Getting older

I just had a birthday over the weekend. I had wanted to write something reflective to commemorate the day but I hesitated because for the life of me I just couldn’t find a cheerful angle to write from.

I can’t even say my age out loud (though maybe I don’t need to, since my 8 year old doesn’t seem to hesitate from doing it for me). And it’s not out of vanity. The reason I often feel hesitant to reveal my age in mixed company is because I’m afraid of alienating those who might consider me too “old” or too “different” based on my number. I know we may want to do this on a resume, but it’s odd that I do this among friends and acquaintances, eh?

Well, I will say this: I’m on the cusp of my mid-40s, or maybe you could even say I’m there. I’ve turned an age that doesn’t seem to go with me. Just like the ever-increasing grey in my hair doesn’t seem to go with me. Or the stretching and un-stretching of arms that go on at dimly lit restaurants when I’m trying to read the menu. Or the sped up roller coaster that rocks my body once a month. Really, numbers didn’t mean a thing to me until my body started telling me otherwise. These little changes, by no means a huge deal in the grand scheme of life I know, are a wake-up call that I’m not immune to the passage of time, any more than I am to cellulite and excess flesh post-childbirth (I really used to believe I’d be immune).

And I realized that’s what it is that’s bothering me this particular birthday, of all birthdays: the passage of time. Because it’s not just me who’s getting older, but Max, who will be celebrating a big milestone birthday this year, and Fred, who will be one year away from 10. TEN. How is it that I can practically still feel those contractions and yet have a child who will soon be closer to college than to my womb?

I’d hesitated writing this post because to do so would be to reveal my neuroses and to open myself up to judgment and criticism. But if I don’t write about this, I am not sure if I can move forward to write any other posts without sacrificing authenticity.

So I will tell you what I fear so I can get it out of my system and let it go:

I fear that what I went through when I broke my leg will become a regular part of my daily life. Taking an hour to get in and out of the tub. Avoiding buildings with stairs. Feeling pain at the most routine of movements. Being on the sidelines when everyone else is whizzing about. Relying on Facebook for emotional sustenance from friends.

I fear, like a near blackout-causing fear, the possibility of having to choose between family savings and medical treatments.

I fear that we’d made a mistake choosing freedom and time with family over more time at work and making money. I fear that, in the end, we will quite literally pay the price for having enjoyed our life now, because we’re living in unchartered territory and I don’t know all the answers for how to make it all work out in the end.

I fear losing my teeth and not being able to eat steak and Doritos. I fear a diet of yogurt, soups and porridge.

I fear having people talk to me in baby talk.

I fear having more and consistent moments like the one a couple of months ago where I had the whole household calling my cell phone repeatedly to locate it, only to have Fred shout, “Mommy! It’s in your back pocket!”

I fear looking in the mirror and realizing that just as I am finally making peace with my face after all these years, other issues will pop up to make me unhappy all over again.

I fear losing my mom and dad.

I fear losing my spouse. Or having him and my son lose me. I fear not having any good scenario when it comes to this.

I fear free time. A neat and clean house. Ear-shattering quiet. I fear regrets…regrets that I ever wanted more free time to myself, that I ever groaned when I heard yet another “MOMMY!”. I fear hearing my son’s little footsteps running up the stairs only in my imagination.

I’m predisposed to anxiety – I’m convinced now that it’s in my genes and it’s in my early childhood brain wiring, this irrational need to be prepared for the worst – and for mentally healthy people like Max it is hard to comprehend why one needs to voluntarily torment oneself with these thoughts when there is so much to do and to enjoy. And so I remind myself to return to the credo that I made myself adopt a couple of years ago, to some success (that is, until my birthday alarm rang):

Time passes whether or not you worry about what will or will not happen, so why not choose the more enjoyable path to the future?

Maybe, in a future post, I can actually talk about how I do that.

50 books for 2013

I was updating my reading list on goodreads January 2nd when a little box on the sidebar quietly invited me to a reading challenge for 2013. It said something like “I will read ____ books in 2013.” I’ve seen and been tempted by these challenges before, but stayed away fearing I wouldn’t be able to accomplish one. But this time I did a quick calculation in my head, thinking, What’s realistic…okay, how about 2 books per month…that’ll bring me to 50 books a year. So I entered 50 and clicked “Share” to announce my plan on Facebook, thinking that once I make it official, I’m accountable.

It was only when I turned to tell Max that I realized, D-oh! 2 books a month comes out to 24 books a year, not 50. (I know, I know, what I need to enroll in is a math, not reading, challenge.)

But maybe my momentary mind lapse was a Freudian slip. It dawned on me: why not? Why not stretch myself and read 50 books? The very definition of a challenge means to do something that’ll make you sweat. I’d read around 25 books last year without much pain at all, and I figured a challenge is something that should take me beyond my lower limit.

To my surprise I got very excited, because a reading challenge is like a triathalon for the inner homebody nerd in me. Not only will I get ripped cerebral muscles when all is said and done, but I’ll have pushed myself to a new frontier!

And so here I share with you what’s on my to-read list so far, organized by category, which is how I had set up my original non-numerical reading challenge.

Oh, and I’ll share the rules I’ve made for myself as well:

1) I’ll count 500-600 page books as 2; 600-900 page books as 3. I do not plan on reading anything longer than 900 pages!

2) I can change this reading list at any time.

3) I will not beat myself up if I don’t reach 50.

4) I promise I will make time to get off my butt as well.

