Decisions, Decisions….

I never thought aging would be easy, but I also never realized it would be quite so confusing.  It’s hard enough to help my almost 89-year old mother figure out whether she wants to continue to stay alone in the spacious house she loves and has lived in for the past ten years, or move to a retirement community.  Moving would require downsizing to a one-bedroom apartment, but staying means that sometimes she is lonely and we would have to scramble for help if she fell or became seriously ill.  It’s not an easy choice to make, but it’s one she has to make for herself.

I may be only 61, but I’ve still reached the age where I’m confronted with far too many choices.  My husband and I live in a modest house with a big yard, with the master bedroom and bathroom upstairs.  We’ve lived here over twenty years and are very attached to our house.  But is it time to move somewhere that will work better for us as we age?  Somewhere with a first-floor master suite, a smaller yard and a driveway that isn’t long enough to park seven cars?  Sometimes I think living in a condo within walking distance to stores and restaurants would be great.  Other times, I think I’d rather just stay here until one of our kids signs us into a nursing home.

And those are the just the choices about living arrangements.  Because face it, the days when women reached a certain age and started dressing like “little old ladies” are basically over.  Stores that cater to women my age and up don’t exactly feature the house-dresses and sensible shoes my grandmother wore.  But there are still times when I look at an item of clothing and think, “is this too young for me?”  I still want to look nice, but I sure don’t want to be like the seventy-something woman I saw last week wearing a micro-mini skirt.  (Yes, she had long legs.  But no, it wasn’t a good look for her.)

Sometimes I think that medical science has advanced just a little too far, at least in the cosmetic surgery department.  Almost everything on our face and body can be plumped here and taken in there, which means we have to decide just exactly what kind of adjustments we’re willing to make in order to cling to our youthful looks.  And while I know that each of us gets to make our own choice, I sometimes find myself almost apologizing for my wrinkly neck and ever-growing under-eye bags because I know they can be fixed.  I’m just too chicken to actually do it.

No doubt about it, the choices we’re faced with as we age are as difficult as they are plentiful, and there is no “one size fits all” answer.  All we can do is establish our own priorities and pursue our own goals, and respect the fact that other people might make choices that are different from ours.  We each get to choose what is most important to us, and we each live in different circumstances.

But the one thing we have in common is the fact that we’ve lived long enough to even address the issues of aging.  Because even though growing older can be a pain some times, our life is still a gift, no matter what our age happens to be.

Swiftly Fly The Years

It’s no secret that I’m not exactly young anymore.  I’m sixty years old, and could easily pass for a few years older than that (sagging chins and wrinkly skin runs in my family.)  I know I don’t have the strength and stamina I used to have; I never go anywhere without a pair of reading glasses, and I avoid mirrors whenever possible.  So you can see that I really do understand that I’ve become, shall we say, “a woman of a certain age.”

Which is why I can’t quite explain how shocked I was when I realized that my son, (the youngest of my two “children,”) had the audacity to turn thirty this past weekend.  I don’t remember being quite this surprised a couple of years ago, when my daughter turned thirty, although maybe that was because at that time I could take comfort in the thought that at least one of my offspring was still in his twenties.  But my son is my youngest, and now he’s thirty.  How in the world did that happen?  When did my baby boy become a thirty-year old man?

fullsizeoutput_4ee1I know it’s sounds beyond cliche, but it really does seem like just yesterday when he was just a little guy, full of energy, fun and endless curiosity.  I remember how he struggled to pronounce the letter “r” which always made him sound as if he was speaking with a southern drawl.  He could be stubborn when it suited him, but that wasn’t always a bad thing.  If he was interested in something, he threw himself into it with his whole heart.  Once when I was picking him up from preschool, the teacher handed me a large paper bag to take home, filled with that day’s art project.   Apparently, the children had been asked to paint a picture on a coffee can lid.  All the other children painted one.  My son painted nineteen of them.

