How Facebook Made My High School Reunion Better

In recent years, Facebook has become the go-to scapegoat – or, as I like to call it, “blame piñata” – for nearly all society’s social ills. Our tribalism, our short attention spans, our loneliness.

Occasionally, though, an experience demonstrates how social media can be an honest-to-God blessing, and lay the groundwork for a surprisingly meaningful experience.

Months ago, for instance, I got a Facebook invitation for an unofficial, informal 30th high school reunion – at a bar in my hometown, the night before Thanksgiving – I simultaneously thought “Nope!” and mentally checked my availability.

I mean, my family wasn’t traveling anywhere for the holiday, I currently live only about a half hour away from my Michigan hometown, and that square on my calendar happened to be blank. 

But I’d also, in high school, been a pretty forgettable band nerd in a class of more than 400 people, many of whom had chosen to move back and raise their kids in that same town. So I had the sense that a lot of the reunion’s attendees would be the people who saw each other regularly, anyway, and had sustained close friendships with each other over the decades.

I, on the other hand, had re-connected with just a modest handful of high school acquaintances via social media, mostly after attending the one “official” reunion we’ve had since graduation (the 20th, in 2009).

This was partly a function of how not-present I’d been in high school. So consumed was I at the time with boyfriends, grades, and getting into a good college that precious little from my adolescence has endured. 

So what could I possibly hope for from attending this slapdash reunion? Wouldn’t it simply reinforce the neurotic sense of invisibility that is my middle-child default setting? 

How Facebook Made My High School Reunion Better: woman smiling for photo
Courtesy of Jenn McKee

While mulling this over, I posted something on the reunion’s event page that essentially said, “I’m not sure anyone would recognize/remember me.” 

But then a guy I’d gone to school with for many, many years wrote that he remembered me wearing roller skates for several days around our elementary school, “trying to break a world record,” before our principal made me stop.

Oh, my God. Over the decades, I’d completely forgotten about this wacky childhood plot of mine.

And this brief, casual Facebook exchange charmed me, and made me feel more inclined to take a chance and attend the reunion, awkwardness be damned.

When that cold Wednesday night in November arrived, though, darkness fell well before my husband and two young daughters ate dinner with me around our kitchen table, and I could see wet snow falling beyond the windows. I considered snuggling down with my family to watch a “Great British Baking Show” ep and bagging the whole thing.

But my husband urged me toward the door. “What’s the worst that could happen?” he shrugged. “You have a crummy time and come home? Go. See what happens.”

If nothing else, the experience might provide good material, I told myself. (Writers are vampires that way.) I looked down at what I was wearing: a Hamilton t-shirt and a pair of jeans ripped at the knees? Ah, well. If I was going to go, I might as well be true to the person I am. I mean, I’m nearing fifty. Who was I trying to impress or fool?

I drove through the gloppy snow, parked in a lot near the bar, and walked toward the entrance, making this deal with myself: if I walked around the bar once and recognized no one (or vice versa), I’d give myself permission to subtly turn right back around and head to the exit. (Classic introvert party move, by the way.)

Initially, it looked like I’d be following through with this back-up plan. The large, brightly lit bar was packed, yet no one looked familiar. Then, a woman who’d been my best friend in middle school, Paula, spotted me and rushed over, happily squealing my full name and pulling me into a hug.

Her formerly dark, shoulder-length hair was now gray, but her face – which I’d intently studied for entire afternoons as we critiqued terrible, eighth grade poetry and shared tween romantic fantasies – was very much the same. And I instantly felt more at home.

“You were one of, like, two or three people I came here to see,” she said. 

This surprised me – we’d grown apart in high school, as she became more popular – but she went on to say that she’d followed my writing career online, and that she felt like she still knew me well, thanks to my (copious) social media posts. She confessed that much of her adult life had been hard – or as she more bluntly put it, “sucked” – and for that reason, she’d been recently making a point to tell people when they’d had a positive and lasting impact on her.

How Facebook Made My High School Reunion Better: woman smiling for photo
Courtesy of Jenn McKee

“You were one of those people,” Paula told me. “I know it sounds cheesy, and this may be a totally awkward thing to say” – pretty sure the woman standing in our midst would agree – “but I want you to know that I’ve thought about the friendship we had often, and I really treasure the closeness we had.”

Though not generally prone to weepiness, I teared up as she spoke, then gave her a hug. “Thank you so much for telling me that,” I said. “Our friendship meant a lot to me, too.”

And soon thereafter, I had a genuine, substantive conversation – about divorce; caring for aging, ailing parents; and grief – with a woman named Roxane, whom I’d only known as a marching band acquaintance in high school, but had more recently gotten a better sense of via Facebook. 

At one point, I nodded toward a blonde, very made-up woman nearby and asked Roxane, “Who is that?” Roxane shrugged and said in my ear, “She looks like she was popular. We probably didn’t know her.” 

The line cracked me up — so damn true! — and made me think about how unformed and fragile we all are as teenagers. The men and women in that bar were barely recognizable to me now, so they no longer possessed the power over me that I’d once so willingly granted them. Thankfully, I was no longer the girl who’d simply cower when being barked at in the hall (to imply I was a dog) by an a-hole football player between classes.

Time is, of course, the great equalizer, as evidenced by the room of bald heads, graying hair, and filled out, middle-aged bodies I found myself in. Frankly, though my life wasn’t perfect, I finally felt wholly comfortable in my skin. Yes, I’d never quite landed after being laid off, in middle age, from my dream job as a newspaper staff arts reporter – I now work alongside teenagers as a part-time library page and take occasional freelance writing assignments — but I’d lived life on my own terms, had some wonderful friends and experiences, and I’d created a family I loved dearly.

So I felt OK as I talked to the guy who remembered my nutty rollerskating stunt, and conversed with a former trumpet player who recognized me from photos I’d posted online, and greeted a looming tree of a man who’d been in my calculus class senior year. 

“Someone was just telling me you’re hilarious on Facebook,” he told me, pointing a thumb over his shoulder.

What the hell? I’d thought. Where was all this validation and peer love when I was an adolescent and so desperately needed it? And where was it coming from now?

