In It For The Long Haul

When I was a stay-at-home mom with young children, every day was a unique, though not necessarily exciting, adventure.  No matter how hard I tried to establish routines, my days never had anything close to the predictable routine I was used to when I worked in an office.  Sometimes before he left in the morning, my husband would ask me, “What’s on your agenda today?”  And I would promptly answer, “Laundry.”  At that time, it was the one constant in my life.  Whatever else the day brought me, I knew it would include laundry.

The sad thing was that I hated doing laundry.  I like jobs that can be neatly checked off of a to-do list, and not have to be faced on a continuing basis.  But no matter how many loads of wash I did, the laundry basket just filled right back up.  Often before sunset.  It was a job I could never actually complete.

Now that the kids are grown and out of the house, I have lots of laundry-free days, but I’m still dealing with a task that, no matter how hard I work at it, feels as if it is never-ending.  Now that I have more time on my hands, I spend three days a week walking dogs at our local Humane Society.  And although I enjoy walking dogs much more than I did washing clothes, there is still the sense that I am swimming upstream with no end in sight.  Because the one thing that an open admission shelter always has is a constant stream of new dogs who need to be walked, trained, socialized, etc., while they are waiting for their turn to be adopted.

IMG_4349There are many mornings when I happily head down to the shelter, looking forward to seeing the dogs and some of my friends. But there are other mornings when I just don’t want to go down there and face the dozens of homeless dogs who are waiting to be walked.  Sometimes I don’t feel physically strong enough to deal with the big rowdy dogs; other times I don’t feel emotionally strong enough to deal with the abused or neglected dogs who huddle, trembling, in the back of their runs; and other days I just don’t want to risk finding out that, once again, we don’t really have enough volunteers to properly take care of all the dogs who depend on us.

But just like the laundry basket all those years ago, the Humane Society is something I can’t ignore.  Now that I know of the need that exists down there, now that I have actually handled shelter dogs and seen how much a positive difference my time, and the time of the other volunteers, makes in their lives, I can’t turn my back on it.  So I keep going down there, even on the mornings I don’t want to, and walk the dogs.  I can’t say I always do it cheerfully, although on most days something happens…usually a moment of connection with a dog or another person…that makes me glad I showed up after all, but I do it.  Because I realize now that I’m in this for the long haul.

I saw a quote on Facebook once by Mary Ann Radmacher that said, “Courage does not always roar.  Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” That pretty much sums it up for me.

Middle Age Fashion Rebel

IMG_0189A friend of mine recently showed me an article in the Wall Street Journal which declared that pantyhose are back in style for middle aged women, as long as they are sheer and a natural skin color.  She knew that I had found a dress I might wear for my daughter’s upcoming wedding, but that I was wavering about buying it because it was only knee length, and that meant that I had to either have the lower half of my legs bare for the wedding, or wear a pair of panty hose with the dress.  And I had been told by several people, repeatedly and empathetically, that “no one wears pantyhose anymore.”

Although I rarely, if ever, follow fashion trends, the question of whether or not to wear hose to the wedding did trouble me a little.  As the mother of the bride, I have to walk down the aisle at the start of the ceremony, and be in several of the professional portraits, and I didn’t want to wear anything that might embarrass my daughter.  Originally, I considered solving the problem by wearing a floor length dress with bare legs hidden underneath.  Then I found out that the bridesmaids would be wearing short dresses and so would the mother of the groom, and I thought it might be odd for me to be the only person besides the bride in a floor-length dress.  Also, I am a terrible klutz, so there was a very real chance that I would trip on a long dress, and falling down in the aisle of the church or pitching head-first into the wedding cake is not a risk I’m willing to take.

Although I can now point to the article as proof positive that I am not committing a major fashion blunder by wearing hose at the wedding, I have to admit that I was planning to wear them anyway, even before I read the article.  I knew my daughter wouldn’t really care one way or the other, and I know that I’ll feel more comfortable in hose than I would without them.  It’s not just that I’m sure I’ll get blisters from shoving my bare feet into dress shoes for ten hours straight, it’s also that I have reached the age where I feel that the more of me that is covered up, the better I look.  Hose may be sheer, but they still go a long way towards hiding spider veins, small scars, the bruises I always have from encounters with rowdy shelter dogs and razor burn.

