Ever Onward

They say “time flies,” and that’s the truth.  And maybe it’s just me, but it seems that not only is time speeding by at an alarming rate, but it has brought more change with it than I ever thought possible.  It’s been almost eight years since I started this blog, and the changes that have occurred in those eight years alone amaze me. And I’m not just talking about the changes I see when I look at my stat page.

On the family front, both my son and daughter got married and became parents, which means we’ve added three precious grandchildren to our family.  Realizing I was old enough to be a grandmother was a bit of a shock, but the first time I laid eyes on my newborn grandson, I happily accepted my new role.  (Even though my requests to have my grandchildren refer to me as “Wise One” or “Goddess of Youth and Beauty” were ignored.  I’ve learned to make do with “Gramma.”)  My husband was diagnosed with colon cancer, went through the treatments and now enjoys remission.  We lost our great-nephew, a wonderful and much-loved young man, suddenly and unexpectedly.  My mother moved into a retirement home, which required considerable downsizing of a lifetime’s accumulation.  We said goodbye to our beloved Lucy, the smartest dog I have ever known, and welcomed Finn into our home.  Anyway you look at it, that’s a lot of change in a short time.

The changes in my blogging world aren’t nearly so personal, but they are plentiful.  My blog grew in unexpected ways, as I branched out from writing just about middle age and connected with people all over the world.  Some blogging friends and regular readers have faded away, but new ones have taken their place.  I’ve learned, mostly, to keep up with the constant changes that Word Press makes, although I’m still managing to avoid using the “block editor.”  (I’ve taken many writing courses, and not one of them mentioned “blocks.”) And sometimes I let my dog, Finn, write a guest post on the subject of his choice.  So yes, my blog has changed a bit in the past eight years.

I know that the upcoming years are going to bring even more changes, probably at an even faster rate.  My husband will go into partial retirement at the end of this month, and my oldest grandchild will begin kindergarten next year.  After over twenty years of walking shelter dogs, I’m recognizing that my body is now forcing me to pick and choose which dogs I walk.  Although my mom is still in good health, she’s reached the stage of her life where her need for assistance is steadily growing.  I also know that the time is coming, sooner than I’d like to admit, when I’ll be the one in the retirement home…..

`So I’m responding to all this in the only way that makes sense:  I’m accepting it.  In some ways, I also embrace and welcome the changes that life has brought.  (Did I mention my adorable grandchildren?)  Other changes, like the growing arthritis in my thumbs, I’d gladly do without.  But I know that the future will bring plenty of joy to offset the challenges, and that the key to aging well is to simply live as well as you can, each and every day.  And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

Getting Better

As my 92-year old mother often tells me, it’s hard to be old.  I may be almost thirty years younger, but trust me, I know what she’s talking about.  I’ve never been a vain person (or had reason to be), but never before has looking in a mirror resulted in quite so much shock and dismay.  It’s been years since I could read a book without a pair of reading glasses, but now I also need the glasses when I go shopping, because otherwise I can’t read the price tags and expiration dates.  And when I first started walking shelter dogs over twenty years ago, I was happy to walk any dog that needed to go out, no matter how strong or rowdy.  These days I gravitate toward the dogs that are smaller and calmer, desperately hoping that someone else will get to the mastiffs and rottweilers before my walking shift is over.

There was a time when I took my pants to the tailor to have the waistline taken in, because my waist has always been one size smaller than my hips.  Nowadays, I take my pants to the tailor only if I need them hemmed…..and that’s not because my hips have gotten smaller.  I could go on, but the list is too depressing.  I know all these physical changes are a normal part of aging, but that doesn’t always make them easier to accept.

Still, the part of aging I find hardest isn’t the loss of my youthful vigor or looks, but the loss of the many people, both family and friends, that I have known and loved.  I know I’m lucky to have my mother still in my life, as many of my friends have become the oldest generation in their immediate family.   But I still miss my father and my grandparents, and all the other people who passed away before I was ready to let them go.  Loss of loved ones is a part of aging that can be very hard to accept.

