50 Is The New 14, Part 5: The Gift of Bounce-Back Ability

She stood in the storm. And when the winds did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.
— Elizabeth Edwards

I first met Ursula three days before school started. One of the teachers from her elementary school brought her to my office to introduce us. Ursula's mother had lost her battle with cancer a couple of weeks before, and they wanted me to know.

Ursula was about to start 7th grade, in all honors classes. Her elementary teachers loved her and were nervous about "letting her go."

She shook my hand with a smile and gave me a sweet Hello

I knew in that moment Ursula would be OK.

As classes got underway, I reached out to her dad. I informed her teachers of her loss, asked them to watch out for her, and gave them carte blanche to send her my way at the first hint of any sadness or bumps as she transitioned to middle school.

I didn't see Ursula again until February.

That day I received a text from a counselor at an elementary school, asking me to check on Ursula. One of the elementary teachers she'd been close with had died suddenly the night before. She had just heard about this from another student and had texted the teacher I'd met months earlier.

We have a "no cell phone" policy during school hours, so this chain of communication shouldn't have happened. Thankfully, it did.

I called Ursula in minutes later. She knew why.

She cried her eyes out and poured her heart out.

I should know how to handle this! I should understand what to do! I go to group counseling twice a week because of my mom. But this is too much, THIS is too hard.

Ours was a long conversation. She did most of the talking. I held a safe space for her. 

She finally decided it would feel best to go back to class and to the rhythm of her regular day. I assured her I'd be there if things got out of sync.

Ursula returned to my office at lunch time. She didn't want to interact with friends and asked if she could eat with me (I always "dine" at my desk. I know ... I've been coached on this about a hundred times.)

She explained she didn't want any more tears, which would surely flow again when her friends asked her how she was doing or tried to comfort her.

This is still just all so new, she confessed.

We ate, we chatted, and she noticed my Buddha board. I explained how you paint on it with water. Whatever you draw evaporates, and you can start over. 

Just like every feeling, any thought.

Giggles followed. We talked about Disney movies and birthday parties.

Just before the bell rang, she painted me this picture. We shared a hug, then she headed off to class.

Resilience is a blessed traveling companion. 

As much as my heart breaks when the young ones face life changing circumstances, I'm equally grateful to know that their journey through them will serve them well.

Not just on an ordinary Wednesday during lunch, but throughout their lives.

Ailing friends, lost parents. Fractured families, broken hearts. 

These same lessons come packaged for us in midlife, too. 

Despair over how you're ever going to handle it. Knowing deep down that you will.

You flex your "resilience muscles" yet again.

Many of us learned about our ability to bounce back when we were around 14; some of us were much younger.

All of us rely on the gifts resilience brings as we travel down our paths, often not realizing the dots we're connecting from those brave childhood moments.

The gift of a wonderful day almost always awaits us at the other end.
 

50 Is The New 14, Part 4: Wrestling With Resistance

You cannot change what you refuse to confront.
— Unknown

I needed to meet with Mike and his mom. Math was giving Mike fits and giving Mom anxiety. Or maybe it was the other way around. Anyway, math problems were, well, a problem.

My conversation with Mike started something like this:

"What do you do when you're working on your math homework and it gets hard?"

"I just stop. (Translation: It takes too much time to ask questions, to much work to gut it out, to exercise my brain. I daresay to DEVELOP my brain. And I really don't want to spend that kind of time or energy on something I don't want to do in the first place. I mean, really, what's the POINT?)."

I've had countless discussions with middle schoolers about math. I wish I could create a hologram of myself that conducts that conversation, because it's always the same.

Mike, allow me to introduce you to Resistance. Resistance, you remember Mike. You two have met on several occasions. Mike would like math to be easy.

He forgets that not everything starts out easy. Like taking his first steps, for instance. Or riding a bike. Tying his shoe. Those were once daunting tasks but are now muscle memories.

And now Mike's old enough to articulate what resistance really feels like.

It's exhausting, frustrating, and defeating. And the more he wrestles with it, the harder everything else becomes, too.

No doubt about it, Mike's math grade is in the toilet. But Science has suddenly become a foreign language, and English isn't a language he wants to even pretend he understands.

Snowball, domino, house of cards ... all those "effects" happen thanks to Mike's partnership with resistance. Downward spiral, here he comes.

