To Tuck or Not to Tuck? How I Found Out That Wasn’t Really the Question….

Posted by Susannah Herrada on Nov 4, 2013 in Girlfriends, Motherhood, Musings
Before the blowout...

Before the blowout…

There comes a time in life when a woman starts to feel a little rough around the edges. A bit raggedy, feeling like she’s losing a little bit of her edge. Maybe it’s after a baby when she’s feeling sleep deprived and a wreck. Maybe it’s when the grocery store clerks stop asking her for ID when she’s buying wine. Or it could be the first time she’s called “Ma’am” (I remember the first time for me—it was at the Perryville Exit tollbooth on 95). Sometimes it’s as simple as gaining a few pounds, going up a size, opening her closet, and finding nothing to wear.

All women go through this, often many different times over their lives. Sometimes it can feel like a mid-life crisis, only you feel like you’re having one every month or sometimes every week.

So that’s where I find myself this month. Up ten pounds (Ack! I’m embarrassed to even write that!), nothing to wear, looking rough around the edges, hair’s a wreck, teeth look crooked and yellow, skin is full of blemishes and scars. I won’t go on, but you get the picture. And for those of you who see me often, you’ll probably assert it’s not really that bad, but for all intents and purposes, this is how I feel.

Regardless of how neurotic and self-damaging this kind of thinking is, the scary part is what I considered doing to try make myself feel better.

This downward spiral started about a month ago at my annual ‘well-woman’ check—you know, what they call the appointment for women who are not going to have anymore kids. It’s vaguely disguised because the doctor doesn’t want to call it what it really is for the next ten years: menopause watch. An hour later, I was dressed, albeit still feeling rather slippery in my nether regions (what do these doctors use, and why is it so persistent?). Walking out of the appointment, it hit me that I had just signed myself up for some elective surgery.

It's not a tummy tuck, but good hair can work miracles....

It’s not a tummy tuck, but good hair can work miracles….

The next week, I was getting my teeth cleaned. I love my dentist. He’s not ten years out of dental school, charming, and never starts a sentence with, “At your age…” Anyway, at my request, this patient young thing spent ten minutes talking to me about cosmetic options—veneers, whitening, gap filling. Sadly, my smile is the one thing I’ve always loved about myself, but it turns out that veneering that big Ronald McDonald grin would cost a fortune. Big teethy smiles equal lots of visible teeth to veneer.

Wondering that afternoon how I would convince my husband that I really needed to spend over $10,000 to get a perfect smile, I recalled a similar conversation with a friend a few months ago. She didn’t seem to have much trouble convincing her husband that a tummy tuck was the way to go. I wondered if I couldn’t get Jorge to spring for the teeth, would he consider some other work? Maybe I’d have more leverage with a lift of some kind since he probably spends more time staring at my butt than my teeth. Actually, maybe not. Maybe like every other man, he spends more time looking at my smiling face when he’s not checking out other women’s rears on the sly. Either way, I think I’d have an easier time convincing him to spring for the lift or tuck. After all, have you ever heard someone say, ‘he’s a teeth man?’

So I found myself in the unfortunate situation this week of feeling mildly depressed over a bunch of silly little things, frustratingly researching the scary downsides of surgeries and procedures and even gel manicures, and knowing in the back of my mind that none of them would really make me happy. I know there should be an insert/sidebar here about self-acceptance, beautiful on the inside, yadda, yadda, but that’s for a different blog. At this time, I just had to get out of my yoga pants and into my jeans.

So I did what any rational woman would do in a similar situation: I ate.

Warm baguettes with soft butter, homemade apple cobbler (for breakfast?!), dark chocolate, or any chocolate for that matter, Ben and Jerry’s Fudgey Candy Bar Cookie Dough Nutty Overload.

Screw the yoga pants. They’re comfortable and trimming with their dark color and flared cut.

Unfortunately, things were going from bad to worse.

By now it was Friday. I had to meet friends for drinks in Georgetown that night. I had to face the reality that yoga pants are just not evening wear, particularly in Georgetown. And even if I had $10,000 to spend…that wasn’t going to do me any good this afternoon.

Nursing my ridiculous woes over a pumpkin latte, I saw a picture of myself flash up on the digital frame in my dining room. The photo was from this past spring, a short six months ago. I looked young. Much younger. And thin. Much thinner. But all that aside, what I really noticed was my hair. It actually was highlighted, cut stylishly and blown out in a smooth, finished look.

I immediately called my stylist. Not deterred by the lack of Friday appointments for highlights, I found myself sitting in a drive-up strip mall parking space, in front of a Hair Cuttery. I knew it was a risk, but I reasoned I had lots of hair. The worst that could happen if this went wrong is that after a repair job at my regular stylist, I’d have a bob instead of hair that fell well below my shoulders. So I walked in. The lady was cranky. She told me about three times in her thick Eastern European accent that my hair had three inches of growth at my roots and looked terrible and needed to be highlighted. Today. By her. It’s one thing to have some random lady cut your hair, but I can’t trust highlights to a stranger. I declined, politely at first and then eventually with a sternness matching her own directness.

