May I Blog A Little Peace Into Your Day?

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I ask because I’ve found not everyone is willing, or maybe just not ready, to accept a peaceful message or gesture, a kind word, a token of love. Would you accept? My hope is that if you are reading, you’re feeling enthusiastic about the idea, maybe even saying to yourself, Well, of course you may! Who wouldn’t want a little of that? This I hope, as I curl up in the safe, diverse, friendly space of the blog universe, a place where I haven’t yet encountered a hostile comment placed on me or others. Where I can sit with my cup of warm tea in my comfortable home and feel shielded from the negative energies drifting–or even howling furiously along–outside.

Whew! It sure does feel good to step into a comfortable space and be surrounded by a respite of cheerful, positive thoughts.

The past few weeks have been an experiment and a lesson for me. I’ve been disheartened, surprised, confused, and left wondering What should I do next? What should anybody do next? I’ve discovered that while in the minority, there are a number of people in the world who have curiously hurtful thoughts against others and little reservation in using words to make them known. I’ve also learned that if you want to dedicate yourself to being among the voices to speak up for unity and social awareness, you would be better off joining a speakers bureau, organizing a community event, or writing a book. Discussions on news and public figure websites are not really the place to initiate adequate change.

So I’ve decided that after my much needed refuge in the kind little corner of the blogosphere I’ve been fortunate to find, I will continue to take my own advice and focus on more productive places to put healing intentions and energies. I will also do my best to Keep Calm and Laugh It Off, as my husband encourages me to do. Below is a brief exchange in one conversation regarding current events. It’s one I could at least muster up a humorous feeling for, and, I believe, a fine example of how not to effectively communicate each other. If anything, I hope I can be an inspiration, a reminder that time and words are precious, and that while sometimes it’s worth a try to speak up, other times it turns out to be waste of precious energy.

What we should do next is simply relax, take in a breath of the beautiful day, and offer a friendly word or two to all those we cross paths with.

And the comment that started it was:

James, you don’t have to accept Islam, you just need accept your fellow humans who are doing nothing to harm anyone. That’s the greatest thing we can all do for this world. Don’t feel sorry for me, no reason to. I sleep at night in good conscience and with happiness because I know I’ve done as much as possible each day to be respectful and kind in this world. I wish you and everyone the best regardless of your opinion of me. What you think of me isn’t important, it’s not about me, it’s about being as good as we possibly can in an existence that flies by in the blink of an eye. Why waste the time contributing to negative energy, supporting the idea that there is an entire group of people who are all evil and want to harm the world and should be treated as inhuman? Isn’t that what led to the Holocaust and the genocide of Native Americans? Words have power, be careful how you structure them into an idea.

Followed by one supportive remark, from Dalia, whoever she may be. Although her comments received no likes, it was appreciated, at least by me.

You go girl ♡

Followed up by:

sorry but the way I see it, Stephanie == Head in Sand, Rainbows and Unicorns sprouting from anus. Islam needs to be outlawed like it is in China.

about an hour ago · Like · 4

As you can see, he received 4 likes. Not too bad. And this was followed up with a comment from Graham:

whoah … what and what comin outa where? that’d be a sight indeed … lol

I liked this one. It was innocent enough, and I appreciate humor. Next, I tried my best with what I thought to be an effort at peacekeeping, but perhaps it was too sarcastic. No likes received for:

Rainbows and Unicorns? Head in the sand? Call it what you like, but I grew up in a very diverse family and have seen the beauty of coexistence and dedicate my time to supporting this idea.

And the concluding remark:

The concluding remark by, posted by someone I imagine to be an angry-looking man with and serpents for hair and a gaze that could turn me to stone in a matter of seconds, involved the word “kill,” so I thought it best to leave it at walking away perplexed by the amount of bullying that we, as adults, are capable of.