I’m even planning to up the ante by wearing control top panty hose.  My dress is a bit form-fitting, and although I have read that a good pair of Spanx can take five pounds off, I’d still rather wear the hose than a “slimming undergarment.”  (Our mothers didn’t beat around the bush; they just called them girdles.)   I would need the thigh-length one, and I don’t trust it not to show underneath my dress on a day when I might have to do a lot of bending over. I once went to a professional dog show where one of the handlers made an unfortunate choice in her combination of undergarment and skirt length.  The view each time she bent over her dog wasn’t pretty, and it’s definitely not the look I’m going for at my daughter’s wedding.

I think, even at a wedding, middle age is the time to toss fashion considerations aside and to wear what we feel comfortable in and what looks good on us.  And in this particular case, that means I’m wearing pantyhose, whether it’s fashionable or not.


IMG_0143I didn’t really want another dog, as I was perfectly happy with the one we already had.  Sandy was a sweet-natured and happy dog who fit in beautifully with our family, and I felt that one dog, a long-haired rabbit who required daily brushing and a gerbil were more than enough for me to take care of.  But the kids really wanted another dog, so I foolishly told them that once the gerbil and rabbit were gone, we could get a second dog.  Unfortunately, within six months after I said that, the gerbil and rabbit both died.  Which is how Lucy came into our lives.

When we found her at the Humane Society, she seemed to be a calm, friendly dog who got along well with Sandy, so we signed the adoption papers, handed over a check and took her home.  The next day, we were surprised to discover that our new dog had suddenly seemed to acquire a very high level of energy indeed.  Closer inspection of her adoption papers revealed that we had adopted her less than twenty-four hours after she’d been spayed, which was a mistake none of us caught at the time.  That explained the “sudden change” in her personality.  She hadn’t been calm when we’d met her at the shelter; it was just that the sedation hadn’t completely worn off.  But by that time, she was already of member of our family and returning her was out of the question.

We quickly learned that Lucy was easy to love, but not so easy to live with.  We discovered that she not only had extraordinary energy, but was also very independent and unbelievably smart.  Sadly, her intellect has never been matched by a desire to please, or to abide by the household rules.  Lucy lives by her own rules.  She raided trashcans, even the ones with lids, which meant that she was constantly supplementing her diet with used kleenex and other disgusting things she couldn’t digest properly.  I’ll spare you the gross details.  She left muddy footprints in our bathtubs, strolled casually across the living room window sill, and waited patiently for the exact moment when no one was looking to jump on the table and polish off the cheese ball during a party.  She prided herself on keeping our backyard squirrel-free, and would also leave us little tokens of her love on our back porch:  a piece of charcoal, a chunk of our landscaping border, a dead vole.  Staying one step a head of Lucy required constant vigilance, and even then, I wasn’t always successful.

IMG_4966I guess I thought I’d be glad when Lucy grew older and slowed down a little.  But I’m not.  She’s thirteen now, and has been an only dog since last September, when our beloved Sandy died at the age of sixteen. Lucy seems a bit lost without her, and after Sandy’s death, she has aged much more quickly.   These days, the dog who was so independent and afraid of nothing trembles when I drive her to the vet, and sticks close by me when I’m home.  The dog who always launched herself enthusiastically at our household visitors doesn’t even hear the doorbell any more, and  the dog who once had boundless energy is happy to spend most of her time sleeping in a patch of sunlight, especially if I am nearby.

I may be middle aged, but Lucy is old, and there’s no escaping the fact that she is beginning to fade away.  Her hearing is almost completely gone, she’s getting cataracts and sometimes she seems bewildered and confused. I know she’s “just a dog” to many people, but those who truly love their pets will understand that I am just not ready for this particular loss.  Maybe its because we’re still adjusting to life without Sandy, maybe I’m still feeling the effects of the empty-nest syndrome, or maybe I’ve just known too many people who have died in the past few years. But for whatever reason, I sometimes sit with Lucy and quietly whisper to her, “Stay.”  She’s smart enough to know what I mean.

