The Roar of the Cougar

Cougar TownWatching “Cougar Town” makes me feel dirty-and not in a good way. I really wanted to like this show. Despite the high concept potential for disaster, when I heard about it I had high hopes. The star, Courtney Cox, was my third favorite “Friends” actress and her last series, the short-lived “Dirt,” was delightfully trashy. I figured “Cougar Town” would be more of the same.

Besides, clearly this show and I were made for each other. I’m over 40 and I’m married to a hot younger man, so I should be able to relate, right?

Of course being a 40-something woman in real life means juggling work between laundry loads, driving car pool, supervising homework, and putting away groceries. I still go out to bars occasionally, but mainly with girlfriends, and I can’t remember the last time I wore three-inch heels, let alone recall how to walk in them. But on TV the 40-something women-whether judges, detectives, game show contestants or in the case of Cox’s “Cougar Town” character, real estate agents-all have one thing in common: they’re on the prowl for hot, lusty sex with ripped guys only a few years older than their children.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this.

When I see an obviously older woman with a younger guy-and can safely rule out the idea that he’s her son-I usually think “more power to her.” Or, if I’ve had enough cocktails and there’s 80s music playing, “you go girl.”

I also don’t automatically assume the guy’s a himbo, just because he’s young.

Six-pack abs are great, but intelligent conversation is a must, as is a sense of humor, and the second two don’t necessarily fall exclusively in the province of people born before the Reagan administration. Unlike a lot of men, who are happy to be in the company of women who simply look pretty and have absolutely nothing of interest to say, I don’t know a lot of women who aren’t interested in talking, both before and after sex.

According to author Valerie Gibson’s “Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men,” “a cougar is the new breed of single, older woman-confident, sophisticated, desirable, and sexy. She knows exactly what she wants. What she doesn’t want is children, cohabitation, or commitment.”

That I can understand.

I love being married, but if anything ever happened to my husband, getting another one wouldn’t be high on my list of priorities.

I was expecting “Cougar Town” to be a funny, fantasy show about the road not taken. What would it be like to be a woman my age dating a hot younger man? And what would it be like to be living in a “Cougar Town” where this was as commonplace as it is for men to be squiring around much younger women?

Boy was I disappointed.

Instead “Cougar Town” makes turning 40 look like a life sentence at a sadistic day spa where your life is all about nipping, tucking and sucking it in. Rather than simply enjoying being who she is, Cox’s character is constantly commenting on how old she is, how pretty she used to be and how uncomfortable she is in her own skin.

“If aliens learned about our culture by watching our newest television shows, they might assume that planet Earth was terrorized by predatory middle-aged women with hairless, bony bodies and the same blank expression on their overly Botoxed faces, a look of creepy awe at the joys of 20-something tenderloin,” wrote Heather Havrilesky in Salon.

Ick! She’s right.

This is just the opposite of the vast majority of 40-something women that I know.

Getting older is about knowing who you are, and finally, finally, FINALLY being comfortable in your own skin-no matter how wrinkled it may be. Unfortunately the writers of this show-who are mostly middle-aged men-just don’t get that.

When Leslie isn’t trying to find something worth watching on TV, she can be reached at For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 30, 2009.

Let Lying Liars Lie

The Invention of LyingI try to teach my son that honesty is the best policy, but truthfully, I don’t always tell the truth.

I’ve got lies on my mind this week because I saw The Invention of Lying, which, despite a great high concept – in a world where people can only tell the truth, one man discovers he can lie – is a wildly uneven mess of a movie. But it did make me think about how many white lies I routinely tell in the course of an average day.

I contemplated the idea of keeping a lying journal, then tracking when I was tempted to lie and whether I would be able to resist the temptation to fib if I was more aware of it. But why lie to myself? That’s way too ambitious and I wouldn’t last a day, let alone a week.

From the time-saving auto-response “I’m fine” after an innocent query of “How are you doing?” (Which I’m sure the grocery store checker and the people in line behind me would much prefer to “I just ate a donut from the display case and killed a man, and I’m not sure which is worse.”), to the “Of course I’m not too busy” response when a friend calls and they desperately need to talk, I’m a scarily skillful liar. Innocent little fibs like this are second nature for me.