If I, or anyone, were to judge ourselves by numbers of likes on a social networking site, on insults directed at us by others attacking safely from the security of their unknown locations on the other side of a computer screen, or by other peoples’ drives to bully, we would lose the strength to stand up for ourselves and others; we might start to believe the lie.  It can get vicious out there. So keep calm, and don’t forget to laugh. Even when it doesn’t help it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Holidays are for Happy

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It can be difficult to mix and match cultural, religious, and personal preferences during this December time of year when holiday traditions abound, especially in this Western part of the world where the majority of people with religious beliefs follow the Jewish and Christian belief systems. For those who are not religious, the secular society is also very attached to the Christmas season for its ideas of peace, magic, generosity, and family. Who can argue that a sense of magic and an unusual beauty exist this time of year, especially amidst all of the holiday lights strung over homes and throughout the public areas of cities, lighting our world in a way that just doesn’t happen other times of the year?

Certainly there are some who remain unmoved by the aesthetic qualities of the Christmas season, and others who could argue that reindeer, Santa Claus, penguin, snow globe, candy cane, and elf lawn decorations are unusually annoying, but that is their right and they can decide not to love holiday living as they wish. We all have our reasons for either loving, hating, or remaining indifferent to the holidays.

It can be an especially sensitive time of year, especially given the confusion over what to actually say to people this time of year; with more acceptance and sensitivity in society toward religious and cultural differences–which is a very good thing–it can be easy to get tripped up in deciding if “Have a Merry Christmas” (a definite Western tradition) is okay to say when thanking a cashier or postal carrier or chatting with a coworker, neighbor, or anyone really, or if they might fall more into the “Happy Hannukah,” “Happy Kwanzaa,” “Happy Yule,” or the non-religious or even non-holiday categories. We don’t want to inflict any offense on others and risk feeling rude and ignorant, or risk an evil eye in response that takes away a little of our own holiday cheer. So, very often, “Have a happy holiday!” suffices if we choose anything at all. It’s safe call.

The key words to the holiday greetings are happy and merry and peaceful. Whatever your beliefs or traditions are, whether you are a holiday practitioner or spend the day (and the season, roughly most of December) as any other, the wishes are for you to be happy, be merry, have peace. Go out of this year with a positive sense of life, and go into the upcoming year with that same positive sense.

This year marks the first Christmas/holiday/merry-peaceful season I am sharing with my family and my husband. We married in late January of this year, well after the menorahs, midnight Masses in Catholic churches, hymnals about the birth of Jesus Christ, yule logs, reindeer, Santa, wrapping paper, and cups full with eggnog had come and gone. Although I haven’t celebrated Christmas from a Christian perspective for many, many years (a perspective I still highly respect), my husband has never celebrated Christmas from this or any perspective. He hails from the Holy Lands–Jerusalem his place of birth–and so also has a compassionate respect for not only his faith of origin, Islam, but other faiths as well, especially the two other monotheistic religions of the Western world, Christianity and Judaism. He also knows of Papa Noel–the name for Santa Claus in the the Arabic culture–but not so much of the Grinch or of “going buckwild” (one of his favorite expressions) with the gift tradition.

He seemed a little nervous at first, and I felt a little nervous as well in not wanting him to be nervous. I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying to convert him into any buckwild holiday traditions that have been a consistent part of my life. I love gift-giving, and Christmas lights, and the religious Christmas music that has resonated with me emotionally since I was a child, and the otherworldliness of an evergreen tree (real or artificial) all lit up within your living area. I love the decorations overtaking homes and shopping centers and whole cities, and the holiday packaging on foods and drinks. I never asked him to get into it, I only asked that he wouldn’t mind a tree in the living room, some stockings on the wall for my daughter and the gerbil, and my personal favorite of finding gifts for the children of the family and my parents.

Thankfully, the holidays have that type of peacefulness and magic about them that make it easy for most people to adapt to. Not only has it been fun for him, but he even got a little buckwild with the idea of gift-giving and so I’ve wound up with (already, since he’s not so much accustomed with waiting until the morning of the 25th) a holiday/Christmas/merry-peaceful/loving gift or two straight from him. And he seemed secretly thrilled that I had one for him. After all, it’s never about materialism or what a gift is, it’s about, simply, having fun with each other.

