Monthly Archives: May 2010

Save Us From Seniority, Michelle!

Here’s a coincidence:

My son and I are both seniors.

In a few weeks, he will graduate from high school and embark on a summer of celebratory excess and youthful hijinks to be followed by an exciting new life as a music student in Miami.

At the same time, I, according to entrenched cultural stigmas, will graduate from everything young and fun, sweet and sultry, hopeful and exciting, energetic and lively and possibly end up in a continuing care facility in Boca.

Senior and Senior. One word. Two contrasting definitions.

Up until recently, I didn’t give much thought to being a senior citizen. I am 53 and I couldn’t possibly tell you how young or old I look because youthfulness, like everything else these days, is a condition on a spectrum.

I am certainly not a product of California’s best plastic surgeons. On the other hand, I think I can safely say that I look and feel better than the skeleton of Norman Bates’s mother in “Psycho.” I’ve been told that I have a young face. That’s something.

Moreover, I cherish the hope that I look and feel almost as good as my mother, a charming, elegant and steely Manhattan lady of 83 with a perfectly proportioned figure, a full head of  beautifully graying hair and a chipper social schedule of business meetings, artistic events and dining with family and friends that takes her from breakfast to dinner in a stunning wardrobe of muted knit separates and exquisite scarves.

I would never describe my mother as a Senior Citizen.

Apparently, however, to my shock and dismay, I AM ONE.

Here’s how I found out.

I was in the kitchen on a recent morning, nibbling on a meager dieter’s breakfast of black coffee and high-fiber crackers and meditating about why it is that in the 21st Century plumpness is a man-repellant (see previous post). I was relishing my well-matched reverie and spartan meal, and beginning to accept with a delightful sense of serenity that I was going to have to become svelte and sculpted if I wanted to date and mate. Happy visions of high heels and cocktail dresses were floating through my brain. I began daydreaming about arms, beautiful ballerina arms, Michelle Obama arms, guns so famous and fabulous they would need their own publicist.


The kitchen phone scattered my lovely thoughts.

“Hello may I speak to Mrs. Mary Bah-rett,” said a man with a wooden phone-bank voice.

“Who’s calling?” I replied in an edgy squeak, annoyed that I had allowed this fun-sucker to interrupt my happy musings.

His mumbled response sounded something like:  “I am calling from the Foundation to Aid Ailing Senior Citizens.”

“Send me something in the mail,” I snapped. “I don’t give money over the PHONE.”

“But this isn’t a fundraising call.”

“What IS IT THEN?”

“We are calling to see if you received your Senior Citizen Prescription Discount Card.”


“We sent you a Senior Citizen Prescription Discount card. Did you receive it?”

I paused to let this statement sink in. My heart pounded anxiously.

“You sent me a Prescription Drug Card?”

“That’s right, Ma’am.”

“Why,” I inquired, my mind clouded with dread. “Is it because I am over 50?”

“Yup, that’s it.”

OMG. I slumped back onto my breakfast stool, devastated.

I was Shocked, Sickened and Ashamed!  Without any warning at all, I had been relocated to Senior Citizen camp–a silent but deadly transition. Who could be responsible for this heinous occurrence? I was texting my HIGHER POWER immediately!

I slammed down the phone, bewailing my fate. Goodbye Diva, Hello Diapers. Praise the Lord and pass the Cialis.  I’m a SENIOR, I sobbed.

After several minutes of rapid mood swings from deepest depression to highest hysteria, I  calmed down sufficiently to ponder my fate. I started thinking about the ghastly image of Senior Citizens and wondered how they had gotten to be such pitiful pariahs. Whence the cultural stigma? Could I hatch a plan to banish it? Before heading out to get a gray-plate special for lunch?

