A Helping Hand

I always hoped I’d be the sort of person who could greet any sort of hardship with a cheerful smile and a “can do” attitude, rolling up my sleeves to get to work on solving whatever problem I happen to be facing. I wanted to automatically count my blessings each morning when I woke up, no matter what the day had in store. I wanted to be the person who feels, deep down in her heart, that no matter how long a difficult situation lasts, I’m absolutely certain I last even longer.

And some days, I am exactly that sort of person. I’m genuinely thankful for what I have, and I absolutely feel strong enough to deal with whatever trouble comes my way. But the problem is that I also have other days, when I’m impatient, annoyed, discouraged, and above all, just plain crabby.

Living with the fear of Covid isn’t easy when you have seasonal allergies, especially since the list of possible Covid symptoms has expanded to include almost every symptom that my allergies cause. I used to get a sore throat and think, “Darn, the pollen counts are high again.” Now I think, “OMG, do I have Covid????” I worry that my husband’s cancer treatments will be derailed by either a positive Covid test or that hospitals will once again halt most surgeries and procedures that aren’t Covid-related. And sometimes, I just plain get tired of the difficulties in doing every day things, like grocery shopping, going to the dentist, or getting a leaking basement pipe repaired.

I miss going to church on Sunday mornings, and eating out with friends. I used to worry if I left the house without my cell phone, but now I panic if I reach in my purse and can’t find my trusty little bottle of hand sanitizer. I miss being able to drop in at my mother’s apartment to check that she’s really okay.

I know these are all minor complaints and that many people are in MUCH worse situations. Believe me, I get that. But as the weeks stretch into months and the months threaten to stretch into years, there are times when reminding myself that I’m better off than many others just doesn’t help much.

But the one thing that never fails to help is when another person reaches out in kindness and concern. Never have I appreciated what a gift that is more than I do now.

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On the day before my husband’s first chemo treatment, my daughter dropped off a “care basket” full of supplies to help him cope. Friends and family have called, sent cards, and just plain listened without judgement when I needed to vent. Neighbors have invited us over to sit on their patio for an evening of wine and good conversation. A family friend has reached out regularly to my mother, knowing that she needs extra contact to combat the loneliness the Covid restrictions have caused her and most other senior citizens.

The truth is, life is rather challenging for all of us these days, to various degrees and for a variety of reasons. But if we can all remember to reach out to someone else with an encouraging word, a sympathetic ear, or even just the gift of our (socially distanced) presence, life will be a bit easier for everyone. And if that isn’t worth the effort, then I don’t know what is.

Something New

This is my first attempt to write a blog post using the new format that Word Press has installed on my blog,  so I have no idea what the finished product is going to look like.  It reminds me of when I began blogging over five years ago, and I spent hours trying to figure out how to create a new blog, name it, and send it out into cyberspace.  It took an act of faith to hit that “publish” button for the first time, and I suspect it’s going to take an equally strong act of faith to publish this post.  So if the end result seems a little strange, I humbly ask you to bear with me.

As my regular readers know, adapting to change is not my strong point.  I’m not against new things, it’s just that I very much prefer it when the change is a matter of my own personal choice, and not something that has been foisted upon me.  I also like my change meted out in small doses, giving me time to adjust to one new thing at a time.  Sadly, whoever is in charge of change seems to have hit the “fast forward button” and left the room, locking the door behind him.

qMzfbapTQq2tzLWNgWaX6wSo all I can do is try to adapt to this new normal which is chock-full of strange new things.  When I invited some friends over for a happy hour recently and the rain prevented us from gathering on my patio, I set up chairs and small tables in the garage instead.  I figured out how to navigate Facebook’s new format, and even discovered that they hadn’t done away with “Messenger” as I had initially feared. (Although they did make it hard to find.)  I keep a stash of face masks in my car and hand sanitizer in my purse at all times.   And now I’m blogging in a completely new format, even though I was perfectly happy with the old one. 

