Scary Fast

I was idly scrolling down my Facebook news feed yesterday when I spotted a couple of photos my daughter had posted of my son and herself, all dressed up for Halloween.  They were taken when my children were very young, in the preschool and kindergarten years, but when I looked at the pictures, I was instantly flooded with very specific memories of those two Halloweens.

martha-and-daniel-2I remembered that my daughter’s angel costume had been borrowed from church  (one of the costumes used for the annual Christmas program), and I remembered how grateful I was that my son wanted to be a fireman two years in a row.  I wasn’t one of those moms who enjoyed putting together elaborate costumes for my children, which also explains why my daughter’s ballerina costume in the second picture is nothing more than her dance class outfit with a shirt underneath the tutu to keep her warm.

I remembered how we carved the pumpkins just before eating dinner, so that our Jack-0-Lanterns would be ready for any early arrivals.  I remember how my husband and I took turns being the parent who stayed at home to greet trick-or-treaters, and the parent who took our kids around the neighborhood.  I remember the pumpkin sugar cookies I made,  dying the frosting orange and then adding just a touch of green for the pumpkin stem.  (I may not have been big on costumes, but I put an effort into those Halloween cookies.)  Mostly I remember the barely contained excitement of my son and daughter when the big night finally arrived, and for once, getting a lot of candy wasn’t just allowed, it was actually encouraged.

When my children were young, I was a stay-at-home mom who was struggling to make a go of a free-lance writing career.  Sometimes I felt a bit overwhelmed by the constant demands on my time, the never-ending cycle of laundry, meals, dirty diapers, and trying to keep two very active little people safe, healthy, and happy.  Occasionally I felt isolated and lonely, missing the company of my co-workers and the way I took easy access to adult conversation for granted.  Older women, especially my mom, often told me to treasure the years when my children were young, and warned me that they would be over far too soon.  “In the blink of an eye,” they said, “this will all be gone.”


I’m ashamed to say that there were times when I didn’t quite believe them, because time didn’t seem to be moving all that fast to me.  But now my daughter is a 30-year old married woman, and my son is a 27-year old man who will be married in less than two weeks.  It seems like only yesterday that they were a little ballerina and fireman, and so excited for Halloween they could hardly stand still.  How can that be?  How in the world did time move so very quickly?  I remember those sweet days of their early childhood so very well, but I guess I must have blinked…..

Character Judgement

aunt-mickeyI was watching a show on HGTV the other day, and the couple that was house-hunting described the house they were being shown as a “mid-century modern with good bones.”  They went on to lavish praise on the house’s classic lines, its solid foundation and minimalist charm.  Next they were shown an even older house, which they also liked.  They thought it had tons of potential, and it was described as an “aging beauty” whose creaky floors, cracked walls and and other flaws gave it a “timeless charm and character.”  They couldn’t wait to restore it to its former glory.

And that’s when it hit me.  I want people to judge me by the same standards they use to judge houses.

Think about it.  I was born in 1958, which means that I’m not really old, I’m just a “mid-century modern.”  And I’m sure I have good bones, even if they are covered up by drooping muscles and sagging skin.  My beauty is certainly minimalist, but if you think of me the way you think of a house, then that’s actually a good thing.  Even better, when I’m a bit older, I can look forward to being thought of as an “aging beauty,” whose wrinkles and creaky joints are simply considered charming.  I won’t be old, I’ll just be historic.  And possibly valuable.

If I were a house, people would think that the fact that my bottom half is significantly larger than my top half only meant that I have a “good foundation.”  My age would mean that I was “solidly built” and well put together.  When I approach the make-up counter at a department store, the clerk would be eager to bring out my hidden potential and restore my former beauty, rather than simply recommending a very strong anti-aging cream combined with a really good concealer.

The benefits of being judged by the same standards as a house are many, but if that’s not possible, I can also still think of other alternatives.  These days, trendy neighborhoods abound with vintage clothing stores, and they aren’t especially cheap.  If the same standards were applied to me, I’d be a “vintage” woman, not a middle-aged or old one.   Or I can be thought of as a fine wine, which we all know improves with age.  I like to think that I’m improving as I grow older, even if it doesn’t particularly show on the outside.

I know that judging others is something we all do occasionally, despite our best efforts to the contrary.  It seems to be part of human nature.  But since it’s so easy to see the value in older houses, wine and clothing, I can’t help but think how of nice it would be if we could see that same value in older people….

Choose Wisely

As those of us who live in the United States have no doubt noticed, there’s an election on the horizon.  And it’s an ugly one.

