Growing Old Gracefully (or not)!

The alternative to aging is death, so obviously I’ll take aging any day over being 6 feet under but hello why must the process be so damn hard. A show of hands, please, from those who wake up every day to some kind of mysterious body ache or pain. Oh, not you! It might be only me, then. Well, I am not ashamed to say that within the past few years I feel like my body has been slowly breaking down. From no longer being able to just run up a flight of stairs, to holding onto the arm of the chair when I get up from a seated position, to that mysterious ache that has somehow, over the years, moved from my left knee to my right knee back to my left knee again and even more recently back spasms; I am here to say that aging sucks!

It took me years, (clears throat) who am I kidding? It took me decades to finally fall in love with my body. I’m sure, like me, you grew up bombarded with images of what the perfect body should look like from the perpetually ‘high school skinny’ female models to the muscular, rock-hard bodies of their male counterparts plastered all over bestselling magazines, it took me a while to accept my thick thighs, my not so buxom bosom, my huge behind, my very wide, child-bearing hips and of course my belly. However, as soon as I started accepting my body, all of it, even the cellulite; as I settled into being comfortable with my imperfect weight to height ratio; here it is that my body has slowly started to let me know in no uncertain terms that I am not young anymore.

Active Lifestyle

I’ll be 45 on my next birthday, which happens to be next month, and I have always lived a pretty active lifestyle. Do I run marathons? No, I don’t. I’m the girl who can’t run a full mile without becoming out of breath, but I can walk 10 miles without stopping at a fairly fast pace. Am I CrossFit / Insanity type fitness enthusiast? Nope, not at all. All that jumping coupled with the incredulous amount of burpees aren’t for me; but I can keep pace with the best of them in any regular aerobics, step, spin or boot camp class. I actually like to exercise and have been doing so consistently since I was in high school. Plus I have had always had a gym membership since I started College so, I can’t for the life of me, understand why my body has started to feel like someone who has never enjoyed the benefits of exercise. Isn’t it supposed to be that the more active you are the younger and fitter you will feel despite your true age? I was under the misguided impression that was how it worked. Thankfully, I look younger than my age but I’m certainly starting to feel every bit of the 44 years that I have been around.

Aches and Pains

It began with the left knee, a few years ago, that suddenly started hurting out of the blue. I went to see a doctor, had an MRI done and I was told that I had a torn cartilage. Alright, fine, that happens to the best of us. I followed the doctor’s orders and consistently did all the exercises required to strengthen the muscles around the knee in order to prevent joint instability and further damage. I can’t remember how long it took but soon I wasn’t feeling any pain, not even a minor ache; than a couple of years later the same pain came back again but this time the pain had mysteriously moved over to the right knee. Like, WTH?! I went through the entire process again with the doctors and the MRIs but this time I was told that the MRI didn’t show anything wrong. Really? Well, why does my right knee hurt then? “Age, perhaps!” was the response from the doctor. Wait! What?!

Over the years the pain in both my left knee and my right knee kind of just comes and goes. I will go months and not feel any pain in either of them and then out of nowhere one will start hurting for a couple of days, then the pain will switch to the other knee or just magically disappear. It’s the weirdest thing, but I suppose that as long as both knees don’t hurt at the same time I think I can live with it.

The Metabolism

It’s a known fact that the older you get the more your metabolism slows down. Well, my metabolism has not only slowed down but it has freaking stopped! It’s like I cannot lose that extra 10 pounds no matter what I do or how hard I try.

When I was younger, all I had to do was think of losing weight and the pounds would just miraculously melt away. Once, when I was in College, I purchased a dress 2 sizes smaller than my regular size (the store didn’t have my size and I just had to have that particul dress) to wear out the following weekend. I was confident that I could drop enough weight in seven days to fit into that gorgeous red dress, and guess what? I did! I went on what was called the Cabbage Soup Diet for a week and lost even more weight than I had anticipated. It was just that easy! Yes, it took tonnes of discipline to only eat/drink that horrid cabbage soup for an entire week but I hung the dress on the door to my dorm, where I could see it daily, as a way of motivating me and I did it. I was able to slide into that little red number on the very following Saturday night, despite it being 2 sizes smaller, just a week before, when it was purchased.

Now, I’ll exercise the same discipline I had back then by spending even more time, weeks on end, eating fruits, and vegetables, and drinking green smoothies; I’ll even amp up my workout at the gym and I still won’t lose a pound, not a single pound. If I’m not careful, I might even gain a pound or two, even on a strict regiment. Why? You guessed it; because of aging.

