Forties fun

Falling Slowly

It’s officially fall, and even though it’s 85 degrees outside, it’s also the first week you should have anything pumpkin spice hit your lips. I know, I know, Starbucks. You started almost a month ago. Everyone “loves fall,” just like people “really do love kale.”  

Don’t get me wrong – sweater weather and football games are a cozy combination. My husband has an October birthday. Sunset colored foliage, cider donuts, and a crisp dry cider are all lovely experiences. But when you’re a teacher, a lover of all things summer, and the weather is still ripe for beachcombing, it’s hard to jump into crunching leaves and apple picking. 

The jumping is my issue. It begins in August. Sand hasn’t even been shaken from my beach towel when pre-season football starts inundating the television. And I get that; I played and/or coached fall soccer for a very long time. But as soon as the first episode of Hard Knocks hits the screen, everyone seems to want to fast pass it into the new season. It’s still August when Halloween costumes begin creeping onto Target’s shelves, next to the school supplies. 

I’ll stop with the word play. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the rush. A soon as school starts, my mind starts churning with thoughts of what do my kids want to be for Halloween, even what do they want from Santa. I could pretend and say I just like to be prepared, but if I’m being honest, it’s driven by inane fears of NOT being prepared, or being the last to do something. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was motivated by superficial reasons – the desire to be amazing at everything – which ultimately leaves me amazing at nothing. 

This year I want to keep my priorities grounded in things I really value. I want to channel my inner Mark Manson and not give a f— about things that aren’t worth the pain in my brain.  Just see where a day takes me, slow down and wait a minute.

Falling slowly may not sound exciting, but it’s still enjoyable. My husband and I dated for three years before we got engaged. As a female who was in her early thirties at the time, I’m sure I felt the pull to get married, and I’m sure I let that get in the way of how much fun we were having. Thank goodness he had the sense to move slowly and steadily. The result has been pretty cool. 

 

Ferraro info

Reflections

Sometimes writing is not therapeutic. Sometimes it’s hard, and it forces you to hear the cacophony of thoughts vying for space in your brain, (that is, if you read it out loud, like me). And they aren’t creative thoughts. They are thoughts of worry, fear, and anxiety. Thoughts that keep me awake at night, make me drink more wine, run like Forrest Gump, or just lay in bed, fetal position, covers up to my ear. Writing about such thoughts gives them life, and I just want them to go away. So when this happens, I stop writing. And that, I have found, is the worst thing I can do.

The events of the past nine months of my life, (and no, I am not having a baby), ranged from awesome to hysterical, to wondrous and heart breaking. Some amazing things happened, while other things made me wonder about the world and just what the heck goes on in it. Not trying to go all existential on you, but I’m finally ready to reflect upon and write about these months. I also refuse to let my emotions override the joy I get out of writing – and living. 

Here’s the good stuff: an actual publication accepted an article I wrote. My kids continue to grow, make me laugh and desire to be better at life. I had a pretty exceptional year professionally, and I don’t regret any choices I made – personally or professionally. I crushed a couple of physical fitness goals, fostered positive relationships, and overall, had a damn good time.

Then some bad stuff happened: My best friend’s cancer came back. We pre-celebrated and thought she beat it. So far, we were wrong. 

I lost someone with whom I was extremely close to in college. While someone I love began fighting for her life, someone else, whom I cared for deeply, chose to end his. 

I’m not sure which of those events shocked me more. So I shut down. I got sad, confused, and even angry at times. I stopped writing because I didn’t feel like I could, or that I had the right to narrate my thoughts. Writing made these two events too real; they paralyzed me and overshadowed everything else. For a few months, I let myself be mired in the anxiety, sadness, sleeplessness, the running – and yes – the wine. 

Then I realized something: This was not about me. Nothing is about me. My best friend has cancer. My college friend was in so much pain that the only solution he could find was to leave this earth. What the hell did I have to be mad about?? So I started talking to myself. This was not the positive, encouraging self talk everybody preaches. This was a reality check and a kick in the pants. And I was talking to myself the way I would talk to my best friend, because a best friend shouldn’t be afraid to tell you when you are being ridiculous.

 I literally looked at myself in the mirror and, (not out loud), said Get up, Girl. You don’t have anything to be mad, or sad, or depressed about. You should be grateful – you have a family, a career, a healthy body and mind to celebrate. Don’t cry over your best friend, fight with her. Don’t say you’re going to reach out to someone, just reach out. Start writing and creating again. Start friggin’ cooking dinner again! (I realize that last one isn’t for everyone – I happen to really enjoy cooking things.)  Live the best way you can for as long as you are lucky enough to do it. 

