Issue 17

June 2019

Note from the editor, Lesley Jane Seymour

I Refuse to Give up The Word “Potential”

I have a bone to pick with society about the way it uses the word “potential.”

From the day we are born, we are told we all have “potential.”  We spend our entire lives driving for achievement, fixated on a bright, shiny potential greatness that spreads infinitely before us. With every class we take, every extracurricular activity we squeeze into our day, our teachers and parents outline our potential to become a great ballet dancer, a famous cook, a respected doctor, an admired professional athlete, a breakthrough scientist, meaningful teacher, or important writer. When we go to college our potential increases: we are a potential academic, a potential tech magnate, a potential researcher who will find the cure for cancer.

After our first jobs, we become potential candidates for promotion. And so it goes as we hack our way up the corporate mountain, moving sideways toward potential advancement elsewhere, then moving up again as we find our new potential in another organization. Somewhere along the way, if we so choose, we have the potential to have a great family, to find a mate, and have kids with great potential. And we raise that family to have great potential of its own. And then those kids grow up and in order to reach their potential, may move away to pursue their dreams.

And here’s my question: so what happens to us at midlife? Why does the world stop mentioning the word “potential” around us? Ever. It’s as if society has decided we are done, finished, used up.

Well, I’m having none of that.

I believe that at midlife all of us have great potential for a very fulfilling second half of our lives. I believe we have enormous potential — plus the knowledge and savvy, and perhaps finally the funds — to reinvent ourselves. We have the potential to go back to school to pursue new adult dreams. We have the potential to change direction to rethink our relationships with our mates, with our homes, with our communities. We have great potential to contribute in a new way to the corporations we work for or to the world around us. We have the potential to transform from great parents into great coaches and friends for our kids.

Potential is a mindset. Everything we do at CoveyClub is designed to make sure you see that. To ensure you can learn from other women just like you who have been there, done that, and are launching exciting new adventures in their lives. Midlife is the time you get to reset your clock, reset your needs and your wishes, to give the finger to what society says — about everything. This is your time. Covey is here to help you make the most of it.

For that very reason, I hope you will enjoy this issue and these very special pieces we have put together for you. Don’t miss:

Lori Kase’s fabulous interview with the worlds top sleep expert: in “Sleep Tight: Advice for Insomniacs from Britain’s Sleep Guru.” We know sleep is important to you and you gobble up every article we write on it. This is a don’t-miss! New advice, new point of view.

Diane DiCostanzo’s examination of how our instant gratification habit is draining our wallets: “Be 20% Happier by Kicking Your Instant Gratification Habit.” I have heard money managers say: the first thing you should do to straighten out your run-away finances is to drop Amazon Prime.

Learn how, when, and where to find the right professional coach from Meg Jordan’s “Newest Secret to Success Tool? A Professional Coach.” You should know, I’ve heard many very, very successful people talk lovingly about the coaches that helped direct them to their dreams; many have spent thousands on coaches and are glad they did. I was skeptical at first but now I’m giving it a try.

Hear from one of the first female venture capitalists, Edith Dorsen, about what we all still need to do to help women get the investments they need in “Want a Stronger, More Successful Company? Invest in Women. (Duh.)”  We all need to help shepherd these issues along. Even if you are not interested in investing, you need to understand what is happening so you can jump in and give a push when you see an opening to help women in business in your personal life.

Kelly Jackson’s lovely missive on what an old fashioned father should look, smell, act and be like in “What Makes a Man a Daddy.” (I didn’t have one of those: but it’s nice to dream!) Kelly wrote for me at More and has a lovely sense of humor that I just can’t live without.

Maureen Pilkington’s essay “Everything and Nothing to do With That Car Smell” is insightful and poignant at the same time about life in the suburbs.

If you haven’t been reading Mel Miskimen’s hilarious installations of life with her 90-year-old father, do. Go back to the beginning (the pieces are all listed at the bottom of the article). You will laugh and cry with acknowledgment at the same time. This one is called “Hookups in Senior Living” and is simply brilliant at puncturing all of our own prejudices about elderly parents.

And finally, spend a quiet moment with Wendy Weiger’s “How I Found Self-Healing and Wholeness by Trekking into the Wild.” This is really what the potential of midlife is about: an extremely successful Harvard grad giving it all up to find the meaning of life in her connection with nature. If anyone out there knows a publisher, I think this would be a book we would all read for sure.

Thanks for spending time with TheCovey. Join our CoveyConnect today to talk about these pieces and more with women just like you. xo

 

Insights

What Makes a Man a Daddy

A Father's Day reflection on the special bond between Daddy and daughter.

By Kelly Jackson

what makes a man a daddy
Photo by Julie Johnson

I love the word, Daddy. It just sounds like someone you would love. Of course, I tend to think about things as if they are chapters from a good southern novel, so a Daddy for me connotes a big, strong, handsome man in uniform in an old black and white Polaroid from 1943. He’s with his Navy buddies on a crowded ship in the middle of the Pacific. They’re off duty, drunk, smoking and playing poker on an overturned bucket from their bunks below deck.

I picture a Daddy tying his little girl’s shoelaces and teaching her how to make the loop go under and through. He is patient and funny. The little girl knows her life parameters from the inside of his embrace. When she looks up at him, she knows his strength. She hears laughter roar from his mouth, then drift down to her level as cool air does from a ceiling fan on a hot day. That’s enough to make anyone smile.

Kelly Jackson with her father Frank

A Daddy to me is someone who is more comfortable and emotionally available with his baby girl child than he could ever be with his wife…just those moments in time where his intimacy is distinctly a Daddy’s, vulnerable and sweeter than a chocolate truffle. His little girl is the prettiest, smartest and toughest prodigy on the planet…and he’d beat up anyone who disagreed.

Daddys smell of fresh aftershave and starch. When they’re dressed up, they look so smart. They seem indestructible and pretty at the same time. To see a Daddy open the door for his daughter, no matter what age, is crushing in its simplicity and gentleness. To watch this couple dance can break the heart. To see a Daddy kiss his baby girl goodbye on her way to college can make you cry in your car as you drive by…a total stranger, brought to your knees with that  soft, sweet gesture.

Daddys are protective of their young ladies. You’d better be a better man than her Daddy if you want to marry his daughter. He’ll watch you and if you hurt her, he will act like he could kill you, but he’ll rush to her aid and tell her to forget all about you instead because, “Daddy’s here now.” Daddys buy their girls the best presents when they’re sad. Nothing is too good or costs too much for a Daddy to see her smile again.

And, if a Daddy’s young woman-girl has a baby girl of her own, he’ll melt at the sight of her, swoon at her whimper and gasp when she giggles. He gets to do it all over again, and you’ll have to beg him to leave when it’s way past her bedtime. He’ll begrudgingly go home, and when he sees his own love, the woman who gave him his baby girl and her own girl, he’ll cry in her arms at the excruciating beauty the world can hold. Daddy’s an old softie.

