Issue 7

August 2018

Note from the editor Lesley Jane Seymour

Welcome to the (Midlife) Dog Days of Summer

August is my favorite month of the year. Maybe it’s because I was born on a naval base in Puerto Rico and moved to Miami, Florida, when I was four, but I have deep, positive memories of sticky, hot, tropical afternoons running around carefree and topless as a toddler. I have vivid memories of sticking my face into the cloying red flowers that grew around our property and finishing the evenings with the refreshing quench of presweetened iced tea (given as a reward for eating my dinner). And I am always comforted to have cicadas as the backup singers for my evening meditation.

I am particularly excited about this August because for the first time in my life both kids are settled into their respective cities and jobs, neither Jeff nor I are tethered to New York City–based jobs, we have a reliable house/cat sitter, and we can spend a month in Paris exploring whether or not the city could really be a part of our future. Ever since I lived in Strasbourg as a college student I have loved the French way of life, which I find so much more civilized and grounded than the American upward mobility with which I grew up. Even after working at Marie Claire, which was consumed with the most divisive French/American politics, I came out still loving all things French. I am still close with the Alsatian family I lived with back in the ’70s and their grandkids, who have visited us here in the states and have gotten to know Lake and JJ. So look for me to be reporting and sharing my shopping and museum finds from the city of lights with a short stopover in St. Petersburg, Russia, as well.

This issue of TheCovey contains some special treats. The first one is the opening story, “No Guns For Old Men,” which, I must say, makes me laugh out loud each time I read it. Not only is the bingo card riddled with bullet holes (created by our wonderful illustrator Emily Ryan, who designed the CoveyClub site) just a killer (pun intended), but Mel Miskimen’s story about trying to pack off her 89-year-old former-cop father to assisted living is hilarious. For any of you feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of taking care of elderly parents, Mel will let you know you are not alone. I found Mel at More magazine. Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she really understands the Midwest and the American iconography that surrounds it. But she also recognizes the absurdity of what the sandwich generation is going through. Mel will be writing about her empty nest in a continuous monthly comedy series for TheCovey. For that reason, I call her our Mark Twain. Please let me know what you think by commenting below her piece.

I hope you will also enjoy the article by CoveyClub’s Editor-at-Large Cari Shane called “Why You Need a Midlife Dog at Midlife.” Too many of us feel lonely and abandoned when our kids move on, and we reach for a new baby dog. But experts know the better match, for both mother and dog, is an animal with a few years on them.

Because of the upcoming selection of a new Supreme Court justice and the inevitable looming debate over Roe v. Wade, I reached out to three award-winning journalists and asked them to take a moment to reflect on their own personal or journalistic encounters with abortion for TheCovey. Our mothers and grandmothers grew up before Roe, and I wanted to acknowledge how that 1973 decision allowed our generation to take for granted that we have control over our bodies. Despite a July 23, 2018, NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll finding that 71 percent of current American voters say that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, it looks like the debate will still be heated. I have unlocked these stories from the paid section of TheCovey so that you can share them if you’d like.

Lastly, thanks to each and every one of you for joining and supporting CoveyClub. We are creating a new kind of media brand. Everyone said it could not be done, but because of your support and your willingness to jump in and believe in us, it is actually happening. This July we hit our first milestone: 3000 members. And please remember: My mailbox is always open for story ideas, personal pitches, and ideas of how we can serve midlife women better.

See you in Paris. xoxo

Memoir

No Guns For Old Men

Her 89-year-old father finally agreed to assisted living. But hadn't agreed to give up his guns

By Mel Miskimen

Illustration by Emily Ryan

There’d be no behind-the-scenes strategizing. No confrontations across the mid-century Formica kitchen table. My 89-year-old father had come to his own conclusion to put the house up for sale and move into senior living after he’d gone out to the garage for a screwdriver, lost his balance, and got himself wedged between the snowblower and the car.

He had left his cane and his flip phone in the kitchen (he won’t replace it with a smartphone because, according to him, it’s smart enough). He managed to wriggle free after awhile, but because he had hit his knee on the edge of the workbench, he had to crawl back to the house on his belly as if he were on the beach at Normandy.

He told this to me and my sister Linda over brunch.

“Dad! You could have died!” she said.

“But I didn’t!” he said.

We found him a nice, one-bedroom apartment in an upscale senior community where women outnumber the men four to one. He caused several fluffy blue-haired heads to turn when we took the tour.

My sister pointed to the “No weapons allowed!” paragraph in the glossy brochure, under the photo of the grinning (but vibrant) elderly couple.

My father winced. He made her read the paragraph out loud. Again. Then once more just in case he hadn’t heard her right.

“Not even the handguns? I’ve only got five!” he said, as if he was trying to add another person to a dinner reservation at the last minute. “What about my shotguns? My rifles?”

“No guns, Dad,” she said.

He had hunted ducks. Deer (regular boring northern Wisconsin type and more exotic Wyoming Pronghorned type). He had been a police officer. He had guns.

I counted two shotguns and three rifles inside the fancily carved gun cabinet — the one my mother bought for him on their 40th wedding anniversary — guns that looked like the kind John Wayne would have used to settle a score. Single Barrel. Wood stocks. One had pump action.

“I’ve got a World War II carbine somewhere,” he said from deep inside what had been my mother’s closet.

He came back with four more rifles. Three more shotguns. He brought out the .38 special, a six-shooter, the one he had worn holstered and strapped to his side for forty years. More rifles came from under the bed. More shotguns from behind the bookcase. We spread his arsenal on the bed — on top of the duck hunting — themed quilt my mother had made — like we had just uncovered a cache from a drug bust.

He hooked his thumbs inside his red suspenders. Shook his head. Was this a deal breaker?

I said a silent prayer to my departed mother to please whisper into his ear. Something about it being hard, but the right thing to do? I couldn’t take another winter worrying about whether there’d be a repeat of the screwdriver incident, only instead of D-Day, he’d be Ernest Shackelton and I’d find him frost-covered with a tool in his frozen hand, wedged between the car and snowblower?

“I got that one when I was 12.” He pointed to a rifle with a burled stock.

He gently lifted a double-barrel shotgun off an airborne pair of mallards. “This one I bought right before we got married. I almost sold it to pay the hospital bill after you were born.”

And now he had to say goodbye to old friends that had served him well, supplying us with venison salamis, pheasant breasts, so many ducks à l’orange.

Word spread. Pals came sniffing around, gathering in small packs at the end of the driveway, like dogs had done that time our old Labrador, Shadow, had gone into heat.

Lucrative offers were made, the kind a person would have been crazy not to take. This new phase would mean making adjustments. He’d have to let go of the house that had been home for 63 years, the one he and my mother bought after they got married, the one she said she’d never leave unless it was feet first, and in 2013 she had.

We’d leave behind the dogs we buried in the yard, our DNA embedded in the concrete driveway from roller skating fails, and the guns. They would stay in the family. In a safe. The combination known only to Dad and the other party involved. He could visit them. Take them out. Make sure they were being looked after properly.

Like him.
(To be continued…) Mel Miskimen is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and author of Sit Stay Heal. She will be writing a monthly serialized column for Covey about the drafty empty nest she shares with her husband, who is on the fast track to sainthood. Her previous articles for Covey include “When We Were Hot.”

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Navigating the Sandwich

Why You Need a Midlife Dog at Midlife

Sure, Everyone Wants The New, Shiny Baby Puppy. But Experts Say There Are Better Choices

By Cari Shane

Photo by Charles Deluvio for Unsplash

At 49, I shouldn’t have adopted newborns.

Rescue puppies, that is.