Middle Age Courage

I have never been a brave person.  Sometimes, if I am angry enough, I find myself acting bravely (if not stupidly), such as the time I was trick or treating when I was ten and two boys tried to take my candy away.  Even though one of them had a knife, I was so enraged at the thought of the bullies stealing my Halloween candy that I fought back…and kept the candy.  Luckily, the knife never came into the struggle.  I suspect it was a pocket knife they had brought along just to intimidate other kids.  And even though I was “brave” during the actual confrontation, I was terrified as soon as it was over, and that was the end of my trick or treating on that particular Halloween night.

But my strongest fear has always centered around anything to do with medical procedures. I got queasy just visiting people in a hospital, fainted at the mere sight of blood, and the reason I don’t have pierced ears is because the chance to wear pretty earrings was never enough of a reason to allow someone to shove a needle through my ear lobes.  When I was pregnant with my first child, my biggest fear about childbirth wasn’t the pain, it was the thought of having to be hooked up to an IV.  I remember having a heated argument about that with my obstetrician, as he insisted it was necessary for me to “have a vein open” and I insisted that it wasn’t necessary for him to give me an IV, or even to use such disgusting phrases as “have a vein open” in my presence.

Which is why I am so surprised (and a bit proud) that I recently had an eyebrow lift, which was an elective surgical procedure that was performed while I was awake.   For years I’ve had a problem with a drooping eyebrow on my left eye, because where the skin overlapped I would get a painful sore, right at the outside corner of my eye, which is not a good place to be putting an antibiotic ointment. One day I actually made an appointment with an opthalmic plastic surgeon who told me that an eyebrow lift was the least invasive way to fix the problem.  Of course, he wanted to do an eyelid lift as well, so that my eyes would look “perky and young again.” But since an eyelid lift involves cutting on my actual eyelids, I declined.  Very firmly.

The procedure actually wasn’t so bad.  I was awake, but numb.  I could hear the snip of the scissors cutting my skin, and feel the pressure of the stitches, but no pain.  They had given me a Valium which they said might make me go to sleep, but I was way too nervous for that.  Mostly, I sat there, listening to the chatter between the surgeon and the nurse, marveling that I was neither fainting or running screaming from the room.  Obviously, I have become a much braver person that I was all those years ago when I fainted just from seeing a full bag of blood at a blood drive.

It may sound trite, but I think I have become braver just through living my life.  I learned not to faint at the sight of blood the first time one of my kids cut themselves badly and no one was around to help them but me.  I got over my fear of hospitals when I had to spend time in them as a patient, or visiting hospitalized family members who needed me to stay and support them, and not selfishly wimp out.  And now that my body is beginning to show signs of wear and tear, I have the courage to patch it up a bit, even when that means a medical procedure.  I have a good friend who is facing a hip replacement next month, and I know that something like that could be in my future, too.  While I hope I don’t ever have to face that, I don’t find the prospect as overwhelmingly terrifying as I once would have.

As the saying goes, “aging is not for the faint of heart.”  But the good news is that, somewhere along the line, we acquire the courage to deal with it.

I Don’t Want To Sound Old, But….

As a middle-aged woman, I don’t really think of myself as “old.” There are moments when I feel my age and think the nursing home is just around the corner, but that’s mostly when I forget what I’m talking about in mid-sentence, or I’m being pulled along by a big shelter dog and find myself telling the dog to remember that there is an old lady on my end of the leash.  But mostly, I don’t think of myself as being old yet, and I don’t want other people to think I’m old, either.  Which is why I make an effort to keep certain opinions to myself.

I know one of the quickest ways to sound old is to talk about how much better things used to be.  Phrases like “kids today just don’t understand…” or “we never had that when I was young, and we got along just fine without it” are usually uttered by actual senior citizens.  And I don’t mean that as a criticism.  The world has changed so quickly and dramatically that I understand why older people might prefer a time that is more familiar to them.  Still, I don’t want to talk like an old person when I’m only fifty-seven.

So it’s hard for me to admit that I do sometimes long for “the good old days.”  Especially when it comes to technology, and most especially when it comes to cell phones.  Obviously, they are wonderful devices and I do like their ability to keep me connected to my friends and family (even those far away), to take and share photos almost instantly, to easily access the internet, and to summon help in an emergency.  There’s a reason almost everyone has a cell phone.

