Boob squashing and Anal probes

Lets go ahead and pretend I (you, everyone) will live to 90.

That means I hit my official middle age on Sunday.

I have big plans to continue my birthday month with some boob squashing, anal probes, slicing and dicing, and speculating the speculum. Happy happy birthday.

In light of the newest news about turkey breast causing colon cancer I started thinking, naturally, about colonoscopies. Luckily for me I have not one but two friends who are gastroenterologists. One in particular is the best kind of doctor friend. He stocks TUMs and reassurance in equal measure. We celebrate a love of food and drink together. At least we used to. I texted him after reading the article. (I don’t recommend following the link if you enjoy, well, anything cured.)

Screen Shot 2019-02-21 at 8.33.29 AMOn a side note I had to find this link (forwarded by my mother) amongst family obituaries, climate chance news, and an email that was titled READ/WEEP about the supreme court, Louisiana, and abortions. It is possible I need to send my mom some links from the onion to balance out her WEEPING. I will accept any suggestion for upbeat links that don’t include cat memes.

When I wrote to my non-alarmist MD friend I was hoping for some version of “remember the margarine scare- just keep on keeping on with your expensive “nitrate free” Applegate Farm turkey breast.” Instead he told me to go get a colonoscopy. Because the new age for colonoscopies is 45. And I am now 45. Happy happy birthday.

Having already scheduled my dermatologist growth check  (which is not height, cause I am busy growing weird skin stuff, not inches that allow me to reach above the fridge), I decided to move on the the GYN (dropped the OB because, 45 happy happy birthday.) I searched everywhere. Calendar, email, even my online medical records. Although I was able to celebrate having written down the password for the account, this is a triumph, I did not find anything about the gynocologist. I have been there. I even wrote about it. Yet no record at all. Luckily I was scheduled to bring Leo in for his 3 month dental cleaning (you read that right) which is in the same building as my primary care doc. I figured I would wait in line, have them look up my history and get a recommendation for a colonoscopyist at the same time. Efficient.

They tried. There was nothing. So I took their recommendations for the probing (x2) and headed upstairs to watch Leo squirm beneath the gritty toothpaste.

Sitting atop a stuffed Nemo toy I looked up the listing for the Digestive Health Center. I was only looking for the phone number, but instead I glimpsed the Google rating. 2.2 Hm. I wouldn’t get into an uber with a driver with a 2.2, perhaps this was not the office for me. Because I love comfortable conversations I asked the hygienist if that rating sounded low to her. “No.” She told me. “It’s not like it is a hair dresser or a nail salon where the reviews matter.”

Nemo and I sat with that for a bit while I checked out her hair in a greasy ponytail (no judgement) and tried to see her fingers but they were gloved and deep inside my son’s mouth. It seemed time to dig a little deeper.

I looked up 10 colonoscopy places. Their ratings ranged from 2.1-3.0.

It is possible that no one likes colonoscopies. Happy happy birthday.

On our way home we stopped at Subway. I got a tuna salad. Leo got turkey breast. It is a long time until he is 45.

Sadly it turns out that the website that hosted my skin post is no longer. (Perhaps it made it to 90?) So I have added The Garden of Delights post here:


ethan-sexton-1085981-unsplashI might have a “black thumb” when it comes to the raised flower beds that surround my sunny yard, but if you take a close look at my skin, you can revel in a veritable garden of delights.

The best things my body ever grew were my boys, but these days I have moved on from human gestation to the growth of cutaneous curiosities. I have the typical skin tags and small calcium deposits that every self-respecting woman sports; I also have a wide selection of moles and blood-filled, three-dimensional red dots that are less common but still in the repertoire of reality. A step less appetizing, however, are my flat-lying and flapping brown bits.

There is an adage in planting that goes: “the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps.” Wow, have I leapt since the years of my youth—in fact, I’ve leapt so far that I now have a punch card to the dermatologist.

As the doctor peers at my naked self, she names things in Latin. What I call a “dot,” she refers to as some multisyllabic symptom of hormonal imbalance. On it goes: I give her a tour of my skin garden, pointing out the perennials and annuals, from hairline to armpit to underboob. She touches and names them all, then dismisses them with a shrug. “Nothing to worry about,” she says, pulling off her gardening gloves. She seems a little disappointed that I don’t have anything particularly spectacular, but still impressed by the mere multitude of my marks.

Generally, growth is considered a good thing: meditation, yoga, therapy, and journaling all catalyze personal growth. But personal growths? Those are a bit different.

I have ignored almost all of my epidermal friends in the past, just as my doctor expects me to. I think of them as constellations, unfathomable and ever-growing. Once I grew a blueberry, that grew into a grape, that then grew its own blueberry. I called it “my thing” and thought of it as the sister I never had. When I felt really alone, I would talk to her. Then, one day by the pool, a ten-year-old friend of my son tried to pick her off my back, thinking she was a mislaid piece of fruit from our snack. I’m not sure which of the three of us was most mortified, but that was the end of her.

