Archive | August, 2011

Saying Sayonara to Swimsuit Season

31 Aug

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer. To mark the last big beach weekend of the season, here’s a rerun of June’s “Swimsuit Issues” essay. Enjoy!

It’s easy to feel good about my figure in the winter because I stay covered from head to toe. I go along happily during the cold months zipping my skinny jeans with no problem. There are body shapers for cocktail dresses, stockings for white legs, push up bras for less-than-perky bust lines. Sure I know I need to exercise and tone up, but I can do that in March – plenty of time to get ready for summer. March comes and goes, and still no exercise.  Sometime near the end of May I have to face the white, flabby truth because swimsuit season has arrived.

Most women my age have swimsuit issues. Not the Sports Illustrated kind either. These are the kind of issues that come after having kids, dropping your gym membership and convincing yourself that housework is really enough exercise. There is nothing I dread more about the return of warm weather than standing in the unforgiving glare of dressing room lights and getting a good view of my backside thanks to a three-way mirror. (Really, do retailers want me to buy a swimsuit or antidepressants?)

Women with older kids are the lucky ones. They can sit under an umbrella, and sip a fruity drink. If they have to leave their lounge chair, they can step into their stylish cover up, concealing all bulges and ripples from the midday sun.  Not me.  I have two boys under four. I don’t even bother to get a lounge chair at the pool because I never sit down. I must walk, bend, chase, splash and be fully exposed to all the other pool goers for my entire visit.

Bathing suit makers are aware of the body issues of women like me, but they have yet to find a good solution. Not that they haven’t tried. There are swim skirts, boy shorts, tankinis — all intended to help disguise and conceal our problem areas. Truly, I think all of these options just make my problems worse. Skirts hide cheeks, but not thighs, and all of that flouncey material makes hips look wider. Boy shorts should not be worn by anyone over the age of 12. And tankinis can make you look like you are in the early stages of pregnancy.

Women are not alone. Men have swim suit issues too. Tufts of hair sprout like weeds on shoulders, lower backs and big toes.  And for the unlucky gentlemen who lose hair on their heads, it seems to all relocate to their backs and chests. They begin to look like bald grizzly bears.  Guts expand and sag.  Men develop weird sock tans and shirt tans from golf and yard work. And of course there is always the unlucky guy at the beach who has a Phil Mickelson-esque chest and is in need of what Kramer and Frank Costanza referred to as the “the bro.”

For all these woes of the aging flesh – for men and women — I think I have found a solution. I was inspired by a four-year-old boy who was a very enthusiastic member of my son’s swimming class at the local YMCA. Instead of Hawaiian and pirate motif swim trunks like the other boys wore, this child wore a spring wet suit each week. It’s a brilliant solution for middle-aged folks. It only exposes your calves and forearms, so unless you have terrible varicose veins, how bad can you look? Maybe a company like Spanx could make wet suits with padding in the tush and bust, compression in the thighs and tummy. Lose inches and tone up instantly without any exercise or surgery, and protect yourself from the sun at the same time.  However, when I mentioned my inventive idea to a friend she pointed out that it would be like going back to bathing suits in the 1920s. Not a new idea at all.

Well it may not be new, but it’s sure a better solution than a swim dress. I have at least four more summers to go before I join the ranks of moms who actually sit on lounge chairs in cover ups, so I need a fix. Of course, maybe I will start exercising next March, just in time for the 2012 swim season and my 40th birthday.


Returning to the Movies and Giving Away the Crib

26 Aug

The Personal Debate about Having a Third Child

A friend emailed me recently to see if I wanted to go to a movie that night. A movie? In the theater? On short notice? How self-indulgent. How wonderful. Let’s do it. The last film I saw in the theater (other than “Winnie the Pooh”) was “The King’s Speech” in January and before that it was the first “Sex and the City” movie in 2008.Movie Tickets and Popcorm

You see, parents of little children do not go to the movies. At least, not very often. It’s one of many things you put on hold while your children are young. It’s too expensive to pay a sitter and buy tickets when you can wait a few months and see the same flick at home when the kids are in bed. It seems more worthwhile to use your “sitter time” to go to dinner and have a conversation with your spouse rather than to sit in the dark with strangers. Same goes for girls’ night out. On the rare occasion that you can get three or four friends together, you probably want to gab over a glass of wine, not watch a movie. Seriously, do a group of guys over the age of 16 ever go to a movie? I don’t think so.

Going to movies is on the list of things couples take for granted before having children – like an uninterrupted phone conversation, working late, and having clean carpet. A new baby is the biggest lifestyle change most people ever experience. And there is really nothing anyone can tell you to prepare you for that. I had one friend who tried. Throughout my pregnancy she shared how brutal the sleep deprivation was and how isolated it felt to be home alone with a new-born. I didn’t believe her. I tried to avoid her. I thought my experience would be different.

