One More Time

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  Lots of people told me how wonderful it was to become a grandparent, and how much I was going to enjoy this new addition to our family.  They told me exactly how I would fall in love, instantly and completely, the first time I saw the baby, and what a huge change he would make in my life.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t quite believe them, because so often in my life, the reality doesn’t live up to the hype.  I tend to set the bar really high when I hear such glowing reports, and I’m almost always disappointed by what I actually experience.  So I took all those predictions about how awesome it was to be a grandparent with a grain of salt.

IMG_3509 2Luckily, I’ve reached the stage in life when I no longer have trouble admitting that I am, every now and then, absolutely wrong.  Because I was wrong about this grandparent stuff:  it’s just as wonderful as I was told.  If anything, it’s even better.

The best part of being a grandparent isn’t having a cute little baby to hold, cuddle and rock to sleep.  It’s not the wonder of seeing my daughter and son-in-law in a whole new role as loving parents.  It’s not even feeling my heart melt every time my grandson smiles at me.  Of course I love all of that, but the absolute best part of becoming a grandparent is the chance to do things over, and better, than I did with my own children.

I had my children when I was still young, struggling to find some sort of writing career, and far too worried about what other people thought of me.  (And believe me, when you’re a mother, everyone has an opinion of just exactly how you’re supposed to be raising your children. Which they will share with you.)  At some level, I actually believed that when my children misbehaved or weren’t entirely happy at all times, that had to mean that I was doing something wrong as a mother.  One way or another, I spent way too much time “sweating the small stuff.”

But my children aren’t the only people who have been growing up in the past three decades.  I’ve matured as well, and now have more patience with myself and more tolerance for others.  I no longer care very much about what others think of me, and I have a much better understanding of what is, and isn’t,  worth worrying about.  All of which means that when I look at my grandson, I just see a little person to love and accept for exactly who he is, without all the worry and angst about “doing things right.”

Obviously, it’s not my responsibility to raise my grandson, and I know that his own parents will do a fine job with that.  But even so, whenever I interact with him, I can’t help but notice how much calmer and confident I am compared to how I felt when my own children were small, and how much easier I find it to settle down and simply enjoy holding a baby that I love so deeply.

Life is a journey that can teach us many things if we’re willing to learn.  And if we’re lucky, every once in a while something (or someone) comes along to let us know that we’re moving in the right direction.

A Day of Rest

Last week was a busy one, for a number of reasons I won’t bore you with.  Suffice it to say that it was one of those weeks when I had trouble remembering all the the things I was supposed to be doing, let alone actually getting them done.  I like to think I handled it well, but I suspect if you asked those who had to deal with me, they would tell you I was just a little bit cranky from time to time.  (Or very cranky all week long, depending on their level of honesty verses tact.) But still, I finished off the week with most of the items checked off of my to-do list.  Which means that today I finally have a few free hours to spend any way my little heart desires.

And do you know what I’m actually doing today?  Nothing much.  Nothing much at all.

Not so long ago, I would have felt really guilty about wasting so much time when I could be doing something “worthwhile.”  I don’t know about you, but I always have a few big projects hanging over my head that need my attention.  Right now I have an old dresser that needs to be sanded and stained (there was a reason the antique store was selling it so cheaply and displaying it in such a dark corner), and there’s several bins in the basement filled with stuff I’m quite sure I don’t need any more.  Also, I promised my mother I’d wash her windows several weeks ago.  But I didn’t do any of things.

Instead, I mostly just puttered around my house, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  I didn’t actually just sit on the couch and stare into space for several hours, but only because I don’t find just sitting and staring into space particularly relaxing.  What I do find relaxing is doing small chores that catch my attention, in my own way and in my own time.  I only sat down to write this post because I actually felt like writing it, and not because it’s Sunday and I almost always write a post on Sunday afternoon.

It may not seem as if I did anything particularly important today, but the fact of the matter is that I did accomplish one very important thing.  I rested.  I rested my mind by only doing tasks that required little or no thought, and I rested my body by slowing down and taking it easy for a change.  And you know what?  For the first time in several days I don’t feel tired, stressed and cranky.  Instead, I feel pretty darned good.

Life is far too busy for most of us, and we usually have little choice but to forge ahead with our hectic schedules.  But I believe that every once in a while, it’s important to “step off that treadmill” and allow ourselves a little breathing time.  We need to pay attention when our body tells us it needs a break, or when our thoughts become so jumbled that we can’t seem to think straight.  And those are the times when we need to find a way to slow down, tune out as much of the outside world as possible, and allow ourselves to simply be.  Because those are the times when resting is actually the most important thing we could possibly be doing.

The Best Policy

Ann's photoWhen I was about six years old, I desperately wanted a pair of glasses.  And not just any glasses, I wanted  the “cat eye” framed glasses that were so popular at the time.  My older sister had a pair and so did Susan Breneke, who I thought was the coolest kid in the entire first grade.  I wanted those glasses so badly that I actually lied to my mother, telling her that far-away objects looked kind of fuzzy to me.  (My sister had described her vision problems to me in detail, so I knew just what to say.)  Unfortunately, my mom didn’t rush out and buy me a pair of glasses, which is what I thought would happen.  She took me for an eye exam, and I passed with flying colors.  I never did get those glasses.