But now my son and daughter are all grown up and their childhoods are mere memories.  Now we’re all adults.  Sometimes I struggle with just how much advice I’m allowed to give at this stage of our lives, and exactly where the line is between being helpful and being intrusive.  As a mother, I think I’ll always worry and want them to take good care of themselves and make wise decisions.  But our role as a parent changes and evolves as our children grow up and become independent adults.  All I can say is that I try my best to say and do the right thing.  And I’m beyond grateful that I raised two forgiving souls who are willing to overlook the times I get it just a little bit wrong.

So yes, now I am definitely an “older” woman,  but the more I think about it, the more I realize that is perfectly okay.  This stage of life allows me to focus more on myself and to follow my own interests.   And when I look at the fine young man my son has become, I find that I really don’t mind so much that he just happens to be thirty years old…..

A Change of Season

fullsizeoutput_4c9dAutumn has never been my favorite season, but for some reason, this year is different.  This year I’m actually enjoying Autumn.  Maybe it’s because we finally got a Fall with a lot of beautiful color on the trees, or maybe it’s because we enjoyed a spell of perfect Autumn weather with warm days and cool nights.  It might be that Halloween is fun again, now that I have a grandson among the trick-or-treaters.  (He may not be able to walk on his own yet, but he still looked adorable in his penguin costume.)  It could even be that my mother and sister are hosting the Thanksgiving dinner this year, which spares me the cleaning and shopping frenzy that usually defines my early November.

IMG_4023All I know is that I feel a new appreciation for Autumn, even now that the weather has turned cold and rainy.  I loved baking my first pumpkin pie of the season and have decorated my front porch with pumpkins.  I didn’t even mind packing away the last of my summer clothes and switching them out for the warmer clothes I’ll be needing in the upcoming months.

Perhaps I’m finally learning to live in the moment, and appreciate what I have right now rather than impatiently waiting for something better.  I suppose one sign of maturity is realizing that life is never going to be entirely (or even mostly) perfect, and that if I want to be happy, I need to learn to be happy with the messy imperfections that always make up the here and now.  I need to look around me at what I do have and be grateful for it.  And when I see a problem that needs to be fixed, I have to be willing to work hard to change what I can and also accept that sometimes my best efforts won’t be good enough.

Maybe I’m beginning to appreciate Autumn because I am, at age sixty, in the Autumn of my own life.  And while I have lost much of the strength and vigor of my youth, I am also beginning to understand the gifts that this season of my life brings.  It’s nice to reach the stage where I’m truly beginning to accept (and even like) who I am, especially because that makes it so much easier to accept other people exactly as they are.  Sometimes I do miss having young children at home, but I also enjoy the peacefulness  that an “empty nest” brings.  And it’s rewarding to get to know my son and daughter as independent adults who are happily making their own way in life.

When I was young, I never cared much for Fall.  I missed the warmth and freedom of summer, and was impatient for the Christmas season to begin.  But now I see that there’s a real beauty in this time and I’m more than happy to savor the many gifts of this season.  Winter will be here soon enough, but that’s okay….for now, I’m just happy to enjoy Autumn.

The New Age

When I first started this blog, I planned to write about the challenges facing women “of a certain age.”  Specifically, I wanted to write about how to handle the time in our lives when we can no longer call ourselves young without everyone thinking we are either drunk or completely delusional, and yet are also not ready to embrace the title of senior citizen.  (Although we will happily accept the discounts, especially if no one is around to see it.)

You would think that after four years of writing this blog I would have run out of things to say on the subject, but so far that hasn’t happened.  And I think I know why.  I may not always write specifically about aging, but the fact that I am a sixty-year old woman really does impact how I see the world around me and how I interact with it.

If I were writing this blog when I was eighteen, you can bet that not a single post would mention wrinkles, menopause or nostalgia for a time when I woke up and some part of my body didn’t hurt.  Instead, I’d probably be writing about struggling with trying to pick a major in college that would lead to a rewarding career, wondering if I was ever going to find true love, and did I have enough money to buy myself a couple of beers on Friday night?