People have written books, volumes, about resistance. The War Of Art is one of my favorites. Author Stephen Pressfield states:

The more important an activity is to your soul's evolution, the more resistance you will feel.

I won't pretend to know how soulful a 7th grade math class is. But that lesson of how to stop resisting it will definitely make a difference to Mike's soul. About that I have no doubt.

So I ask him if he plays sports. Soccer!

I ask if he was born knowing how to play soccer. No, he says, but it was always easy.

Mom's been pretty quiet, but with that, she pipes up. She has a very different recollection!

She reminds Mike of how she literally dragged him, kicking and screaming, to practice after practice. Then one day, he announces to her that soccer is easy!

Bye-bye resistance.

The three of us agree that math may never bring Mike the same bliss that scoring a soccer goal does.

But the lesson is the lesson any way you cut it: resistance is a form of self sabotage. It holds you back, undercuts you, allows you to hide behind what you think is best (safest??).

If we can push through resistance, we'll make progress.

But how? It's all about taking action. Action with a heavy dose of self-love.

Learning the moves, practicing the plays. Getting feedback, asking for help.

Spending ten more minutes. Finishing one more page. Ending the kicking and screaming.

Whatever the solutions, Just. Keep. Going.

I got reacquainted with resistance when I set out to create a business "on the side."

It seemed easy enough. Until it wasn't.

Until I realized that "on the side" really meant "in addition to" the rest of my life ... job, family, friends, self care, building a new house, sleep.

A lot of obstacles ... time, mind share, competing agendas, the lingering need for even more sleep ... started getting in the way. And they brought Resistance with them.

The I-need-to-learn-this-first-then-know-more-of-this-and-have-more-of-these-before-I-can-EVER-do-THAT kind of resistance.

Hey, I already suffer from The Next, New Shiny Object Syndrome on a normal Tuesday. Never mind all the distractions I could come up with thanks to Resistance.

So did that mean I'd stumbled, yet again, upon something that wasn't easy? Oh, yeah.

Am I ready to give up? Oh, no.

I'm persevering, learning the moves. Asking for help.

I'm doing it anyway. Until I come to the end.

Maybe I'll also solve the problem about the arrival times of those two damn trains who leave the station traveling at different speeds. I've resisted doing that for over 50 years.

It's time for some soul evolution!

And to proudly proclaim how good I really am at math.

50 Is The New 14, Part 3: Make New Friends But Keep The Old

We need old friends to help us grow old and new friends to help us stay young.
— Letty Cottin Pogrebin


Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold. I learned that sweet song as a little girl in Brownies. We'd sing it as a round, in 3 parts I think. New friends and old friends were all the same at that age. I hadn't lived enough life to know a distinction.

Then growing up happened, just like it's happening to my middle school students.

I talk to them a lot about friends. Mostly in the context of what's gone wrong.

Loss. Change. Used-to-be's.

Being friends, keeping friends, understanding what the heck a friend even is...all very confusing stuff when you're in middle school.

Recently, Jessica's best friend wouldn't talk to her.

Before we could right this ship of flailing friendship, we had to start with a baseline. My first question was, "What's your definition of a friend?"

Jessica's responses came quickly. A friend: 

Has your back (and doesn't talk behind it).
Listens.
Tries to help.
Sticks up for you.
Is fun to be with.
Knows your secrets. Keeps them.
Is always there.

OK, now we were getting somewhere. Jessica was describing her values.

So it became easier for her to distinguish her real friends from the kids she happens to know or who merely sit beside her in science class.

I told Jessica that, if you can find one or two people who match what you value in a friend, you are blessed. 

She took a minute. She nodded in agreement, and her shoulders relaxed.

Now for the more confusing stuff.

Why can't things just stay the same? Why does she have to be so mean? (Jessica's Big Hurt.) 
Why do friendships change? 

They go their way, you go yours. Their way looks like more fun. Your way feels so lonely.

You compare and despair.

I explain that I think friendships are living things. They change because the people in them change.

They may last for a lifetime or for a season. They may even die. Especially if we don't take care of them.

The thing is, we don't know what will happen when we're in a friendship. We take our chances.

So, no matter what, we need to honor that friend for who they are in that moment. Hold a spot in our hearts for what they've meant to us. 

