I Don’t Get It

I had always been told that age brings wisdom, and in some ways I suppose that’s true.  I like to think that I’ve gotten a bit smarter over the years, or at least just a little less clueless than when I was young.  But I’m almost sixty years old now and there are still far too many things  in this world that I simply do not understand.  And I’m beginning to think that I never will.

Much of what I fail to understand is fairly new, so my age might actually be working against me there.  For instance, I keep seeing ads where restaurants and grocery stores boast about providing “clean food.”  And I think, as opposed to what?  Dirty food?  Are they seriously bragging that they aren’t serving food that’s been dropped on the ground or retrieved from the garbage can?  Of course their food is clean.  If it wasn’t, the health department would shut them down.  That’s their job.  If a restaurant or store wants to impress me with the quality of their food, they need to focus more on words like “healthy” “fresh” and “tasty.”  Especially “tasty.”

I’m also bewildered by the growing popularity of  the “open concept” choice of home design.  As far as I can see, open concept is achieved by tearing down almost all of the existing walls in a home to create one giant living space.  Apparently, this is necessary so that there are sight-lines all over the house, meaning that those living in it can see everything all the time.  For some reason, that’s considered important and the days of enjoying a bit of privacy or some peace and quiet in your home are over.  I can’t help but wonder if even bathroom walls will eventually be removed just so people could be sure of  seeing everything, even when seated on the toilet.

But the things I don’t understand aren’t just limited to new trends.  I know that I’m a bit of a clean-freak and that means my house is probably cleaner than most.  But I’m still surprised by how many people feel free to comment on how “unnaturally clean” my house is.  I know they don’t mean anything negative by it.  But personally, I’d never dream of walking into someone’s messy house and saying, “Wow!  What a pig sty!”  I think people should be allowed to keep their houses as clean or messy as they want, within reason.  (If your house is so clean that you’re following your guests around with a dust cloth and vacuum cleaner, then it is too clean.  If your guests can’t find anywhere to sit down that isn’t sticky and are afraid to eat what comes out of your kitchen, then it’s too dirty.)  Everything in between is perfectly okay.

These are just a few of the things that I puzzle over, and believe me, there are many more.  I’m hoping I’ll get to live a good long life and that will give me the chance to solve more of life’s little mysteries.  But I think it’s far more likely that there will always be many things I won’t begin to understand, even if I life to be one hundred.  And I guess that’s just part of what makes life so interesting…

The Age of Technology

My days are filled with reminders that I am no longer young.  I wake up each morning with stiff and aching joints.  I can’t apply make-up without the help of a magnifying mirror, which is annoying because the magnifying mirror also does a terrific job of revealing every single wrinkle on my face.  (When I use a regular mirror I only notice my sagging chin and eye bags, but I found out the hard way that it’s not a good idea to apply mascara when you can’t actually see your eyelashes.)  I am reminded daily that I have nowhere near the strength or stamina I had even ten years ago.  One way or another, it is impossible for me to forget that I am getting old. And while I may not especially like it, I do accept it.

But accepting the fact that I am, shall we say, “a woman of a certain age” doesn’t mean that I enjoy being treated as if the fact that I am old also means I am incompetent and stupid.  Which is why I tend to get just a bit crabby when either my computer or my smart phone decides to act up and I am stuck with the daunting task of trying to get it fixed.

I’m not the sort of person who panics the minute something goes wrong.  I always try to identify the problem and look up ways to fix it before I finally (and reluctantly) ask for help.  And I put off asking for help because I know that as soon as I do, I will be told by someone half my age that the problem must be that I am doing something wrong.  Because if someone who looks like me (see above reference to sags, bags and wrinkles) is having a problem with her technology, the problem has to be that she isn’t bright enough to work it properly.  It can’t possibly be the fault of the computer, the smart phone, or the I-Pad, etc.

I once spent an hour with an employee at a cell-phone store who kept telling me that the problem I was explaining simply couldn’t exist.  Politely but persistently, I assured him it did.  (We old people can be stubborn.)  And even when, after exhausting all other possible explanations, he finally realized that I was telling the truth, he didn’t actually acknowledge I was right.  He just fiddled with my phone some more and handed it back to me, assuring me that it was now working just fine.  And then then went to “help” the next customer.