Today I am battling back, lying prone, waiting to be cut and cauterized. The dermatologist is suited up with gloves and glasses and shears. In the brightly-lit office, she leans between my legs, the way only a select few have in the past. She oohs and sighs. Things are very interesting down there. Much more interesting than I prefer.

A few moments and it is over.

Except, of course, that it is never over. Once you start growing things you never stop. So I will keep most of them—my stars, my sisters, and my skin tags—and sit patiently while my kids connect the dots. Gardens aren’t for everyone, yet they seem to be for me.



How to handle a bad hair day.

Just go to the coffee shop naked. No one will notice your hair.

I considered it. I really did.

I’m pretty sure I have never had a “good” hair day. My hair is neither long nor short, it is neither light nor dark, it is neither straight nor curly. After years of just being blah my hair has given up. It has decided simply to leave me.

So as my chin hairs grow thicker and glossier with each passing day my head hair is following a pattern baldness that makes me question (once again) the level of testosterone in my body. Except it is not really a question. The level is high. High testosterone provides both beard and balding. But at least I can avoid the side effects of those medicines designed to combat low T.

I stood looking into the mirror preparing for my big morning at the coffee shop. I adjusted what might be called a lock of hair on another woman and tried to arrange it in a vague version of a comb-over. My hair was a bit oily. This was not a problem but an opportunity. I had recently purchased my second attempt at a dry shampoo. What better time to try than right now.

The dry shampoo I had in Denver was a powder that I shook onto my head from a bottle like baby powder (which, btw, is now on the list of cancer causing personal products.) This shaking resulted in as much powder on the floor and my clothes as in my hair. The powder that did go in my hair was, not surprisingly, white. When I brushed it through from scalp to ends as instructed I ended up like I was wearing a George Washington wig. So I resembled a woman posing as a man with fake women’s hair. It looked as good as it sounded. After the first attempt at the powder shampoo necessitated an outfit change I got smart and applied the shampoo before I got dressed. That resulted in so much powder on my body that I had to shower to get it off. So I washed my hair. All told the dry shampoo did in fact result in clean hair so I would have to say it worked.

I am sorry to say I forgot this magical product at home. What did I do? Find a quality replacement. Slowly browsing the large collection in the salon (don’t worry it was for Leo, I have been cutting my own hair for 8 years) I opted for a spray version. F the ozone layer. The water I was saving by not showering probably netted out as much environmental benefit as cost. Plus I think they might have fixed those spray cans by now. Truth?

So I stripped down as one does before using dry shampoo. Sure the shower was a six inches away but was I going to be bothered with all that waiting and water and washing and rinsing and then repeating and then drying? Hell no. I had the perfect product for my needs. I gave a tentative spray. It hit my cheek. At least it was the cheek on my face. On my second try I did reach my temple. It was a religious experience. Then I sprayed the other temple. First try! I am super good at this. I paused then decided the top of my head was thinning AND greasy so it deserved a spray too. Done. I waited. Things seemed oddly sticky. Probably I hadn’t used enough. I lifted the can again and instead of short bursts I channeled the ladies taking their beehive hairdos from cotton candy to helmet strength. On I sprayed. Mostly on my head.

I stopped. Things felt oddly cold and wet. Wait that was just Apollo nosing my feet to try get a sample of the shampoo. Not tasty. The hair too seemed weird. It was as sticky as Leo’s slime.

So naked, hair both oily and sticky I weighed my options. Shower or go to the coffee shop naked?

There of course is another option. I could pick yesterday’s clothes from the laundry basket and head to the coffee shop a bit rumpled and look pretty much the same as any other day despite my efforts at beauty.

So dressed and coiffed I headed in to town. The crowd of people were impressed at my dedication.

On a totally unrelated note “No Poo” is in fact an entire line of products. Not just dry shampoo. It features hair spray and curling product. Designed to be used on wet hair. Not that I would have any reason to know that.

Things that happen when you are 44

Since I don’t expect to live past 88, 44 seems like a good as age as any to review some realities of mid life.

    • You can’t remember if it is Wednesday. Sort of like answer C on multiple choice tests Wednesday is really the best guess. Spoiler: It IS Wednesday.
    • You require specialty pillows, ear plugs, and Tums to sleep. Might I suggest the melt aways. And special women’s earplugs. Those two X chromosomes really prefer pink plugs.