Thankfully, there is an upside to growing older, and that is that once we’ve reached the point where we have more years behind us than we do ahead, we’ve also had the time to learn a few things.  We’ve figured out just what a precious gift good health is, even if we can’t read the small print anymore.  We treasure our friends and family even more because we know they won’t be with us forever, and we also know how much we’ll miss them when they’re gone.  If we’ve been paying attention at all, we finally realize just how precious and fragile life really is, and that so much of the stuff we spend our time worrying and fretting about doesn’t matter in the least.

The good thing about aging is we often become more honest with ourselves and with others, daring to share our true selves with the world and allowing those around us to do the same.  We know how important it is to support each other through hard times, and we learn the value of overlooking so many of the things we’ve allowed to divide us.  If we let it, aging can actually bring out our best selves, which is always a good thing.  Even if we can’t actually see it in the mirror……

Picture Perfect

I was at a photography shop yesterday, uploading my photos in order to make prints of them.   A woman was sitting at the at the kiosk next to me, being helped by a young man who worked at the store.  She was trying to make 5×7 inch prints of her photos, and it wasn’t going well.  The woman (who looked only slightly older than me) kept apologizing for her ignorance of the system, and for needing the employee to help her.  “Sorry I’m taking up so much of your time!  But this is hard for someone my age,” she said, “it was so much easier when all we had to do was bring in our photo card and insert it into the computer.”

The more I listened to their conversation, the more I was struck by the woman’s attitude.  Why did she keep apologizing?  Because she was right: it was so much easier to print our photos a few years ago.  We didn’t have to worry about uploads and file compatibility, retaining original resolution or any of the other stuff she was struggling to understand.  We just inserted our photo card into the kiosk, the pictures popped up on the screen, and we selected the number and size was wanted of each.  It was quick and easy.  

But in these past few years, printing photos has become a real struggle.  I can’t get my photos to upload properly to the online sites anymore (apparently, they’re not compatible), so I go to the shop and sync my phone with their device and upload them there.  Even that takes a very long time unless I use their Wi-Fi, which my phone informs me isn’t secure, and every once in a while the upload simply stops for reasons no one can explain.  These days, it takes real determination and lots of patience to make a print of a photo.  

I believe that woman had no need to apologize, and yet I understood why she did.  If you’re over fifty and struggling with any type of technology, often the immediate assumption is that you’re not quite smart enough to, say, actually print a photo.  The young man who was helping her was patient and kind, but not once did he agree with her that the new system is harder than the old.  Nor did he contradict her when she kept repeating that the problem was her age.  But the truth is, if a system has become complicated and doesn’t work properly, the problem might not be the age of the person trying to use it.  As radical as it sounds, the problem just could be that the system is flawed.

I know I’m one of the few people who still likes to print my photos, so I soldier on.  I’ve learned the difference between a “jpeg” and a “HEIC” photo file, and how to convert one to the other.  I schlepp to the photo shop to use their kiosk because if I try to use the shop’s website, it takes approximately five minutes for each photo to upload.  And when I’m really stymied, I’ll ask for help from the staff.  But no matter how difficult the process becomes, I have vowed that I will NOT utter the words,  “I’m sorry, but I’m just too old to understand……..”

 

A New Chapter

I’ve never claimed to be good at aging gracefully.  Far from it.  I tend to resent most of the changes that aging has caused:  the sags and wrinkles, the sore joints, the inability to read small print, the forgetfulness, the loss of strength and stamina.  I complain bitterly about all of it, and am often shocked when I look in the mirror and am literally “faced” with the difference between how I picture myself and how I actually look.  When I shop for new clothes, I find myself wondering if a certain style is too young for me, and yet I’m still offended if a sales clerk offers me a senior discount.  Far too often, my reaction to aging has been a mixture of confusion and dismay.

And yet……I can’t deny that there are a few benefits to being a “woman of a certain age.”  I have a far better sense of self than I ever did when I was young, and even not-so-young.  I have acquired a certain bit of wisdom that steadies me when I’m faced with the roller coaster of current news and trends, and I’m thankful for the perspective that my age has given me.  If I’m entirely honest, I have to say that I actually value the intellectual and emotional aspect of aging, and what I resent is really just the physical part.

The good news is that I’ve finally figured out that there’s something that makes coping with my aging body just a little bit easier, and that something is being a grandmother.  My three grandchildren bring me great joy, but as odd as it sounds, they also help me accept all the physical changes that I used to resent so much.