After forty minutes, she turned me around in the chair. I looked at the woman in the mirror. No perfect teeth, no nip or tuck, no Botox or peel. Just me, with straight, healthy-looking (highlight-needing) hair. Thirty dollars later, I walked out and wondered if this wasn’t what I had needed all along. It seemed rather shallow, but still amazed me that a $30 haircut and blowout could change my whole outlook.

I know that $30 can’t usually solve life’s problems. In fact, it can often solve very little and sometimes make things worse. Case in point being that between the Ben & Jerry’s and wine, I spent well over $30 this past week. But there’s something beautiful about someone else taking over, doing something for you like brushing your hair, paying attention to every strand, looking at you closely and making you feel beautiful again. No, this is not a promo piece for the Hair Cuttery, but it is a little nudge to every women who reads this to find something to do that’s kind for yourself. And I’m not talking sitting with a cup of tea and reading People magazine. Find some way to really pamper yourself, have someone else care for you, look at you, obsess about only you, even if it’s just for a short time.

And then go home, slip out of the yoga pants for an even more comfortable pair of PJ bottoms, and know that you have great hair (or nails). Know that really nothing that big has changed; you haven’t gone down a clothing size, you don’t have a perfect Chicklet smile. But you do have a quiet message taking root deep down inside that you are worth pampering and that you can pull yourself out of a rut with something much simpler than a tummy tuck.


Why I’ll Never Leave My Husband…and How Hardship Can Strengthen Marriage

Posted by Susannah Herrada on Oct 9, 2013 in Motherhood, Relationships
Jorge and I caught in an early spring snowstorm in Cappadocia, Turkey

Jorge and I caught in an early spring snowstorm in Cappadocia, Turkey

My husband and I are at the divorce-affair-midlife crisis stage. Not for ourselves (fingers crossed) but for what feels like way too many people around us.

I won’t pretend to know what each couple that split is dealing with, and I don’t really know how bad it can be, how deep the cuts can go, how emotional neglect and ambivalence can sear the soul, and how words and deeds can cause such fragmentation. But as anyone who’s been hitched for more than ten minutes knows, marriage is a process, a long journey not meant for the faint of heart–some days it’s a summit with a breathtaking vista, and other days it feels more like a jagged, treacherous rock scramble.

After more than 15 years of wedded bliss (wink, wink), I do have weeks or months where I feel like we’ve hit a rocky path, a rut, or at best, a relationship plateau.

Sometimes I wonder what keeps us going.

Honestly, we both can be kind of oblivious, living our lives of kids and work, on-demand TV, and Facebook. What snaps us out of it?

The strange thing is that it often takes a bit of hardship, sprinkled with emotional angst, and peppered with the ‘laugh or sob’ hysterics (‘hysterics’ all mine) that get us out of the rut or off the precipice. These so-called ‘hardships’ work to fill in the cracks and smooth over the ruts of what was once a blindly hopeful relationship. We struggle through, and in the end, we are a little closer, a bit stronger, and a lot more deeply rooted.

Where do we find these experiences?

As much as I hate to admit it, it’s not during the constructed date nights and pampered getaway weekends that we grow closer. Instead, it’s in the challenging experiences that we learn to really see each other again and remember the days when we were so stricken with love that we were able to think of little else but each other.

Maybe that’s why we love traveling so much. Traveling provides a crucible for relationship testing. It puts us outside the everyday experiences of the “go to work, do errands, keep the kids from bickering” lifestyle. On the road, as we figure out how to get from point A to point B, when, where and how to eat, keep hydrated, where to sleep, and who to meet, we get to see each other’s strengths (and weaknesses) in a new light.

Many of the best stories are a bit adventurous and hint at danger:  hitchhiking in a blizzard in Hveragerei, the eight-hour cliff-edge ‘hike of death’ in Phuket, shady men in suits plying us with drinks in Istanbul, paperclip door locks on rooftop shacks in Jerusalem, the finger-snipped Japanese Mafia man in Hokkaido. 

It’s the retelling of these travel stories of struggle, frustration, and success (or at least some level of completion/survival) that maintains that awareness of one another that once came so easily as newlyweds. They help remind us what each of us brings to the table when it comes to the smooth functioning of our marriage and family.

Adding kids to the mix, our story list goes on and continues to grow, though generally with slightly less real danger. But just the same, like a butterfly unable to survive without the death-defying fight out of its chrysalis, the clarifying power of these ‘uncomfortable at the time’ struggles are essential to our survival as a couple.

