Cobblestones and Aging: Strange Bedfellows

 

I’m in Mexico head down, walking on cobblestones, stepping in between the uneven cracks trying to avoid snubbing my toe, twisting an ankle or, worse yet, stumbling into a pothole that comes up fast, out of nowhere like a wave on an otherwise calm sea. I raise my head for just a second or two and spot a pair of long, shapely woman’s legs—pale as a newborn baby’s butt—too pale to reflect the hot afternoon sun that shimmers on the dark skin of many Mexicans whose quaint World Heritage town has been overrun by gringos who have flocked here after Travel & Leisure crowned it the Number One—that’s Numero Uno—city in the whole world. (I wonder if the editors tried to walk on the cobblestones before they made their choice.)

Aside from a slight jiggle on the back of the young woman’s calves with each step, her pale legs are a blank slate like a piece of notebook paper sitting on a desk in front of a kid who has not done his homework and itches to play video games—to do anything—except fill the blank piece of paper with something that resembles a few coherent sentences.

I follow the gringa with the pale legs and imagine what they’ll look like some forty years hence. The legs are no longer spotless but covered by purplish spider veins that resemble the random rivers, streams, and arroyos on a detailed page of an atlas or an online map of the world’s most popular biking routes.

I wonder whether she swallowed her ego enough to wear support hose during one or two pregnancies (actually, 2.4 according to the most recent data)—stockings advertised as “elegant in appearance,” “ultra fashion” support, on sale at Walgreens for $24.99. If she didn’t wear support stockings in mortal fear of looking like a Red Cross nurse, then perhaps she discovered Joan River’s The Right to Bare Legs, a foundation makeup for legs that does a decent job of camouflaging all the insults of aging but also does a number on pant legs, bath towels, and sheets. I’m not sure which is worse—doing laundry with those hard-to-remove stains or baring legs will all the markers of a life many decades in the making.

If I take any lesson from this pale-legs-go-bad saga, it is this: best to focus on the potential hazards of walking on cobblestones than on a young woman’s pale, unmarred legs that remind us senior women that young women age like the rest of us and will have to either accept the physical chain reaction of a long life, well lived, or fight a losing battle (unless they are part of the 1 percent) with both their bodies and their minds.  (Warning: Don’t use the same plastic surgeon who did Goldie Hawn’s facelift.)  Growing older can be a gift, if only we open the package and treasure what’s inside—whether or not the gift was on our wish list.

Photo by Giselle Peters

Lost in Mexico

We were warned: Don’t drive from San Miguel de Allende to Oaxaca, Mexico.  It’s about an 8-hour drive and, after a Facebook post from an American couple that were robbed by armed banditos, along with a host of others who were stopped on the freeway for what they thought was a traffic accident, friends and anyone who overheard our plans, urged us to take a bus or a plane.  “You’ll lose your money and cell phones.  Who knows?  You may lose your life!”

But my husband is a thrifty and stubborn guy who insisted on driving.  I, on the other hand, ran to the American Express office to see how much it would cost to take any means of transportation other than a car.  I was out of luck.  It was the week of Easter, and Mexicans take Semana Santa more seriously than any other holiday.  The buses were booked, and the $500 fare to Mexico City and then on to Oaxaca was more than we’d paid to fly from Chicago to Mexico.

Okay.  Then I’d play it smart and hide my passport, credit card and most of my money under the rug in the front seat.  In case of a stickup, I put an expired Visa card and a few pesos into a cheap wallet that my husband bought at the artisans’ market.  If one of the banditos stuck a gun in my face, I’d hand over the wallet and be done with it.  I wasn’t some dumb, innocent American.

Well, we never had a moment’s trouble—no trouble, that is, until we reached the outskirts of Puebla where we’d planned to spend the night.  That way, we could break up the trip into two four-hour stints.

We got lost.  Good and lost.  Goggle Maps and all of the printed maps my husband had printed and taped together read like hieroglphics.  We drove around the same roundabout at least four times—each time getting dizzier and more frustrated.  (I was the navigator.  Guess who got the blame?  Yep, it was all my fault.  Didn’t I know how to read maps? Hadn’t I reviewed the directions the night before?)

After a good 45 minutes of wasted time, I convinced my husband to pull into a Pemex station.  (Pemex has a corner on Mexican gas stations.  Either you buy your gas at Pemex or you don’t drive.)  By this time, our marriage was on the line. I pushed buttons left and right (“I told you we shouldn’t drive!”) and my husband responded in kind: (“I’m doing all the work while you sit back and do nothing!”)  At that moment, I wanted to call off our marriage of almost 40 years.

Then Patricia (Patty) appeared.  She ran a tienda in the Pemex station and sold automotive stuff.

She could feel our frustration before we rolled down the car window.  “Where do you want to go?”

I was about to cry.  “Casa Reyna.”

I tried to explain.  “We drove up that winding road but turned around because we were certain we were on our way out of town.”  (By the way, this was all in Spanish.)