It’s been said that we in the United States do not revere our old people. Senior Americans are, with a few high-profile exceptions such as Carl Reiner and Betty White, portrayed in popular culture as a pretty pathetic bunch: pitiful, leaky, viagra-popping slowpokes, shuffling around in ugly golfwear and ill-fitting dentures, causing traffic accidents and taking up space that could be better used for, say, building more Apple superstores or filming more reality shows about stupid young people getting drunk at the beach. Seniors, at their most desperate, are the excrutiatingly isolated couple described by John Prine’s grimmer-than-grim ballad, “Hello in There”:

“Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day.
Old people just grow lonesome. Waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there, hello.'”

How, I wondered, could seniors shake this dreary image?

Maybe it was a matter of moniker. After all, in media-maniacal 2010 names are everything. Names create images. Images stick: Lion of the Senate, Lord of the Dance, Brangelina, Octomom. Maybe we needed  terminology that would do for elder Americans what Ms. did for unmarried women in the 1970s. But what to call the graybeards?

It was a head-scratcher, for sure. Tribal Elders had a certain ethnic flair. How about Midlife Graduates (MG for short, kind of dashing) or Wise Warriors (our group website would be WWW.— COOL). We could name ourselves FAL (Free At Last from the stress and squalor of middle age).

Clearly I could not figure this out on my own. I decided that it was time for the ginormous American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to hold a contest and pick something really twenty-first century, catchy and DANK as the new senior moniker.

A new name would do a lot to erase the ageist stigma. I realized, however, that we elderly also needed a fresh visual to represent fiftysomethings-and-above.  We needed a Senior Poster Child so strong and beautiful that he or she would knock the dentures and blue wigs off all the old cliches, to say nothing of staring down anyone who dared to call him or her a Senior.

Then it hit me: Those arms I was dreaming about…those guns, that flawless skin, those beautiful strong eyes, that killer bod, that big brainiac brain…MICHELLE OBAMA. She’s going to turn 50 in 2014! MICHELLE OBAMA was gonna be FIFTY years old!

In four years, in her Second Term as First Lady, the phone would ring in the Private Residence at the White House and the wooden-voiced Pharmaceutical Card Philanthropist would say:

“Hello is this MUSH-ELLE OBAYMA?”

We could not allow that to happen.

We needed to stop the poor beleaguered phone-bank man from using the word “senior” again. Michelle would be the key. She would be the image for the new campaign to rename, and reinvent, America’s Seniors. Michelle would save us.

In four years Fifty Would Not be The New 40. Fifty would be ageless Michelle Obama. Hey, maybe Ageless would be the new word for Aged.

I knew one thing for sure: Nobody, but nobody, would face those guns and call that gorgeous Amazon First Lady a Geezer.


A Troubling New Question has arisen: Will I have the moral fortitude to wait FOUR YEARS for Michelle to shake up the senior thing? It seems that the G word is now affixed to me with extra-strength denture bond. I’m not really down with that, my peeps. Not down with it at all.

What am I nattering on about?

Just five days after I wrote the preceding post, the kitchen phone rang again. Once again, I answered it with hope in my heart. “Hello, Mrs. Bah-rett,” intoned another wooden phone bank voice. “Who’s CALLLLLing,” I trilled. The voice said: “Hi, I represent a company that will convert your slippery old tub into a safe walk-in shower.”

Slippery tub? No. Slippery slope? Yes.


The Other F Word

To those of you whom I may have convinced that I am a person of at least modest depth, I have this to confess: if I could only care about one thing on a Desert Island it would be MY WEIGHT. I will endure almost any torture if I know that when it is over my cheekbones will arise  and my abdomen will sink like geological formations. Anything to avoid the three-letter F Word known as FAT.

Case in point: India, 1989, when I was stricken by a deadly virus that spiked my temperature way over 100, dehydrated my body and sent me into a delirium. During those hazy Jaipur days under the slowly turning ceiling fan and the damp, twisted sheets, I was kept alive by one thought: If I make it, I will be a SIZE FOUR. And I did and I was, and I bought all sorts of clothes that today would not fit my medium-sized dog.

Nothing offends my vanity more than allowing myself to lapse into the slightest fattitude. When I am even the least bit overweight, I become so ashamed and neurotic about it that I refuse to go to any doctor who will put me on a scale.

