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2016 Biggies: Fifty and College-Bound

I'm 50 now. Actually, closer to 51 as of this writing. My last post was about turning 49 -- simultaneously seems like 20 years ago, and 20 minutes ago.

Fifty isn't terrible, but it's definitely different. Yes, many people are living longer, remaining physically and intellectually active for decades beyond their 50th jubilee. We're a good-looking bunch...for our age. And examples of folks pursuing new careers and accomplishing amazing things only because of the seasoning that comes with years lived truly inspires me. But, it feels like a bittersweet graduation of sorts. Congratulations! You made it through life's undergraduate school! Graduate programs are highly individualized and length of study is unknown. Good luck! Commencement date for advanced life degrees varies. And, it's curtains.

In addition to being 50, I'm now the mother of a college student. My oldest son, Parke, graduated from high school and is studying something...somewhere. He's as prepared and ready as a young person can be in this fast-paced, competitive, complicated time. He left excited and happy!

My college transition experience was the antithesis of Parke's.

August 1984 -- Austin, Texas
I watched the rental car back away. My parents in the front seat, Dad driving, looking over his shoulder to avoid hitting something -- and probably avoid looking at me -- Mom sitting beside him, and my 15-year-old brother peering between them from the backseat. My family said goodbye to me, returned their rental car, and boarded a plane for Phoenix, Arizona. They moved for my father's job the same weekend I transitioned to life as a college student.

I stood in an alley adjacent to the women's co-op that was my new home as my family left, and cried. It was what I thought I wanted. I was three months beyond my 18th birthday. The boy I loved, and had planned to attend college with, had bizarrely been denied admittance to the large state school. He instead, was going to an even better private university in Dallas -- three hours away. I didn't have a car or much spending money, and neither did he. I was completely alone. My family, now states away, and a steady boyfriend, essentially gone.

Dad, me, and Mom -- Wakonda Women's Co-op, University of Texas, August 1984

Me -- Co-op Courtyard, University of Texas, August 1984College wasn't awesome for me. Confused, mentorless, heartsick, and homesick, I flopped around for a few years unsure of what to do or who I was. I only lasted in Texas for a year before transferring to a smaller Arizona school. In hindsight, the giant state school was a terrible fit for a young, naive, immature, directionless girl. There's no one to blame and there's much more to my story; my experiences have made me who I am.

But, I want something different...better...for my kids. My husband feels the same and comes from a similar mentorless, freewheeling past. Some guidance, attention, and support within the education system would have been nice. However, as the saying goes...if things had been too much different, my husband and I wouldn't have met, fallen in love, and created our family. None of us can imagine not knowing our children.

August 2016 -- Malibu, California
So...my son. We attended a comprehensive new student/parent orientation program for a few days at his school before saying goodbye. Then we cried like babies. Parke's attending a school of his choosing (funded by a sizeable scholarship -- we're not fans of paying big money for undergraduate education), and we've done our best to ensure he's had, and has, the things we felt were lacking in our stories. Classic projection. But, projected with so much love, sincerity, and desire for our son to know he is supported. No matter what.

 Me, Parke, and Chris -- Pepperdine University, August 2016

Back to my 50th
June 5, 2016 was a beautiful day. My son had graduated three days prior -- an equally beautiful day -- and my family was happy and healthy. A 40-mile bike ride with my husband and father made me feel grateful for my health. A barbecue dinner in the backyard with my parents, husband, and sons left me feeling loved and celebrated. The simplest things are truly the grandest, and most memorable. For me.

Chris, me, and Dad -- Alpine, Utah, June 2016

I know my son's college commencement date -- May 2020. My advanced life degree commencement date? TBD. But, I intend to graduate with honors.


Turning 49

On June 5, I turned 49. Knocking on 50's door sounds old when I view it as a chunk of time; almost half of a century. Fifty, like every decade that seemed too old and impossible for me to enter, beginning with 30, becomes more youthful, appropriate -- not so old -- the closer I get to it. Looking back at the milestone years, especially viewing photographs, I think...Man, I was young. Why was I so self-conscious of my appearance? I also recall what was happening in my life -- the things that troubled me, left me feeling dissatisfied, unfulfilled. What could have possibly given me stress? I should have enjoyed more and worried less. Moved through the struggles and challenges, breathing, and knowing everything was going to be all right. Not easy, but all right.

I spent my birthday mostly solo. My teenage sons had long-laid plans with friends to spend the day and evening at a local amusement park, celebrating the end of the school year. My husband had to work; although he offered to do anything I wanted. I wanted to get my nails done, which I did at 7:30 AM. I wanted to see a movie that I knew neither my husband nor 9-year-old son would likely enjoy. And, I wanted to shop for and choose a new mountain bike. The time alone truly appealed to me.

The movie was Iris. With freshly painted red toenails and Tiffany Blue fingernails I made my way to downtown Salt Lake City, battling traffic generated by the Utah Pride Festival and a public funeral service at Temple Square for an LDS apostle who died earlier in the week. The contrasting attire and general energy contained within cars and spilling onto sidewalks amused me. Midday, at the Broadway Centre Theatre with seven other viewers -- all older than me by at least 20 years -- I was touched and inspired by Iris Apfel and her husband Carl. It was the perfect documentary to watch on a day that began with me baking my birthday cake (after returning from my early morning nail appointment), thinking about aging, and contemplating new boobs. All things I'm perfectly comfortable with.

I'm far from a fashionista like Iris, although I enjoy creating and playing with aesthetics and style. But Iris Apfel is more than her fashion icon label; she's a woman who's lived life fully, is intelligent, curious, and well-matched with her adoring husband, Carl. She knows who she is and is unapologetic, yet not nasty or unkind. I just love her. And Carl. Maybe you will, too.

