Lessons Learned and my Daughter

249318_10150265561584670_3960982_nIn December 2012, my daughter Camille moved back to the States. She had lived and worked in London for almost 10 years. A change was in her stars, she grabbed the opportunity and came to Miami. After all, her parents were here and it was as good a place as any to start anew.

Needless to say, I was thrilled. Through the years she was away, I visited London often, which was a bonus since it’s my favorite city. Still, that she would be here was absolutely wonderful. Of course, it has not been smooth sailing. It never is when an adult child moves back with her parents, but overall this has been a great idea.

First and foremost, we have time to sit back and have long talks. Skype is convenient and the best thing when you live apart, but face-to-face conversations are priceless. Being able to hug her when I feel like it, pamper her if she is sick, cook her favorite meals……it’s wonderful. These, however, are not the only things that make me so happy of having her here. What I have learned from my daughter makes me happier!!!

Camille was born in Miami and grew up in Curaçao. She left home at 17 to go for a post-graduate year at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut; then on to Emmanuel College in Boston and finally the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. She worked in art and jewelery, traveled extensively and enjoyed every minute of her life abroad. So coming to Miami is just coming back home, in a way. How long will she stay is up in the air, but I am enjoying her stay with us.

252867_10150262107564670_4607708_nAs parents, we tend to think we are the only ones who can teach. Very seldom do we stop to think about what we can learn from our children. I think I have been like that most of my motherhood years. Of course, we are absolutely wrong!!! From the way our children answer to our queries, the way they offer opinions about our daily encounters with our jobs, housework, the neighbors, our pets and so much more, we should have deducted that they can be spot on. Everyone tells us that truth comes out of the mouths of babies. Why aren’t we paying attention and learning from those truths? In the last 18 months, I have been paying attention….and I have learned!!.

Camille’s influence has been gradual, she is insightful and observant. She doesn’t rush into anything and is careful with decisions and opinions. She is thorough and pays attention to details, has a lot more patience that I would ever have. She is not argumentative, but can get her point across….just give her time. These have given me pause, thinking before I rush to conclusions. She tells me she likes the calmer me!!!

Questioning our choices of food, such as, was one of her first observations. The ones that know me, know that I make reservations far better than I cook. Yes, I cook everyday for lunch, but nothing fancy, nothing complicated and everything quick. Grocery shopping is one of my least favorite tasks……has to be done, I do it, period. There was only my husband and I so, food preparation became totally a matter of making easier dishes, whatever that took. After all, we could always go out to eat.

Everyone would be surprised to know I am enjoying cooking more, buy organic most of the time, buy fruits and vegetables in season, cook with healthy oils (olive and coconut). I have always used real butter and sugar, so that pleased her. There are no fried foods served at my table and her father has learned to eat veggies when I serve them. A great step forward for him, trust me! With all this healthy eating, we have lost weight and have more energy and feel so much better.

-1Last year, I decided to let my hair go grey. Camille was my first and most ardent supporter. She has seen me through the good and the bad days with this experiment. Now that my hair is short and I can’t wait for it to grow, she points out that it looks healthy, has shine, bounces and makes me look younger. What else can I say. She is my number one confidence booster. This process would have been a lot harder without her.

Since moving to Miami, I have made little progress in the friends department. I was sure that I have all the friends that I need already. Without missing a beat, Camille has put me in touch with women she meets who seem interesting and have things in common with me. Not everyone has turned into a friend, but I have learned to be more open-minded with people in this new adventure life has offered me. Try, she says, why not? all that can happen is that you like them!!! She should know because she makes friends so easily.

I have always been the cheer them along mother. My children could count on me to make them see the best of a situation. Sometimes, I surprised myself how I could turn something painful into a good experience because of what they learned. I still do, but never tried that for myself. Camille, having learned the lesson, cheers me along when I need it. Better yet, she has made me see that I can be my cheerleader.

I am not a morning person, never have. I think you are productive if you are organized, not because you get up early. Sunsets are more my thing than sunrises. Camille has to get up early for work. Believe it or not, I do too!! I prepared breakfast, we chat, she leaves for work and I find myself with more hours to do my work around the house, go for a walk, anything. The days seem longer and somehow, I don’t mind. What a change!!!