Last week, however, I could avoid the dreaded clanking of the sliding weights no longer. Two different medical emergencies (asthma and a staph infection) sent me to the hospital and then my internist’s office.

It started off promisingly as the hospital triage nurse took my blood pressure and temperature, and told me both were excellent. Then came the question: “How much do you weigh?” I tossed off a number that sounded reasonable without being embarrassing, and the woman looked at me with narrowed eyes. “I don’t THINK SO,” she said, “that’s WHAT I WEIGH and  YOU are BIGGER than ME.”

It was official. I was Jabba the Hut and not Princess Leia, I thought glumly to myself as various health professionals treated and then discharged me from the emergency room.

Two days later at my internist’s office, I faced the actual scale itself, with about as much enthusiasm as I would a sentencing judge. The news was even worse than what the triage nurse had estimated. I was Overweight by Double Digits!

I had not shed a tear over my shortness of breath, nor when my leg turned a menacing shade of scarlet–but I was wailing now. Overweight by FIFTY POUNDS? Oh the shame of it. Where was a black cloak big enough to drape myself in?

Once I had finished tearing my hair, renting my garments and soaking the examining table with my bitter tears, I tried to get some perspective on my situation. I considered, for instance, that it is very difficult to navigate the 50s without some challenges to one’s personal appearance. Many people, for instance, get wrinkly and their skin resembles primitive writing paper. Others, including some women, lose their hair. Still others become so gaunt and skeletal that they are frightening. Other middle-aged scourges include the dreaded skin speckles, crinkly cleavage, shoulder hunch, sagging and bagging and God knows what all.

As I reviewed the dismal fate of my age group, I was happy to note that I am not particularly wrinkly, crinkly, humped nor spotted. My appendages are not sagging alarmingly. Nor am I morbidly obese. Just plain plump.

Moreover, I recalled that even in the dating world I had not been a complete loser.  A few fellas had been quite smitten with my zaftig physique. Perhaps I should no longer look down my nose at “chubby chasers” but thank God for men who actually find upholstered women more attractive than the angular birds whose limbs jut and jab during lovemaking.

Of course, living in the urban East, where thin is still in,  it feels shameful to be a size large or extra large, especially if one, as I did, spent decades as a small or medium. Excess weight can also conjure legitimate fears of diabetes, heart trouble and other health woes.

At the same time, I realized that if I don’t embrace and accept where I am, I will never stop obsessing long enough to actually focus on losing weight. Being joyful and OK in the present is essential, since the present, if you will pardon the far-fetched metaphor, is the base camp in which one readies oneself to climb into the future.

So here is what I did: I put myself on a diet, of course, vowed to give up one of my regular medications that tends to pack on pounds, started walking more regularly. All of that felt extremely virtuous but something was missing. I still couldn’t shake that Jabba the Hut feeling.

I needed to feel pretty and witty and bright (if not light). So I decided to go and find myself a big beautiful dress. I grabbed my gorgeous skinny son and said “We’re going to go shopping downtown.”

As I walked to the department store, linking arms with my billboard-handsome child, things suddenly fell into perspective and I experienced a wave of contentment. I thought to myself: “Hey, I’m a middle aged Mom. It’s appropriate for my child to be the eye candy in this picture. So what if I have a few extra pounds? I can still walk without waddling, I am still shaped more like an hourglass than a refrigerator, and I have a healthy head of hair.”

Buoyed by these thoughts, I strolled into the dress shop with a new sense of optimism. Before too long, I found a blue chiffon gown that revealed that my shoulders and waistline were still appealing. If there was more of me around the middle, it was not so immense that I couldn’t carry off a silky dress that evoked summer and lightness and youth. Emerging from the dressing room to examine myself in the mirror, I said to my son and the sales clerk:

“You know, I look pretty darn good for a FAT lady.”

Suddenly, I felt a flood of relief. That was it. The final piece. All I needed to do was say the F word, face it down and survive, and I could find the blessed state of acceptance.

Of course I could be a chubby Princess! After all, Fergie had been a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. Even gorgeous Princess Grace had packed on a few pounds at middle age.