And certainly not after spending two decades raising three kids (now 24, 23, and 20) and two different dogs (who have both since passed away). I’d survived a bad marriage and a contentious divorce, sold a suburban Washington, D.C., home, and renovated and moved into a row house in the District. I was finally making time for me. Like 42 percent of Americans (up from 39 percent in 2007, according to Pew Research), I was going to be living alone and was very excited about it.

Yet, I adopted two Great Pyrenees — mix puppies, five weeks apart, each 11 weeks old. (My first two human children are 14-months apart. Hmmm. Do we see a pattern here?)

Hudson (left) and Tennessee with Cari Shane and her kids, Emma (left), Sam and Olivia Parven. Photo by Hannah Hudson Photography

Of course, I didn’t know when I adopted Tennessee Williams and Hudson River (their formal names) that they were going to be difficult to raise. I’d read Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, and I’d laughed (and cried when he died), but I hadn’t lived the book. I had never had a dog like Marley, who crashed through screen doors, ate drywall, and got expelled from obedience school. With Tennie and Hudson, I had Marley — times two.

Tennessee (Tennie) is a nervous dog. Having raised a child with anxiety, I understand this about her. She’s not vicious, but actually rather scared when she feels it’s her dogly duty to attack all dogs as well as all passersby on the street, buses, UPS trucks, garbage trucks, cyclists, skateboarders, and police officers on Segways. Hudson has a Hamlet-like obsession with cats: to kill or to cuddle, that seems to be the question! So for Tennie’s sake, to get to the dog park, we take as many of the quiet labyrinthine alleys behind the District’s row houses. The problem: D.C.’s alleys are filled with cats, and they provoke Hudson’s existential question and manic reaction.

For three years, these two animals have been the hardest part of my day, every day. They consume me — the way my children and marriage consumed me. They have raised my level of stress and, undoubtedly, my blood pressure. Tennie and Hudson are frankly so difficult that I imagine had they been adopted by someone less forgiving, they would have been surrendered back to a shelter like four million other dogs who are adopted and returned to shelters each year. Yes… that’s the statistic. And that’s just in the United States. (Worse: Each year 670,000 shelter dogs are euthanized.)

In fairness to Tennessee and Hudson, I was not the right match for them — a D.C.-based, row house–dwelling woman whom they outweigh. My crazy dogs should be living on a farm somewhere far from traffic and noise and alley cats. But I was never going to return T & H, partly because I’m a doer, partly because I judge people (harshly) who give up, and of course, because I love them. I have the same attitude as Marley and Me’s John Grogan, who said in an interview: “We didn’t give up on Marley when it would have been easy to.”

Jodi Andersen, a nationally recognized dog trainer and co-founder of How I Met My Dog, a canine adoption site that uses an eHarmony-like survey/algorithm to make the perfect human match, says I need to lose that attitude. “We need to stop shaming owners who make a mistake and adopt the wrong dog. We don’t always know why a dog has been returned and it’s not always because the surrenderer is ‘bad’.” Sometimes, she says, dogs are returned to shelters because there’s breed discrimination in the neighborhood or a family has inherited a dog they simply can’t keep. “We need to find a solution to the ‘wrong dog getting’,” says Andersen. And shaming is not a solution.

In order to cut in half the “wrong-dog” return rate, Andersen and her co-founders, MaryAnn Zeman and Sharon Mosse, developed the “ComPETibility algorithm to “increase the odds of a good match,” and she wants all shelters in the country to adopt the 56-question online survey. “How I Met My Dog” was not created to only help puppies (“which usually get scooped right up,” says Andersen) but also to help older dogs — those as young as four years — which have a much more difficult time getting adopted. Anderson says when dogs are returned to shelters for any reason they automatically receive a black mark on their records, even if they did nothing wrong. For owners who can no longer keep a dog, How I Met My Dog also provides a “re-homing” platform.

To make a better match, the survey asks shelters 33 questions and re-homers 46 questions about the dogs in their care. “The system gives the dog a say in who would make the best adopter,” says Andersen. This way the high-energy mutt who doesn’t tire out until she’s gone on a five-mile run followed by a 30-minute romp at the dog park doesn’t get matched with the homebody who likes to binge-watch Netflix. And the human who wants a running buddy won’t end up with a cute lab who simply wants an all-day belly rub on the couch.

The biggest problem for so many of us is that we walk into shelters wanting to adopt a pet but are clueless and ask questions about a dog’s personality of volunteers who don’t have the answers.

The ComPETability algorithm gets at who we are as people. Rather than asking questions about previous pet ownership, it asks about how we approach life. For example, “When working on a specific task (e.g. cleaning the house, cooking dinner, paying the bills, etc.), I am more comfortable a) Focusing on the task from start to finish, b) Multitasking and getting a bit of each one done.  If I had to choose, I would rather a) Be invited to a party, b) Plan and host a party, c) Neither, I don’t like parties.”

I took the survey (answering “B” to both of these questions) and was matched with 85 dogs. Like me, they are all midlifers. “Older dogs in need of a family are dealing with transition and loss, just like a 40- or 50-something person,” says Andersen, who believes that midlife dogs and midlife humans are a natural match. She’s got a good elevator pitch to steer midlifers toward older dogs and away from puppies: “If you’re 50 and you have a group of friends who are 20, it would be novel to hang out with them — but only for a while. Your interests and ability to keep up with them would be vastly different.” Pet ownership is about similar compatibility. “Think about it — the older you get the less you want to do things that you don’t want to do.” In other words, why would you move in with an animal that’s forcing you out of your comfort zone?

“Midlife dogs have had their hearts broken,” says Andersen. “When they get re-adopted each one knows and understands that it’s being saved by its adopter. It’s a bond like no other.”

“The payoff is huge … An adult dog bestows his love if you’re worthy,” says Karen Hewitt, 56, from Ventura, California, who two years ago adopted a three-year-old Great Pyrenees named Captain. “It was the best choice ever … he has the same energy level as me.” Hewitt admits she had concerns about an adult rescue but she knew she couldn’t go through housebreaking and training again. “I think Captain was waiting to be moved [to another shelter] again … The first time he stuck his head out the [car] window and enjoyed the ride I cried because he finally was acting like a dog, not a shell of a dog.”

Christine Cochran Taylor, 50, from Birmingham, Alabama, says she adopted six-year-old Chase from an animal shelter; he had been returned “because the father of the owner didn’t want him around anymore.” Chase is Taylor’s first midlife dog, too. “He [is] so very calm … He fits right into my lifestyle. My daughter had gone on to college and I was alone … He is my heart dog.”

These women discovered something that I hadn’t understood — that a midlife dog, like a 50-year-old friend, is someone with whom to take a nice walk and then sit with on the couch while enjoying a glass of wine. Instead, Tennessee and Hudson have been knocking over my glass of wine. “For a puppy, like a child, everything is new, exciting. Every new moment is cause for celebration,” says Andersen. “A falling leaf needs to be wondered at, chased, stomped on, maybe barked at. While a midlife dog still requires the responsibilities of shelter and food, it requires ‘less.’ It needs exercise, but less; supervision, but less. A midlife dog is saying, ‘I’ve been through it all already, I don’t need to prove anything to you or to the pack or to anyone. I’ve been-there-done-that. I just want to hang with you’.”

I asked Andersen why she thought that I, like so many other midlifers, went for the fresh new, chubby puppy. Was it ageism? “I don’t know if it’s so much prejudice as it is fear. When adopting an older dog we think about mortality. It’s not that people doubt the dog’s personality, it’s not that they want a dog they can mold; it’s that they are afraid of the pain of loss.” And they are afraid that older dogs come with a higher medical price tag, which is actually a fallacy. According to a Kiplinger report, “9 Costs Every Dog Owner Should Budget for,” a dog’s first year is the guaranteed most expensive, with costs ranging from $710 to $8,730. After puppydom, the cost of raising a dog usually decreases to $310 – $7,100 per year. The cost of an older dog depends entirely on that particular dog’s health.