She is always planning a trip or two, planning outings with her friends, getting down to the pool or finding somewhere interesting to visit in Miami. She is very social and can’t just spend days without something exciting to do. Her enthusiasm is contagious. I find myself more inclined to do the same, in a smaller scale, of course. I enjoy my time with myself too much, but have learned to see the advantages of joining in the fun!!!

I could spend more time just listing every good lesson I have learned from my daughter. I am sure I could fill a book with them. Fortunately, it is so much interesting and fun to just go with her flow, listen to her clever advice about being good to myself and going places we both can enjoy. The biggest lesson I have learned from my daughter: be good to myself, nobody else knows me better and nobody else has my best interest in mind!!! Tossing the Old has been my contribution, Listening to the New has been in no small part, hers. Thank you, Beautiful!!!228913_10150265555079670_310976_n

Letting Go of Perfect

Women are perfectionists, or so I have been told. I know I tend to be. Unfortunately, this is a difficult trait to have. Still, women insist on having things just so. There is an innate desire in women to have everything perfect, and perfect doesn’t exist.

I have learned that wanting to be perfect can bring us down and make us unhappy….without reason!! We want to have perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect body, perfect relationships and perfect life. A tall order indeed and I will attempt to tackle this unrealistic wish.

In our youth, when we were so clever and thought we could change everything, we relish the fact that we looked good….at least some of us did!! We were admired, we made men turn their heads to look at us, we thought we were so hot…..at least some of us did!! The thought that changes will come hardly ever entered our thoughts, did it? Well, we should have paid attention.

When Time moved on and left its marks on us: wrinkles, grey hair, sagging skin, some of us couldn’t grasp the onslaught. It was too much and we were not ready. Never mind the emotional and mental upheaval. Other events like divorce, losing a spouse and starting over alone, becoming an empty-nester, being made redundant, retirement, came as well seemingly at once. We were overwhelmed and rightly so. What to do? How to overcome these changes?

Suddenly, we had to let go of perfect. Easier said than done and a lot of us tried to hold on…..at any cost. There were creams and surgery, untold hours at the gym, diets, supplements, fillers and Botox. Nothing was left to chance for many of us. Of course nothing can stop Time, its course is steady. Others looked for different solutions and found that Life can be so liberating once perfect is out of the way.

It wasn’t easy. Journalist Vivian Gornick, said: “Tomorrow is here. Now I am accountable. Now I must do it. More important will I?” Indeed, will I do what I know is necessary to live my life to its fullest? Accepting what we cannot change is hard, but it’s the only way forward. So some of us, just breathed deeply, looked ahead and tried to walk though this new stage. After all, the alternative was worse. This doesn’t mean we let ourselves go. We just decided we would not go to extremes.

As others before me, I decided to age gracefully, to accept that Time will win regardless of what I do to stop it. Do not get me wrong, I intent to do this with a plan. My first step was to Toss aside all my preconceived ideas about aging. Before you say anything, I want to say it was not easy and definitely not pleasant at the beginning. We live in a society that worships youth. There are few examples of fabulous women of a certain age out there. This is because the media doesn’t really pay attention to them!!! Think Helen Mirren, Christine Lagarde….I am sure you can come up with many more. Older men, however, are everywhere and are called things like statesman and other exalted names.

Here are some of the things I have been Listening to in the last year or so:

I have accepted that this time in my life is mine, it’s for me to be ME. This is very important. Women tend to have time for everyone in their lives. They play every role and most of us do it without complain. It is time to do for us. I allow myself to take ME time when I need it and strive not to explain.

I have listened to myself and realized that it is alright to be assertive. This can be a real struggle, but it’s so satisfying. As I have said before, say NO when you mean NO and YES only when you really want to. To quote journalist Katherine Weissman: “Over the years I have learned to assert my rights, own my successes, get angry and not apologize so damned often”……a lesson all women should learn!!

I have decided to truly like myself as I am aging. Looking in the mirror is painful for many older women. Accepting who we have become is the only way to live at peace with ourselves. No amount of wishes will stop the changes we are experiencing……but there are ways to make the best of them. Really, there are!!! Embrace yourself, feel beautiful in your own right, be happy and this will show in the way you look, the way you carry yourself and the way you live your life. “Make an asset of your flaws. Wear feathered hats and high heels shoes. Affect an English accent. Carry a falcon on your wrist.” Tina Howe, playwright. Isn’t this a marvelous quote?

