Dancing with Daddy

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When my parents danced, their marriage played out on the dance floor. The two moved together in rhythm, my mother throwing flirtatious little grins over her shoulder as dad spun her, my tall father’s body like a comma so he could lean close and whisper in my petite mother’s ear.

The two anticipated each other’s moves and the dance floor would empty around them as other dancers’ energy flagged. My mom and dad danced every dance at every wedding and every Mardi Gras ball and every party.

Like many girls, I learned to dance atop my father’s feet. Jitterbugs and waltzes and crazy turns and dips.

When it was time for my first school dance, my mother watched from the sofa while my father and I turned methodically around the living room, all of us laughing at my mis-steps.

“Just watch my eyes and not your feet,” my dad would say. But gazing into his eyes was an intimacy for my mother and nothing I could sustain without breaking into nervous giggles.

Later in life, I took dance lessons. Salsa and ballroom. Country western line dancing. I could cha-cha and boogie on cue. I couldn’t wait for the next family wedding so I could take my dad to the dance floor and finally keep up.

And, finally, a cousin married. That night, after many dances with my mother, my dad held his hand out to me while my mother, fanning herself, went off to get a cool drink.

I faced my dad, right hand loosely clasped in his, left hand perched on his shoulder. The music started. And I stepped on his feet. And then he stepped on mine.

“Sorry,” he said with a wince.

And, the secret was out. My dad didn’t know dance steps! My one-two-three-cross was at cross-purposes with the dance he was trying to lead.

“I just dance,” he said, shrugging.

We stumbled through the rest of the song and then, with relief, my dad reclaimed my mother.

It would take years – years of watching my parents swoop along the dance floor – before I realized that dancing isn’t about the steps. It’s about improvisation. And feeling rhythm. And trusting someone enough to follow, even when you’re not sure where the heck they’re leading.

Dad’s been gone for two years now and I’m still dancing. I’ve gotten pretty good at leading, but I’m still a novice at that following stuff. On and off the dance floor.

Joe & Pauline Mitternight
50th Anniversary Party
New Orleans 09

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Editing Friends

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I was reading a book by business writer and nice guy Daniel Pink. It’s called “When,” and it talks cites a bunch of studies about the best times to do things…from scheduling big meetings to delivering bad news.

It’s a cool book – well, Daniel Pink is a cool guy and yes, I have actually met him. In fact, I may do a whole thing on this book in the future, but for now, I want to focus on one part.

So, in one part of the book, Pink says we have three stages of life…the launch, which gets us from childhood to young adulthood; the harsh reality stage, when life slams us with setbacks and sadness, along with some triumphs. And, finally, the final bittersweet stage.

That last stage starts around age 60 or so.

And the scientists found that the last stage is a time in which the number of friends drops.

You might think that’s sad, but you have to look more closely at the data from the researchers – and they are from the Washington University in St. Louis and Stanford University, in case that kind of thing matters to you. Anyway, these researchers say that it’s not that older people lose friends. It’s more that they EDIT friends. Because there are friends and then there are FRIENDS.

First, there are the kinds of friends who are like family. The womb-to-tomb kind of friends. Those friends, we keep. And, then there are the other friends. The Facebook friends. The nod-to-at-the-grocery friends. The friends you only see at yoga class. Those friends? We start to shed them like a snake sheds its skin.

And it’s not just that these friends drift away. We actively delete them. The researchers say the closer we get to the end of life, the more we narrow in to what’s really important in friendships, and that means fewer, but deeper, friendships.

Interestingly, this phenomenon was true for any ending, not just the end of life. End a job? Suddenly your lunch companion isn’t around anymore, and that’s fine. Graduate? Your study buddy isn’t on speed dial. It’s natural.

I did an episode of my podcast, Keep it Juicy!, on decluttering recently. It’s all about getting rid of the stuff that brings you down and doesn’t bring you joy. If you haven’t worn it in a year, toss it. Don’t be the family caretaker of all the memories. Stuff isn’t people, so have a yard sale.

All of that makes sense.

Except…

Except when it doesn’t.

Now, maybe I haven’t reached that final stage yet. I’m not quite 60, although I can certainly see it waiting around the corner.

And I’m not talking about when you finally fire a toxic friend…actually, I did a whole thing about when you need to fire a friend.

 

So, no, I’m not talking about the kinds of “frenemies” that you need to get rid of, pronto, no matter what stage of your life you’re in.

But…

I moved to a city where I don’t know anyone. If I didn’t want to stay inside the house staring at my husband – and he would have started making references to The Shining after Day One – I had to meet people. I had to make new friends.

I can’t say they are my soulmates like Liz, my very best friend from college days. But they are fun, I care about these people, and they end our dates with “I love you,” so there’s at least some mutual affection.

I’ve been here for about five years. And maybe I just got in the habit, but I still feel that every new person I meet could be a friend. I still get excited when I click with a new person and we make a date to get coffee. I’m not editing, I’m adding.

I like to think of it as building up a valuable collection.

And I don’t feel like these friendships clutter up my life or that I need to edit them.

I’m like a magpie, collecting soft things for my nest. Not every friendship is going to meet every need. But someday, some quirky emotion will have me pulling a particular friendship out of the nest and it will be just exactly what I need right then.

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You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

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Before I tell you this story, I have to set ground rules. I’m not posting photos. Not gonna happen. You’ll get clip art and like it.

So.

I think I get what old age is going to be like: it will be making up heroic adventures to explain injuries sustained in the most mundane ways.

I think I cracked my rib.

And, for my readers, I’m going to be honest about the injury.