I’m not going to lie, I wish that I could have just a tiny little break from this constant parade of change in my life, but I also know that’s probably not going to happen.  This is a very odd year, and I’m sure lots of other changes are in store and that some of them won’t be good ones.  (I’m just waiting for the day they announce that hand sanitizer causes cancer…..) 

But no good comes from looking back on “the good old days” and wishing that I could somehow go back in time.  And when I’m being completely honest with myself, I realize that those good old days weren’t always so good.  I had problems and worries then, just the same as I do now…they were just different problems and worries.  Plus, all the adapting I’ve had to do in recent months has shown me that I’m a little bit stronger and a little bit more flexible that I thought. 

So I’ll keep plugging away, making the necessary adjustments, occasionally grieving over my losses, but also appreciating the gifts that have also come my way.  And if I’m lucky, I’ll figure out this new way to blog and will once again enjoy writing my posts and be able to hit that “publish” button with confidence……

 

Accentuate the Positive

When my husband and I were first dating, we often went to the movies.  Our tastes were very different, but we both enjoyed a good comedy and there was almost always one worth seeing.  One evening he told me he’d really like to see the new movie, “Grease.”  I was a little surprised but went along with his choice.  After a quick stop at the snack bar, we settled into our seats and the movie began.

Less than five minutes into it, my husband turned to me with a look of horror on his face.  “I think this is a muscial!” he hissed.  I agreed that it was.  Scowling, he took another bite of popcorn and turned his attention back to the screen.   He watched in suspicious silence for a while longer before he began to look even more alarmed.  “And it’s a love story!”  Given half a chance, I’m sure he would have left the theater there and then.  But as far as I was concerned, we’d paid for the movie and hadn’t even made a dent in our soda and popcorn supplies, so we were going to ride it out.

When the movie was over, I asked him how how he liked it.  “It wasn’t too bad,” he admitted.  “Considering.”  I told him that’s exactly what I thought, too.  It certainly wasn’t one of my favorite movies, but it was good enough that I’m glad we didn’t walk out.

Fast forward more than forty years to a recent Saturday night when my husband and I decided to go out for dinner.  There was a slight chance of rain in the forecast so we considered ourselves lucky that the restaurant had a sidewalk table under a big awning, just in case.  We placed our orders and settled back to enjoy the live music coming from a restaurant across the street.  All was going well until it started to rain….very, very, hard.

ORyzU85tSfq3qtjHCpQWe quickly moved our table as far back from the street as it would go, thinking that would protect us.  And it did, for a while.  But soon the street in front of the restaurant was covered in water that was also lapping up against the curb.  Our waitress asked if we’d like to move inside, but we told her we were fine.  (We’re not eating inside restaurants right now.)   By the time she came back with our food, the water was beginning to cover the sidewalk as well.  Every once in a while a car would venture down the flooded street, creating waves that did reach our table, so we learned to lift our feet whenever we saw one coming.

I know this sounds like a miserable experience, but it really wasn’t.  A few other diners had also chosen to stay outside, the servers were all carrying umbrellas to stay dry, and the temperatures were quite comfortable.  The atmosphere was almost festive.  As I told my husband, “it’s like beach-side dining, without the sand.”

Sometimes in this life, things just don’t turn out the way we had expected.  What sounded like a good movie turns out to be a musical love story.  What we thought would be a good night for dining outside turns into a night of heavy rains.  But if we can just let go of our original plans and simply go with the flow, sometimes things turn out to be just fine.  As a wise person once said, “it’s all about attitude.”

Simple Pleasures

When I was a child, one of my favorite outings was a trip to the local zoo.  Sometimes we went as a family, but most often we went with neighborhood friends, all piled into my mother’s car.  The adults would sit in the front seat,  with the other moms holding their babies on their laps, and the rest of us kids would squeeze into the back seat.  If we couldn’t all fit, we’d make the smaller ones sit on the floor.  (This was in the days before seat belts and car seats.)   Once we arrived at the zoo, we’d have a marvelous time running around and seeing all the exotic animals, riding the zoo train, and when our moms weren’t looking, fishing coins out of the fountains to be used at the nearby concession stands.