So, what about women looking for a baby again? Is that unwise?

I called Hannah Starobin, a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in New York City and co-host of Twisting The Plot, a new website and podcast for 50-plus women. “It’s about the unconditional love of a baby,” Starobin says. It’s also about resuming the role we are familiar with: “caretaker.” “A lot of us care-take our partners, husbands, ailing parents,” Starobin explains. “It’s a role we do well.” Caretaking fills a void. “Instead of turning inward on ourselves, we look forward to someone else to take care of. It’s not a lack of imagination. It’s not taking time for imagination.”

Margaret Jones Davis of Creative Dog Training chalks it up to a do-over of sorts. “A lot of older adults look for ‘replacement kids’,” she writes in her blog about midlife puppy-adopters.

Ok, so the pups will grow up and in less than a year, when I’m 53, I’ll finally have the midlife dogs I should have adopted. And if I still need a baby-fix, I’ll get it from my human children who will hopefully deliver me my grandchildren someday. But note to those children: I’m in no hurry; I’m still on “me time.”

 

  1. Jane Adams

    I had puppies and kids at the same time . When they left home, so did I. And after I found and remodeled a downtown loft I woke up one day and decided I wanted a dog for me, not anyone else. I am on my fourth Portuguese water dog, all but one of whom were rehomed by their breeders when they retired from breeding and were replaced by trophy bitches – a situation many women of a certain age can relate to. It’s like having a well-behaved young adult child someone else has raised. They’re not too independent – if you want an animal with boundaries, get a cat. And they love you unconditionally.

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The Find

Real Chic for Real-Sized Women

Universal Standard believes dressing should be a joy for ALL women

By Gretchen Kubacky

Photo courtesy of Universal Standard

Five years ago, I was giving a presentation to several hundred people and I needed a comfortable, flattering, appropriate outfit. My Google search offered up two depressing options: stiff suits that looked like they’d been stuffed in the back room of a second-hand store since the 1980s or logoed T-shirts and ripped jeans aimed at 15-year-olds.

I was profoundly discouraged.  What’s a plus-sized professional woman to do when fashion fails to offer what women like me need, i.e. something in between?

Woman in Universal Standard outfit

Photo of Julie Harbour (@_stylishparadox) in the Enza Jumpsuit in Cinder

Enter Universal Standard, an online-only clothing retailer founded by friends Alexandra Waldman and Polina Veksler in 2015.  The company addresses the needs of the “plus-sized” market (can we please kill that embarrassing moniker now?) with well-made clothing in sizes 10-28. These two women understood that the 67% of American women who wear a size 14 and above were desperate for quality, elegance, simplicity, and statement-making style at a non-designer price point. These are beautiful on-trend pants, tops, and jackets that you can wear for years.

What I like about Universal Standard is the clean, simple lines, classic colors, and lack of fussy embellishments. Their iconic Geneva dress flatters you no matter whether you go up or down 10 pounds, and works for travel, business, and chic weekend brunches. I bought half of their debut collection.  

Photo of Angela Jones (@ultimatefashionista) in Universal Standard’s Phebe Sweater in teal, AHR Apron Skirt in eggshell

It’s clear to me that Waldman and Veksler are out to reshape the fashion industry. No trend is off limits because of size and women all over Instagram are flaunting their finds with hashtag #NowYouCan. They also have an innovative program called Universal Fit Liberty, which allows you to exchange core collection items for a different size within one year of purchase, at no charge; the items you return are donated to women’s shelters.

 

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Second Acts

Reinventing Shoes While Reinventing Herself

Kara Mac quit her day job when Shark Tank's, Daymond John, said she had a killer idea

By Emily Listfield

Kara Mac
Kara Mac of ShoeCandy with her shoes with changeable heels.

Like many women, Kara Mac, 52, spent a lot of time obsessing about shoes — what was wrong with them, what she wished for, why she could never find exactly what she wanted, and, of course, why she needed so many pairs.

Sandals with changeable decorations.

“I was commuting from Westchester to Manhattan and had a 20-minute walk every day. I’m tall so I don’t wear heels, but I worked as a fashion designer, so I would never wear sneakers,” explains Mac. “I had comfortable commuting shoes, then when I got to work I had about a dozen pairs of shoes under my desk and I would figure what to wear based on my outfit. If I had an event at night, I would have yet another pair in my bag. I was schlepping shoes and a laptop back and forth every day when I had this epiphany, Why can’t someone design a shoe that you can transform from outfit to outfit and from day to night? I knew they also had to be well-made and comfortable, because if my feet hurt my psyche is off all day.”

Mac dreamed up an answer: A shoe with a removable heel. She quickly went into action, researching shoe construction online and ordering casting and molding material. “I began experimenting on the kitchen counter, taking the heels off my own shoes, but I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur,” says Mac, the mother of two teenage boys. “I kept my job. I was just obsessed with this one idea.” Nevertheless, she had samples made and held small focus groups in her living room. While women loved the idea, Mac found that the removable heel wasn’t providing enough stability.

You buy one shoe and change the heels

Successful start-ups see an unmet need and offer a fresh solution. Mac certainly had the first part of the equation nailed, but like so many entrepreneurial endeavors, the first iteration wasn’t quite right. It was time to pivot. “I was in a department store and I found these really fun Tory Burch sandals,” she says. “They came in three color combinations and I couldn’t make up my mind, so I ended up walking out with none. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if you could have all three in one.”

Mac gave up on detachable heels and instead started prototyping a shoe that could be changed in an instant by adorning it with different accessories — various colored covers that snap onto the heels, along with interchangeable toe-buckles, tassels, and chain links. The idea was simple: Buy one shoe and then as many accessories — Candy! — as you want so that the shoe can be made to match any outfit, mood, or event. “I’m a Shark Tank addict,” she admits, “and when I heard Daymond John, one of the show’s on-air investors, was doing a three-day seminar, I applied.” After the first round, Mac became one of ten companies chosen to proceed to the next level — a personal appointment with John. She raced against the clock to get ready over one weekend. “I told all my friends not to call me. I emptied my husband’s barbecue case and lined it with velvet. I filled it with shoes and candy, the accessories that would swap on and off.”

Within minutes of meeting, John threw up his hands and told Mac her idea could be huge. “He compared the concept to Build-A-Bear or American Girl. I quit my job the next day because I had validation from someone who wasn’t a family member or friend, and I’ve been working on ShoeCandy full time ever since.” John’s team helped Mac devise a business plan and find manufacturing sources. She spent a week in Brazil meeting the tanners she would need to produce the high-quality shoes. All the while, she kept her plans on the down low, worried that someone might steal her idea.

Kara Mac’s ShoeCandy

“I was self-funded and still am. It wasn’t that terrifying at first because I had a pretty good nest egg, but it got more difficult as I put more into the business,” she admits. Mac ended up bringing in a trusted friend and marketing expert, Ann Merin, as an equal partner. “We balance each other out. I handle creative, sourcing, operations, and she handles business, coding, and marketing.”

The duo launched ShoeCandy at a Massachusetts conference for women in 2014. “We purchased a booth and took orders. Women loved it! It was unbelievable. When I drove home that night, I was so high.” After some technical glitches, the ShoeCandy site launched two months later. Mac and Merin also held a Kickstarter campaign, raising $25,000 in 30 days.