  • You notice agism as much as gender inequity. Steve: “We are pulling out of the Nuclear deal.” Me: “Tell me something unrelated to Trump and how screwed we are.” Steve: “Geena Davis’ fourth husband is divorcing her.” Me: “First Hollywood ditches her then her younger husband. What has she been in lately?” Steve: “Let’s ask IMDB” IMDB: “Nothing relevant.” Me: “Well she is 62. 62 is even worse than 44” Steve: “Is that a thing?” Me: “Its even more of a thing than fifth grade continuation. There are like three actresses that can be cast over 60.” Steve: “Hellen Mirren Helen Mirren Helen Mirren” Me: “And Dame Judi Dench.”
  • You bald on the top of your head whilst growing beard hairs. Even if you have two X chromosomes. Totally unfhair. (Stop underlining my puns autocorrect.)
  • You talk to your devices. And not just the ones who want to be talked to. “Alexa: tell Siri she sucks.” Siri: “Sorry, could you say that again?” Alexa: “As many times as you want Siri” Siri: “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.”
  • The kids seem like the parents.  I am mindlessly sitting on the couch playing 2048 (6×6 survival if you want to be like me.) Oliver: “The equation for 2048 is y=2+ 2to the x.”( Except I can’t remember what he said. Let’s pretend that was it.) Me: “uuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhh” Some vague echo of memory is stirred and then disappears. Oliver: “I love equations.” Me: “uuuuuuuuh.” Oliver: “Do you want me to make you eggs?” Me: “I’m not sure I’m eating breakfast.” Oliver: “Mama, Breakfast gives you the fuel you need for your day.”
  • Lots of foods and drinks give you stomach pain. Spinach. What could be wrong with spinach? My system says spinach sucks. Eggplant. Ouch. Bell peppers. Ditto.  C’mon these are VEGETABLES. Red wine. That is supposed to prevent breast cancer. And make me feel European. Instead it gives me a migraine. Chocolate. Dark chocolate is a veritable super food. Yet I can’t sleep if I eat it. Milk. Totally off the table. Not going to explain it here.
  • Belly bloat isn’t the only reason elastic waist pants seem good. Lets just blame the vegetables. You know what makes me feel middle aged? The fact that Chicos starts to seem like an actual option for clothing.  What could be better than wide legged linen pants an oversized t shirt and a toe length cardigan? Maybe some slacks and a blazer? I know- add oversized jewelry. That’ll spice things up. This all pairs well with Dame Judi Dench’s hairdo.
  • Fun activities include: weeding, checking the status of the little free library, comparing the weather in the places you have lived, decanting bulk goods into jars, making shopping lists, re-writing shopping lists, and figuring out equations. Well, except for the last one.
  • Hey Steve, looking for ideas for mother’s day: Might I suggest?


life. I’m sure you have your own to add. Please do…

Does driving make you anxious?

She would never erase her brown spots

She is tall and willowy. To talk to her I look up towards the Colorado sun. She has a small dog and a small-ish kid with very blue eyes and I am asking her about my face. Generously she overlooks the enormous bloody scab that I have created trying to solve the problem of a clogged pore. Instead she looks as I trace my finger over the splotchy brown areas that caused Leo to ask if I were turning into a giraffe. “No” I told him “I would have to be a whole lot taller.” Today I am feeling part optimist and part hypocrite as she describes the way she, as a medical aesthetician, will use the “good stuff” on my melasma. She has just finished a seminar on melasma. I am in good hands. This is the optimistic bit. Erasing the marks of life on my face is where the hyprocritical part comes in. I have written articles and posts against botox, urging women to fill up on their laugh lines rather than fill them in. Now I am seeking a medical eraser, one to subtract the years of teenage birth control pills and decades of sunshine. It is not very different. I could have had it wrong. I don’t feel as though I am turning back time, but rather turning a fresh face to the next few decades. I stand taller. Then she tells me where her office is. And I sink down into myself. It is out of my two mile bubble. I am anxious to drive.

I will never get there.

Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash
This make me anxious. You?

Some of it I come by honestly, I have terrible night vision. So bad in fact that I suspect I am legally blind. I have not had this theory confirmed by an optometrist. There are probably no eye doctors in my approved area of travel anyways. I also have a rotten sense of direction. This is a bit of a chicken and the egg issue. I don’t know where to drive because I don’t drive. I rely so heavily on GPS that after three years in Denver I am still using it to navigate the two turns to the boys’ dentist. Which is in the same building as my doctor. And my pharmacy. The car navigation system is such a part of our life that the boys have named her Pam (map backwards). One evening we drove to the beer garden for dinner which has a pretty good landmark, a full sized jet parked in front,  and is one parking lot away from the dentist. Steve drove us (of course) and from the back seat I heard a small amazed voice. “You can get there without Pam dada?” It was a miracle. Even more surprising than the 8 nights of Hannukah, or that one time Oliver found his shoes on the first try.

Not anxious to drive or fly.

Last night we had a dinner party to say goodbye to my cousin and his new bride. There were ten of us and we sat on our small patio and made paper airplanes and toasted the couple who would be heading off the next morning at 6 am. Despite an actual tearful goodbye there were some nice parts of the evening. (Boy did I want to use the word literal in that last sentence.) We got to talk about our next big gathering, an engagement party for my other cousin. With my love of cheese and cloth napkins I have been tapped to help with the party planning. My aunt and uncle will be hosting in their house in Boulder. Boulder is 45 minutes away and I have been there dozens of times. My aunt asked me to drive up to figure out the flow and layout of the party. I froze at her reasonable request. I couldn’t get there. I mean, I could, but I wouldn’t. I wanted Steve to drive me. I spun it as a foothills hike for he and the boys and just incidentally I would plan a party. This was a strong idea, I wouldn’t have to drive AND I wouldn’t have to hike. But with his work and work travel there was no time to make the trip together before the party. I had no solution. Except the obvious one. I would have to take myself. OR. I looked over to my cousin. It was his party after all. Maybe he could drive me.