I know I’m not a whiz at technology, and that I was born back in the days when phones were rotary, televisions were black and white, and there was no such thing as a personal computer.  None of this comes naturally to me.  But I have learned how to operate a smart phone, publish a blog on the internet, and even send a decent text message as long as I remember to put on my reading glasses before I begin typing.  So I think I have earned the right to at least be given the benefit of the doubt when I say that something on my computer or phone isn’t working properly.

DSC01665There’s so much more I could say on this subject, but I don’t have the time.  My 87-year old mother is having problems opening her emails, and I have to go over to her house and figure out just what she is doing wrong…..

 

Strong Enough

IMG_0448This morning I was down at the animal shelter where I volunteer, getting ready to take a dog on its walk, when another volunteer turned to me and said, “That dog is kind of hard to get leashed up.  Do you want me to help you?”  I didn’t say it out loud, but my first reaction was, “Seriously?  You want to help me?

I’ve been walking dogs at this shelter for over fifteen years, and the volunteer who was offering to help me was still fairly new.  Plus, I am one of the volunteers who is authorized to handle even the most difficult-to-walk dogs, and I have always sort of pictured myself as someone other volunteers can turn to for help.  Having someone else offer to help me with a dog almost seemed like an insult to my dog-walking skills, and I even opened my mouth to tell her, “No thanks, I’ve got this.”  But then, thankfully, my ego checked out and my common sense checked in.

The volunteer who was offering to help me was probably thirty years younger than I am, and judging by her muscle tone, also much stronger.  And she wasn’t offering to help me because she thought I was incompetent, she was offering because the dog in question was very big, and often so excited to go for his walks that he almost pulls the person trying to walk him down.  And, as long as I’m being so honest, I’ll admit that she was probably offering because she could plainly see that I am no longer young or particularly strong.  Accepting her help just made sense, and so I did.

I have come to believe that the most difficult aspect of aging is the steadily widening gap between who I think I am, and who I actually am, physically speaking.   Accepting the wrinkles, grey hair and sagging skin that come with aging is only part of the struggle.  For me, the more difficult thing to accept is that I no longer have anywhere near the strength and stamina that I did when I was young, which means I’m still a bit shocked every time I try to do something I used to do so easily and find that it’s just a bit too much for me now.  The woman who once regularly carried fifty-pound bags of grain for her horse is now asking for help carrying in some of the heavy bags from the grocery store. And sometimes that smarts a bit.

IMG_4349Still, there is nothing I can do but accept the changes that are happening in, and to, my body.  I may still be young in spirit….and hope that I always will be….but I am no longer quite so young in body, and that means that I have to remember to cut myself some slack.  I need to pay attention to my physical limits these days, and be willing to ask for help when I need it.  I also need to be strong enough to graciously accept help when it’s offered, even those times when I didn’t ask for it.  Because the time is coming, slowly but inevitably, when the only shelter dogs I’ll be walking are the chihuahuas.

Time Well Spent

Sadly, time is no longer on my side.  Even though I still think of myself as middle aged, I am actually well past the mid-point of my life and fast approaching the “golden years.”  Which means I am always startled (and not in a good way) by what I see in the mirror every morning, and that I have learned to accept that all the hair dye, concealer, push-up bras and cosmetic procedures in the world aren’t ever going to make me look young again.  And I’ve gotten used to that, I really have.  Because at this point in my life, I’m much more concerned with making sure that I don’t waste any of the precious time I actually have left.

A healthy perspective is one of the few gifts of aging, but I think it is a very valuable one.  I no longer believe I can put off the important stuff, counting on a tomorrow that may never come.  If something is important, it deserves to be done now, or at least as soon as possible.  Procrastination is a luxury reserved for the young.

Beyond that, I have a much better sense of what is truly  important.  I used to waste far too much time trying to push myself into situations that didn’t work for me, just because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.  I wasted even more time trying to get the approval of almost everyone in my life, even from people who made it clear time and time again that I wasn’t living up to their expectations.  Now I know that life is too short to waste on people who don’t enrich my life, who aren’t willing to accept me as I am, or who seem intent on trying to shape me into whoever they happen to think I ought to be.

Last weekend, I visited the small town in Kansas where I lived during my preteen and teenage years.  I got together with dear friends I have stayed close to for over forty years, and also got the chance to reconnect with old friends I haven’t seen in far too long.  It was a wonderful weekend full of laughter and memories, and we had a terrific time acting (almost) as silly as we did when we actually were young. And when the weekend drew to a close, we all agreed that we needed to get together again, sooner rather than later.  Because we aren’t getting any younger, and we’re no longer willing to wait quite so long to hang out with people whose company we enjoy so much.

