There are times when I wonder if either of my two nieces ever find their way over to my blog from their very busy lives. They’re both on their own with the prerequisite all-consuming jobs, apartments, each has her small circle of best buds and a larger circle of people that they hang out with. One is a cat lover, one has a dog. One lives outside of Philadelphia, one lives outside of Washington, DC. The eldest of the two is a liberal independent woman with a “take no prisoners” attitude. She’s the one I know the best simply because I’ve spent more time with her. They younger is the same age as my son (almost 27), has a very active Facebook life which is where I catch up with the things that are important to her, has been to Paris, seems to travel socially in a pack of girlfriends and is, as much as I can tell, a fairly staunch Republican.
I’m sure that their mothers (my two older sisters) have taken them in hand at various times and given them whatever sage advice it is that mothers always tell their daughters. But just in case they get a wee bit curious about their aunt (that seemingly zany woman who once had no comment when her sister said, “Kathy, you’re the only woman I know who could go out into the desert and come back with a guy,”); just in case they wander over here and start exploring my blog, I thought I’d leave them some “secrets,” some bits of buried treasure to find and to take away with them just in case their moms didn’t tell them everything. Like most women, I thought I’d start with the sage bits of advice that my own mom gave to me.
My mother always told me that she was sending me to college so that I would always be able to take care of myself, not to find a husband. Given the fact that her salary was four times what her soon-to-be husband was making, you could say that she walked her talk. This was all the more remarkable because she and “that guy,” the man who would be my dad, were dating back in the 1930’s when women her age should already have been married and, how dare she make more than a man?
She told me that her parents had raised five kids with two simple rules: 1) Call if you’re going to be late and, 2) no matter how bad you think it is, it’s never bad enough that you have to lie. So, don’t.
Years later, when I was a high school English teacher and had the undivided attention of five classes of 17 year old students, I found myself explaining the wisdom of these two rules with the fervent hope that I might be able to catch someone’s attention, perhaps influence future decisions before they were made. “Here’s why you need to call your parents,” I’d say when there was an extra five minutes before the dismissal bell rang, “parents can envision a horrific accident that leaves everyone dead at the scene. They will hold your funeral and mourn your loss for the rest of their lives … in less than one second. They will be your worst nightmare if you waltz into your house without your calling to tell them you are going to be late. It won’t matter if you are 10, 20 or 30 minutes late or longer. Save yourself and be nice to your parents. Call.”
Now. About this lying thing? Not even one time. Never. Ever.
For the longest time, my mom’s two rules and the “taking care of myself” part were enough to live by. They got me through many adult milestones: my first apartment, first job, dating, getting married, first house, and finally, being a mom. Looking back on almost thirty years, I picked up a few of my own rules that, like my mom’s rules, didn’t just make my life easier, but have brought me happiness. Here, then, my darling nieces, are my top six “secrets” for living your best life at any age.
1. Follow the rule of ten percent. Whenever someone hands you money, and, we’ll assume that this is money you have honestly earned because you were both raised to be women of strong moral character, take ten percent of the total and put it into a savings account that you absolutely can not touch until you are well into your forties. This is what I told my son when he was ten years old having just earned his first five dollars. “Always, remember,” I said as I sat next to him on the living room couch, “that money saved works for you if you take care of it. Let’s go down to the bank and open up a savings account for you and get you started on building for your dreams.”
We didn’t talk about money when I was growing up. Well, we did, but not like this. I’d worked from the time I was thirteen and knew how to put money aside for the short-term. But, I don’t remember anyone ever sitting me down to talk about saving money for the long haul, or suggesting how I could do that and what the rewards would be.
2. Find a sport and play it for your lifetime. Growing up, I was a girl-jock at a school where our girls’ varsity field hockey and lacrosse teams out-scored the boys varsity football and basket ball teams. Would you believe that in my junior and senior years in high school our girls’ teams were undefeated and unscored upon? Okay, so that’s me showing off. Here’s the important part: playing team sports or finding a sport that you can play individually (golf, swimming, cycling, yoga, ballet or modern dance; running, to name the obvious ones) for your entire life will keep you fit and happy for a long time.
You’ll be like one of those Amazon warriors from ancient times if you stick with it. Switch things up so you don’t get bored. Be bold. There was a time when most women wouldn’t be caught dead in a weight room. I’d be one of two women lifting weights in what had once been a basement classroom of an elementary school that had been converted into a community activity center.
Today? I’m an eight minute drive away from a gorgeous, Olympic sized pool. There are two yoga studios in the village, both running at peak capacity. After hunkering down from September to December to edit and revise the manuscript for my book, and foolishly telling myself that the daily exercise could wait until the book was done, I’m back to three days during the week of any combination of yoga and swimming with either Saturday or Sunday yoga class added to the mix. These are my most creative times when I find I get some of my best ideas.
3. Find a great hair stylist. Sometimes, the best therapy is walking into a hair salon and trusting your hair to someone who really knows what they’re doing when it comes to mixing color and cutting hair. Finding the right stylist for me took years and almost always happened the way that it will happen for you. After two years of silently admiring my friend’s hair, I asked her who she went to. This woman was worth the wait: she”s amazing. You know I’m right about this. Don’t skimp.
4. If you marry, marry a man/a woman who can dance or cook. If you’re really lucky, you might find someone who does both. There is nothing sexier than a man on a dance floor who’s light on his feet; who moves to music like it’s a second skin. But if you have to make a trade off? A guy who knows his way around the kitchen is a good substitute. This small nugget of advice was one that I shared with my students back in my teaching days. Whenever I brought this up, I’d watch their reactions as they weighed the meaning behind my words. The girls would always nod their heads. They got it. The boys? Their understanding was still a few more years down the road.
5. Be gracious when you give up stilettos. The day that you realize the health of your back beats looking like a hot, sexy mama is bittersweet. I know. I’ve been there. For most of us, this too shall pass. And, on the days when you think that you can wear them just one more time? Go to your secret chocolate stash and dig in. Then, go for a run with your best friend or hike a trail with your dog. Or go shopping and buy the foxiest pair of flats you can find.
6. Embrace wherever you are however old you are! Remember when you were twelve, you couldn’t wait to be thirteen? Or, when you were fifteen, you ached to be just one year older? How did you feel when you turned eighteen or twenty-one? All too soon, you’re staring thirty in the bathroom mirror or coming up on the early side of forty. Fifty. Fifty-five? Almost sixty? Maybe you’re walking with your sixty-five year old self or you’re just the other side of seventy. Maybe eighty’s looking pretty good right now.
It was my unexpected pleasure to meet a woman who was just shy of one hundred. I met her at a reception for a poet one late afternoon. The reading was held at the Memorial Art Gallery. Friends had come in from out of town for the event and my husband and I joined them. This wonderful woman was their friend. She was so elegant. To my astonishment, she had refused to give up heels. She wore her stilettos with grace and style as she made her entrance on her escort’s arm.
Now, you know a few of my best secrets. Each age has its own milestones. Grab hold of every one. Never look so far ahead that you forget to pay attention to exactly where you are right now.