Negative television ads show relentlessly on TV, Facebook is filled with political “attack” posts, and those of us who still have landlines are flooded with calls from people wanting to know how we plan to vote, and/or telling us how we should be voting.  Living through a Presidential election year is never fun, but this time around the tone is even more hateful and shrill than ever before.  We are constantly being told that if we don’t choose the right candidate, the consequences will be more dire than we can possibly imagine.  I honestly don’t remember a time when the two leading candidates elicited such powerfully negative feelings, or a time when quite so many people felt they didn’t want to choose either one.

Still, I think we have more choices than we realize.  Yes, we have to choose who we are going to vote for, or even if we are going to abstain from voting this year.  That’s a personal choice that each of us gets to make according to our own conscience, and I’m not going to use my blog to try to influence anyone in that choice.  But this election offers us many more choices than simply how we are going to vote, and I believe that most of those choices are actually more important than the choice we make when we enter the voting booth.

We can choose how we express our support for a particular candidate, or how we speak up against the actions and ideas of the candidate we don’t support.   We can choose not to engage in on-line political arguments.  We can choose not to post snarky Facebook posts about the other political party, day after tedious day.  We can choose not to verbally attack people who dare to voice an opinion that we don’t agree with, even if that means they are saying they plan to vote for a candidate we find contemptible.

That doesn’t mean we have to keep our opinions to ourselves.  We can choose to tell people how we plan to vote, and why.  We can put signs in our yards, campaign for the candidates of our choice and participate in political discussions. But we can also choose to do so without abandoning good manners and civility, and in general acting like a self-righteous prig or a school-yard bully.  In short, we can have political opinions without imitating the political mud-slinging and ugliness that surrounds us.

I do believe that our choices in this election matter, a lot.  Because we can choose to be a part of the hate and negativity that defines this election cycle, or we can choose to live according to a higher standard, remembering that we are all going to have to find some way to get along when it’s over, no matter who wins.   The choice is ours, and I hope we can choose wisely.

Closet Depression

Shopping for clothes has never been an easy thing for me.  Even when I was a teenager and thought that a trip to the mall with my friends was great fun, I still struggled when it came to actually buying the clothes.  Back then, I was frustrated by styles that didn’t match my figure and/or prices that didn’t match my budget.  The fifty cents an hour I earned from babysitting didn’t stretch very far, even in the Seventies. These days, my budget isn’t quite so tight, but I still rarely find something that’s comfortable, looks good, fits properly, and reasonably priced.  Which is why I still hate to shop.


Unfortunately, my closet is small, so with each changing season, I find myself sorting through the clothes I keep stored in big plastic bins in the basement, and bringing them up to replace the clothes from the previous season. This process forces me to evaluate my wardrobe four times a year, and means I can’t ignore the stains on my summer blouses, the fact that half my sweaters have snags or pills,  and that another couple of pairs of pants have mysteriously shrunk.  So I fill a bag or two to take to the local donation center, make a list of what needs to be bought, and head off to the nearest mall.

Sometimes I’m silly enough to think my trip will be successful, at least until I enter the first store and am met with clothes that must have been designed by people who were either drunk, high, or have serious anger issues with women.  There are blouses with “peek-a-boo” shoulders, for what purpose I can’t begin to imagine.  Normal, button-down cardigans are conspicuous by their absence, and have been replaced with sweaters sporting tassels, ruffles and armholes halfway down the sleeves.  Pants are either wide enough to share with a baby elephant or so skinny that I would have had trouble fitting into them when I was ten.  And do you know what happens to a pair of chubby legs stuffed into tight jeans?  The fat puffs out, in places that you’d least expect and can’t possibly hide.

Fall and winter are the worst, because not only do I have to find pieces of clothing that I like and can afford, but I also have to match the layers.  This is not my strong point.  My closet tends to be full of jackets that don’t match any of my blouses, jeans in colors that clash with all my sweaters, and tops that are either too long are too bulky to wear underneath anything.  Traditionally, I tend to solve this problem by buying a lot of black or white items, which means that I have a lot of black pants and black and white tops, often striped.  Once I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realized that if I added a pair of tennis shoes and a whistle to my ensemble, I’d look exactly like a matronly referee who got lost on her way to the big game.  So now I try to branch out a little, color-wise.

Still, I do have the occasional success.  Yesterday I went to the mall in search of a pair of shoes to wear to my son’s wedding, and while I didn’t find those, I did manage to find a nice green sweater and a matching top to wear underneath.  On sale.  And they didn’t even come from the same store.  Walking out of the mall, I was so excited that it was all I could do not to stop random strangers and proudly show off my purchases.  When it comes to fashion, I’ve learned to take my victories where I can.