“Sure” he told me shrugging his linen clad shoulders. “No problem.” It was like someone told me I could skip my root canal. I would not have to drive to Boulder over overpasses, or past substations, through parts unknown.

I stand at the counter picking at the gluten free cheesecake thinking about my mental map. The places I love, the places I know, are lit with a glow as bright as the sun but easier to look at. There is Vermont and Truro, Anna Maria and Denver, a super small portion of Istanbul, Summit County and that one block in Florence.  I have always thought about my map in terms of these happy bubbles. But now I focus on the space between. Those spaces are darker than the circles were bright. The darkness is as thick and endless as the edge of the barrier reef that I snorkeled in Roatan. It was as if a piece of the world was ending and if I swam just one more stroke, took one more step, drove on more block, I would end too.

This, I realize, is unreasonable.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash
Like this but without the connecting threads. And with fewer bright spots.

I have written about gender bias in driving before, and my research showed that women are in fact not worse drivers than men. But perhaps they are more scared. My sample size of one confirmed this theory. I looked up from my cheescake and asked the woman who was about to drive from Denver to Monterey tomorrow morning “are you afraid of driving.” She paused, her dark curls falling forward. “Not really.” “But I don’t like to drive with anyone else in the car with me.” “Because you might kill them?”  I asked, as full of tact as possible. She crossed her slim brown arms in an unconscious gesture of protection. “No. Of course not. I’m just anxious they will notice my driving and judge me.” That was different. She didn’t imagine herself just driving off the road the way I did. She wasn’t afraid of rolling into some abyss. Then she continued slowly. “Maybe I am afraid. I think maybe I am. I would rather not drive.”

Photo by michael podger on Unsplash
On the web is better than on my shoulder

My aunt nodded. “Of course I don’t like to drive.” She is soft spoken, gentle, but about this she was firm. There was one other woman there. The one who had just reached across the counter to pull a large spider off of my shoulder without a break in her conversation. My cousin looked at me and said “she is more of a man than I ever will be.” I wanted to chastise him about his perpetuation of gender stereotypes but since I was working through one of my own I kept my mouth shut. She seemed fearless. Was she afraid? But the conversation she had not interrupted to protect me from a painful venomous death was serious. They were talking about their work, about life changes, about those late twenty years where you are getting married and moving and switching landscape architecture firms. About dentist board exams. About their own versions of the abyss, and how they will navigate them.

I noticed that none of them were staying in place. None of them were protecting the comfort of their bubbles. Instead they were driving forward, taking a bit of the light of this life into the darkness next place.

I have something to learn from them.

What about you? Are you afraid to drive? Is your life smaller than it might be?


Mind Blowing Sex can be anti-climactic

It was 4:30 on a Thursday and Steve and I were shut in the bathroom to avoid the two and four legged beasts in our house. It wasn’t supposed to be intimate or life-changing. This was the check in kind of sex. The type that says “I remember you.” A quick release and a promise of more to come.

Instead I ended on the floor unable to see or stand. My mind blown.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-9-25-15-amThe pain in my head went way beyond childbirth. There was no number on the scale for what I felt. The clutching at the back of my neck radiated up to the crown of my head where clearly someone was stabbing me with a butcher knife. It didn’t take long for Steve to realize that this was agony not ecstasy.

Within three minutes the pain was completely gone. No side effects remained…I went through the list with the nurse on the phone no dizziness, no visual problems. I was expecting her to release me. To head down the stairs to the frantic dog and the warmly lit kitchen. Instead she sent me to the ER.

“It might be a stroke.” She told me. And suddenly that sounded right.

Last year Cards Against Humanity released a deck of cards around Hanukkah. Each card had a joke about jews. I carried one around in my wallet for a few weeks. “A headache that is definitely cancer.” I was a living punchline.

As we called friends to watch the kids and told them to make their own tacos I reassured myself. Even if it was a stroke I was not dead. As I walked to the car I began to see spots in my right eye. I reassured myself that it wasn’t an even quadrant of my visual field. My vision was poor in the best of times. But the evidence was mounting. I had had a stroke. I squeezed my fist to measure the relative strength in my hands. The right one seemed weaker. They both seemed weak, but the right one was weak-ER.

Steve was silent as he drove down Sixth Ave. The canopy of trees had lost their leaves and the giant houses were displaying their humongous lit wreaths. Before I moved to Denver I didn’t know that lit wreaths came in 30 foot diameters. But they do. And evidently they come in sets of two.

As the sky darkened the lights came into sharper focus and I tested my eyes squeezing one shut then the other. Were they the same? No. Certainly not.