Even if the friendship fades, we never know when it might come back into focus. 

I told Jessica about a couple of high school friends with whom I lost touch. We reconnected over 15 years later, and I still see them regularly. 

She noticed the photos I have displayed of other friends and me, women I've known for 40 years. Friendships that have barely missed a beat. 

I heard myself tell Jessica that these are people who stick up for me, lift me up, are always there. She smiled and looked reassured.

I've spent many hours consoling tearful 12-year-old boys who are convinced it's really hard to make friends. They're sure they don't have any.

I'll share how most of us feel that way sometimes. We'll explore where to find friends, what to say to them, how to be patient as the friendship begins to sprout. 

It's risky stepping out and asking someone to be your friend. What if they say no? Or worse, what if they say yes then change their minds?

And now it's my turn to have those friendship fears. I've spent over 27 years in my current town. My husband and I are relocating soon. 

Those 8th grade feelings sneak up on me. It's a little like I'm heading off to a new high school where I won't know anyone.

I ask those "middle school questions."

Who will my friends be?
How do I find them?
Can I build my community?
Will I make those soulful connections, the kind that I value?

Oh, that I will have one or two and can remain so blessed. 

What do you value in a friendship? Has that changed over the years? 
How have your friends helped you get by, then and now?

 

50 Is The New 14, Part 2: Making Peace With The Mirror

Apparently I skipped the part in puberty where I get really attractive.
— Teenager Post #13068

It's Thanksgiving. Noah's mom has the table set. The kitchen's filled with his favorite foods. Every year the family gathers in their home. Even his aunt and uncle from across the country are flying in.

So Noah's taking bets on how long it will take Aunt Linda to throw her arms around him and declare, "Look at YOU! You've gotten so tall I barely recognize you!"

Winning time: 45 seconds. Aunt Linda hasn't even taken off her coat.

Flash forward  to you, forty years later. You see yourself in a recent photo.

You're startled. You thought you looked so cute when that picture was taken!
Who's this schlumpy woman who doesn't stand up straight and looks pregnant in that shirt?
And what's up with that lighting, casting all those shadows on her face!
Those are shadows and not her actual skin, right? 

Life hands us periods of drastic, sometimes chaotic, physical change. For no one is this more true than 8th grade boys and 50-year-old women.

Because I shepherd the entire student body, I don't always see kids on a regular basis. So the boys in particular grow before my eyes, as if a time lapse photographer is snapping pics of them as they walk to class.

The boy I call in for a conference is NOT the same one I met with 2 months ago, let alone the April before.

When Noah enters my office, I almost gasp and channel "Aunt Linda." But I don't. It's bad enough he has his morphing physical shape pointed out to him on holidays. He doesn't need that from me.

Why? Because he's already self conscious enough. Unsure, gawky.

It's like breaking in a new pair of shoes. You know they're the right size, but when will they start to feel comfortable? 

And Noah's only one of, well, all of them.

Hormones are raging.

Some little faces have broken out into a map of Rhode Island.

A few girls are resembling Jennifer Lopez in all the ways that put her on the cover of Cosmo.

There's a lot of stumbling over your own feet going on.

In middle school you struggle to just keep up with yourself.

But you eventually get that figured out. And your reward? It all rolls around again. It takes 40 years, but it happens.

Hormones are raging.

Once again, your body doesn't feel like your own. Now it's not time lapse photography at work so much as CGI effects.

We set off in search of our waistlines. Or our chins.

Our skin no longer fits.

We're active, but something called "recovery time" takes on a new meaning since we actually need it to RECOVER.

We can't eat the same things, or in the same way.

We monitor our bodies for signs of unusual, even serious, change.
Who is that woman in the mirror? Why doesn't she match the image in my head? 

In midlife you struggle to just catch up with yourself.

In middle school and in midlife our bodies aren't just messengers. They're more like beacons, signaling major changes we're undergoing for all the world to see.

My body threw me for a loop in my late 40's. I was told all the changes were "normal." I don't remember being consoled much by that. 

My situation has improved over the years, but I don't think I learned my middle school lesson very well. The one about being kind to yourself.

So I'm working on it.

And I'm reminding students every day to do the same. Probably to make up for me not doing that for myself.