So I’m writing. I’m fighting. I’m cooking. Yes, I’m still drinking wine, just much less of it. I’m also still staying strong, and I’m running – not from anything, but towards everything. 

Fitness

Fit Bodied Girls

I rarely get manicures. The polish always chips within a day, and I hate looking at chipped polish. If I get a mani, it’s always clear – I refuse to stress over nail polish. Pedicures, on the other hand, are pure bliss. They last longer, they remind me of summer, you can read something while they dry, and you can wear flip flops.  So when my friend from work asked if I wanted to get an impromptu pedicure and cocktail one Friday afternoon, I was thrilled. In my excitement, however, I had forgotten about one thing.

As we were walking out the door, I suddenly stopped and touched her arm. “I don’t think I can go,” I blurted.  “I’m wearing jeans!”

I was wearing jeans. Since the trend of skinny jeans has not yet left the building, my calf muscles are constantly confined, barely able to breathe through tightly stretched denim. Wearing said jeans while trying to relax during a pedicure is impossible; there is risk of circulation cut off, not to mention the humiliation I would have to endure.

“OOOh, too tight, too big.” The lady at the salon will tap me, as she tries in vain to lift the fabric over the lower part of my leg and breathes heavily, like she’s competing in an Olympic sport.  No woman, I don’t care how comfortable she is with her physique, is excited when she hears the phrases “too big” and “too tight” in reference to one of her body parts. And while calves may not seem like a huge deal, they used to be a source of embarrassment to me. I let comments about them contribute to the negative image I had of my body.

“Girls who play sports get fat.”

“Jennifer,” (Let’s give her a quintessential 80’s name.), reported this to me in sixth grade. I was eleven, Bruce Springsteen was my jam, and soccer was my game. Weaving my way through the weirdness of middle school, I was beginning to know myself and the rush I got from being active, whether I was playing soccer, swimming, or simply running like a child. I was also starting to compare myself to other girls. If you are familiar with, or remember, middle schoolers, you know they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Girls can develop early and wear women’s clothing, or they can remain tiny and look like they wear a 6X. I was somewhere in between. Until that year, I hadn’t given my calves – or the rest of my body – much thought.

“Look,” Jennifer pointed below my knee. “Fat.” Then she hoisted one leg onto a desk and pointed to her calf. “Skinny.” Red hot shame burned through my insides. Someone had just called me fat. Being eleven, I wasn’t able to separate facts from fiction. My calves were bigger than hers because they were strong, I was not fat, and so what the f*!*! if I was??  But the way I saw it, if one person thought I was fat, then other people must think it as well, and in middle school, that thought was devastating. From that moment on, I thought about ways to hide my calves. I even changed the way I dressed to cover them. Unfortunately, this complex plagued me, and I let it seep its way into my whole body. It got worse in seventh grade, when I woke up with boobs. Boys started paying attention to me, and I felt nervous and ashamed; I even tried to conceal my chest by taping it down. I know. I’m lucky I didn’t end up in the ER.

In retrospect, I know shouldn’t have let “Jennifer” dictate how I viewed my body, but at the time, I didn’t have the tools to shrug her off, laugh at the absurdity of her comment, or even retaliate. I wasn’t taught how to accept my physical being, let alone love it. Body parts didn’t exist in my house; I was always afraid to talk about how I felt, and my mom was always trying to be thinner.  To have been called fat was embarrassing to admit. I thought being thin was the ideal girls were supposed to strive for.

It’s ironic that the one thing I didn’t do was quit sports. I don’t even think I made the connection that being athletic was developing the muscles I once wanted to hide. It just felt so good to play. Soccer became my solace. Running gave me a sense of freedom and cleared my head. Swimming let me spend summers lifeguarding and not fearing the ocean. Later on, I learned how to incorporate weight training into my routine, and I uncovered muscles other than my calves. I’m so grateful for them now – they provide me strength, power, and longevity.  They helped me heal quickly from two c-section surgeries. They will help me recover if I injure myself in the future, they will protect my bones as I get older, and they will even let me rock a bathing suit this summer.

Sorry, Jennifer, but girls who play sports don’t get fat, they get fit.