Doctors

For years, as an adult, I only had one doctor, and that doctor was my gynecologist. At the time, I only needed one doctor to maintain my health and vitality, just one. However, as I have gotten older my list of doctors has grown significantly and I now need a team of doctors to help me stay healthy and to assist in the fight against the aging process. It is truly a phenomenon that I have gone from only having one doctor that I would see annually to now having 5 doctors – an orthopedic doctor, a chiropractor, an internist, a radiologist and most recently a dermatologist – that I see on a regular basis; and I am a reasonably healthy woman. A team of doctors is now needed because I just happen to be getting older. I mean, who would have thought that having not visited a dermatologist in my entire 44 years on this planet that in recent months I would have had to go to the dermatologist, not once but 4 times. Apparently, there is something called adult acne.

The truth is I am healthy, and I am very lucky that whatever little bit of aches and pains that I may feel is minor; but I can’t help but think back to only a decade ago to the things my body could do effortlessly and painlessly without much thought. These days I won’t do certain exercise moves without first thinking about whether or not I might inadvertently pull something and, or, wake up with that brutal after workout pain that causes me to walk and flinch for the next 24 to 36 hours.

Having birthdays and aging is indeed a privilege but growing old gracefully, well, that is a matter of choice. What will you choose? As for me, I choose to fight the aging process. I will continue to cover my greys with Clairol Nice N’ Easy hair color, I will still wear my high heels, who knows, I may even go dancing in them too; and when I take my selfies, I’ll make sure to use a selfie stick and hold it as far away as possible, so that my laugh lines won’t show in the picture.

5 Lessons I Learned from my Divorce

“I got another woman pregnant.” Those were the words uttered by my then husband to me that fractured my seemingly perfect world on July 3, 2004.

Not long after he said those words I was looking for an apartment and filing my own divorce. To say I was devastated was an understatement. Every day for weeks, perhaps even months, I woke up wishing that the moment I had heard those words was just an extremely bad dream, that I could rewind the hands of time and that those words would not, in fact, be my new reality.

My reality was that I was a brand new mom, at the time my son was a mere 7 months old, still being breastfed. I had just started my law practice, which meant I had no money and my entire world revolved around my then husband. I had been living in the United States less than 3 years and I hadn’t yet gotten my permanent green card. I was still, according to the United States Government, “a temporary resident”, and my entire life was falling apart.

I think I cried every day for about 2 weeks straight. I remember crying in the ladies’ room of the Courthouse just minutes before I was scheduled to go on the record to make oral arguments on behalf of a client. To this day I still can’t believe the remarkable outcome I got in that particular case; it was nothing short of a miracle.

It’s been 14 years since those devastating words and in retrospect, I realize that I learned a hell of a lot about myself, relationships and marriage, in general, as I went through the absolute worst phase of my life.

1. Lessons in Finance

Try looking for an apartment in New York City without a few thousand dollars stashed away somewhere. I wasn’t making a lot of money, to begin with. I had recently started my practice on May 1st of that same year and I only had a handful of clients.

However, whatever I did earn, no matter how small, some of it could have been put away for a rainy day; but in my world, at the time there was simply no need to do that since I had a husband. It’s not that I wanted or expected him to take care of me, Lord knows that was not the case, it’s just that I felt comfortable. Nowhere in my head did I ever think of opening a savings account solely in my own name and putting away even a small percentage of any retainer I had earned.

I am almost embarrassed now thinking of how financially naive I was. My broken heart and wounded pride made me want to take my newborn and get the hell out of Dodge. I wanted to leave but I had no money to leave. Talk about being stuck!

2. Lessons in Victimhood

I quickly learned that I don’t do very well with sympathy. Word of my Ex-husband’s infidelity spread very quickly among people we knew, and after word got around, I would typically be greeted with one of either two looks – either one of sympathy or the ‘Thank God I am not in her position’ look. Oh, how I hated those looks. I was always a proud, confident woman, so having people feel sorry for me was the absolute worst. Those looks served as motivation though, for me to be strong, or at the very least, try.

I remember having dinner with a friend, less than a month after my Ex’s revelation, and she was amazed that I was doing so well. The reality was that I wasn’t doing well at all. I was dying inside! Really freaking dying inside, but every day that I made myself get out of bed and get dressed for work I thought about my baby boy Blake and how much he needed me. It sounds cliché, but I felt like I needed to be strong for him. He needed a strong mother, who was about to become a single parent, to raise him, guide him and teach him life lessons, and I would be damned if I was going to let him down.

