On sharing life’s longest path

Who learns how to push our buttons (and we theirs) at an earlier age than our siblings? Most of us have family tales like mine. My sister, 21 months older, hit me over the head with a book when she was three because I wouldn’t read to her. I angrily pushed her down the stairs when I was six; I jammed a stitch ripper in her leg when she was twelve after she’d locked me out of the house. These stories survive even while the underlying arguments are long lost to memory. For my daughters, similar rivalry fueled the early years. When friends arrived to ooh and ahh over the new arrival, the older shook the baby’s crib, screaming that she wished the baby had died already. This came after a milder insistence, ignored by me as new mom, that we take the baby back to the hospital.

Time heals, and the bond grows. The older sister I assaulted is the one I’ll jump in the car for at the least provocation, driving five hours to share heartfelt conversation and dinner over a bottle of wine, and breakfast the next day before reversing my route on I-35. Ten hours invested in order to share six. At my younger daughter’s senior recital celebration this month, my older daughter offered a tear-inspiring toast full of praise and love for her sister’s talents.

Siblings, our first chance to learn to relate to others, are the peers we don’t pick to inhabit our lives, unlike spouses and friends. We define ourselves by seizing the open spaces in the family. She’s the cute one? Then I’ll be the smart one. You can’t play the French horn, because I’ve already picked that and want to defend my musical territory. I’ll be the good kid, since you’re the rebel. Degrees of freedom for decisions diminish with number of siblings.

Growing up with three sisters was immersed in camaraderie as well as competition. Melded by moving and month-long family vacations, we had no one but each other. Today, these three women are as important to me as anyone in my life. I live the research that cites the contribution of sisterly conversations to our happiness. During my early years of parenting, I yearned to live closer to my parents, needing their practical support. Now, facing the real permanence of the empty nest as my baby nears college graduation, all I think about is living closer to my sisters. A tough task, given that we’re scattered from Texas to Pennsylvania to Minnesota.

I never missed having a brother, until I realized recently that one dear friend talks daily to her brother who lives several states away. Perhaps I’d understand the opposite sex better if I had a brother to help unravel the curiosities of men (and vice versa, I’m sure.) The male-female relationship of siblings is free of the mess incurred with lovers, the never-ending question of whether men and women can be true friends. What an enviable wonder that would be.

A dear friend lost his brother this week, suddenly, leaving this friend as the sole family survivor. This unexpected death reminded me again of how precious siblings are, and what a hole there will be in my life if I survive my sisters. They are the human beings with whom our lives overlap the most: neither your spouse/partner nor your children share more years of your life. So I was glad to see that a national “Sibling Day” is in the works. The first was celebrated, unbeknownst to me, on April 10. I’m marking my calendar for next year, but meanwhile:

THANKS, SISTERS, FOR ENRICHING MY LIFE–then and now. I’d be lost without you all.

A self-care holiday?

The Irish have St. Patrick’s Day, and many of us non-Irish-types grab the coattails for inspiration. This year, are you in need of a celebration with less of a stretch? Then it’s time for National Mom’s Night Out(NMNO)! Inspired by Rachel Wright, author of Mom’s Night Out: Even Inmates Get Time Off For Good Behavior, the 5th Annual NMNO is March 17th. What a good excuse to practice skills I love to recommend, essential for all women: self-care, fun, and connecting with friends. So grab your BFFs, plan a relaxed or raucous evening, and enjoy the good excuse. You especially need it if your life feels like this, smothered in love:Funny Pictures - Cute Kittens
“Get Momma a Drink.”

Remember, it’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation.

Inspiration from Jessica

Perhaps you’ve seen this hilarious youtube video, Jessica’s Daily Affirmation? If not, treat yourself and be inspired–or if so, watch it again.

Like Jessica, we simply ooze with self-confidence and self-love when we’re small. Last weekend, attending a family wedding, the biggest source of entertainment (after the bride, of course) was the new baby in attendance. Finley’s a charmer, seven months old, gladly beaming and flirting as long as he’s on his sweet momma’s lap. He was truly the center of attention, having as many as ten adults at a time oohing and gooing at him, working to evoke his seductive smile. Making him happy just made us happy.

Adorable great-nephew Finley

Smiling babies, after exercise, might just be the quickest route to increasing endorphins–at least when we’re not their primary caretakers and can hand them back. It’s easy to see how kids transfer that love and focus of adult attention into Jessica’s ability to affirm herself.

