Better & Bolder, the Blog

the Gift

The 2012 Summer Olympics are coming up. There are a ton of magazine and newspaper articles about the athletes as well as gorgeous pictures of these phenomenal athletes.

Here’s a bit that may blow your mind. In Health magazine July/August 2012, Olympic soccer player Christie Rampone says she’s always had hang ups about her behind and her thighs. Really, an Olympian? Think of how those legs and that backside have powered her to Olympic medals! 

Rampone says what made her proud of her body was having kids. “This is what I look like and I’m comfortable with it. I’m not a perfect shape, but I’m fit and healthy, so I should be proud of it,” says Rampone. 

Not a perfect shape? If Olympic shape isn’t perfect shape, what is? It’s incredibly brave of Rampone to admit that she has these hang ups. While it’s nice to know we all get insecure sometimes, it also puts into perspective how terribly, terribly hard so many of us are on ourselves. A body that can win an Olympic medal sounds perfect to me, yet she knows there’s a very thin ideal out there that she can’t meet, not as an athlete and not as a mother.

This ideal can rip into our goals and interfere with our health, even as competitive athletes. Another Olympian, the gorgeous swimmer Amanda Beard, has admitted she was bulimic and depressed as a young athlete and it took many years, several abusive marriages, and finally lots of therapy before she became truly healthy. Dara Torres just missed swimming in her 6th Olympics this summer at the age of 45 (she came in 4th place in her final heat, missing by a tenth of a second the first or second place necessary to go to London). Torres, a mom who has abs like a 12 year old gymnast, has admitted that she just has the genes for that kind of thing -- and also that she was bulimic in college. Just as Beard had, she continued to train and compete at the same time she was denying her body the nutrition and love so necessary for health. Torres eventually got help and recovered in 1990.

The image of the perfect body is cultural. We don’t all agree on what is beautiful. The very ripped and athletic female is most beautiful to some, and for others the exceptional hour-glass figure of Kim Kardashian is ideal. I’m one of those that sees the Olympian body -- exceptionally muscular, exceedingly low body fat -- and it’s my ideal. When I look in the mirror, I am scrutinizing how my body differs from this ideal rather than simply saying, “Hello, body! How you doing today, Gorgeous?” What a transformation that would be, the day I looked in the mirror and instead of comparing or judging, I greeted my image the way I would greet someone I love. (I’ll let you all know if I get there. It’s on my To Do list this lifetime.)

It is important for me to acknowledge what I see as the ideal, and then realize that there is what is best for my body. Being very low in body fat is not what’s best for my 49 year old body. It’s neither necessary nor optimal. It doesn’t matter if I think I will look better if I won’t perform and feel better. I also need to remember that my body is my body, and I have limits. I’m not tall with long legs, and no amount of love, nutrition and exercise will change that. There is also a limit to how exceptional I am willing to be with my nutrition and exercise (though there doesn’t need to be a limit on how much I love my body). 

These athletes are the outliers. They are the exceptions. Not everyone who works hard and eats well and goes to sleep on time is going to look like they do and perform like they do. Not only are they born with the physical genes for this, they cultivate a discipline and regimen that makes expression of those genetic gifts fully realized. Olympians make taking care of their bodies a full time job.  

I’m reading that these athletes spend the whole day training, with 3 or 4 hours in the morning, a long lunch break, and another 3 or 4 hours in the afternoon. Learning, running, lifting weights, stretching and resting is their work. As with any job, I’m sure they have days when they wake in the morning and think, wow, I do not want to go to work. They don’t even see a paycheck at the end of the week. They keep going in the hopes that they’ll end up in the number one spot. They keep going because they’ve set a goal. And they keep going because, most days, they love what they do.

One reason these athletes train so hard may be explained by Olympian Allyson Felix, a sprinter. In Elle magazine July 2012, she talks about what she does to motivate herself to keep going. She says she repeats the saying, “To do anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

I like that very much. She’s acknowledging that she feels an obligation to make herself the best she can be. She’s different and special in this particular way, and it’s important to develop that as far as she can. What’s your gift? I wonder if most of us know what makes us exceptional and what are our spectacular gifts.

We also may find we have a gift that is not Olympic-worthy but a gift nonetheless. I’ve rediscovered that running is really hard work for me and makes me feel happy and strong. It does a superior job of regulating my metabolism. I am not a gifted runner -- I don’t go fast and I don’t go far -- in terms of comparing myself to others. I have, however, the gift of strong legs and a desire to run and play, and those things get me out on the trails three times a week (any more than that, and I’m a sore wreck so even when I want to run more often, I hold myself back).