This past summer when we were traveling through Central America for nine weeks with our kids, we noticed a distinct pattern that whenever we were at a more luxurious hotel or an all-inclusive resort, Dylan and Abigail were at each other’s throats. Sit them for four hours, three or four to a seat, on an un-air-conditioned chicken bus where the location of their next meal remained questionable, stops seemed to occur randomly along the road, and the evening’s accommodations were still up in the air, and the kids worked together like a well-oiled machine. They discovered power in teaming up to achieve a common goal, particularly given the numerous times their non-Spanish speaking parents had to rely on them to communicate with strangers.

Maybe Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said it best: “Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

Gazing intensely at each other, as new lovers often do, eventually leads to uncovering glaring faults and inevitable dissatisfactions in one another. After all, no one is perfect, regardless of how exceptionally they present themselves initially.

Looking out in the same direction though and focusing together on a goal helps avoid this pitfall.

So Jorge and I look at the map, stick in pins, and plan our next escapade—making sure to leave room for a bit of hardship.

Together, hell or high water, we make our way, take risks, and make the memories-turned-family legends that remind us to keep the focus on how we work together, not how we fall apart.

And then we wearily come home and look at pictures, and write, and tell and retell stories. We laugh and shudder at our recklessness and sometimes even glimpse the hand of God in our survival.

Most importantly, we take a step closer to each other in this combined journey of discovery, love, and struggle, all the while having one foot out the door toward our next odyssey.


Scrap the Satin and Tulle: Why Your Wedding Day is Probably NOT Going to Be the Best Day of Your Life

Posted by Susannah Herrada on Jun 14, 2013 in Relationships
Jorge and Susannah wedding

My wedding day–the kick-off for the best days of my life

Ah, June. The magical month that kicks off the nuptial season. Truth be told, I’m actually so beyond the wedding season of life that I’ve even passed the baby shower cluster, quickly approaching the “first born high school graduation onslaught.” Nevertheless, I find weddings just plain fun, but too often, for the bride, it can be a day of grand disappointment wrought from unrealistic expectations.

We’ve all heard horror stories of weddings gone awry–raging bridezillas, meddling mothers, overbearing mothers-in-law. While all these things might be simple annoyances on any other day, they reach fiasco proportions on one’s wedding day, tarnishing the “this is the happiest day of my life” image that so many brides feel to be their right and privilege. How do things become so warped, how do nerves become so raw, and how do otherwise rational women morph into raging lunatics?

It’s called conditioning.

It’s because we as women, from the time we get our first Bride Barbie, dream of the moment when we will be belle of the ball, queen of our own prom, princess for our Prince Charming.
So we spend hours planning for our wedding day. Savings, which could perhaps be better spent toward a down payment on a house, are instead invested in creating an unforgettable moment in time.

Unfortunately, this obsessive preparedness for a single day often curtails appropriate preparation for the emotional, financial, spiritual, and just plain logistical parameters of marriage—simple questions are left unresolved. How many hours of TV is OK? Will we hire a housekeeper? Whose family will we spend holidays with? To unmarried couples, these seem like small issues. But as anyone married for more than a few hours knows, these seemingly minor concerns can quickly balloon into large issues. These questions are much easier settled, or at least carefully discussed, before couples exchange vows. But premarital counseling, if couples participate in it at all, is often just one more item to check off the ‘to do’ list and usually completed in a few hours.

I don’t think I’m being unnecessarily alarmist to suggest that most brides spend more time shopping for their dresses than they do participating in premarital counseling or practical planning for the realities of married life. And even though its effectiveness is backed by empirical and anecdotal evidence, counseling is often neglected completely or conducted with someone who may have mediocre training or experience.

A friend of mine who was married in Colorado less than two years ago recalls her disappointing premarital counseling. The facilitator scoffed at her concerns about their credit card debt—instead telling her to focus on the strengths in her relationships with her fiancé. Needless to say, the couple is now in the unfortunate situation of being maxed out on their credit cards, and money is a huge issue in the marriage, erasing their ability to focus on the “strengths” of their relationship.

So how many brides actually end up with that ‘happy ever after’ vision they have in their heads? Very few. We all know the divorce statistics in this country. And despite all the work, the wedding day is hardly ever perfect. I’ve been to two weddings where the brides had such big arguments with their future husbands on the day of the big event that they told me later they seriously considered scrapping the walk down the aisle.

In the movies, jittery brides and grooms ditch their intendeds at the altar all the time, but in real life, couples would rather take a chance and spare embarrassment before friends and family, knowing they can get a no-fault divorce later if it just ‘doesn’t work out.’ By taking this lackadaisical view, we are scoffing at the institution of marriage.

