40 in one: the last bits

One of my best-ever friends arrived today, with her dear husband, to help me celebrate my birthday. I am overwhelmed by excitement and love and feeling so grateful and festive this evening. I want to go and try to get some beauty rest for tomorrow, but have a few final bits of wisdom that I want to share.

Get to know people of all ages. They'll keep you young and energized and also peaceful and zen. Some are in the moment of youth and others have lived it already, successfully crossing the rubicon of age after which perspective and wisdom are almost inevitable. Seek out those people, younger, same age and older, who sparkle with awareness, creativity, humor and senses of self. They are likely to add depth and richness to your life. I am extremely lucky to call people in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and seventies, friends.

Be generous: financially, with your time, and in spirit. Pay a compliment, tip extra to someone who's done a great job, mentor someone, volunteer. Meet your neighbors, tell someone you appreciate them, offer to help, let the other driver go first. Stinginess is ugly and divides us. Be gracious, share love, open your heart.

Don't be afraid to ask. What's the worst that can happen? You receive a "no" answer? Well, then you're no worse than when you started. You'd be surprised how many people are waiting to say yes. I find this to be true ALL.the.time.

Learn to type. Most useful class I took in high school. 

Laugh as hard as you can as often as you can. Children are especially useful in this department, as are saucy friends. Find them, enjoy them, laugh.

Exhibit A:

one way Oliver spends his time

one way Oliver spends his time

Exhibit B:
Stupid jokes and voices made up, retold and used repeatedly with girlfriends and/or your partner/spouse. 

Exhibit C:
A young child's interpretation of a common adult idea. 

Jack saw this earlier this week and said, with intense irritation, "What is an it closet? We have one at school. It's ridiculous. What does an it closet hold?" I nearly fell out from apoplectic laughter.

And now, I'm off. 40's coming fast.

40 in forty: Get your annual exams and know your body

When I was a newlywed and thinking ahead to the childbearing years on my horizon, I began tracking my basal temperatures each morning. I can't remember why I first started doing so; maybe I already realized how irregular my periods were, or perhaps I just wanted to get my ducks in a row and a good friend who tracked her temps suggested I do the same as she'd had trouble ovulating and getting pregnant.

Armed with my basal thermometer, some print-out charts and the marvelous book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, I soon found that I wasn't regularly ovulating; that would make getting pregnant difficult.

We were in Cambridge then, and, lucky to have the benefit of the fantastic Harvard medical system, I made an appointment to figure the ovulation thing out and found that I had a small cyst on my pineal gland and that I had a significantly under-active thyroid, an integral part of the endocrine system that regulates many important hormones, not least those linked to reproduction.

Because I found all of this out early on, I could 'take charge' and take care of my body. A few MRIs found that the pineal cyst was totally benign and had probably been there for ages. Basically, I can ignore that now. And hypothyroidism is easy to treat; you simply need to find the right dose of synthetic T4 (an identical replacement for what one's thyroid gland produces in non-hypothyroid folks) and take it daily. 

During the regular blood tests during my first pregnancy, I found that I have a naturally lower platelet count. That knowledge has enabled me to inform subsequent physicians about my platelets when my bloodwork comes back and they mention it as a possible issue.

After I had Jack (with no issues at all) and finished nursing, I resumed tracking because my menstrual cycles again seemed haywire. This time I found that I had a vastly protracted luteal phase, the latter part of menstruation, which makes sustaining a pregnancy a challenge. Because I knew this, when I became pregnant with Oliver, I was immediately put on progesterone. It made me awfully sick, but I had no troubles with the pregnancy so totally worth it.

Throughout all of this, I found that I became infinitely more aware of my body's rhythms and "personality." It is always very clear to me when something isn't quite right, and I know immediately when I need to get something investigated.

I've kept detailed records and histories which has made appointments and changes in my doctors over the years really easy to navigate. There aren't any real question marks, and I feel both empowered and totally aware of my health. 

The same is true for my children. For both self and dependents, I have found it essential to advocate. Doctors are rushed, many often want quick and easy answers, and some think they know me or my kids better than I do, even though that feeling is in many ways absurd. I'm the one who spends all my time with self and children, for pete's sakes. 

I am confident that my repeated insistence that Jack's regular fevers weren't the same virus on loop was what finally led to the discovery that he actually had PFAPA, a febrile disorder marked my regular bouts of high fever and swollen tonsils. It was a breeze to treat WHEN we knew what it was. Before that, he was missing a week of school every five weeks and sick as a dog during those absences; often he had fever-induced night terrors. Once we started him on the medicine, old-school cimetidine by the way (a basic stomach acid reducer that is super-safe for pretty much anyone to take), Jack was never sick again and finally outgrew the syndrome.