A Daddy is even more handsome when his own skin is old and soft. He still smells of aftershave and starch, but also like a tree who will lose its leaves come Fall. He stands stooped like the tree, but with wisdom that comes from all the seasons of his growth. Daddys finally learn how lost their girls would be without them and how rooted they are in the periphery of those lives. They carry a predisposed sadness with them underneath their crooked smiles and inside their clothes wherever they go…just waiting to go.

Frank Jackson, the father Kelly Jackson writes about
Frank Jackson

I have knowledge that Daddys are all of these things. My women friends tell me stories and I laugh and cry with them. I use their Daddys as my own. My Daddy died before I started school, went to my first dance or drove for the first time. He’s watching me though and smiling down at his baby girl child.

Happy Father’s Day to all Daddys.

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Health

Sleep Tight: Advice for Insomniacs from Britain’s Sleep Guru

Dr. Hugh Selsick on what works, what to ignore, and how to wake up happier

By Lori Miller Kase

advice for insomnia
Photo by Gregory Pappas on Unsplash

It never fails: No matter how quickly I fall asleep at bedtime, my bladder wakes me at some ungodly hour, and I am doomed to lie there not sleeping — but fretting about not sleeping — until it’s almost time to wake up.

So I was eager to speak to Hugh Selsick, MD, one of the most sought-after insomnia specialists in Great Britain. Dr. Selsick, founder of that country’s first dedicated insomnia clinic and consultant in psychiatry and sleep medicine at University College London and Guy’s Hospitals, has treated thousands of sleep-deprived patients in the past decade. Not only does he see 1,200 new patients per year at the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, but 80 percent of those going through his cognitive-behavioral therapy program report major improvements in sleep — and nearly half claim to be completely cured.

What’s his secret? A former insomniac himself, Dr. Selsick says his own struggles with sleep led him to “really take patients coming in with insomnia seriously in a way that I think a lot of doctors don’t do.” Insomnia, he insists, is a serious disorder, one affecting approximately 10 percent of the adult population. Dr. Selsick spoke with TheCovey about how women can best battle insomnia and finally attain a good night’s sleep.

TheCovey: Many doctors consider insomnia a symptom of other disorders, but you consider it a disorder in its own right. What led you to this conclusion, and how does it influence your approach to treating insomnia?

Dr. Selsick: First, very simply, about 50 percent of patients who come here don’t have any other disorders, just pure insomnia.  Very often, the mistake doctors have made is to assume that if you’re not sleeping, it’s because you’re stressed or worried about things or depressed. But large numbers of patients will say, “I’m not stressed, I’m not worried about anything, I have a good relationship — and I still can’t sleep.”

The second thing is that up until recently if there was insomnia with depression, it was always assumed that insomnia was a symptom of the depression — so treat the depression and the insomnia will get better. But if you look at longitudinal studies, very often insomnia is the primary condition and can precede the depression by many years. Insomnia is a serious psychiatric condition in its own right and has a significant effect on quality of life. You have to treat both aggressively as independent conditions at the same time.

TheCovey: Our readers are women over 40. Isn’t insomnia even more prevalent in this population? How do hormonal changes in midlife influence sleep?

Dr. Selsick: So they have two challenges: Insomnia is more prevalent in women in general, so they’re going to be a bit more at risk than their male counterparts, and hormonal changes around the time of menopause can have a significant impact on their sleep. Hot flashes can certainly lead to a lot of sleep disruption, but sleep gets worse at this time of life even in women who don’t have hot flashes.

TheCovey: What are the biggest myths regarding insomnia?

Dr. Selsick: So I think the first one that’s important to tackle is the myth that we are supposed to get a certain number of hours of sleep. If people aren’t getting the “mythical eight hours,” they get really anxious.

The second myth is that if one is not getting enough sleep, one should spend more time in bed to try to catch up. But this really just gives you more opportunity to be awake in bed, which makes insomnia worse. That’s why, counterintuitively, we actually ask our patients to spend less time in bed.

The other big myth about insomnia is that it’s not a serious condition, that it’s a lifestyle issue, and that sufferers would sleep better if they followed sleep hygiene advice, like avoiding caffeine in the evening, limiting alcohol consumption, or having a warm bath before bed. If those things were going to work, most insomniacs would have figured it out for themselves.

TheCovey: So if getting eight hours of sleep is not the holy grail when it comes to being well rested — how do you know how much sleep you actually need?

Dr. Selsick: The right amount of sleep for any individual is the amount that makes them feel well and alert, able to concentrate and function for most of the day, most of the days. It’s important to stress “most of the days,” because even good sleepers have bad days. The amount of sleep you needed 10 years ago may not be the amount you need now.  As you get older, you need less sleep.

TheCovey: You say that rather than trying to sleep more, insomniacs should sleep less. You refer to this as sleep scheduling or sleep efficiency training. How does this work? Is this something that women can try on their own?

Dr. Selsick: We work from our patients’ sleep diaries to see how long they are currently sleeping on average. Say you’re getting up at seven in the morning: That’s the time you should set your alarm for, seven days a week. If you are only sleeping for six hours: 7 AM minus 6 hours takes you to 1 AM. That’s your new bedtime. We gradually extend bedtime until the time in bed actually matches patients’ time asleep.

If you want to try this at home, try pushing your bedtime later by 15 minutes per week until you are falling asleep quickly and sleeping through the night. Reducing time in bed works really well for people who have fragmented sleep. By going to bed later, they are taking all those bits of wakefulness they have during the night and getting them out of the way before they get to bed. Compressing time in bed increases your sleep drive. What people will often find is that things like pain, the need to go to the bathroom, or hot flashes are less likely to wake them if the pressure to sleep is higher. And even if they do wake up, they are able to get back to sleep much more quickly.

TheCovey: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been gaining traction in the treatment of insomnia. Can you tell me how — and why — this kind of therapy works for those struggling with sleeplessness?

Dr. Selsick: The vast majority of our patients come through the CBT program. We use behavioral techniques to optimize sleep habits. This means making sure patients get up at the same time every morning regardless of how they slept or what time they got in bed, making sure they don’t nap during the day (any nap during the day will in effect be stealing that sleep from night) and making sure they don’t do anything in bed other than sleep.

Good sleepers usually go to bed because they’re feeling sleepy. And what good sleepers do in bed is sleep, so the act of going to bed actually makes them sleepy. Whereas people with insomnia spend a lot of time in bed awake, feeling frustrated, anxious, and uncomfortable. For them, the bed is associated with wakefulness. We want to change that association. You aren’t allowed to do anything in your bedroom other than sleep and sex. You’re not allowed to work, talk on the phone, watch TV, meditate, pray, exercise, iron clothes — nothing other than sleep or sex.

If you go to bed and don’t fall asleep in about 15 minutes, instead of lying in bed feeling frustrated, get out of bed and out of the bedroom, and read or listen to a podcast or do something you find relaxing. Only go back to bed when you are battling to keep your eyes open. That might happen after two minutes or after two hours or sometimes it might not happen at all. This treatment has side effects: People feel a bit worse before they get better, but that’s part of the process.