“You look great,” my son said.

I did look pretty darned great for a Mom in a prom dress. I felt great, too.


If Loving You Is Wrong…I Don’t Want to Be Wrong

I am astonished by the number of years I spent chasing after people who could care less about me. Not just hopeless love affairs, but also friendships or professional connections with people whose response to me was rejecting, cold, competitive, controlling, diminishing, defeating, cruel, or even outright abusive. If there is one thing I have learned from endless hours of field experience with fatal relationships it is that there is nothing worse, to rephrase a famous Groucho Marx saying, than wanting to be a member of a club that doesn’t want me. Here are a few useful corollaries: Never pursue anyone to the point of frustration or breathlessness. Give your energy to people that love and care about you. Look for open doors, open hearts, open arms.

This does not mean that you will want to or be able to respond to every offer from every friendly face. What it means is that when pursuing friendship or love it is essential to choose from among people who are positive, loving and easy to be with and forget the rest.

When you think about it, it is truly rather absurd to want friendship or romance with someone who rejects you again and again. And yet this practice is so common that it is a staple of popular song, movies, theater, literature. Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream elevates this conundrum to a farcical extreme. Billie Holiday lays it out in song after blue song: “Unrequited love’s a bore, and I’ve got it pretty bad, but for someone you adore, it’s a pleasure to be sad.”

Loving an impossible person is at the heart of the neurotic condition known as codependency. It is a familiar sad story to the spouses and lovers and children of alcoholics and drug addicts. In its extreme, it can manifest as the perilous even fatal love of an abusive or violent person.

I have been in love with more than one alcoholic, and loved more than one emotionally or verbally abusive person. I have spent years in therapy examining why I chased after, and held onto, so many rejecting boyfriends and friends in general.

The reason for this pathology is usually rooted in patterns set in motion during childhood. Exposure to a remote, unavailable or abusive parent or caregiver is all it takes for a child to learn that love is something you have to work for and that love comes with a heavy dose of neglect, abuse, hurt and rage.

Alas, this was a message that I carried away from my own childhood, due to an unfortunate choice of a caregiver who for a number of years kept me in an atmosphere of punishment and terror, which regrettably escaped the notice of my good natured but busy parents. By the time this unfortunate phase ended, I had become chronically anxious and insecure and my paradigm of love was very twisted indeed.

One of the miracles of midlife, however, is that one finally feels entitled to shed bad patterns and shrug off dysfunction. For some reason there is an inner voice that encourages us to move away at last from childhood programming and childhood hurts. How astounding, in one’s fifties, to be tiptoeing away from one’s childhood as if one at any minute could get a spanking or be sent to one’s room. The good news is: Mommy and Daddy aren’t in charge. They might not even be alive. You are an adult and have been one for several decades and you truly can with no risk walk away from any  cruel and punishing things you have tolerated for half a lifetime.

Moreover, you don’t have to wait as long as I did.

I believe the legal age of adulthood is 18, and by 21 there is no doubt that you are entitled to drive your own bus. So get moving and don’t look back until you reach the door to the club that wants you, the lover who is not wrong but right.


Posted by on May 9, 2010 in Essays, Hopeless Devotion


Beam Me Up: Inspiring Links

(Dear visitors: please forgive my technological backwardness…you will have to paste these links in your browser until I figure out how to get you there directly…definitely worth the effort, I PROMISE!)

Beautiful Yoga and Meditation Website:

Help For alcoholics and addicts– the AA Big Book Online Free:

Inspiring Documentary: “Dad’s In Heaven With Nixon”

Healing adventures: Writing and studying from the heart in France and Hawaii.

Extraordinary love: A reunion between a man and his Gorilla, five years after the animal was released into the wild

Instant Mood Lift: HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” is the funniest music satire ever. Catch their act on HBO, DVD…or Youtube…

House Lift:  Are you crawling through clutter to get to your holiday decorations? Check out this terrific blog on putting your home and your stuff on a diet:


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Posted by on May 3, 2010 in Links