February 28, 2012

The Five Stages of Aging Grief - April Aasheim

As another birthday approaches I am conducting my traditional ‘take stock of my life’ assessment. For the most part things are going well. I have an amazing husband, a loving and supportive family, and a group of awesome, imaginary friends. I have a roof over my head, a car that works, and a subscription to The National Geographic. I may not be rich but I’m not poor either…in fact it’s probably been far too long since I’ve missed a meal. And when someone asks me what I do for a living, I now say “I’m a writer” without apologizing first. I realize, for the most part, that I’m a lucky woman.

Of course, I can’t stop there, with the counting of blessings. That wouldn’t be me. There is more to taking stock of what I have. There is also taking stock of what I lost. So every year I trudge down the hall, enter the bathroom, and confront the ‘mirror of truth’ for my annual physical evaluation.  

Who is this person, I wonder, as I gaze bleary-eyed at my reflection. It sort of looks like me but the coloring is off. The chin is doughy and there are lines where there used to be smoothness. Actually, it kind of resembles…no…Oh shit!

I start applying stuff: lotions, conditioners, putty, anything to de-line and de-dough. Just a little fix to get me through the next 365 days. I check my notebook, the same notebook I’ve used every year to chart the progress. Every new line, vein, and divet is recorded and it seems there is a steady upward slope of crap coming my way that is exponentially increasing. Gray hairs that have been creeping in are staying and bringing friends. The property value on this scalp is going to tank. My eyes are so puffy and dark it looks like I haven’t slept in 22 days, up 3 days from last year. And my knees, the cruel pranksters, allow me to squat down but not get back up. Maybe it’s time to consider getting a Life Alert. I write it all in my notebook and punctuate it with a sad-faced period. The end is nigh.

Another birthday means saying hello to some things: wisdom, new opportunities, and 10% discounts at fine, major retail stores across the country. But it also means saying goodbye to other things, like the body parts I’ve long held dear. Years ago I made the decision that I would age gracefully and not become one of the Botox monsters I’ve seen on reality TV.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t lament my losses. And in the spirit of dealing with things the way I’ve always dealt with things (by bitching about them on paper) I’ve come up with the Five Stages of Aging Grief:

Denial: I’m not getting older; I’m advancing into my future.  That isn’t a wrinkle on my brow; it’s a sleep crease. My butt isn’t drooping; my legs are extending. My gums aren’t receding; my teeth are growing. I’m not losing my mind; I’ve developed Adult Onset ADD. When I look in the mirror I don’t see my mother staring back at me, I see…Oh Shit!

Anger: Oh, cruel Universe! Why hast thou forsaken me!? One morning I’m young and nubile, frolicking in the park and the next minute I’m dragging my bat-winged arms and I can’t remember why I’m even in the park. And the hair. Why did you give me long, thick hair just to scraggle it up, thin it out, and make it an entirely new color!? I don’t think you’re very funny! I want no more of it! I’m out of here!

Bargaining: Universe, I’m sorry about that last rant. Hormones. You should know. You gave them to me.  I’m taking supplements now. I do have one small favor to ask. Please don’t take the boobs…anything but the boobs.

Depression: Why did you have to take the boobs? There’s nothing left for me here. I might as well eat a bucket of ice cream and retire to the couch to watch Hoarders and Lifetime Television until I’m dead. The remote controller is too heavy to lift anymore. Do they really have to air Latrisse and Depends commercials every five minutes?

Acceptance: Lifetime Television’s not so bad. As a matter of fact, Desperate Housewives is starting to make sense. Lynette really did face some obstacles in trying to get back into the work force at her age. You go girl! And look at Madonna. Still doing cartwheels at 80.  Hope she’s got on her Depends. And actually, now that I think about it, my mother isn’t so bad. Sure she might have a few wrinkles but she can also do a mean downward dog in Yoga class.  And she does have all of her hair, even if she dyes it purple. Maybe this year won’t be so bad after all.  

And with that I settle into another year. Time to saddle up, sling the ole boobs over my shoulder, and ride off into the sunset. Who needs young and nubile? I’m going for old and crazy.

February 16, 2012

A Room of My Own

Every woman needs a room of her own if she is to write...

Okay, Virginia, I hear you. And I fought you for years. I had my reasons.

A room is...confining. You can't be out in the world when you are couped up in a room. Better to spend your creative time in coffee shops and park benches, if not producing, then at least eavesdropping so that you will have things to write about later.

A room is...unnecessary. If I were to take a room of my own, I would have to find a new place to store our unused telescope, three broken snowboards, and the collection of Party in Cabo coffee mugs from our last vacation.

A room is...gratuitous. If I take a room, by my logic, somebody else will lose a room. Not anyone who lives in the house, mind you. But someone, somewhere - maybe those out of town guests I keep expecting - will not have a place to lay their weary heads. Worse, what if 'Crazy Uncle Earl' finally gets out of the halfway house and needs a place to crash for a few weeks while he 'gets his head together'? He might come wandering in, take one glance at my lilac painted walls, and high-tail it out of there faster than you can say rehabilitation. This could have been his one chance to really clean up but instead he's back in recovery and everyone in the family will hate me. Just because I took the room.

Okay. I'm crazy. After laying out all of my reasons on paper, they do seem a bit bizarre. But even so, having my very own room did not seem to mix with my feminine sensibilities. After all, I am the woman of the house, mistress of my domain. I have an entire home I can write in and there are numerous rooms - the kitchen, the living room, the guest bathroom - that already belong to me (at least according to the laws of who gets to clean them). But the moment I sit down to write in any of these afore mentioned rooms, the energies of my surroundings call out to me.