Today, ShoeCandy has eight base models, including boots, flats, heels, and sandals, and an ever-growing assortment of candy with which to accessorize them. The first ShoeCandy store opened in Westchester in 2017, and Mac is eyeing further expansion as well as potential licensing deals.

Mac will make customized heels for individuals or for brands

Mac is proud to be one of the next wave of entrepreneurs defying the stereotype that founders are all twentysomethings in hoodies. “I couldn’t have started a business when my kids were younger,” she says. I have a child with autism, and there were too many responsibilities. I actually work a lot more than when I was commuting, between 70-80 hours a week. I miss being able to be off sometimes. When I go on vacation, I’m still talking to our attorneys, photographing shoes, doing all our social media. But I feel like I’ve reinvented my life and how I feel about myself. I’ve had to be so much more extroverted than I would be if I still worked for someone else. I’m much more conscious when I walk out the door each day that everything I do will affect my business. I like that I’m in control of that. I’m so proud of being able to move forward at this point in my life.”

 

  1. Marie

    Meeting Kara is like taking a vitamine ! Her ora is positive and welcoming. Making those around her feel
    Happy …. and her Shoe Candy is an extension of this beautiful person – we need to get Kara/ShoeCandy to Canada !!!

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Beauty

Gray

Leaving her chemically processed locks on the floor allowed her to accept the beauty of her age

By Audrey Ades

Photo by Andrew Ly for Unsplash

It is not by the gray of the hair that one knows the age of the heart. ~Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

I was walking my dog when a friend pulled up and rolled down her car window. “Oh my God!” she said. “I’ve wanted to do that for ages! You are so brave!”

It was the first time Elyse had seen me since I let my hair go gray.

I’d been thinking about taking the plunge for a couple of years. I was sick of coloring my hair. Sick of the outlay of time and money. Sick of the seaweed hue the chlorine in the pool turned it only weeks after coloring.

I was also weary of colluding with a culture that saw a 60-year-old man’s silver-gray crown as “distinguished” but expected women of the same age to have hair that was impossibly golden or brilliantly brunette. I was fed up with the cultural expectation that I look younger than my age.

About 12 weeks elapsed between the day I stopped coloring my short, afro-styled hair and the day I left the last vestiges of my chemically prolonged youth on the salon floor. During those awkward months when the top of my head looked like a vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting, I felt like a walking Rorschach test. What did my friends see in this morphing design?

Many women, some good friends and some barely acquaintances, decided that my decision was sufficiently universal that they had to share their thoughts and feelings with me. They voiced many concerns: What would my kids think? Would my spouse like it? When I looked in the mirror, would I see my mother? Or worse, my grandmother?

What happens when one defies cultural norms and brazenly courts ageism? I was struck by how many women ended their conversations about my hair with “It’s so great that you’re doing this. Good luck!” They vicariously wished to live the dream but also recognized that, for the granny who suits up to cross skydiving off her bucket list, a little luck couldn’t hurt. Like the canary in the coal mine, they collectively waited to see if I would survive.

Most of them, like Elyse, applauded my courage for having traveled somewhere they were still too timid to go. Still, I was struck by the number of women who ended the conversation by reminding me, “You can always color it again if you don’t like it.” It was a sisterly gesture of unconditional acceptance should my silly experiment turn out to be a bust.

Brave is laudable but not safe. For so many of us, there is something dangerous about not looking young. The pressure to look young drives us to purchase youth-enhancing concoctions so implausible we would never consider buying into such hokum in any other realm of our lives. It drives some into misery, others to the dermatologist for injections, and others under the knife.

Even my older friends who color their hair admit that they’ve been thinking about going gray for years, but feel they just aren’t ready. Ready for what?

As un-PC as it may sound, I think the most honest answer to this question is: not ready to look old. This is particularly true of my women friends who work in corporate settings. They have earned their high-level positions through years of study, sacrifice, and hard work. Still, they are afraid that to look their age would somehow jeopardize their… what? Their credibility? Their value? Their power? Or is it something deeper? Their sense of self-worth?

Although I was (mostly) comfortable with my decision from the start, there were some false starts.

“How old were your parents when they died?” This awkward question was posed to me by a young intake nurse when I changed physicians recently. Before I went gray, the question had always been: “Are your parents still alive?”

I had only been fully gray for a few days and wore my new identity like an aging Peter Pan, full of bravado and uneasy with the range of feelings that could pop up in new circumstances. Reactive and relentless, I shot back, “Did you ask that question like that because I have gray hair?” The poor woman was flustered and mortified, but I would take no prisoners. “Do you assume I’m too old to have living parents just because I have gray hair?” She apologized profusely. I thought she might cry. With my defensiveness on full display, it was my turn to feel mortified.

Empowerment is an inside job. Giving oneself permission and authority to challenge norms is not for the faint of heart, and this gray business is a complicated endeavor. From hour to hour, I am resolved but insecure, freed but self-conscious.

As time passes, I am increasingly comfortable with my decision. Being gray suits the way I live the rest of my life. Simple. Quiet. Counter-culture. With this decision not to take action against my body’s natural course, I have given myself permission to look my age, trusting that my esprit de corps will compensate for whatever assumptions onlookers may associate with a silver crown.

Early in my pilgrimage, I was jolted when I passed a mirror and was confronted with my gray-haired reflection. I was caught off guard but was not unhappy. I felt eager to embrace this familiar stranger, knowing that by accepting her, I was one step closer to more fully accepting me.

 

Chicken Soup for the Soul CoverStory by Audrey Ades, Chicken Soup for the Soul: the Empowered Woman. (c)2018 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved

  1. Patti Magers

    Thank you, Audrey for this thoughtful reflection. You mirrored much of my experience in letting go of the need to ‘look younger’. I really like who I see in the mirror (most days) – and am very grateful for the opportunity to be here and be gray!

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Beauty

How To Go Gray Without Looking Like a Skunk

Follow these steps and enlist the help of your colorist, or check out our DIY tips

By Kristi Pahr

black and white
Photo by Liliana Pereira on Unsplash

While millennials are paying for silvery strands, many in the 40+ crowd are deciding it’s time to embrace the gray-hair trend alongside them. But, after years of covering up, you can’t just go cold turkey on the color. Unlike the quick transformation away from gray (during a one-hour hair appointment, say), the transition back to gray is a months-long process — and you’ll need a plan. These how-to steps will get you started as you go from your cover-it-up-color to the gray gifted by your DNA, even if you want to handle it solo, i.e., without a stylist.

 

WITH A PRO 

Discuss

Talk with your colorist about what you hope to achieve so they can craft a protocol specific to you. Discuss if you want a gradual event that keeps your hair at its current length or if you’re willing to change up your hairstyle (go short) as part of the process. Beauty industry leader and founder of TRUHAIR Chelsea Scott says that people with lighter colored hair will have an easier time transitioning to gray than people with darker hair.

Plan

As with many hair changes — such as growing out a shorter style or getting rid of bangs — transitioning to gray takes time, so plan accordingly. You may not want to be in the middle of your color conversion for an important event. Celebrity stylist Jill Crosby tells the Chicago Tribune, “How quick and easy it is to go natural depends on the length of hair and color. A woman with a short, layered hairstyle could go gray in four to six months, as keeping hair trimmed helps to cut away the old color.”

Blend

“The key is to soften the line of demarcation as it grows out and incorporate lightness on the ends, using the touch-up color as a lowlight,” says Holly Pistas, master hair stylist and artistic director for the nationally recognized Chicago-based Gordon Salon. “Then adding highlights to mimic the gray is a great way to soften the process.” Pistas further recommends spacing visits and changing the ratio of colors as the process progresses.