Later, when I had my own kids, I loved taking them to the zoo as well.  It was fun to watch them enjoy the same things I had loved so much as a child, and to take them for a ride on the very same zoo train.  The zoo has changed and improved in many ways over the years, and thankfully provides a much more natural habitat for its animals these days, but a visit there is still a little trip down memory lane.

Now that my children are grown, I was looking forward to taking my two-year old grandson to the zoo this summer.    Sadly, the zoo had to close temporarily when the pandemic struck and when it did open back up, there were many new restrictions in place.  Reservations were required, masks must be worn, and many attractions remained closed.  I wasn’t sure it was worth the bother, and decided my plans to take my grandson to the zoo were yet another casualty of the Covid virus.

But when my daughter told me she’d made reservations for us to take my grandson to the zoo, I agreed to go.  We came prepared with our masks, a wagon to pull my grandson around in when he was tired of walking, and plenty of cold drinks to keep us hydrated.  While we didn’t have a typical zoo experience,  I can honestly say it was still an enjoyable one.

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We saw plenty of animals, (my grandson liked the elephants the best) and, of course, rode the zoo train just as I had all those years ago.  It was fun to see a two-year old get so excited when he saw his favorite animals and enjoy the train ride so much.  When it was over, I thanked my daughter for taking the initiative to plan the outing, knowing that if she hadn’t, I would have missed out on a very special experience.

And the next time I think that trying to do something I normally enjoy is just too much trouble these days, I’m going to remember that trip to the zoo.  Just because I can’t do many things as I normally would, doesn’t mean I can’t do them at all.  I can still invite friends over, we just sit outside and keep our distance.  I can still enjoy food from my favorite restaurants, I just eat it on their patio or get carry-out.  I may not be able to browse the library, but I can order the books I want and pick them up curbside.

Life is certainly different now, and sometimes it’s hard not to be discouraged.  But I think if we’re willing to be flexible and a little determined, we’ll find that there are still plenty of simple pleasures just waiting to be enjoyed.

The Company You Keep

No doubt about it, 2020 hasn’t exactly turned out to be a banner year.  Aside from the birth of our new granddaughter (which was a wonderful gift), it has mostly been a series of hardships that had to be both accepted and endured.  From learning that our dog tested positive for heart worm in February, to the arrival of the Covid virus in Spring and the subsequent lock-downs which resulted in the cancellation of every single event and gathering we had been looking forward to, to the worry of our granddaughter’s premature birth, followed closely by my husband’s cancer diagnosis, I feel as if I’ve hardly had a chance to draw a breath, much less process it all.

But like everyone else whose world has been turn upside down in the past few months, I don’t really have a choice other than to do my best to cope with this new reality.  And so I do what I can to adapt and learn new coping strategies.  It helps to do the small things that cheer me up, like buying fresh flowers for our house or making sure I always have a stack of new books to read when I can find the time.  I’ve learned the importance of self-care, and am getting much better at saying “no” to obligations that  threaten to overwhelm me.  If nothing else, I’ve  come to accept my limitations, and that’s a good thing.

I’ve also discovered the importance of discernment.  There are days when I take a break from the news, knowing that all the craziness and conflict will still be there when I actually feel strong enough to hear it.  I hit the “unfollow” button on Facebook in order to keep my newsfeed free from the petty bickering and tribal chest-thumping that many feel obligated to post on a daily basis.  Sometimes I let my phone go directly to voice mail, particularly when it rings just as I am sitting down to a hot meal or settling into a comfortable chair with a good book.   It took a while, but I’ve finally learned not to feel guilty about that.

More importantly, I’ve learned to be a bit more particular about the people I talk to on a regular basis.  I’ve always believed in accepting others for exactly who they are, and that is still the case.  But now that I find myself living almost constantly on the fine line between coping and feeling completely overwhelmed, I realize that I need to spend most of my time only with those who have the ability to cheer me up and keep me hopeful. One good thing about hard times is that you discover some of the people you know are really, really, good at being supportive.  They’re the ones who listen to you without judgement, who assure you that things really will get better, and who know how to make you laugh when all you thought you could do was cry.