So one way or another, my age does determine my perspective, in both good and bad ways.  For example, I would have considered my recent oral surgery a bad thing, no matter what age I had to endure it.  But as a sixty-year old woman, I couldn’t help but notice that the slight swelling in my cheeks did a great (if temporary) job of eliminating the fine wrinkles around my mouth.   And when I was a young woman, a shopping trip meant searching for clothes that were both stylish and flattering.  Now I couldn’t possibly care less about what’s in style (I refuse to wear “peek-a-boo shoulder” blouses and my chubby little legs will never be stuffed into a pair of skinny jeans) and seek mainly comfort when I’m making my wardrobe selections.  If the outfit is also flattering, that’s a plus, but it’s not mandatory.  Thank goodness, because so few of them are.

IMG_3935The bottom line is that being sixty is a part of who I am now, just as being seventy will be a part of who I am in ten years.  Age affects all our lives.   I was reminded of this last week when I was watching my grandson, who is now eight-months old.  It wasn’t that long ago when he was still at the age where he stayed where I put him.  Now he not only crawls over to his toy box when I put him on the floor,  he reaches into it and personally selects the toys he’d like to play with.  Sometimes age has a very big impact indeed.

I suppose I will never reach the point where I have written all I can about coping with a particular phase of my life, because each phase simply flows into the next.  And each phase brings its own unique challenges and rewards.  All I can hope is that this adventure continues for many more years to come….

Young Enough

Most days, I manage to forget just exactly how old I really am.  Never mind the fact that I’m always a little bit shocked when I look in the mirror, especially first thing in the morning when I’m not wearing any make up and my face is still puffy and my hair looks like what we used to call a “rat’s nest.”  Or that my trips to the mall tend to focus only on stores that cater to women of a certain age, which means that the clothes they sell are designed for maximum coverage and almost always feature a “control panel” somewhere in the mid section.  Or that I can no longer read anything without a pair of really strong reading glasses.  Or that I am now routinely offered senior citizen’s discounts by clerks who don’t look old enough to hold a job.  Denial is a wonderful thing, and over the years, I’ve gotten really, really, good at it.

But every once in a while something comes a long to remind me that my youthful days are now ancient history, and today was one of those days.

Ann's photoMy daughter had a birthday today.  I knew it was coming, since it lands on the same day every year.  I also knew how old she was, since it’s not that hard to count to thirty-two.  (Although I admit that up until a few days ago, I was under the impression that she was going to turn thirty-one, so I probably shouldn’t be bragging on my counting skills.)  Yet there’s something about knowing that my daughter, whose birth I can remember as if it happened just yesterday,  is turning thirty-two that just makes me feel old.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that what I’m really concerned about isn’t the actual number of years I’ve been on this earth.  I’m just trying to avoid behaving the way I have always thought old people did:  longing for the “good old days,” afraid to try new things, becoming obsessed with my health, and in general, letting the “young” people do all the important stuff and have all the fun.  Which, if you think about it, is just plain silly.

People of all ages are still actively engaged in the world around them, working hard to help others and contributing to their communities.  People of all ages are still having fun, still pursuing their interests, and still making new friends.  I think that the time has come for me to stop being afraid that turning a certain age means I have to somehow let go of the essence of who I really am and how I want to live my life.

Yes, my body isn’t as strong as it was and I have far more sags, bags and wrinkles than I would like.  But I can live with that.  It’s just the price I pay for the privilege of having lived for over sixty years, and all that I have experienced and learned in that time.  Underneath it all, I’m still me and always will be, no matter what my age.  Which means that getting older might not be so bad after all….

Letting Go

I have a box in my basement marked “Ann’s keepsakes,” filled with things that are special to me.  Anyone else would probably consider it a box full of worthless odds and ends, and wonder why in the world I’m saving it.  The battered stuffed pony,  the cheap ring with an artificial emerald, the red dog collar,  the purple lace ribbon and all the rest of the contents have no real value at all.  But to me, every single item in that box is special.