When I was young, I honestly believed that I had all the time in the world to do the things I wanted to do, to spend time with the people I loved, and to chase after each and every one of my dreams.  Now I know better, which could be rather depressing.  But I choose not to look at it that way.  Instead, I have  come to see my aging as a gift that forces me to realize that time is an incredibly valuable commodity, and that I need to spend it wisely.  I just wish I hadn’t waited quite so long to figure that one out.

Can You Remember?

Coleman Application_page 3 1In most ways, I take after my father much more than my mother.  I inherited his sense of humor, his passion for reading, his deep love of animals, and (unfortunately) his sagging neck line and tendency to be a bit wide in the middle.  My mother and I look nothing alike, and I have none of her teaching, sewing, or decorating skills.  But there is one trait that my mother and I do share: we both have astonishingly bad memories.  And that’s beginning to worry me a little.

When I was young and my mom wanted my attention, she always called the names of my sisters first, and that was when she was looking straight at me.  Sometimes she even worked in the name of one of our dogs before she got to, “I mean….Ann!”  I never doubted that she actually knew who I was, it just took her a while to come up with the right name.  And honestly, I understood that, because I operate the exact same way.

I once stuck a glass bottle of Coca Cola in the freezer in order to get it cold enough to drink, and then forgot all about it until that evening, when someone opened our freezer door and discovered that it had exploded in there.  As a young mother, I walked out of my house without remembering my keys so many times that my son would not only ask me if I had the keys before he would follow me out the door, he also insisted I show them to him.  He was only five at the time,  but I guess he’d had a little too much experience at being locked out.

I have a long history of forgetting appointments, and I shed my belongings the way a dog sheds hair as I go about my day.  I’ve left purses behind in restaurants,  walked out of supermarkets without the groceries I just paid for, and left lawn sprinklers on overnight.  (Thankfully, we don’t live in an area that is prone to drought.)  I never buy expensive sun glasses or umbrellas because I lose track of them so often.  And I’m just as bad at remembering names as my mother ever was.

The problem is that I’m starting to get a bit up there in age, which means that I’m getting to the point where people are going to be getting just a tad judgmental about my lack of memory skills.  Like my mother, I have had a bad memory all my life, and forgetting stuff is just normal for me.  But forgetfulness is also something that becomes concerning as people hit their twilight years (and rightfully so), but how can you notice that someone’s memory is slipping away when it’s barely been there to begin with?

IMG_0576 2My mother is at the age where I often accompany her to important visits, and I see the looks that she sometimes gets when she has problems remembering stuff.  And I know the time is coming when I’m going to be getting those looks as well.  Which probably explains why I can get a little defensive about my mother’s memory (or lack thereof), because I not only know it’s just who she is, but I realize it’s also who I am.

I know my mom well enough to know that she’s still quite sharp mentally, even if her counter is strewn with the notes to help her remember all the stuff she needs to remember.  And I’m there to speak up for her if need be.  But that leaves the question of who is going to speak up for me when I’m her age and waltzing out of the grocery store without my groceries.  I guess I just have to hope that my kids inherited their father’s memory so they’ll recall all those times when they were little and I forgot my house keys.  And know that it’s just me being me.

A Temporary Fix

Even though I could certainly use it, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever have any serous plastic surgery done.

It’s not that I’m morally opposed to plastic surgery, or don’t understand wanting to reduce the signs of aging.  We live in a society that values youth, and those of us who are in our late fifties (or sixties and seventies) are living much more active lives than our parents and grandparents did at that age.  So it only makes sense that we would like to look as young as we feel, which means that a quick “nip and tuck” starts looking very attractive.   Even someone someone like me, who is very nervous of medical procedures and used to faint at the mere sight of blood, can feel tempted to head to the nearest plastic surgeon’s office and ask for “the works.”

But the truth is, even the best of plastic surgery would be wasted on me.  And I know this because I have had a couple of minor procedures done (for health reasons) in the past couple of years, and I’ve already managed to ruin them.

For years I suffered from sagging eyelids, which combined with my chronic dry-eye, meant that I almost always had a sore on the outer corner of my eye where the tears would get trapped in the fold of skin.  I tried wiping the area regularly with tissues and even applying ointments, but nothing helped.  So I finally went to a doctor, who told me the best results would come from making an incision in the top of my eye lid and cutting away the excess skin.  As if.  I quickly asked for other options, and he said I could also do a simple eyebrow lift.  I figured I could handle that, and so I had it done.