IMG_6698I still love all my friends and family, and value my relationship with each and every one of them.  But right now, in this particular situation, I’m gravitating toward those who are helping me cope.  And that’s okay, I think.  If nothing else, they’re showing me exactly what I need to do when it’s my turn to “pay it forward” and help someone else who is in need.  Because the one thing I know about dealing with hardships is that it’s so much easier when you don’t have to face them alone.

Worth Waiting For

When our grandson was born two years ago, my husband and I were at the hospital and were able to both see and hold him within hours of his birth.  In the weeks that followed, I often stopped by my daughter’s house to help out so she and her husband could run an errand or take a much-needed nap.  I quickly learned just how strong the bond between a grandparent and grandchild can be, and what a gift that relationship was.

So when I heard that happy news that my son and daughter-in-law were expecting a child in June, I believed that I knew exactly what to expect. I thought that I’d get to meet my new granddaughter at the hospital, and had already told her parents that I’d be more than happy to help out when they brought their new baby home.  Truth be told, I was really looking forward to it.

But then a sneaky little virus wormed it’s way into our lives, and I knew that I wouldn’t be meeting our new granddaughter at the hospital.   When we got the call that she was coming six weeks early, all we could do was pray for a safe delivery and a healthy baby.  She spent her first two weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, and when she finally came home, we counted ourselves lucky to see her for the first time outside and from a distance.

The weeks went by and she grew bigger and stronger, and our son and daughter-in-law were very good about letting us visit whenever we asked, even allowing us to hold her.  But something still felt just a little bit “off.”  I loved my new granddaughter, but I didn’t feel as if I actually knew her.  The fact that she was a preemie, born during a pandemic, created some barriers, at least in my mind.  And while I knew it was for the best, it still made me sad.

y5kJkKr%RmG1zaP4cziDcgThat all changed last Saturday, when I had the privilege of babysitting for her for the day.  It was my first time alone with her, and the first time caring for her.  You learn something about a baby when you rock her to sleep, feed her, change her diaper, and sing a silly song to keep her entertained.  And when she (almost) smiles at you, and you feel the unmistakable bond between a grandparent and a grandchild, your heart just sings.  This was exactly what I had been longing for, I finally realized.  I wanted the chance to really know my granddaughter, and to connect with her.

Sometimes we just need to be patient in this life, especially when we’re living through such unsettled times.  I may have had to wait until it was safe, but the time did come when I was able to interact with my granddaughter in all the ways I had envisioned when I first heard my daughter-in-law was pregnant.  And you know what?  She was absolutely worth the wait.

A State of Confusion

I’ve never been the brightest bulb on the string, which means there has always been much in the world that I simply don’t understand. When I was young, I thought that things would make more sense to me as I aged, but I was wrong.  If anything, I’m more confused now than I ever was.

I’m not talking about the obvious issues here:  how a pandemic managed to turn the world upside down, or when we decided that being angry was a good enough reason to lash out at any handy target.  (Although I don’t pretend to understand any of that.)  I’m talking about the little changes that are going on all around me, and for which I can’t find a single sensible explanation.

I have so many questions, but I’ll just give a few examples of the things that confound me.  Such as how every bank I know of is pushing on-line banking, and was busy cutting both the hours and staff at their branches even before Covid-19 arrived.  And yet what are those very same banks doing?  Building new branches, as in actual brick-and-mortar banking offices.  There’s at least five new ones under construction in my neighborhood alone.   Why in the world are they building new branch offices when they’re barely using the ones they already have?