April...what are you doing? Clean something. Cook something. Sort something. You can't possibly write a story until all the condiments in your refrigerator are alphabetized, can you?

Inevitably, I leave my laptop for a nooner with Mr. Clean.

It wasn't until my mother, bless her heart, suggested I claim a room for myself that I had even considered this a real option. "Your husband has his mancave, you need to make a space for yourself." Hearing this from my mother was shocking. She had been raised in the 1950's and was chairwoman of the Women's Martyr Committee.

"What will the neighbors think?" I whispered as we conspired in a booth at Denny's.

"Dear, the neighbors won't even know."

And suddenly I was freed. My mother and I got to work, converting  a room used for bin storage into a space that was feminine, quiet, and all mine. I decorated the walls with old photos I had stored in the garage. Childhood dolls I had long since abandoned were resurrected on a thin, white shelf that ran the perimeter of the room. Old poems I had written and books I had cherished were stacked and scattered in places to remind me of the beauty and the power of words.

I had my room. My very own room. I was liberated.

I discovered something as I removed the junk and replaced it with treasures. All women should have a room of their own, not only to write, but to live; A space to remind them that they are more than employees, mothers, and wives. We allow our husbands and our children to have their space, but we often sacrifice ours. Why?

Now my room, my beautiful room, is the most inviting place in the house. I write here. I read here. I hide here. I live here. My husband often wanders in and I sweetly send him back to the pit he created for himself in the den. The focus, in this sanctuary, is on me. And it will only help me be a better wife, mother, daughter, friend, and writer, when I need to face the world.

February 1, 2012

Clean and Wish-I-Wasn't Sober

"April!" My mother, standing in a neon bandanna, old sweat pants, and a t-shirt that says I Have a Black Belt in Crazy calls to me from atop the stairs. "Where do you keep your tam-pons?"

She isn't asking to borrow them, thank the Gods. She is trying to be helpful and put them away for me. I imagine her with a handful of my personal artifacts and a confused look on her face and I cringe. Since I haven't responded she asks me again, in a voice loud enough for the neighbors to hear, where I would like her to put them. She pronounces them tam-puns, enunciating the second syllable, making the whole event sound dirtier than it is.

"Just put them anywhere." I holler back. "It doesn't matter. I will find them."

I hear her shuffle around in my bathroom drawers and medicine cabinets and I wonder what other embarrassing items she might find. The cackle from the upper floor lets me know she has discovered...something. "A bottle of adult toy cleaner? Where did you get this? And won't soap and water just work?"

I have learned long ego not to react to these types of conversations. When I was 14 she told my first boyfriend the reason I was afraid of snakes was because penis's scared me. When I locked myself in the room for hours afterwards, I had to endure a behind-the-doors 'facts of life' talk I wasn't ready to have. So, I just pretend this is any old conversation we are having now. "I got the cleaner at a Passion Party. It was a free give away for a game I won." There. I said it matter-of-factly. That should quiet her down.

"Just use good old fashioned hand soap and water." She insists, carrying the bottle down to me. "Look. The ingredients in this stuff will give you a rash. Your auntie had a rash on her hoo-hoo before and they hospitalized her for that. You don't want that, trust me."

Holy Hell. Is she almost done here?

I scratch my head, trying to remember why she is even cleaning my house. Apparently, eons ago, I did something nice for her and in return she promised to clean my house once in awhile. I told her I didn't need to be recompensed but she insisted. Besides, it made her feel good to return the favor. Now I can't even remember what my gesture was and mom still cleans my house while examining my life on a permanent basis. The only thing that can save me now is if the Mayan 'end-of-the-world' prophecy comes true.

I should be more grateful, I realize this. Especially since I HATE cleaning the house. It's not the physical labor I mind, but the time it takes me away from other pursuits. I want to be dancing, or walking, or writing. And cleaning is the ultimate buzz kill to all those things. Still, I'm not fond of bugs or dust bunnies so big enough they warrant names, so I clean. So, the fact that my mother is kind enough to do it once a month should positively thrill me.

"April. You should check the expiration date on your condiments." She rifles through the refrigerator. "Trust me, I know. You don't want salmonella."

It should thrill me. It really should. But I'm a private person and the fact that my entire life is being exposed, even to someone I love as much as my mother, kinda freaks me out.

I guide her into the living room, a room I know is devoid of personal belongings. Surely, she cant offer much commentary here. But alas, the living room is also home to the television, which she turns on to keep her company whilst she washes the floor. Every talk show, every commercial, every Jerry Springer special is accompanied by her narration. "I don't mean to tell tales out of school but I think Obama is starting to lose it..." "Do they really expect you to buy that kind of cheese? You can get cheese that's just as good at the dollar store for only a dollar...sure the date says its old but I know my cheese." "Is this show still on? I thought they would have cancelled that show long ago. It can't compete with Bones. Have I told you about the latest episode of Bones?" I think the government should use my mother when they are trying to get someone to confess something. An hour with my mother will make even the hardest criminal crack. Sure, it's cruel. But it's fast and effective.

At 2:30 it is time to take my mother home. The place smells like Lysol and cigarette smoke. My mother looks around at her work and smiles. "Not bad, huh April? I'm so happy I get to come over and help you with this. I know how busy and stressed you are. Want me to come again next week?"

"Sure, mom." I say as I load her into the car. The place does look better and the pain of her visits, like childbirth, does ease after a few days.