No Choice

As anyone who spends time with young children knows, choice is important.  For instance, you don’t tell a child it’s time to put on her pajamas, you hold out two pairs of pajamas and ask which pair she would like to wear tonight.  Ditto with eating vegetables.  You don’t announce,  “You’re having vegetables with your dinner!”  You ask, “Would you like carrots or green beans with your dinner?”  That may not guarantee success, but it does improve the odds of actual vegetable consumption.

I haven’t been a child for decades, but I have kept some of my childlike ways.  And one of them is that I, too, like to be offered choices.  When I book a room at a hotel, I study the types and prices of rooms on offer and select the one I like best.   If I need a dress for an upcoming wedding, I try on several before choosing the one that is the most flattering and comfortable.  (If I have to choose between flattering and comfortable, I go with comfortable, because I’ve reached the age when flattering is a relative concept.)  In short, having the ability to make choices is just as important to me now as it was when I was a toddler myself.

Which explains why I’m having such a hard time dealing with situations in which my choices are being taken away.  I prefer to cook on a gas stove, because it’s so much easier to control the temperature.  As someone who routinely sets off the smoke alarm when I’m preparing a meal, I truly need all the help I can get in the kitchen.  But I’ve heard that gas stoves are becoming increasingly expensive and will soon be phased out entirely, so I’ll have to struggle with an electric one.  Similarly, I don’t like online banking, but banks are slowly but surely pushing customers into it by cutting branch hours and raising checking fees.  Soon online banking will be the only “choice.”

One of my favorite ways to spend time is browsing through a bookstore, picking up any book that looks interesting and skimming through it to see if I like the writing style.  But all across the nation, bookstores are closing.  Clothing stores are also being slowly replaced with online shops, but how can I tell if a pair of pants, or worse, a swim suit, will fit simply by looking at a tiny photo?  A photo also doesn’t show the quality of the fabric or the true color.  Face it, as brick and mortar stores keep closing at a record pace, soon everything will have to be purchased online.  And we’d be fools to believe that free shipping is going to be offered once the online stores have a monopoly on the market.

I’m not against change or progress, but  I don’t appreciate the steady erosion of choices that often masquerades as progress.  We never really outgrow the desire to choose what we like, and I don’t think we need to apologize for that.  Lack of choice often translates to lack of control, and it’s only natural to resent it.  More importantly, having options means the freedom to make the decisions that work best for our unique personality.  It’s a way to respect the diversity of our community.  And that is why I will always choose to have a choice.

Getting Better

I’ve never been good at being sick.  I lay in bed, feeling immensely sorry for myself, and whine a lot. I also fret about all the things that I’m supposed to be doing, but can’t do because I’m sick.  I know when I don’t go to the animal shelter to walk the dogs, the other volunteers have to walk even more dogs than usual.   And even if I had the energy to babysit my grandkids or help my mom, I can’t risk giving them my germs.  So between the misery and the guilt, my mood is very dark when I’m under the weather.

The only thing that helps is remembering my illness won’t last forever and eventually, I’ll feel better.  It rarely happens as quickly as I wish, but so far, I’ve managed to recover each time I’ve been sick or injured.  Bearing that in mind really does help me cope when I’m lying in bed with my stomach doing flip flops and my head pounding.  “This, too, shall pass,” I tell myself, as often as I need to until I can actually believe it.

Personally, I’ve found that remembering that tough times don’t last forever is very helpful, period.  When my daughter tells me her baby kept her up most of the night, I sympathize because I remember just how sleep-deprived I was when my own children were young.  But then I try to cheer her up by reminding her the time will come when both she and her baby will routinely get a good night’s sleep.  When I’m watching my back yard wither in the dry and unrelenting heat of a drought, I remind myself that the rains will come again, as they always do.  The grief that accompanies profound loss may never disappear, but it does become more bearable with time.  Life may never be the same, and certainly not the way we want it to be, but there will be moments of joy and happiness again.  Sometimes, we just have to wait it out.

Recently, my husband and I had the chance to visit Sanibel Island, which had been devastated by Hurricane Ian last September.  We used to love the first sight of the island as we crossed the causeway, because it was beautiful and it meant our vacation had truly started.  This time, the causeway was a mess of construction, the surrounding water was a dirty brown, and much of the greenery on the island was gone.  Some buildings were intact, but others had gaping holes and others had been swept away entirely.  Piles of refuse, waiting for pick up, lined many of the roads.

I’m not going to lie, the devastation did make us a bit heart-sick, especially for the residents who had lost so much.  But we also saws unmistakable signs of recovery.  Some businesses had reopened, and some bike paths were clear.  We actually ate lunch at one of our favorite restaurants which had somehow come through unscathed.  And through the restaurant’s windows we could see palm trees still standing.  Their palms had blown off, but they were already growing new ones.  It was a timely and much-needed reminder that “this, too, shall pass…..”

Mom’s New Phone

I have a good friend who exclaims, “Give me strength!” when she’s faced with a challenging situation.  I think that’s a very appropriate response, and lately I’ve been saying it myself.  A lot.

When my mom’s old flip phone stopped being dependable, my sisters and I decided to get her a new smart phone.  We really did think it it would be easier for her to use than her outdated flip phone, but it turns out that we were wrong. Swiping a screen was a new concept for her, and she either pressed her finger too long and hard or too lightly to be detected.  She wasn’t used to typing in a code to unlock her screen, and was completely confused by the myriad of choices that kept popping up on her screen.  She couldn’t read the fine print that said “swipe up to answer” but she was drawn to the large “edit contact” button, often pushing it before she tried to make a call.  That resulted in my contact information going from “Ann Coleman” to something like”243y Cx9L.”

It wasn’t long before we admitted defeat and got her a newer version of her old flip phone.  It’s a bit awkward, but she’s more comfortable with it because most of the buttons are similar to her old phone.  She has figured out how to make calls.  But the problem with the new phone is the ultra-sensitive volume buttons are on the side of the phone, exactly where she holds it when she uses it.  That means she keeps turning the volume off so the phone doesn’t ring when we’re trying to call her.

But as challenging as this whole business has been, the worst part is I believe all this hassle is completely unnecessary. Yes, my mom is 92 and her days of learning complicated new things are over.  But she’s been using a phone her whole life and figuring out how to use a new phone shouldn’t be causing her (or me) this much stress.  All she wants and needs is a simple device on which to make and receive telephone calls.  She has no desire to use her phone to send emails, check the weather, or text.  She certainly doesn’t need a phone that can open a garage door (she doesn’t have a garage), pay her bills, or do any of the dozens of other things the various apps on her phone kept offering to do.  All those extras do are confuse her, and worse, make her feel old and stupid and a burden on her daughters.

I seriously doubt that my mother is the only person who would prefer to have a simple cell phone that requires no more knowledge to use than the phone number of the person you want to call.  So my question is, why is it so hard to find and purchase a phone like that?  I’m not advocating doing away with smart phones; I’m just saying they’re not for everybody.  Old age is hard enough without struggling to master a complicated new phone.   My hope is that someday, those who design new phones will come up with a model aimed at people like my mom.  But until that day arrives, all I can say is: “give me strength….”