The point of doing this is to assure that if you are awake you are not awake in the bedroom.

Then we do things like teach[ing] them relaxation techniques to help them fall asleep. We look at ways to have a wind-down period before going to bed: We have patients take stock of the day and write a list of what they have to do the next day, so they feel a sense of control.

We tackle some of their anxieties about sleep itself — which is often what perpetuates insomnia — by giving them simple techniques to use if their head is busy when they go to bed. One is to think the word “the” in their head — largely because it’s a completely neutral word. It seems to be a very effective and simple way of quieting the mind and stopping worrisome thoughts from really getting a hold of you. This is the cognitive part.

TheCovey: What advice can you offer for those who can’t make it to your clinic?

Dr. Selsick: Studies have shown that if you learn CBT from a book or pamphlet or PDF, and do it, it works. Very little of the therapy happens in the room, it happens when you take the techniques home. Our job as therapists is to convince people to do the techniques long enough for them to work.

Simple things to do first: Set an alarm for the same time every day, seven times a week, regardless of what time you’ve gone to bed, and don’t nap. Try the simple way of doing sleep scheduling, progressively pushing your bedtime 15 minutes later each week until you find that when you go to bed you fall asleep within 15 minutes and don’t spend more than 15 minutes awake during the night. And remember, the bed is just for sleeping.

TheCovey: What about “natural” sleep supplements, like melatonin, valerian, or the increasingly touted CBD oil? Do they help?

Dr. Selsick: In the UK, melatonin is a prescription drug, classified as a sleeping medication, and can be effective. It’s very mild, and we think it’s generally safe. (In the US, where it’s classified as a supplement, quality control is not going to be as tight, so some brands may be better than others, and quality may vary from tablet to tablet.) There is very scant research on CBD oil, so we can’t really say from a scientific perspective whether it works or not. To be honest, there isn’t much evidence that any food or supplements are effective in promoting sleep. If those things worked, I wouldn’t have a job.

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Money

Be 20% Happier & Richer: Kick Your Instant Gratification Habit

Our cashless, one-click spending habits are running up debt and draining our joy

By Diane di Costanzo

Instant gratification means burning money
Photo by JP Valeru for unsplash

First the bad news: Research shows that our one-click ways of shopping, dining and entertaining ourselves can make us a little blind to how much we’re paying for all this convenience.

The Birth of Instant Gratification

And it’s a lot: a 2018 Harris Poll reveals that Americans are willing to spend nearly 30% more if it means saving time. True, that preference was seen most often among millennials. But I’d argue there’s a kind of modern, mid-life woman who acts more like a digital native than data scientists would guess. We’re busy. We’re addicted to our devices. We have disposable income (or think we do). Sure, we might skip young-skewing offerings like Snapchat and gaming apps, but when it comes to digital spending, we’re all in.

And by “we” I mean me, as it turns out.

My list of online services and subscriptions include Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, BritBox (oops, meant to cancel that one after my free week), Audible (ditto), Spotify, The New York Times, Squarespace, LinkedIn Premium, Dollar Shave Club and, until it tanked last year, Movie Pass. They add up to about $100 per month or $1,200 per year. There’s also my discretionary — and also unexamined by me until right this very minute — spending on Uber (to avoid taking the subway), Seamless (to avoid making dinner), Groupon (to avoid, um, overpaying for things) and Amazon Prime (to avoid ever shopping in a store again).

And I’m flirting with Rent the Runway, the garment-renting service that would set me back $159 per month, should I commit to it after my discounted first month.

The Danger of Invisible Spending

If you’re wondering how all this digital spending has remained so invisible to me, here it is in a nutshell: because it is invisible to me.

Yes, the recurring subscription fees show up as credit card charges every month. But I think of Netflix, for instance, as costing me just $14.99 — not $180 a year. More insidiously, my well-worn transaction paths were purpose-built to be “frictionless,” to use the term coined by the monsters at tech companies. I know this because I work in digital marketing and we partner with programmers who work hard to make the digital “path to purchase” as obstruction-free as possible, with the “buy now” button practically clicking itself.

That said, in my personal life, I actually appreciate it when apps hustle me toward a fast transaction.

A nearly everyday example: In the time it takes me to muse, fleetingly, about just how much I don’t feel like getting on the subway, the Uber app finds me on its map and shows me how many drivers are a minute or two away. It also knows where I want to go when I select “office” as my destination, relaying the address — along with the fastest way to get there — to the driver. No physical cash or card is required; nor is a tip.

“Confirm UberX?” the app asks.

Hell, yes.

Alexa, the Enabler

Shopping via smart speakers offers an even more expedient path to purchase.

I have an Alexa that’s hooked up to my Amazon Prime account so that it can send me the stuff I simply ask for out loud. I’m like a storybook princess who needs only to voice my desires (“Nespresso pods!”) and they’re ordered up and on their way. No button-clicking is required and I don’t even see the price.

By contrast, think back 10 years ago. Remember when taxis didn’t accept credit cards? Remember having to get your hands on an actual 20-dollar bill before you got in the cab? Remember watching the meter tick up so fast you’d ask the driver to drop you at the next corner — close enough! — before another dollar was added to the fare? Remember having to calculate the tip in your head?

You know what we’d call all that these days?

Friction.

Slow Service = Saving Money

Likewise, remember the days when you’d stand in line at the CVS, the handle of your shopping basket cutting into the flesh of your arm, contemplating your purchases? Remember getting buyer’s remorse before you bought a pricey impulse item, surreptitiously shoving it into the candy rack?

The line was friction too. As were the physical dressing rooms in brick-and-mortar clothing stores, quiet spaces that left you alone with your thoughts: “Do you really want this garment?” your reflection asked you. “Can you afford it?”

Friction is being replaced by evermore enticing and convenient digital services — with new ones announced weekly, or so it seems.

On the day I’m writing this, Apple debuted Apple News+, a subscription service that bundles content from some 200 publications, for a cost of $9.99 per month. Apple continues to tease Apple TV+, a streaming entertainment platform designed to rival Netflix’s original movies and shows, launching this fall. The monthly price to consumers has yet to be announced, but we do know Apple has spent $1 billion on original programming and there’s news of a series starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Steve Carell, from the producer of “House of Cards”, about the making of a morning news show. That’s worth $15 a month alone, right?

Last week, Instagram started offering Checkout on Instagram, partnering with a beta-roster of 23 retailers. As of this writing, you can swipe to purchase from Prada, Zara, and Outdoor Voices, to name just a few, with a credit card you attach to your account.

Sample Boxes: An Invisible Money Drain

Finally, monthly boxes of sample products continue to proliferate, offering members a convenient way to try out the best stuff on the market. The box model kicked off in 2010 with Birchbox, a curation of beauty products, currently charging $13 per month. There are now boxes for knitters, crafting and sex toys, as well as a service called Battlbox, with products for survivalists. And cats. There are boxes for dogs and cats.