Great Expectations

Several years ago, I read an article in which the wife of a long-married couple was asked what she thought was key to her happy marriage and she answered, “I learned early on to lower my expectations.”  Personally, I sort of wondered just how much longer her happy marriage was going to last after her husband read that article.  And I thought that she was being a bit harsh, or had perhaps married a man who was simply not right for her.   But lately, I’ve come to believe that if I put her words into the context of simple human relationships, she might have been much more perceptive than I realized.

The older I get, the more I think that most of the conflicts we have with other people stem from the simple fact that they don’t live up to our expectations.  They don’t act the way we think they should act, or they don’t treat us the way we expected them to treat us.  And because they don’t, we find ourselves feeling hurt and angry, sometimes even lashing out at the people we think have failed us so miserably.  If we’re not careful, the problem can escalate from there, causing permanent rifts in our relationships with family and friends.

Sadly, this seems to happen in all aspects of our lives, and not just in the close relationships we have with family and good friends.  I once angered a fellow blogger because I commented on the photo that accompanied his post rather than the poem that he had written.  This was a person I had never met, but the fact that my response wasn’t what he had expected obviously stung.  If it’s that easy to hurt feelings of someone I barely knew, just think how easily it happens with those we know best.

I think the key might be in remembering that while our expectations always seem reasonable to us, that doesn’t mean that they are reasonable to other people, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that other people will meet them.  The fact is, we all look at things just a little bit differently, and so what makes perfect sense to us often seems completely illogical, or even rude and insensitive to others.  Sometimes I think we just need to take a step back, remember that the slights we perceive are rarely intended, and that the best thing we can do might actually be to “lower our expectations.”

I have come to the belief that lowering expectations is actually both a good and necessary part of how we handle our personal relationships.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t expect good behavior from others, it simply means that we stop projecting our ideas and values onto people who usually have their very own ideas about what is and is not appropriate.  It means that we put our own egos aside and learn to love and accept people as they really are, and not as who we may want them to be.

Which actually means that our expectations haven’t been lowered at all.  They’ve simply been expanded, and that’s a good thing.

Twilight Years

This morning I noticed a rather strong and disgusting smell in our basement.  It’s not unusual for us to spot the occasional mouse down there once Fall arrives, which my husband promptly dispatches.  (One of perks of being married is having someone else deal with unwanted house guests.)  Judging from the smell, we assumed that one of our mouse visitors must have died down there, so we called in our dog Lucy to help us find it.

Lucy has always been known for her keen sense of smell and her willingness to chase any small furry animal that dares to cross her path.  She came downstairs and obeyed our command to “find it” by sniffing eagerly around the basement walls.  Then she froze in front of the recliner on the family room side of the basement, staring intently underneath it.  “Good dog,” I told her, getting down to peer underneath the chair.  Only to find out that what had caught her attention wasn’t a mouse at all, but her favorite red ball.   I pulled it out and handed it to her, and she trotted off with the satisfied air of a dog who had done her job well.  And just so you know, after she left my husband and I found not one but two dead mice down there, and one of them was very, very, ripe.

img_0034I supposed I should be annoyed with Lucy, or at least disappointed that the dog who used to be able to sniff out a rawhide toy stored on the upper shelf of my closet in two seconds flat seemed to be unable to locate a very pungent rodent carcass.  But Lucy turned fifteen this month and this is just another reminder that she is aging, far more quickly than I would like.

When she first came to live with us, Lucy was eleven-months old and had been turned into the animal shelter as a stray.  Although she seemed quite calm when we picked her out, we quickly discovered that was only because she was still feeling the effects of the anesthesia from her recent spaying.  Lucy was actually a bundle of energy, almost scary-smart, and had very little inclination to follow the household rules.  I suspect most families would have promptly returned her to the shelter from whence she came, but instead we fell in love with her and learned to live with her eccentricities.  For her part, she did learn what “sit,” “stay,” “leave it” and “come” meant, and sometimes she even obeyed those commands.  Later, I added such useful phrases as  “Get off the dining room table!” and “Get your furry butt back in bed!” (spoken at five a.m. on a Saturday morning, when Lucy decided she needed breakfast) to her vocabulary as well.

But for some reason, I didn’t believe that a dog as energetic and smart as Lucy would ever age.  I couldn’t picture her no longer being able to hear anything but the loudest noises, and not even waking up when someone knocks at our door.  I couldn’t fathom a time when she would be willing to substitute a short walk around the block for her usual forty-five minute treks through the neighborhood.  I didn’t envision a time when she would hesitate before climbing a flight of stairs, as if debating whether the effort was worth it.  But all those things, and more, have come true in the past of year or so.

img_0992I know we are now living in Lucy’s twilight years, and that her time with us is drawing to an end.  To my mind, the only thing truly wrong with dogs is that their life spans are far too short.  We may have another year with Lucy, or we may only have another few weeks; we have reached the stage where either is possible.  All that we can do is enjoy the time we have left with our loving, neurotic, and smart little Lucy.  And if that means we have to sniff out our own dead mice, then so be it.

