Step by Step

I love reading, and mystery novels are my favorite genre.  Trying to figure out “who did it” is a fun challenge, but what I especially love about mysteries is that they almost always have a strong plot line and a definite conclusion.  By the end of the book the mystery has been solved, all questions have been answered, and all the loose ends are neatly tied up.  I can close the book with a sigh of satisfaction and move on to another story.  Which, in my opinion, is just how it should be.

Sadly, real life rarely works out that way.  Real life tends to be messy and confusing, with lots of loose ends that may or may not be tied up eventually, and problems that can go unresolved for years.  Reality doesn’t always provide the clear beginning, middle, and end that our favorite stories deliver.  And sometimes our troubles drag on for so long that we find it hard to believe they’ll ever be over.

When we met with the oncologist after my husband’s cancer diagnosis, he told us the schedule for the chemo treatment would be an infusion every three weeks for eighteen weeks.  I went home and dutifully marked our calendar for each treatment, even writing in “done with chemo!” on the last date.  But when I mentioned this to the oncologist at our next visit, he told me that chemo doesn’t work that way.  My husband would have his blood tested before each infusion to make sure he was strong enough to go through the treatment, so there might be times when we would have a delay for a week or so.  He said that the chemo schedule was only a suggestion, and that we would take the whole thing step by step, depending on my husband’s reaction.

It turned out he was right, because my husband actually finished chemo a bit earlier than they had predicted, and we were especially thrilled when early tests showed that he didn’t need the major surgery that sometimes follows.  Unfortunately, later tests showed he did need two surgeries, and both of them resulted in longer hospital stays than anyone expected.  What should have been a nine-month course of cancer treatment stretched into a fourteen months, partially due to Covid restrictions.  And somewhere during all that mess, I learned to stop looking for a definitive schedule and to simply take each day, and each test/treatment/procedure as it came.

Which may explain why I’m having trouble accepting that, as far as we know, my husband is now in remission.  I had thought that the end of his cancer treatment would feel like a victory, with my husband and I toasting each other over a bottle of champagne and exclaiming “It’s over!”  Part of the problem is that cancer doesn’t really work that way, because it’s a sneaky disease that has a habit of rearing it’s ugly head when we least expect it.  My husband will be closely monitored in the upcoming months to make sure all is well, and I know we will be nervous before each and every test and scan.

eW3mn0cBQVebae5TBOD62QBut mostly, the problem is that my husband’s battle with cancer didn’t end with a victorious “bang.”  It has simply wound down, slowly, and on an unpredictable schedule of its own.  And it’s taking both of us a while to give ourselves permission to believe that the worst is truly behind us.  But that’s okay, because we’ll get there eventually, the exact same way we got through his treatment:  one step at a time.

Changes in Attitude

JXHyluo%SGWcmbt7MgVpvgTraditions have always been a big part of my holiday celebrations.  We always use our good china for the meals at Easter and Thanksgiving, my Christmas tree is lit with the old-fashioned bulbs of my childhood, and champagne must be served on New Year’s Eve.  I go a little overboard when decorating my house at Christmas, but the actual process goes quickly because I put the exact same decorations in the exact same place every year.

I suppose I like my holiday traditions so much because they remind me of  the happy celebrations of years past.  Carrying on traditions of my childhood might also be a way of honoring family members who have passed.  (This could be why it was years before I was able to ignore my father’s strict rules about decorating a Christmas tree:  smallest ornaments on the top, biggest ornaments on the bottom, a white light bulb at the top of the tree, and if icicles are used, only one strand may be placed on each branch.  I felt like true rebel the first time I hung a large ornament near the top of the tree and dared to put three strands of icicles on an especially bare branch.)

But for whatever reason, I’ve always held on tightly to my holiday traditions, and only changed them when I had to in order to accommodate the changes in my growing family.  But then the year 2020 happened, and I decided that it’s rather pointless to try to hold on to traditions in a year when the world has been basically turned upside down.