Money guru Suze Orman has long sounded warning bells about the financial impacts of saving time over money. “We need to stop wasting our money on convenience,” she says with her characteristic firmness. “It adds up big time.”

OK, Suze, we’ll use our calculators to remind us that a monthly charge of 15 bucks equates to $180 annually, which, if invested to yield a 5% gain, would net us about $190. However, because we’ve agreed that we’re modern, mid-life woman, we’re keeping Netflix — but will consider these alternative, and less bleak, ways to rethink our digital spending.

5 Tips for Kicking the Instant Gratification Habit

1. KonMari Your Digital Spending

I’ve done this and so should you. Why? Because nothing sparks less joy than credit card debt. Start by making a list of your recurring monthly expenses, which is sure to reveal your own personal BritBox — i.e., the subscription you forgot to cancel. Try to eliminate the ones you use least knowing that ….

2. Breaking Up is Hard to Do (But Do it Anyway)

ClassPass is especially clingy, compelling would-be quitters to engage with a chatbot before they’re served the “close my account” button. The bot throws in free points along with a lower monthly fee, not previously offered. If you’re a person who loves a deal, you’ll also likely be … a person who still has ClassPass membership (like me). Similarly, Angela at LinkedIn Premium emailed me immediately after I canceled my premium account, offering me a free month. If you think you can game it and actually “quit” your way into free services, go for it. But I suspect that the house always win.

3. Consider Using PayPal For All Subscription Services

Here’s why: PayPal lets you set up automatic payments and also cancel those payments, all in the app. You don’t have to try to do it directly with the service. It also lets you sort types of charges (subscriptions, for instance) in a monthly activity report, so you can keep an eye on your totals. Your banking app might have this function, too (mine doesn’t).    

4. Don’t Shop While Sad on Social Channels

Or when you’re feeling deprived. Or when you’re vulnerable to imagery depicting other people’s perfect lives. We’ve all read reports that link feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem to social media use. Now imagine putting a “shop now” button next to all that stuff that’s making you feel like your life is lacking. Dangerous. Avoid.

5. Use Digital Shopping Carts to Buy Time (But Not Necessarily Stuff) Is the mere act of putting a dress in a digital shopping cart enough to give you a little hit of dopamine? Or “hearting” a bunch of products as a way of saving them? Do that, then exit the site or app to give yourself time to ponder the purchase. This is especially true on Amazon Prime, the originator of the “one-click” transaction.

Prime throws free two-day shipping into the bargain, playing to our love of both a deal and nearly instant gratification. But there is, quite literally, a cost: Amazon Prime users ring up more than double the dollar amount spent by non-member Amazon users — a whopping $1,400 per year versus $600 per year, according to research conducted last year by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. So while Prime promises to save you money and time, the bottom line confirms my suspicion: when the house in question is Amazon, it always wins.

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Hot flash!

72 percent of women voters find the increase in female representation "exciting" and 66 percent say it's a "good thing." Looking ahead to the next Congress, they anticipate that women politicians will make more progress than their male counterparts on the issues they care about most, such as health care, prescription drug costs, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and promoting civility in our politics.

— Women & Politics Institute/Benenson Strategy Group poll of women midterm voters 2018

The Meaningful Life

How I Found Self-Healing and Wholeness by Trekking into the Wild

She found success —like her father — in academia. But she found her true love — and redemption — in nature

By Wendy Weiger

person staring up into the stary night
Photo by graphixart

At the age of twenty, I was a budding scientist at the top of my Harvard College class.

My life to that point had been shaped by my father, a research physician who valued scholarly achievement above all else. He made it clear that my aptitude for math and science obligated me to pursue a career in academia. I owed it to the world. If that was not where my heart lay, then it was my heart that needed adjusting, not his expectations. I strove to live up to the high standards he set for me, his only child, whatever the cost.

During school breaks, I leased a horse at a farm in Maryland, not far from my parents’ home in the Washington, DC suburbs. I spent my days roaming fields and woods and streams. While I was riding, I felt more alive, more joyful, than I ever felt in a lecture hall or laboratory. Back then, it never occurred to me that joy should be an integral part of my life, rather than something I tried to squeeze in at the margins of the daily slog.

Life With an Erratic Father

As I toiled away at my books, my once-brilliant father gradually unraveled, crippled by bipolar disorder. In his paranoia, he amassed an impressive firearm collection, which escalated the danger of his mood swings to potentially lethal levels. A few days before Christmas of my junior year in college, my mother and I were sitting together in my room when he suddenly appeared, pointed a gun directly at us, and threatened to kill us both. Moments later, he ambled off again without pulling the trigger.

Through all the drama, my mother remained strong. She was an unfailing source of unconditional love for me, even as she tried her best to keep herself safe and to guide my father to effective treatment. But at the end of my junior year, my mother came suddenly, perilously close to death. Without warning, an aneurysm in an artery at the base of her brain burst open, flooding the space around her brain with blood. After risky emergency surgery, she lapsed into a coma that lasted several days. Losing her seemed unthinkable. I remained in a numb state of limbo until, to my great relief, she awakened.

Four months later, I was home for a visit before the start of my senior year. My mother was still recovering from her surgery. One terrible afternoon, my father sat down on the edge of my bed and put a shotgun in his mouth. This time he pulled the trigger.

Transcending Tragedy Through Nature

The foundation of my world cracked. Though I continued on my previously planned academic trajectory, working toward both an M.D. and a Ph.D., raging emotional waters threatened to suck me under and drown me. There were some periods of reprieve: with friends, with family, and especially out in nature.

One magical evening, camping with my mother on the wild shores of Lake Superior, I experienced a timeless moment that is forever woven into the fabric of my spirit. I felt myself dissolve and become part of all that was around me: the rocks beneath me; the water before me; the vast, quiet night. My mind expanded into a sense of peace that was both liberating and strengthening. In that moment, my heart first heard the call that would eventually transform my life — but I was not yet ready to grasp its full significance.

Seven years after my father’s death, I learned that a beloved aunt was dying of ovarian cancer. The impending loss opened the floodgates of all the pain I had tried so hard to suppress. I plummeted into a dark depression. I contemplated following my father in suicide. But I did not really want to die. What I wanted was to find a reason to live. I took the summer off from the lab where I was working and went home to Maryland. As I helped to care for my aunt, I began intensive psychotherapy.

In between therapy sessions, I returned to the rural trails I had ridden before. The burden of my pain lifted as I allowed the landscape to absorb me. I reveled in hot sunlight and cool shade, in the vibrant growth of woods and fields, in the glowing colors of wildflowers, in the clear brown water rippling and gurgling its way down streams.

As I let go of past and future, the Earth gathered me into her calming embrace. My heart opened to the natural miracles that surround us, and my stifling soul began to breathe. The brief but powerful sense of union I had felt on the shore of Lake Superior was maturing into a deep connection with nature that would sustain me for decades to come.