Distracted Living

Driving while distracted is a big topic these days, as well it should be.  Anyone who’s been driving down the highway at sixty-plus miles per hour and glanced over  to see the driver of the car in the next lane texting with one hand and sipping a coffee with the other one knows the sheer terror that distracted driving can invoke.  It is a huge problem that has caused far too many accidents, and I believe it continues because so many people pride themselves on their ability to multi-task safely and efficiently no matter what they happen to be doing.  And they don’t find out until it’s too late that they are wrong.

I’m happy to say that I never text while driving, but please know that by saying that I’m not trying to claim a high moral ground.  It’s easy for me to resist the temptation to “just glance at” my phone when I hear the familiar ding of a text because I know for a fact that I can’t multi-task.  And I’m not just talking about while I’m driving, either.  I can’t multi-task at anything, ever.

Sadly, these days the inability to multi-task is fast becoming, if not something to be ashamed of, at least something that makes it hard to cope with the normal fast pace of life.  My computer is equipped with the ability to send and receive text messages, which means that when I’m trying to write a blog post I am often interrupted with a text notification, usually from someone who wants an answer to his or her question this very second.  Since I tend to require complete concentration when I’m writing (I turn off the TV, put my cell phone in another room, and wake the dog if she’s snoring), the interruptions are a problem for me.  I lose my train of thought, and what could have been a stunningly brilliant blog post is lost forever.  Which explains why my blog has yet to win the Nobel Prize for literature, I’m sure.

If I’m trying to cook a meal and someone insists on talking to me, I often forget an ingredient or burn one of the courses.  (Why all those people on HGTV want an open floor plan so they can “be a part of the conversation” while they are cooking is beyond me.)  When I worked in an office, I had notes for everything I did, because the constant interruptions meant I was also constantly forgetting where I had stored my information for a donor report or what the latest procedures for a job applicant happened to be.  I even had a note on how to properly transfer a phone call, and consulted it often.

I sometimes think I might have been a happier person if I had been born before the advent of all this technology, when people had the time to focus on the project at hand without being besieged by constant and conflicting demands on our attention.  I would certainly be more self-confident if I didn’t find myself constantly apologizing for not being able to pay attention to several, or even two, things at once.  But life is what it is, so I just muddle along and trust those who know me best to understand my limitations.

At least I know that I can’t text and drive at the same time.  That should count for something, I think.

Wedding Dance

I have long been convinced that the world is divided between people who enjoy being the center of attention and people who hate being the center of attention.  Both my son and I are in the second category, as are most members of my family.  Additionally, neither my son nor I like to dance and we most especially don’t like to dance if other people are watching.  Which means that we have a bit of a dilemma on our hands, since his wedding is just a little over a month away and that means we are going to be expected to do the traditional mother/son dance at the reception.

My son has already informed me he doesn’t want to do the mother/son dance, and I completely understand why he feels that way.  I know that the dances are a way of giving the parents of the couple who are getting married a special time with their son or daughter on this very important day, and I admit that I would like to have that moment with my son.  I just don’t see why the tradition has to be limited to dancing.  There are other options, in my opinion.

0467-2Personally, I like the idea of a mother/son cake eating.  At some point during the reception my son and I could sit down at a table together and enjoy a piece of wedding cake.  It would be that special “mother and son moment,” and I would even have a chance to pass on some valuable marriage advice, such as “the wife is always right.” (That one has served me well, lo these many years.)  I don’t think we’d even mind if others watched while we were enjoying our cake, as both of us are actually good at cake-eating.

Sadly, I doubt very much if I’ll be able to talk anyone into going along with my idea, so that brings me back to the question of whether or not we will be doing the mother/son dance.  For a long time, I agreed with my son and thought that I would really rather not do the dance at all, especially when I wasn’t sure if the bride and her father were going to be doing their traditional dance.  But they are doing the dance, and I know it will be a beautiful memory for both of them.  There’s something very special about the wedding of a son or daughter, and I think the tradition of the dance is meant to acknowledge that.

So while I am not a good dancer and I know I will be nervous with just my son and I out there on the dance floor, I have decided that I would like to do the mother/son dance at my son’s wedding.  I will search for a song that is very, very, easy to dance to and that is also (and more importantly) very, very, short.  I may even ask the DJ to dim the lights so that people sitting a few tables away won’t be able to see us.  But I will do the dance, because I do want to have that moment with my son and to publicly acknowledge how happy I am that he is getting married and that his fiancé is going to be an official part of our family.

Now I just have to figure out a way to break the news to my son……