So every morning I got up, got dressed, adjusted my crown, remembered who I am, put my high heels on, kissed my baby boy goodbye and stepped out into the world with my broken heart because I was determined to fake it until I could make it.

3. Lessons in Co-parenting

To this day I am very proud of the way I left my Ex. The day had finally come when I had enough money saved to make my exit. It was a regular Tuesday morning when he left for work and as soon as he was out the door I started packing. I had organized a group of friends to help me and I had all of my and Blake’s belongings out of his apartment before he came home from work that afternoon.

I would have paid good money to see his face when he opened the front door to his condo that evening only to find that we were gone. He blew up my phone for several days after that, and I refused to answer when finally he left a voicemail message threatening to call the police on me for kidnapping his son.

Oh really?! How about you bring the National Guard too while you’re at it!

I am not ashamed to say that I was not above being petty in refusing to tell him where we had gone and not allowing him access to Blake. Yeah, it was my way of trying to hurt him; but after 8 straight days of just me and Blake I answered one of his phone calls and agreed for him to come and pick up our son. The truth is I was tired and needed a break from the baby. However, It was at that moment that I realized that I couldn’t do it alone. The reality was that Blake also needed his father, as strong a woman as I am I had the wherewithal to realize that there were things that my ex-husband could teach Blake that I couldn’t. A woman can’t teach a boy how to be a man. He needed his father for that. I had to learn to co-parent with him despite how I felt about him. The truth is that even though my Ex had been a terrible husband he was a great father to our son. I couldn’t allow my desire to be petty to jeopardize his relationship with Blake. It wasn’t worth it; because in the long run, it would only end up hurting Blake too.

4. Lessons in Letting Stuff Go!

When your entire world comes crashing down around you it is extremely difficult to convince yourself that the best way to move on is to let go of the desire to punish the person who caused your pain. It’s human nature to want to hurt the person that hurt you, its human nature to want to see them suffer but the truth is that only cripples you; at least I know it crippled me. Trust me when I tell you that there is no moving forward when you hold on to the hurt.

I had to make a concerted effort to just let the shit go. It was much easier said than done though, but I had to make myself do it. I had to tell myself that I had a choice. I could choose to feel sorry for myself, talk about the heartbreak all day everyday to anyone who would listen and spend my time plotting and planning some kind of stupid revenge on my Ex, or, I could find something to do that would occupy my time and perhaps make me a tad less emotional over the entire ordeal, if that were possible. My saving grace was my budding law practice, I buried myself in my work and my cases. I also joined the gym and found a new love for a new dance exercise that was emerging at the time called Zumba.

5. Lessons in Forgiveness

It took months, maybe even a year, for me to be able to communicate with my Ex in a decent manner, you know the one where you actually talk in a civilized tone instead of saying everything with contempt and derision. The first year following our split was an extremely tough one in which I could never have seen myself forgiving his infidelity; but as time passed and I let go off of the hurt, I was able to move on and it became easier to move towards forgiveness.

It has now been 14 years since my Ex uttered those words to me, words that I thought were completely unforgiving; but life has a way of throwing things at us that we had no idea we were built for.

My Ex’s infidelity, despite being something I could forgive years later, will never ever be something I can forget. I will never forget the way I felt at that moment when I heard those words. I will never forget the time; the date; what he was wearing (a white T-shirt and plaid boxers); what I was wearing, where we were, and even what the room smelled like at that moment. I will never forget how his actions, changed the course of my life; but I have forgiven him and that ability to forgive has allowed me to let go, move on, and set me on the path to what, in retrospect, has allowed me to live my best life and allowed me to be the very best Racquel.

Breaking the Friendship Rules

“Who is your best friend?” The question was directed at me.

“Er…ah…” I stumbled for a bit trying to answer the question, as I thought about it. “Well, I have a bunch of really good friends, I guess I have 5 best friends.”

“Five! How can anyone have five best friends?” she said incredulously. “There ought to be that one friend out of your five that you can tell your deepest, darkest secrets to…Who is that?”

What’s with the deepest, darkest criteria for a friendship anyway? Can’t we just connect with people without sharing the so-called “deepest, darkest”? And can’t that connection grow and still be an “honest to God”, real, true friendship without the deepest, darkest stuff? This line of interrogation was beginning to annoy me; I felt I was being forced to choose who I like the most and the truth is these 5 chicks, yeah I said chicks, are all special to me on different levels and for different reasons. Why is it that we are always forced to pick just one?