So if the day’s not going to be perfect, and the marriage is inevitably going to be more work than you bargained for, here’s what you disillusioned women who’ve tied the knot need to know, along with you soon-to-be brides crash dieting and waking in a cold sweat at 3 a.m. over concerns about the hue of ribbon in the toss-away garter.

First of all, your wedding day is no longer about you and your spouse becoming one beautiful and perfectly harmonized partnership for all eternity.

Instead, here’s what a wedding has become: a wedding is a party for your parents, their friends, and your friends. It’s a multi-billion dollar business. It’s a time to impress. It’s so your niece can be the flower girl in a frilly dress. And your nephew will change out of his soccer jersey for a few hours. It’s so your parents have a formal picture of everyone together. It’s a day that you are giving to honor your parents because you know it would break your mother’s heart if you eloped. It’s a day that recognizes that as much of a liberated woman as you have become, you will still give a nod to tradition and let your father walk you down the aisle.

These elements are all important to your family and to you and your future spouse for varied and often complicated reasons. And I’m all for weddings, and flowers, and cake, and pink Chuck Taylors peeking out from under a pile of silk and tulle. The problem arises when we expend all our energy trying to create the “best day of our life.”

Brides, when anyone tells you that your wedding day will be the best day of your life, examine their motives. More likely than not, it’s an unmarried bridesmaid or a vendor trying to upsell you a dress that’s too expensive and requires $400 foundation garments to make it all hold together or is trying to convince you to upgrade the menu to include a caviar appetizer.

The Perfect Day myth is an emotional and fiscal crime setting up brides for heartbreaking disappointment. Instead of spending months preparing for a single day, engaged couples need to invest their time and energy in preparing for a lifetime together.

And that lifetime, if prepared for properly, could be full of many “Best Days.”

Here’s what I’ve found after 15 years of marriage, acknowledging the stark reality that I’ve threatened to leave my husband at least as many times . I still love him like crazy. I admire him and appreciate him more than I did on our wedding day. I wonder on a regular basis how it was that I got him (and why he sticks around). My life as it is today is certainly not the result of my feeble efforts, luck, or some twisted favoritism people refer to as being ‘blessed.’ It’s been the result of a lot of work and forbearance.

Maybe it’s that I knew from the outset that plenty of perfect $45,000 wedding days end in divorce while plenty of potluck picnic shelter events garner years of contentment.

I did have a beautiful wedding day, but it was by no means the highlight of my life. It was merely the kick-off. Here’s how my wedding day stacks up against the last 15 years: Our honeymoon in New Zealand was everything I dreamed of, but visions of my kids pole boating in the rain at Tuileries Gardens, hiking with my husband through the cool dark caverns that burst open to illuminate the library in Petra, sleeping under the almost blindingly bright stars in the dessert at Siwa, desperately hitchhiking for the first time in a blizzard in Iceland, breathing in the timeless dust at the Wailing Wall as I felt my husband’s hand resting on my back, and reclining against my suitcase on a rocky beach, exhausted and waiting with my kids for the next train in Italy all compete for “best of my life” moments when my husband and I reminisce.

Though I will never forget seeing my husband’s face at the front of the church as I shakily held my father’s arm as he walked me down the aisle, recalling the first moment my daughter’s round little arms reached for me is a memory that conjures up deeper emotions.

I’ll also have to admit that although there was no videographer to capture the moment, the promise of life imparted when I heard my son say “Mama” for the first time still outranks how I felt when I heard my husband promise, “I do.”

In fact, even my husband saying I looked beautiful on our wedding day doesn’t mean as much as when he casually remarked a few months ago, as I was folding laundry while wearing yoga pants, that he thinks I look better than I did when he met me.

And then there was a Saturday last month when my entire family, kids included, worked to clean the house while we alternately listened to Taylor Swift and Joe Jackson. That day was better than my wedding day. We did some yard work and got a dozen donuts. I think we played a game that afternoon, but I don’t really even remember. We just hung out. We were a family. Jorge probably paid some bills, and I may have threatened the kids once or twice to stop bickering or I’d dock their allowance. We put the kids to bed early, letting them sleep in our room. All four of us rested there together, and most likely Jorge was snoring before the kids were asleep. When they were good and asleep, I nudged him awake, and we slipped out of the bedroom to the sofa. I rested my head on his chest, without a thought that this had been the best day of my life. Instead, I dozed off with the secure promise of knowing that there would be many more, just like this.

Yeah, I think that was the best day of my life.

And it didn’t cost much. And it will happen again and again. And there weren’t months of anxiety or planning, and my husband didn’t need to buy me diamonds, or make brunch plans, and I didn’t have to go on a crash diet, or worry that my eyebrows were not perfectly shaped or that I had a blemish on my cheek. I didn’t worry about a menu or linen colors or a perfectly clean house. I just woke up and went to bed, but I did it with the best people in my life.

That’s why we have weddings for a day, but live marriages for a lifetime.

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