But on some level, I already knew the answer to the second question. It sprang from social media which, for all its ills — and they are legion — may also make an informal 30th high school graduation a far better, more positive affair for an introvert-band-geek-turned-writer.

Because the cringe-y small talk can be skipped. 

Because you’ve already been following each other’s stories over the years.

Because while Facebook can often feel like a dangerously annoying highlight reel of other people’s lives, it can also, if you’re willing to be vulnerable, be a means of inviting people to spend time inside your mind and your heart. 

When I’m writing social media posts, I view myself as a guest at a years-long virtual dinner party. I’m not there to start (or take part in) fights. I’m there to say everything from “wow, I was a crappy parent today” and “yet another job interview went nowhere” to “I finally get to do a story I’ve wanted to do for years now” and “my 8 year old used an adverb correctly, and I’m about to cry with happiness.”

Going into that reunion, I didn’t need to prove myself or talk myself up or show off. Thanks to social media, the people who’d been friendly to me during our school years already knew precisely the person I’d become.

And I did, too.

So when the bar’s lights suddenly dimmed, and a DJ dropped a Pitbull song, I couldn’t resist (like a full-on chick flick cliché) claiming a bit of space for dancing – mostly by myself, but also kind of with Paula’s affable, tipsy husband (another fellow classmate). What can I say? I could barely contain a physical, spontaneous urge to celebrate. A kind of bodily “Song of Myself.”

To others in the bar (including some of my classmates), I may have looked silly or absurd – a nearly fifty year old woman cutting a rug, mostly solo, before stepping back out into the rainy night. 

But to me, it felt like the culmination of a wholly satisfying evening and – given the nature of the occasion – an arrival. When I was a teenager, my peers and I, on a daily basis, only saw what I wasn’t. 

Now, it seems, what’s visible is what I am. I’m finally being “seen,” in the way I’d always wanted. 

And strangely, I have social media to thank.

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Your 40s Are When You Outgrow Who You Were, And That’s Both Glorious And Scary

I was taking a photo of my chicken coop five years ago. The red siding came into focus and I clicked. Then clicked again. I felt something deep within me: a rush of darkness, a storm taking over my brain, a hotness in my face and heart. It was 16 days after my 40th birthday. My then husband was leaving for the weekend with our oldest while I was staying home with our two younger children. 

As he pulled out of the driveway I told him I didn’t feel right. “It’s mental, not physical. I don’t know what’s wrong.

Whatever it was, I figured I’d paint and bake my way out of it that night. But, here I am five years later feeling the same rush, the same hotness. It comes and goes — this low-level anxiety that makes me stop and ask myself what’s wrong. I can’t put my finger on it, but it stirs and stirs and makes me do things, like write my truth, say “no” more, crave wild sex, and give the illusion I’m holding it together.

I’m not. 

As soon as I turned 40, I slipped out of myself and was looking at this woman I didn’t recognize. She felt incredibly dissatisfied and restless. The things that once made her comfortable and content weren’t doing it for her anymore. She asked what I was going to do next with my life, because surely there was much more.

I felt incredibly guilty about that for a long time. I tried to keep doing what I was doing — being the best mother I knew how, baking cookies, getting together with my sisters and friends to talk about motherhood, acting as if everything was fine.

Deep down, though, it wasn’t. I was burning to have more, to do more, to shed some of my old self — yet I was afraid to let her go. I talked to my husband about the way I was feeling in the middle of the kitchen one morning, which made him late for work. I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t know what I was saying. Not even a little bit.

I know he wanted to sum it up to a midlife crisis, but he knew me well enough to not go there. 

I’d heard about the “midlife crisis” my whole life — the purchasing of the new car, the affair, the divorce, the coming undone as others thought you’d lost your damn mind. 

But I believe this is simply the time when you outgrow your old self. At least that’s what happened to me. 

I also believe it’s not losing anything when you become a different version of you. It’s more about finding your true self.  And it’s okay.

My whole life, I always have been thinking in the back of my head, Is it okay that I’m here? Is it okay that I said that? Is it okay to be wearing this? Is it okay to really do this or that if no one else is? 

And if I do those things, and it is okay, will I still be okay? Will I still be comfortable or will I fuck up so badly my inner voice will say, I told you so, bitch.

Then, you turn 40 and you feel like you have wasted time wondering if it will all be okay; if you will be able to stay in a neat little package. You lose a lot of the feelings and caring what other people think, which is glorious. So you go for it, ya know? You really go for it.

But it’s also scary as hell because you don’t know what you are doing. You’ve always played it safe. And more times than not, this happens when you have been married for a long time and may be drifting from your partner. You may have kids who are older and more independent who don’t need you unless they want food or a ride.

For this reason, your 40s can be lonely. You are faced with strange feelings you’ve never had before. You may have a bit more time on your hands. You think about all the things that you want to do, things you haven’t done, but can. It’s overwhelming and exciting. You try to squash those thoughts and go on with regular life and it’s like you can’t.

It doesn’t feel like you, but it is you.

Honestly, I’ve found only women going through the same thing have any clue as to what I’m talking about, so I stick with them. They have been my saving grace — well, my friends and the wild sex and the writing. 

This person I am is so different than the person I was when I was younger. There are times when she makes me so uncomfortable that I want nothing more than to sink back into my old life. 

And I could do that. I could. But, if I did, I’d be throwing a lot of myself away. And my 40s are trying to tell me, Enough already, you’ve done that for too long. And you will be okay. 

It just takes some time before you believe it. 

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For F*ck’s Sake, Can We Please Stop Calling Our 40s A ‘Crisis?’

As a woman firmly settled in my 40s, I’ve noticed that just about every conversation about this time in our lives centers in some way on an age old myth. It’s in bestselling books and cliché jokes and hushed comments about Joanna down the street who just quit her job as an investment banker and dyed her hair bright blue.

The dreaded midlife crisis.

Earlier this year, Ada Calhoun’s book “Why Women Can’t Sleep: The New Midlife Crisis” rocked the bestseller lists. Women around the country (and maybe even around the world) held her book up high in their sweaty hands and praised it for its accuracy. For good reason. Calhoun speaks to the reality that many of us are feeling these days, but there it is again. Midlife crisis. The “new” midlife crisis. CRISIS.