DSC00209But that doesn’t mean I want to look in my rearview mirror and see the driver behind me is looking down at his phone rather than at the road ahead of him.  Or that I want to hear the loud, boring conversation of the person next to me in the check out line. Or that I enjoy traveling with a friend who is busy scrolling through her cell phone rather than talking to the other people in the car.  And there is nothing so creepy as sitting in a roomful of people who are all ignoring each other as they stare intently at their cell phones, their faces slightly illuminated from the reflection of their screens.

I admit that I’ve pulled my cell phone out in the middle of a restaurant dinner with my husband, just to make sure I haven’t missed an important text or email, and I can only imagine how special that makes him feel.  Although I’ve never done it, (and never will do it) I have been tempted to check my phone when I’m stopped at a red light and hear the little “ding” that indicates a new text.

It seems to me that my cell phone, handy as it is, is also robbing me of the ability to just live in the moment and simply deal with what and who is right in front of me.  I may be with a person who is special to me, but I’ve just got to answer that text or check for that important email, right?  Sure I do….  I’ve come to realize that I have a love/hate relationship with my phone.  I love what it can do for me, but I sometimes hate what it does to me.

So at the risk of sounding old, I admit that there are times when I think, “we didn’t have cell phones when I was young, and we got along just fine without them!”  Even so,  I doubt I’ll be trading my cell phone in for an old-fashioned rotary phone anytime soon.

New Horizons

IMG_3601Ever since I started this blog, I’ve spent a little time each day reading other blogs.  It’s what bloggers do.  I’ve found some great ones on all kinds of subjects, but I spend most of my time searching for, and reading, blogs about being middle aged.  And I’ve noticed that there is a common theme among many of the blogs that focus on middle age.  Mixed in among the universal complaints of fading eyesight, empty nests, aging parents and way too much sagging skin, there is also a whole lot of hope.

Over and over, I read about people optimistically entering a new phase of their life, shedding the emotional baggage that has been holding them back and finally moving toward the life they really want to live.  The authors are a varied group: people launching new businesses, the newly divorced, those in the “sandwich generation,” recent empty-nesters, new grandparents, people who were moving across country or even to a whole new country.  But their perspective is the same: they feel they are moving, tentatively but hopefully, toward a better future.

As we all know, there are definite disadvantages to being middle aged, and often there is a nagging sense of loss as our family dynamics change and our bodies begin their inevitable decline.  But what these blogs made so very clear was that the negative aspects of middle age are far from the whole story.  Many of us are using this time of our lives to rethink our priorities, to listen to that inner voice that tells us who we really are and what we really want to do, and to finally find the courage to chase our most cherished dreams.

I have always known that I like to write.  As a child, I remember sitting at my father’s desk and using his old manual typewriter to write mystery books, even though I never made it much past the second chapter.  And it was no accident that I majored in English in college, and spent many years dabbling in a free-lance writing career.  But it still took me decades to accept the fact that writing is a fundamental part of who I am, and that I will never feel completely fulfilled when I am not writing.  That clarity was a gift of middle age.


Yes, middle age is a time when we have accumulated some losses, and we do grieve for what, and whom, we have lost.  But it is also a time when we can look hopefully toward our future with a willingness to try new things, a more compassionate and forgiving outlook, and, most important of all, a much stronger sense of self than we have ever had before.  We are old enough to have learned a whole lot of life’s lessons, but also young enough to see that there is still a bright horizon ahead.  And that’s more than enough reason to be hopeful.

The Middle Age Perspective

Milentz houseI still remember the first party my husband and I threw in the first house we ever bought.  Since the house was a complete dump inside, we spent several months working on it before we felt comfortable having a house-warming party.  We knew that most of our friends and family thought we were nuts to buy the house in the first place, and we looked forward to showing everyone how nicely we had fixed it up.  The final touch was the new carpeting we were putting in the living and dining rooms, scheduled to be installed the afternoon before the party.  I wasn’t happy with that timeline, but the installer had promised me it would be done in one afternoon, and being young and naive, I believed him.