Alanis Morissette is a singer/songwriter who is also a mom and a runner. She recently was quoted by Runner’s World magazine, “I think there is no better way to invite a human being to view their body differently than by inviting them to be an athlete, by revering one's body as an instrument rather than just an ornament. It's a really great way to reorient how you see your body so you can see it as this incredible, awe-inspiring machine that you need to fuel well in order for it to function.”

Even Olympic athletes get hooked into viewing their bodies as ornamental, as something for others to view. They too get hooked into the delusion that their bodies will look better if they’re thinner here or more muscular there. This delusion can interfere with their natural desire to train and compete well. 

We can learn from these athletes about the importance of loving the body we have while cultivating both the body and life we want. 

Crumbling and Creaky

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I have this thing where I think I'm a year older than I am. People ask me how old I am, and I have to think for a moment. 

That may be why it was particularly tough on me to turn 49 this year. Secretly, inside, I believe I'm already 50. And 50 is a big deal. I can't really identify with that, you know? Me, 50? Are you sure?

For a while, I was really bummed out. I was going to be getting older and creakier by the minute. I was gonna enter menopause and gain 10 pounds and slouch a lot and generally feel more tired all the time. This was the vision I had of my future, one in which I was crumbling and getting creakier by the day.

It's possible. It could happen. In fact, I could make it happen. I could eat a bunch of donuts and sit around and wait for my age to catch up with me. Or, I could eat really well and move my body…and sit around and wait for my age to catch up with me.

My age will catch up with me. I am getting older. The joints are aged, the ligaments are worn, and there is no cure for this. I can't do what I did ten years ago or twenty. That's part of my heartache, wondering if I really did all that I could have been doing when my body was more spry. Did I love my body enough then? Did I love moving in my body enough then?

Just as I can't stop myself moving forward, I can't move back and undo anything I did or thought before. I may need to pause for a moment and mourn it, to rue some choices and to wonder if I did my very best. Then I've got to burn that and let it go. Whatever I was doing before was getting me ready for whatever I'm doing now, and that's all I got: now. 

I decided to rename my blog and email posts. Fab feels overused. Fabulous 40s, fabulous 50s, sumptuous 60s, okay, all right. Someone's got a Fab and Healthy website already. I've never been quite sure that what I wanted to be was fabulous anyway.  Do I feel amazing and incredible and spectacular, just absolutely fabulous? I guess not. It is something to aspire to, though, and I love urbandictionary.com's definition: the ultimate expression of enthusiasm and joy. Now, that I can get into. But I'm letting it go and all of you out there who want to be Fab and Fabulous, keep on keeping on.

What began to percolate up for me in June was a sense that I could hold a very different vision of myself growing older. This vision didn't have to include me falling apart and losing myself to all my aches and creaks. I will ache and I will creak, and then I'll get up and go for a run. I may need extra stretching or rolling on the foam roller. I may not be able to run quite as long or often, but, heck, that's why there's cross training. Nia one day, run the next, bike, walk, swim, yoga, whatever. Just don't stop.

This is not an easy vision for me to hold. I am quite scared of getting ill. I'm scared of injury. I'm upset by the possibility that I can do less and move less. So there's some bravado in this new vision of myself. Better, bolder mid-life mama.

Mostly, though, there's hope. There's realism that's checked by optimism. Realism can be very over-rated. Why not be optimistic? As long as the blinders aren't permanent, can't I just wake up and imagine how good I could feel today without worrying it will be more crumbling and creaking? What if , today, I got better? and bolder?

So this is my motto for moving into 50. Better bolder mid-life mama. I am still very wrapped into my life as Mom. It defines much of what I do in a day and much of what's going on in my head and heart. The changes in my teens' lives are immense, and with their changes, I shift, tumble, right myself, and scramble to find my center and set my boundaries. That's why I put Mama in there. 

Mid-life is a way of embracing that there is a next life. Those early years in our lives are intense as we grow up, become adults, get careers, grow partnerships and families. It's like being chased by a fire some years -- go! go! go! They're good years and we're young and healthy, but what if they aren't, actually, the best years?  We may be nimble and beautiful in our youth, but we're not always wise or experienced and darned if those last two things don't count for a lot. Much happiness and ease can come from wisdom and experience. Perhaps it is a whole new kind of indescribably delicious on the other side.