For the love, people, can we please stop referring to this time in our lives as a crisis?!

Are we confused? You bet.

Do we sometimes feel inexplicably angry? For sure.

Do we want to set our lives on fire and start fresh? All the time.

Are we putting pink streaks in our hair and getting back tattoos and wearing leopard print pants and leaving toxic relationships and quitting our jobs and going back to school and moving across country? Sure.

Do we lie awake at night, sweaty with our minds racing, worried about whether our teen is smoking pot and if our mom forgot to pay her electric bill and why our BFF hasn’t returned our text from three days ago? Ummm… yeah.

But is this a crisis? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Let me be very clear, our 40s are not some blissful utopia. We are confused and frustrated and angry and emotional and weepy and sweaty – so damn sweaty. We are low-grade terrified all the time and we alternate between wanting to scream and cry (or sometimes both at the same time).

But this is not a crisis. This is being human. This is the refusal to pretend that everything is “fine.” This is what bravely stepping fully into the human experience looks like. It’s not our fault the world is scared of what that looks like so we need to be labeled as “hot-headed” and “emotional” and in “crisis.”

We have all been so conditioned that life takes a certain trajectory and looks a certain way. Go to school, dress the part, get a job, get a better job, have kids, buy a house, take care of everything and everyone, lose a shit ton of sleep, get a promotion, buy a bigger house, send your kids off on their own, wonder what the fuck happened to your life.

Well, you know what? Fuck that noise.

We’re tired of the hamster wheel of striving. We don’t want to keep pretending because we’re exhausted AF and it takes too much work. We realize that all those “shoulds” that were hammered into our psyches by well-meaning but disillusioned teachers and guidance counselors and parents and friends don’t mean shit. Unfortunately it takes many of us several decades to realize this, but once we do, we become incapable of unseeing it all.

The amazing thing is that, as we enter this confusing-scary-liberating stage of life, we are shedding those old and often destructive ways of thinking. We’re sweating out those old ideals with our hot flashes.

Some of us are letting go of friendships or other relationships that we should have said goodbye to years ago. We’re wearing clothes we had always been told were “inappropriate” because who decides what’s appropriate anyway. We’re quitting jobs that don’t fulfill us. We’re going back to school. Or maybe we’re getting off the career ladder entirely because leaning in is exhausting and we’d rather have a nap.

We’re skipping moms’ night outs to day-drink with a couple of close friends because we want to be with people who get us. We’re dying our hair and getting tattoos and piercing our nose because – hello! – those things are fun as hell. Maybe we’re selling our house to drive an RV across country or we’re moving  into a tiny house for the summer just because we can.

We’re saying NOPE a hell of a lot more. We’re speaking up when we see stuff that pisses us off. We’re all set with the bullshit and assholery. We’re walking away. We’re not smiling. We’re unfriending and unfollowing as fast as our fingers can click. We’re turning down invitations. We’re embarrassing the hell out of our kids as we sing loudly to ‘80s hair bands and ‘90s punk rock with the car windows rolled down. And we’ll have a double whiskey on the rocks instead of a glass of pinot grigio, thanks.

We’ve finally realized that what works for others doesn’t necessarily work for us. Just because that’s how it’s “always been done” doesn’t mean that’s the way it always needs to be. We’ve stopped caring whether other people like us and care a hell of a lot more about whether we like ourselves. And we’re giving the middle finger to all those so-called “rules” that weren’t designed with our interests in mind anyway.

Yes, it’s scary and confusing, but it’s also cathartic and freeing. It’s redemptive and fascinating to discover who we really are underneath all armor we’ve had to wear for all many years. We’ve stopped waiting for someone to save us, because all we want to do is get out there and save ourselves. And we’d ask you to kindly get out of our way.

So no, this is not a crisis. It’s an awakening, a celebration, and a motherfucking reckoning.

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I’m A PhD Student And An Adjunct Professor, And These Are The Questions To Ask About College This Fall

COVID-19 is leaving many students uncertain about attending college in fall. Considering a person may be symptom-free for up to two weeks, and there is not enough testing, clarity regarding liability, and understanding about how the virus spreads with prolonged exposure (for say, breathing for two hours in a small classroom), universities have the losing task of deciding when they want to risk a full return of students.

California State University, the largest four-year public university system in the U.S., announced last week that they will be online this fall (some courses may be on campus, as a chem lab at the kitchen table does not seem safe). Some smaller universities intend to return to campus.

As a PhD student and an adjunct professor, being online this past semester went better than I anticipated. While I prefer in-person learning, I feel confident that online classes this fall will be even better given instructors have time to prepare.

If an undergrad is deciding about fall, these are five questions I would ask myself.

1. If everything was “normal,” what would my plan be for fall?

It is important to think about these decisions before developing further options. Does an individual truly want to go to college and why? Be honest.

2. If I don’t take college classes, what is my specific plan? 

Watching everything on the internet is not a goal. If a person has a plan, taking time off can prove beneficial. However, a gap year may not be as valuable with the world in various pandemic stages and fewer internships available (Google has said most staff can work from home until 2021.) So, if not school, what is the plan? Work at a grocery store to make money? Volunteer in a hospice? Care for family members? Apprentice in a garage? A person may stay more plan-focused by setting benchmarks, such as if I have not started working by August 15, I will take two classes at the community college.

3. What are my concerns about online classes, and are they well-founded?

Many of us struggle with unexpected change. It can be worse when that change is also disappointing. It is okay to be sad about missing human connection, frustrated to be living at home, or unhappy about adventure being delayed. Yet, in addition to life growth and the “college experience,” academic learning should still be a huge reason we attend college. Fortunately, that can still happen thanks to online courses.

Part of college should be challenging ourselves to think differently and venture out of our comfort zone. The real world is all about adapting. Doing courses online, in-person, abroad, or however, should offer personal introspection on the ways we learn, study, interact, focus, and more.

The classes I took last semester that moved online were still in real time, however, one professor posted lectures before class. This allowed us to ask more specific questions during class. Considering the subject was unknown to me, to my astonishment, being online worked great because I could re-watch the lecture until I understood it. Some people were surprised we had perfect attendance, but when students could attend from a location of choice, many even signed in early to chat with classmates.