Maintain

Once the transition has started and you have highlights or silver strands coming through, a certain amount of maintenance is needed to keep them from turning brassy. So choose the right shampoo and conditioner to help you do this. Opt for formulations specifically for blonde or silver hair. You don’t have to wash with them every time, but experts suggest adding them to your routine on a regular basis to keep the brassiness at bay.

 

FOR THE DIY-ER 

If you are a do-it-yourself colorist, you can embrace the gray on your own. You’ll need to make a plan and pick a date based on calendared moments in your future because, like the pro-way, the process will still take months. When I decided to embrace my natural gray (at the ripe old age of 30), I hit the drugstore and I DIM’d it (did it myself). Here’s how:

Go with semipermanent

There are dozens of semipermanent hair-color boxes and brands in literally every shade of the rainbow, so staring at a drugstore shelf can be a little daunting. A good tip is to choose a color that’s lighter than your usual shade — but not too dramatically different. I was a brunette before going gray, so I went with a brown that was about two shades lighter. The color was subtly different from what I was used to, but not noticeably so. And, since semipermanent color fades out after about a dozen washes, every few weeks I adjusted the color with a dye a shade lighter as the previous color grew out.

Hide your roots while your gray grows out

In between trips to the drugstore, as roots grew in and became more obvious, I used pigmented root powders to cover up. Hats are also a great option. CoveyClub Spa Ambassador Anna Moine has a wardrobe full — 25 at last count — and uses them as part of her fashion ensemble when the gray has overtaken: “[It’s an] effective and fashionable approach … Whether you select a fedora, sombrero or baseball cap is your individual choice, but I prefer a milliner’s creation to divert attention.”

For darker haired people for whom root growth is much more obvious, spray-on root covers are a good way to cover the gray as it grows out. Try Bumble and Bumble or TRUHAIR powders.

Depending on your hair type, you may even consider going short to speed up the transition process. Once gray roots have gotten to a length you and your stylist think will work for your hair type and facial structure, consider sporting a nice, short cut, taking off any length that still has color to it.

Contrary to what our mothers and grandmothers may have believed, embracing your gray won’t age you. And, actually, it could even get you some jealous looks or compliments from women half your age!

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Hot flash!

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that 24.3 percent of new entrepreneurs in 2015 were aged 55 to 64, compared with 14.8 percent in 1996

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Hello From the Other Side

The rally was take-your-sides rage. Until someone reached out and asked about her abortion

By Spike Gillespie

Illustration by Katie Kalupson

On the evening of Day Nine of a silent meditation retreat just outside of Dallas, with another half-day still before us, the powers that be returned our phones, which had been confiscated and locked away upon check-in. I was amused to observe no one listened to the clear instructions not to turn on our devices until we departed. Instead, we discreetly passed among ourselves the two or three chargers a few had thought to bring, waited impatiently for juice to revive our connection to the outside world, and then swiftly shifted our thumbs from mudra to text mode.

Guilty as the rest, from the tiny bed in my monkish cell, I fired off a brief note to my adult son in Brooklyn. Given he is often a tardy responder, I was surprised at how quickly he replied. “Do you know what’s going on in Austin?” he asked. A perpetual worrier since birth, I read alarm between the lines, the nearly one hundred hours of meditation I’d just done failing to mitigate this. I told him I’d been in a dark room for over a week with no access to media. Then I began scanning the news.

This was late June 2013, and I learned that Wendy Davis had just completed a 13-hour filibuster to try to block passage of Senate Bill 5, which would greatly restrict abortion rights in Texas. Now Austin, my hometown, was exploding with protests. The reports dismayed me on all fronts. As a hardcore pro-choicer and the grateful recipient of a safe and legal abortion, I was so fucking sick of the never-ending patriarchal push to control women’s bodies. And, admittedly selfishly, I really was in no mood to storm the capitol just then. My plan, after so much silent contemplation, was a quiet re-entry to civilization. But I knew as I drove the four hours back home that I had to partake.

A plan formulated, one that would allow me to both honor my newfound love of silence and make a bold statement. As my son and I had done throughout his childhood during the Bush years and the wars that administration had started, I got out poster board and a heavy marker. In huge letters, I wrote: ASK ME ABOUT MY ABORTION. I headed to the capitol, which was under siege by screaming members of both sides of the fight — those of us in favor of abortion rights sporting orange clothing, and those opposed in blue — as if this were some high school football rivalry.

I stepped inside the heavily guarded pink granite building and made a beeline for the majestic rotunda, taking a stand on the star that marks its center. I stood, saying not a word, holding high my sign as anti-choicers, at least one of them toting a massive crucifix, circled me chanting their God-fearing, women-hating rants.

I hurt physically. I hurt emotionally. I understood the need to represent. And yet, after decades of protesting, I was tired. The retreat left me wanting to approach the world differently. I had long argued (and still hold) that anger, when harnessed properly, is not the terrible thing some make it out to be. Like the lyrics to the post-punk band PIL’s song “Rise” proclaim, I concur that anger is an energy. Rage can be a catalyst to get shit done, effect change. On the other hand, I now found myself wishing I could do with compassion what I had so often done with fury.

I continued to hold my sign. I looked around me at so many children roped into this mess by their parents, and this pained me further. I saw a child with tape across her mouth — I think this was supposed to signify something about aborted fetuses. On some level, I understood my hypocrisy in wanting to lash out at her parents. Had I not indoctrinated my own child to the beliefs I held as correct? Had I not nearly wept with joy when he, at age 12, made me a FUCK BUSH t-shirt?

I flashed back to my own childhood and easily comprehended my indignation. Before the ink dried on Roe v. Wade, my father — who despite hating children sired nine of us to please the Pope — spent every Sunday, his only day off, protesting abortion. He bought a ridiculous secondhand utility limousine, a sort of double-length station wagon to tote his brood around. Across the back, in huge letters, he had painted ABORTION IS KILLING YOUR OWN CHILD. He wouldn’t tell us what abortion was, just forced us to be part of his rolling performance art piece.

A woman in blue approached me, looked at my sign. I felt my defenses rise. Heeding my sign’s request, she asked me about my abortion. I told her a little about it. In 1997 when I learned I was pregnant it was a wake-up call. I was not yet a year into an impulsive marriage to a bona fide sociopath who abused me physically and psychologically. I knew I needed to escape him. I knew that to carry that pregnancy to term would mean a lifetime of custody battles, of subjecting this potential human to his sick abuse, and that, consequently, the fallout of all of this for the child I already had with another man (a good man, a kind man), as well as the fallout for myself, would leave me murderous or suicidal or both.

I fled the marriage and terminated the pregnancy. Whatever residual guilt from my Catholic upbringing I worried might haunt me did not come to bear. Sometimes I think having an abortion was the single smartest choice of my life. Curiously, it was during an after-procedure checkup that the doctor discovered a massive malignant ovarian tumor growing inside of me as if the universe wanted to further confirm I surely had done the right thing. So, yes, an abortion literally saved my life.

Did I tell her every bit of this? I don’t recall. What I do remember, what I will never forget, is how she listened. Intently. Deeply. Compassionately. And, despite not sharing my beliefs, she also listened without judgment. Afterward, she hugged me, thanked me, and when she God-blessed me I knew it was with the deepest sincerity of her truest convictions and not one of those bless-your-heart arrows of sarcasm so often passive-aggressively flung at perceived enemies. How I wept at her kindness.

Later, as the crowds swelled still more, as my patience wore down and my energy drained, I had another encounter that very nearly sucked me back into my old ways of enraged confrontation. Another member of Team Blue began to speak to me. Because he was a man my irritation was instant. What right did he even have to weigh in? I began to take his bait, prepared to wage a verbal battle, my vow to keep silent slipping from me. But then, the grace of that woman who listened to me earlier filled me. I decided to ask him about his story.