FitBodiedGirlSo although I freaked for a moment that Friday afternoon, I went for the pedicure with my coworker. The woman in the salon broke a sweat as she pushed my jeans as far up my leg as they would go. And when she glanced up at me, exasperation in her eyes, I just shrugged and smiled. “Just let the jeans get wet,” I told her. “My calves are used to it.”

 

Forties fun

One Word – Live

When you’re young, you don’t think that one day your best friend might die. If she called you three times in a row, it was probably to tell you the same story she had already spilled on the bus, during lunch in the cafeteria, and then again while lingering in the hall and avoiding algebra.

Somewhere in time, however, this shifts. When you get older, have parents who are aging, and have become fledgling parents yourselves, repeated phone calls from people close to you take on a different meaning.

So the day Liz called me, not once, not twice, but three times in a row, I had a sick and surreal feeling that something close to death was happening.

“What’s wrong?” I picked up on the third call. I have no memory of what she said next, just like I don’t have a childhood memory of us becoming friends. She was just always there – from playground wars, to sleepovers, to teenage drama – through every stage of life she was my loyal defender and confidante. Her not being there was never an option.

Even when she uttered the phrase, breast cancer, denial ensued. This wasn’t our life – her life – we were just brunching on the episode of Sex in the City, when Samantha reveals her diagnosis to the group. It wasn’t real.

“You bet your ass it was f-in real. And it sucked.”

That’s Liz, in my ear, today, thankfully still able to use the same flat tone and vernacular she’s used since 1985.  She fought, kicked cancer in the teeth, and if you knew her, you wouldn’t be surprised. What did surprise me, however, is how the fallout of this experience affected Liz – and me. Sure, we own the privilege of using macabre humor about her playing the cancer card, but we also, within the confines of conversations only people with 30+ years of friendship can have, discuss how we’ve come to look at life, in our mid forties and, for Liz, thank God, cancer free. She and I can also make jokes regarding annoying cliches about life, but behind the laughter, there is an unspoken agreement: they are all true.

It’s sad, but also true that it takes a near catastrophic event for a real shift to occur.  In a bizarre and beautiful way, I’m a little thankful my best friend had cancer. Without it, I’m not sure she and I would have adjusted our outlook on life, which is to just f’in LIVE, as Liz would say. It’s safe to say we did not make any new year’s resolutions. I even abandoned the recently touted practice of choosing one word to commit to for the year. My word was going to be “better.” It was  short lived, pun intended. I had no desire to commit, and as soon as I revealed my word, thus began the litany of imperfections I needed to improve. Not really into that right now. I’m into the cliches and quotes. I won’t make you throw up and list them, but I will say, I’m not wasting my time here. Simply put, I’m working on doing what makes me happy, telling people how I feel, acting normal when I’m nervous, showing love to people I love, and accepting that life can shift in a moment. What I’m trying not to do? Be insecure. Wait for something to happen. Punish myself. Jump to made up conclusions.

I guess in some ways, this is trying to be better. I can commit to that.

Family

To Be Seen

How would you like to be described? We’re not supposed to care about what people  think of us, but how I am seen through the eyes of others, especially my husband and children, means a lot to me. In my mind, I radiate energy, send positive vibes, live an active lifestyle, and show a kind heart. Well, that vision shattered to bits yesterday after a conversation with, believe it or not, my eight year old son.

img_4070 This dude.

Single digit temps this weekend kept us mostly inside and brainstorming things to do. After attempting to sled on frozen tundra and realizing they couldn’t eat the icy snow that blanketed our lawn, both my kids were clamoring for hot cocoa, popcorn, and a movie. We rented Incredibles 2, snuggled up on the couch and hunkered down in front of the fire. About halfway through the film, I felt my eyelids droop. It wasn’t until I felt Joey’s gentle shake of my arm that I came to.

“Mommy,” he whispered, “this movie made me realize we have superpowers.”

“Oh yeah?” I sat up. “What superpowers do we have?”

“Well, mine are cool – I have great hair that doesn’t move when I sleep or look weird when I wake up, and I can eat whatever I want and not gain a pound.” (I know, I know. There are so many things to write here, but they would all be way off point.)

I smiled at Joey. I couldn’t wait to hear what mine were. Super Mommy who could take down bad guys with her super muscles and agility? Beautiful Mommy with flowing tresses that stopped bad guys in their tracks? Fun Mommy who disarmed bad guys with her charm?

“Your power, Mommy,” Joey continued, “is SLEEPING. If a bad guy comes, you can just BAM!, put him to sleep because you’re so good at it.”

