By Charlotte Latvala
One of the most disconcerting things about turning 50 is that inevitable moment when you realize – perhaps in the midst of your Yoko Ono impersonation at a party – that you have completely lost your ability to judge whether something is amazingly hip or not.
After all, many once-cool things have plummeted from grace. Aluminum siding. Margarine. Bill Cosby.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If it was un-cool when you were growing up, it’s probably super cool now. Such as….
- Broadway. Then, it was something corny and old-fashioned your parents forced you to go see. Now, Hamilton.
Cats are always cool.
- Filming your cat doing weird stuff. If you followed your cat around with your 8 mm as a teenager, you were quite the dork. Now? Still a dork, but possibly one with 20,000 followers.
Vinyl is a work of art.
- Vinyl. So passe, once CDs came out. Now? Vinyl is the gold standard of vintage cool. (You’re kicking yourself for getting rid of those three Boston LPs back in 1998, aren’t you?)
Whereas cassettes are just confusing.
- Cassettes. Which are apparently the new vinyl. Eight-tracks and picture discs will follow accordingly.
- Arena rock. Who knew that Journey would have such a long shelf life? We’d love to stop believing, if only we had the choice.
A hippy’s preferred mode of transport on his way home to his tiny house.
- Hippy life. In the eighties, what could be less cool than an old hippy, clinging to her memories of Woodstock and bralessness? Now, hippies are back. They are “crunchy.” But still hippies.
- Tiny houses. In our day, bigger was automatically better; the bigger the square footage, the better. Now, dollhouses are chic.
They almost predate electricity.
- Crockpots. Filled with disgusting sloppy Joes in the 1970s, they have now been rebooted as “slow cookers” and touted as a way to cook healthy homemade meals without actually doing any cooking.
This is a modern man.
- Beards. No normal person in our day wanted to look like a lumberjack or the cough drop guys. Now the Grizzly Adams meets Kris Kringle look simply will not go away.
- Thrift stores. Who used “thrift” as a verb way back when? Hippies, that’s who. Case closed.
Your destination. Eventually.
As August drags on and college gets closer, remember that this is a transition for the whole family. But mostly, it’s a transition for you, and four years of Party Central for him. Here are some fresh new ways to tackle this age-old rite of passage.
- Waste your money on a few last-minute motivational plaques that he will never look at.
Vandals will soon replace the second verb anyway.
- Refer to move-in day as “Doomsday.” Include it on your calendar, preferably written in tear-stained black letters.
- For extra drama, take up a few old-fashioned mourning rituals before your child leaves. Send all your friends black-edged photos of your kid. Wear a black armband. Better yet, put on sackcloth and ashes and stand in the town square rending them.
Yep, that’s you.
- Film yourself blubbering incoherently and post on any social media that your child has a chance of seeing.
- Use this time to reflect on what’s really important, i.e. knowing that the privilege of plastering your kid’s college decal on your car will cost you more than all the cars you’ve ever owned put together.
That’s one expensive decal.
- Sneak a favorite sibling into your kid’s luggage as a quick pick-me-up when homesickness strikes.
Just like home.
- In the car, ask tearfully if he wants to play the license plate game, “one last time.”
- On campus, be sympathetic to other parents going through a tough time. A good ice-breaker: “Isn’t it terrific that the college doesn’t hold felony convictions against freshmen?”
- Adopt a spirit of friendly competition. Challenge the parents of your kid’s roommate to a series of zany activities, including competitive bed-making, clothes hanger bingo, and who can say, “Wow, this dorm is way cooler than anything we had,” more convincingly.
Ready, set, hang!
- When you hug your child goodbye, whisper “You’re dead to me” in his ear.
- The second you get home, post 10,000 baby pictures on social media. It will be like he never left.
Because this is how you still see your college kid.
As August drags on, many of us need to go college shopping. You may remember this fun ritual from your own undergraduate days, when you rampaged through Sears, locked in mortal combat with your mother over whether to buy the neon green or dusty rose colored towels. Never fear, it’s just as much fun on the other end. Follow these tips for a shopping adventure to delight everyone.
If you went to college in the eighties, you had one of these blankets.