The holiday season begs us to have fun, happiness, peace, and love with each other, and you really can’t go wrong with that. When the season is difficult and hurtful because you’ve lost someone, or lost a relationship, or in general are feeling lonely or out of sorts or even disagreeable with so-called holiday cheer, it’s quite alright to avoid making a big deal of the season, but if you really want to there are many people willing to open their hearts, homes, and arms to others to ensure the true “reason for the season” is passed along to others as it should be.

Nothing has to be made too difficult in life, especially those things that are meant to convey a sense of happiness, merriness, peace, and all around positivity. Holidays are for being happy, something everyone deserves.

*Picture courtesy of California Indian Education. http://www.californiaindianeducation.org/community/christmas/2010/PeaceOnEarth.gif

A Friday In October: Plans, Purpose, and Reminders of How Things Can Change

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On a Friday afternoon in October, I picked my daughter up from school early for our own special “homeschooling.” Which means I had a half day at work and wanted to spend extra time with Maya but her dad is a little less casual about a school absence in the absence of necessity, and so after writing up a note to the school secretary asking that she be excused in the afternoon, then ferreting her away, I told her it would be possible to explain she was still benefiting from an educational format, considering:

Our first stop was to return a clothing item and replace it with something different, while maintaining a budget (economics); on the way out, Maya sent a text to her good friend, April, to see what her plans were later that night (interpersonal communication); we then picked up lunch from El Basha, a restaurant of Arabic food with photographs from Lebanon, the owners’ home country, placed on the walls (social sciences/culture); we ate lunch at the condo my husband was renovating for work, and afterward pitched in with the work day by brightening up a weathered mailbox and its stand with glossy white paint (business/home ec); and in the background as we worked, my husband and his coworker spoke to each other in their native Arabic, and I pointed out words here and there to Maya (language/culture).

Then we had our psychology/spiritual/life-coaching period of the day. I opened up discussion on life plans and her direction in school now, as a high school sophomore, and in the upcoming two years as she prepares for college. We talked about grades and success, and how grades are not the only indicator of success, yet it certainly doesn’t hurt to maintain a good GPA for admission opportunities to colleges, or for basic personal reasons–if it’s important to you. She had been worried because (like her mom, sorry dear) she’s a good student unless math is involved. And in an educational system where As and Bs and an occasional C create an aesthetic landscape on a report card, those other remaining letters tend to make a look like a war-torn city or a really bad work of art. We are very conditioned to feel awful at the sight of a D or an F on the landscape of our grade world.

Look at the world world, I asked of her. When you get into it, this whole, big world with more diversity than that within the walls of the high school world you are used to, you will find that what stays with you is the knowledge you gained and keep gaining, the intellectual skills you have developed, and most importantly, an understanding of how to synthesize information, skill, and responsibility. Or, even more importantly, you’ll find you have more confidence to set out into this world and let your already compassionate soul grow with more beauty and understanding. Grades do not make you good or bad, smart or stupid, superior or inferior. Some of the most responsible people I have met have perfect grades, and some of the smartest I have met have had average to well below average grades. And vice versa. Likewise, some of the most creative, successful people I have met have a history of high GPAs, and some of the other most creative, successful people I have met have had horrible school histories of inconsistent grades and even dropping out of high school or college. You will find all kinds of people with all kinds of grades, making all kinds of exceptions to the expected rules. A low grade doesn’t mean you didn’t learn, just as a high grade won’t ensure you did. School prepares you for life in many ways, studying is about building skills and increasing knowledge doesn’t mean only showing competency in subjects.

We talked in the cool October afternoon sunlight, painting a mailbox, observing through an open garage door and front door the hard work taking place inside the condo: carpets removed, wallpaper stripped and walls freshly painted, lighting and wiring reconfigured, doorknobs and other fixtures replaced. A worn-down former home transformed into a new, lively, and welcoming warm place destined to be a home again. All through dedicated, time-consuming, hard work.

Life is about experiences, work, progress, transformation. School takes dedicated, time-consuming, hard work; learn to work in school, and you learn to work outside. Also learn to work outside, and you will learn to work in school. Be successful in school, is my belief, for the sake of finding personal accomplishment and joy in it, but not for the sake of pleasing others. Be proud of what you accomplish and don’t judge yourself or anyone for how much or how little the accomplishments seem. Learning is like life–a journey, one you should love and find joy within, not a race! You never know what might change, for better or worse, so find an understanding of success that is meaningful to your life.