To my surprise, he opened up. He had recently lost his teenage daughter to cancer. In a flash, it came to me. I think he truly believed we on Team Orange were there to advocate child slaughter and that this bewildered him. Why would anyone give up the chance to have a child when the only thing he wanted in this world was to have his own child back?

I could not adequately console him. No parent of a dead child can ever be adequately consoled. Nor did his point of view change my steadfast belief in abortion rights. But the grief that drove him was palpable. My desire to rip him a new one dissolved in an instant.

As I lay on the table immediately prior to my abortion, I began weeping and explaining to the nurse that my estranged husband was abusive. She squeezed my hand and reassured me, let me know I did not need to justify my choice. What comfort that brought me. Still, all those years later at the capitol, another message crystalized. No, we should not be or even feel required to over-explain our choices. But if telling my story helps in any way to keep our rights in place, I will gladly do so anytime.

Spike Gillespie lives at the Tiny T Ranch near Austin, TX and is co-founder of the All Paths Healing Center. She is the author of nine books, most recently The Tao of Bob and a contributor for TheCovey. Her previous articles for Covey include Finding a Good Father at 52

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Failure Rate: Six Percent

At midlife, she doesn't regret her decision to terminate two pregnancies

By Laura Fraser

Contraception
Illustration by Emily Ryan

When I was in my early 20s, I went to see an astrologer. I had just moved to San Francisco because that’s where creative spirits went, even 20 autumns after the Summer of Love was over, and they also went to astrologers. So I made an appointment in a seedy Victorian near the Castro to visit a guy who looked like a hippie accountant. He studied my chart and, along with some vague advice about grounding my energy, avoiding men who are Cancers, and improving my tech skills, he said something unusual. “When you have sex, be sure to use two methods of birth control. Definitely double-up.”

That was weird, and while I certainly didn’t want to get pregnant at the time — I was in no position to support a baby financially or emotionally and was too full of wanderlust to settle down — I figured the idea of using two types of birth control was overkill. (Also against his advice, I later married and divorced a Cancer, and sidelined myself during the tech boom.) When it came to sex, I was careful and responsible — with contraceptives, if not so much with my partners. I squeezed the proper amount of foul-smelling spermicide onto the diaphragm, always wondering when I inserted it whether I was going to need it that evening or if I’d wasted the gooey effort.

I was attracted to other creative, artistic types, and occasionally let my hormones get ahead of my good sense. Caught unawares one evening, without my portable diaphragm kit, I slept with a photographer, using a condom. He had long disappeared from my life by the time my breasts became tender. I contacted him because I needed help paying for the $300 abortion, and it was half his fault it had happened (maybe more — he’d supplied the crappy condoms). To my surprise, the photographer, who was older than me, didn’t immediately fork over a check but began talking about how maybe this was his chance to be a good father since the previous two times hadn’t worked out so well.

For a minute I considered that he had some rights in the situation. After all, it had been one of his 250 million sperm that hit my egg. Then it occurred to me that he hadn’t asked me about my feelings; he’d already proven himself to be a bad father. He was broke and neurotic, and the last thing I wanted was to tie myself in any way to this man for the next 15 minutes, much less for life. Plus, it was my body. I’d pay for my own fucking abortion if I had to. End of story.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’ve already made the appointment.” Neither of us asked whether he was going to come along.

Instead, two good friends (a couple) came with me. They each held a hand while I climbed up on the examining table and, two minutes later, felt that deep twinge that signals that the contents of the uterus have been evacuated. Afterward, they made me pasta with tomato sauce and we drank red wine, with the theory that they would replace the red blood cells I’d lost. The next morning I was fine.

I went back to the diaphragm, which supposedly had a 6 percent failure rate. Perhaps a year later I was dating another broke, charming photographer. Once again, I missed my period and had that familiar sickly sensation. Oh shit. I called Planned Parenthood.

God bless Planned Parenthood.

This time, there was no question on either side about having an abortion. This photographer had as little interest in making a family at that point in our lives as I did. He was off to events every night, photographing musicians, coming home to smoke weed and put together collages until near dawn. I was doing whatever I could to write stories and get published without having to get a full-time job, which I figured would suck my soul. It was a good choice: all these years later, I’m still friends with that photographer, and it’s clear he would never have been able to help support a child. I would have had to take a corporate job and never would have written three books and been able to pick up at a moment’s notice to report a story somewhere. And I would have had to live with the continual frustration of a child’s father who didn’t participate much in their upkeep, at least not financially.

I went on the Pill.

I never did have kids. I’ve always thought that if it had been the most important thing in my life, I would have made it happen — just as I’ve somehow managed to manifest traveling around the world to write articles. There was a time when I met my first husband when I thought I would have children — our relationship escalated from dating to marriage because we both thought we wanted to have kids. I even had a few names picked out. When the day came that I announced that now that I was 35, I’d better go off the Pill already, he said he wasn’t sure he wanted to have kids. Actually, what he said was, “I’m not sure I want to have kids with you.”

That was the end of that marriage.

Then I was 36 and single, dating at an age when men could hear the ticking of a biological clock all the way across a crowded bar. They’d go for younger women, of course, and older ones, but scrupulously avoid those aged 35 to 40. Then my eggs expired.

I thought, at some point, about adopting a child as a single mom. But I knew that while some women could handle that, I don’t have the patience. A child who had me for a mom also deserved a dad. If I’d had a partner and had a child, and then something happened to the dad, I’d cope, but I wasn’t going to plan it that way in advance. And there was no dad in sight.

Sometimes I feel wistful about the fact that I don’t have children. I don’t have anyone who will take care of me in my old age who I won’t have to pay, and no one who will inherit my vast collection of scarves from foreign countries (although my niece already has her eye on a cashmere shawl from Italy). I’m sure I missed out on a lot of tender, wonderful experiences, learning about life along with a child. But we can’t have everything in life, and in this life I didn’t have kids.

Even if I did regret not having children — which I don’t, it’s just the way things turned out — I certainly wouldn’t regret having those two abortions. Wrong time, wrong sperm donors: I knew it then, and I know it now.

Early in my career, perhaps because of my experiences, I wrote a lot about abortion. I wrote some of the first coverage of mifepristone, or medical abortion, for Mother Jones; since the “abortion pill” requires two pills and a follow-up visit, it has never superseded clinical abortions because it’s really more difficult for many women, but now, with Roe v. Wade threatened once again, it may become a black-market solution. I also reported a story where I learned how to do a home abortion — a “menstrual extraction” — which isn’t very difficult if you follow the directions and make everything super sterile (though of course, not a good idea in a modern world filled with doctors). Again, I never thought the day would come when women would have to take things into their own hands, but once again — particularly for women who do not have my resources — it is looming. But if abortion had not been legal when I’d had mine, I would have sought out the black-market pills, the underground menstrual extraction. Because women know when they want to have children and when they don’t. It’s their lives, their bodies, and most of them don’t consider it a choice, but a necessity.

  1. Emilia

    I have to admit this story puts the things you’ve written in the past a bit more in perspective. I remember in an article called “Stepping off the mommy track,” you said maybe you shouldn’t have bought maternity clothes before you got a positive pregnancy test. I kind of agreed: I figured you’d never gotten pregnant before so you didn’t even know if you could have had children. Now buying maternity clothes “before the stick turned blue” or whatever you wrote doesn’t seem like such an impulsive decision.

    I might not have made the same choices you did, but I’m glad you’re satisfied with your life.

