Monday, June 30, 2008


Some girl cousins I love.
My latest essay which appears in Chicago Parent ( has spawned a flurry of emails regarding go-go boots. Well, a flurry of emails from my friends and family anyway. It seems that almost every woman of a certain age has clear memories of her go-go boots, or the go-go boots she never had.

My cousin Beth remembers that she did not have a pair but our cousin Joette did and to make it worse, she lived down the street from Beth so she was forced to see the said go-go boots on a regular basis.

Of course Joette had them. She was the most glamorous cousin of us all. She had hair so blonde it was white, large wide eyes, and a smile that beguiled men.

This got me thinking about cousins and just what a special place they have in our hearts. I never had the good fortune to live in the same town as my cousins so I'm not sure my observations apply to those who are that close. But for the rest of us, whether we see our cousins weekly, monthly, or annually, I hold these truths to be certain:


1. Some cousins are always more glamorous and cool than you: Joette wasn't the only cousin I envied. I also envied Joyce, Jenice, and Beth. They were a family of all girls. They didn't have to put up with no stinkin' boy siblings. Jenice, the one just a year older than me, was the epitome of all that was cool. She wore short, shorts. She smoked cigarettes. Meanwhile, I was in the marching band and had braces. Though I knew that if we went to school together she would have had nothing to do with me, by virtue of our blood relationship, she not only tolerated me but took me under her tutelage. From her I learned that when you kiss a boy you should purse your lips like you're saying the word "prunes". This we practiced for some time on our arms. Never mind that it would be YEARS before I could put that information to use. I also learned that although the song "Sha Na Na Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye" sounded stupid to me, it was in fact, quite cool. Which is why I purchased the 45 and played it repeatedly one summer.

2. Some cousins always have better stuff and often better parents: My cousin Marilyn had a pink bedroom with a pink canopy bed. She had bee-yoo-tiful blond hair too which she put in pink curlers at night (curlers! how glamorous!). Her mother, my Aunt Dora, would get up every morning and go into the kitchen and put on an apron. Then, as you came into the kitchen she would smile and say, "What do you want for breakfast, honey?" Everyone was honey to her, and not that fakey grown-up honey but the real deal. She would make you ANYTHING you wanted. Even pancakes. On a Tuesday. Suffice it to say, that is not exactly how breakfast went at our house. That is why, when my sister learned that the contingency plan for us if something happened to my parents was to go live with Aunt Dora, she began to fantasize about my parents' untimely demise. Who can blame her? If you met Aunt Dora and Uncle Dick, you would too.

3. Cousins of the opposite sex are useful for learning how to flirt: This I cannot say I learned first-hand. All the boy cousins were much older: there was Rick Ross (I learned years later, not a blood relative) who was like a real-life Ricky Nelson and Mike McCoy who was like a young Elvis Presley but they were as old, and remote, and un-attainable as the celebrities they resembled. There were no boy cousins near my age to flirt with. Oh, wait, there was Tommy but he did not move me to flirtation. He moved me to beat him up whenever I could. But I have observed this flirting among my older siblings and cousins and now among the current generation of cousins. Sometimes my cousins would flirt with my brothers. This was weird. Last year, at a family wedding, I noticed that the two teen cousins of the opposite sex who live in different states kept sneaking off together. I assumed they were developing schemes to get margaritas at the bar and comparing MySpace notes, (which they were). But then I grew suspicious. "Hey, do you think they're messing around?" I asked my husband. "Of course they are. What do you think cousins are for?" Okay, ewww. He is from Wisconsin where they are a lot more open-minded about these things, I guess. He clarified, "Why do you think they call it kissin' cousins? It's not like they're getting married." Well, then, I guess that's okay.

4. Cousins are better than friends and siblings. Friends come and go and siblings are too familiar but cousins are just right. You share last names, facial features, and grandparents. They call your parents "aunt" and "uncle". How cool is that? They move away and do exotic things and take jobs you never dreamed of but they will always be in your life no matter what. And that's the best part about cousins of all.

To Joyce, Beth, Jenice, Nan, Denny, Joette, Tommy, and all the other fantastic cousins in my life. I don't see you often but you are always in my heart.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Liz Taylor at 47 on Left,
at 48 on Right

Maybe it’s my birthday today or maybe it’s my 30th class reunion looming this summer but I’ve been feeling like old man time hit me hard this year. I have a theory that we age in a sort of step-like fashion—that is we go along looking more or less the same and then in the passage of a few short months we can visibly age rather rapidly. Surely you’ve noticed this with friends and family you don’t see very often. Well, apparently this past year, my 47th, was a big step year for me.

It all started last fall when I was on a yoga retreat with my sister. No, actually, it all started 48 years ago when I was born, but I didn’t really notice it that much until last fall. Thanks to good genes, fruits and vegetables, and a life of steady exercise, I’ve managed to outrun time a bit. But now I’m thinking, not so much.

I noticed this first, as I said, at the yoga retreat. I was there with my (much) older sister and one of the participants asked which of us was the older sister. Excuse me? My sister and I looked at each other. Even my sister was confused by the question. Did she just ask which one of us is older? We almost couldn’t answer her we were so dumbfounded.

Now, I should say, my sister does look damn good for 55. But she looks like she’s in her 50’s. And if A equals B and B equals C—hey wait a minute.

The next thing I noticed was that as I went around town running errands, old acquaintances of mine—women I’ve known since our kids were all in nursery school together—were not recognizing me. I’d say hi, they’d look at me confused, blink, finally recognize me and say, “Oh I didn’t know that was you!” At first I attributed it to my glasses I’ve had to start wearing. But I’m hardly Clark Kent. Then I attributed it to my (relatively)longer hair. But really, how much do those things really change our identity. I’ve dyed my hair from brunette to platinum in the past and none of these women had any problem recognizing me. The more I thought about it the more I had to admit to myself, it was not those minor changes that have been hiding my true identity lately. It is aging.

I decided I did not like this. I looked for easy ways to look a little younger. I mentioned to my husband that I thought my haircut might make me look older. He smiled and said, “That must be it. It couldn’t be the passing of time.” He’s pretty funny for an old guy.

And that whole glasses thing. I had Lasik done eight years ago and was glasses/contacts free until this year. In the past year I have gone from needing to wear my glasses at night to drive, to needing them to drive, to needing them to grocery shop, to needing them to vacuum, to okay, wearing them all day. I asked my friend who is an eye doctor if he thought there was any truth to the old wives’ tale that wearing glasses makes your eyes weaker. He smiled, “No, getting older makes your eyes weaker.” Well, it sounds bad when you put it that way.

So today I celebrate my 48th birthday. My 47th year was definitely a “step-year” for me. A big, fat, giant step, not a teeny tiny baby step either. I enter this year hoping I’ve leveled off for a while and the next aging step is many years ahead. At least until I'm 55 and look as old as my sister.