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It was a lovely afternoon. I was thankful for a good talk, the time together, the slow but purposeful pace of the day. Later that night, while making a cup of tea before bed and talking to Maya about her evening out with friends, there was a lapse in conversation from her. I looked out from the kitchen to see if she had gotten lost in text messages or tweets, and she looked up at me with an expression of sadness and disbelief, saying Mom in that way that alerts you, as a mom, to some type of hurt in your child.

What she had discovered from friends, now that the news was out and passing among teenagers from the uniquely interconnected Catholic school community in our city: three students from two of the area Catholic schools, if not known by everyone personally then at least known by name, had been in a car accident earlier in the evening while driving across a highway to the entrance of a pumpkin patch, a place that many families and teenagers in the area visit each autumn. Two were in critical condition; one had died.

Nate, a fifteen-year-old, less than a month away from his November birthday, and a passenger in a vehicle his girlfriend had been driving, did not survive the accident. The two girls in the car, very thankfully, have been recovering over this last month, one of them having overcome a precarious period of being left in a medically induced coma due to internal injuries. Many in the community offered support and the girls stayed strong, and they have inspired others with their strength. In the wake of the accident, there were a number of stories in the news sharing the life of Nate, and a number of responses about how inspirational the stories had been.

He had been a fifteen-year-old sophomore in a Catholic boarding school for boys, where he was active in school activities, a successful student, and a role model. He was energetic and focused and positive. He had wanted to be a Navy SEAL and was given the chance recently to meet Navy SEAL members. He had impressed them with his motivation and his love of life: On November 5, 2013, his 16th birthday and nearly a month after the accident, a presentation was given in which Nate was named an honorary Navy SEAL and a SEAL pin and an American flag that had been flown overseas were given to his family.

Earlier on the day he died, early that October afternoon, he had been at home studying. His parents explained how he had been released from the hospital a day earlier following surgery to remove kidney stones and was devoting his time to staying caught up with school work. He was a good student because he wanted to be, he seemed naturally motivated to not just succeed, but to truly learn and go forward. Even if at fifteen he maybe didn’t know exactly where he would end up going in life, it seemed he knew exactly the best way to get anywhere meaningful: with focus, devotion, love, and immersion in what you are doing.

Many people left comments on articles or other places online to say that though they hadn’t met Nate, reading about him had inspired them and they just wanted to let his family know he had truly had an ability to inspire others in his short lifetime.

That was something I had forgotten to mention to my daughter on that October afternoon when we talked about life plans, which can be altered in a minute, a few seconds: life is also about inspiration. Let yourself be inspired by others, by their energy, their positive outlook, their kindness, their adventurousness. Don’t try to be the inspiration, because we don’t always know how we will inspire others. It will happen naturally, in its natural give and take manner. It’s all a part of our interconnected existence, the unavoidable ways we will affect each other, sometimes in bad ways, but so much more often in good.

Let existence inspire you also. Look around. It’s sort of crazy to stop and see everything for what it really is–a world of interconnected, organized, holistic systems. A world of amazing acts of creation that we can’t fully explain. A world of natural beauty that we for some reason have the intellect and the emotions to recognize as such.

Life is a learning process and a living process and a process of immeasurable beauty. Life never asks for us to be perfect, it only asks us to look around and find a place in it where we feel we most belong.

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The In-Arms Parent

Social-emotional development flourishes when children have close, supportive, and trusting relationships with adults.
–Howes and James

Mayim Bialik was a child actress well-known throughout households in the 1990s as Blossom, the title character in the sit-com of the same name. Since her time on the television show, Mayim has gone on to complete a degree in neuroscience, and has written a book, Beyond the Sling, about parenting. Specifically, her book is about attachment parenting. I’m excited about this book and expect that reading it will be time well spent.