Professors still hold office hours for students. Many classes have sidebar discussions throughout sessions. Group work still exists, so students connect with other classmates. Personally, I grew closer to some of my online classmates because we regularly communicated, and academically, I learned what I needed to learn.

4. How can I make being in school this fall work best for me?

For returning students, not being on campus is a letdown, but at least they know what to expect. For freshmen, overall disappointment can be coupled with uncertainty about starting college. The reality is that the first semester is often the hardest and approximately 30% of college freshmen drop out after the first year. Starting online may prove helpful to some freshmen in understanding college level learning. Community colleges offer this with qualified professors without having to relocate. Additionally, by senior year of college, many students are eager to graduate, so if a solid Plan B is not in place for fall, why not get started? Only 60% of students currently complete their bachelor’s degree at the same institution where they started six-years earlier anyway.

Unsure individuals should consider trying a shorter online class at a community college this summer or registering for a fall class with a friend. If someone worries about a lack of personal connection, reviewing the syllabus before the first class to ensure the words “group work,” “breakouts,” or “partners” is mentioned could be helpful, and if it is not, consider switching classes. Also, signing on to class early with video allows the opportunity to connect with others, and reaching out to someone during or after class (there are ways, depending on the forum) is an option.

5. What makes financial sense?

Graduates from 2017 owe $28,650, on average, from student loan debt. Doing classes online at a community college or public four-year school while living at home might be financially practical. Universities typically require general education classes, such as math or speech. The majority of these often transfer to another school (always check). Also, if a student has accepted a financial aid package from another school or deferred enrollment, they should review their options.

Side note: if a student does not like public speaking – some version of that class is required at nearly every school – consider taking that class online now.

The bottom line is pandemic adjustments are hard for everyone. Ultimately, how much effort a student puts into a class heavily impacts how much they get out of the class. In-person classes are more enjoyable for most students (and professors), but online courses still offer a great alternative to keep learning during this pandemic.

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This Is TikTok For The Over-40 Crowd

My relationship with TikTok started as research about how a 16-year-old character in my next novel would spread information. I downloaded the app two days before the world went into lockdown.

I liked TikTok right away because a lot of TikTok is lip-synching. I went to elementary school in a small town in the 1980s. Airbands were a school wide past-time. We had regular competitions. In fourth grade, my twin sister and I placed third for our take on “Manic Monday” by The Bangles. This was a big deal.

I also liked how short TikToks are. I have a four-year-old and a seven-year-old so everything I do on my phone has to take less than ten seconds. TikToks take 15… but I manage.

If we had not begun the endless days of social distancing, my fascination with TikTok would probably have passed quickly. But the app came at the right time for me.

If I had to draw a pie chart of how I’ve been spending this time, it would be ninety-eight percent taking care of my children.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

My kids are with me 24 hours a day now. Though they are the most beautiful things I know, they go into regular seizures of anger. They feel so sad and so alone. They miss everything. So do I. This is all so hard.

I needed a new way to connect with people. I was lonely. Facebook was empty. Twitter made me feel terrible about myself. After weeks in isolation, my Instagram feed—which was usually a source of happiness— had become depressing. Instead of my kids, forests and mountains, I now take photos of sourdough.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

Right now, making bread and caring for my kids gives me pleasure but no joy. I am desperate for joy. I know I’m not alone in this.

My sister lives half a country away from me. She texted me two days ago: “I miss new”

TikTok is my new. I am 40 years old. This is my TikTok journey.

There are three types of TikToks that capture my attention. That is not to say that there are only three different types of TikToks. Like other social media, there is a rabbit hole for every rabbit. As I scroll and select, my feed becomes roughly composed into three categories which I call transformations, confessionals, and dance challenges.

Transformations are when people appear on camera looking one way then transform into something else. Confessionals involve lip-synching to spoken words like air-bands without the music. But it is the dance challenges which are the best part of TikTok. They start when someone posts choreography to a snippet of a song. Others copy the dance in their own TikToks. Some people post themselves watching the dances. Others contort themselves into strange shapes or weird costumes. The end result is a series of uniquely different and impossibly fun copies of the original routine. It’s like an Andy Warhol painting in action.

I decide that my first TikTok will be a dance challenge.

I choose a user name that seems cool, tentative and slightly meta, which takes some time.

I pick an easy routine for my first performance. If I’m honest with myself, the choreography I really want to do is a sexy little number called #savage by MeganTheeStallion but it’s racy as hell and overly ambitious for my first attempt. Instead, I choose a jazzy dance to #blindinglights that’s a lot like an aggressive aerobics class. It looks fun, simple, and I like The Weeknd.

On TikTok, one can record themselves alongside another video. It’s called a duet. I decide to make my first dance a duet with a father-and-sons trio of some acclaim. They have over 100,000 followers and their moves are sharp and cool.

In the morning, while I’m doing the dishes, I move my body in semblance of the choreography. This makes me feel like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance doing moves while working on the factory line. I am not Jennifer Beals but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters on TikTok. Everybody is there to have fun. It’s like a party in the summer.

It’s tricky to decide what to wear. My husband is a head brewer at a microbrewery which has been deemed an essential service. This means I am the sole childcare provider and we have a steady supply of amazing beer which is not a slimming combination. I settle for a pair of black leggings with a heel cuff and a loose fitting top because it makes me feel like an off duty ballerina. I throw on red flats because it feels like something a cool dancer would wear. And that’s what I am.

Backyard TikToks are fun and I desperately need to get the kids outside so I can set the camera up in the yard. I hope that when they see me being a cool dancer, they will want to join me. They laugh as I rehearse the same moves over and over. This suggests I am not a cool dancer, but I don’t care because I’m having so much fun.

Full disclosure: I suck at this. I have no formal dance training. My style can best be described as “goofy.” I chose this choreography because it seemed simple, but it turns out that it is not simple enough for me. The first move is a dab with an associated side leg step and everything is moving very fast. Dabs are not a move I am familiar with, but no matter. I throw myself into it. My daughter tells me it looks like I am just bouncing up and down. I delete TikTok after TikTok. I dab and dab and dab. I am ruthless in my pursuit of okay.

