Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Blessings

Being of German origins, my family and I like to follow the old tradtions and celebrate Christmas on the eve of the 24th. I stayed up late yesterday wrapping the last of the gifts, polishing the silver and ensuring that everything would be ready by today. It is now nearly four o'clock. The tree is up, the table is set and delicous food smells are wafting out of the kitchen. Time to take a moment to be with myself and reflect. I have, therefore, poured a glass of wine, made a toast with peanut butter and taken that unlikely combination to the living room to just sit still and listen to the things inside my head and heart.
I am grateful for so many things, not the least of which is my family's continued good health, especially that of my 80-something mother. I am grateful for my husband who, although exhausted after a particularly hard year at work,  never complains and always smiles lovingly when I ask something of him. Truly an angel among us, even if he does shrink things when he attempts to do laundry. I am especially grateful, more so with every passing year,  for loyal friends both old and new who enrich my existence beyond measure as we face life's hurdles together.
And this year I am savouring another blessing, which is that feuding families can be reunited, even after three decades.
Sipping my wine I give myself a virtual pat on the shoulder because I was instrumental in the reunion of my own family. It likely never would have happened if I had not swallowed my pride and sent out an invitation which was accepted and thus started the ball rolling back in September.
How many families are not talking to one another at this very moment because of petty differences, because of false pride or because of pure stubborness?
Fundamentally, we all want the same thing. To be respected, to have our voice heard, our feelings validated. We can't change history or create world peace but we can ensure that our families practices a little goodwill.
That is my holiday wish today as I munch the last of my toast. That everyone makes an effort to begin the process of making sure their families are in the best working order possible. It just takes one gesture to open your heart. And if there are left-over bad feelings, I pray they can be put aside just long enough for goodwill to make forgiveness possible.
Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

No, Thanks! 2

The beauty of a blog is that it can create dialogue on issues not normally discussed among people who don't usually connect.
A few days after my latest entry I attended an all-female luncheon and the topic of my blog came up. Aging gracefully is a subject women of a certain age grapple with every time they look in the mirror so I was not at all surprised that we landed with a thud on my last blog entry. I was, however, taken aback by the general reaction to it. Nobody commented on the story about the doctor peddling Botox but everyone present wanted a say on plastic surgery. One woman in our group took me to task (in a very nice way) mentioning that she had had to have plastic surgery a few years ago after having melanoma. Another confessed that she has had varicose veins surgically removed after seeing a photo of herself in a bathing suit. Blue had never been her best colour, she joked. One talked of having had all her teeth veneered, so natural looking, by the way, that nobody would ever had guessed had she not told us. Only one woman in that entire group stated flat-out that she would not alter any part of herself, including bleaching her teeth, partly on principle but aslo out of fear and cost concerns.
It fascinated and humbled me that I was completely outnumbered and that nobody was particularly outraged at the way the medical spa I had written about, operated.
A week later, at yet another all female pre-Christmas luncheon, one friend, making an entrance after arriving late and sporting a still slightly swollen face, announced without the slightest hesitation that she had just had her eyes and chin "done". Everyone was very impressed with the results and  I had to admit that, in spite of her swelling,  she looked fresher and more vibrant than when I had last seen her. More to the point, she felt mentally rejuvinated by looking younger and I cannot deny that this is a huge bonus in our exhausting, fast-paced world.
As I said in my previous entry, who among us doesn't want to look younger or stop time temporarily? And yes, I get that plastic surgery is a wonderful thing after an illness, burns or a disfiguring accident. In the case of the friend who was still recovering, it was clearly important for her mental well-being to look her very best.
I do realize that it is very difficult for some women in certain fields, especially if they work exclusively with younger people, to not feel excluded by their age. Whether we admit it or not, a bias against aging people is alive and well in our society.
But that is precisely my point. How do we rectify that? Is it by giving in or by standing tough? What message are we, the older generation, sending to our sons and daughters if we don't accept our limitations? That we are sorry to be aging? That it's not a big deal to alter the ravages of time artificially? That's it ok not to own who we are at any given time? That the history you have acquired on your face through the act of being alive....does not count when pitted against the norms dictated by the fashion and cosmetics industries?
Don't get me wrong. I am as vain as the next person and I grapple with these issues also. But my personal choice so far has been to compromise rather than give in because I believe that as a mother I must teach my children not to be afraid of aging. I believe it is my duty to set a good example so that they do not grow up to be afraid of what nature will ultimately do to all of us. It's a losing battle. With or without me, the comsmetics industry, which I support every time I buy a moisturizer, will win out. Perhaps by the time my daughter is my age, removing wrinkles with a laser will have become as routine and painless and cost effective as teeth bleaching is today. My future grandkids will look at old photos of me and say....grandma, why do you look so old?? If I'm still around, maybe I will have the courage to say...because I am!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

No Thanks!