My plea to you is to get your annual exams, know your body and your history, write it all down, and advocate for yourself and your health.

  • See the dentist at least once a year. In the meantime, floss every day. Every day!
  • Get your annual physical without fail.
  • Ladies, get your annual or biannual gynecological exams. Ovarian cancer is a mean, stealthy beast that often slinks in without symptomology. HPV is about as common as the common cold and is linked to cervical cancer. Find out what you have, if you have something, and treat it!
  • Ladies, I also want you to take care of your breasts. Do self exams, get mammograms when you come of age.
  • Men, if you have a family history of prostate cancer or any symptoms suggested prostate trouble, get your prostate checked. Come on, guys! You also need annual physicals, and watch your blood pressure and cholesterol which are, according to a doctor friend of mine, the big issues for men in their 40s and 50s. Please see the comment from DrBabs below for helpful links!
  • You should also get an annual skin check and in the interim periods check your own skin and wear sunscreen daily. I am an insanely freckly person so it's especially important to be vigilant. I've had moles removed from my back and foot and have a great relationship with the irregularly-shaped and colored moles on my shoulders and chest. Skin cancer is not to be trifled with.
  • Do NOT ignore your mental health. Anxiety and depression are real and do not in any way mean you are weak. They can be treated and should be. Therapy is a gift and in my opinion should be something everyone does. We're all human, people, and even those who lucked out in the family department have shit to deal with.
  • Eat cleanly and exercise. I eat butter and olive oil and full fat cheese and a bit of dessert every single day. By eating cleanly, I mean Eat Real. Avoid processed shit, diet stuff, things with infinite shelf-lives, and too much sugar. 
    We all need regular exercise, but ladies, as we age, it is especially important that we do weight-bearing and balance exercises. We lose bone mass as we grow older, and weight-training and core strength will help us keep our bones strong AND avoid dangerous falls.

Most insurance covers all above-mentioned tests because they count as preventive care. 

It might seem scary to venture into unknown lands where you could discover something ugly. But I believe that it's better to know as early as possible so that any needed treatment can start pronto. 

Go forth, know yourself, love yourself, care for yourself. Encourage others to do the same!

40 in forty wisdom: Charlotte's Web

Earlier this year, Jack's 4th grade class read Charlotte's Web together. Although I devoured the book many, many times during my youth, it's been ages since I'd read or even thought about the story.

Jack loved it, and at the library last week discovered the book in audio form read by none other than E.B. White himself. Hurriedly, we checked it out, and Jack, Ol and I decided to listen to a bit of it each time we're in the car.

People, this is a win for many reasons, not least because it completely cuts inane chatter and backseat bickering.

But back to Charlotte's Web. It is a most wonderful tale, teeming with truths about childhood, development, parents, difference, tolerance, and friendship. It is so poignant in some parts, so masterfully written in many others. It is at once simple and sophisticated, and I think that's part of its magic and also why it still moved and engaged so much, roughly thirty years after I first read it.

Don't you all remember this image from the book? So memorable and dear.

Don't you all remember this image from the book? So memorable and dear.

I adore this passage from Chapter 15 especially:

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer's ending, a sad, monotonous song. "Summer is over and gone," they sang. "Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying."
The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summer cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year-the days when summer is changing into fall-the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.
Everybody heard the song of the crickets. Avery and Fern Arable heard it as they walked the dusty road. They knew that school would soon begin again. The young geese heard it and knew that they would never be little goslings again. Charlotte heard it and knew that she hadn't much time left. Mrw. Zuckerman, at work in the kitchen, heard the crickets, and a sadness came over her, too...
"Summer is over and gone," repeated the crickets...
The sheep heard the crickets, and they felt so uneasy they broke a hold in the pasture fence and wandered up into the field across the road. The gander discovered the hole and led his family through, and they walked to the orchard and ate the apples that were lying on the ground. A little maple tree in the swamp heard the cricket song and turned bright red with anxiety. 

Isn't that hauntingly lovely? It evokes any time of change, really, and perfectly so the nostalgia of changing seasons, children growing up, ourselves aging. 

E.B. White's voice is not at all what I expected but after a couple chapters of becoming accustomed to what initially sounds like a gruff New Yorker, I settled in to the gift of hearing a talented writer read his own dear words. Not I can't imagine anyone else voicing the book.

We have all adored this joint listening experience, and my bit of wisdom for you today is to find a copy of E.B. White reading Charlotte's Web and enjoy it, with kids or by yourself. I guarantee you that age doesn't much matter.