And speaking of construction, I would no longer even consider buying a brand-new house.  Sure, it would be great to have new plumbing and wiring (I have to turn off the lights in my kitchen if I want to vacuum the family room without blowing a circuit), but I have no use for an “open-concept” floor plan.  I don’t know when we decided that having a walls was a bad thing, but it was probably the same time we decided that barn doors belonged in houses, and that the only acceptable colors in a kitchen were white, gray, and grayish-white.  I want a kitchen that is cozy and inviting, and in my opinion, most modern kitchens have all the warmth and charm of an operating room.

When I first bought a cell phone, I was annoyed because the sales person promised me the day would come when I would be completely dependent on it.   I just wanted to be able to call people, for goodness sake.  Yet here I am years later, stressing out if I forget to take my phone along every single time I leave the house.  How can I possibly get through a few hours without my phone calls, texts, and emails?  But the worst part is, that’s still not enough dependency.   According to modern standards, I should also be using my phone for social media, all my purchases, my banking, and even locking my front door.  Because then, if I should happen to lose my phone, anyone who is lucky enough to find it can steal everything in my house, empty my bank account, and go on a big spending spree at my expense.

I’m not sure if my confusion means I’m just an old fogy who can’t be bothered to learn modern ways, or if being clueless is simply a natural state for me.  I suspect it is a little bit of both.  Which I guess means that the title of this blog is at least half right:  I may not be middle-aged anymore, but I’m definitely still muddling through my life…..

Making Do

Like so many things this year, the big party we were planning to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday was cancelled.  Turning ninety is sort of a big deal, so we had hoped to rent a venue and invite extended family and all of Mom’s friends to stop by for cake, drinks and snacks.  Initially, Mom had told us there was no need to make such a fuss, but as the lock-down wore on and we had to cancel family gathering after family gathering, she began to really look forward to her big party.  It was going to be her chance to finally see everyone again, altogether in the same place.

When it became apparent that the virus wasn’t going to cooperate with our original plans, we told Mom that we were going to have to put off the big party for a while longer, but that we would have a small dinner gathering for our immediate family instead.  Since some of our immediate family lives out-of-state, my sister volunteered to host it in her yard so we could all stay outside and socially distance.  Everything was fine until we saw the weather forecast for the day of the party:  98 degrees with a heat index of  at least 105.  We waited as long as possible, hoping that the forecast would change, but it didn’t.  And since there is no way it would be safe for Mom to be out in that kind of heat for any length of time, we had to cancel again.

My Mom told us she understood, and I knew that she did.  But I also knew how deeply disappointed she was, and I didn’t blame her one bit.  So my husband and I talked it over and came up with an alternative plan:  we would have Mom over to our yard early in the morning for breakfast and include only our kids and grandchildren.  It wasn’t anywhere close to the celebration we had promised her, but it was the best we could do in the circumstances.  I only hoped it would be enough.

IMG_6723And you know what?  It was enough.  We loaded the patio table with breakfast food and drinks, hooked up some fans to keep it as cool as possible, and filled the wading pool for our grandson to play in.  Our newborn granddaughter even joined us outside for a little while before going into back into air-conditioned house for her morning nap.  Mom opened her gifts, we all enjoyed each other’s company, and we finished before the temperature became unbearably hot.

fullsizeoutput_5bb8Someday, we will throw Mom the big birthday celebration we had originally planned, even if it ends up being for her 91st birthday instead.  But I’m so glad that we had our small get-together in honor of her 90th birthday, and that Mom got to celebrate with at least some of her family.  In these times when so many plans have been cancelled, I think it’s important to be as flexible as we possibly can and to adapt our plans to fit the circumstances.  As my grandmother used to tell me, “Sometimes it’s best to just make do with what you have, and be grateful for it.”  Wise words for sure….

Forty And Counting

fullsizeoutput_5b8dAs of today, my husband and I have been married for forty years.  Our wedding day set records for both heat (112 degrees) and humidity (think steam bath), which meant we had to ditch our plans to take outdoor photos in a nearby park.  It was a nice wedding even so, and my main memory is of being grateful for all the friends and family that came to help us celebrate.  Like most newlyweds, we were young, in love, and had absolutely no idea what the future had in store for us.