Then something mysterious happens; the balance shifts. Our parents don’t want us to be spoiled brats, to monopolize the room endlessly, to turn into narcissists who brag. We internalize the idea that nice girls are humble, deny compliments, mutter “oh, this old thing?” about our dresses. Too often we exclaim “this hair?” when we might do better to laud our tresses, as does Jessica of the flowing golden ringlets.

This idea of narcissism as negative is largely an idea of Western culture. I’ve just completed a week long training/retreat on mindfulness meditation, and came away with several key reminders about narcissism. It’s a character flaw only when taken to excess. In typical all or nothing thinking, however, women in particular view self-love as negative, rather than realizing that a healthy dose makes us feel good. In cognitive behavior therapy, the school of thought that most guides my clinical work, the related concept is self-efficacy. Jessica’s statement of self-efficacy is “I can do anything good!” Finally, in Buddhist psychology and related Eastern philosophies, narcissism or self-love is central to feeling good. Simplistically, for the sake of brevity, we suffer when we don’t love and embrace ourselves fully rather than recognizing our infinite perfection as part of, one with, the perfect universe.

You don’t need to plow over others with your evidence of self-love–but at least shower it upon yourself. Stand in front of the mirror, chant your gifts, strengths and beauty. Daily. And don’t forget to underscore your sentiments with a resounding clap. Yeah, yeah, yeah!!!!!!

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, IWD is a national holiday. The them for 2010 is “equal rights, equal opportunities.” It’s a good day to recall the inspiration of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Excellent timing for congratulations to Kathryn Bigelow, who was the first woman to win an Oscar for directing in last night’s awards. In addition to the “best director” honor, her film “The Hurt Locker” took home the statuette for best picture as well. Another ceiling smashed!

Choose to honor IWD in a way that works for you today. Write a letter to your lawmakers supporting women’s issues. Check out momsrising.org, “where moms and people who love them go to change our world,” if political action appeals to you and you to focus your passion.

Work to change the life of an individual woman –right next door or worldwide. One of my mother’s favorite organizations is kiva.org, whose mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty. Donations are loaned to entrepreneurs in third world countries, the majority of whom are women. Or support your favorite organization that empowers women with a donation of time or money today.

Honor a friend or loved one with special kudos about their accomplishments. Or maybe just honor your own achievements and reward yourself with an hour off today, toasting to women everywhere. Recoup a little energy to put back into battling the tide of your own life.

Never underestimate the influence you can have on another woman’s life, individually or collectively. Even if that woman is you.

The panty conversation is growing. (creeping?)

Looks like I’m not the only one talking about panties as a women’s issue. Check out Linda Lowen’s About.com entry this week, with her link to SkunkPost.com. Love it, Linda!

Celebrate Wednesday and go buy yourself a new pair of panties–comfortable and sexy if that appeals to you. I’m preferring SteinMart for good deals these days. The amount spent is anotherdie-hard, drummed-into-me-at- an-early-age standards. Paying $15 for something that weighs less than an ounce and will be enjoyed by few stretches my envelope a bit. I feel even more empowered by discovering a sexy, lacy, COTTON thong for $3! As Dirty Harry would say, “go ahead, make my day.”

