Strong Women

Sylvia: Erma, I’m always so damn emotional.

Erma: You are emotional because you feel deeply. All strong women do!

“A strong woman is one who feels deeply and loves fiercely. Her tears flow as abundantly as her laughter…”
(Native American saying)

#strong #empowered #bffs

Sylvia’s Measurements

I know. I know. Most of you are probably thinking that because we are a month into summer, Sylvia and Erma are preparing to rant about swimwear, body image expectations, and disappointments in both. Nope. Not at all. While Erma has accepted that the hourglass form she once coveted has erupted into collagenless dunes, so much so that she avoids the mirror for anything other than lipstick application, Sylvia is only mildly disappointed in her glow this year. Though a little less than satisfied with the topography that this past year has mapped onto her flesh given the angst and havoc being wreaked globally (let alone her corner of the world), Sylvia is not sizing herself up like that. At all. She’s measuring life in memories and moments– not inches or centimeters. Sylvia finds herself missing little things, simple tidbits that she thought would be a part of her life but that she hasn’t experienced at all yet. She also laments huge unfathomable and immeasurable losses this year. A tape measure, a scale, a barometer? No, none of those will suffice, even superficially.

Erma: How can you miss something you’ve never known, Sylvia? Why do you torture yourself with wanting the unknown? Remember, the grass isn’t always greener.

Sylvia: Don’t you know by now that I can’t give up. I won’t give up. It’s not a matter of the grass being greener. It’s not even that I want morsels of life that are out-of-reach. What I’m missing are pieces of life that I eagerly anticipated, those which I thought I’d have to look back on by now. I don’t miss memories of times or places I have visited. I miss those memories that I thought I would have made by now- that I should have made by now.

Erma: See, that’s the problem. You set a schedule, a timeline for your happiness-years ago- never factoring in life changes.

Sylvia: That’s just plain silly. Of course, I anticipated changes. I knew I’d graduate. I knew I’d work. I knew I’d become a mother and a wife and a million other things. I factored change into the life equation as a variable.

Erma: Ah, there it is. That was the mistake. Well, maybe not a mistake but surely a misguided assumption. Change isn’t a variable at all. Change is a constant. Everything else is a variable!

Sylvia: Working. Motherhood. Marriage. Relationships. They have consistently made up my days. They most certainly have felt like constants- cores of my being.

Erma: I fear you’ve really missed out on how to assess your decades or even if those years need to be examined, quantified, and qualified, my friend. I never thought you quite so naïve.

Sylvia: I don’t think it is naivete at all. I simply never factored in death – the demise of relationships and final goodbyes of those I loved deepest. I say “simply” but it’s anything and everything but simple.


Those moments and memories that Sylvia feels she’s missed out on? They are not inconsequential, but what she has learned and continues to navigate is they aren’t everything. She has made choices, set priorities, and picked her figs from the tree as they have been dangled or dropped before her. Perhaps what Sylvia feels she has missed in life is not lacking at all. She has time, not to regret or reshape memories but to make more. She is finally realizing that life is not one tree with many branches; life comprises many trees from many different orchards.

Erma: Stop trying to measure. Inches. Centimeters. Pounds. Barrels. Bushels. Baskets. So many ways to quantify everything. And I’d rather believe that life is not made to be measured at all, not by what we have or what we don’t have. Life is meant to be savored- in totality- after all or most of the fruit has fallen or been picked from the tree. You’ve eaten the plump and juicy, tasted the bruised and rotten parts, and made a whole lot of juice.

Stop measuring. Squeeze out the juice. Press on.

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I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Bask in the Pause

In a world overflowing with self-help books, Sylvia and Erma on occasion opt for support groups where women help women, listen to each other, and allow one another to speak without judgment. 

“Hi, I’m Sylvia. I’m fifty-six. And yes, I’m a pauser.”

“Welcome, Sylvia,” they replied eagerly  in an almost cult-like unison. 

There, I said it. In a room full of peris, mid-mennies, and posts, I came clean. As beads of sweat trickled down the nape of my neck, and a small pool of salinity collected between my breasts (the rust likely to cause the bra’s underwire to give way prematurely), I proclaimed the obvious. And as difficult as the admission was, not one woman raised an eyebrow. After all, the bevy was there for all the same reasons. The commiseration. The camaraderie. And, of course, the seemingly endless supply of donuts which were appropriately labeled energy boosters and mood lifters. All of us- either dreading the onset, in the throes of this midlife rite of passage, or anxiously awaiting the day when hot flashes and night sweats disappeared and libidos returned. Yes, all of us were “pausing” at different ages of our advanced adult lives. 

Oddly enough, I was smiling, but not for the reason some might think. I was neither happy to be in the midst of other women equally affected by the pause nor excited to participate in the sharing of menopausal woes. I, with a grin on my face that was likely so broad that my eyes disappeared in the elation, was like the cat that swallowed the canary. I, though profusely perspiring after my introduction, had scanned the crowd and noticed that which set me apart from many. My hair was coiffed. My clothes were stylish. I could string together sentences without losing concentration midstream. And although I knew that I had experienced the southward migration of both bosom and buttocks, I remained fairly unscathed by comparison. 