The ensuing forty years taught us many things, usually a mixture of both good and bad.    Our meager starting salaries meant we made all of our early purchases based solely on price, including our first house.  But it also taught us how to fix up houses ourselves, turning them not only into a home we actually wanted to live in, but one that we could eventually sell at a profit.  Later, we welcomed a son and a daughter into our family, and learned what it meant to be a responsible parent the same way most people do:  through trial and error, tempered with love.

We learned that some friendships fall by the wayside over the years while others endure, and that those long-term friendships are one of life’s greatest gifts.  When hard times came our way, it was always the support of friends and family that got us through them, and that’s as true today as it ever was.  One of the few things I know for sure in this world is the importance of human relationships and that they are worth every bit of the time and effort they require.

When you live with someone for forty years, you can’t help but notice each other’s odd little quirks, and you also figure out that you aren’t going to change them.  My husband knows that when I say “I’ll be ready in five minutes,” I’m not exactly lying, but I sure am being optimistic.  And I know that when his favorite team loses a game I’m going to hear a lengthy rant about poor coaches, inept officials and all the other unfair factors that can snatch victory from the jaws of the more deserving team.  But we’ve both learned that loving someone also means accepting them as they are, annoying habits and all.

I’m not going to lie, it feels very odd to me to be celebrating our 40th anniversary.  In many ways, it feels as if our wedding day was only yesterday.  And yet here we are, grey-haired (under the dye, in my case) and well past middle-age, with forty years of memories behind us.  We have lost people we loved dearly, but also made new friends and added new loved ones to our family, including two beautiful grandchildren.  No life is without challenge and tragedy, but overall, the years have been kind to us.

IMG_2998We’re definitely not young anymore, but we’re still in love and we still have absolutely no idea what the future holds in store for us.   And that’s okay.  The important thing is that we have each other, and I know that together, we’ll make the most of whatever comes our way.

Do No Harm

The first lesson I learned from this pandemic was the importance of self-care.  Adding a bouquet of flowers to my cart when I’m grocery shopping, taking the time to re-read a favorite book, or just putting on make-up even when I know no one is going to see it underneath my face mask, can work wonders on my spirit.   Keeping as many of my normal routines as possible and indulging in the little things that bring me joy are great coping mechanisms that make this whole situation so much more bearable.

But while the benefits of self-care may have been the first lesson I learned, it isn’t the most important one.  Yes, taking care of myself as best I can, both emotionally and physically, is a very good thing.  But what’s even more important right now is remembering to also take care of other people–those who are close to me and even the people I don’t know at all.  Because the truth is we’re all feeling very stressed these days, so anything and everything we can do to help each other isn’t just appreciated, it’s also necessary.

Sadly, many people seem to be taking their anger and frustration out on each other, in either direct or indirect ways.  Memes on social media that ridicule or chastise people we disagree with are becoming more common and more vicious.  I see examples of selfish driving (blowing through red lights, cutting off other drivers, etc.) and sometimes even road rage almost every time I’m in my car.  Those of us who still read newspapers can’t help but notice that the letters to the editor almost all seem angry and full of accusations, but very short on actual solutions.

All this is doing is making a bad situation even worse.  Now is not the time to pour gasoline on the burning fires of our collective frazzled nerves.  Now is the time to offer the cooling waters of patience, wisdom, and most of all, compassion.  And no gesture is too small to make a difference.  We never know what’s going to turn the tide for someone else and make them feel a little less stressed or a little less alone.  It can be as simple as a smile from a stranger, or an offer to let someone with only a few items go ahead of you in the check out line.  These days, people need to see evidence of the positive side of human nature as often as they can.

DSC01258And the best part is, when we make the decision to try to help someone else cope with these crazy times, we discover that we’re also helping ourselves.  Doing even a small act of kindness makes us feel less powerless and more hopeful because it reminds us that we have the ability to make a positive impact on others.

Hard times have always brought out both the worst and the best in people.  But I believe that when we are intentional about being our best selves, we usually find that the times don’t seem quite so hard.