From time to time, when something doesn’t go my way, I find myself saying, “What am I — the ugly stepchild?”
It’s a horrible, anachronistic phrase, and it is all the more surprising that I use it, because being a stepmother is one of the best things that ever happened to me.
The term “like a red-headed stepchild “describes a person who is neglected, mistreated or unwanted. The phrase has its origins in America in the early 1900s. Stories about mean stepparents, on the other hand, have been in fairy tales for centuries.
Two of my three children were born before I met them. They are good, decent people. I would love to take partial credit for this, but they achieved this on their own. On the other hand, they definitely helped me become a better person. While being a mom teaches you many lessons, being a stepmom teaches different lessons, including one that impacts me to this day.
It all started with socks and underwear. I would send the kids to their mom’s wearing new socks and underwear, and they would return wearing old ones. Oh, how it annoyed me! I would tell the kids to wear the new socks and underwear home, embroiling them in an ongoing battle about something insignificant. Finally, I got it. It’s just socks and underwear. I bought a larger supply, and stopped worrying about which came home.
I think about this whenever I lose perspective on something unimportant, which happens a lot. “It’s like socks and underwear,” I tell myself. “Let it go.”
All in all, I think I was a good stepmom. I stepped up when it was needed. I gave a lot, and received more.
Today, it’s adult stepchildren who are stepping up, as they care for aging parents and stepparents. They are caring not just for the stepparents who raised them, but for stepparents acquired as adults when their parents had late-life marriages.
It’s not easy. Caring for aging parents takes a village. It’s challenging enough when you share the burden with siblings you grew up with, let alone stepsiblings you met as adults. It’s easy to fall into an adult version of socks and underwear — “I do more for my stepmom than her own children.” Eventually they realize keeping score is pointless. Caregivers step up because of who they are.
No one said it is easy being a stepparent or a stepchild, but it’s worth it. Sometimes we meet our kids when they are born, and sometimes they are born before we meet them.
From Whitwell, TN to Broomall, PA: Moving a Legacy
In 1998, a middle school principal in Whitwell, Tennessee started a Holocaust education program to teach children about tolerance. The children had difficulty comprehending the massive scale of the Holocaust, so they searched for something to represent the lives that were exterminated. When the children discovered that thousands of Norwegians wore paperclips on their lapels during World War II as a silent protest against Nazi occupation, they decided to collect 6 million paper clips to represent the estimated 6 million Jews that were killed. At first, the project went slowly. Students created a website and sent letters to friends, family, and celebrities. In 2001, a reporter wrote an article about the project in the Washington Post, and everything changed.
Suddenly, millions of paper clips started arriving at the school, often accompanied by stories or a dedication to a certain person who had died during the Holocaust. An authentic German rail car used to transport Jews to concentration camps was donated to the school and in 2001, became part of the Children’s Holocaust Memorial, located on school grounds, surrounded by a small garden and filled with (to date) 20 million paper clips. The documentary Paper Clipswas released three years later to describe the project and highlight what was done. And so, a project initially designed to teach tolerance to middle school students in a tiny Appalachian town, home of the Ku Klux Klan where not a single Jew lived, became a catalyst that changed lives within and beyond the town.
Enter Harold Sampson, a Jewish accountant in Broomall, PA. When Sampson saw the documentary at his synagogue, he was moved to tears and decided to go to Whitwell to thank those responsible. He and his wife made the 800-mile trip, bearing a gift with notes written by students from their synagogue’s Hebrew school, describing how the movie had moved them. “They gave us a personal tour of the school and the rail car,” said Sampson. “It was an emotional, change-of-life moment for me, and I realized I had a project for life.”
The Sampsons went to Oslo, Norway, where members of the Norwegian resistance wore paperclips during Nazi occupation, and presented the city’s mayor with a book describing the Whitwell program. “I became a link between paperclip #1, which people wore as an act of defiance, to paperclip #2, which taught tolerance. That allowed me to build paperclip #3,” which Sampson hopes will invite people to change their mindset and reevaluate priorities. Sampson hired a contractor to build the paperclip, and an architect to design the display. The 9-ft paperclip is mounted in front of his Broomall synagogue on two tons of Jerusalem stone, imported from Israel. Sampson completely funded the project.
This week, we are moving the Sampsons to an apartment in a nearby retirement community. We are moving his belongs, but his legacy — a message of tolerance and good deeds — is permanent. And so it is with many of our clients. Their legacy is not in their things, but in the lives they have led.
I got my car detailed for the first time last month. I’m not the kind of person who splurges on things like that, but when I spilled a strawberry smoothie throughout the passenger area, there was no choice. My car is now amazing, cleaner than when it was new! I’m not sure what kind of person details their car, but I guess I am one of them now.