And then as clear as the sparkling glass slider that I ran into at my neighbor’s exceedingly pristine home, it hit me. Smack dab right in the face. I was comparing myself to others. It was an episode of “Mean Girls” on hormone-replacement therapy. I had paused. I was pausing. And in the thirty minutes it took me to get up the courage to make public admission of my current state of womanhood, I realized that I was no longer smiling, admittedly due to recognition of my petty and inappropriate comparisons. I discovered at that very moment that I could and should beam rather than gloat because I was pausing among other wonderfully moody and semi-neurotic women. We were in this together- mind, body, and spirit.

Menopause. It’s to women-of-a-certain-age what Wednesday night poker and senior basketball leagues are to men coping with enlarged prostates and erectile dysfunction.

Nothing like the pause – and doughnuts- to bring women together. 

And perhaps the group method, whether formally sanctioned or impromptu at a donut shop or wine bar, #womenhelpingwomen shows all the Sylvias that all of the Ermas are not out there judging. So, let us stop being critical of ourselves and each other, and bask in the pause! 

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Beautiful, Sexy, and Flawed! We all are!

When I was suddenly thrust into what everyone calls menopause (Orchids) earlier than my body planned, I decided someone needed to take charge on so many levels. It was time to not only change the vernacular, but to speak up and say “Hey! This isn’t an old lady’s disease! We aren’t old! We are strong and dammit, we are beautiful and sexy too!~Lisa Jey Davis, Getting Over Your Ovaries

Jelly Doughnuts

Sylvia: I’ve been sitting here with my coffee waiting for a daydream, but nothing is happening. What are you up to today?

Erma: Not a whole lot. I’m doing what I do best- making lists and micromanaging others’ lives. Sorry. Not funny but perhaps mildly amusing. And what do you mean you can’t have a daydream? Of course, you can.

Sylvia: No, I’m serious. I really can’t. I pour the piping hot coffee, sit at the head of the table, and let the steam wash over me, all the while hoping that the fresh brew will stir something delicious within. And nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a single spark or errant provocative thought. Sadly, Cam and/or anyone else who might scratch the proverbial itch is nowhere to be found.

Erma: Oh, nonsense, Syl. Cam’s there, after all you conjured him up a few times before; and if he’s not, someone else is ready to jump in, stir the pot, and get your juices flowing. You know what you really need though?

Sylvia: I’m almost afraid to ask, but you haven’t steered me wrong yet, so what the hell? What do I need to get my mind moving in the right direction?

Erma: Jelly doughnuts. You need one or two jelly doughnuts to go with that coffee. Trust me. What you need is in the filling!

It’s now a good two months into the new year, and as I have done almost every year for the last six or so, I remain true to my one and only resolution and vow: this year will be different. I, along with Sylvia and Erma, have consumed enough coffee to wake the dead on a slow day. I’ve had it black, sweetened, flavored, and iced. In a mug, a delicate bone-china cup, and an insulated tumbler. I’ve cried over it, had it come out my nose while laughing, and even choked on it. Coffee isn’t everything, but God and the gals can attest that it sustains me most days. However, sadly, it is no longer enough. I need filling. We all do!

I’ve no other choice- well, I do, but I’d rather try options that are less harmful to me body and soul- so, jelly doughnuts it is!

Perspective

Don’t mistake her absence for darkness. In fact, it may be just what she needed to make her light shine brighter. A reminder to many but mostly to herself of her presence.
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“Of course I’ll hurt you. Of course you’ll hurt me. Of course we will hurt each other. But this is the very condition of existence. To become spring, means accepting the risk of winter. To become presence, means accepting the risk of absence.”
~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

What Legacy Looks Like

Sylvia: Hey there, lady. Usually I’m the one missing calls and scurrying about. What have you been up to?

Erma: A little of this and a little of that. Nothing too distinctive.

Sylvia: Oh, but the sum and total of it all is what? Huge? Voluminous? Overwhelming?

Erma: Not huge, but substantive.

Sylvia and Erma are huge believers in quality over quantity. So, although they love and eagerly anticipate their morning conversations over coffee, they are aware that life often gets in the way. They have come to appreciate all of the little things in their relationship and in other important bonds between family and friends in their lives.

Little things. Gentle gestures. They share them. They look for them. They treasure them.

What small act today will you witness or be a part of that will impact you or another in a wondrous and everlasting way?

“And for a moment she pauses. She thinks back and smiles broadly. The seconds of joy and tenderness that her father shared with her son had the most impact. She sees it every time they see one another now- it’s always in their eyes.”

Hope on Her Birthday

Sylvia: Happy birthday, my dear! Older and wiser!

Erma: I don’t know about wiser, but I’m hopeful!