Then, it happens. I bounce into the frame, dab, step, hop, and swim. I do a move that closely resembles Irish Step Dancing, which is not part of the choreography but it is working. At the end of the dance, I kick at the camera with pure unbridled pleasure and something inside me shifts. I have done it. I have found my new.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

The last frame is the best one. There is a smile on my face I haven’t seen for a long time. Before I post it, I add the hashtag #over40. There are many of us on here now, and we are all here for the same reason. TikTok is joy in a time of isolation. We don’t have parties any more, and might not for a long time, but we can still dance.

Now, on to #savage.

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Our 40s Weren’t Some Blissful Utopia Before COVID-19 — They’re Even Less So Now

Contrary to popular belief, your 40s are not some blissful utopia.

Sure, there’s the much-lauded IDGAF attitude, which isn’t so much an IDGAF attitude as it is a “IDGAF about bullshit” attitude. Because, the truth is, you actually do give a fuck about things that matter, lots of things. Your 40s can be confusing and liberating and terrifying and exhausting and emotional – all at the same time.

Until recently, it seemed that those of us in our 40s weren’t entirely comfortable talking about how utterly baffling this stage of life can be. We don’t talk about the trials and tribulations of our relationships because they aren’t our stories to share, at least not entirely anyway. These stories involve our kids – or maybe our parents or our spouses – and we have their privacy to protect. Not to mention there is something far more intimate about a teen’s heartbreak at not making the basketball team than a preschooler’s speech delay or the most embarrassing middle-of-Target tantrum.

But just because we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean this shift isn’t happening. It’s like the ground underneath us is moving, and we feel the need to adjust and move to safer ground, but we aren’t really sure where that is.

Friendships feel different now that we aren’t tethered to our children’s social calendar. Our parents need how-to lessons on syncing the new remote control with the cable box or a refresher on social media etiquette. Our kids, while more independent, need us just as much as ever, but their challenges seem to carry more weight, and there is the constant fear that we’re fucking this all up.

So yes, we 40-something-year-olds were already feeling the strain before the pandemic, and hooboy, are we feeling it even more now.

As S. Mitra Kalita wrote on CNN, “Long before the coronavirus pandemic, Generation X women — defined as those born between 1965 and 1980 — were already fraying.”

Even though I don’t completely identify with the Gen X crowd –I’m more of a Xennial – I certainly identify with that fraying sensation.

Those of us in our 40s might not feel the physical weight of parenthood and life that we felt in our 30s when children were literally attached to our body, but we feel the emotional weight of life more than ever. In fact, most days I’m so in my feelings that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or scream (or all three at the same time).

Much of the confusion of this stage of life comes from feeling pulled in a million different directions — between work obligations and kids and aging parents and evolving friendships and maybe a marriage that needs some TLC. This stage of life is often referred to as the “Sandwich Generation,” because we’re sandwiched between kids and parents. But this analogy never quite rang true for me. Unlike the lunch meat in the sandwich, I didn’t feel smooshed or squeezed. Rather, I feel more like peanut butter that’s spread too thin, that desperately wants to reach into every nook and cranny and soak it all up but can’t because there just isn’t enough to go around.

A while back, I aired some of my grievances with our tendency to put a shiny veneer over our 40s, writing:

“Does everyone else feel like they’re failing at everything?  Like they’re doing nothing well? Is anyone else confused and too exhausted to even think about why? Who knows, because we’re either too busy or too scared to talk about it…Our late-30s and 40s bring a lot of changes too…You’re excited and thrilled about the new opportunities, but also feel low-key terrified all the time…

The physical demands of motherhood are fewer but the emotional demands are enough to nearly break you. You stay up late drying tears, and you wonder about what drama is going on in your kid’s life because they are very clearly upset but won’t tell you why and you need to respect their privacy but — man, oh man — is it hard to not make it better for them.

And then there’s the anger. Where the hell did this anger come from? Because you’re so fucking pissed sometimes that you think your head might literally explode. Or you might crumble into the fetal position and sob for hours. Either one.

All those concerns and confusing emotions – those frayed edges, so to speak — are still there, and the coronavirus pandemic has multiplied and exacerbated them. Journalist and author Ana Calhoun, who wrote the bestselling book “Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis,” told CNN, “This virus may be the anvil that broke the camel’s back. A lot of women in this country were trying to keep a whole lot of plates in the air. All of it has come crashing down, and now there are also more plates falling from the sky, like crockery-hail.”

While I don’t agree with the generalization that the struggles of women in our 40s are the result of the proverbial midlife crisis (as the title of her book suggests), Calhoun does make an interesting point.

“When I was working on the book, some women told me they sort of wanted to blow it all up — their schedules, the dynamics of their marriages, their career path — and start over,” she told CNN. “This is not how anyone would have ever wanted something like that to happen, but I wonder if some of those women now are in a position where they will need to rebuild from scratch: to find a new distribution of work at home, to figure out a new career path, to change their expectations for themselves. Although, of course, that’s also a lot of pressure when it’s hard enough right now to just, like, toast frozen waffles.”

Personally, I had sort of “blown it all up” before the coronavirus quarantine, only to find now that the life I was trying to create for myself isn’t possible – at least not in the way I had envisioned. Shortly before the coronavirus pandemic descended on us, I had made some fairly significant changes to my life so that I could be involved with my family, including my extended family who lives in a neighboring state. My dad has Alzheimer’s disease and I hoped to spend some time with him and give my mom a bit of a break in the process. I had also resolved to nurture those IRL friendships I’d neglected in recent years, and my husband and I were hoping to embark on some travel adventures. But this new life I had hoped to create for myself isn’t possible right now, not in the way I had planned.

The real irony of it all is that the confusion that so many of us 40-somethings were (are?) feeling made us want to shed our old skin and set fire to our lives so we could tie up those frayed edges. We might have been considering job changes or relocations to be near aging parents. We might have been rekindling old friendships or embarking on new ones. We might have been getting more comfortable with our kids’ burgeoning independence – and, as a result, our own.

All of that has been flipped on its head now. We are literally stuck in limbo. Not only can we not check up on our aging parents, maybe lend a helping hand or just enjoy some time together doing nothing, now we can’t even be in the same room as them. While we were scared of something happening to them before, now we are downright terrified. Instead of helping them with their WiFi connection, we’re nagging them not to leave their house.