I was 27 when I got my first manicure. I thought women who got manicures were ladies who lunched —- women who were rich and frivolous — and I wasn’t that kind of person. Then I had my first manicure, and I’ve been getting manicures ever since.
An avid gardener, I had mulch delivered and spread 5 cubic yards, by myself, every spring. I’m not the kind of person who uses landscapers.. Three years ago, I started hiring someone to do this, and my back has been grateful.
Over the years, I had a lot of preconceived ideas about people who use services and products that I saw as extravagant. I was convinced it said something about them, and that I was “not that kind of person.” It turns out I was both narrow-minded and wrong. We make choices about products and services every day. Often, it’s less about cost than priorities. A friend who won’t spend money on manicures pays $60/ounce for face cream. We all make choices.
When you first heard about Senior Move Management, perhaps you thought, “I’m not that kind of person.” Maybe you had preconceived ideas about the type of person who uses move management services, like I did about the type of person who details their car, gets manicures or hires help to spread mulch. Do you know what kind of person uses senior move management services? Every kind of person…. people who want more time and convenience, people who want less stress and people who want help with the daunting physical tasks of downsizing and moving.
When the iconic L’Oreal phrase ”Because I’m worth it,” had its origin in 1973, it wasn’t about hair color; it was about choice and self-worth. Prior ads for women’s hair color had focused on their insecurities and concern about how they were seen by others. “Does she or doesn’t she?” asked Clairol. “Only her hairdresser knows for sure.”
L’Oreal had a distinctly different message:
“I use the most expensive hair color in the world, Preference by L’Oreal. It’s not that I don’t care about money. It’s that I care about hair. What’s worth it to me is the way my hair feels. It feels good against my neck. Actually, I don’t mind spending more for L’Oreal. Because I am worth it.”
Why use Senior Move Management services? Because you’re worth it.
Who would get a tattoo on their chest saying, “Do Not Resuscitate” or “No CPR”? Apparently, a lot of people, and it’s creating controversy in the medical world.
Bio-Ethicist Tom Tomlinson argues that DNR tattoos have benefits. They don’t get lost; they go wherever you go. That’s unlike written advance directives, which are seldom in the emergency room when you get there, often not presented upon admission and hard to get into the medical record even when you have one. If you show up unconscious in the Emergency Room and your Advance Directive’s in a file at home, how will doctors know what you want? This concern is what has spurred the growing interest in DNR tattoos.
If you want to be in control of what happens to you at end of life, however, don’t count on your tattoo, because it’s unlikely your wishes will be followed.
According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), tattoos are not legal advance directives, in part because they do not include a witness or notary. That’s bad news for this person who thought he had his bases covered.
ACEP says that for a DNR to be legal, informed decision-making must be presumed, and tattoos don’t prove you have a clear understanding of what DNR status means. ACEP also says tattoos don’t provide enough information: Does the tattoo mean no chest compressions, no intubation, no vasopressors? Written documents include information to help patients understand the meaning of various procedures, and to help medical professionals understand what is and is not included.
What about initials? ACEP asks. “Do Not Resuscitate” tattoos are commonly abbreviated DNR. This could mean grim news if your name is David Neil Rosen, or Deborah Nan Ryan.
Plus, end of life preferences change, says ACEP, based on factors like age, health status, prognosis and advances in treatment. Documents are changed easily; tattoos, not so much.
Then ACEP discussed tattoo regret, stating that more than 50% of individuals regret getting their tattoos. I found this hard to believe. Today, most tattoos are the culmination of long planning, not the unintended result of a night of intoxication. Yes, there are stories of people who got DNR tattoos because they were drunk or lost a poker bet, but to suggest that this is the majority or even a significant portion of today’s DNR tattoos, ignores thousands of people who take their DNR tattoos quite seriously.
For all these reasons, ACEP suggests that emergency physicians ignore DNR tattoos and should initiate life-saving interventions, since these can always be withdrawn if more information (i.e. a written advance directive) is obtained. However, discontinuing life support is different from not starting it.
The bottom line is, if you want a tattoo, go for it. You’ll be joining thousands of folks over 65 who are getting their first tattoos. But if you are doing it to tell paramedics and doctors about your end of life preferences, you will need more than a tattoo, you’ll need a properly executed advance directive as well.
Oh, to be young again…Really? Recently, a friend sent me letters I had written to her during our first year in college. In one letter, I wrote: “I went to a meeting last night that will change my life forever. I learned about institutional racism: we are all racists.” The following week I wrote, “I am done with that, but a really cute boy sat next to me in art history.” Was I really that shallow and self-absorbed? I guess so. In another letter, I said, “We should start a French-speaking commune. We could grow our own food, speak only French and at night we could show Truffaut movies.”
In one letter, my friend wrote that she was depressed. Ever the competitive Girls High girl, I wrote back that I was more depressed than she was depressed. I was competing about depression? Clearly, my empathy skills were not yet highly developed.