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The Grandmother’s Tale

The "back alley man" option can never be back on the table

By Suzanne O'Malley

aging
Photo by Jake Thacker on Unsplash

I am as tired of the term “pro-choice” as the current president is of saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I’m tired of putting things nicely; I’m tired of speaking in “pro-choice” or “pro-life” code. I believe in abortion. Here’s why.

Race back in time with me.

I’m sitting across the Astoria, Queens, kitchen table from the grandmother of a serious boyfriend. She’s made her grandson’s favorite meal — meatloaf. She’s wearing a floral housedress and apron. Her white hair is woven into two braids neatly tucked at the nape of her neck. She’s of German descent. She’s Catholic. I don’t know it yet, but she’s had an abortion.

My boyfriend thinks it’s funny to make me uncomfortable. He tells his grandmother that I work for Esquire magazine, and I’m writing about “midnight trampolines.”

Color rises in my face. I am writing a history of the so-nicknamed contraceptive device; I’ve unfortunately shared some bits of what I’ve learned with the boyfriend.

“Midnight trampolines?” she asks.

“Diaphragms,” my boyfriend says. “You know, birth control.”

The grandma chuckles and shakes her head.

“In the Depression?” she chortles. “With what money?” I’m not sure if what she says next is meant to be entirely benign. Maybe I detect the tiniest bit of anger, surely, but could it also be contempt? Contempt that her life could have been as simple as mine seemingly is? “When you got pregnant in the Depression,” she says flatly, “you went to the ‘back alley man’” — in Coney Island.

I’m silent.

“The butcher,” she continues. Seeing no hint of comprehension from me she adds, “the coat hanger man” in the back of an abandoned railroad car.

Every Friday (payday, she tells me), her husband came home drunk, ready for a roll in the sack, and another potential pregnancy. Unless she’d found him first, the family’s cash was spent.

There was already a daughter and a son with a birth defect she says she was barely able to feed. The son ultimately toppled off a cliff to his death.

I don’t remember the rest of that day. I think I ate the meatloaf and went home. I never saw the grandmother again because sometime later the boyfriend and I broke up.

 

Res ipsa loquitur: The thing speaks for itself. Any dilemma I had about abortions ended that day. A first-person account of one (or more) coat hanger abortions was my unexpected tutor. The grandmother’s shameless experience volunteered all those years later stunned me. I learned that, for many uniquely personal and painful reasons, women would always seek abortions. I vowed to myself that those abortions would continue to be legal, shameless — and safer than with a coat hanger.

I went on to write Are You There Alone?, a book about the murder trial of a mentally ill mother, Andrea Yates, who drowned all five of her children in the bathtub of their suburban Houston home. Afterward, I produced the feature-length documentary  Unborn in the USA (2007), tracing the then 30-year history of the right-to-life movement. The New York Times gave the film a good review. Rotten Tomatoes still gives it an 80 percent approval rating. For me, its most noteworthy accomplishment was that both sides of the abortion argument agreed that they were portrayed honestly and fairly. Both sides confessed that on film they seemed to themselves to be strident and uncaring — with the fault laying in their own behavior.

Googling “abortion” today, I learned that to get to substantial content one must first wade through dozens of pages of services advertising custom-written (including footnotes) college term papers on a student’s thoughts about abortion. The last sentence of one from CustomEssayMeister.com says: “Abortion is a very complex issue that should remain a personal decision. The bottom line is that each woman should make her own decision based on her own morals and beliefs.” As much as I hate the cottage industry of made-to-order opinions on abortion, I think that statement sums up the feeling of about 70 percent of the US population.

Eventually, I came to a woman’s editorial published this week in The Baltimore Sun, one of the first fine newspapers to be gutted by tronc, Inc. (formerly Tribune Publishing). Titled “Abortion is much more than a woman’s ‘choice,‘” it begins with the words, “There is a popular pro-choice argument stating that a woman should have control over her own body….” I won’t repeat more, because the writer goes on to equate fetal cells and genes inside a woman’s body to elderly humans on life-support machines. No woman is a machine — life support or otherwise.

Now I am older than when I heard the coat hanger story. But I still learn from the women ahead of me. I have dinner regularly with a group of women, many of whom are lawyers — with opinions. One of them, very chic, once wore a unique gold necklace that she explained was made of men’s pocket watch chains linked together. I liked the imagery of a chain around one’s neck, left over from out-of-style men’s timepieces.

The last time we met, a complaint arose from one end of the dinner table. There ought to be an age at which the legal assault on women’s bodies was over — when one no longer woke up to news of a president absurdly proposing penalties for abortion. Perhaps male Supreme Court justices should recuse themselves from decisions involving Roe v. Wade. My friend looked mad enough to spit. “How long before they stop thinking they can tell me what to do with my body?” she exclaimed. How long indeed? She’s 95.

For me, it’s as simple as taking the “back alley man” option off the table. I don’t want to get into the arguments and justifications or the mass hysteria surrounding abortion. I don’t repeat an argument that I think is specious. I don’t mince words with an opposition I believe is wrong. Nothing gives a lie more power than repeatedly denying and defending it.

Once I heard the grandma’s story, I couldn’t tell a different one. A door closed inside me. It was wrong that this grandmother didn’t have a skilled medical professional to perform her Depression-era abortion. And until she told me that story, it had been no one’s business but hers.

Like I said upfront. I believe in abortion.

 

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How To

Go Part-Time or Hire Part-Time: A Guide

Tips on re-entering the workforce from women who know how to make flexibility pay

By Cari Shane

part-time
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

“If you don’t want to work hard, I can’t help you.”

That’s what Gwenn Rosener was told by one of Washington, D.C.’s, leading search-firm executives, 16 years after graduating with an advanced degree in engineering and with an MBA from Harvard University.

That comment was the catalyst for the co-founding, in 2010, of FlexProfessionals with partners Ellen Grealish (now 50) and Sheila Murphy (now 51). The D.C.- and Boston-based company helps those who have taken time off return to the workforce part-time or with greater than usual flexibility. Not surprisingly, 95 percent of their candidates are women.

Rosener, now 52, had taken off seven years to stay home with her children. In 2009, she wanted to reenter the workforce but also be available for important moments in her children’s lives, so she was looking for jobs with flexible hours. Her degrees and her work experience (nine years at Ernst & Young as a management consultant and six as an engineer with General Electric) didn’t seem to matter. Because, when she uttered the words “part time” and “flexibility,” all the headhunter seemed to hear was, “I want a job that I can ‘dabble about in’ where it won’t matter if my head’s in the game or not,” says Rosener.

“No one is going to hire you,” the headhunter told Rosener.

It’s not just about caring for children. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), more than 34 million Americans provide unpaid care to an aging adult family member. Not only are most of these caretakers women — 60 percent, reported NAC in 2015, and 49 years old, on average — but they are twice as likely as men to switch to part-time work or give up work entirely to take care of a parent.

CoveyClub sat down with Rosener and Grealish to discuss the experiences and transitions that led them to redefine what may just be the two scariest words in the business dictionary: “part time” and “flexible.”

 

Ellen Grealish, Sheila Murphy, and Gwenn Rosener

Photo of Ellen Grealish, Sheila Murphy, and Gwenn Rosener, by Dan Glass Photography

 

CoveyClub: Why did you establish your firm?

Gwenn Rosener: We started FlexProfessionals because of our own struggles trying to find quality part-time work. We believe that full time should not be the only choice for people who want careers. Staying home should not be the other choice for people who opt out of full time due to family or other caregiving demands.

We each had a story of being rejected by our fields, our former bosses, our co-workers (including other women), because we took time off to raise our children. All three of us, Ellen, Sheila and I, stepped away from the workforce.