"Tell me everything that's wrong with your face," said the doctor handing me a mirror.
"Isn't that what you're supposed to do?" I replied.
I had accepted an invitation to attend an information session at a newly opened medical spa with the hidden agenda of looking into doing a documentary film on why it's so hard in our society to age naturally. Thinking I would see lots of women my age at this event, I was shocked to discover that more than half of my fellow attendees were women in their thirties, seemingly healthy and in the prime of their lives. Fascinated, I watched and listened as a very expensively dressed and taut-faced woman told us stories about people who had ‘transformed’ their lives by getting rid of wrinkles,  extra tummy fat, acne scars, spider veins, etc. With many ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots enlarged on a screen in front of us, we were taken from one extreme to the other by this gorgeous woman who confessed that she had been in the cosmetics industry for a very long time and so had access to ‘inside’ secrets which she would share with us if we signed up for a free skin analysis with her business partner, a doctor who then joined her on the podium.
The first thing that struck me about the doctor was that he did not look like one. Living in a country that has Universal health care, I am not used to doctors being fashion plates. A labcoat or an old sweater with elbow patches instills more confidence in me than skin tight pants, a satin shirt and pointy boots.
The nattily dressed doctor brought a  woman with him to the front and proceeded to tell us that all the wrinkles we could see on her face would disappear in front of our very eyes because she had agreed to a few Botox injections in our presence. My fellow attendees were all agog. The good doctor encouraged us to come around the chair where his hand-picked patient was sitting, very relaxed and smiling. She volunteered that she had never done this before but wanted to try it because she was “not happy to see so many lines “ whenever she saw herself in photos. I could relate somewhat, and even the thirty year-olds who did not yet have lines, were nodding their heads in understanding.
The doctor injected his star patient several times around the eyes and in the forehead after wiping the chosen areas with alcohol. Each time the needle went in he assured us that his patient was only feeling a slight burning but no real discomfort and the truth is that she did not wince or squirm at any time. Each vial, the doctor informed us, was reasonably priced (note he did not actually state the price!) and so this was a very affordable option for anyone “who wanted to improve her looks.”
There were now lots of questions from the audience, ranging from the cost of these injections to how much down time more invasive procedures took. The skin analysis, however, was a pre-requisite to obtain all further information and for that you had to sign up for an actual appointment with the doctor.
And that is how I found myself back in the very posh medical spa the next morning holding the doctor’s mirror up to my face. Unbeknownst to him, I had done a little background search on him before coming and had discovered that he was not a plastic surgeon, was not even a dermatologist. He was a general practitioner and the reviews he had been given by some former patients were not stellar. He had no experience or specific knowledge to give anyone a skin analysis.
"Are you a plastic surgeon?" I asked him.
"No," came the reply. "I am an emergency room doctor so if anything ever went wrong I would know exactly what to do."
"Do you have emergencies often?" I pressed.
Irritated, he gave me a stiff smile. "You have a lot of sun damage," he said, conveniently changing the subject.
"I would suggest...."
Truthfully, who among us does not want to turn the clock back now and then? I confess to having considered Botox, to even having thought about a little lift here and there. But my compromise has always been not to do anthing invasive.
As I loooked into the mirror the doctor continued to list all the work I would need done on my face if I wanted to look instantly younger. I would lose the way my face crinkles when I laugh. I would lose the furrow just above my nose. I would have plumper lips and some fat injected below my eyes. What I saw, when I looked at myself, was my life reflected back, traceable through those little lines. Summers  at the beach with the kids, sleepless nights when they were sick, the ups and downs of parenting, the joy of a deep love, the unexpected heartaches of loss and disappointments, the triumph of battles won.
Who are you once you make your entire history disappear?