WTF.

I was crushed. In a semi state of shock. My mind raced down a rabbit hole of toxic thoughts. I wanted to shout: Do sleeping mommies make dinner 6-7 times a week? Do they work out at OrangeTheory Fitness? Run half marathons? Get up at 5am every day? Do they do EVERYTHING??

This was not healthy. I remained reticent, took a breath and pulled myself off the couch. After all, Joey did have to wake me up to share this revelation. I thought about my weekend days. Despite my enthusiasm for activity and the gym, there were plenty of Sunday afternoons Joey could find me prone on the couch. I wasn’t showing my better self. Telling myself I was so busy during the week that I deserved a rest, didn’t erase what Joey saw on the weekends.

Later, when I told Joe, he informed me I should have told Joey my feelings were hurt.

“But, I couldn’t,” I said. “I was too embarrassed – caught off guard. He sees me as The Sleeper, and that’s not how I see myself. It’s like in second grade when my teacher sent that stupid list of awards toward the end of school. I was convinced I would get Best Dancer, and I got Shortest.”

Joe laughed out loud. “Trust me,” he said. “Talk to Joey and tell him how you feel. He’s eight, but he’ll understand. He’ll make you feel better.”

Joe was right. I was never angry at my son; he did not intend to hurt my feelings. He just called it as he saw it. Joey reminded me that kids are always watching, and what we think people notice about us may not align with what we actually show the world. I called Joey up to my room.

“I just want to talk to you about my super power,” I began. “I guess I was surprised that you would pick sleeping. It’s not really how I’d like you to see me.”

“Mommy, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. It’s just -,” he paused. “Well, on the weekends, you do like to snuggle up a lot, and sometimes you fall asleep on the couch. It’s ok.” He rubbed my arm. “Don’t be afraid of a nap once in a while. You deserve it. I love you.”

Joey, I’ll put a bad guy in a sleeper hold for you any day.

Then, of course, I’ll use my Kick Ass Super Mommy powers.

img_4121

 

Forties fun

This One’s for the Girls

I’m embarking on a crusade, and I want you to join me. The mission? To instill courage in young women and girls. If you didn’t have it when you were younger, you know how important this is. The reason Rachel Hollis, (who, aside from my husband, inspired me to shed my fear and get my ass in gear more than anyone else), and others like her, are so successful is because there is such a need. And there is such a need because we don’t get it done early enough. The empowerment movement is on, but it needs to extend beyond women and reach out to our girls.

I don’t think boys are immune to insecurities. I constantly talk to Joe about our sensitive son and how to help him navigate the different situations he encounters. However, we can’t pretend that society does not still place archaic stereotypes on boys and girls. Many girls are still taught that in order to be successful or liked, they must please other people, take care of everyone else, or the worst – self deprecate. Being female, having my own baby girl, and a near 20-year career teaching middle schoolers, have made the need to reach young women glaringly clear.  

Take what happened the other day in my seventh grade classroom. The class was writing about truth, and as usual, I asked for volunteers to share. (If you’re cringing, you must know that in order for this to happen, a teacher has set up a safe environment from the first day of school; you’d be amazed at what some students have to say.)

“Who wants to share first?” I asked. Six hands shot in the air – all boys. Surprised? I wasn’t. Despite the stereotype about our boys not wanting to show emotions to others, many love to assert their opinions and talk about their experiences. After three boys shared, I tried again and asked if any girls wanted to read what they wrote.

Finally, a lone girl’s hand shakily rose. “I’m weird, I’ll share my writing.” Olivia spoke up, God love her. She met my eyes with a shy half smile. Then she said, “It’s not that good, but I’ll just read it.”

People, if I had a dollar for every time a female student uttered that phrase over the last 17 and a half years, I’d own a penthouse or an island – maybe a penthouse on an island.

It could be that I’m heightened to these scenarios, but I noticed the next one a few days later. Every new year, my husband holds a beautiful celebration for his former students, called Alumni Classroom. If you’re familiar with Joe’s work, you know this annual tradition is a chance for kids he taught to come together and attend one more English class with Mr. Ferraro. Volunteers share where their lives are headed and how they continue to benefit from Joe’s teachings. This year, I was fortunate to be an audience member and a speaker. Not only did I have the privilege of watching my husband in action, I was able to hold court and share stories of my own. Love, community, and respect were oozing from the walls of this venue. But there was one thing missing: female speakers. Even though Joe has cultivated many lasting relationships over the years, with boys and girls, not one young woman spoke at Alumni Classroom. That’s when I knew something had to give.