So this year, we had our family dinner with just our kids on the night before Thanksgiving, and my mother joined my sister and her husband for their own separate dinner.  My husband and I spent Thanksgiving day putting up our Christmas tree and hanging our outdoor lights, adding a new string of Christmas lights around our patio. While I have absolutely no idea how we’ll be celebrating Christmas this year, I do know it will be very different from years past.

And you know what?  I’m mostly okay with it.  Sure, I worry about my 90-year old mother’s emotional health if she has to be alone on Christmas, but I’ll do everything in my power to prevent that.  (Because when you’re 90, “staying apart this year so we can be together next year” has a very hollow ring to it.)   But I’m also learning that different doesn’t always mean worse.  And there’s something kind of liberating about knowing that I can’t keep up with all my traditions this year, because that means that I’m free to think of new ways to celebrate the holidays that work in these strange and trying times.

I’m truly hoping that next year we will be able to celebrate the holidays however we please.  But this year, I’m going to have to rely on a major change of attitude and expectations to get me through the season.  And who knows?  In the midst of all this craziness, I just might just find a new tradition that is worth keeping long after this pandemic is gone.

Hard Times

I don’t know about you, but I really thought this pandemic would be mostly over by now.  Back in March, I thought that this virus would simply run its course over time and then fade quietly out of the headlines.  Sadly, it’s proven to have staying power, and although we have made great advances in testing, treatment and even vaccine development, Covid 19 is still basically ruling our lives.  And I don’t like it one bit.

I’d like to say that I always handle the situation well, but that would be a lie.  The truth is that sometimes I’m fine and sometimes I’m not.  And I can bounce back and forth between those moods with lightning speed, despite my best efforts to maintain a positive attitude.  I suspect that most people feel that way, even if they aren’t comfortable admitting it.  We live in a society that has become very judgemental, and being honest about how hard this is can be seen as a weakness, or worse, being in denial about the seriousness of the situation.

Personally, I think life during a pandemic is very challenging.  We worry about getting the virus, we worry about those have gotten it, we worry about how the restrictions are effecting the mental and emotional health of the most vulnerable among us, and we worry about those who are suffering (and those who are going to suffer) from the trashed economy.  None of that is easy, no matter how much we try to pretend otherwise.

I wish I could offer some sure-fire advice for fixing it, but I can’t.  All I know is that when times are hard, the worst thing we can do is be hard on each other or hard on ourselves.  I know how easy it is to take our frustrations and fears out on each other, but I also know that when we do that, it only makes a bad situation even worse.

Now is the time to be gentle with ourselves, I think.  It’s the time to let ourselves feel whatever emotion happens to show up, without seeing it as a sign of weakness.  We need to do whatever we can to take care of ourselves, indulging in the little things that make us happy and lift our spirits.  When this is over (and it will be over one day) no one is going to grade us on the great things we accomplished during the pandemic lock downs, I promise you.

And we also need to be gentle with each other, because the chances are that every single person you encounter these days is struggling.  Their struggles might not be the same as ours, but they are just as real.  Which means this is not the time to engage in petty arguments, take pot shots at our “enemies,” or behave in any way that makes someone else’s life even harder than it already is.

As I said, I don’t like this pandemic and I hate the negative way it has changed our world.  But I refuse to let it also change who I am and what kind of person I try to be.  Because hard times don’t have to result in hard people.

Like a Dog

fullsizeoutput_5988Mom’s been kind of busy lately, so I thought it was time for me to write another blog post for her.  Because that’s the kind of dog I am:  always willing to lend a helping paw when it’s needed. Even though my specialty is disposing of left-over food, I’m more than happy to write a post for Mom if that takes something off of her “to-do list.” I also believe that there are times when the people can learn a thing or two from dogs, and from what I’ve heard, this is one of those times.

I know that many people are stressing about something Mom refers to as “that stupid pandemic,” and that it’s causing lots of trouble all over the world.  Apparently, it’s spread mostly through the air, from one person’s face to another person’s face.  And this is a perfect example of how people can learn from dogs, because people insist on greeting each other face-to-face.  But dogs greet each other by sniffing, and faces aren’t what we sniff, if you know what I mean.  So, all people have to do is greet each other like dogs do and the problem is solved.  You’re welcome.