I was a college freshman during some of the most pivotal events of the 21st century: the Vietnam draft lottery, man walking on the moon, Woodstock, educational bastions like Yale admitting women, the DNC convention in Chicago, the first ATM, founding of PBS, the first withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, invention of the first micro-processor. Amidst all of this, I wrote about how many calories I had consumed that day, obsessed over my GPA and worried about course selection. As I looked at what was important to my 19-year old self, I was disappointed in my values, shocked at how mercurial I was, and struck by the fact that I didn’t seem happy. Being young was way harder than I remembered.
I realized that I am happier now than I was when I was young, and it turns out, I am not alone. In a study by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers found that young people report the highest levels of depression, anxiety and stress, and the lowest level of happiness, satisfaction and well-being. In spite of stiffening joints, weakening muscles, fading eyesight, clouded memory and the modern world’s contempt of aging, old people are surprisingly the happiest. Across countries and cultures, research results are remarkably similar: older adults are happier than younger people. The increased happiness and greater sense of well-being, moreover, are not the result of external circumstances, but of internal changes.
It seems that older people are better at controlling their emotions, accepting misfortune and are less prone to anger. In one study, subjects were asked to listen to recordings of people saying disparaging things about them. They found that older people were less angry, often taking the view, “You can’t please all the people all the time.” This resonates with me. Years ago, I would have been devastated if someone didn’t like me. Now, I think: “Lots of people don’t like me; get in line.”
Do I want to be young again? No. Like essayist/screenwriter Nora Ephron, I do feel bad about my neck, but it is what it is. Perhaps acceptance of aging is itself a source of relief. As William James observed, “How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young, or slender.”
“Are you still working?” I hear this question more and more, sometimes from people my age, sometimes from folks who are younger. It bothers me, because it feels as if there is more than curiosity behind the question; it feels like judgment.
Society seems to have preconceived notions of what we should be doing at a certain age, and I don’t like being pigeon-holed into someone else’s stereotype. As a young woman, I was supposed to be a teacher or a nurse, because they were “good jobs for women.” I was supposed to live in an apartment until I got married. I was supposed to get satisfaction from cleaning, cooking, and running a household. The problem with stereotypes is they assume all people are alike because of their gender, their age, or for any reason.
Personally, I don’t play tennis or mahjong. I am not part of a book group. I hate all things domestic. I don’t think I will do well at retirement, as it is currently defined. Some articles suggest taking time — from several months to several years — to find your retirement purpose. Others say, don’t retire from something, retire to something. This has appeal. I like being driven. I could find something new to be driven by. But why should I find something else to put my time and energy into, when I can put my time and energy into what I already do?
Actually, I am not just driven, I am purpose-driven. That’s why Encore.org speaks to me. Encore.org was founded in 1998 by social entrepreneur Marc Freedman. Its goal was to redefine later life and shift the idea of retirement as freedom from work, to freedom to work and contribute in new ways and to new ends.
Encore focuses on the role of purpose in later life, and in 2005 created The Purpose Prize. The Purpose Prize honors social entrepreneurs over 60 who combine experience, purpose, and passion to make a difference in their communities and the world. “It’s not a lifetime achievement award,” says Encore. “These folks are just getting started.”
Now THAT’S a view of later life that appeals to me. As I read the stories of each honoree, I was humbled by the passion, determination and accomplishment of so many people who refused to accept the prevailing view of what later life is supposed to look like. There is a Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” These honorees did more than contribute their individual time; they created organizations and programs that empower others to work for a better good.
I’ve decided to join the Encore Network: “Show your leadership and get in on the ground-floor as we build the encore movement.” I’ve come to realize that I am a ground-floor kind of person. I was in on the ground-floor of the women’s movement. I was in on the ground-floor of Senior Move Management. The ground-floor is a really exciting place to be.
I’ve had a lot of surgery in my life, and I’ve had a lot of colds. No doubt about it. I’d rather have surgery than a cold.
With surgery, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. You’ll have some rough days initially, and then every day will be a little better than the one before. With a cold, the future is unknown. You could be better in a week, or the cold could linger. It might look like it’s leaving, and then resurface with a vengeance or morph into an infection. With surgery, you’re given antibiotics to keep you from getting an infection. With a cold, you have to prove you have an infection before you’re given antibiotics, and by then you feel awful.
With surgery, people are very sympathetic. They express concern; they visit you in the hospital or at home. They may even bring you a gift! With a cold, people avoid you. They may even disinvite you to an event (“I’d rather you didn’t come if you’re sick”). A cold is very isolating.
With surgery, people are complimentary. “You look great” (when they see you) or “You sound great!” (on the phone). With a cold, people are brutally honest: “You look awful” (in person) or “You sound terrible” (on the phone). Really, would you ever say those things to anyone if they didn’t have a cold?