Of course, I also have let my hair go grey and I am loving every minute of this journey. Today, my daughter told me I look and act so much happier now. Since I changed my look, she says, I am a different person. Love it!!!

Finally, hats off to the women that have always coped beautifully with the changes age brings. They accept and get ahead without much bother. I admire them!! Now, if like me, you are not one of them…….please try some of these ideas.

P.S. The quotes on this post come for a most wonderful book I just discovered:

In the Fullness of Time by Emily W. Upham and Linda Gravenson

It is an anthology of essays by 32 women about life and aging. Do yourself a favor and get it!!

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De-cluttering my Brain

IMG_1083This month of June, I am participating in a de-cluttering challenge. Started by my friend Prati, in Mumbai, this is a 30 day challenge to achieve a simpler life. Everyone that accepted the invite is going to follow a cleansing effort to empty our lives of clutter and let positive energy come in. Now, you know this is one of my pet tasks, a never-ending process I started a while ago. This idea, though, is fabulous…we are doing it together, challenging and  encouraging each other and working together to meet our goal.

Prati provided us with a to-do list, with specific parts of our home for each day. She didn’t forget to let us know that emotional baggage needs weeding out as well. Another important part of this exercise, but not as easy as the rest…I should know, have tried and struggled with it. Still these two area are at least on their way.

Today, after just a few hectic days, I was exhausted. Getting rid of your clutter is hard physical work. Since I had started already, I needed new ideas, new ways of tossing the old and listening to the new. New ideas to help good energy flow into my life and allow Magic to happen!! Thinking and thinking, lo and behold, it was all in my head: I need to de-clutter my brain!!! Brilliant, some of you will say….what? would be the response of others. Totally understand, I am known for my strange ideas and my peculiar ways. Let me walk you through this necessary exercise.

Our brain is the most complex organ we have. This is not a biology class so I would not go into boring details; even if I wanted to, I don’t know enough!!! Suffice to say that without it we cannot think, make decisions, plan, reason or remember. It allows us to have self-control, abstract thought and perception. These are only a small part of the functions of this marvel and this marvel is a huge storage space!!! I know, this is not scientific thought, but then, I am not a scientist……

Aside from knowledge, all our worries and our fears, all the nonsense we pick up from our daily life are stored in our brain. We cannot control this, so in time, this space fills up. We cannot sleep, we are tense and on edge, we cannot let go of a thought, we turn ideas and possibilities in our mind. I know this is true for me, how about you? Don’t you feel some times as if you need to just delete everything and start anew?

Well, there might be a possibility. As everything else we put in storage, everything we accumulate, everything we do not need anymore, the brain should be de-cluttered. To do this, it’s necessary to accept the need to do it and to start throwing out the useless stuff in our brains. Sherlock Holmes said that he didn’t need to keep certain information in his brain…either it was useless to him or it was irrelevant to his work. There are things, he said, we cannot used for anything, so once we learned them we should discard them. In our case, if we cannot do anything about it, discard it. If we cannot use the information to carry out something relevant to our lives, discard it. I wish it was that easy. So today, I sat and devised a way to de-clutter my brain.

We are not a computer, things cannot be deleted. Our worries and fears will still be there, our amazing collection of useless information will still be there, but we will be able to go around that and bring forward other things that will calm us, give us peace and let us enjoy what is important.

Here are some ideas I came up with. I will repeat one or another on a regular basis:

Breathe: yes, again we have come to this simple solution. While we do that properly and concentrate on inhaling and exhaling, our brain relaxes and our thoughts become more peaceful. While we are talking about this, how about a little yoga? or stretching?This really works for me.

Create beauty around you: put flowers around your home, surround yourself with beautiful things. A pleasant environment will relax you and your mind will have something else to concentrate on. How about gardening? My orchids give me a lot of pleasure and distract me. Believe me…….

Laugh or cry: vent your emotions so you can clear your brain in a crisis. Haven’t you felt better after a good cry? Somehow you feel spent and relaxed. Or after a good laugh, haven’t you felt just light-headed and happy? I know this is effective, I just need to do it more often. Do it as a matter of course, as an exercise.