Ellen Grealish: Like a lot of women, we bonded over how our transitions were stagnating, our feelings of insecurity and our fears of being “outdated” even after stepping away for only a few years … We wanted to create a firm that at its core would give people … the choice to work part-time [in a career, not just a job]. It just didn’t exist. Most staffing agencies won’t touch [part-time] because there’s not enough money in it.  

 

CC: Explain what your firm does?

EG: We match companies (the client) looking for seasoned part-time employees with professionals (the candidate) looking for meaningful part-time or flexible work. Even after eight years, it remains a challenge to get businesses to think about hiring in a different way despite [offering] candidates [with] advanced degrees from some of the nation’s top colleges and graduate schools. Currently, our focus is in the Boston area and the D.C. Metro area (District, Maryland, Virginia).

 

GR: We want to … change the attitude of corporate America. [To do that,] we set up a firm that [presents to businesses] part-time candidate[s who are] extremely bright, capable and productive. Our candidates must have 10+ years of professional work experience. They are paving the way for the next generation of career women [who will demand more flexibility].

 

CC: In setting up FlexProfessionals you received a lot of pushback (and still do) because “part-time” and “flexibility” are laced with such negative connotations. Why is that and why does this need to change?

GR: [There] are preconceived notions [that] part-time job seekers … “lack commitment,” are “dated” and “distracted.” The model is … a hard-sell for large companies [because it’s] not mainstream — it is a new way of thinking about staffing. [We tell them if they] want to attract and retain the growing numbers of college-educated women with children, flexibility in the workplace is a requirement.

EG: There’s a view that those who want to work part-time want to work half as hard. Not true. There’s also a concern among hiring managers that if you don’t need to work from a financial perspective, that you will walk away from the job you’ve been given once it becomes too challenging. Not true. And finally, there is a stereotype that the person who has stepped away from the workforce to take care of family members is automatically stale and has lost her sharpness and her edge. Not true.

Our candidates in this pool know that good part-time work is not easy to find, so when they find a quality position that offers flexibility, they stick. They are not seeking the position as a training ground for a path to a higher rung on the corporate ladder. Our candidates [have been called] “rock stars,” “life savers” and “gems.”

[The tight] labor market [with a 2%] unemployment rate for college-educated professionals [has been good for us because] even big companies are fighting over scarce talent and are looking for new sources. In just the last few months, for the first time, we’ve had several large businesses reach out asking us to help find [part-time] candidates for professional-level positions they haven’t been able to fill.

 

CC: Who is out there in terms of the talent pool?

EG: Of the 12,000+ candidates who are seeking part-time positions through FlexProfessionals in the D.C. area alone:

  • 98% have bachelor’s degrees.
  • More than half have a master’s degree or higher and/or advanced credentials such as CPAs, MBAs, PMPs and JDs.
  • The majority have achieved a position of Manager, Director or higher during their careers.
  • 90% are women ranging in age from 35 to 60.
  • Over 40% are reentering the workforce after a career break.
  • Over 10% are not-ready-to-retire professionals looking to stay in the workforce.

 

CC: What, on average, are these candidates seeking?

EG: What employers often don’t realize is that our candidates view flexibility as part of their compensation … There are 2.5 million women out there who think this way … Most are looking for under 32 hours/week and don’t need benefits — typically [they] have them through a spouse or retirement package — [and] the majority would ultimately like for their part-time work to [transition to] permanent. We also have candidates who will consider full-time flexible roles which we define as allowing them to work at least 8 hours per week virtually. It’s all about the flexibility — it could be 12 hours two times a week or five days a week for 6 hours a day.

 

CC: Five percent of your business is placing those who have retired and want to get back in, but only part-time. What’s this talent pool all about?

GR: For some retirees, it is [about the] money. But for others, what they tell us is they want to remain “relevant” to not feel “invisible.” On the other hand, they want some time to travel, explore, volunteer, and do the things that their full-time careers have not allowed. Part-time or seasonal work is a great way to integrate those dreams.

 

CC: How do you find the right candidates?

GR: There are definitely some candidates who come to us who are not ready to go back. They miss their work identities, but they haven’t thought of the impact going back will have on their lives — even part-time. They haven’t asked important questions like: Does my partner buy into this? How will I cover vacations and summer? What if my kid is sick? So, we’ve developed a set of time-tested questions that have helped weed out those ready and those who need additional time to strategize (which we help with through workshops we also offer). And, as we ask [our] questions, a lot of times candidates will self-select out and realize that having a part-time career is not what they want at that moment. Questions we ask include: 

  • Why are you looking to go back to work?  
  • Why part-time?
  • What are your schedule constraints throughout the year?
  • What would make you want to leave this job?

 

CC: What are some tips you can offer those wanting to get back in?

EG: It’s really important to underscore that the mistake is not taking time off to care for your family (whether an aging parent or children) and the mistake is not wanting a flexible work schedule when returning to your career. Instead, the mistake is not staying current; letting your network atrophy. So … hone in on what to do when stepping away to make the transition back in easier:

1) [Figure out what’s] most important to you: a job close to home, flexible hours, substance of work, title, compensation, work environment? Prioritize.

2) Stay current with technology: Outdated technology skills are a top concern of employers hiring reentry professionals.

3) Let people know your value and believe in your professional self: Don’t apologize for your career break or how long you took off. We need to stop doing that.

4) Network: LinkedIn is great, but make one-on-one personal connections. Keep in touch with former colleagues and bosses [and] reach out to them when you are ready to return.

5) Go public with your job search: Tap into the people you know.

6) Volunteer with purpose: Sharpen skills, grow your network, ignite a passion that [could] become a career.

 

CC: What kinds of other services do you provide?

EG: We offer quarterly workshops to candidates looking to return to work including:

  • Strategies for reentering the workforce after a career break
  • Developing a compelling resume and resume reviews
  • Improve your interview skills and practice your pitch
  • Take the work out of networking

 

CoveyClub: Can you give us an example of a part-time scenario or case study that shows the win/win for client and candidate?

Gwenn Rosener: There was a Boston-based start-up in the later stage of funding. They wanted to allocate most of their funds to R&D but also needed to start building out their back-office infrastructure to prove to investors their operational readiness. They hired:

  • Senior Accountant for 20 hours per week. The candidate had 15 years of experience in senior-level accounting roles for both small and Fortune 500 companies. Had recently moved and was looking to scale back due to family.
  • HR and Benefits Manager for 25 hours per week. First HR hire at the company. She had 15+ years of HR management experience but had taken a 10-year career break after kids. Her husband has extensive travel, so she wanted to keep hours part-time for family.
  • Office Manager for 20 hours per week. Candidate was an Air Force veteran and had held financial and operations roles in the military and as a civilian for universities and a nonprofit organization. She needed part-time work to care for kids.

 

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CONTRIBUTORS

Laura Fraser

Laura Fraser

Laura Fraser is a longtime journalist and author of several books of non-fiction, including the NYT-bestselling memoir An Italian Affair. She is at laurafraser.com and @laurafrasersf on Twitter.

Suzanne O’Malley

Suzanne O’Malley is an award-winning journalist, essayist, and screenwriter. She is the author of Are You There Alone?”: The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates. She produced the documentary Unborn in the USA, wrote for NBC’s Emmy-winning LAW & ORDER, and has taught writing at Yale and Rice Universities.

Bel Banta and Jamie Lee

Bel Banta and Jamie Lee are CoveyClub’s Summer 2018 interns. They are in constant fear that their love of CoveyClub will inspire them to drop out of school to intern full time. Bel is studying English and Political Science at the University of Virginia, writes in her free time, and loves scoping out finds at The Strand bookstore in NYC. Jamie studies Financial Economics and History at Columbia University, is a Varsity swimmer, and loves discovering NYC’s best hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

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