So what if I have a sagging chin?  I’m a grandmother, not a new mom!  And those reading glasses I have stashed all over the house (and in my purse, and in my car) are normal for grandparents.  My grandparents wore glasses all the time, after all.  And maybe I am wearing “mom jeans” when I go out in public, but what else do you expect from a woman is actually a grandma?  Looking at it that way, I’m actually dressing young for my age.  Embracing my role as a grandmother is truly kind of liberating, because it takes away the pressure that so many women my age feel to look and act younger than we really are.

TheColemanGrandkids-97 2When I was younger, I never thought I’d be happy spending a Friday night rocking a baby to sleep or bathing a toddler, but the truth is, I am.  Sometimes I still feel a bit surprised by the fact that I have three grandchildren now, but trust me, it’s a happy surprise.  I’m no longer young, and that’s a fact.  But luckily, I’ve got three precious reasons to be grateful for this new stage of my life, and when all is said and done, all I really feel is blessed……

Role Reversal

My mother asked me for money the other day.  She’s just had her hair cut, and had given the stylist the last of her cash.  My mother lives in a retirement complex and no longer drives, so she depends on her family to provide her with the supplies she needs, including a little bit of spending money.  So I call her when I’m at the grocery store to ask if she needs anything. I also make sure she has a supply of greeting cards to send out, and my husband and I usually shop for the presents she wants to give for family birthday parties.

I don’t mind doing any of it, and I know that I’m actually quite lucky that my mother, at age 91, is still independent in so many ways.  But when she asked me for the cash, I couldn’t help smiling a little.  I was remembering all those years when I was growing up and I was the one asking her or my father for money.  For some reason, that particular phone call made me see just how clearly our roles have reversed in recent years.  She used to be the one who took care of me, and now I (and my sisters) are the ones who are taking care of her.

I’m not going to lie, it felt weird when I first realized just how much my mother has come to depend on me.  In some way, I suppose, we never outgrow wanting to have our mother act like a mother.  We want our parents to express interest in our lives, to believe that, even after all these years, they still “have our backs.”  But I learned that what often happens as our parents age is that they gradually become uable to manage their own lives, much less help with their adult sons and daughters.  My mother was a talented seamstress and I always counted on her to alter my clothes, or even sew curtains for our house.  But she gave up sewing a few years ago, and now I use a tailor.

My mother loves living in her retirement community, knows most of the residents and participates in the many activities there.  But her interest in the world outside that community has definitely diminished.  She no longer reads her mail, pays her bills, or files her important paperwork, so I do all of that for her.  And I’m just fine with that.

I’ve learned, over these past few years, to stop worrying about the things she doesn’t do, and to simply be grateful for the things she still does do.  She’s always had an excellent singing voice and still sings in both her church choir and her community’s glee club.  She still calls me frequently, is always glad to see me when I stop by, and graciously allows me to help with her latest jig saw puzzle.  And she absolutely adores her three great-grandchildren.

IMG_5115What I’ve finally figured out is that the mother/daughter relationship isn’t stagnant.  It changes over the years, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Yes, now I often care for the woman who once cared for me….but she’s still my mother, and I’ll do my best to treasure every minute I have left with her.

The Last Straw

It’s been really cold this week, and it’s supposed to get even colder by this weekend.  I’ve been preparing by stocking up on essentials, breaking out a jigsaw puzzle and this morning, I decided to fill up my gas tank before the truly frigid weather set in.  I pulled into a station I don’t normally use, and was amazed to see that there was a little screen on the gas pump, right next to the slot for my credit card.  Not the usual screen that provides instructions on operating the pump, but an actual little television screen, airing real commercials.   I was dumbfounded, to say the least.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally make decisions regarding my bedding when I’m filling my car with gasoline, so why anyone thought I’d want to see a mattress commercial just then is beyond me.  By the time I was done and replacing the pump, it had progressed to an ad for insurance, which made a bit more sense.  But I still found the whole thing terribly annoying.  The sound was turned up loud, and I actually had to wait for the commercial to end before I could print my receipt.