I know that part of the challenge was my husband and I were older when we started our family – I’m 39, my husband is 42, and our children are two and four. We were used to working hard, but also having lots of leisure time for dinners out, weekends away, football games and concerts. We knew that our lifestyle would change when we had a family – but we didn’t appreciate how drastic the change would be.

My 35th birthday was a month after my oldest son was born, and I when I blew out the candle, I made a wish that I could simply take a shower every day. Was that really too much to ask? There is something maddening about not being able to meet one’s basic needs – like sleeping, eating, showering and using the bathroom – when you want/need to. I honestly wondered how anyone managed to handle more than one child, but I figured that out myself a little sooner than I had planned.

My second son was born when my first child was 23 months – we wanted another baby, but maybe not quite so soon. During my pregnancy, I was bracing for an extreme life makeover like the first time. But it didn’t happen. Not to say it wasn’t busy and challenging having an infant and a two-year-old, but it wasn’t a seismic life shift.

That’s true for a few reasons. When my second son was born, we had all the gear we needed – and then some – so we didn’t have to research/shop/register/buy anything. We also were very accustomed to having a little person who needed us around the clock, so the demands of that were not shocking – still exhausting, but not shocking. We had grandparents who had moved to town and were ready to help at a moment’s notice. My part-time sitter for work stayed on during my maternity leave. Between grandparent and sitter help, I could run errands without loading an infant and toddler in the car, meet a friend for lunch occasionally, keep up with the laundry and take a nap during the day. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have paid or family help, but usually by baby #2 parents have figured out a workable division of labor that allows mom to get out of the house once in a while.

The most significant difference with baby #2 was that my husband and I had confidence that we could take care of an infant. It wasn’t the humbling process that turned me into a self-doubting emotional mess the first time. I started to see how people managed to have three or four children. My friends with three children say they loved the 0- to 12-months period with their third child – they were more laid back, more confident, they savored that fleeting time with an infant, and they knew – eventually – their baby would sleep through the night.

I could certainly make an argument in the vein of – have more children, after all, you’ve already given up going to the movies. I now see the economies of scale, and more importantly the joy, of a larger family. But will I have baby #3? Probably not. My age is definitely a factor in that decision. There are many advantages to being an older parent – including having more patience and knowing that you’ve already seen lots of movies and had lots of fun. The obvious disadvantage to starting a family later in life is the risk associated with what doctors call “Advanced Maternal Age” (that translates to having a baby at or after 35). If I was getting married at 39 and wanted children, I would absolutely go for it – and I would advise friends to go for it – but since God has blessed me with two who are healthy, I am going to quit while I’m ahead.

If my age were not an issue for health reasons, it would still be an issue for energy reasons – I just don’t have the “get-up-and-go” I did at 25. With that in mind, I would be concerned about giving my two- and four-year-old boys the time and attention they need while caring for a new baby, working a little, and trying to be half-decent wife. There’s also no doubt it would be really hard for me to go back to sleepless nights, showerless days, breastfeeding struggles and pounds of postpartum weight to drop. I don’t know want to face all of that again.

So I am going to embrace being the mom in a family of four – not a family of five or six. I am going to embrace – but NOT without a twinge of sadness – turning the nursery into a playroom, giving away the crib and not buying diapers. Our baby days are over, and we’ve turned the corner into the world of preschool.

And selfishly, I am also going to enjoy – at least every once in a while – that I can sneak out to see a movie.

Decorating and a Deep Thought

17 Aug

There is nothing that makes you look at your home quite as critically as when you know company is coming. I have not thought about decorating or home improvements since March – the last time I entertained. But last week I was hosting my card group, and that made me wake up and smell the potpourri – or lack of it. So I took inventory of my house to-dos.

First, there was the general clutter. My clutter is somewhat organized. It’s actually stacked, but it’s still clutter. Stacks of children’s coloring books and other art supplies. Stacks of bills, mail and yet another One Step Ahead children’s catalog. Stacks of newspapers and magazines.  And stacks of folded laundry.

to do list

The way I deal with the stacks before an event is to stick them in closets or under beds. Unfortunately, I usually do this in a mad rush 30 minutes before guests arrive. The next day I have a hard time remembering where things are, and it may be three weeks before I locate the drawer or closet in which I concealed my bank statement and Visa bill.

Then there is the home decor aspect. I have intended to repaint the family room since last summer. The living room has a sofa, a nice rug and our extra dining room chairs – but nothing else. In the dining room, my children have played with the curtains, and the rods are coming out of the wall. Paint is peeling in the downstairs bath. There is nothing on the walls in my four-year-old’s room. The shrubs outside are growing above the kitchen window. The upholstery on the patio furniture needs repairs. And the list goes on …

Before parties I have been known to go into full-blown Martha Stewart mode. Having the carpets cleaned, touching up paint, planting flowers. This time, I was just lucky to get the knee-high grass cut.