Mayim discusses parenting from her personal experiences as a mother, but also adds in perspective from her background in neurology to look at how highly affectionate, hands-on parenting that includes great deals of attention have a positive affect on child development. She is in agreement with those psychologists, neurologists, pediatricians, and parents who believe a baby can never be shown too much attention. Attachment parenting dismisses the notion that a baby can be spoiled, and instead supports that what seems like too much attention to some is a strong contributing factor to helping a child develop a healthy sense of security in the world from birth. I find myself supporting this belief as well; indulging a baby with your attention is not indulging, it is giving a new little human being what it needs to feel safe and loved and it will not turn him or her into a clinging, confused, or spoiled individual. I have also heard this style of parenting referred to as “in-arms parenting,” a term I like for its simultaneous warmth and strength–what parenting is all about.

Attachment parenting is what it sounds to be: you attach yourself to your child with your time, attention, and affection. This doesn’t mean no discipline or to give in to every wish as your child grows up, not at all. Instead, it focuses on the strengths that parent-to-child bonding offers to the individual first, but carries on to greater results in all of that individual’s relationships as he or she grows on through life. To quote from Attachment Parenting International’s principles of parenting, The long-range vision of Attachment Parenting is to raise children who will become adults with a highly developed capacity for empathy and connection. It eliminates violence as a means for raising children, and ultimately helps to prevent violence in society as a whole.

To get to the long-range vision, you have to instill within your children love and strength, and the concept that true strength is loving and emotional, not a thing only of logical mental sturdiness.

Aside from the positive effects that developing with love give to us, it is also a beautiful experience to bond so closely with your child. And, as many a person has said, the baby stage passes so quickly. We grow fast, skipping through to adulthood in ever-changing phases. The day does quickly arrive when your child no longer fits into a sling on your body, or even in your arms, and to sit on your lap is just simply not practical when you realize your child is towering over you, along with feet firmly planted on the floor next to yours. Of course, this can be funny, as I can attest to from my own experiences of my teenage daughter sitting on my lap. But I can also attest to the fact that you will sometimes have a longing to skip backwards though time and let your four-year-old settle into your lap as if it were a nest, especially when you find yourself at the cusp of young adulthood, your child stepping into the earliest spaces of her independence which, in a few years, are going to be beyond the family she grew up in, somewhere out in the great, labrynthine, busy world.

I can tell myself with contentment that the sole reason my daughter and I are as close as we have been throughout her life is that this closeness started where it needed to, at the beginning. Rarely did she fall to sleep on her own; I carried her not just to get from car to store or house or whatever destination, but in the house, while sitting in a cafe, while sitting in a park or anywhere else, holding her close for no reason at all other than to know my child was close. She slept in her crib sparingly the first year (always research not both benefits and possible risks before venturing into a family bed to make it a safe choice), and on nights she wasn’t rocked to sleep she was sometimes pushed in an umbrella stroller through the house, happily falling asleep to the comforting motion and the closeness of a parent. My daughter was a very attached baby, which from my perspective means “nurtured,” and from others’ perspectives sometimes meant “spoiled.”

What I can relay about our experience: she was never clingy, she had the same occasional moments of temper tantrums or lack of sharing as her peers but not more than her peers, she was not afraid to venture into new experiences away from her parents, and she was actually very happy and willing to venture into new experiences on her own. She was an independent soul from early on, and to this day maintains her spirit of independence, along with a willingness to show compassion to others as much as possible. She is still a human with her various human faults–I would not claim that attachment parenting transcends us into perfected states–but when she talks about going to college to become either a teacher, a physician, or a child psychologist, and when I hear her talk lovingly about the young step-siblings she has inherited via her dad, I am happy for her that she can look at the world she occupies with love and concern. And I do believe I can credit this in part to my nurturing/smothering mother-love as soon as she was past the womb and available to be loved in all manners of closeness, including being kangarooed.

To “kangaroo” your baby is also how it sounds, and, I believe, a lovely experience for parents and baby: wearing your baby either in a sling or in your arms, close to your body, as if in the comforting pouch the baby kangaroo is privy to. Baby’s don’t understand verbal affection, but they do understand the secure feeling of being held.

If you are a parent and you are a let-the-baby-cry-himself-to-sleep parent, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be. There is no reason to believe that if you give your child love and direction in life he will grow up to be an insecure, broken, troubled adult because you chose the crying it out method for sleeping or in any other instance. We all have styles that work or do not work, and a good parent is a good parent. Having enough affection, at any age, won’t hurt us though, and anything that brings us closer to our children and gives them a sense of security in this world is worth considering.