I’ve heard that those who live in the United States are also worried about something they call an election, which has lots of people upset and calling each other bad names.  And once again, this is an area where people could learn from dogs.  Because dogs come in all breeds, colors and sizes, but we still remember that we’re all dogs and we mostly get along anyway.  We know life is too short to waste being angry or hateful, so we focus on the important stuff, like the source of that fabulous smell coming from the kitchen….

Plus, dogs are forgiving.  We may get into the occasional fight, but they are over quickly and no one holds a grudge afterwards.  We even forgive people.  Take yesterday, for instance, when the old battle-axe….I mean Mom…decided I needed a bath.  Never mind that it’s November, she plunked me in the wading pool and doused me with shampoo before I even realized what was happening.  But did I stay mad at her for her crazy and completely unjustified actions?   I did not, or I wouldn’t be writing this post for her.

Now I’ve always been taught that it’s wrong to brag about ourselves, so I hope no one thinks I’m trying to say dogs are better than people.  I’m just saying that sometimes, people might benefit if they acted just a little bit more like dogs.   For one thing, being all up in each other’s faces just isn’t a good thing during a pandemic.  But more importantly, I know for a fact that if people would be as patient, loving,  forgiving, and as willing to live in the moment as dogs are, then the world would be a better place for all of us.

Love,  Finn

The Company You Keep

No doubt about it, 2020 hasn’t exactly turned out to be a banner year.  Aside from the birth of our new granddaughter (which was a wonderful gift), it has mostly been a series of hardships that had to be both accepted and endured.  From learning that our dog tested positive for heart worm in February, to the arrival of the Covid virus in Spring and the subsequent lock-downs which resulted in the cancellation of every single event and gathering we had been looking forward to, to the worry of our granddaughter’s premature birth, followed closely by my husband’s cancer diagnosis, I feel as if I’ve hardly had a chance to draw a breath, much less process it all.

But like everyone else whose world has been turn upside down in the past few months, I don’t really have a choice other than to do my best to cope with this new reality.  And so I do what I can to adapt and learn new coping strategies.  It helps to do the small things that cheer me up, like buying fresh flowers for our house or making sure I always have a stack of new books to read when I can find the time.  I’ve learned the importance of self-care, and am getting much better at saying “no” to obligations that  threaten to overwhelm me.  If nothing else, I’ve  come to accept my limitations, and that’s a good thing.

I’ve also discovered the importance of discernment.  There are days when I take a break from the news, knowing that all the craziness and conflict will still be there when I actually feel strong enough to hear it.  I hit the “unfollow” button on Facebook in order to keep my newsfeed free from the petty bickering and tribal chest-thumping that many feel obligated to post on a daily basis.  Sometimes I let my phone go directly to voice mail, particularly when it rings just as I am sitting down to a hot meal or settling into a comfortable chair with a good book.   It took a while, but I’ve finally learned not to feel guilty about that.

More importantly, I’ve learned to be a bit more particular about the people I talk to on a regular basis.  I’ve always believed in accepting others for exactly who they are, and that is still the case.  But now that I find myself living almost constantly on the fine line between coping and feeling completely overwhelmed, I realize that I need to spend most of my time only with those who have the ability to cheer me up and keep me hopeful. One good thing about hard times is that you discover some of the people you know are really, really, good at being supportive.  They’re the ones who listen to you without judgement, who assure you that things really will get better, and who know how to make you laugh when all you thought you could do was cry.

IMG_6698I still love all my friends and family, and value my relationship with each and every one of them.  But right now, in this particular situation, I’m gravitating toward those who are helping me cope.  And that’s okay, I think.  If nothing else, they’re showing me exactly what I need to do when it’s my turn to “pay it forward” and help someone else who is in need.  Because the one thing I know about dealing with hardships is that it’s so much easier when you don’t have to face them alone.

Making Do

Like so many things this year, the big party we were planning to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday was cancelled.  Turning ninety is sort of a big deal, so we had hoped to rent a venue and invite extended family and all of Mom’s friends to stop by for cake, drinks and snacks.  Initially, Mom had told us there was no need to make such a fuss, but as the lock-down wore on and we had to cancel family gathering after family gathering, she began to really look forward to her big party.  It was going to be her chance to finally see everyone again, altogether in the same place.