It occurred to me that I may have put more time and energy into decorating my freshman dorm room than I have my four-bedroom house. I certainly put more energy into RE-decorating my husband’s place after we got married (Hey, I had to put my mark on it – and how many golf prints can a woman live with?) When I was younger, I was interested in decorating. It was fun. I was creative. It was a hobby. It was before I had two children who take most of my time, energy and money.

 As you know, I am almost forty. I am married. I have a family. I live in a neighborhood with half-acre lots. People like me are supposed to have “grown-up” homes. I always envisioned that by the time I was this age my house would be completely decorated like my mother’s.  It’s surprising to me that after nearly five years in my house I still have half empty rooms and bare walls, but it’s even more surprising that it doesn’t bother me that much – unless I have company coming.

 The example of my house is one reason I am writing this blog. I have found myself at 39 – which is not old, but not exactly young either – seeing very clearly that our lives don’t always reflect our notions of adulthood. An under-decorated house is not a big deal considering many other issues we face in midlife. But I think many of us find ourselves at this age, and it’s not what we anticipated. Not that it’s better or worse – it may just not look like what we imagined – sort of like my house.  The good news is that our 40s mark the halfway point in life, so we’ve got many more years to realize our vision of being a grownup – whether that vision is family, a new career or a goat farm.

Clutter and half-empty rooms are not hard problems to solve. And having the card group over helped me identify an easy remedy: Have more parties. That way, eventually, I will be motivated to paint, hang pictures and find bins for all my stacks. Now, if I can only find the Visa bill.





How to Wear Yoga Pants Almost Anywhere

10 Aug

It’s no secret that yoga pants aren’t really for yoga.  It’s been at least five years since I have done yoga, yet I have a drawer full of yoga pants.

I wear yoga pants because it gives me carte blanche not to have washed my hair, applied makeup, put on earrings or even brushed my teeth.  I have been known to sleep in them, and not bother to change the next morning before leaving the house. Because all my yoga pants are black, they don’t show stains or soil, and can be worn for several days before washing (although the knees and butt often start to sag.)

By wearing yoga pants, you give the impression (to those who aren’t in the know) that you are going to exercise, so no one expects you to look good. However, all members of the not-so-secret sisterhood of yoga pants know that wearing exercise clothes does not necessarily mean you have any intention of exercising. It’s more likely to mean that you’re a busy mom without 15 minutes to spend getting dressed. And unlike other workout clothes such as running shorts, yoga pants are forgiving. They hide chubby legs, hairy legs, white legs, and desperately-in-need-of-lotion legs. That’s why they are a staple in the wardrobes of women in the 30+ category.

To learn more about why and where women wear yoga pants, I did an informal exit poll of moms dropping their kids off at my son’s preschool who were wearing yoga pants.

Here are the results:

Me: What are you up to this morning? Looks like you are headed to the gym? Poll Participant: No, I am going home to clean my house for the next three hours.

Me: So, you’ve started practicing yoga again? Poll Participant: Please tell me you are kidding. I’m going to Target and the grocery store.

Me: You’re in yoga pants too. Are you going to work out? Poll Participant: No, I hope to go home and take a nap.

Okay, so I only interviewed three people, but you get the picture.

Although yoga pants are currently at the bottom of the fashion food chain, I see a bright future for them — not unlike the ascent of denim. I think they will evolve and soon be accepted at most events besides weddings and funerals.

In the not so distant past, jeans were lowly attire – something manual laborers wore. Frank Sinatra boasted that he never owned a pair of jeans. In my high school and college days, my jeans were usually Levis and were for casual events. But now, we pay hundreds of dollars for jeans. Jeans that are woven on vintage looms … stitched by hand … designed to lengthen legs and lift derrières. We wear them to cocktail parties and fancy restaurants – even country clubs allow jeans. I had one friend comment that she spent more on jeans than church clothes because she wears them more often – good point.

So here are some thoughts on how to expand your yoga pant use:

yoga pants for a weekend brunchHow to wear yoga pants to the office: Try upgrading your yoga pants with a structured boyfriend blazer, fitted tank, ballet flats and bangle bracelets. Who knew you could look like you mean business and be so comfy!

How to wear yoga pants for cocktails: Glam up your favorite yoga pants by adding a sequin shell, kitten heels and vintage jewelry. You’re ready for a night on the town.

How to wear yoga pants for a weekend brunch: If you want to look casual, but polished, try an embellished tank with your yoga pants and metallic sandals. Finish the look with a delicate necklace and earrings.