Goose Bumps (how I felt when I initially read these books’ descriptions, excerpts, reviews and/or authors’ other work)

1) Tiny Beautiful Things (Cheryl Strayed)

2) Wonder (R.J. Palacio)

3) The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)

4) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)

5) The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

6) Hikikomori and the Rental Sister (Jeff Backhaus)

To become happier, healthier and more centered

7) Wherever You Go, There You Are (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

8) Domino: The Book of Decorating: A Room-by-Room Guide to Creating a Home That Makes You Happy (Deborah Needleman et al)

9) The Eat-Clean Diet for Family and Kids: Simple Strategies for Lasting Health and Fitness (Tosca Reno)

To better understand my family’s roots and history

10) Red Sorghum (Mo Yan)

11) Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (Jung Chang)

Emotional jolting

12) The Light Between Oceans (M.L. Stedman); finished (and took a day to come to grips with the story).

13) Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love (Xinran); in progress

To experience someone else’s life

14) Wild (Cheryl Strayed)

15) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)

16) Turning Japanese (David Mura)

Because these have been sitting on my bookshelf and are calling out to me

17) Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (Anne Lamott)

18) Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (Anne Lamott)

19) Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (Anne Lamott)

20) Atonement (Ian McEwan)

The Masters, not only because I should, but because I want to

21-22) Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)

23) Complete Stories (Flannery O’Connor)

24-25) East of Eden (John Steinbeck); in progress

When I want something great but packed light (short story collections)

26) Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri)

27) Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri)

28) This is How You Lose Her (Junot Diaz); in progress

29) Drown (Junot Diaz)

30) A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (Yiyun Li); in progress

Funny takes on serious issues

31) Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Maria Semple); finished (and loved it).

32) Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris)

On losing it

33) The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath); to re-read

34) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey)

How’s and Why’s

35) Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain)

36) People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo – and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up (Richard Lloyd Parry)

37) NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children (Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman); in progress

Based on recommendations

38) Rules of Civility (Amor Towles); finished

To review (as part of a review program I belong to)

39) A Thousand Pardons (Jonathan Dee); in progress

40) Hearts on Fire: Twelve Stories of Today’s Visionaries Igniting Idealism into Action (Jill W. Iscol with Peter W. Cookson, Jr.)


Of course this list may go through some adjusting, especially as half the fun of reading for me is choosing the book (I’m actually a little disappointed that I already have 40 slots accounted for).

And I’ll likely be writing about reading a bit more this year, and tying in the themes of my books with the themes of our lives. I look forward to that.

What’s on your list for 2013? Are you taking on a reading challenge or have you ever done one? And do you have any recommendations for me? I’m especially on the look out for humor and emotional jolts 😉

Kindness for my new year

Firstly, a happy new year to you! I’m a week “late”…it’s taken me that long to recover from 2012 😉

I’ve also been thinking about new year…goals. Many people don’t like resolutions, or maybe it’s just the word “resolutions,” because it conjures up fears and assumptions of failure before Valentine’s Day even arrives. I was struck by wonderful posts like this one where Rudri talks about the focus on a key word, and this one, where GG Renee asks us how we want to feel in 2013. I am incorporating both into my new year: my word is kindness and I want to feel alive.

I choose kindness because all my life I’ve been nice (and its cousin, polite), and I’ve neglected “kind” because I’d simply assumed that I’m that too. Except in recent years I’ve noticed that I’m not. Or, I am, but not as kind as I could be, and not as kind as I am nice, or polite, which I’ve honed to perfection.

It’s easy to be polite because it’s a script. Thank you, please, I’m so sorry, won’t you kindly, etc. It’s automatic and automated. While I enjoy being polite and often can’t even turn it off, I don’t think it requires a whole lot of feeling or discipline, at least not on my part.

And it’s effortless to be nice if you, like me, do not want to be disliked. People-pleasers are nice, because otherwise they cannot meet their goal of having the whole world like them!

Now kind. Kind is a different animal. It requires work and thought and self awareness and self control and selflessness. Kind is nice when no one is looking. Kind is being able to let it be about the other person (though ultimately the biggest beneficiary may be you/us).

Kind is being grateful. Grateful to have been thought of and to have been given, not critical at the gift.

Kind is seeing the light in somebody, rather than the dark. It is feeling good and proud to see the light and threatened when you see the dark, rather than the other way around.

Kind is ignoring the arrows that your anger or resentment so desperately wants to send, and choosing instead words that will preserve the feelings of that other person.

Kind is being kind to ourselves first, because often we are the first and largest targets of our own arrows. And when we feel wounded, it’s hard to be much of a light for anyone else.

And this year I want to feel alive. “Alive” carries a more literal meaning for those who know depression. I was not depressed in 2012 but maybe something in my psychological makeup prevents me from being on and present as much as I would like. I want to feel purposeful, to have daily goals, to not squander the time that drips daily in my life’s hour glass.

Last year too many days passed where I was neither productive nor relaxed. I had reasons to enjoy down time, from a break from my pressured work season to the time needed to heal from my injury. But I poisoned my quiet time with guilt – guilt that I wasn’t doing enough.  I need to make a decision about how I feel about down time. Do I deserve it? If yes, then enjoy it; if not, then work! But what I can’t do is give myself chunks of self-time but NOT permission to enjoy it.

And I spent too many days wasted on negative emotions. These were days when I let my mind take over…everything. In the land of my body my mind was a dictator and my heart its victim. It’s powerful and mighty, that mind of mine. Critical thoughts, over analyses…strong enough to have battered me to an emotional crawl, to have sent me to the doctor’s wondering why I was always feeling sick.

My mind needs a coup d’etat…by kindness.

What do you want for your new year, for your new you?