Ann's photo 1The stuffed pony was my favorite childhood toy and almost constant companion…it’s no wonder he looks so well-worn.  The “emerald” ring was a graduation gift from my grandmother, passed on to me because we both had May birthdays.  The dog collar belonged to Genny, the first dog who was my very own and not a family pet.  And the ribbon was a gift from a good friend’s mother, who made it to cheer me up after I came in last place in my heat during a Junior High track meet.  (Lots of people have ribbons for winning races, but I bet I’m the only one who has a last place ribbon.)

I think it’s normal to hang onto to the things we treasure and to the people we love.  We want to keep what, and who, we value in our lives.  But the problem is that there is so much that we can’t hang on to, no matter how hard we try.

One of my very first “blogging friends” was a woman from Australia, who wrote a great  blog about the trials and joys of farming there.  She read every one of my posts and never failed to leave an encouraging comment.  But one day she blogged about an upcoming surgery, and that was the last I ever heard of her.  I still have no idea if she simply dropped out of the blogging world, or if the surgery went horribly wrong.  And I doubt very much that I will ever know.

Life is full of losses, both large and small.  Favorite restaurants close, neighborhood friends move away, treasured family traditions come to an end.  And if you’re like me, you sometimes try a bit too hard to hang on to what is slipping away or even already gone.  It’s hard to lose the things and people we value, but sometimes don’t have much choice.

And so I keep my little box of keepsakes, stored away on my basement shelf.  I don’t get it out very often, as most days  I’m too busy dealing with the stuff that is happening in my life right here and now.  But every once in a while I add something to it, when I find myself facing yet another loss and want to save a little something to remind myself of a gift I once had.

In a way, I suppose, that’s the real purpose of my keepsakes.  They represent the good memories that are mine forever, even when the actual people and things are gone.  The influence of the past has helped shape who I am now, which means that those memories are a very real part of me and always will be.  And knowing that makes it just a little bit easier when the time comes to “let go.”

A New Chapter

Life is often called a journey, and I think that is true.  But I’m an avid reader and also a writer, which means that when I think of my life, I tend to picture it more as a book.  Just like life, books have definite beginnings and endings.  The interesting part is what happens in between and the story is usually divided into specific chapters.  My life’s “chapters” are the highlights of my story, such as graduation, marriage, my first job, the birth of my children, etc.  And now I am beginning yet another chapter, because two days ago my daughter gave birth to her first child and I became a grandparent.

04-RWAR-26Many of my friends already have grandchildren, and they did their best to tell me just how special it is.  And I believed them, I really did.  But I still totally unprepared for the absolute joy and wonder I felt when I first saw my brand-new grandson.  He seemed like nothing less than a tiny little miracle.  And just as I did with my own newborn babies all those years ago, I fell in love with him, immediately and absolutely.

He’s not even a week old yet, so the role of grandparent is still new to me and I don’t really quite know what to expect.  I hope he will always know how much I love him and that he can always count on me.  I want to be the sort of grandmother who enriches his life, and maybe gets the chance to spoil him, just a little bit.  I’ve heard that what grandparents are supposed to do.

I see so much of my daughter in him already, and when I look at my son-in-law, I have no doubt that my grandson is blessed with a wonderful father and role model.   I hope they both know I’m always ready to offer my support as they adjust to parenthood, with all of its joys and all of its demands.  I know they are going to be terrific parents.

I’m not exactly sure what this next chapter of my life will bring.  But I have to tell you, I can’t wait to find out….

A Change of Season

I don’t think I would ever want to live in a climate that didn’t have four distinct seasons.  As much as I complain about the heat and humidity of July and the icy-cold days of January, I know that each season brings some good things that I’m not willing to give up.  Few things beat the beauty of a brand-new snow fall, and there’s nothing as refreshing as jumping into a swimming pool on a hot summer day.  I love the colorful beauty of the leaves in Autumn, and the way the first spring flowers bring hope for longer and warmer days ahead.