Whether it’s the art of the artful dodge – when my son asks what happened to the M & M’s he had left over from the movies, and I remind him that he needs to unload the dishwasher – or the skillful sidestep – when my husband wonders what happened to the $100 cash he just got from the ATM and I tell him how handsome he is – I’ve come to realize that lying is one of the few things I do rather gracefully.

It’s just my luck that lying – the one useful skill that comes naturally for me -also comes saddled with an entire storage unit full of guilt and ambivalence.

At least I’m not alone.

Research by Dr. Robert S. Feldman of the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that in an average 10-minute discussion, 60 percent of people lie approximately three times. Of course, he may have just made that up.

Moms are the worst offenders of all. “We are surprised by how often parenting by lying takes place,” said researcher Kang Lee of the University of Toronto, Canada. “Our findings showed that even the parents who most strongly promoted the importance of honesty with their children engaged in parenting by lying,” said Lee, who reported her conclusions in a study published in last month’s “Journal of Moral Education.”

Yes, such a journal really exists. And now that I’ve confessed my lying proclivities you probably won’t ever find my name on their masthead, unless I lie about my lying, which I would never do unless I had a really, really, really good story idea that would be perfect for their publication.

I’m even more ambivalent about cultural lies, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I sort of want to be honest about them, but I don’t want my son to be the one to burst some other kid’s bubble, and he’s scrupulously honest enough to enjoy doing just that. Plus, I don’t want to get in trouble from the other parents.

This may be why I floundered a bit when Koss recently tested his suspicions about Tabitha. (Tabitha is his Tooth Fairy, who has been writing him notes and sprinkling pixie dust on his dollar coins for almost a decade. I say if you’re going to perpetuate a lie about a fictional character, you may as well go big.) He told us that he wasn’t going to put a particular tooth under his pillow. For four nights in a row there was no tooth. We checked. Then finally on the fifth night he decided to “test Tabitha” and put his tooth under the pillow. We failed to check. The next morning when Koss said he knew there was no tooth fairy, I mumbled and fumbled for a response, finally settling on: “Are you sure? Maybe she just got stuck in traffic.”

Smoooth. I guess I’m not as good of a liar before I’ve had my coffee. That’s also when I catch myself hastily hiding certain gruesome newspaper headlines underneath the sports page before Koss comes to breakfast, which of course makes him all the more curious about what I’m hiding.

While the socially expedient lies come easily, I get a bit rattled under pressure to prevaricate. A few weeks ago when Koss’s school was on lockdown, I told him everyone was safe before I knew it was true. I hoped it was true.

So maybe there’s a bit of wishful thinking in my lies.

I’m in good company here too. An online survey found that 91 percent of women said that as they get older and more comfortable with themselves they lie less often. If I wasn’t 29, this might apply to me too.

Share the biggest whopper of a lie you’ve ever told with For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 23, 2009.

Childhood Pre Postmortem

© Paha_l | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Paha_l | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

“I guess I’m really a grown-up now” is a thought that has crossed my mind a lot lately.

I think my “kid emeritus” status has less to do with the rings on my trunk — and the wrinkles on my neck — than it has to do with the inescapable passage of time.

This week it was the anticipation of attending the memorial service for the father of a dear old friend that spurred my “I guess I’m really a grown-up” thoughts.

If middle-age has a rite of passage, attending your friends’ parents’ funerals must be it. In our twenties and thirties, our get-togethers were about engagements, weddings and babies. Now they are starting to be about funerals. It’s definitely not as much fun.

Losing a parent may be a common experience once you get to be in your 40s, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult. No matter how much you anticipate the loss – in this case my friend’s father battled cancer for ten years – it’s still a shock.

“My mom was on Hospice care and they told me she had only days to live, but I still didn’t quite believe it when it happened,” said my friend Ron. “It seemed like such a surprise.”

Many people think that once they reach the age of adulthood and get beyond the milestones of marriage and parenthood there are no more surprises. Surprise, surprise — it couldn’t be further from the truth.

“A myth supported by most theories of pre-adult development is that at the end of adolescence you get yourself together and, as a normal, mature adult, you enter into a relatively stable, integrated life pattern that can continue more or less indefinitely,” wrote psychologist Daniel Levinson. “This is a rather cruel illusion since it leads people in early adulthood to believe that they are, or should be, fully adult and settled, and that there are no major crises or developmental changes ahead.”

I’ll never forget how devastated and shocked I was the first time my mom got cancer. I was out of college and living on my own, but I could not have been more crushed by the news if I were a little girl and completely dependent on her.