Naturally, the installers arrived late and didn’t finish that afternoon, which meant they had to come back the morning of our party to finish the job.  I was panicked, sure we’d never get our furniture moved back in and everything ready on time, and I would miss the chance to show people that it hadn’t been a mistake to buy such a dumpy house.  Thinking about it now, I’m embarrassed at how much I cared what our friends thought of our house, and how anxious I was to get their approval of our choice.

Fast forward to last Thursday, when my brother-in-law and his family were in town and were coming to our house for dinner.  That same day we had a handyman scheduled to replace the kitchen sink faucet, an HVAC guy coming by to check the slow leak from our furnace hose, and the dishwasher decided it was a good time for a break down.  An hour before everyone was supposed to arrive, we learned that the furnace hose was not leaking, but the hot water heater was.  A lot.  What had been a few drops of water suddenly grew into a steady stream flowing across the basement floor, and the box fan we had running to keep the floor dry was right in the middle of it.

Naturally, I was flustered (I find it hard to think about more than one thing at a time), but I certainly didn’t panic, and it never occurred to me to either cancel the dinner or move it to a nearby restaurant. I knew the important thing was just to spend time with family we don’t get to see nearly as often as we’d like to, and there was no need to try to impress them.  It was just about having dinner with people who are important to us, and so what if everything didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped?  We had a great time, and watching my 26-year old son playing Barbie dolls with my niece’s 3-year old daughter made the evening memorable all by itself.

Middle age hasn’t erased all my faults (not by a long shot), but it has helped me feel much more comfortable with who I am, faults and all.  I used to spend so much emotional energy trying to make sure everyone approved of me and my choices, but thankfully, I seem to have outgrown that self-destructive habit. Which just goes to show that there really are some advantages to growing older….

Motherhood: The Journey Continues

When I first married my husband, we only talked about “maybe” having children, and it was a couple of years before we started talking about “when” we have children, and a couple more years before we decided that it was actually time to start a family. Shortly afterwards, our daughter was born, and exactly two and a half years after that, we had our son.  So for me, motherhood was a gradual process from an abstract idea of maybe having kids, to a definite desire to be a mother, to actually becoming one.

And the process didn’t end there.  From their infancy and toddlerhoods, when my job as a mother meant accepting responsibility for their every need, to their childhood when I had to begin stepping back and letting them learn things for themselves, to their teenage years when I could no longer ignore the fact that they were well on their way to adulthood, my role as a mother has constantly evolved.  Those early years when my kids were so dependent on me were exhausting, but simple.  The delicate balancing act of trying to decide how much support to give and how often to give it began later, and it just got more complicated as they grew up.  These days, everyone makes fun of “helicopter parents,” but anyone who has been a parent knows how hard it is to decide when our kids need our help, and when they need us to step back and learn how to fail.

Now that my son and daughter are actual adults, our relationship is still changing, and my role as their mother continues to evolve. I’m still helping them, but they are also helping me.  The little boy I once pushed in the stroller (for the ten minutes or so he’d consent to ride in there) is now the young man I call when I need a heavy box carried out of the basement or someone to explain to me why my computer suddenly went on strike.  And these days I am almost as likely to ask my daughter for advice (particularly in fashion, an area where she is light years ahead of me) as I am to give advice to her.   Watching my son and daughter grow into well-rounded, competent and caring persons has been, without a doubt, the most rewarding part of motherhood.

Use thisI understand now that my role as a mother will always be changing, just like my relationship with my own mother continues to change and grow.  I loved watching my mom interact with my kids when they were little, and learned a few things about dealing with small children in the process.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have grandkids of my own some day, and that will add a whole new dimension to motherhood.  But whatever happens, wherever the process leads us, I’ll always be their mother.  Always.

But I May Wear That Someday…..

IMG_0150I admit to being one those people who still believes in giving her house a good, old-fashioned spring cleaning each year.  I wash windows, paint baseboards, clean out junk drawers, etc., and then turn my attention to my closet.  Cleaning my closet means packing away my winter clothes, and then hauling the bins filled with my spring and summer clothes out of the basement to place in my closet and dresser.   As I do, I try to look at each piece of clothing and make sure it’s something I actually still want, and the clothes that don’t make the cut get placed in the donation bag.  In theory, it’s a rather efficient system designed to keep only the clothes that fit, are flattering, and that I actually intend to wear.  And the key words in that sentence are “in theory.”