Those job changes we were so excited about have vanished into thin air. Heck, we’re lucky if we even have a paying job, and if we do, we’re trying to manage it with our new unpaid job (for which most of have absolutely no training whatsoever) of part-time homeschool teacher.

Those tender friendships that we were building organically now look like scheduled and often-awkward video chats.

Our kids? Well, that budding independence has vanished into thin air as we all share the same 1,500 square feet 24/7.

But as Calhoun notes, we can either hold tight to the high expectations we had for ourselves or be honest about what we are able to do and what we need.

For me, that means accepting that some days I will be a powerhouse of productivity – cleaning the windows for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-many years, getting in a full day’s work, and finishing a puzzle with my kids – and other days, it will take all my energy just to get in the shower. It means getting used to crying nearly every single day. It means tending to a few close friendships and letting go of the “shoulds” when it comes to all the Zoom happy hours and virtual game nights. It means FaceTiming with my parents instead of sitting in their living room.

This isn’t to say that the struggles of we 40-somethings is any more or less than the struggles others are facing. It is an absolute privilege to have so many people, relationships and opportunities in your life that you feel spread too thin. It is an absolute gift. And we know it.

But because this stage of life brings with it the acute awareness of just how much a gift all of it is, we want to gobble it all up – and we can’t do that right now, at least not physically, or in the way we had imagined.

Xennial and Gen-X friends, however you are coping with this current crisis is okay. Whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone. If you’re confused and angry and weepy and terrified, believe me, so am I. But friends, don’t forget: we’re still setting fire to our lives, even if it is with some low-burning embers rather than a burst of flames.

The post Our 40s Weren’t Some Blissful Utopia Before COVID-19 — They’re Even Less So Now appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Should I Have Another Baby — Or Am I Having A Midlife Crisis?

My one and only, Andrew turned ten in October. Months later I still cannot believe that he has been in my life for an entire decade. In ten more years he will be twenty and…wait, hold up. Oh my God, my baby will be twenty! In ten years, he will not be under my roof anymore. But I don’t even have ten years. I really only have eight. In eight short years, Andrew will graduate from high school and head off to college. He will leave me and I will be all alone (if my husband was reading this he would ask if he is chopped liver and then laugh at me for being dramatic).

Okay, so maybe I do need to get out of my own head. I need to think about something positive…something like the fact that my birthday is this month. I have a fun girls night out planned to celebrate that I am turning…40. I knew this day would come eventually so I was planning on taking it in stride by drinking from a shared fruity fish bowl and belting out “Sweet Caroline” and “Piano Man.” But now that I have only two weeks left in my thirties, I’m feeling less celebratory. I’m about to start a new decade of life that will probably include gray hair…a new decade where my one and only is going to leave me. What am I going to do?

Have another baby.

Whoa, where did that come from? Have a baby! Although I can tell myself that 40 is the new 30, 40 in reproductive years is old. Doctors use warm and fuzzy terms like geriatric pregnancy and advanced maternal age. I can’t have another baby.

But the thing is lots of women have babies after forty like Halle Berry, Gwen Stefani, Tina Fey, my cousin Emma, and my friend Kate. I guess God willing I could have another baby. But that would be more than a ten year age gap between Andrew and his sibling. The days of sleepless nights, changing diapers, toddler tantrums, and paying an arm and a leg for daycare are LONG behind me. Life with one ten-year-old kid is easy. Why would I want to go and make things complicated?

I know what may be going on here. Maybe I am having a midlife crisis. Is it possible to have one of those when you are happy and feel like you are living your best life? I have a great job, a caring husband, and a beautiful home. My extended family is supportive and I have a tribe of amazing girlfriends. I am a year away from completing my MBA and I get to take frequent vacations. Plus, I have my one and only…the light of my life. Nothing brings me more joy than being a mother.

Mom and son posing with sunglasses on
Courtesy of Angela Grossnickle

And now my baby is already ten. Every birthday celebrated means he needs me less and less. Don’t get me wrong, it has been an absolute privilege to watch him grow into the amazing young person that he has become. I am blessed and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for him. I am very important to him and we are close. He still cuddles with me, holds my hand, and tells me that he loves me to the moon and back. But I know that time is not on my side. His friends are becoming more and more a priority in his life. He is less excited to go on family outings such as bowling or mini golfing with just the three of us. Video games are now more fun than building Legos or making a puzzle with Mom. It’s only a matter of time before it will be uncool to be seen with me in public. And eventually girls will enter the picture and someone else will be the object of his affection.

Sigh.  

I miss being needed by Andrew. I miss being the center of his universe…when his face would light up when I entered a room and he would run and throw himself into my arms. Sometimes I miss pushing a stroller. I miss shopping for tiny clothes. I miss singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” I miss reading Goodnight Moon over and over again a hundred times.  I miss rocking him to sleep in my arms. So the question is, am just being nostalgic or do I really want another baby? How do I know the difference? Maybe this makes me sound silly. Maybe I sound whiny or even ungrateful. Or maybe this makes me sound selfish.

Sometimes I feel selfish…selfish that I didn’t give Andrew a sibling years ago. Guilt often rears its ugly head because I know that he would be an awesome big brother. Over the years, others have also made me feel guilty with their judgmental comments about only having one child, but guilt is not a good reason to have a baby. And I have to admit that while I absolutely love being a mom, it’s REALLY HARD sometimes! Andrew was a difficult baby and an even more difficult toddler. He was strong-willed and tested our patience constantly…he still does.

I guess all I can hope is that this internal struggle makes me sound human. That it is okay and completely normal to feel conflicted, emotional, and unsure of which path to take. I can take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in experiencing these types of feelings. That there are women of all ages out there who can relate because they are grappling with their own family size issues.

Have another baby.

I would REALLY miss wine though.

While my husband and I figure out which path we will travel down, I will embrace being 40. I will live a life of gratitude. I will fight off any feelings of guilt because at the end of the day there is no right or wrong decision. I will be present and enjoy every moment with my one and only…because the clock is ticking.

The post Should I Have Another Baby — Or Am I Having A Midlife Crisis? appeared first on Scary Mommy.