At the hospital we went through the endless check in procedure and I reassured myself that I was clearly not emergent. At least judging by the attitude of the staff. My blood pressure was 157 over 101. “Very high” the med tech told me matter of factly. I thanked her for the update and my sarcasm seemed to be broken as well because she told me I was very welcome.

Steve tried to distract me with the text string he was having with Oliver.

“We have arrived at the hospital and mama is feeling good.”


“Sheryl will be there around 7.”


“Remember to take the dog out.”


“We are in a room expecting the doctor.”

wait for it….


Leo on the other hand is filling my screen with stings of emojis and heart beats. Pledges of “I love you.” And inquiries into my health. I am reminded of their differences. I am thinking about how much, stoic or emotional, both boys need their Mama.

I am pledging to eat only lettuce. I am committing to walking 16 miles a day. I am wondering how much my weight is factoring into my fear and also my fate.

The doctor finally makes it into the room after we have made it through a nursing shift change.

He comes in and perches on the side of my bed. For the 7th time I describe the headache. Its intensity. Its short lived time frame. I explain my potentially psychosomatic vision problems.

“What were you doing when the headache started?”

I am sure it is in the notes. I have told this story to everyone, including the wrinkled raisin woman in the wheelchair who didn’t speak english.

“I was having sex.”

“Ah.” he says. “This is called coital cephalalgia.” “Sometimes it is nothing. Sometimes it causes a brain bleed with an increase in blood pressure.” “I don’t think I can let you leave here without a cat scan.”

Instead of staying in the moment I have leapt ahead. “What if it is a brain bleed?” “What then?” Somehow he is willing to travel to the future with me. As Steve tells me to take it one step at a time the MD is happy to engage me.

“We go in through your vascular system and just zap it.” I channel Oliver. “OK.”

He orders the cat scan, tells us it will be 90 minutes for the radiologist to read it and he will be back to confer afterwards.

Outside of our sliding door I hear someone ask him. “Is the stroke alert?”

“Yes.” He answers.

I squeeze my eyes and my hands one at a time, waiting for paralysis to set in on my right side.

I refuse the wheelchair when the transport team comes to walk me down the hall to the cat scan machine. It is a huge donut in a room mercifully free of florescent lights. My escort seems put off by the number of people in the room.

“Do you have time to squeeze in a quick head?” He asks them.

I want to ask if he likes being able to squeeze in a quick head but the humor doesn’t seem to reach my lips. Another sign of a stroke, clearly.

Five minutes later I am walking (maybe with a little lilt?) back to room ten.

For the first time I swing my legs onto the bed. I am giving in. I am no longer a mama and a wife and a woman who makes inappropriate sexual jokes to strangers. I am a patient. I am a stroke victim. I am someone whose brain is not healthy enough for sex.

We wait. We text the boys.

“OK” Oliver tells us about our updated ETA.

Things must be OK there. I tell Steve.

The third nurse of the day slides into the room between the scratchy curtain and the edge of the door.

“Cat scan looks good.” He tells us.

All set.

And there it is.

No doctor, no radiologist. No admonishments about my weight or advice about our sex life. I am no longer a patient. I am back to being me. I wonder why it is one or the other. But not for long…because as we walk out of the hospital hand in hand I say to Steve:

“That was anti-climactic.”

“In more ways than one.” He responds.

My hands feel strong. My eyes are equal and reactive. My walk is straight.

Most importantly my ability to laugh at poor sexual humor is intact.





The shallow end

shallow woman with great hair“I still can’t wear mascara” she tells her friend. She is in tailored pants, a fitted T shirt hugging her curves with toned tan arms holding her 1/2 caf skinny latte. She has chunky jewelry, brand named sandals and professionally colored blond hair. “You look great.” her friend tells her, truthfully. “People are going to look at me and be like, what is up with her.” I guess because of the mascara. I am listening to her and wondering ‘what is up with her.’

My ginger peach tea is ready at the drinks bar and I stumble out between the tables to get it.

Passing the steel and wood standing work space (outlets, outlets) another 40 something pair of women have their heads close together. “I want to just smell it.” says the one wearing Lululemon with an invisible elastic holding back loose dark curls. “I know. Isn’t it incredible.” Unlike certain CEOs these women are ‘leaning in’ over a gourmet pop tart. “It’s my daily sin. I would NEVER tell my kids about it.” They laugh, sharing a moment of how unbelievable it would be to let their kids know that they eat baked goods. EVERY DAY. At least one of them does.

I wonder for the 10,000th time how we got here. How we worry about mascara and carbs. How we pass on the messages to our kids, while hiding our own “sins.” Why we spend time and money erasing lines and dark spots, poking at sagging skin, smoothing creams and potions on our faces, buying six pairs of white jeans until we find one that lifts our ass just right. Maybe we won’t be able to sit comfortably in those jeans, or stand comfortable in those shoes. But look at our legs. Don’t they look long and lean? Media. Social expectations.