Leaving Harvard for the Woods of Maine

In the fall, I went back to Harvard, but with a new spirit. I hoped to share the healing I found in the natural world with other struggling souls. But as I completed my degrees and moved on to postgraduate medical research, I realized that nature itself was in dire need of healing.

I was shocked to learn that our careless use of natural resources could doom half of Earth’s species to extinction. Despite our technological achievements, we still depend on healthy ecosystems for life-support services as basic as air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat. When we kill off other species, we undermine our own. Over time, I came to understand our growing environmental crisis as the biggest threat to public health that humanity has ever faced. In the words of eco-theologian Thomas Berry, “We cannot have well humans on a sick planet, not even with all our medical technologies.”

So, at forty-two, I left Boston’s halls of academe and moved to the wilds of northern Maine. My plan was to write a book that would guide readers to a deeper, more joyful connection with nature: both to renew their own well-being and to inspire them to take action to heal the Earth. I saw my calling as the practice of medicine in a broader sense.

Getting to know my new backyard was both challenging and exhilarating. The Maine Woods offer millions of acres of rugged mountains, tumbling streams, and clear lakes — home to moose and lynx, boreal birds and brook trout. I learned outdoor skills including backpacking, whitewater canoeing, and snowshoeing. As a middle-aged woman, I found there were ways to work around my physical limitations. An instructor patiently taught me how to lift a canoe from the ground up to my shoulders by rolling it over my hip. I broke backpacking trips into segments that were shorter than the mileage covered by twenty-something hikers, and I took more breaks to enjoy the views along my way.

Over the years, I’ve trekked hundreds of miles up mountains and down rivers and earned my license as a Registered Maine Guide. For me, the first steps or paddle strokes on a long outdoor journey are among life’s greatest gifts. Nothing equals the sense of pure, wild freedom as my spirit reaches forward, anticipating the adventures ahead. And I find compensation for the rigors of the trail in what I like to call “alternative luxuries”: the cozy warmth of a campfire at night, the dawn chorus of songbirds in the morning, a swim under a gaspingly-cold waterfall on a hot sunny day.

When a massive development proposal threatened my chosen home, I dove into activism, coordinating a grassroots advocacy group through a years-long battle. We couldn’t afford to hire legal representation, so I put in many long days and even longer nights, learning skills usually practiced by attorneys as best I could. In the end, the efforts of our group, working in conjunction with several allied organizations, contributed to significant improvements to the original proposal. Nearly 400,000 acres were placed under easements that will protect the land for generations to come.

A New Journey at 57

Now, at fifty-seven, my journey continues. I’m heading back out of the woods into the wider world, book manuscript in hand, seeking a publisher. I’m starting a nonprofit that will share the connection-with-nature practices I describe in my book. I plan to offer nature-focused workshops in which I’ll guide participants in mindful experience of the wild — fully engaging their hearts, minds, spirits, and senses — and invite them to join me in Earth-centered meditation and celebration. This spring, I’m hiking along the American Discovery Trail between Delaware and West Virginia, teaching and learning as I go.

At an age where many people are looking toward retirement, I’m just beginning a major new phase of my life’s work. The uncertainty of what lies ahead undeniably feels scary at times. But — even though the trail may be rugged — I find purpose in trekking toward my next goal.

In the woods that are so dear to my heart, trees continue to grow throughout their lifespan, even into old age. I take them as my models and look forward to my future growth.

  1. Tarun Johns

    So beautifully written — a testament to your courage and ambitions. And you will have real impact in bringing folks to recognize the comfort found in the natural world and the need to care for that world.

  2. Jessamyn Finneran

    Yes. These words resonate for me. Thank you. This may be “cliche,” but every journey begins with one step. Here’s to lifting our feet!

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Business

Want a Stronger, More Successful Company? Invest in Women. (Duh.)

One of the few female VCs on why midlife women are good for business

By TheCovey

Edy Dorsen sees more and more women 40+ pitching their companies to Women’s Venture Capital Fund, the firm she started in 2013. What makes going out on their own so appealing in midlife? Older entrepreneurs have both the desire to carve their own path and the experience to make it work, Dorsen says. She insists funding women isn’t a feel-good endeavor; it just makes good business sense. Studies show that gender diverse leadership generates better financial performance and greater productivity and innovation.

In this enlightening and informative Q&A, Dorsen dives deep into what the venture capital landscape looks like today, and how women over 40 can make a splash and get the money they need to grow their businesses.

CoveyClub: When you created your firm in 2013, leadership teams that included women got 5% of VC funding. (And that’s a low bar.) Now, according to Fortune in 2017, Female founders got 2% of VC dollars. Everyone knows the stats about how women founders offer better returns, how diverse teams return higher revenue, and yet the numbers don’t move. What are we not saying or doing?

Edith Dorsen: Barriers continue to be perpetuated. There’s a bent in Silicon Valley to fund entrepreneurs who are part of successful teams. And in most cases, women have not previously been part of successful tech teams. They’re not in the club, and it’s hard to break into the club. I call it the invirtuous circle.

At least now it’s talked about a lot: the unconscious bias. We all have it. We need to call it out more and more. But frankly VC is a very high-risk business. In high-risk anything, we feel more comfortable with those who look and sound like us, and who have experiences like our own. So until more decision-makers with capital come from diverse backgrounds, we will continue to butt up against conscious or unconscious bias.

So how do we move ahead? Responsibility lies with investors — not just with VCs. People and institutions who give their money to funds have to demand that diverse teams and female entrepreneurs be allowed equal opportunities to pitch and be heard.

CoveyClub: What about older women, 40+? What percent of VC money are they getting?

Edith Dorsen: In our first fund, we probably backed more mid-career women. I really liked them. These women would come out of the tech industry with 15-plus years of experience and skills.

But in general [being an entrepreneur] is more challenging. You can’t just step out of a big corporation and decide to be an entrepreneur — you have to have a skillset and a proclivity for it. There are funds which will not embrace older women, so you have to find those who are open to entrepreneurs of different backgrounds and experiences.

On the VC side, there was one group of VCs, like three men I went to school with at Harvard Business School, who became stunning successes right out of the gate. I had no interest in VC when I graduated. I would not have succeeded. For me, I went out and did other things. I worked on Wall Street and at McKinsey, in senior management roles, in operating and non-financial roles. It all made me a better VC. It makes it easier to relate to our portfolio leadership teams and contribute to their success.

CoveyClub: What do you think of the studies that say that when pitching, women get more questions about avoiding loss, while more men get questions about expanding revenue?

Edith Dorsen: I’m sure there are many VCs who don’t give to entrepreneurs who look or sound different — female, ethnic, older — who don’t fit their profile of what is successful. It is a privileged little bastion of small groups that are unscrutinized and unregulated. Private clubs, almost. They have functioned like that and continue to do so.

How do you respond when it happens? Turn it around, be agile. Don’t be hostile. Respond in a way that is selling, promoting, advocating. Get there by practicing a lot. It’s just like a job interview, but more important. The more you practice the better you get. After each time you pitch, evaluate what went well and what didn’t so that becomes a basis for improvement. That’s what I learned from Wall Street. When we came out of a big meeting, we always had a post-mortem on what worked and what didn’t.