When it became apparent that the virus wasn’t going to cooperate with our original plans, we told Mom that we were going to have to put off the big party for a while longer, but that we would have a small dinner gathering for our immediate family instead.  Since some of our immediate family lives out-of-state, my sister volunteered to host it in her yard so we could all stay outside and socially distance.  Everything was fine until we saw the weather forecast for the day of the party:  98 degrees with a heat index of  at least 105.  We waited as long as possible, hoping that the forecast would change, but it didn’t.  And since there is no way it would be safe for Mom to be out in that kind of heat for any length of time, we had to cancel again.

My Mom told us she understood, and I knew that she did.  But I also knew how deeply disappointed she was, and I didn’t blame her one bit.  So my husband and I talked it over and came up with an alternative plan:  we would have Mom over to our yard early in the morning for breakfast and include only our kids and grandchildren.  It wasn’t anywhere close to the celebration we had promised her, but it was the best we could do in the circumstances.  I only hoped it would be enough.

IMG_6723And you know what?  It was enough.  We loaded the patio table with breakfast food and drinks, hooked up some fans to keep it as cool as possible, and filled the wading pool for our grandson to play in.  Our newborn granddaughter even joined us outside for a little while before going into back into air-conditioned house for her morning nap.  Mom opened her gifts, we all enjoyed each other’s company, and we finished before the temperature became unbearably hot.

fullsizeoutput_5bb8Someday, we will throw Mom the big birthday celebration we had originally planned, even if it ends up being for her 91st birthday instead.  But I’m so glad that we had our small get-together in honor of her 90th birthday, and that Mom got to celebrate with at least some of her family.  In these times when so many plans have been cancelled, I think it’s important to be as flexible as we possibly can and to adapt our plans to fit the circumstances.  As my grandmother used to tell me, “Sometimes it’s best to just make do with what you have, and be grateful for it.”  Wise words for sure….

A Day to Remember

I turned 62 yesterday, which in normal times is not a birthday that would be particularly memorable.  But these are not normal times.

I woke up early on my birthday,  and for the first time in weeks, I didn’t immediately remember that we’re in the middle of a pandemic that has my area in an indefinite lock down.  I even forgot my current personal worries.  For just a moment, life seemed normal and good.  Which made it all the harder when reality hit, and my mood took a definite nosedive.

j8F7xtuZS+OVv0b2HB7YNABut it was still a fine Spring day, and my phone began beeping with texts and calls from friends and family wishing me a happy birthday.  My son and his wife had a gorgeous basket of flowers delivered, and my daughter and grandson dropped by with gifts.   My husband gave me lovely roses, a cake and several cards. (Including one from our dog, Finn, with a note from Finn explaining that between the shelter-at-home order and his heart worm treatment, he wasn’t able to shop for my gift this year…..but hoped that he would be allowed to have a slice of my birthday cake anyway.)

Friends left gifts of wine and flowers on our doorstep, then lingered in the front yard for a chat while I stood on the porch.  It was so good to see their faces for the first time in weeks, and I can’t begin to say how much I appreciated their thoughtfulness.  Later, my husband got take-out food from one of our favorite restaurants and then let me beat him at three straight card games.  I know he let me win, because he has the ability to remember every single card that has been played and to calculate the odds accordingly, while I’m doing good to remember what game we’re playing.  When I get tired of losing so much, I play solitaire…and cheat, just so I can experience the “thrill of victory” for a change.

In more ways that I have time to list, my birthday was a good day.  But I would be lying to say that it was a completely good day, because no matter how hard I tried not to think about them, my worries and frustrations never totally went away.   I also felt a bit guilty for not feeling 100% happy in the face of so much love and support.

Sometimes it’s so hard to allow ourselves to be human, and to feel anxious, afraid or frustrated, or any of the emotions that come when our world has been turned upside down and no one knows what the future will bring.  But if this year’s birthday celebration has taught me anything, it’s that it’s not only possible to feel conflicting emotions during these times, but that it’s perfectly okay.

