Saturday, February 24, 2007


I think I am becoming a curmudgeon! So many things seem to irritate me. Is that a symptom of being old?

Last week I watched Oprah and the topic of the show was Working Mothers and Mothers Who Choose to Stay Home and Raise Their Children. I was irritated by the terminology. Having raised four children, my experience and my opinion is that all mothers are working mothers. Some mothers work full-time inside the home raising their children and some mothers work outside the home in paying jobs. The subtle implication in using Working Mother for those mothers who have jobs outside the home is that Mothers who elect to stay home aren’t working. They are just taking care of children.

Someone has to take care of children. Some mothers elect to do it full-time themselves. Other mothers find someone to provide care for their children during the hours that they are employed outside the home. Many mothers have no choice. They may be widowed, they may be divorced, or the father of their children may have abandoned them. They have to work outside the home and also provide the parenting. In poor families, everyone who can work does so. It is necessary for survival.

Taking care of children requires many skills. A current term heard frequently and usually associated with important busy people, is multi-tasking. It is a term that aptly describes the skill most necessary to being a traditional homemaker and mother! After many years experience of home making and child rearing, I decided to join the work force outside my home and I quickly learned how little value was placed on the multi-tasking skills required to run a home and raise children. Prospective employers were unimpressed with homemaking and child rearing listed on a resume as skills.

For the first 18 years of my marriage, I was a full-time homemaker and mother because that is what was expected of me. I do not regret having done so. Being a full-time homemaker and mother has its benefits. It also has its frustrations. Working outside the home also has benefits and frustrations. I decided to “go to work” (as if I hadn’t been “working”) when my youngest child was 8. I worked for one year as a secretary for an Army educational program and realized that I needed to complete my education in order to be able to pursue what I really wanted to do. At the age of 39 I had the opportunity to return to college. Nineteen years earlier I had dropped out in my senior year in order to marry my husband, a young lieutenant with orders to move. Not even my father who highly valued education objected. Girls grew up to marry, take care of their husbands, and have children. Even girls who had to work because of limited financial means shared the dream of marrying and having children as their career goal.

I graduated from college and continued to earn a Master’s degree. At the age of 41 I started my first full-time job outside the home and I worked until retiring at age 65. After a year or so of retirement I started working again part-time and I plan to continue working as long as I am able to do so.

Instead of debating which choice is of greater merit, staying at home to raise your children or working outside the home, why don’t we try to support women at home and in the work force to handle their responsibilities as mothers?

It is not a simple choice, and sometimes it isn’t a choice at all because so many women have limited options. I think I was irritated by the superficiality with which the issue was treated. I was also irritated that the role of fathers didn’t factor into the equation. And I was most irritated by the assumption that at home mothers aren’t “working.” Raising children is the most difficult job I’ve ever had. And the most important.

It is at once the most overwhelmingly frustrating and exasperating task and the most joyous and rewarding experience to make human beings out of children.
Rabbi Neil Kurshan

Friday, February 16, 2007

Another blog!

The Dove Pro-age campaign asks, “What’s better than knowing you’re beautiful?” In my previous blog I wrote, “My answer to that will take another blog! So here it is.

At age 72, my first response is that knowing I am healthy is better.
Knowing that my family is OK is better.
Having a personal relationship with the God of my understanding is better.
Being financially independent is better.
Being intelligent is better than being beautiful.
Being talented is better than being beautiful.
My beautiful granddaughter who was wounded in Iraq by an I.E.D. (Improvised Explosive Device) would probably say that being pain free is better than being beautiful.

I quickly compiled a long list but the list doesn’t really convey my feelings.

Beauty is a great gift from God. Like any work of art it is to be admired and appreciated and enjoyed.

In an advertising campaign for skin care products for women, beautiful is most likely used to describe physical attributes that are aesthetically pleasing. However they are using models of varying sizes, shapes, and ages so their message conveys the idea that beauty can be seen in women who do not meet the current cultural definition of beauty. And that, I applaud with a standing ovation!