That was my first dress rehearsal for the death of a parent. Thankfully, even though we’ve had a few more rehearsals over the years, we haven’t gotten to the curtain call yet.

“Our parents project an illusion of permanence,” writes Alexander Levy in “The Orphaned Adult: Understanding And Coping With Grief And Change After The Death Of Our Parents.” “Their death forces us to confront our own mortality.”

“Before we have experienced the death of a parent, we may expect that this will be a fairly minor milestone in our adult development. In fact, we may implicitly believe that once we reach adulthood, particularly if we have children of our own, that our development is more or less complete. We do not expect that there will be major changes in the way we experience the world or react to it. The research … demonstrates that the loss of a parent has profound and wide-ranging consequences for most of us,” wrote Debra Umberson in “Death of a Parent: Transition to a New Adult Identity.”

“It still surprises me that the stupidest little things can bring me to tears,” said my friend Carol, whose father passed away last year. “My dad used to love Nutter Butter cookies, and when I saw that flavor of yogurt last week I just lost it.”

I almost lost it myself when she shared this story. Frankly, every time one of my friends’ parents dies, I feel like it’s yet another dress rehearsal for the day my own parents pass away. I know it’s morbid, but I can’t help myself.

The idea that “we are next in line to die,” as Levy wrote, is the very thing that may actually force us to grow up. And yet – just like my son already knows that growing up is going to include more responsibilities than he wants to undertake – I really don’t want to have to grow up.

Share your thoughts with For more columns visit published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 9, 2009.

Wrapping it up

Gift Wrapping Paper by Apolonia,

Gift Wrapping Paper by Apolonia,

Little did I know that when I enrolled my child in public school I was signing up for a 13-year tour of fundraising duty.

I’ll never forget the first time Koss jumped in the car and delightedly declared how excited he was that he was going to win a squishy pink and yellow stuffed turtle to dangle from his backpack. He sounded like a late night infomercial huckster as he excitedly explained that, “all WE have to do was sell a minimum of 30 rolls of wrapping paper.”

Is that all WE have to do?

Forget the fact that all of his stuffed animals had been relegated to the back of the closet and declared babyish a few months before, he would absolutely die and be the laughing stock of the school if he didn’t win one of those cool turtles.

And that was just the beginning of the all of the fabulous prizes he could win, he explained, shoving a prize incentive catalog at me that looked a thousand times glossier and heavier than the actual wrapping paper they were trying to push.

“If WE sell more than 300 items, WE can get a Wii!” he chirped.

Overlooking the fact that WE already have a Wii, which he mostly ignores, I quickly did the math on this one. If WE sell 300 rolls of wrapping paper at $8.50 each, that’s over $2,500 bucks for an item that sells for about $200 at Best Buy. And that’s not including the value of our time, let alone all the pride I have to swallow every time I ask a friend or neighbor to write another check for the school.

When I was a kid selling candy bars was easy. I just put them in nose-shot of my dad and they all disappeared within a few days. Unfortunately for Koss, his school uses catalogs to sell stuff, so it’s easier to resist.

Besides nowadays, as we all learn the hard way, children are not the real salespeople when it comes to school fundraisers: we are. Sure, they leave the pep rally assembly all fired up about how they’ll rush through the neighborhood and “sell, sell, sell.” But soon afterward the reality of homework, soccer practice, chores and play dates sets in, and the tune changes to “mom, mom, mom … how many rolls of wrapping paper did we sell?”

This year, for once, I had no problem adding up the numbers in my head: Six. That’s right, six. Three to grandma and three to me. “Did you sell any magazines?” Koss asked hopefully. “Even though the prizes aren’t as cool I can still get some.”

No magazines, no candles, no aromatic oils. This year we even skipped out on the “beautifully embossed tins” of popcorn that are large enough to house a family of four. I sold 12 of them at our last garage sale.

“But it helps pay for camp, mom,” Koss pleaded.

I know, but it’s too much work for not enough return on our investment, I explain. This year I’m going to only buy the wrapping paper that I need.

“So WE won’t get the Wii?”

Nope. You’ll have to wait till next year – because if there is one thing that’s certain about school fundraisers, there is always another one coming up.

If any of you readers out there need wrapping paper, magazine or Santa Barbara Axxess Books, email For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 2, 2009.