CoveyClub: What do you say about women using more commanding presentation styles? I’ve actually heard a story about one woman thinking that by throwing her books down on the table with a loud noise started the discussion off right?

Edith Dorsen: I would never do that. It wouldn’t be well-received among the investors I pitch to. Yes, you have to project confidence. To know your subject matter, and project self-awareness and humility. At Women’s Venture Capital Fund, that’s what we look for in the entrepreneurs we fund. There’s a wonderful book called The Confidence Code by Claire Shipman. They did a lot of research. They found there was a gap in perception that women have faced. [It has to do with] overzealousness for reaching perfection. We beat ourselves up for being imperfect. Men stand three feet from the mirror, think they look terrific and pat themselves on the back. Women stand three inches away and tear themselves apart.

If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing for young and mid-career women, it would be that. I plead totally guilty to that for a long time. Only when I got into venture capitalism I realized that perfection did not exist.

CoveyClub: Should women founders look for VCs who are female?

Edith Dorsen: No. Any founder needs diverse sources of capital. For any one round of financing, you want multiple VCs to participate. I would explore and approach VC funds where there are women. But it’s more important that the fund fits your criteria. It gets me annoyed when we get approached and there’s no fit with the entrepreneur. They haven’t done their homework.

Also, there’s not enough of us. So if you limit yourself to female VCs,  you’re limiting your prospects.

CoveyClub: What do you see are the differences in what men and women invest in? Why are there those differences?

Edith Dorsen: Products and services geared to families and children have been a hard place for men to appreciate the sizable market opportunities. But [there are two companies in our portfolio], HopSkipDrive, which is ride sharing for children, and Riveter, for professional women, are both high-growth, early stage opportunities that male VCs did embrace. Maybe they wouldn’t have done it years ago, but it’s a sign of more progress.

CoveyClub: How long do you think it will be before we get to true financial equality?

Edith Dorsen: It will be a long time. [But I also] think that’s not a fair question. I don’t believe women are responsible today for 50% of start-up companies. The majority of small businesses are run by women either exclusively or with male partners.

We have made some discernible progress on the angel investing side. Companies that are further along, that have scaled, and are cash-flow positive: There are stunning examples of female success in that arena. By the time you’ve demonstrated that level of success, gender issues fall by the wayside. It’s more in the middle area where funders have to take a leap of faith, in series A and B. That’s where we have to apply our efforts. It will take a while, but there’s been more talk in the last couple of years. I hope capital will flow.


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Insights

Everything and Nothing To Do with That Car Smell

What a terrible odor in the trunk of her car taught her about herself and her next step in life

By Maureen Pilkington

Illustration of woman with a car and home
Illustration by TaLeah Schoetmer

I had a roomy silver Mercedes sedan and when it came rolling up the driveway it had that X-factor, the way certain dogs prance simply because they know they are show dog material. My son’s friends loved it, too; the key players from our local high school football team eyed the car like it was a girl. I even let them use it once in an emergency — their kind of emergency — after I got the emergency text.

We all believed only really good songs came on the radio when you drove it. Other cars were lemons that way.

I parked it outside our garage so I could easily lug in the grocery bags, our view coming at me like a tidal wave in slow motion: the Mill Pond reflecting clouds as sluggish as cake batter, the narrow channel of the marina curling into the Long Island Sound, deckhands tossing rope.

So what was that smell? I looked at the ghoulish rhododendron and figured the soul of a dead animal lay beneath. Was it the stocky gopher I watched from the kitchen window whose fur rippled as he worked his tunnel system down by the seawall?

My husband traveled incessantly in what I called the wild west of investing, so presenting these house issues during our two-minute updates didn’t seem worth it. He was gone so much I got shy when he returned. I was writing on the sly since finishing graduate school, the frame of my schedule gone. I worked mostly in my car on the dash while waiting for football practice to end, or basketball, or track.

There was a blue BMW around town with a license plate that said Mom’s Desk. My car, however, felt like Mom’s Villa. I arrived early at pick-up and parked as far from the maddening parking lot crowd as I could, as if I, too, stunk.

I sniffed around the car, and like all suburban smells, I expected it to drift off with the next wind. I looked down at my feet and saw the spilled nuggets of koi food (to enhance vibrant color) that dropped in a trail from our garage to my husband’s fish pond that held koi as attentive to him as Labs.

Since my writing time came in small bits, I wrote short stories: a man who unknowingly drags his wife when the hem of her long coat gets caught in the car door on New Year’s Eve; a young woman who drives to the cemetery and brings her father back from the dead between one and three in the afternoon as he drifts through doors and windows evading her questions, leaving a musty odor.

In the midst of parenting and writing and various other jobs, I cooked too much, also in secret, although the football team was on to me on that one. I felt the pull of grocery stores the way some feel the pull of a shoe department. I loved seeing finished work: apple tarts, daily breads, and muffins, homemade manicotti each a delicate crepe.

When guests asked me who my caterer was, I said the local one.

My mom found me painting scenes on brown paper stretched across the garage (prospective Christmas wrapping paper) and asked, “Where do you get these ideas and why are you hiding them?”

I had a husband who knew Palo Alto better than our own town and worked with women who carried Louis Vuitton briefcases as slim as slide rules, yet I was the one under her suspicion.

Now the umbrella tucked under my driver’s seat had the dead-mouse-in-the-wall smell, too. I started parking the car on the other side of the driveway away from the stench-in-hiding and used the old station car whenever I had to go out. My writing villa unusable, I was feeling increasingly “off.”

One Sunday afternoon I returned home from a walk and my husband, red-eye-flight-cranky, was hunched over the open trunk of my car, a bandana tied around his nose, flinging objects like fireworks falling in the air behind him: a deflated football, chips, books from my traveling library. I felt like a wife on the Sopranos having done something really, really bad. As I got closer I knew the koi were lined up at the stone lip of the pond waiting for their master to bring pellets — and evidence.

My husband picked up his leaf skimmer and poked into the deepest area of the trunk, moving it the way a chef maneuvers his pizza stick into the coal oven. With a grunt he pulled out his catch, balancing the lump in a plastic bag until it rolled off and onto the ground. He jabbed at it, pushing back the plastic bag with the stick to reveal what was inside.

One whole raw chicken turned gray.

Susan Sontag said, “To write is to know something.” I write down what I see and my perceptions, real or imagined, will show me the truth — the back of a baby’s head, a vulnerability; monks singing Gregorian chant, a melody to calm my thoughts. When I looked at the chicken that had been forgotten in the trunk of my car, I saw my rituals, standing still in time, keeping me whole. They encouraged me to show up for myself. To be fully present with a certain joy.

They had become a secretive spiritual practice and any exposure, I thought, would spoil them.

We had to sell my car with the immortal smell.

In what seemed like an instant, our kids left for their own careers. My husband travels a tad less. I drive a two-seater. And I am writing a novel at a desk, in an office that overlooks the koi, listening to good songs if the satellite stars are aligned just right.