Longevity = True Friendships

Here’s the thing – I don’t want to be confined to any friendship rules. Like the one that says you have to know someone for x period of time before you can call that person your friend. Really? Nah! I don’t think so. I have people who I have just recently met, that I consider friends. Why do you have to be the kid from Elementary School, who I use to kick rocks with, or the girl from High School, who I use to gossip with or even the friends from College, who I use to party with for you to be considered a friend? Why can’t you just be someone I recently met that I share a really cool connection with? I don’t understand the longevity criteria requirement. I don’t have to know you inside out, nor do you have to know me inside out for us to connect on an “I really dig you” level because let’s face it how much do we really know the people we call our friends?

We Have to Have A lot in Common

You and I don’t have to have to share similar interests or like to go to the same places for us to be friends, we just need to have shared values. I have a really good friend, who is nothing like me. She is incredibly quiet and shy and super intellectual and may never have been to a real party in her life. She analyses everything and never just goes with the flow. Yep, she is the total opposite of me but she is my friend. Why? Because we have these really deep, interesting conversations. She admires me, as much as I admire her despite our differences; and in the short time since we met, we have learned so much from each other. That might be part of the reason we get along so well, because of our differences, we each bring something unfamiliar and new into the friendship. I am forever amazed by the way this girl mind works. We aren’t kindred spirits but there is still a connection.

Perfection

I’m still waiting on one of my 5 to return my phone call from two days ago. This friend is moody as hell, if she’s not in the mood to talk, which is often, she will not pick up her phone, doesn’t matter who is calling. She responds to text messages and calls back when she feels like it, or she may respond to your phone call with a text. (I have a rule that a phone call should be returned with a phone call and not a text, but this friend doesn’t care about my rules.) Yet, she is still one of my go-to 5, because I know if I really need her she is there. I might have to text her 911, but she’ll be there😀. She and I have history, she is fun, she is smart and I like her I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude, because you know I have a bit of that I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude myself. Our friends don’t have to be perfect for our friendships to be real nor do they have to conform to our idiosyncratic rules. My friends sometimes annoy me and I am 100% sure I annoy them. Friendships are not all rainbows and butterflies, sometimes your friends will behave less than perfect and as long as a weird situation doesn’t develop that leaves you wondering if that person is actually your true friend then their imperfections are perfectly okay.

Age Differences

Who says we can’t be friends if we weren’t born in the same decade? There is this notion that a real connection can’t be made if the person is not within your age group. False!

Last Summer, my son, who was then 13 years old announced that his new best friend was his summer employer, who is 20 years his senior. He really liked hanging out with her and looked forward to going to his Summer job every day simply because to his surprise “she is a geek” like him. He was intrigued by the fact that an adult could be into LEGO, video-games and Science experiments like he was. He had made a connection, a real one.

Similarly, one of my go-to 5 is 12 years my junior. It’s a real relaxed friendship, she is one of my favorite people, but she does have an old soul and I am young at heart so we get to meet somewhere in the middle as our friendship blossomed over the years and it couldn’t be more authentic.

Distance and Time

Distance and time have been known to create a void in many friendships, so much so that people believe the misconception that they are no longer “real friends” with someone they don’t talk to on a daily / weekly basis. That is another rule I don’t subscribe to. Not because our connections are few and far between doesn’t mean that our bond isn’t as tight as when we were hanging on a regular basis.

Thankfully, social media has made the World a much smaller place and has facilitated greater, sometimes even meaningful connections. However, we all have that one friend who is just not into social media. Conversations with that friend only take place once or twice a year on your respective birthdays; you’re not in on the day-to-day happenings of your friend’s life and vice versa but believe me when I tell you it doesn’t make the friendship any less than it used to be. Gone are the days when you both use to sit in your dorm room and watch “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos” and have lengthy discussions about each show afterward. Those were really great times sprinkled with laugh out loud memories but when you both get the opportunity to connect you realize that what you built years ago still has a solid foundation and that bond is irreplaceable.

There are too many rules and guidelines surrounding the definition of a true friend and what friendships really means. It’s unfortunate that society has created a kind of hierarchy, if you will, of friends in an effort to get people to rank their relationships with each other, but the reality is that when you meet a friend you know, whether or not you’ve spent years or days getting to know them, instinctively you’ll know when you’ve made a worthwhile connection.