I have a diet too. I call it a food revolution with my boys so they don’t think of it as restrictive. I am cutting way back on carbs. No sinful Popsters for me. Despite my efforts to frame my eating habits as a positive for myself and my kids (more energy, stable blood sugar, less stomach pain) we all call the days with fries and pies a “cheat” day. I am a cheater when I eat food off of the list. A big, fat, cheater.

My motivation for the food revolution is primarily for health reasons. But despite my clog wearing, cut off jean sporting, make up free appearance there is vanity in my decision to diet as well. Or at least the hope to re-claim vanity. Perhaps I have turned my low fashion life into my signature because I don’t have a real shot at shining. The closest I come to polish is my Polish background. I imagine myself 40 pounds lighter. Then perhaps I will wear mascara and blow dry my hair.

Across the coffee shop I see two women embracing. I know one of them. She is gorgeous and also grounded. She is engaged in her work, juggles kids, and always has a smile. She is an excellent example of someone who seems to ride the roller coaster of expectations without puking over the edge. As they hug her friend holds her at arms length and tells her “you look adorable.” “I’ve had this forever” she replies, pulling her dress out at the skirt to look at the pattern. As she turns to me I see that even she is wearing mascara.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 8.43.42 AMNext to me I tune back in to the original pair of women. Slowly the words filter in. They are talking about funerals and failed surgeries. They are talking of lost loves and grieving children. They are talking about a young woman who has lost a battle and the family shattered behind them. The one with the bare eyes says she has been asked to give a eulogy. All of a sudden “I still can’t wear mascara” seems less like a symptom of pink eye the virus and more like the result of pink eyes from crying.

Once again the tiniest tidbit of conversation has sent me spiraling in the wrong direction. “People are going to wonder what is up with me” was not a statement about appearance. It was about grief, and the most fundamental of human realities. These past 15 minutes as I looked around the coffee shop at blond bob after blond bob I was judging simply on appearance. Which is exactly the practice that perpetuates the problem.

It is what is inside the skin that is the story.

Do you have a story about re-thinking a snap judgement? How do you make sure you concentrate on the book not the cover?


The mom bra

Not a mom braMy husband holds out his marred hands. The new blisters from raking the lawn are offset from his hockey calluses and he invites me to look them over with a bit of pride. These are marks made by care taking and he loves to take care…if not of his hands.

Sharing the slant of morning sunlight from our East-facing window I look away from his palms into my bra drawer. I am faced with the same choice every morning; the soft comfort of plain cotton versus the scratchy, sexy lace. After years of feeling like I am choosing between the slippers and stilettos of breast fashion I visited a high-end lingerie store. There the brusque woman had manipulated my chest, squeezing and plumping, lifting and tightening, clucking and re-adjusting.

She deemed me a 40G which I joked sounded more like an apartment number than a bra size. Maybe she had heard that one before but she didn’t smile. I explained that I was looking for a hybrid. Something that gave me lift and shape but didn’t make me want to rip it off in a bathroom stall by 11:30 am. Expertise and exorbitant prices had not changed a thing. The new lace boob prison scratched open sores into my side as I shifted against the underwire. By the evening I was pulling the pointy parts away from ribcage with my thumbs as I sipped wine with a friend. Instead of the enjoying the wine all I could do was whine about the wire.

[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]She deemed me a 40G which I joked sounded more like an apartment number than a bra size. @annawritesstuff[/Tweet]

So here I was, my husband examining his hands and me the neatly folded fabric bras.

Remembering his pride in his pain I asked him if he ever made choices that hurt him for vanity.

“Just pulling out that one long eyebrow hair” he answered. Together we listed his self inflicted aches and pains. His ski boots were tight, his arms ached as he carried our sleeping boys to bed, sometimes he burned his hand going after an escaping bit of stir fry from the wok, but in general his irritations were for love of sport or family, not in response to any societal expectation of beauty. “In fact”, he added, face thoughtful, “I think I pull the eyebrow hair to keep my conversations running smoothly. I notice people distracted by it when we are talking. They look from my eyes to my brows and we lose the train of thought of our talk.”

For the most part I resist general societal ideas of beauty, particularly when they cause me discomfort. I wear clogs and let my eyebrows take their natural shape. I consider the newly forming lines in my face the patina of a life of laughter and thought, and never try to cover them with makeup or erase them with Botox. Somehow my breasts didn’t get such leeway from me.

I remember the days of nursing, when they were magically elastic stretching away from me like silly putty as my sons craned their heads toward sights and sounds outside of my embrace. My breasts retained that stretch, forever marking the time that they were a time of sustenance. Why would I try to reverse those sign? Why don’t I take care of them with comfy cotton and let them tell the story of how they took care of my boys.

I pulled the softest bra from the batch and began to fasten it around my back. “I love this one” my husband told me, and reached out with his callused hands to help.

A version of this post was originally published on Ravishly.


Echoes- nothing really ends

Woodpecker sound echoes
This woodpecker doesn’t look as loud as mine.