One week into being 49, I've handled the mundane -- scheduled windows and carpets to be cleaned, received bids on house repairs, grocery shopped and laundered for the family -- and fielded a TB scare (yes, as in tuberculosis -- I don't have it). I've also laughed with friends, run on trails, worked on my novel, read entertaining fiction, and looked out very clean windows. All with brightly colored nails, and a renewed tenacity for life, dreams, and fluidity...

...while a sheepdog who loves me patiently waits for my attention.

John and my nails. 


Summer Gifts: 2014 and 1980

The summer of 2014 looks rough from a sweeping cinematic view. I rolled into June after having an emergency after-hours root canal in May; performed on the wrong tooth. The tooth became infected and was removed a week later -- an implant system was initiated at the same time. Toothless, but recovering and pain-free in my mouth, jaw, and head (funny how tooth pain migrates and refers everywhere above the neck), I limped into summer nursing an old back injury that had awakened in mid-April.

Back pain begat nerve pain, nerve pain begat nerve damage, and cautionary words like, "We can't promise that you'll run again," made the decision clear. After three months of physical therapy, and less than 24 hours after consulting a neurosurgeon who convinced me that permanent paralysis could be the result of my high stakes gamble to heal myself naturally, I surrendered.

On July 16, I had discectomies on L4-L5 and L5-S1. The surgery was only an hour, everything went great and I was home the next day to begin the three-month recovery.


The summer of 1980 rivals that of 2014, again, from a wide-angle. I began that summer with my 14th birthday and a surprise case of chickenpox. I babysat some infected kids believing I'd had a mild case as a young child and was immune -- so my mother told me. That misfortune begat another. My mother had a shoebox full of drugs that she'd acquired from a close physician friend prior to a move from Indiana to Arizona. Drugs intended to save us time and money when the solution was obvious and simple -- a little antibiotic, a little hydrocortisone, a little something to help a cough, constipation, diarrhea, etc. We were set. Smart and well intended, but not a doctor, Mom put steroid cream on my chickenpox. The blisters grew to nickel- and dime-sized causing excruciating pain, a long healing process, and a long summer. Of course she felt badly. So did I.


My back surgery the summer of 2014 resulted in cancelled plans and trips for my family. I was in pain and struggling to walk before surgery; after, there was healing discomfort, and the need to rest and stabilize my spine.

Post-surgery, it was difficult to read or write because I couldn't sit for long -- just 20 minutes at a time for the first few weeks -- lying flat on my back or side when not sitting or walking (frequent walks were prescribed by my surgeon). As I felt better I wanted to do things around the house, but was limited. I couldn't bend or twist. Countertops -- all waist-high items -- became very clean. My husband, Chris, said, "There's a clean groove around our house," as I shuffled around polishing and wiping anything within my reach. Dusty baseboards and sheepdog art (i.e., dog slobber and snot) on the windows and hardwood floors taunted me.

Chris and our sons rotated shifts, refilling my water, holding my hand on short walks, ensuring John, our sheepdog, didn't inadvertently bump or knock me over. Friends brought us meals, and called regularly to see how we were managing.

I had to ask for and receive help. All kinds of help. I had to be gentle on myself. Eventually, I could go for walks on my own. After a few weeks I walked 30-60 minutes several times a day. I enjoyed walking slowly after years of running, taking in every ant, flower, tree, passing car, cloud formation, and the summery sun. I laid down when I got home, resting on my side, smelling of sunscreen and perspiration. It was too much work to shower some days, so I often remained ripe. We had simple suppers, boring afternoons, long days. I couldn't drive for a few weeks, Chris worked from home, the boys worked it out. We talked, sometimes played a game, or watched television. Sometimes we were just silent in our rooms.


The summer gifts?

2014: It's like the hand of God pushed me into my bed. Enough. Slow down. Stop. Nurture you. Doing so nurtures all around you. How you treat yourself is how you treat others. Look. See. Enjoy. These beautiful boys and loving husband. Your kind, true friends. The love, the good, creativity, and happiness that is, has been, and always will be right here.

We spent the summer together. Refortifying. Living simply. Healing more than one person's physical body. I saw in Technicolor my family's tenderness, kindness, compassion, and love for me. It's always there, but easy to overlook when life is busy. A life where feeling under-valued, unappreciated, and taken for granted erodes joy. And isn't what is true.

I allowed myself to do nothing. Sometimes I listened to pod casts or meditated or thought. But mostly, I let go. And everything and everyone managed just fine.

My legs got hairy because I couldn't bend to shave them. (Yes, my husband offered...No.) It was oddly freeing for a typically vain 48-year-old woman to have bangs on her knees.

1980: There were gifts that summer, too. My younger brother and I strengthened our already tight bond because he spent much time staying beside me, even sleeping on the floor in my room to help with the constant applications of calamine lotion. His compassion for me at such a young age was memorable.

I read, did puzzles, and journaled (which will remain private because I cathartically disparaged the kids who gave me chickenpox).

Unable to shave my legs that summer because of the forever healing blisters, I sported hairy, scabby legs when I returned to school in September. High school. I was afraid I'd scar -- something my dad said would look tough and cool, but my mom cautioned me about. Again, this was oddly freeing for a typically vain 14-year-old girl.


I took last winter off from skiing and my back is feeling much better. I've been hiking and even trotting on trails again -- carefully. I might run a trail race in August. We'll see.

I'm goofily grateful for the summers of 2014 and 1980. Ultimately, I took care of myself and received from others. I simply had no choice. But it's important for all of us to do precisely that always. Take care of ourselves...and each other.

AND, if my sons ever get chickenpox, I know to never put cortisone -- steroid anything -- on their blisters. Ever.