With surgery, people expect you to take time off, and you allow yourself this luxury as well. With a cold, you soldier through (although you feel awful), because after all, it’s just a cold.
With surgery, the only one whose health is impacted is you. With a cold, you bear the burden of possibly infecting someone else. Colds are riddled with guilt — before hand, in case you infect someone, and afterward, when you have infected someone. The loving spouse who nursed you tenderly now glares at you. “It’s not your fault,” he says, but means the exact opposite: “You did this to me.”
Unlike surgeries, colds don’t leave a scar… at least not one you can see. But I think they humble our soul. We are felled by something so common and seemingly mundane. When we are finally better, we luxuriate in simply feeling well again and our spirits soar.
Someone cut in front of me, so I honked at him. It wasn’t much of a honk, more like a honklette. So I said to myself, “You honk like a girl.” “Like a girl”! Where did that come from? I thought about the video I had seen, “Always #LikeAGirl” and was ashamed of how sexist I sounded.
I grew up in the 50s, when negative stereotypes about girls were rampant. Here are a few of the sayings I, and women of my generation, grew up with:
Don’t be too smart, boys won’t like you.
Be a teacher or a nurse, they are good jobs for a girl.
Don’t go to law school; you’ll take the place of a man who needs to support his wife.
Do they give mortgages to women?
Girls aren’t good at math.
Girls aren’t supposed to have muscles.
Don’t sleep around. Why should they buy the cow when they can get the milk for free?
You’re too pretty to be smart.
You have expensive tastes — you better marry a rich man.
Although I grew up hearing these phrases, I came of age during a sexual revolution. Negative messages about women were being rejected. “Not us, not our future,” we said. We seized opportunities, defied stereotypes, broke glass ceilings and succeeded in not passing these negative stereotypes to our children. This was tremendous social change, and it happened in my lifetime.
This made me think about the other negative stereotypes I grew up with — ageism. As a young women, I refused to accept limiting visions of who I was and who I could become. Now I am once again coming of age during a revolution, except this time it is a revolution about aging. Perhaps we boomer men and women can reject negative stereotypes about aging, saying once again “Not us, not our future.” And perhaps this change too will happen during my lifetime. I am reminded of Victor Hugo’s prophetic quote, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Maybe it does start with me. This will not be me, this is not my future.
We had a wintry mix last week, and as I put on my boots, I thought, “I don’t want to fall.” “You sound old,” I said to myself. And then I thought, “Why does not wanting to fall make me old? I think it makes me smart.”
Risk-taking is highest in adolescents and tends to decrease as we age. Is that because older adults are more fearful, or because they are more experienced? Being cautious and prudent should make me wise, so why did I see it as “being old?” Because I am ageist.
The term “ageism” was coined in 1969 by physician/gerontologist Robert Neil Butler, who was the first Director of the National Institute on Aging. Butler defined “ageism” as:
1) Prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process,
2) Discriminatory practices toward older people, and
3) Institutional practices and policies that perpetuate negative stereotypes about older adults.
Unlike more obvious forms of stereotyping, such as racism and sexism, ageist stereotypes are seldom corrected, so individuals grow up believing them, even as they themselves become older. Ageism is so commonplace in today’s society that we don’t even realize the stereotypes implicit in many things we say and feel.
All of this sounds theoretical, but in fact, it’s quite personal. Studies show that older adults who equate aging with becoming useless, helpless and devalued, die earlier, are less likely to seek preventive medical care, and are more likely to suffer memory loss and poor physical functioning.
When stereotypes are positive, however, when older adults view aging as a time of wisdom, self-realization and satisfaction, the opposite is true. In fact, people with positive age stereotypes live 7.5 years longer than those with negative stereotypes. That is a bigger benefit than not smoking!
So what does this mean for me? If I want to thrive as I age, I’ll need to be mindful of negative stereotypes in my thoughts, feelings and views on aging. I’ll need to change the paradigm. My boots are a good start. Being cautious about falling is not being old, it’s being wise.
What makes a great ad, great? This Polish Christmas ad hits it out of the ballpark. You hardly realize it’s for Allegro, an online auction platform. You’re busy smiling and crying at the same time. So why has this ad resonated with over four million people? Yes, there’s a cute dog, but that’s not it. In a world where advertising repeatedly marginalizes and stereotypes older adults, this ad stands out precisely because it is not ageist.
The elderly man shops online, learns new skills, travels independently, makes plans and implements them. This is what older adults do throughout the world, but it’s not how they are often portrayed. Instead, they’re stereotyped, made fun of, diminished. Why do so many people love this ad? Because it is respectful, it is truthful, it is funny, it is sweet. If you haven’t seen it, sit back and enjoy. If you have seen it, think of someone and share it.