I’ve been feeling a little out of touch with the world for a long-time now,  but this might well be the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”  Because I think I’m done.  I’ve tried my best to keep up with our ever-changing world:  adapting to the endless new technologies, trying to keep up with the latest trends, and accepting things that I don’t even begin to understand.  Isn’t that what we’re told we’re supposed to do, if we want to stay young?  Be willing to learn new things, embrace change, pay attention to the latest fashions, and invest a small fortune in skin care products?  Because otherwise we’re nothing but a bunch of useless old fogies with one foot in the grave, right?

But I no longer care.  I’m done pretending that I don’t sometimes struggle with technologies that weren’t invented until decades after I was born.  I’m willing to admit that I think a whole lot of our current trends are just plain silly, and that they’ll go the way of the naval contemplation of the Sixties and the green shag carpeting of the Seventies.  I believe that it’s okay for houses to have walls and that body hair isn’t always something to be afraid of.  I admit to preferring printed receipts, real books, and brick and mortar stores.  Most of all, I believe that time spent by myself, off-line and unplugged, is both valuable and necessary for my basic sanity.

When you’ve lived as long as I have, you’ve seen too many things come and go to be terribly impressed with whatever the “latest and best” happens to be.  And you realize that although the world is always changing, basic human nature mostly remains the same.  You’ve figured out what’s important and what’s not, and you try very hard to embrace only the changes that are actually for the good.

So I’m okay with admitting that I have no use for gas pumps that try to sell me a mattress, or anything else other than gasoline.  From now on, I’m not only accepting my inner old fogy, I’m embracing her……

After All These Years

I’m well aware of the fact that I’m not young.  Or even middle aged.  (Although I refuse to change the name of this blog to “Fumbling Through My Final Years.”)  I’ve reached the point in my life where everything on my body that could possibly go south has done so.  Not only has it been decades since I’ve had to show my ID to purchase alcohol, but when I buy a bottle of wine at the self-check out lane and the screen instructs me to show a valid ID to the nearest checker, I simply wait until they look at me.  The clerk always  approves my purchase with a speed that is almost insulting.   Especially since I wear a face mask at the store, which I had (mistakenly) believed hid most of my wrinkles.

I often spot toys from my childhood at antique stores, along with other assorted items that were featured in the houses I grew up in.  If I want to confuse a member of the younger generation, I just use terms they’ve never heard of, like party-line telephones, penny candy, house dresses, Hi-Fi stereos, etc.  And most telling of all, I’ve reached the age where I consider “the younger generation” to be anyone who is at least ten years younger than me.  If that isn’t a sign of old age, I don’t know what is.

But like most people who find themselves on the wrong side of fifty, I tend to feel much younger than my actual age. Not physically, of course, because in that way I actually do feel every single one of my sixty-two years, but mentally.  Because on the inside, I’m basically the same person I’ve always been….just a little more experienced, if not actually wiser.

fullsizeoutput_5e0cWhich probably explains why, every once in a while, I don’t “act my age.”  And the holidays are a perfect example of one of those times.  I’ve always loved Christmas, and all of the decorating, baking, gift-giving and general cheerful chaos that it brings.  My holiday decorations have long since passed the tasteful stage, and  now look mostly as if the Christmas department at Sears exploded in my living room.  And the basement family room is where I put out the truly tacky stuff…..

But if there’s one advantage of growing older, it’s that we sometimes have the ability to indulge our inner child, and that’s what I do each year at Christmas.  I bake all of my favorite cookies, even if some of them grow stale before they can be eaten.  I put up two big trees instead of one, just because I like them.  I buy gifts for the people I love and then wrap them, because that’s so much more fun that just shoving them into a gift bag.  I donate to toy drives and food banks because sharing with those who need it makes me happy.  And every year I display a few special decorations that were gifts from loved ones who are gone, because the memories they invoke make the holidays even more special.

I’ve heard it said that Christmas is for children, and that may be true.  But there’s still a child in each of us, and personally, I believe that Christmas is the perfect time to invite that child to come out and play.

A State of Confusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Grown Up

Ann's photoWhen I was a child, I truly believed that all adults were mature people who knew what was what in the world.  I may have liked and trusted some grownups more than others, but I still believed that being an adult meant no longer behaving like a child.  I thought that the petty jealousies, the playground competitions and “me first attitudes” I often saw in my peers were things that we would all someday just naturally grow out of.   And then I grew up, and realized that many adults, including me, never truly grow out of some of our childish ways.