- Keep reminding your child that life wasn’t soft and comfortable when you went to college; a six-pack of Bud and a hot plate with a frayed cord were plenty good enough for you.
- Insist on purchasing several items from her college’s “forbidden” list. Assure your kid that “It belongs to my roommate!” is an iron-clad excuse for any misdemeanor.
These are more like friendly suggestions than rules.
- Go to Bed Bath and Beyond with a six-inch wad of coupons from other retailers. As you present each one, say: “I know this isn’t from here, but am I allowed to use it?” To involve your child, have her stand next to you recording the hijinks on her iPhone.
- Insist that she buy bedding in shades of green and yellow, because you’re “sure she’s going to be put in Slytherin.”
Your kid is a little Draco.
- Encourage your child to have one full-out tantrum in the retail establishment of her choice, for old time’s sake.
- Burst into Home Depot and demand to know where they keep the bikini line trimmers.
No, not these.
- When the cashier announces your grand total, fall down on the floor in a pretend faint. Wave your hand weakly in front of your face and croak “Smelling…salts.”
- Write passive-aggressive notes on your kid’s brand new white board when she’s not looking.
- Likewise, take a Sharpie and scrawl “I can see what you’re doing” on her new mirror.
For years, a parent’s best friend.
- Confuse her completely by threatening to shop online next year.
Sun-In, and sunlight, and you’ll be blonder to-ni-ight. (Because in the right light, blonde and grey are indistinguishable.)
At 50, you know that summer’s not the non-stop party you were told it was by Seventeen Magazine and Sun-In commercials. We fifty-somethings tend to get cranky when confronted with bugs, humidity, and carefree beach music from days gone by. (Can we please stop pretending there is any reason to ever hear John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John croon “Summer Nights” again?)
To get through this often onerous season:
- Avoid unnecessary social events. And when your kid asks you why you didn’t come to his high school graduation, pretend you can’t understand the question.
Come on, it’s hard to remember every special occasion in the summer.
- Develop a chlorine allergy. Pools are for small children and teenagers. If you’re ever overcome with the desire to leap headfirst into cold liquid, I suggest a gin and tonic on the rocks.
Or this, whatever it is.
- Take afternoon naps, Gone with the Wind style. Flounce and pout first to make the experience more authentic.
- Take refuge in the library. Libraries are full of books, to be sure – but they also smell really good. Especially in the summer, with the air conditioning cranked and the water fountain set on mega-cold.
- Cherish the good things. Like air conditioning. And soft-serve ice cream. And co-workers on vacation for extended periods of time.
Remember, things could be worse this summer. You could be the guy in the fez costume.
- Stop shaving. NO ONE WILL NOTICE. Just like in winter. You’re 50, for crying out loud. No one’s examining your armpits.
- Likewise, let your lawn grow wild. Tell any pesky neighbors or local officials that you are developing a “wildlife habitat,” and make a lot of vague statements about “the environment.”
You say weeds, I say protected species.
- When you run into the inevitable construction zones on your way to work, shout inspiring messages in Latin at the road crew.
Carpe this diem, baby.
- Mark off the days of July and August in scratch marks, classic prison style, on your kitchen wall.
- Do your best to get the chorus of “Summer Nights” out of your head, where it has been implanted for the two minutes it took to read this.
By Charlotte Latvala
The ivy halls beckon.
Let’s face it: At 50, we barely remember why we chose the college we did. Maybe we randomly picked a school close to home, or gravitated to the university where our current girlfriend/boyfriend was headed. If our parents were involved, it was only to co-sign the student loans.
The expectations are different today. Your child’s success, after all, is your success, and nothing is more important than shoving your kid vigorously in the right direction. Here’s a little road map to help:
- Tell him if he doesn’t attend the college of your choice, he’s out of the will.
- When he reminds you that your net worth is basically whatever your old Pink Floyd albums would fetch on eBay, throw darts at a map until one lands on a college town. Announce, in your best Christopher Lee voice, “Then Fate has sealed your decision.”
The enemy approaches, and it is the first tuition payment.
- Add some clarity by repeating “This is the MOST IMPORTANT DECISION OF YOUR LIFE” on an hourly basis as your kid pours over college brochures and web sites.