As a little girl I often heard, “Beauty is as beauty does.” Looking beautiful is not the same as being beautiful. And the latter is the better of the two. Of course, as a little girl, I thought that doing/being beautiful was some sort of booby prize for little girls who weren’t pretty! A consolation that was supposed to make up for not looking pretty.

It took many years to fully realize that being beautiful is more important than looking beautiful. And even more years to realize that inner beauty transforms and becomes outer beauty also.

That which is striking and beautiful is not always good; but that which is good is always beautiful.
Ninon de Lenclos (Anne Lenclos)

Do you love me because I’m beautiful, or am I beautiful because you love me?

Oscar Hammerstein, II

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term which describes the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. More precisely, it is the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions, where "cognition" is defined as any element of knowledge, including attitude, emotion, belief, or behavior.

The theory of cognitive dissonance states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions. Wikipedia

Nancy Pelosi, a 66 year old grandmother who has become the first female Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

A 62 year old grandmother who posed nude for a billboard in Times Square.

I heartily commend the Dove pro-age campaign using “real” women in their ads rather than professional models and I believe their slogan that “Beauty has no age limit.” I answer, “Yes!” to their question, “Can a woman be beautiful at any age?” They also ask, “What’s better than knowing you’re beautiful?” (My answer to that will take another blog!)

I think the problem is that we are establishing an ideal of physical beauty for older women (just as we have always done for younger women) that most older women will not be able to achieve. Some people age well, others don’t.

I am also wondering if we will soon see a billboard with the photo of an older man nude in Times Square. Or watch a TV program about men who look young for their age and discuss how they should dress and wear their hair and make-up in order to look their best.

This is perhaps a sensitive issue for me because I was the daughter of a mother who was truly beautiful. Family, friends and strangers would often comment on the beauty of my mother and then remark on how much I looked like my father. My father was a nice looking man but I couldn’t envision him as a beautiful woman. I adored my Daddy and was always proud to be like him but I wanted to look like my mother. I grew up in an era when beauty was a great asset to a woman. (I think it still is.) More important than being intelligent, having an education or being athletic. There were exceptions, of course. But the exceptions were so exceptional that they weren’t really role models for most of us. In the 40’s and early 50’s most women grew up to be wives and mothers and everyone knew that boys and men fell in love with the pretty girls.

The pretty girls were the popular girls, pursued by the football players. Football players were the popular guys and they went out with the popular girls. Occasionally they would date an “attractive” girl, attractive being a euphemism for those girls who weren’t actually pretty but weren’t actually ugly either and had something else to recommend them. Sometimes they were “cute” or “sweet.” Another euphemism. For girls, physical looks and social status were the main criteria for determining who was popular and who wasn’t. For boys, it was social status and athletic prowess.

I was a wife with four children when I read Betty Freidan’s “The Feminine Mystique” published in 1963. The book spoke to me powerfully and, although I never burned a bra, I became an ardent champion of women’s rights. The right of women to have the same opportunities that men enjoyed. Now, over forty years later I have witnessed many women becoming the “first woman” to do or become many new things. I wept when Andrea Lee Hollen, USMA 1980, graduated from the United States Military Academy, the first woman to do so. I wept when the first women were ordained as priests. I wept as I watched Barbara Harris become the first woman consecrated as a bishop. Most recently I wept when Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman elected as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA, the first female primate in the Anglican communion. I weep with pride and joy and because my daughters, granddaughters and my great granddaughter can choose to pursue dreams that I never dreamed possible. In 1974 at the age of 40 I went back to college to complete a degree that I had put on hold when I married. Several of my friends did the same and we all pursued professional careers and, at the time, that was considered sort of daring. Older women returning to school.

So, here we are. A 62-year-old grandmother in the nude on a huge billboard in Times Square. Annie Liebovitz took the photo and it is a beautiful photo. But I don’t know how I feel. I’m not sure what I think. Is this progress for women?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

On looking younger

I watched an Oprah show this week that was all about women looking younger and looking their best. Several of the guests on the show were women who looked incredibly younger than their actual age. There were several “makeovers” and a discussion by a panel of experts about how women should dress, style their hair, and wear make-up in order to look their best by looking younger.