An Open Letter To My Hormones And Anyone In My Vicinity

Dear waning estrogen and progesterone,

I’m not gonna sugar-coat things: you guys suck. Ass. I’d be falsely representing my feelings if I said anything other than, “Just fuck right off, ok?”

Look, here’s the deal. You used to give me a solid two weeks of semi-normalcy. These would be days where you’d find me bouncing through a field of daisies, blowing some playful bubbles or riding my bike in tight, white pants singing in harmony with the neighborhood sparrows. The children would be lovingly careened to bed while we recanted the highlights of our carefree days. Life was leisurely during those sacred two weeks.

But for some reason or another, you decided to fuck around with this schedule and I’m now living in a quasi hell. Read: one week of acceptable human existence, followed by a week of demonic outbreaks, finishing with a week of passing clots the size of golf balls. Like, I’m sorry! I should not have a google search history that includes “what’s the largest sized tampon available over the counter” and “hysterectomy recovery times.” I should be seeking out all the usual chick shit, like, “topless pics of Adam Levine” or “cheap nail salons near me.” But, no. Instead, you have me raging like some possessed woman whose cycle has been reduced to just 22 days. Even the moon can’t keep up with this goddamn blasphemy.

So today, after devouring a full sleeve of Pringles at my desk for no apparent reason, I drove to town in a fit of complete hysterics. See, in addition to eating Tim Horton’s carbs for breakfast and lunch, then chasing them down with that salty chip kryptonite, I found myself making a beeline to Little Caesars in search of some Hot-and-Ready Pizzas to serve the kids. Because carbs and I can only be described as life-long BFFs. Said no middle-aged woman EVER. I can feel my pants splitting open in protest. Amazeballs.

Listen here: I want to kill someone! I’m pretty sure that Siri or Alexa or Google should report me because I just shrieked those words verbatim as I typed them.

Recent examples?

Husband comes home from his day at the office, throws his work pants over my desk chair. TRIGGER!!! Daughter pokes her head in the bedroom to ask how my day was. TRIGGER!!!! Exchange student wanders upstairs in a loitering kind of fashion, leading me to believe she wants to talk. TRIGGER TRIGGER!!!!! The dog noses his way in (following his regular walk, I might add) to look at me with his ridiculous one blue eye, as if to say, “Bitch, are you EVER gonna feed me? That dry kibble doesn’t just eat itself!” TRIGGER TRIGGER TRIGGER!!!!!

And let’s establish some unwritten rules here. The only people, and it’s worth repeating, ONLY PEOPLE equipped to (1) comment on hormones (2) ask about hormones (3) bargain with you hormones… are those already subjected to your hormones. All sisters get a lifelong hall pass here. Men, although we are powerless to change your train of thought, we strongly caution you against verbalizing our feelings as “that time of the month,” or “must be your menses” (fucking huge-ass trigger… don’t ever say menses), and even more egregious, “Sam, you know you’re not thinking clearly right now.”

No. NO. and Literal BLOODY HELL NO!!!!!!

Just don’t even GO There. Your one job is to tiptoe around the house in a kind of skulking fashion. You want to go undetected. Completely stealth, under the radar, if you will. But there must be some sort of DNA evidence of your existence. Perhaps leave out your razor or keep Sportsnet on at a dull roar in the den. We may need something from you, such as an emergency run to Shoppers for sour keys, and on rare occasions, a dreaded scouting of the right pads and ‘pons! We just don’t want to see you, hear you, smell or feel you.

DO YOU HEAR THIS LATTER ONE? WE ESPECIALLY DON’T WANT TO FEEL YOU. HANDS OFF THE BOOBS WHILE WE BRUSH OUR TEETH. CAN’T YOU JUST ASSUME THERE’S AN INVISIBLE, IMPENETRABLE WALL PREVENTING ANY SORT OF GRINDING AND GROPING DURING THESE SPECIFICALLY HORMONAL TIMES? How would you feel if we were tugging on your balls while one-thousand tiny jackhammers were running 24/7 inside them? I didn’t think so!

And while we’re at it, let’s discuss the actual lingual root of the word “menopause.” For most of us, it literally means, “pause the men.” Say it with me, “Pause the men.” Very good. We do want you in our lives, but only at our convenience. And right now, is just NOT a very convenient time, haven’t you noticed? Further, we’d much prefer a back rub while watching “The Daily Show” instead of some creepy hand gesture luring us into a BJ. We’re not falling for it, ‘mkay? Tempting, but no thanks.

Apologies for all this ranting. But I hold you fully accountable, estrogen. Monthly flare-ups are especially common when merging into oncoming traffic, watching the Weather Channel, making kids lunches and during those soul-restoring Facebook hours. The slew of indignities will flow out of my mouth like I’m a seasoned trucker (no offense, truckers). In fairness, these outbursts are quite effective while standing in long bank line-ups. Innocent onlookers get a bit freaked out and tend to give up their spot in queue for fear of their heads being bitten right off.

Thus. I’d like it if we could please move along whatever this middle-aged-cycle process is, so that I could go back to my regularly scheduled one. I’m guessing that’s just not possible and you’ll have to run your dumbass course. Which could take years, I’m told. In the meantime, I’d like to acknowledge the following sponsors who have done all they can to get me through these sanity-stealing moments:

– Pringles, especially the Salt and Vinegar variety

– Red Wine (mostly JLohr)

– Netflix binging

– Hot baths

– Fuzzy socks

– Baroness Von Sketch episodes

– Retail therapy on impractical purchases

– Girlfriend bitch sessions

Yours sincerely,

Sam, on behalf of every 45-year old woman with raging hormones

The post An Open Letter To My Hormones And Anyone In My Vicinity appeared first on Scary Mommy.

To My 16-Year-Old: You’ll Never Know I Cried As You Walked Away

To my son,

You’ll never know that I cried today as you walked away….

Today is your 16th birthday.

From the day you were born and even before that, I have loved you and cared for you and been the one to hold you and soothe you when you were little…

And today I just dropped you off at basketball practice for probably the very last time. Soon you will get your license and gain your freedom to go out into this wonderful world without me, and hopefully make it better, as I pray I have raised you to do.