We’re allowed to feel grateful for the support of our friends and family and still be worried about the millions of people who have suddenly found themselves unemployed.  It’s okay to be afraid of catching this virus and still long to gather with our loved ones.  Life these days is nothing but a mixture of contradicting emotions, and I think that’s actually a normal response to these abnormal days in which we live.

So when I think back on my 62nd birthday, I think I’ll remember a lot of things.  I’ll remember feeling frustrated as the weeks of sheltering at homes stretches into months.  I’ll remember the love of friends and family who went out of their way to make my birthday a special day.  I’ll remember feeling so very sorry for those who are suffering from this virus, in any form.  But mostly, I’ll remember that even in these difficult times, lots of good things still happen and lots of good people are trying very hard to help others cope.  Which means that in all the important ways, this was a memorable birthday after all…..

My Choice

I like to think I’d have made a great Boy Scout, because I have based so much of my life on their motto, “Be prepared.”  I have an emergency kit in my house at all times because I live in an area that is overdue for an earthquake.  And having been through a few blizzards and enduring a five-day power outage in the middle of a very hot and humid July, I know first-hand that advance preparation can make a huge difference in the quality of life following a natural disaster.  As I said, I’m a firm believer in being prepared.

So it should come as no surprise that I have enough supplies in my house to get us through a two-week quarantine if that should become necessary.  I’m also washing my hands regularly, avoiding large crowds, and in general following CDC recommendations.  I’ll miss the annual March Madness tournament this year because that’s one of the few sporting events I actually look forward to, but I understand why it was necessary to cancel it and most other large gatherings.  Following safe-practice protocols in the face of a global pandemic requires a certain amount of sacrifice from each of us, and I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is how quickly we are judging those whose emotional reaction to the Corona virus is different from ours.  Even in the best of times, people are going to react to bad news differently, and this is uncharted territory for us all.  Some people are in full-on panic mode, while others are calm and confident that this will pass soon.  Some people are making jokes about the situation, some are tired of talking about it at all, and some can’t seem to talk about anything else.  And all of that is okay.

Each of us responds to crises in our own way, and we have the right to do that.  The problem is that we sometimes assume we also have the right to tell other people exactly how they should be feeling, but we don’t.  We just get to control our own thoughts and feelings, and we are absolutely not in charge of anyone else’s emotions.

Personally, I don’t do panic mode well.  I’m concerned about the Corona virus, but I’m choosing not to be in a panic because when I panic, I can’t do the things that I need to do to stay healthy and sane.  I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, and I can’t take care of those who are depending on me.  So my choice is to check the CDC site regularly to make sure I’m following the government guidelines, to be prepared for a possible home quarantine, and then….to just live my life as normally as I can.  And yes, I sometimes joke about the situation because humor is, and always has been, one of my coping mechanisms.

I believe that we will get through this pandemic, and that we will also get through the economic downturn that will most surely follow.  I believe that the best way to get through this is to realize we’re all in it together, and that taking pot-shots at one another is a sure-fire way to make the situation even worse.  In other words, I choose to be as realistic as I must be and as positive as I can be in the upcoming weeks.   Because personally, that’s the only choice I can live with.

Something New

IMG_1130When I was a child, Valentine’s Day meant school parties and special family dinners that featured heart-shaped gelatin molds and my very own box of chocolates.  When I hit the awkward teen-age years, the holiday was mostly a painful reminder of the boyfriend I didn’t have.  Then I found true love, and for the past forty-something years, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with flowers, chocolates and dinner at a nice restaurant, all of which I enjoyed very much.

But tastes change as we age, and in recent years both my husband and I began to tire of the crowds at the restaurants on February 14.  While the roses he brought me were beautiful, we couldn’t help feeling a bit scammed by the fact that their prices doubled (or even tripled) around Valentine’s Day.  And I have definitely reached the age where eating a huge box of chocolates is not a good idea, either in terms of health or being able to fit into my pants.