For weeks I have been woken by a woodpecker. Sadly, not my husband’s. It sounds like construction inside my head, its knocking not quite rhythmic making it hard to sort out neatly into dreams. The sound echoes off of the strange slants of my bedroom ceiling entering my consciousness the way the bird enters the ailing tree.

Awake earlier than we want my husband holds my hand and gives it a light squeeze. I feel a rush of pain and remember the injury I sustained rolling around on the floor at a dinner party. It was a post season celebration of Destination Imagination, and the parents had got to act out our engineering challenge of building a paper tower. If it sounds confusing it was. After failing to build a tower we then needed to play the roles of paper and paper clips in real life. As a method actor in childhood I understood the mindset of my crumbled paper and threw myself into the part. Body folding in ways it shouldn’t I tossed myself aside flinging out my arms in utter desolation. Doing so I whacked the top of my hand on a coffee table and sustained some sort of odd acting injury. If you think I was the weirdest adult in the room I have video evidence that this is not true. I don’t quite know how a post it tower can be phallic, but acted out by 40 somethings in some way it could be. Who knew that the reverberations of two years of our children working and playing together would result in one of the worst videos ever. Or that a handful of months later I would still be nursing my hand.

Echoes of placeThis weekend I spent two days in Boston at my mother’s retirement dinner and symposium. Amongst academic talks deans and students and professors came together to express their appreciation for the way she shaped their careers and their lives. From my pre teen years I have teased my mother, picked at her quirks. At its best my ribbing  was affection, its worst destruction. She is still often a punch line and material for my writing, as well as my therapy. This was a wonderful weekend as a string of toasts that revealed to me the richness of her work, and patience and dedication she was able to show her field, her colleagues and herself. At the end of the day she told the story of arriving at Radcliffe at 17 and how she grew up at Harvard.


I grew up here – and as it turns out have grown (almost) old here. I can trace the stages of my life in paths and buildings. I knew from the moment I heard my first Stanley Hoffmann lecture in “War” in Emerson that I wanted to do this. I was an undergrad in Social Studies at a moment when every seminar turned into an anti-Vietnam teach-in. Each moment of my life has its physical spot. Studying for exams in a bathing suit on the roof of Barnard Hall; my dissertation defense in the basement of the faculty club, my first love affair in Winthrop House, the yard where I pushed Anna’s stroller, classrooms where I struggled to deliver my first lectures, and then after laptops, invented ways to keep students’ attention. In this list of memories tied to Harvard there is the exhibition of my husband’s collection of Chinese Scholar’s Rocks at the Sackler shortly before his death.

I can say these grounds and faces were for me what the associations of home town are for others. I’m not alone in this. It’s bizarre, I know, but I’ll quote Hegel on the Greeks: “Their grand object was their country in its living and real aspect; — this actual Athens… these Temples, these Altars, this form of social life…these manners and customs.” This geography, its concrete particulars, is identity.

Her life will go on and so will Harvard. Yet they will forever feel the echoes of each other.

the end of the echoes of musicKilling time at the airport for my flight home Prince’s “I would die 4 u” played at 9 am. The soundtrack of my coming of age was made up of Price and David Bowie. This has been a tough year for magical musical men. My birthday present from my first serious boyfriend was the Sound and Vision Box set, complete with a laserdisc a decade before I owned a DVD player. I would open the box to stroke the disc, looking at its unmarred circle imagining us married and playing it together when the technology finally caught up to Bowie’s vision. None of that came to be. But the narrative arc of Ziggy Stardust brought music closer to my main medium of storytelling.  I superimposed my own risks and adventures with the man who stole the moon. In the airport I am literally moved by Prince’s song. I am bouncing, in some ways more and other ways less than I did my freshman year in college. It was the song I blared to wake me from the stupor of inorganic chemistry. There was no way to zone out when I was getting pumped up. My mind is blown that there will be no new music from these men. But it is full of the echoes of the sound (and vision) of what they have created and I have lived.

There it is again. The woodpecker is only searching for breakfast, but it is changing my outlook. More than that it is eating away at the tree, making it less stable with each passing morning. The marks it makes will never leave.

Through insult and injury, sound and vision, working and retiring, acting and living, nothing is ever completely over. It all echoes.


Dressing down dressing up

I don’t like to dress up. Heels, makeup, spanx, a bra with underwire. All disasters. Add to those things a few vodkas and I am a dripping, stumbling, bathroom avoiding, chest clawing mess. Like I normally am but more so. As much as I don’t like to dress up it is trumped by my loathing of “dressing up.” As in costumes, theme parties, role play. I know people love it. I am not like those people.

A friend invited Steve and I to a 70’s themed fundraiser. We said yes. That is where the trouble began.

Steve and I have date afternoons on Fridays and a few weeks ago we went to a kick ass vintage shop. I bought a mumu. It was more comfortable than yoga clothes. I was planning to rock this party. I added gold heels, a gold and plastic belt and hoop earrings. All vintage. All perfectly poised to take my mumu from day to night.

Fast forward to party afternoon.