I may be a “woman of a certain age,” but there are times when my inner child emerges, and I don’t mean that in a good way.  (Because obviously, children have many, many, good qualities.)  I’m talking about how quickly I can become upset about something trivial, or how easily I can feel slighted, or how quickly I feel cheated when things don’t work out the way I had hoped.  As an adult, I know we’re not guaranteed anything in this world, but my inner child can still become enraged at the thought of not getting “my fair share.”

But those are reactions that I can clearly recognize as being inappropriate, and usually talk myself out of rather easily.  My real struggles come more in the area of wanting someone, anyone, to reassure me when things are going so very wrong.  Like a child, I sometimes want someone to tell me that “everything will be alright” during troubling times.  The problem is, there are times when no one can honestly say that.  Sometimes the only way to deal with trouble is to face it squarely and courageously.

I think that is one of the reasons I’ve been feeling a little down lately.  We’re dealing with so many unknowns right now, and although lots of people have opinions on how things are going to turn out, no one really knows for sure.  There isn’t anyone who can promise just when or how this will all get better.  Heck, we can’t even agree on what “all better” even means these days.  Like children, most of us are looking at things solely from our own point of view and waiting, some more patiently than others, for the rest of the world to adapt to our expectations.

There are times in life when we simply have no choice but to stand on our own two feet, listen to our own heart and make our own choices, knowing full well they might not be the right ones.  And I have come to realize that this is one of those times.  Now is not the time for me to indulge my inner child, looking for someone else to fix things or make sense of an upside down world.  Now is the time to embrace adulthood, with all the freedom and responsibility that comes with it.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally become the grownup my inner child was expecting.

Young At Heart

OWIWQyT%TPavPa0fLOvV7QThere’s nothing quite like a little get away to restore the soul, and my recent one did just that.  It was wonderful to escape the cold of Winter for a little while, and to have the chance to walk along a warm beach and enjoy colorful flowers in the middle of January.  The stresses of the past few months melted away a little more with each passing day, and best of all, the cold that I’d been fighting off and on since November finally went away.

But all good things must come to an end, and my vacation was no exception.  And since all the undone chores that were hanging over my head before I left were patiently waiting for me when I returned, I made a new “to do” list and started ticking them off, one by one.  Things were going along rather well until I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for my new “Real ID” driver’s license.

I’d found a list of all the necessary documents online, but the wording was confusing.  All I could tell for sure was that laminating my social security card had been a huge mistake, and that it was going to take a whole lot of paperwork for me to prove to the state of Missouri that I was indeed who I claimed to be.  So I gathered all the documents I could find and trotted off to the DMV.

It turned out that I did have all the required  paperwork, and everything was great until the woman behind the counter took my photo for my new license and made the mistake of showing it to me.  “This okay?” she asked, raising her eyebrows skeptically as she held it up.  I can’t tell you how much I regretted not asking for a retake, but I was too stunned to answer.  The photo not only looked like a mug shot, it looked like a mug shot taken of a very old woman whose criminal past and misspent life has finally caught up with her.

I’m not a vain person.  Even in the bloom of youth, I was solidly “average” in the looks department.  So my problem wasn’t that the photo made me look decidedly unattractive. The problem was that the photo didn’t even remotely match the image of myself that I carry around in my head.   And it wasn’t just because I’d rushed off that morning without bothering to apply make up or fix my hair.  The photo showed a woman who looked much older than I than I secretly, but sincerely, believe myself to be.

I know that our looks change as we age, but I’m still surprised when I look in a mirror and see a face with droopy eyes and sagging chins looking back.  I struggle sometimes to identify with the “old” person I have become in the physical sense.  (It’s probably the reason why so many people choose to get a face-lift:  they just want to keep on looking like themselves.)

Personally, I think the time has come when I need to accept that my physical appearance has changed and is going to keep on changing.  (And not for the better.)  But that doesn’t mean I have to think of myself as an old person, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I have to behave like one.  Yes, my body is aging and it shows.  But in my heart, I’m still the same person I’ve always been, and I have no intention of giving up that particular identity any time soon….