So this year, my husband and I decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day by babysitting our grandson so our daughter and son-in-law could enjoy an evening out.  Like all parents with full-time jobs and young children, they could use  more “couple time” and we love nothing more than being with our grandson.  Which why I spent this year’s Valentine’s evening snuggling with a two-year old while reading him bedtime stories.  And loving every minute of it.

I’ve come to believe that one of the secrets to living a happy life is the ability to let go of traditions, expectations, and even relationships that no longer work.  When our traditions stop giving us joy, it’s time to find new ones.  When familiar thought-patterns keep us nursing old grudges and reinforce negative self-images, it’s time to look for new perspectives.  And when people we were once close to make it clear that they are no longer interested in spending time with us or including us in their gatherings, then it’s time to accept that and focus our time and energy on those who do value our company.

It’s not a matter of turning our back on the past and all of the happy memories we have.  It simply means that we understand that all of us change, and that the things that once worked for us may not be such a good fit anymore.  More importantly, it means that we’re recognizing that there are new possibilities just waiting to be explored that just might make us every bit as happy as what we are leaving behind.  We just have to be brave enough to try them.

There was a time when I thought the best possible Valentine’s Day celebrations involved lots of flowers, cards, chocolates, and dinner at a fancy restaurant.  I couldn’t have imagined wanting to spend the evening eating store-bought macaroni and cheese, salad from a bag and reheated chicken nuggets, followed by bathing a toddler and then reading him the exact same book six times in a row before he finally fell asleep.  Yet that is exactly how I celebrated this year.  And you know what?  It was one of the nicest Valentine’s Days I’ve had in years.

Silver Linings

Sometimes life throws us a curve ball, and sometimes life throws us several curve balls all at once.  When that happens, all we can do is try our best to cope with the situation and trust that things will eventually get better.

Last Thursday, I went to the animal shelter where I volunteer and signed the papers to foster Stanley, a Beagle-mix that was sick with kennel cough.  He’s a sweet dog, and I knew he would get better much faster at our house.  I was also hoping that if everything went well, I’d be able to adopt him once he was healthy.  So I loaded Stanley in my car and headed for home.  Halfway there, I realized he was peeing all over the car seat (thank goodness I’d thought to cover it with pee-pads).  I told him to stop, which he did.  Unfortunately, he promptly threw up instead.  And not just on the pee-pads.

These things happen, so I was annoyed, but not too upset.  I put him in the back yard, pulled on some rubber gloves and cleaned up the mess.  It took awhile since the vomit managed to seep into almost every nook and cranny in the car (I had to use a toothpick to scrape it away from the gear shift), but by the time I was finished, no one would ever know a dog had used the front seat of my car as his personal toilet.

My grandson had been sick with RSV since Wednesday, and I was planning to babysit for him on Friday.  But his symptoms worsened dramatically, so we ended up taking him the emergency room on Friday morning where they promptly admitted him to the hospital.  The next two days were a blur of very little sleep, trying to help my daughter and son-in-law without being intrusive, and a whole lot of worry.  There is just something so wrong about a baby in a hospital gown.

And just to make things even more interesting, our furnace decided to quit working Friday night, on the eve of what promised to be the coldest day of the year.  The good news was a service man was able to come to our house first thing Saturday morning.  The bad news was that we needed a part that cost $1,300 and wasn’t going to be available until Monday, or possibly Tuesday.  All I can say is that I’m very grateful for space heaters.

So, one way or another, it’s been a rough weekend and a very long week.  But life is nothing but a series of ups and downs, and things are finally on the upswing.  Our grandson got to come home last Sunday afternoon, and a few days later was back to his normal happy, healthy self.  Our furnace is working again.  The foster dog has settled in nicely and appears to be housebroken.  Even the nasty cold that I managed to catch mid-week is starting to fade, making me hope that I might actually get to enjoy the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

If I’d had my way, most of the events of the past week would never have happened.  But they did, and the good thing is, we got through them.  In the process, we were reminded that we’re stronger and more resilient than we thought, and that we have many people we can count on for support when we need them.  And that gives me hope for the next time life throws a curve ball our way…..