Have a mantra: repeating a phrase is something that has been used for centuries to calm down. Find one that speaks to you. I try to get my brain to repeat mantras….not always the same because it depends on the crisis, the occasion, the need to concentrate or to let go. “There is a way and I have found it…..” was the one I used today!!!

Keep a journal: all those thoughts that keep your brain in turmoil, all those conflicts that you try to work around, the fear that you cannot control, the useless knowledge that keeps popping up, write them down. Take a notebook and a pen, more effective that way, and pour your brain out. Simple, you can get back to them, but you don’t need to keep bring them up and ruminating them. If you cannot let go of a thought, write it down. The worst it can happen is that you can find a solution!! I have kept a journal for years.

Be silly: I love this one. Sing out loud and dance without care around your house. It is liberating and will not allow you to keep thinking or worrying. Besides, it is wonderful fun!!!

Accomplish small tasks: This is a great way of gaining control. Take time to tidy your work area, clean you keyboard, your computer screen, change the flowers, water your plants. Plan your weekend, arranging things ahead of time means you can anticipate the pleasure.

Make small changes in your routine: listen to different music, brush your teeth with your left/right hand, walk on a different place, have breakfast for dinner. Change challenges the brain and forces it to revise negative thoughts. Besides, it would make you think differently dispelling other nonsense!!

I did try some of these today. I even had time to take a nap and read for a while, other two wonderful things to keep in mind. It was a productive day and I feel relaxed. It was just a matter of paying attention to my most important storage space: MY BRAIN!!!

Declutter Projekt

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If it’s not one thing……….

P1000201Just came back from three weeks visiting my mother, so you can imagine the rest of the sentence!!! Since she had a stroke about seven years ago, my sisters and I have made several trips a year to visit. Not easy, but necessary; stressful, but somehow enjoyable. This time, she spent the days dozing off and the nights talking non-stop. Nobody in the house got much sleep, it was frustrating and funny……as everything else in our lives these days: full of contradictions.

My mother was very active, caring, generous to a fault and involved in the things she loved. Careful with her appearance, always impeccable, not a hair out-of-place and surrounded by exquisite perfume. Her grandchildren were her joy even if she didn’t see them all the time. She came for their First Communions, high school and college graduations, all the important events in their lives. Taught my children to read in Spanish! Spent about two months every Summer at a beach house she and her family own. Those were happy times when she could spend time with her brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. After all, her three daughters left to study in the States, got married and never lived in Panama again. We visited her, she visited us and we traveled together, but we lived apart most of our adult lives.

When she had the stroke, December 31st, 2006, everything changed. The stroke was massive and it was nothing short of a miracle that she survived. About a year of physical and speech therapy later, she was able to walk with help, feed herself and speak her mind. No small accomplishment for an 83-year-old! The first few years, she lived with a nurse and a housekeeper. We visited regularly and some of our cousins were there for support. We knew this couldn’t last, but were unable to come up with a better solution.

Three years ago, this arrangement just became an impossible task. Everything she worked so hard to re-learned was forgotten and she is now dependent on her nurse for everything. It is hard to see and harder to deal with, but it is what it is. My sister Laura moved from Venezuela and took control of the everyday caring. I admire her enormously because I would not have done it, not for anything! She is the constant presence that keeps the machinery running smoothly; and she does it with common sense and a healthy dose of good humor. I can enjoy my visits to Panama because she has made our mother’s care as natural as it can possibly be.

IMG_1183Mami, as we call her, is in a wheelchair and has difficulty talking. On the other hand, her mind is alert and she is aware of everything. Don’t know if this is good or bad, so I try not to dwell on it. On February 26th, Mami turned 90. We were all there, made her day easy, made her laugh and had cake and ice-cream. It was impossibly hot, but she stayed up pass her bedtime to receive her nieces and nephews who came to wish her well. Her family sent her flowers, which she liked. Her grandchildren called and she smiled and tried to talk to them when she heard their voices!!! It was a good day and these days, that is more than enough.

What is going to happen? We are not getting any younger, traveling back and forth is taking its toll. Frankie and I haven’t been able to take a long vacation in a while. Ana and her husband haven’t either.  Laura hardly has time to visit her children. Our lives are in suspended animation. Tossing the arrangement we have now is not an option, Listening to the obvious solution is difficult. There is no easy answer because….if it’s not one thing, it’s our mother!!!!!