V-Day to Empower Women

It’s the dreaded Valentine’s Day week, with the perennial torment: “will he be my Valentine?” Anxiety revs up in kindergarten: “am I good enough/pretty enough/popular enough?” And never abates completely, even as grade school fades into sepia. As we’re pounded by Valentine’s Day marketing, the brain chatter goes on: Who will be my valentine? What will he do? What should I do? Chocolates? Flowers that die by Weds.? Sexy lingerie? Am I loved? Is our relationship all it can be?
Expectations waft over us like the heady scent of roses inundating the grocery store. Holidays as a rule ramp up our expectations–leading to dashed hopes. Especially Valentine’s Day, with promises of perfect romantic love. This holiday is a hot trigger for “all or nothing” thinking. Either the holiday is celebrated in The Right Way —or all is lost and you’re left heartbroken and empty.
A perfect time for straight thinking, to stop the irrational brain chatter about relationship status or restaurant choices. I love the mantra my younger sister adopted in high school: “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” Or, if you’re in a relationship: “I’ll look for the intention behind the gift” rather than putting a Hallmark card, Lifetime TV template on it. It’s a good time to challenge the myth that “if he loved me, he’d know.” Who says? If some aspect of celebrating the holiday, roses for example, is essential, speaking up beats harboring resentment that he missed the class on “Reading Women’s Minds.”
Or skip it entirely–rise above the overly-perfumed and caloric aspects of the day–and celebrate V-Day instead. V-Day was started in 1998 by Eve Ensler, playwright of the award-winning Vagina Monologues, as an international campaign to raise awareness about and funds for battling violence against women and girls. V-Day is synonymous with empowering women.
I honored Valentine’s Day by empowering a few future women yesterday. Five young girls, 8 to 13 years old, were playing in Dallas’ record setting snowfall. I was walking to the post office, just to enjoy the fairyland created by the surprising snow. One older girl, pencil thin legs in tight jeans, was chasing her friend, clumps of snow in bare hands. She was squealing about her red, frozen fingers as much as the novelty of the snow. I stopped and handed her my mittens. She politely refused at first, but succumbed as I insisted. Slipping on the gloves, she ran off gleefully toward her friend, laughing “I’ll really get you now!” The three younger girls were patting small handfuls of snow into a slightly forlorn pile. I asked if they were building a snowman, and they nodded gravely. “Do you want me to show you how to make it easier?” I asked, knowing this is not a skill possessed by most Texas children. More grave nods. I demonstrated how to roll the awkward lump across the deep snow, quickly picking up layers to make a respectable base for their snow person. Smiles lit up their faces. They thanked me in their sweet little girl falsettos. They were lifting a second huge ball of snow onto the snow person, making it taller then they were, by the time I rounded the corner.
Make a choice to empower yourself–or another woman in your life this week. Or check out five ways to empower women by celebrating V-Day.

Big girl panties?

Maybe it’s strictly generational, but granny panties have always outnumbered thongs in my lingerie drawer. Trying to loosen up my midlife world view and eliminate unsightly panty lines, I’ve been underwear shopping lately. And was delighted to find sexy, lacy thongs with a hint of practicality (i.e. cool, comfortable, breathable cotton). With the brand name Jezebel?

Does wearing lacy lingerie make you an evil woman? Why do all the sexy panties have names like Jezebel, Temptress, Flirt, Invisible Bliss? May as well call them Tart, Harlot, Scarlett, or “O.” Definitely another automatic association leftover from my growing up years. “Good girls” wear sturdy, serviceable cotton Lollipop panties — in white or pastels (how exciting!) “Bad girls” wear the pretty, lacey panties. And have all the fun. When I was a teen, I had one shockingly bright green low-rise bikini pair with a black zipper (gasp). This is the exact purchase that my younger sisters recently admitted had marked me as a glamorous older sister. And firmly fixed a frown on my mom’s face when I came home from the mall, panties in hand.

It’s not just names. Another assumption is lurks within: wearing lacy lingerie is for him, not for you. Certainly all that lace and trim and thong between the cheeks is less comfortable than soft cotton, right? So why suffer the indignities and itching, except to entice or excite him? As an empowered woman, I wasn’t about to buy into that.

Reminds me of a T-shirt my older daughter had when she was 13, distributed by Candie’s, maker of sexy shoes and clothing. In large, legible letters it said “Be sexy.” And in the fine print: “it doesn’t mean you have to have sex.” Some mothers scorned me for allowing her to wear it, as if it were an advertisement. Women can claim their sexuality, even enjoy it. Without turning into bad girls. Objecting to that slogan seemed like buying into the sexist view that if you are dressed to kill, you deserve to be raped.

Black and white thinking is the culprit again: chaste lingerie equals pure of heart/mind/body. Black, lacy, and low cut is the stamp of a bad girl. Is this really a fact? Do clothes really define the woman, so that I can’t enjoy a fun bustier under a power suit? Time to challenge those expectations. Even the little girls get fun princess panties, Barbie panties, Dora panties — or as my younger daughter had, Pink Power Ranger panties.

One of my friends likes to say, “put on your big girl panties and deal with it.” In this case, the grown-up panties of choice are lacy, cheekiest (in the parlance of Victoria’s Secret, referring to amount of cheek exposure), and surprisingly more comfortable than constant adjustments of creeping leg elastic. My new power panties can allow me to please no one but myself, a rare opportunity in my good girl life. That’s dealing with it.

As on everything else: NO absolute thinking. I did find one exception to the naughty names: Victoria’s Secret has one thong called “Angel.” Or maybe go commando, following the decree of Jill Connor Browne, author of The Sweet Potato Queens book series: “Never wear panties to a party.” Do what works for you.