- Keep the mood light by saying, “No pressure now!” disregarding the fact that you’ve compared him to an overachieving sibling for the past four years.
- When consulting with high school guidance counselors, use the royal “we.” (Caveat: You should only do this if you have a superstar child you enjoy taking full credit for.)
We’re gloating over our good grades!
- Spend thousands of dollars on SAT prep classes so your child can test higher than his actual ability and make it into a college he isn’t prepared for. (Later, complain bitterly when he drops out.)
- Insist that he visit your alma mater. Tell long, pointless stories of your undergrad hi-jinks, culminating in a bawdy tale involving a freezing cold night, minimal clothing, and a cafeteria tray.
What tales this piece of molded plastic could tell!
- Ask the tour guide embarrassing personal questions. Repeatedly reference beer pong to show how hip you still are. Ask loudly, “Was that a guy or a girl?” whenever a student with a man bun walks by.
Explain yourself, bun-man!
- Elbow the other parents on the tour and say “Well, we didn’t have THAT in the eighties if you know what I mean!” (You don’t actually mean anything but this is a wonderful ploy to get your child to walk quickly away from you and finish a tiresome tour in a hurry.)
- Back at home, repeatedly call the admissions office to ask if your kid is “blowing everyone else out of the water.”
- Once he gets into school – any school – hold a bonfire and burn all the college brochures that accumulated in the past year. Trust us, you won’t want to relive any of this.
Ring of College Fire.
By Charlotte Latvala
If you successfully roast a turkey, a new 2015 law dictates you must immediately share your accomplishment on social media.
Now that you’re deep into middle age, the holidays have changed. It’s more likely that you’ll be hosting the shindig this year, rather than traipsing over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house with two cans of cranberry sauce in your purse and a grudge in your heart.
Of course, there’s no shortage of know-it-alls to consult for tips. We suggest the How to be 50 way instead. That is:
- Invite only family members who have a history of bad blood. Passive-aggressive barbs will distract from any sub-standard food.
- Create a sense of holiday mirth by requesting each guest bring the same food item. Watch with delight as, one by one, they realize the entire meal consists of Pillsbury crescent rolls.
Everyone giggle at once.
- Or, pare down the guest list by offering “frozen pizza du jour” as the main course. If anyone questions your holiday choice, announce that you have a moral issue with celebrating the white European patriarchy responsible for Stove Top stuffing.
- Be clear that offers of cash are always welcome. In fact, put a basket in the entryway with a sign that says “Tips Appreciated” and a smiley face. Threaten to host Thanksgiving Pledge Week next year if “guests like you” don’t contribute.
No contribution is too big.
- To further jeopardize your chances of hosting again, allow your cat to dance all over the counter while you’re assembling the green bean casserole, pretending you don’t notice the shower of hair descending on the cream of mushroom soup.
Confound your guests by making it clear that your cat is king.
- If anyone so much as hints at complaining, accuse them of “host-shaming” and post an angry diatribe on your blog.
- When it’s your turn to offer up what you’re thankful for, say (with a tiny catch in your throat) that you’re grateful so many relatives generously offered to put up your Christmas decorations after dinner. It was wonderfully sweet of everyone! What a lovely way to repay you for dinner! Everyone grab a box of lights and a ladder!
Don’t worry, little nutcracker man — you’re next!
- Come up with some fun after-dinner games. “Who can draw Uncle Conspiracy Theory into a political argument first?” and “How many glasses of Pinot Grigio will it take for Aunt Crazy to start singing her favorite Backstreet Boys songs?” are grown-up favorites, but “Let’s ID the hair in the crescent roll!” works for any age.
- To clear the house out in a hurry, flip a breaker and loudly announce, “Oh darn, we can’t watch the Big Game!” No one will suspect foul play, because honestly, aren’t you a little old for such pranks?
Football socks please everyone; the game, not so much.
By Charlotte Latvala
The open road beckons. If only you could remember where you put the car keys.
At your age, you don’t need anyone telling you how to drive. Not your spouse, not your kids, and especially not that crackpot pedestrian who screamed at you this morning when you “almost took her out.” (What was she doing in the middle of the crosswalk, anyway?)