And you know what I did last night?  While trying to pick up the TV remote in the dark, I managed to smack my head right into the corner of my night stand, just above the eye.  So now I have a hugely swollen eye socket and a purple eyelid, and, you guessed it, tears caught in the fold of the eyelid.  All that work undone in one moment of klutziness, and my life is nothing if not one long string of klutzy moments.

I have had problems with the veins in my legs for the past fifteen years or so, which finally morphed into full-blown varicose veins.  Which I had treated, repeatedly and somewhat painfully, armed with the knowledge that when I was done, I would finally have legs that didn’t look some kid had colored on them with red and purple markers.  After the initial spider vein treatments, my legs did look vein free….for a few weeks.  But it wasn’t long before I began bumping into things (steps, the open dishwasher door, whatever)  which would cause a bruise, which would turn into yet another cluster of spider veins.  I’m thinking I’ll probably get to enjoy the results of my recent varicose vein treatment for a little bit longer, like say, maybe six months.

So you see why I remain unimpressed by the best that plastic surgery has to offer.  But if the medical field ever comes up with a procedure to cure klutziness, I’d sign up for that so fast……

Acting My Age

I may be getting old, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am always mature.   Physically, I know I’m not young.  I am reminded of this every time I look in the mirror, or try to read anything without my reading glasses on, or worse, attempt to do something that requires the strength and flexibility I no longer have.  Believe me, my years of lifting anything over fifty pounds, turning cartwheels, or even mounting a tall horse without assistance are over.  But when it comes to maturity, there are times when I still fall short.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were sitting in a restaurant at a tall table near the bar, eating dinner and listening to some excellent music.  Some people came in and settled at the bar stools on our right, which was fine.  Unfortunately, they were quickly joined by even more people, mostly male and mostly drunk, who crowded into the space between the bar and our table.  They seemed to have no idea that they were regularly jostling our table, talking so loudly that we couldn’t carry on our own conversation, and that the man nearest to me was practically sitting on my lap.

The mature thing to do would have been to call the manager over and ask to be moved to a quieter table.  But I was annoyed.  We were there first, and they had invaded our space.  I had no wish for either my husband or I to confront people who were clearly under the influence, but that didn’t mean I was going to back down.  Instead, I leaned into the table and shifted my weight slightly to the right, moving the table just a few inches towards the crowd at the bar.  Then I would wait a few minutes and do it again.  It wasn’t long before the extra people standing between our table and the bar were, subtly but effectively, squeezed out.  And I admit that I felt a small thrill of victory as I watched them wander off, looking vaguely confused and annoyed.

It wasn’t my finest hour.  The people may have been rude, but they weren’t deliberately trying to ruin our dinner.  The simple fact was that I felt wronged, and felt the need to strike back, and did so.  If just one of them had noticed that I was deliberately moving my table in their direction, there could have been an ugly confrontation.  That’s what happens when I forget to be a grown up and let my inner child out, who still lives by the rules of the elementary school playground.

The sad truth is there is a difference between growing older and becoming mature.  The first one happens naturally, with no effort on our part, whether we like it or not.  But becoming mature requires an intentional effort to grow in understanding, patience, wisdom, and tolerance.  It means considering the consequences of our words before we speak and the consequences of our actions before we do something, and knowing when a cause is important enough to stand our ground and when it makes more sense to simply walk away.

I like to think that I’ve matured as I’ve grown older, and I know that in many ways I have.  Yet there is obviously still plenty of room for improvement and growth, even at this stage of my life.  I may wish I was just a little less old, but what I’d really like is to be a lot more mature.

Reverse Progress

When I was young, I grew just a little bit more knowledgeable with each passing year.  Partly because I was going to school where it was someone’s job to teach me new things, but part of it was just that as I grew older, I also acquired more understanding of the world around me and how it worked.  Yet somewhere along the line, that process has reversed. Now with each passing year, I seem to be a little more out-of-touch with the modern world and a little less knowledgeable about almost everything.