I am not comfortable with shows that promote “looking younger” as a criteria for looking your “best.” And I am not comfortable with shows that focus on looking your best rather than focusing on being your best and doing your best.

What do people mean when they say, “You look young for your age!” How does 60 look? How does 70 look? How does 80 look? Each age looks different for every individual. Why do we think that looking younger is a great achievement? We all look better on some days than on others, whatever our age. Looking younger than our chronological age is a matter of genes or a matter of cosmetic surgery. Neither of which says anything about our character, our intelligence or our integrity. Looking younger is not praiseworthy.

I do not want every face I see to look the same. Youth is beautiful but so is the face of someone who has lived a long life, with the trials and tribulations that life brings, and has survived with grace and dignity.

I want to see a face that has laughed a lot and cried a lot. I want to see a face that reflects love and is animated by a passion for living. I want to look into eyes that shine with inner light and inner beauty. I want to see wisdom and kindliness and compassion. My friends have lived interesting lives and have exciting ideas and are committed to living as fully as possible. Most of us are of a certain age and none of us look particularly young.

I do not think that presenting one’s self attractively is a bad thing. We don’t have to look at ourselves but other people do and we should make an effort to be presentable so other people won’t have to look at us looking our worst. I just think that looking young has very little to do with anything of real importance.

Love is a great beautifier. Louisa May Alcott

As a white candle

In a holy place,
So is the beauty
Of an aged face.
Irishry (1913) 'Old Woman'
Joseph Campbell

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Bemused & Befuddled

The following arrived in my email.
[Illustrated with cartoon figures of old people]

My forgetter's getting better,
But my rememberer is broke
To you that may seem funny
But, to me, that is no joke

For when I'm "here" I'm wondering
If I really should be "there"
And, when I try to think it through,
I haven't got a prayer!

Oft times I walk into a room,
Say "what am I here for?"
I wrack my brain, but all in vain!
A zero, is my score.

At times I put something away
Where it is safe, but, Gee!
The person it is safest from
Is, generally, me!

When shopping I may see someone,
Say "Hi" and have a chat,
Then, when the person walks away
I ask myself, "who was that?"

Yes, my forgetter's getting better
While my rememberer is broke,
And it's driving me plumb crazy
And that isn't any joke.

CAN YOU RELATE ? ? ? Please send this to everyone you know because I DON'T REMEMBER WHO I SENT THIS TO!
Have a great day who ever you are!

Have a great day in spite of the fact that I’m losing my mind? I am bemused and befuddled by the above. I believe that a sense of humor, especially the ability to laugh at ourselves, is essential to our health and well being, whatever our age, but is the loss of mental faculties really funny? My father suffered senile dementia and my mother’s death certificate listed the cause of death as “Alzheimer’s.” Needless to say, I am more than a little concerned about my risk factor as I grow older. Sometimes I laugh when I forget something but sometimes I feel sheer terror.

However, I think that I do not really find the above particularly humorous because it is a reflection of the stereotype of older people prevalent in our society. There are many persons who are advanced in years who are productive members of society, but in spite of ample evidence to the contrary, the stereotype prevails and often leads to the elderly being treated in a dismissive way. In many facilities for the elderly, residents are referred to as “Honey, Sweetie, etc.” Too often the elderly are treated like children. Children who are sometimes seen but not heard. Not listened to. Not noticed. Overlooked. Not taken seriously.

It is a subtle and pervasive discrimination and most people do not even realize they are doing it. Even some of us who are elderly, join in the joke rather than try to dispel the myth.

The next time you see an elderly person, remember, they are an adult inside an aging body hoping to be recognized and deserving of respect.

It is quite wrong to think of old age as a downward slope. On the contrary, one climbs higher and higher with the advancing years, and that, too, with surprising strides. Brain-work comes as easily to the old as physical exertion to the child. One is moving, it is true, towards the end of life, but that end is now a goal, and not a reef in which the vessel may be dashed. George Sand