Why is it that once people, girls in particular, reach a certain age, the obsession with what others think of them shatters the freedom to show the world who they are?

I’m convinced there is a window of time when girls freely behave like Charlee, my five year old daughter. She puts on concerts every night. She throws back her head and guffaws. She raises her hand. She questions. She wears tutus. She dances whether or not anyone is watching. She, my students, and the younger, insecure version of myself are the reasons I want to teach them – and my son – that there is no shame or comparison when it comes to being yourself.

When I tell people I’m a teacher, they do one of three things: widen their eyes and suck in their breath, call me crazy, or bless me and ask why. The reasons why have slightly changed over the years, but one thing remains the same: I understand young people, and I emphasize with them. One thing about teaching is that you age, but your students don’t. This makes you see things differently as times moves on. So Girls, here’s what I’d like to teach you. And Sisters, I need you to help me:

Have the courage to take risks.

Exude confidence in what you know.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

This really is an awkward stage – embrace it.

Most of what you see on Instagram is just that – an instant – not a whole life.

Someone will judge you, make an assumption about you, or take advantage of you. Protect. Defend. Tell. Stand up. Walk tall.

Take care of your fellow females. Celebrate their successes.

Move away from those who don’t do the above.

You are not weird, Olivia. You are beautiful. Share your stories.

Forties fun

Leave Balance to the Gymnasts

My fifth grade phys-ed teacher wore the same t-shirt every day for a week. “Gymnastics is flippin fun” spread across her non-existent chest as she demonstrated various drills on all kinds of equipment. As she vaulted, flipped, and tumbled, I watched in awe and became determined to defy gravity, just like her.

I was ten. I could do anything.

Then I approached the balance beam. It was taller than I expected, and not nearly as wide. My small hands could wrap around its diameter, and the thought of standing on it made me uneasy. Nevertheless, I stood tall in line, waiting my turn. Some of the girls before me were “gymnasts” and could jump and land solidly on the four inches of leather. As I watched them, and my teacher cheered them on, I figured since I was good at most sports, I could handle the balance beam.

Hoisting myself up wasn’t too hard; I was able to swing a leg over the beam and straddle it seamlessly. However, unsure of  my next move, I let my legs swing and contemplated my fate.

”Let’s go, Potenza!” (my maiden name) Mrs. Sawler clapped her hands and shouted, but her tone was just short of encouraging. “Get on up there!”

My legs still, I leaned forward and managed to place one foot on the beam. Foot number two remained, dangling in the air. I was not flexible enough to hold this position. There was nowhere to go but up.

I butt planted on the mat one millisecond after I stood. My arms flailed, and my legs shot high over my head. My butt didn’t hurt as much as my ego, and I lay there, wishing the mat would swallow me whole. Eventually, my teacher’s face loomed into view.

“Stick to soccer, Potenza. And work on your balance.”

Well, I’m here to report, after 35 years, I’m officially done working on my balance. People, especially women, are supposed to strive for balance. We can have it all; we can learn how to balance family, career, self care, side gigs, and we can look fabulous while we do it.

I call bullshit.

There is no such thing as balance. A balancing act is just that – an act. I realize this is contradictory to everything we have heard since the age of 25, but guess what? I have a family, a career, I work out, and I blog, but I do NOT have balance. That would mean all things listed above get the same amount of attention, all the time. Impossible. I typed this post during my lunch break. My husband and I have to set a time to have an actual weeknight conversation. Working out after work means dinner is an hour later, or I have to work out at 5am, and lose sleep and time with my kids in the morning. And there are nights when I have to look at those children and decide whether to give them a bath or a home cooked meal. Don’t judge me.

The point is, every time something is gained, something is lost somewhere else. That’s not balance. And I’m finally okay with that. I spent many days telling myself I suck at life because I didn’t get my hair done, I didn’t fold the laundry, or god forbid, I missed the gym. Even on the days I manage to do everything, nothing is done perfectly. It’s been really hard to accept this, but I’ve learned it’s more important to feel balanced and calm in my mind than in my life. That could also mean skipping out on everything for an hour and roaming aimlessly around Target. Again, don’t judge me.

So, sorry to disappoint you, Mrs. Sawler, but I am no longer working on my balance. It’s not that flippin’ fun. In fact, we should all get credit for the Olympic style juggling acts we perform, not the balancing ones.