I started by shaving. Remember, it is March. I generally take November to March off from that particular maintenance activity. Needless to say I was exhausted by the time I exited the shower. Then I USED THE HAIRDRYER. This item is older than my mumu. Once a year when I plug it in it groans to life as if rising from a decade long slumber. Once again it decided to blow hot air so I went to work. Oddly my elbow seemed to bed backwards and the brush ended up flat side against my hair. Useless. Somehow my hair ended up dry with ends flipped up a la Carol Brady. This was the very action that I battled for all of elementary school. Today, for one day of my life the flip was welcome.

Playing dress up
Who won that fight?

Leo and Steve went to target to pick out my makeup. My instructions were vague and the cosmetic area is large. Stuff came home. So I put it on my face. Liquid eyeliner all the better to get into my eyeballs. Four shades of shade. Endless combinations. I worked my magic and stepped back. My left eye looked as if I had just stepped out of the ring after a half round with Rhonda Rousey. My right eye looked naked. Thus began the classic add too much to the right then match with the left then the right then the left. Even for the seventies it was too much.

Mumu time. At this point I thought all vanity had left me. But donned in the mumu I realized that wasn’t true. So I went back to my dress. The only dress. I added the vintage bling and called it good. On went the original shoes. Within four steps I had turned an ankle by step 9 I was on the floor. Using two hands to walk down the stairs one foot meeting the next like a toddler I decided that the gold shoes needed to go back in the closet with the mumu.

I made it downstairs in my single pair of shoes. I am feeling ready.

Leo comes in from the park and looks at Steve and I. “Wow!” he says. “You look different…look at your eye highlighter? And what is wrong with your skin?”

Exactly. Exactly.

I take a last look at the two black eyes in the mirror and notice that my hair has turned itself under into a decidedly un seventies bob.

At least Steve looks good.

Dressing up for the 70's

I have more to say about Vaginas

Today I have the debut guest post on the site Making Midlife Matter writing about women’s desires to erase the laugh lines of life from their faces with a ubiquitous injection.

making midlife matter logo
Excellent new Website edited by incredibly talented women. Elena’s personal blog is

My article is a lightly edited version of an anti-Botox post I wrote in the fall. The day I published the original on my blog (Don’t read it, read the one on the new site…fewer typos for me and more traffic for them…) I met a friend for lunch. She is not a regular reader (I KNOW and I STILL eat with her…but I don’t buy her lunch) I asked her what she thought about plastic surgery and she floored me with this one. “I am thinking about having my lips done. My vaginal lips.”

Four responses crowded my brain at once

  1. What. The. Fuck.
  2.  By the time they are down there no one cares what it looks like anyways.
  3. Other than Georgia O’Keefe I don’t know many people that consider vaginas to be as beautiful as flowers.
  4.  I can’t wait to get this on my blog. (Maybe I should buy her lunch.)

I spat out something like “Fuck my ugly vagina blog down there.” It was her time to be confused. After a few calming sips of herbal tea I was ready to try again. I went with my most uplifting rebuttal:

By the time he (in her case) is down there he isn’t thinking about what your vagina LOOKS like. He is pot committed. I mean, he is already all in. What IS it with the poker. He is ready to poke-her. Oh god the tea isn’t working. I decided to cash in my chips and stopped screeching my outrage.

She is calm as she responds. “The surgery has a 90% success rate.”

I am less calm. “Ninety percent??? What could the other 10% feel like.”

I needed more than a few sips of tea as I contemplated these women, propped on pillows, swollen in pain, watching Downtown Abbey and slamming tequila shooters. These were the 90% success women. The other 10% were mangled, numb, or unable to come. Probably all three. Even tequila and the dowager countess would be at a loss with their loss.

waxed legs and high heelsFinally I calmed down enough to talk about the upside of plastic surgery. If someone is fixated on a particular part of themselves that can be “cured” by a simple surgery why not pay for that confidence. We do a version of this when we wax our legs and put on heels.

Nefriti with makeup
Nefriti probably would have had all four lips done if it was an option in 1320 BCE.

Make up has been around for over 6,000 years. A little injection, insertion, snip or tuck is simply progress. Or so the argument goes. I don’t even brush my hair so it comes as no surprise that I am arguing the extreme case for comfort over cosmetics.

A few weeks later at a “Ladies Mexican Fiesta” fundraiser for our public school I bring up the topic to a handful of women in the kitchen. I told you tequila would figure into this.

One sane woman walked out. The rest of us, various shades of blonde, debated the lip surgery. One or two never got past the idea that we were talking about lips that live beneath our nose despite my repeated cries of “VAGINAL lips.” More party goers seemed open to the idea than I would have guessed. I trod the five house home in my clogs and wondered what the ravages of time and hopefully other ravages have done to us.

What it comes down to down there is that the middle aged vagina shows it’s story the way the middle aged face does. Kids and love and lust have all left their mark. Why would we erase that?

[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]the middle aged vagina shows it’s story the way the middle aged face does.[/Tweet]