We can all, as parents, look back and find things we wish we had done or had not done, and offering daily, hourly, minute-to-minute affection is likely never going to be something we regret having done and may be something we wish we had considered. I am especially grateful that I followed my instincts on providing affection in the attached, in-arms way considering the disruption of divorce that has limited my time with my daughter since she was ten. It’s certainly a positive thing that she has maintained close relationships with both of her parents, but it’s unfortunate that a divorced household means a child is parented one parent at a time, away from one while with the other. It’s an unnatural feeling to not have your child with you for all of the regular happenings of daily life: getting ready for bed, reading stories, doing homework, cleaning the house, running to the grocery store. It’s an upside-down lifestyle that wreaks intense havoc on both parents’ and child’s emotions. Had I never had this experience, I would still be happy for taking all opportunities to be attached to my daughter in her earliest times; but in light of this experience, I feel blessed to have created such a tightly clasped bond early on, keeping our love strong and thriving through distance as well as years.

And this is what attachment parenting is about: love that builds, strengthens, and doesn’t get overshadowed and pushed aside during conflict. Loving attention that becomes so natural, your child grows up to easily give back to others compassion, empathy, kindness. Individually and universally, understanding what unbiased love for others is what we need to solve our problems and to be secure in our world. Love your baby as much as you can, kangaroo him, kiss her limitlessly, hold him when he cries, rock her to sleep in your arms, let her stay in your arms awhile as she sleeps. The baby who receives an abundance of affection will not seem spoiled or clingy–this baby will simply seem loved, from the beginning and on into life.

Love and the security it gives will build us, not break us.

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Is That Cheetah Print…or Cougar? A Tale of Cats, Women, and Pop Culture

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Popular culture sometimes creates strange, insulting, or ridiculous trends. I would like to nominate the “cougar” phenomenon for all three categories.

I have not a thing against what any consenting adults’ preferences are for relationships; we all exist to know the beauty of free choice, especially in terms of who we choose to share life with, or to date, or to dance and have fun among other things with. Let me tell you something about love–I know just as much as you or anyone else, and no more than that. I know if I fit or not with someone, I know how it feels to be in the right place–peaceful, healthy place that can overcome disruptions and always return to a sanctuary–with the right set of arms curved around me. That is all I know and need to know about love.

When love comes into existence between two people, it is a decision whether to honor it or not–you can stay with it and build that connection, or leave for whatever reason and never find out what whole, completed structure that connection might take. This we choose, keep it or not, but those first flickerings of attraction, curiosity, and connection that opened the doors to love are not by choice. They just are. Whether you think in terms of biological chemistry or in notions of soulmates, we all know we cannot force ourselves to either be attracted or not attracted to a particular person. It is there of its own intention, a force acting upon us.

Of course the cougar lifestyle that has been gracing pop culture vocabulary and media for several years now doesn’t speak much of love. It speaks of older women looking for excitement from much younger men. The exact definition I have extracted from online is “a woman in her forties who dates or has sexual relationships with men in their twenties.” A cougar, in essence, is the term for modern women taking up the look-at-me-I’m-worthy-because-I’m-with-a-hot-youthful-mate-young-enough-to-be-my-offspring role more traditional to men in a mid life crisis.

The cougar is commonly described as a fun yet desparate animal; typcially divorced and seeking new adventures; superficial and fearfully noticing the disintegration of her youth and physical attractiveness; immature on both the emotional and intellectual scales; lacking class and a sense of reality. They are generally pack animals: they gather on cougar dating websites and at cougar meet-up clubs, live in places such as Cougartown, and exhibit their varieties and habits on Facebook and other social networking sites. I know this because I did the research. My favorite research habitat, and one of the most informative for me, was a Facebook page dedicated to the glory of being a cougar. Many of the women posing in their cougar personas (a display not unlike a National Geograpic photoshoot) were quite attractive and appeared down-to-earth, yet there was still something a little amiss in their expressions: their eyes were perhaps a little overlyfocused, bearing the look of a creature both too hungry and too vacant at the same time. I remember breathing a sigh of relief to be able to tell myself I am not this type of animal.