I blame technology for a big part of this, since it is evolving much faster than I can possibly handle, and it is also invading nearly every aspect of my life.  Take, for example, the telephone.  I vividly remember when I first learned to use a telephone, and how I promptly called my grandmother to brag about it.  I think I was about four, and I know that the phone had a rotary dial.  My mastery of the telephone lasted for many years, through the advent of push-button phones, wireless phones and even the multi-line phone I had to answer at my first job.  Then along came the “smart phone.”  I know how to use less than a third of the apps on it, and it took me over a week to figure out how to disable the annoying chime it decided to emit each time I got a new email. Which means that when it comes to my telephone skills, I’ve actually lost ground.

moms-bunSadly, my understanding of the cultural and fashion trends around me is also slipping.  I came of age in the Seventies, which means that I have many cringe-worthy photos of me during my teenage years, and am reluctant to pass judgement on the fashion choices of today’s young people. Even so, I admit that I don’t get the reason for the popular “man bun.”  Maybe I spent too much time waiting for my mom to get her bun exactly right before our family could go anywhere (she wore her hair in a bun for years), but I don’t see why any young man would voluntarily go to the time and trouble to put his hair in a bun when a simple ponytail would do.  And I really don’t get why he would want to cover it up in a cute little knitted cap.

As an English major, I spent years learning the proper use of the English language and the complicated rules of grammar, and felt confident in my ability to fashion a sentence that was not only clear but grammatically correct.  And then along came the word-processing programs with built-in spell check (which I do like) and grammar check.  I can’t tell you how many times I’m happily writing when the dreaded green underline shows up, alerting me to a grammar mistake.  I move the words around, consult my grammar books, change the punctuation, grind my teeth, and swear profusely, but the green underline doesn’t go away.  After a while, I just ignore it and keep writing, but my confidence in my grammar skills is shaken, and I’m faced with yet another area where I’m back-sliding.

I have heard people say that the secret to successfully aging is to keep learning new things, and I believe that is true.  I just didn’t realize that the reason I needed to keep learning new things is that if I don’t, the time may well come when I don’t understand anything at all.

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….

The Parents’ Table

anns-bdayAt 58, I have reached the age where I can no longer, by any stretch of the imagination, consider myself to be young, or even “young-ish.”  I am stubbornly clinging to the middle-age category, although there are plenty of people who would argue that I am too old even for that.  I treat that argument with the contempt it deserves, because who knows?  I may actually make it to my 116th birthday.  We are making great strides in the fields of technology and medical science, and I intend to milk both for all they are worth. Still, every now and then, despite my best efforts, I come face-to-face with the reality of my age.

These unwelcome intrusions of painful reality into my fantasy life are nothing new.  I remember shopping with a friend one day when I was in my  late twenties, and I automatically headed for the store’s “Junior Department.” My friend refused to follow me, saying bluntly, if honestly, “Ann, we aren’t Juniors anymore.”  Huh?  Then I looked around for the “Fashionable Young Women Who Aren’t Juniors But Are Still Young and Hot” department, but it simply wasn’t there.

My hair’s natural color used to be a soft brown that I was actually rather happy with, and unlike many of my friends, I never even considered changing its color.  Even after I started spotting the occasional grey hair I firmly believed that I was far too young to be actually turning grey.   Until the day I sat down in my hairdresser’s chair and she asked me, “Have you considered doing highlights?  You know, to cover up all this grey hair?”  And a few years later, that was followed by the day that the highlights were replaced with a total dye-job.

Then there was the time I was accompanying my teenage son to his high school sports banquet.  My children may have been in their teen years, but deep down, I still thought of myself as a young mother.  But then I realized that a young mother doesn’t sit in the passenger seat of a car with a hot casserole dish on her lap while her son drives them to a banquet.  It was, no matter how I looked at it, a distinctly matronly moment.

Last weekend, my husband and I attended the wedding of one of my daughter’s best friends, and we found ourselves seated at a table with three other couples we didn’t know.  They looked about our age, and as we introduced ourselves, we realized that we were all parents of the bride’s good friends.  Laughingly, we referred to ourselves as “the parents’ table,” and sat happily on the sidelines, watching the young people dance.  I remembered when it was my parents’ generation at our weddings who were watching us dance, and marveled at the realization that I was now officially one of the “older generation” myself.   Surprisingly, I found that in this case, I didn’t mind it one bit.

Which is not to say that I have completely internalized the lesson that I am no longer young.  I think it is impossible, really, to always be aware of our true age, because on the inside, I’m still the same person I’ve always been.  And that’s why it will be quite some time before I change the name of this blog to “Muddling Through My Old Age.”  Some illusions are just too hard to give up.