  1. Linda Simones

    I love how this captures so much of a life in such a short space. Bravo, Maureen.

  2. Nancy Evelyn Swallow

    Maureen Pilkington unfailingly captures how the mundane shines light on the ethereal — in ways you would not otherwise see or understand. This is wonderful!

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How To

Your Newest Secret-to-Success Tool? A Professional Coach

A Covey guide to who, what, when, where, and how to find the right one for you

By Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, NBC-HWC

Professional coaching creates change: neon word
Photo by Ross Findon for unsplash

Sooner or later, you’ll hear that someone you know is working with a professional coach — be it for personal growth, health goals, weight loss, or career advancement; just about anything qualifies for coaching these days.

Perhaps you’ve been tempted to go after your 2019 goals with a professional coach and wondered where to start. I love sharing the why, what and how of coaching since I’ve seen it produce astounding breakthroughs in people frustrated by several previously dashed attempts at change.

A Professional Coach Will Help You Change Your Habits

The following is a guide to the different types of coaching, and what to look for in a professional coach. But first I want to declare that after spending decades as a behavioral health specialist-RN and trying to get people to change their habits for the better, I grew frustrated with our customary ways of educating, advising, directing and yes, sometimes admonishing our patients.

Changing health habits is tough work for everybody. Once I learned the art and science of coaching, I had much more success in helping people improve their lifestyle choices and habits. Now I teach coaching psychology at a graduate program in San Francisco, have authored a leading textbook in the field, How to Be a Health Coach, and serve on the board of the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching, which just launched the first national board certification for health and wellness coaching (see www.ichwc.org).   

Coaching is under my skin and I’ll never try to preach behavior or mindset change without it. And I predict, that once you get to experience the respectful, nonjudgmental and powerful coaching dialog, you may wonder what took you so long to work with a coach.

The Origins of Professional Coaching

When most people think of a coach, they imagine a typical sports coach, which is a far cry from what a professional business, executive or life coach looks like. But it was indeed a sports coach and tennis pro, W. Tim Gallwey (“The Inner Game of Tennis“), who is often credited with rethinking how coaches should talk to athletes. Gallwey insisted that results would improve if coaches dropped the drill sergeant stance and instead, nurtured and coaxed forward the inner drive and instincts already present in athletes. This “coach approach” gained traction in the business world, and together with some groundbreaking concepts from the father of humanistic psychology, Carl Rogers, (i.e., building empathy, trust, and rapport through a supportive alliance), the field of professional coaching underwent explosive growth from the 1980s onward.

Life Coaching

Life coaching is a catch-all term that refers to any type of coaching focused on goal attainment. Life coaches are individuals from many walks of life. Some have attended professional coach training programs, but most are simply individuals with a desire to help others obtain their dreams. There is nothing to stop anyone from calling herself a “life coach” and indeed, many enthusiasts who believe they’ve mastered the game of life are happy to set themselves up as experts. Life coaches who truly follow a coaching process should partner with their clients, co-creating action plans and a means for being accountable and tracking progress.

If you’re going to work with a life coach, ask if they’ve been through an actual coach training program.

Psychotherapists who want to diversify their practices beyond addiction and trauma recovery talk about adding a coach approach so they can work with people who don’t need therapy, who they view as whole, resourceful and not in need of  “fixing.” The positive psychology work of Seligman and research on optimism and positive emotions by Fredrickson strengthened the field of life coaching with evidence-based studies and theoretical frameworks. Psychotherapist/coaches and life coaching really began to proliferate in the 2000s, as human potential seminars and the number of “how-to” books on happiness skyrocketed.

Executive or Business Coaching

Corporations brought business or executive coaches into work settings primarily for their leaders. These business coaches used a coach approach of evoking, not educating, facilitating not directing, and most of all avoided a top-down authoritative tone with the C-Suite personnel. Once again, empowering dialog that evoked the interests and preferences of the executives was the preferred style. Many were also business consultants who had special expertise in managing teams, accountability, financial oversight, or strategic planning.

However, true coaching should always be distinguished from consulting, according to the chief organization that wrote the “rule book” on professional coaching — the International Coach Federation. ICF has supported tens of thousands of coaches globally and established three levels of professional coach credentials: Associate, Professional, and Master Certified Coach.   

Look for certified coaches at the ICF website, or peruse hundreds of coach training programs around the world that teach the ICF core competencies, adhere to ICF professional standards, and emphasize the proper scope of practice and ethical code of conduct. So many ethical and professional questions arise in the context of coaching that you really should only work with a coach who has met at least a minimum standard of education and training and then has earned a recognized, valid credential. That means they have passed a certification exam in which their knowledge of proper coaching process, structure, and professional conduct was thoroughly tested.

For example, how soon after a coaching relationship may a coach have an intimate relationship with a client, if ever? Or is it a breach of ethics for a coach to insist that the client buy commercial products that the coach has a financial interest in? Is the information shared in a coaching relationship confidential? What if the boss hires a coach for members of her team, and then expects the coach to disclose what was discussed privately with each member? Who is the coach accountable to?

Health and Wellness Coaching

For a while there, anyone who looked good in yoga pants and excelled at making green juices was calling herself a health coach. Over 100 health coach training programs produced a couple of generations of enthusiasts, most without formal training in health and wellness. The lack of a universal definition of health and wellness coaching or standards for professional practice then inspired the formation of the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching, now called National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching. This nonprofit organization was a collaborative effort among 75 stakeholder groups from medicine, health promotion, nursing, wellness, exercise physiology, fitness, psychology, nutrition, and human services sectors.

With the publication of peer-reviewed journal articles on educational and training standards, ICHWC spread the results of a job task analysis that outlined the chief competencies expected of a health and wellness coach, including a fundamental knowledge of healthy lifestyle information, as you’d find from credible sources such as the CDC or National Institutes of Health. The ICHWC board joined forces with the National Board of Medical Examiners to produce the first national certification, launched in 2017.

Over 2000 coaches have now earned the credential National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC), demonstrating their applied theoretical knowledge, after having graduated from an ICHWC approved training or educational program. A directory of board-certified coaches is available at the www.ichwc.org.  It’s a good place to start if you’re wondering about qualified health coaches.

These top-rated national credentials remain an optional choice among coaches. There is no licensure or mandatory regulation of education or demonstration of proficiency, so the buyer-beware market persists. Some folks will call themselves “coaches” with no clue about how to apply the proven methodologies of successful coaching.  But a growing professionalization is in effect, and over 200 well-designed studies now demonstrate the effectiveness of evidence-based coaching methods for changing behavior, achieving healthier outcomes, and building self-efficacy and confidence. These are available in a Compendium produced by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

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Navigating the Sandwich

Hookups in Senior Living

How should a daughter handle her 90-year-old dad becoming the new BMOC?

By Mel Miskimen

love locks in a group
Love locks photo by Dominik Dvorak for unsplash

It would be my father’s first night in a strange place.