Mid-life for a woman is also a huge physical shift that brings with it extensive reconstructive emotional and soul surgery. If you aren't there yet, trust me on this; these years are a second adolescence. They are tumultuous. They rock our worlds. They're supposed to do that. Shifting into second adulthood is work. 

Of course, I still plan to be healthy and it's not as if I'd turn down fabulous. It's just that this idea that these next years can be even better is a new one for me. It's an empowering idea, one that I have to grow into. I really doubt it some days. I have no trouble imagining crumbling and creaky, though that doesn't make for much of an inspiration for you all, does it? Nor for me. That's what better and bolder is. It's my own inspiration. It's my rallying cry. When it gets tough, I remember that I can choose to be better and bolder, or I can choose to crumble and creak. Neither is inevitable. Both are reasonable options. One option is just a whole heckuva lot more fun. I have to bring out my bold to believe I can be better.

For now, I'm running. I'm jumping. My thinning and slightly greying hair stays long. I wear shorts when it's hot. There may come a day when I can't run or jump or keep my hair long or wear shorts without dismay. I do not have to worry about or fear that day yet. It may be ahead ofme, but not this year and probably not next year. Okay, I'm a bit bummed about turning 50. But I don't have to dwell on it as if I'm turning 80. Shoot, that's another 30 years away! What kind of wonderful is going to happen in those 3 decades? That's what I'm talking about. One day, one year, at a time, and in some ways, finding the better and the bolder as I go.

Flash Mob

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Truth: I didn’t think doing a flash mob was gonna be fun. At all. When Katie told me the  morning of the mob that she couldn’t come and was so bummed and said how fun it was gonna be, I thought, really? Really it’s gonna be fun? Because it’s just five minutes of dancing on the streets. And I’m supposed to be in front. And if things don’t go right, it’s on me.

I like when I create a plan and know that everything will go according to plan. I know: that’s not really how anything happens. This flash mob felt particularly crazy. Who would show up? Would we have a sound system for our music? What if someone doesn’t want us there and tries to get us to move? 

I was pushing my daughter like mad: call this person, plan this event, text everyone again. She pretty much wanted to make everything happen the week before the event. This, it turned out, was fine. T-shirts and fabric paint were bought, and shirts got made. I did my thing, ordering shirts in advance. 

That afternoon, not happy with my shirt, I took the tank designated for one of Siobhan’s friends. Then Siobhan took the one I’d ordered, did her rip-and-fringe job, and turned the shirt into a crop for her friend. Done and done. At the mob, not everyone wore an Obama shirt.  The planet continued to turn. 

At one point, maybe two or three weeks before the event, my personal freeze points were apparent and I needed help. We needed access to a sound system and electricity to power it. I didn’t want to find this. I didn’t quite know who to call or how to make it happen, and I just...froze. I was frozen for several weeks and miserable about it. 

Finally, I began asking and begging everyone for help. It turns out, as you already know, that when we ask for help, everyone is delighted to step up with something. Advice. Assurances. Eventually, just the connection we needed: somebody was in a band and sure we could use their sound after their set. 

That’s all I knew, so I was showing up and hoping that it would work fine. That’s not my happy place, hoping it will be fine, when there are a bunch of people who anticipate that I will have taken care of this. I received more reassurances and, in the end, there was nothing else to do but show up with hope.

I really disliked that part, the not-knowing, and I really delighted in the part where I had to ask everyone for help. There was something very sweet about saying I was stuck and asking for suggestions and support. No one sneered at me. No one said I should take care of it.  Everyone was very concerned with making sure the flash mob happened and how to help make it happen together.

It turns out, doing a flash mob is really, really fun. The band (Le Chat Lunatique) finished their set, Tom from the Outpost finished with is “thank you, come out to more events” talk, and our music started. There were 30-plus of us, and as we started, we effectively trapped the people who’d been listening to the band and were headed back out to Central. 

That’s okay. They were delighted. They whispered to each other, oh, oh, it’s a flash mob! and they whipped out their cameras. My son Ailin was filming while his friend, Jahdi, had found a way onto a rooftop and was filming from there. We were just dancing, getting on our groove on, and feeding off the energy of the crowd and from each other, and, yes, Katie, it really was a lot of fun.