Courtesy of Gina Bonifas

But you’ll probably never know, I cried as you walked away today. My heart was happy to see the young man you have grown to be. But a part of my heart broke as you walked away today because I know I won’t have that time with you anymore. Those few seconds on the road together, will be far and few between.

I loved our chats as we would drive to and from practice. I loved the way you giggled at me when I would sing along with the radio. I smiled inside when you would roll your eyes at me because your music was inappropriate, and not meant for your mama’s ears. I loved when we turned the music up and jammed to what I called the “good” songs and you referred to as “oldies.” And that smile, that smile you would flash me when you made a mistake practicing driving is something I will hold in my heart forever.

But most of all, I am going to miss all of those little tiny moments where you would open up and talk to me in the car. It was just you and me. No siblings, no life, no homework, no phones going off, no world around us, it was just us. Just us discussing your day, your friends, the good and bad of the world, or simply just a quick “It was a good day, Mom.” I will forever cherish those moments. They are some of my favorites.

Courtesy of Gina Bonifas

So, today I cried as you walked away from my car knowing that soon, you would get that small bit of freedom that you so desperately have been waiting for, and I have unsuccessfully tried to hold onto.

Dear God, please keep him safe and watch over him. Watch over his siblings and friends who will be riding with him and always bring him home to me.

Son, always know that I will be waiting for you to return and praying while you are gone. You are my whole world and I can’t wait for you to see what this wonderful world has waiting for you. I will always cherish and miss that little boy, strapped into his car seat, eating Teddy Grahams and singing the songs that I once approved of.

So yes, I cried today as you walked away from my car, but I know you are walking into so many wonderful things that I can’t wait for you to experience. Happy Birthday my dear child! And don’t forget to ask your mom to go for a drive every once in while. You will make her day.

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Why ‘The Golden Girls’ Stands The Test Of Time

When you hear the words, thank you for being a friend,” there’s only one thing you think of. Four sassy women old enough to be your grandma living in Miami. That’s right, you’re thinking of The Golden Girls. The show, which premiered in 1985, is a huge part of our social consciousness — and for good reason. In addition to being incredibly entertaining, The Golden Girls was groundbreaking. That’s precisely why it’s still so popular now, almost 35 years after its premiere.

There aren’t too many subjects The Golden Girls didn’t touch on during their seven seasons — from ageism to marriage equality to AIDS. Back in the late-’80s/early-’90s, many of these subjects weren’t societally acceptable to talk about. Not too many shows were brave enough to go there, let alone sitcoms. Even by today’s standards, most sitcoms aren’t tackling the same heavy issues Dorothy and crew were taking on way back when. The writers weren’t afraid to “go there,” and that’s one of the many reasons the show still stands the test of time.

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Of course, one of the most inspiring things the show does is prove that women over 50 are still kicking ass. In a world where youth is the focus and standard, they buck the norm. Each one of them is proof that women don’t have an expiration date — we are more than just our age. They’re out there living their best lives and giving zero fucks about what others think.

Never before had we seen older women who were still sexually active. And not just sexually active, but sexually voracious. The Golden Girls are sexual beings — giving us hope that you don’t shrivel up when you reach middle age. They’re unapologetic in their sexuality, and they never seem to compromise their desires. Blanche is the most perfect example of this, but they all get it in there. Even Sophia, who is an actual octogenarian, has boyfriends and briefly remarries. Their slut shaming of Blanche can get heavy handed, but it’s all in jest at the end of the day.

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The Golden Girls never shies away from social issues either. Yes, it’s a sitcom and therefore light and funny. However, they were able to blend the comedy with the serious realities people were facing at the time. These social issues are never presented as a “very special episode” either; they’re simply part of the storyline.

Several episodes on the show feature LGBTQ characters — most notably, Blanche’s younger brother Clayton. Not only does he come out as gay, he also marries his partner. This is something Blanche can’t wrap her head around. “I can accept the fact that he’s gay,” she says to Sophia, “but why does he have to slip a ring on his finger so the whole world will know?” Shockingly, Sophia is the one who makes Blanche realize she’s being totally ignorant.

Dorothy’s brother Phil, who we never see, bucks gender norms. Phil isn’t gay — he’s married with several children. He just likes wearing women’s clothing, especially lingerie. Even though this has been happening his entire life, when he dies, Sophia finally confronts her true feelings about it. She asks his widow why she never stopped “the dress thing,” as if being married could rid him of his desire. Rose helps her realize that Phil’s preferences weren’t something to be ashamed, but were just what made Phil who he was.

The Golden Girls is surprisingly progressive. Their treatment of LGBTQ+ people is probably why the show is so popular within the community. We queers love us some Golden Girls. At a time when the gay community was under intense scrutiny, the show never treated the community as “other.” The LGBTQ characters were simply people. Shows today don’t get it quite as right as the Golden Girls.

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This is especially true when talking about the AIDS crisis. The United States government was barely acknowledging it as a real thing, but The Golden Girls took it head on. It was most prominently featured in an episode where Rose has to have an AIDS test years after a blood transfusion. “I’m a good person,” Rose declares in a moment of self pity. “AIDS is not a bad person’s disease, Rose,” Blanche counters. At a time when there was so much misinformation, such a simple statement made a huge impact.

Since it’s a show about older women, ageism is something The Golden Girls deals with several times. More than once, Rose face ageism while searching for a job. When her dead husband’s pension runs out, no one will hire her because she’s a woman over 50. She goes to see a TV consumer reporter about taking on her age discrimination case, only to face discrimination when she asks if she can apply for an assistant job.

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There are so many other topics The Golden Girls focuses on. Teenage pregnancy (both through Dorothy and another character), homelessness, prescription pill addiction, suicide, sexual harassment, and elder abuse, to name a few. Then there’s the complexity of adult/child relationships and friendship. As much as they may have their spats, there’s no doubt of how much they love each other. You can tell these women are willing to die for each other. It’s hard to successfully capture the nuance of such close friendships, but they do it so well.

Television and the world have come a long way in 35 years, but The Golden Girls still feels as relevant as ever. Perhaps that’s why it’s never gone out of syndication. The four women on the show taught an entire generation what growing older can look like. It taught us how to be the friends who turn into family. Now it’s teaching a new generation the same thing. I’m grateful to live in a world where Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia exist.

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