IMG_2677Fall has come a bit late to my corner of the world this year, but it has finally arrived.  And that means I’m spending time trimming back some bushes, storing away the pots that I use for my annual flowers, and washing my windows one last time before the temperatures plummet.  Inside, I’m doing some hard-core house cleaning in preparation for the Christmas decorations I know I’ll be putting up next month.

For me, there’s something soothing about the rhythm of the seasons and the special traditions that each one brings.  The changing seasons provide a sense of order to my year, because I am definitely one of those people who likes to know what is going to happen next and I know what to expect from each new season.

This year, the change of season has been especially significant because I seem to be at a point in my life when so many things are changing in ways that I can’t control.  Friends who move away, co-workers who retire, minor health issues, shifting family dynamics, even our bizarre political climate….all make we wonder just exactly what the future is going to bring.  Luckily, many of the changes around me are positive, but all will impact my life in ways that I can’t begin to predict.

IMG_2612My daughter is expecting our first grandchild in early January, and with each passing week, what was once only an abstract joy has become that much more real.  Seeing her opening gifts at her baby showers, surrounded by family and friends who have turned out to offer their love and support is both comforting and humbling.  I still have no idea just exactly what being a grandparent will mean, but I’m anxious to find out.

I think I will always be just a little bit intimated by change, even when it’s a change I’m looking forward to very much.  And that’s okay, because it’s just who I am. But one thing I know is that each new season in my life, just like each new season of the year, will bring not only change, but also the possibility of some amazingly good gifts…..

A Change of Season

According to the calendar, Summer isn’t officially over until September 21.  But for me, the Labor Day weekend has always signaled the end of summer.  Public swimming pools close, all the kids are back in school, and although the days remain warm (or even hot), they are shorter and followed by cooler nights.  And the flowers that bloomed all summer long begin to look faded and worn, as if they know that the first frost isn’t all that far away.

Some years I’m more than ready for Fall, but not this year.  This year the summer went by way too fast, and we had so many unseasonably cool days that I barely got to wear most of my summer clothes.  If I had my way, we’d be celebrating the 4th of July this weekend, not Labor Day.  But I don’t get my way on such things, and Fall is coming whether I like it or not.  So all I can really do is think back on the last three months and be grateful for all the good memories they brought.

I’m grateful for the short trips we took to visit old friends who we don’t see nearly often enough.  I’m glad that I have finally figured out that good friends are worth the time and effort it takes to stay in touch, no matter how far away they live.  I may not be getting any smarter as I age, but I am doing much better when it comes to getting my priorities straight.

I’ll remember the cool nights my husband and I ate dinner out on our patio, which is rare in St. Louis’ usually hot and humid summers.  I’ll remember that this was the summer we finally painted the ugly-colored brick on our house an attractive shade of grey.  For the first time in over twenty years, I drive up to my house and think, “Wow! That looks nice!”

IMG_2688I’m grateful that I got the chance to host my mom’s 87th birthday party so that she could celebrate with some of her family and friends.  So many of my friends have lost their moms in recent years, and I know that they would give anything to be able to have them around for just one more family gathering.  When I was young, I tended to take my parents for granted (as young people do) thinking that they would always be around when I finally decided to make time for them.  Now I know better.

fullsizeoutput_417bBut mostly, I will always remember that this is the summer that I learned that we will be welcoming a grandson into our family in a few months.  Becoming a grandmother will be a huge and wonderful change in my life, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the reality that my daughter is going to have a baby of her own.  To say I’m excited for the arrival of my first grandchild would be an understatement.

So this Labor Day, there is a part of me that is not quite ready to let go of summer and that wishes Fall would hold off just a little while longer.  But I also know that the changing seasons mirror the changing phases of my life, and that they mostly bring good things.  A mere three years ago, my immediate family consisted of only four people.  Two weddings later, it has grown to six, and soon there will a seventh member of our family.  And that’s a change I wouldn’t trade for the world.

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.