In both life stages, our bodies deserve our support, compassion, patience, KINDNESS. Throw in a little humor and a light heart, and we just might make it through the transformation in tact. 

In spite of Aunt Linda and our necks.

Do you remember having to come to terms with your changing body in middle school? How are you coming to terms with it in midlife? 
What lessons are you learning again (or for the first time)? 


 


 

50 Is The New 14, Part 1: "Everybody's Talkin'"

Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner. --Lao Tzu


It's Monday morning. My conversation with Aubrey, 8th grade, starts with her declaring, "Everybody's talking about me! They're all spreading rumors about me. This morning, all the girls were staring at me on the way to class."

Her worst fears have been confirmed. She's not fitting in, and everybody knows it.

The Everybody. The super powerful "All" whose purpose is to gang up against us, talk about us behind our backs, judge us, and otherwise make our lives miserable.

At no time is Everybody more debilitating than in middle school. (Or is that true?)

I'm paid by the school district to dispel the mythical powers of Everybody. I take contracts out on Everybody, like an assasin.

So my response to her declaration was, "Everybody? Is that true? We have over 900 students and about 50 adults on this campus. Are ALL of them really talking about (your hair/your clothes/how you spent your weekend...)?"

That was enough to momentarily stop Aubrey's tears. Of course her answer to that question was NO. But it sure felt to her like YES! Everybody!

The meaning attached to what "everyone" may think or how they could react is what stops the middle schooler in her tracks. It breaks her heart and sends her running to the counselor's office where we open a new box of tissues. 

So Aubrey and I work her thoughts. We circle around to the truths that bring her more peace of mind:

Everybody isn't talking. I made that part up. 
I have friends who stand beside me no matter what. 
Rumors are not true. 
So what if someone is talking about my shirt/weight/hair? How much do I really care?

Aubrey's fears and embarrassment subside. And Everybody goes back to their respective corners as she goes back to math class, sans tissues.

But Everybody's still lurking out there. And they'll show up again. Maybe as soon as 5th Period. Definitely during midlife.

We mid-lifers are reasonable adults who've lived a relatively long time. But our concern about what Everybody will think never seems to die. And we oftentimes let that concern run our show.

This can happen when we embark on new adventures, or take detours from the pack, or otherwise live our authentic lives.

Then Everybody sings their heralding call:

Are you crazy?
Who do you think you are?
This is not how it's done.
This is not what you planned.
This is not what We do, especially at Our age.

You don't have the energy/smarts/preparation/background to succeed.

In her book Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck (who has a PhD in sociology no less) refers to the Everybody as the Generalized Other. Sort of a Committee representing all the conditioning, learning, and programming from our backgrounds and from our culture in general who dictate to us what we should or should not be doing.

Martha explains this as a push/pull between our Essential self and our Social self. The "everybody" is relentlessly urging us to do what's socially acceptable. In spite of what we essentially want to do to be happy, or what we know is for our highest good.

Just try to fit in! That makes Everybody happy, and peace reigns in the village.

I've started asking all the Aubreys a simple follow-up question: "So, who is your everybody?" 

Aubrey had already agreed it was not the entire school population. So name them already!

And she does. She can actually narrow Everybody down pretty quickly to her cousin and her cousin's friend. And maybe the guy they sit with at lunch. 

Now we're getting somewhere. Now we can talk through how much it matters what those three people think. 

It turns out that her cousin's opinion is important. She'll have a little talk with him, share her hurt feelings. The other two? They don't matter so much. She doesn't even know that one guy's name.

My Everybody started to chant as I started to build my new business right alongside planning to build a new house with my husband.

What are you doing?! It's too late to do all this now! You should be downshifting, downsizing, and just plain slowing down.

My Social self was right there shouting along with Everybody that I'd better just stop it right now and fit in. 

But I was making that part up. Turns out, I couldn't name my Everybody. Not a single one of them.

The truth is that "everybody" didn't care. According to Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Big Magic, when you set out to live a creative life, NOBODY really cares. At least not much or for very long. Which is a huge relief to my Essential self.

Maybe it would have been easier for me to quiet that noisy crowd of everbodies if I'd started practicing when I was Aubrey's age. 

Better late than never.

Who was your Everybody at Aubrey's age?
Who are they as you've gotten older? 
What have they been saying you should (or shouldn't) do?