Thank God, I would fit much better in the unicorn or phoenix category. Even the skillful, agile, and playful little rat category.

This relief brings me to a question that may have crossed your mind: Why must I be so negative and demeaning about the idea of a Cougar Culture, so unkind to other members of my gender instead of accepting all other women as my sisters? I’m only knocking the culture, the notion, the trend, not the actual women. It’s a personal issue that has drawn me into culture’s cougar territory; my husband is younger than I am, and I have incorrectly been summed up one too many times with the C-word. And in all honesty: I’ve grown weary of laughing about it while performing one of those calmly dismissive hand waves to indicate it’s okay, it’s all in good fun, I don’t mind if you think I’m a desparate old lady on death’s door trying to extend my mortality with young blood and my relationship is silly like a clown with oversized shoes and more oversized hair. I might find it within me to laugh with you a little more, but it seems sense of humor is sometimes one of the first things to go amidst the seriousness of old age.

Let me tell you something about love–personality is key. It is the one and only, both magical and practical key to how you mix with someone, determining whether you blend aesthetically together or turn a muddy, cloudy, unintelligible and unpleasant hue with. It’s a fact of our natures that we simply fit better with some friends, family members, colleagues, and potential mates than others.
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What I have found–age does stand out even to the couple when there is a large difference, but no more than when cultural or religious or educational backgrounds are different. I have seen couples evaluate such differences between themselves and more often than not reach the same conclusion my husband and myself, and countless others, have reached about age; that it is a superficial difference, just a surface thing. What we are as a body bound by biological processes of time, but not who we are as a soul. And soul, whether you believe in the soul as our immortal essence or as our emotional self bringing purpose to our mortal existence, is where we humans connect fully to each other, especially in love.

When I worked for the first time as a CNA, I cared for a man I will call “Dunn.” Dunn was in his 60s, bedridden, and like many of our patients, especially those who could rarely leave their rooms, loved for staff to stay around and talk. I used to sit on a chair across from Dunn in my down time at work, eating the chocolates he stored on the sly in his nightstand, and being a good listener while he mapped places of his history for me with stories from his life. One night he told me about his first wife, fifteen years older than Dunn. I had interrupted him to ask if the age difference was what destroyed the marriage (cougar relationships are said to lack longevity, generally ending when either the boy-toy or the cat-woman returns to his or her senses and recognizes that age-inappropriate relationships are merely flings, fun, or temporary insanity), but Dunn denied this as the reason. “I loved her very much,” he had said, “even the first time anyone ever asked if she was my mother. I always loved her.” (In her defense, Dunn at sixty-four looked about forty-four; it’s likely she was mistaken for a young mother.) Dunn went on to say that as time proceeded, “her loud to my quiet” wasn’t working. He described her as a vivacious, extroverted soul and labeled himself as a prototypical geek, validating his label with, “I’ve worn pocket protectors fully stocked with pens most of my life!” So eventually, it didn’t work, but Dunn swore that if it had he would be a sixty-four-year-old man loving his seventy-nine-year-old wife.

Personality is key. If the key is cut wrong, don’t expect it to work no matter which way you turn it. I was married a first time also, to a man my age. Our formative years shared a time in history: we remembered Reagan as president and hearing about the Cold War and Star Wars on the news and at school; the Challenger disaster; the fall of the Berlin Wall; 80s music, neon clothing, and parachute pants; Atari; televisions you still had to touch to adjust channels and volume; the lack of cell phones and internet. We even shared time in the same high school together, walked down the same hallways, cut class here and there with the same group of friends. We went on to have a relationship and a daughter together. We made an amazing team as parents and were very age appropriate. Being age appropriate is not what made us a good parenting team, however, and ultimately it did not make up for the connection we always seemed to be lacking between each other. We clashed the way one might consider Titans to, and were one of those couples where each person is a very good person individually and among all others, but not necessarily with each other. Sometimes, no matter how much you see the good in someone, getting close is not going to work when the chemistry equation never figures out right. You need to find equilibrium at some point.