“You weren’t going out of town.  You were going in the right direction.”

My husband and I looked at each other.  Should we give it one more shot or suffer our losses and stay in the shabby hotel across the road?

“Maybe when the cab driver returns to his taxi, he can give you better directions.”

We waited.  No cab driver.  “Where is he?”

“I think he’s in the banjo.”

Great!

I don’t know how long we stood around.  I think we pulled out our maps and shook our heads in frustration.

“Why don’t I drive you?”

Was she kidding?

“You,” she said pointing to me, “can ride in my car, and he can follow us in the rental car.”

Maybe Christ had risen from the dead.

“No es possible.  Que amable!”  My Spanish was paying off.

Without further adieu, I hopped into Patty’s front seat, and Alan (“Call me Alonso”) flew into our white Nissan Mini, turned the car around and, just like that, we took off with our trusted leader.

In my best Spanish, our savior and I carried on a conversation as if we’d been friends for life.

“Is there some way we can repay you?  Money?  Lunch?  Anything?

“No.  All I can hope is that when I’m lost in some strange city, someone will help me find my way.”

Any time, Patty, any time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Parents Can Do to Help Their Teens Break the Cycle of Teen Suicide

 

If you’re a parent of a teenager, you may wonder how this alien invaded your home. You suddenly have no idea who this “new” child is. Your once responsive, communicative son or daughter now answers your questions in monosyllables, if he/she answers at all. Your teen hangs out in the sanctuary—the bedroom (often with door closed)—and spends an inordinate amount of time texting, posting, and tweeting. Overnight, your teen has no interest in sharing feelings and, for that matter, little else.

What’s going on? Hormones? Rock music? Boredom? Drugs? Depression? Thoughts of suicide?

 

For many teens, it is the still-developing brain that is the root cause. Adolescence is the “most tumultuous time” for the brain since birth. The area right behind the forehead, called the frontal cortex, thickens and continues developing. This is the thinking, planning, strategizing part of the brain, and it is still not “on board.” Teens don’t often make the responsible decisions—as if you don’t already know that.

And that is the rub: how do you know whether your teen’s behavior is normal and will get better in a year or two (Seems like a lifetime, right?) or whether there are serious problems that need to be addressed?

Here are some suggestions:
1. Be aware of the warning signs of depression and/or anxiety disorder. Depression is on the rise, particularly among teen girls. Between 2004 and 2015, six percent of boys and as high as 15 to 16 percent of girls were depressed. If any of the following signs persist for more than two weeks, your teen may need professional help—if, for no other reason, than to talk with another adult.
• Desire to be “perfect”
• Need for constant approval and reassurance
• Easily fatigued
• Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
• Irritability
• Problems with sleep
• Changes in eating habits
• Loss of interest in friends and other activities

It’s important to understand that, while many people who think about suicide are depressed, being depressed is just one of many causes of suicide. THERE IS NEVER ONE REASON WHY SOMEONE TAKES HIS LIFE.

2. Distinguish between myth and fact about teen suicide.
MYTH: When teens (and adults) talk about taking their own lives, they are just looking for attention. Ignoring them is the best thing you can do.
FACT: Most people who take their own lives do talk about it. Eighty percent of adolescent suicides make open threats.
MYTH: Once your teen decides to take his/her own life, there is nothing you can do.
FACT: Not true. On the contrary, suicidal teens are often ambivalent about living or dying. It is not your responsibility (or capability) to save your teen. But you can listen, watch for warning signs, and consult with a health professional.
MYTH: Once your son or daughter tries to kill himself/herself, the pain and shame will keep him/her from trying again.
FACT: Just the opposite is true. Within the first three months to a year following a suicide attempt, teens (adults) are at the highest risk of a second attempt.
MYTH: Once your child’s depression appears to have lifted, she is out of danger.
FACT: Depression can be most dangerous when it appears to be lifting. When someone feels better, they may the energy and ability to make a plan and carry through.
MYTH: Talking about suicide will give ideas to a teen.
FACT: Another common mistake. You don’t give someone thoughts of suicide. The thoughts are already there. Talking with a teen openly and honestly—without judgment or blame—can help, not hurt. Again, it’s not your job to save your teen but to show that you care and, when necessary, seek professional help.
3. Practice active listening—a technique that shows you care and understand (or try to understand) what your teen is feeling. Don’t lecture or try to solve your teen’s problems. Instead, use phrases like “If I hear you correctly, you ______________________. Mirror what is being said. If you reflect accurately, your teen may nod in agreement or want to talk further. If not, give it a second try. Watch your body language. Establish direct eye contact. Don’t be distracted. These nonverbal behaviors help show that you care.
4. Understand that is never your job to save your child. But it is your job to break the code of silence, even if you are sworn to secrecy. Better to have an angry teen than no teen at all.

Adolescence is a confusing time for parents and teens. But there are many things you can do to help your son or daughter break the cycle of teen suicide.