But still. A quick review never hurts. (It’s 35-plus years since you took Driver’s Ed, after all – and you were pretty distracted by that cute junior two rows in front of you.) To stay in tip-top shape behind the wheel:
- Don’t drink and drive. We’re not talking alcohol. With a 50-year-old bladder, forget water, juice, and soda as well. Frantically looking for a rest area and keeping your legs squeezed together at 70 mph does not make for safe driving.
Even this seemingly innocuous bottle can be a threat to the middle-aged driver.
- Don’t drive at night. You’ll make people nervous if you say you can’t see well, so use creative excuses, like “Our library just instituted a zero-tolerance return policy, so I need to finish Gone Girl tonight or I’m toast.”
- To mix things up, set your GPS to locations in Middle-earth.
Grima Wormtongue is the perfect guide to your destination. (As long as it’s in Rohan.)
- Barrage the other drivers with sarcastic comments. It’s a time-honored tradition that the older the driver, the sassier the commentary. “Pick a lane, princess!” or “Turn signal, moron!” are ok, but why not ramp up your game with taunts like “Who taught you to drive, a one-armed blind guitarist in a Motley Crue tribute band?”
- On the other hand, road rage is so 2013. Fill yourself with road love instead; toss flower petals at other motorists and shout “Keep smiling!” “You’re the best!” and “I love you! I honestly love you!” to all truck drivers.
Perfect gift for your fellow travelers!
- Every now and then, careen erratically down an empty side street to give your passengers that enjoyable “runaway roller coaster” feeling.
- Buy a classic mid-life crisis car. Any convertible counts, as long as it’s not the old Cozy Coupe collecting cobwebs in the garage.
This baby’ll turn some heads.
- As you pull out of your driveway, roll the window down and screech, “I CAN’T DRIVE…FIFTY-FIVE!” to your confused teenagers.
- Pass out deli-style numbers to anyone in the car who wants to lodge a complaint.
- Refuse to drive your kids anywhere until they say the magic words. Which are: “This tank of gas is on me.”
Fill ‘er up.
By Charlotte Latvala
“Everybody dance now” is sometimes a command that must be obeyed.
Do you need to dance, at 50? Well, sure, you say. I like to toss on an old Wham! CD and boogie around my living room every now and then.
But that’s not what we mean. In mid-life, there are occasions when you need to dance in public, including but not limited to: Your kid’s wedding; the annual work-related social event your spouse drags you to; and one of those rare but glorious funerals where the music starts and everyone hits the dance floor.
Don’t let the rhythm catch you unprepared. Instead:*
- Fuel up. A healthy snack before you hit the floor is as important as a good beat.
A perfect pairing.
- Remember it’s not 1982. So stop yelling at the DJ to play The Psychedelic Furs.
- Don’t whip. Don’t nae nae either. It’s cute when a toddler or very elderly person experiments with the latest dance craze. You, not so much.
- Remove any highly restrictive clothing (i.e. suit jackets, belts, Spanx) before you a bust a move.
- On second thought, never use the phrase “bust a move.”
- To distract everyone from your dancing, release a few dozen balloons during your favorite song.
Up, up, and away goes everyone’s attention.
- If the evening involves line-dancing, tape a large R and L on the appropriate shoes.
- Under no circumstances should you reference Grease. Not the movie, not the musical, not John Travolta. Just, no.
- If you’re hell-bent on re-enacting the 1970s, stick to The Hustle and forget about The Bump. Making people wince with your awful dancing is one thing; inflicting bodily injury quite another.
You know you remember the steps.
- Don’t squeal “Wikki, wikki, wikki!” and pantomime “scratching” when the DJ plays something remotely resembling rap.
- Likewise, please stop shouting requests for George Michael songs. It’s only funny once.
Half of Wham! but all of our hearts.
- When you see someone filming you with an iPhone, do not – we repeat DO NOT – shout “I’m gonna twerk now!” and begin wiggling your backside. Because that’s the video that will show up at the family reunion, the office Christmas party, and quite possibly your own funeral.
* If your goal is to embarrass your children with your dancing, please disregard all of the above advice.