without trying them on. This holds particularly true for bras, and I had a drawer full of ill-fitting ones to prove it. 

 But a couple weeks ago in the lingerie department of a local store, I decided to abandon my grab-and-go methods and actually find something that fit. This necessarily involved staring myself down in a mirror under harsh lights, and I was ready for the challenge. What I discovered was that once I cram my mammories, back fat, and those puffy little armpit chicken fat thingies I’ll never get rid of into a bra, I’m actually a full cup size bigger than I previously thought. The benefit of facing myself in the dressing room mirror was that I acquired new bras that actually fit, and I looked pretty damned good in them. Who knew?

Do I now spend hours staring lovingly at myself in the mirror with a renewed sense of positive body image? Not even close. Nevertheless, I am encouraged that a little bit of realism and acceptance goes a long way in ending a deeply ingrained pattern of self-deprecation and yoyo dieting. 

 So this year, I am trying something new and revolutionary. I will eat when I am hungry. I will banish guilt. I will look at myself in the mirror. I will relax. I will be normal.

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