All relationships have their worries, and age is quite often the least of them. I can laugh about cougar jokes and comments at times (including the comment once posted on a social network site picture in which I wore a leopard-print dress: Is that cheetah print…or cougar? Classic, I have to admit) but I also find it a tiresome and unfair label to throw at a woman because she is older than a man she loves. Popular culture has somewhat effectively conditioned people to think that a relationship where the woman is much older is not a serious, genuine, actual relationship. My husband and I considered this point a little bit, at least in the beginning; we shied away from the possible discomforts and stayed “friends,” a more socially acceptable status. But, whether you believe more in chemistry or in soulmates, you don’t choose physical, intellectual, and emotional attraction. It just shows up. When love begins to show itself, you decide where to go with it, and if there are differences, you decide how important or not they are. When love exists, outside opinions lose their force.

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I’ve met other women unfairly tallied into the cougar category, and each has lamented that it’s a bit silly for people to make comments such as, “Don’t you worry your husband will leave when, you know, you get older? Won’t he want someone with, well, less wrinkles and who, well, let’s just say, looks better in lingerie?”

It’s a curious thing, that desire to express negativity to others about others’ relationships; how can a species of thinking, emotional beings with such capacity for compassion sometimes become so snide to one another? I always hope our species will reach a point where we don’t worry about couples with age differences, with gender similarities, with different racial or cultural or religious backgrounds. I hope we can see a time, considering how far we have actually come along in time, when there isn’t so much controversy over something such as a Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial couple. How do we still fail to see each other as equal beings of the human race deserving equal, universal rights of love and respect in our earthly existence? Regardless of age, sex, color, creed, and who we love despite his or her age, sex, color, creed, and all kinds of other traits.

Something about love–we all need, desire, and deserve it.

A cougar is a large cat of the Felidae family, also known by the names mountain lion, puma, panther, and catamount. It has four feet on which it runs with agility, it has whiskers and a wet nose and tan fur. It is not a woman who loves the man she is with despite the fact that she had already accumulated a lot of life experience before he was even born. As adults, he has likely caught up with her on experience (in a number of ways) anyway.

Don’t be so quick to cry cougar if your daughter, sister, mother, aunt, grandmother, best friend, or any other woman in your life shows up happily involved with a man who is younger. Don’t assume it is only a phase or only fun or a disillusioned attempt to avoid reality and will end in either the man packing up to find a younger lady, or the woman making a run for an older gentleman.

Demi Moore, Jennifer Lopez, and Madonna are three women who, due to their fame–and the obsession culture has with fame–have been offered to the world as studies of the cougar species. (And they are definitely not the first well-known women in history to have had a reputation for being with younger men.) What people forget is that these are real women who have (or have had) real relationships with a real history of partnership and love, and real heartbreak if the relationship ended. What the media has ceated by criticizing, mocking, and trivializing the relationships of these women so publicly–or likewise calling out Way to go, ladies! You found yourselves a younger man! You are hot! You are worthwhile!–is a negative chain reaction in which we think we can diminish these women to superficial or ridiculous or desperate creatures. Next, we think we can do the same to every woman in a similar situation.

And, of course, once we start negatively judging one type of couple, we feel justified to move on to another type, and then to various groups of people, and various individuals, and we find others doing the same to us. The cycle of judgment is neverending; at the very least, though, we can avoid strengthening it by avoiding calling each other out on the most trivial of differences that are really not hurting anyone.

In all honesty, it doesn’t hurt my sense of who I am as an individual or in my relationship when I get the occasional negative comment about our age difference. (I admit it’s a little easier now, given people most often think I’m younger than my age, therefore closer to my husband’s age. We’ll see how it is if my slow aging speeds up within the next years.) As with any relationship securely structured with love, what the outside world has to say about our preference remains unimportant–as stated before, those outside opinions simply lose force.

Still, it is nice to be recognized as just another regular, human woman, not a strange hybrid of succubus and cat. I’m sure their are other woman who agree, and possibly a few tan, agile, Felidae cats who would agree as well.

Cougar Image shared from images.fineartamerica.com. http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large-5/cougar-smile-athena-mckinzie.jpg