He had made the decision to sell the house he and my mother had lived in for over 60 years and move into a senior living apartment after he had “Damned near fell on my ass!” while going down the basement stairs to do his laundry.

His apartment has all the amenities he had at the house, but with additional safety features like a stacking washer and dryer, pull cords to yank in case of an emergency, and a walk-in shower with grab bars. Conventional wisdom said I didn’t have to worry about him falling or shoveling snow or being alone during the long, cold, Wisconsin winters, but my worry switch was stuck in its ‘on’ position. Would he have trouble falling asleep? Would he wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and walk into a wall? Stub a toe causing him to bleed out because of the blood thinners he was taking? Would he even be able to reach the pull cord?   

The moving company had replicated his living room — the Iwo Jima sculpture was in the same place he had had it back home — center stage in the bay window. The picture of my mother, smiling from the passenger side of his truck, was stage left. The mantel clock she had insisted he buy, despite their lack of a mantel, was stage right.

He had picked out the carpeting — something with a loopy pile so it wouldn’t show the tracks made from his walker — a faux-stone countertop, stainless steel appliances. He had never cooked on an electric range before. He was a natural gas man.    

“You have to clean this with a special cleaner,” I said.

“Why can’t I use cleanser?” he said.

“It’ll scratch. You have to get one specifically made for cooktops.”

He rolled his eyes, convinced I had been conned by the cleaning industry into buying something I really didn’t need, like all those miracle mops I had purchased from the pitch person at the state fair. Four years later, I was still waiting for my miracle.

I worried about him getting used to a new routine. “Your mail gets delivered to your mailbox in the lobby,” I said.

“I know!” he said.

“They don’t serve breakfast on Sundays, they have brunch.” I pointed to the weekly menu that had been delivered via electric scooter driven by a lovely little woman who had almost run me over in the hallway.

“I’m Bev,” she said. “Are you moving in?”

Me? Did I look that old? “My father is moving in.”

“Oh?” Bev didn’t seem in any hurry to dispatch her flyers. “Is he married?”

“Well, he was married. My mother died five years ago —”

The usual response to this kind of information would have been an expression of sorrow. Bev didn’t seem moved. Perhaps, living here, this kind of intel was status quo.

“I’m sure we’ll run into each other, later.” She winked then took off, her scooter speed set to pursuit.

What was her game? I had seen the fluffy heads of white hair turn when my father wheeled his walker into the dining room.

Add a new worry to my list.

Would Bev and my father meet, like in those romantic comedies? Perhaps they’d collide with their walkers? Then my father would claim the accident was all his fault and Bev would say it was all hers, and they’d get to chatting and before I knew it he’d be calling me telling me he’d met someone, her name is Bev, and she’s going to be my new mother?

“I’m worried about my father,” I said to my husband Mark. “Do you think he’ll, you know, make friends?”

“Of course he will! He’s very charming.”

“Exactly,” I said. I had been concerned he wouldn’t meet people, but now? I was concerned he would.

It had been two days since he moved in. We were meeting in the dining room for lunch. His appetite had grown. He sounded brighter. A spring in his step. “So, how’s it going so far?” I said. My pulled pork sandwich had just the right amount of tang to smokey sweetness.

“Not too bad,” he said. “There’s kind of, like, not really too much stuff for men —”

It was a sad fact. Women made up the majority of the residents, and most activities were old-lady-centric. Knitting. Trips to see musicals. Shopping. I didn’t see any postings of lectures about World War II. No John Wayne film festival or James Patterson book club. Should I call the person who is in charge of those kinds of things? Suggest they look into more manly pursuits? Maybe send a survey around to the few men who are there? See what they’re into?

“I bumped into Tessie,” he said. She was his first cousin and had been living there for close to 10 years. “At first she and I got to talking about the old neighborhood, living upstairs from our grandpa’s tailor shop, and then she starts in with the gossip —” He wrinkled up his nose like he does whenever he is presented with any cooked vegetable.

“Ooo! Gossip? Like what?”

“Ailments. Who had to move into assisted living. Who died. They have a happy hour Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

I thought about what kinds of things places like this would have to offer in the near future for the likes of people like me who are not quite old, young old, yelderly? A bar, for sure. With big screen TVs. A coffee shop. Free Wi-Fi. Spin classes? Spa services?

“She started talking about hookups —”

“Hookups?” What did he mean, hookups? Certainly not hook up hookups? Please let this be about cable TV or the internet.    

“People are —” He didn’t have to lower his voice (everyone in the dining room was hard of hearing), but he did. “— getting together.”

I had heard a piece on NPR about the uptick in STDs in senior communities. My father doesn’t listen to NPR. Would I have to have The Talk with my father? About using protection? The universe wouldn’t do that to me, would it? Payback for all those times I had tested the boundaries of parental rules and regulations? Oh, how the tables had turned!

He asked me if I was going to finish my sandwich, because if I wasn’t, he’d take it back up to his apartment and heat it up, later. I told him to take it. The tangy-ness had gone out of it.

I rode with him on the elevator. It stopped on two. A woman got on. She wore a sweater with a stars-and-stripes motif. “I don’t know whether I should say ‘hello’ or salute?” he said.

She chuckled. “Are you new?”

“Yeah, just moved in!”

This is the eighth installment in a series Mel Miskimen is writing for TheCovey about the drafty empty nest she shares with her husband, who is on the fast track to sainthood. Miskimen is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and author of Sit Stay Heal.  Her previous articles for Covey include installment  Breaking My Family Holiday TraditionsDreams from Her MotherNo Guns for Old MenCall Me. Maybe, Divide and Conquer? and Dad and the DNA Kit.

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Say what?

“Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change. But I am also hopeful, because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better.”

— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

CONTRIBUTORS

Meg Jordan

Meg Jordan

Professor Meg Jordan Ph.D., RN, CWP, is a woman who has motivated millions to live healthier, more fulfilling lives. Author, speaker, international health journalist, registered nurse, and a clinical medical anthropologist, Meg is one of the most recognized names in health and wellness reporting. She is Chair of a growing department at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco that offers an M.A. in Integrative Health Studies, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology, Concentration in Somatic Psychology, and a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality.

Maureen Pilkington

Maureen Pilkington

Maureen Pilkington’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in numerous anthologies, journals and magazines. Her book, This Side of Water: Stories is just out from Regal House Publishing. Born in New York, Pilkington is the founder and director of Page Turners, a writing program for inner-city schools in the Archdiocese of New York. When she’s not kayaking you can find her at www.maureenpilkington.com.

Wendy Weiger

Wendy Weiger

Wendy Weiger is a research physician who left the halls of academe for the wilds of northern Maine. She is also the author of the upcoming book Heaven Beneath Our Feet: Finding God and Healing in the Wild and frequently writes about her travels in her blog. By sharing her journey, she hopes to guide others to the solace nature offers us all — and she hope her readers will, in turn, be inspired to work toward healing the wounds we are collectively inflicting upon our planet.

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