How to wear yoga pants for girls’ night out: Pair your yogas with a billowy silk blouse – look for tops with pretty patterns or intricate necklines. Try brightly colored wedges for a leg-lengthening effect.

How to wear yoga pants for date night: Try a sheer blouse over lacey camisole for a subtly seductive look. Accessorize with stacked rings and peep-toe pumps. Your man will never know you are in your favorite, at-home pants!

So the next time you default to wearing yoga pants, just think, you could be a trend setter – a fashion forward It-Mom. But for now, I will settle for yoga pants as a go-to outfit on busy mornings. Maybe I even need a few more pairs.

Chicken Tetrazzini Means Friendship to Me

4 Aug

A few weeks ago my dad got together with two of his childhood buddies for the weekend. These fellows have known each other for more than 60 years, and their lives have taken them in very different directions. Honestly, I doubt they have much in common now. But that doesn’t really matter – it’s just a joy to see old friends.

One thing about reaching middle age is we have actually lived long enough to have some old friends. Friends we’ve known for years are often the dearest because they knew us when we were defined by our potential, rather than by our accomplishments or failures. They witnessed us as a work-in-progress, not just the finished product that we are by our 30s and 40s. They’ve also witnessed some of our proudest moments – and moments we would just as soon forget. They remember that you were the only kid in your 3rd grade class to campaign for independent candidate John Anderson in the 1980 mock presidential election; they’ve got pictures of you in parachute pants in 7th grade; and they know that you loved Sun Country wine coolers as a college freshman and refused to try beer.

Despite all of the angst about friendships in the teen years, it’s really much easier to form close bonds as a young person than it is as an adult. When you’re growing up, you see your friends all day at school, you play sports together, study together and hang out on the weekend.

Also, when we are young we are unfiltered in a way no one is after the age of 25. As a young person you tell your friends everything – including lots of things you wish you hadn’t. No adult is going to sit around for hours on a fall afternoon, smoking cigarettes and telling someone else all of their family problems … and no one is going to listen to you unless the listener is a paid therapist (and then you probably would not be allowed to smoke.)

I left Charlotte, my hometown, seven years ago to get married and move to Raleigh. I left behind the greatest network of friends anyone could ask for – I had friends from as far back as elementary school, as well as high school and college friends, and work friends. This group solidified between the ages of 22 and 30 when most of us were still single, and all of us had lots of free time to spend together.

In your 20s, when someone called you on Saturday morning and invited you to go out on the lake for the day, you could say yes! At our current stage in life, it’s rare that the stars align to do something that spontaneously.

Now the process for getting together with friends is more like this:  

Step 1: email couple and ask for dates they can go to dinner;

Step 2: go back and forth with average three rounds of emails until a date and location is set;

 Step 3: line up baby sitter;

Step 4: Friends can’t get a baby sitter;

Step 5: Plan to go to friends’ house with your kids and eat hot dogs instead of going to a new French bistro;

Step 6: Your child throws up 30 minutes before you walk out the door;

Step 7: Call to cancel;

Step 8: Start the process over and hope you see you friends in the next three months.

As adults, jobs are demanding, kids are demanding, managing a household is demanding. Who has enough time to stay in touch with old friends, much less make new ones? So I found myself in Raleigh knowing very few people, and being, quite honestly, lonely. I missed just seeing familiar faces at the grocery store. I had spent a lifetime developing my old friendships, and here I was at age 32, starting over.

I had desperate moments. My husband and I would go to dinner, and waiting at the bar, I’d spot an attractive couple. This was my internal monologue : “They’re our age …  they look like they’re having fun … they’re at our neighborhood place so they must live nearby … can I get up the courage to strike up a conversation? If I talk to them, how do I take it to the next level? Do I ask for their number? Will they want to see us again? Are we their type? Oh No! This is like dating. (Mental Gasp) Will they think we’re swingers? I’ll just sit here and drink my drink.”

I still spend lots of time driving up and down I-40 and I-85 to see my dear friends in the Queen City. But time marched on, and I began to see familiar faces at the grocery store, and I made some real, honest-to-goodness friends (without stalking them in bars). I came to realize that I would not have the same kind of network in Raleigh that I had in Charlotte, but that was okay.

Then I had my first baby, and the casseroles changed everything. Yes, the casseroles. If you don’t live in the South you may not fully appreciate this custom. Below the Mason-Dixon and this side of Florida, if someone has a baby, gets really sick or loses a loved one, friends and family bring food. And when my first son was born, boy did they bring food – for weeks! And every bite of chicken tetrazzini tasted like friendship to me.

So seven years, another son and dozens of casseroles later, I have a new network of friends. No they didn’t sit with me in the Red Robin Reading Group in first grade, or help me plan the junior senior prom, and they didn’t live on my hall in college. But they like the finished product that is me – and I like the taste of chicken tetrazzini.

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