Because the reality is that I have lots of clothes in my closet that I don’t need or particularly want.  It’s completely against my character, as in all other areas of my life, I have no problems getting rid of things.  I can fill a donation bag, or even a trash bag, in record time and without a second thought.  But for some reason, I’m still hanging onto that pink t-shirt I bought at the outlet mall four years ago, which I’ve worn exactly once.  I also still have the tank top I wore to a neighborhood reunion in 2005, and the sweater that I am wearing in the photo of my husband’s 43rd birthday dinner is still in my dresser.  My husband will be 60 this year.

It’s not that I have these clothes stashed away, where they can be “out of sight and out of mind.” (That’s how we managed to keep my husband’s green leisure suit for the first ten years of our marriage.  It was in a bag of his old clothes which he moved from house to house, but never actually opened.)  My closet is a bit small, so I store out-of-season clothes in bins and I actually go through them each spring and fall, and I do designate several items each time for the Goodwill.  Yet I still manage to keep far too many tops, sweaters and dresses that I don’t wear, or at least that I haven’t worn in the past decade.

Maybe the problem is that I didn’t have very many clothes during my teenage years, when I was very self-conscious about such things.  Or maybe it’s that I believe in reusing and recycling things whenever possible, as I am all too aware of the growing problem of too much trash in our local landfills.  But I have to remember that clothes can’t be kept forever, even if I am still wearing them.  I should have figured that out after the time I wore a pair of jeans to the point where they were so frayed that they ripped right up the back seam.  I didn’t know the rip was there until my son pointed it out at dinner time, and I had worn those jeans all day.

I just have to let go of the idea that I may actually want to wear that black velvet jacket to a party someday, or that I am going to look at a blouse that I haven’t worn in six years and suddenly think, “That’s exactly what I want to wear today!” It seems that my wardrobe is my personal and final hurdle in my goal to living a simplified and clutter-free existence. And it’s way past time to clean out that closet, once and for all.IMG_0148

Half Way There!

I read somewhere that most people who start writing blogs abandon them within the first year.  Since I started this blog on December 3, 2014, I thought it worth noting that today marks my six-month anniversary as a blogger.  That means I’m halfway there to making it through my first year of blogging, and I have high hopes of keeping this blog going for a full year and beyond.

Before I started writing this post, I went back and re-read my first post:  And Now I Really Feel Old.  At the time, I was just proud of myself for figuring out how to actually publish a blog, and most of the details involved were still a mystery to me.  Since then, I’ve figured out a few more tricks, like how to add an archives and pictures, and how to use a photo from Sanibel as my header, but I still have so much to learn.  From what I can tell, blogs can be as detailed or as simple as we choose to make them, and I’m still struggling to find a balance that feels right to me.

It would be fun to say that I’ve got hundreds of followers and visitors to my blog page, but that would be a lie.  The last time I checked, I have exactly 60 followers, and surprisingly, not all of them are friends and family I’ve nagged into it.  In addition, each post averages about 50 visitors, but not all of those people are followers, and most followers don’t count as visitors, since they can just read my blog in their email.  I think.  But I do know that I’ve had readers from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, France, Mexico, Canada, Australia and Greece, which is pretty amazing to me, and means I can brag to everyone I know that I am an “international blogger.”

This blog has put me in touch with old friends I haven’t heard from in years, which is a tremendous gift all by itself.  Through WordPress, I’ve also connected with other bloggers who are thoughtful, interesting, and terrific writers.  I’m finally, in my middle age, back into the routine of writing regularly.  That may mean I’m even spacier than usual (I’m often thinking of what I want to say in my next post, even when I’m supposed to be paying attention to what I’m actually doing, like grocery shopping or carrying on a conversation), but I’m learning to cope with that, and so is my husband.

I’m just beginning to discover the true world of blogging, and sometimes I get frustrated by how much I still don’t know.  But I never, ever, regret starting this blog or think that it has not been worth the time and effort.  By my personal standards, my little blog has been a success and a joy to write.  And I have every confidence that in six months, I’ll be publishing my “I made it through my first year of blogging post,” and already starting to think of ideas for the post after that….