I don’t know what time she was born. I guess I could dig out her birth certificate and find out easily enough. To me, my mother was born the day I came into the world. Obviously, she had a life “b.k.”(before Kay), but I didn’t know her then. All I know of that woman who became my mother, both the little girl who wore braids and gingham and the young, blond-haired teen who played the drums before it was cool for a girl to play the drums, has been conveyed to me through others’ recollections, her own accounts as she would share an anecdote from her past with the slightly veiled purpose of teaching a lesson, and the photos that I have. And what connects all of the snapshots, real and those that I’ve taken in my mind’s eye which remain guarded like priceless treasure, is her eyes. It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul; thus, it follows and must be that my mother, b.k. and always, was and remains one of the most beautiful, trusting, and trusted souls God could have offered this world.

Most of us, not all, love our mothers and have been loved by our mothers. I’ve been accused of worshipping mine. (In fact, my mother often reminded me, especially as she neared her last days, that she was indeed human, flawed like the rest of us, so she too should be allowed to make mistakes.) She would often say that the one bad rap that mothers had to endure was that they were held to a higher standard than everyone else on the planet! Now that I’m a mother, I admittedly understand this so much better. I digress though. I did worship my mother, something she never demanded or expected, but it happened nonetheless. How did it happen? Ah, that’s the question. The trusting and trusted eyes!

My mother had xray vision, vision that led her to know exactly what another human needed. To many and certainly to her family, this special sense- some call it a sixth sense while others deem it intuition- was who she was and how she lived her life at the very core. And while she may have regretted not doing all the things she had hoped to do before she died, I do believe she lived a purposeful life and her legacy is an honorable one. Her legacy? Her gift? She left it to everyone who had the honor and pleasure of looking into her eyes. My mother made those who crossed her path feel important, no matter their lot in life. She gave others hope. She found and saw something redeeming in everyone. She wasn’t oblivious to the harshness or evils of the world. She wasn’t naïve. She wasn’t optimistic. Mom was hopeful. I do believe there is a big difference between optimism and hope, and I think her trusting and trusted eyes became reflective of that difference.

I’m babbling a bit because as we all know the totality of a life cannot be put adequately into words. Indeed, my mother’s life cannot. Her legacy can though. Hope. She believed in me. She believed in her grandson. And if you had the good fortune of meeting her, befriending her, working for or with her, she believed in you. That belief – those trusting and trusted eyes- keep me hopeful. I don’t believe that life is perfect and I’m far from thinking everything will turn out well in the end. However, I am hopeful.

On her birthday, I’m going to trust her and her legacy. I’ll go to celebrate her life with my dad today, and in that gift alone, I’m offered hope.

Thanks, Mom. And I’ve come to realize that you never wanted to be worshipped; you wanted to be loved. You were. You are. You always will be.

Feeling Whole

Erma has been overwhelmed and more than anything else desires time to herself- time to inhale, exhale, and repeat. Sylvia craves space of her own- both mental and physical room. Time and space provide each of them the framework within which they can refuel and remain whole.

Take an hour. Take a day. Take a week. Walk outside. Sit in a café. Treat yourself to a spa day- even if it’s makeshift in the privacy of your own home. Whatever you need to make yourself feel whole, discover what that is and do it. Now!

You cannot be whole without the time and space to feel all that you are feeling!

“Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy, it will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.” ~Henri Nouwen

Just Enough Sugar

Long-distance relationships of all kinds are bittersweet. There is a heaviness in the heart with each hello because Sylvia knows that a “see you soon” or “until next time” is inevitable. She is always riding waves of emotion, especially as she hangs up the phone after an amusingly long call about nothing and everything with her bff; exchanges the last late morning text with her sister before they each go about their day; and kisses her dear dad’s cheek after their much-too-short visit. Today, she focuses on the sweet. The only thing bitter will be the convenience store cup of coffee she should not have bought while she was out doing early morning errands.

Always choose sweet!

“Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.” ~Khalil Gibran

Mapping Her Story

After weeks, months, and years of caring for others near and far, Sylvia feels more ragged and worn than ever. Luckily and almost intuitively, Erma senses her friend’s need for an ego-boosting, confidence-inspiring, pep talk. So, on this Sunday evening over old-fashioneds because Erma finds the libation tried and true, she shares with Sylvia the secret to embracing the ever-changing topography of the female body and face.

Erma: You see these lines across my face, Syl?

Sylvia: I only see a beautiful, mature woman who has navigated life with grace and aplomb.

Erma: Okay, but seriously, look at me. I’m going to tell you now the key to aging gracefully because you need to be less critical of yourself.

Sylvia: Oh good because I have new wrinkles and lines every single day. I’m thoroughly intrigued and hanging on your every word now.

Erma: Hold the mirror. Look at those creases, that pucker, and even that furrow. Look closely and deeply.

Sylvia: As deeply as that “11” between my eyes?

Erma: Deeper. Now, close your eyes. Can’t you just see your story? Those lines tell your story. You’ve lived. You’re surviving, and you have more story to write.

Sylvia: How do you know, Erma?

Erma: You have some smooth skin left. It’s not over until you’re wearing a complete map!