I was posing for my husband, a photographer who is always frustrated by the lack of cooperation his spouse exhibits whenever a camera lens is turned her way. I do not like the way I look in photos. I have an image of myself, one that props up my self esteem, and I do not care to see it contradicted in four-color glory.

But, finally, in a burst of what-the-hell, I agreed to let him take photographs of the boudoir nature. I had lost weight. I wasn’t getting any younger. He finally asked often enough. Whatever the reason, the date was set.

My husband set up a privacy cabana of hanging bedsheets on the upper porch to ensure privacy and capture the best daylight. And there we were.

I decided to try a pose on my stomach and then I remembered someone said that Kim Kardashian simultaneously arched a bit and sucked in her gut for the best photos. So I tried. Slowly. But even moving with caution on the hard wooden porch, I heard a crack from my left side.

The pain went all up my side for a second before settling beneath my left breast. No, not a heart attack. This tale is a comedy, not a tragedy.

Now, the day after, it hurts to press on my sternum, hurts to twist certain ways, and god help me if I sneeze. The rib is either cracked or bruised, neither of which can be treated with anything but time. But that story is just for you.

For anyone else who sees me wince, I’m going to expound on how I saved an entire city from a villain, super-hero style and got injured in the battle. Because, who would believe the truth?

pinup-girl-sexy-wearing-pink-bikini-84986312Check out Helen’s podcast, Keep it Juicy!

My Body is a Jerk

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Sometimes you can cast about for a New Year’s resolution. And sometimes, one walks up and slaps you upside the head.

For the past few months, I have been battling annoying but not fatal illnesses. Food poisoning. Kidney infection. Strep throat. Back spasm. My body has been kind of a jerk to me.

And I am so grateful.

I lived most of last year inside my head.

Lots going on there! Freelance writing assignments, this blog, figuring out how to create a podcast as I was launching it, getting accepted to a writers’ retreat and then realizing that (ulp!) I have to actually finish my novel’s first draft so I have more than the paltry beginning pages that got me accepted.

Not to mention the endless worrying about a year that seems to have more than its share of disasters, both natural and man-made. I watched the news like a woman obsessed; I was slowly creating my own personal disaster.

It happened gradually. A few yoga classes sacrificed because I wanted to finish something. Refusals when my husband invited me to walk the dogs – it was too hot, too cold, it got in the way of a deadline. Add in a heavy travel schedule with its indignities, canned airplane air, and timezone juggling.

Soon, all that fevered mental activity started reaching tentacles into my body. A couple of restless nights. A headache in the morning. Weight gain. Little taps from my body on the shoulder of my heedless mind. Hey, remember me?

Ignored.

And so, an ill-advised hot dog at O’Hare led to violent illness. Sure, I lost some of that weight – the hard way – but I also lost out on a trip to visit my daughter and see the house that would become her very first. Because there was no way I could sit for an entire flight without being sick.

Still, my husband and daughter Face-timed me as they walked the house and it was almost as good as being there. And I did have more deadlines, so I just put my head down and kept going. Mind over matter or, in this case, over body.

And then, a cramping in my lower back that the trainer couldn’t roll out.

“Usually you have problems on the left side. Weird that it’s on the right this time,” he said.

Yeah, weird, because it wound up being my kidneys and no amount of stretching was going to fix that. Still, Thanksgiving was coming up and a trip to Los Angeles to see my in-laws. And if I couldn’t drink as much because of the antibiotics, and if family photos show me looking unattractive and puffy…well, no time to worry about that, and that’s what Photoshop is for.

And then, Christmas loomed. I couldn’t find the holiday spirit anywhere. We bought a tree, but only because my husband – usually a champion Grinch – suggested it. He put up lights. I threw some ornaments onto the tree, not even bothering to get down all the boxes from the attic.

I couldn’t put my finger on the problem.

Christmas day was going to be quiet for us, with the real celebration a few days later when we joined my daughter at my ex’s house in D.C. But a quiet Christmas was hardly the problem since we’ve switched off hosting every other year since my daughter was 2.

Other years have certainly been harder. Four years ago was my first Christmas without my mom. Last year, the first without my dad.

So, where was my spirit this year? I tried submerging myself in the Hallmark Channel’s sappy Christmas movies. No joy.

I wasn’t sad, I was just…not happy.

Feeling resigned to a “meh” Christmas rather than a “merry” one, I was reading the paper when I felt that dry, cotton feeling in my throat. Uh-oh. I know this one.

Sure enough, by morning, my throat was on fire, my voice a painful squeak, and I was shivering from fevered chills. Strep throat. Flat on my back or curled tightly fetal to stay warm. Too exhausted to read or watch television, I slept for 24 hours.

There was no more living in my head. My jerk of a body demanded attention. Hey, you remember me NOW?!

And when the days of isolation and pain passed, I woke up with the kind of pre-alarm energy I used to. My body felt so much lighter – as well it should, after fasting for a few days. But it also felt good. Not just an absence of pain, but really good.

And that, finally, was what my body had been trying to tell me all along. You can’t just ignore one whole part of you. I know this. I even preach this. But I forgot that shoveling food into your body – even artisan, farm-to-table food – without savoring it, and sitting at your computer all day – even writing some of your best work – without remembering your body’s needs, is ignoring one whole side of the foundation. It’s going to topple.

Apparently my body wasn’t quite done – a nasty rash in reaction to the antibiotics and a killer back spasm in reaction to long drives and freezing weather accompanied the turn-of-year champagne.

So, that resolution? BALANCE. Give my jerk body equal time with the frenetic squirrel in my head. Because, if I don’t? My body is enough of a jerk to hold me hostage until I get myself back in balance.

Balance