I’m an adult now, and I no longer believe it telling lies to get what I want.   But there are still times when I think it would be easier to lie than tell the truth, and sometimes I struggle with being completely honest.

For example, I may want to tell a lie in order to spare a person’s feelings.  I know that people do that for me now and then.  When my husband and I are getting ready to go out, I’ll often ask his opinion of my outfit, sometimes even uttering the dreaded question, “Does this make me look fat?”  The closest he’s ever come to saying yes was the time I had just bought a new dress with lots of pleats at the waist and he asked me, “Have you seen the back view?”  Which was his subtle way of letting me know it made my butt look bigger than Cleveland.

Other times, I’ll hedge a little bit on my honest opinion when I’m talking to someone I know holds completely different views from me on a sensitive subject.  I’ve seen so many people become deeply offended, or even enraged, when someone dares to disagree with them that I’ve become a little too cautious in my responses.  There are times when telling the truth is harder than it sounds.

But I also know that I want to live my life as honestly and openly as I possibly can, and that means that I need to tell the truth about who I am and what I believe.  I need to accept the risk that there are going to be people who don’t like what I say or do, and that the loss of those relationships will probably sting, at least for awhile.  But the fear of rejection doesn’t outweigh the value of being true to my real self.

Like my husband, I need to always temper honesty with tact and sensitivity.  Honesty is never an excuse to run roughshod over someone’s feelings.  But handled correctly, telling the truth is actually easiest in the long run.  I don’t have to worry about keeping track of any little white lies I may have told if I always give an honest answer to a direct question.  If I admit to the many embarrassing things I have done in my life, there’s no need to worry about anyone “discovering” them.

And best of all, when I am honest with my friends and family, I know that those who stay in relationship with me like me for who I really am.  Any way you look at it, honesty really is the best policy.

The Only Constant

I started this blog because I wanted to write about the phase of my life that I called “middle age,” even if I was a bit old for that title. At the time, I was feeling a little bit lost and unsure of myself in the face of changes that sometimes seemed overwhelming.  I was a stay-at-home mom whose kids had grown up and moved out, and a free-lance writer who hadn’t sold anything in years.  My mother had reached the age where our roles were beginning to reverse.  Trying to keep up with the latest in technology left me feeling both confused and inadequate.  Worst of all were the changes that aging had wrought on my body, which essentially meant that everything that could possibly go south had done so, and I couldn’t read a thing without my reading glasses.

One way or another, I felt that my old identity had been stripped away and I hadn’t yet found my new one.  I thought that blogging about it might help, because writing has always helped me sort out just exactly what I am thinking and feeling.  And I was right…..it did help.  Just not quite in the way I had thought.

It’s been over three years since I launched Muddling Through My Middle Age, and I still haven’t found that new identity.  But after spending so much time writing about the struggle to figure out just who I have become,  I finally realized that it is that it’s perfectly okay not to know exactly who I am, or to claim a particular role and self-image and try to make it last for the rest of my life.  Because life is constantly changing, and the only way I can ever hope to cope with that is by being willing to change right along with it.

Of course some things about me will always stay the same.  My basic personality, my morals and my values, my deepest loves and my most annoying quirks are with me for life.  But so many other things have changed.  Just in recent years, I’ve become a blogger, a mother-in-law and a grandmother.  I am, slowly but surely, gaining confidence in my ability to master technology.  I have embraced new ideas and conquered some old fears.  I have become more “comfortable in my own skin” than I have ever been, even if that skin is awfully wrinkled and saggy these days.

The truth is, there is no such thing as just one new identity for me to discover and embrace for the rest of my life.  There’s just me….continually changing, growing and adapting to whatever life happens to bring.  And that’s a good thing.

Tiny Bubbles

A few years ago, I passed a young woman and her dog on the sidewalk and the dog jumped up on me to say hello.  The young woman apologized, saying she had just begun to foster the dog for a rescue group and hadn’t had a chance to teach it any manners yet.  I told her it was fine, that I was a “dog person” myself and didn’t mind an enthusiastic greeting from a friendly dog.  She laughed and answered, “All my friends are dog people.  I wouldn’t be friends with anyone who wasn’t.”  I smiled politely and went on my way, but her words stuck with me.

IMG_1432I love dogs and spend a lot of time in their company, one way or another.  I share my home with a dog and I walk shelter dogs in my spare time.  Many of my good friends are dog lovers, and several of them also volunteer at the local animal shelter.  But I have other friends who aren’t especially fond of dogs.  I may believe that a house isn’t truly a home until there’s a dog (or two) wandering around, but I have good friends who wouldn’t dream of sharing their home with a dog.  And you know what?  I am just as close to them as I am to my dog friends.

I believe it has become far too easy these days to associate only with people who we believe are, if not exactly like us, then at least close enough to be comfortable.  We can watch news channels that will always reflect our political views, interact on social media only with those who share our opinions, and live in neighborhoods where most people not only look like us, but are probably also in the same income-bracket.  I can’t speak for other religions, but some Christian churches have even begun to align themselves with either conservative or liberal stances based on the sincere belief that not only was Jesus political, but that his politics were exactly the same as theirs.  The division of “us” and “them” seems to be growing wider by the day.

Personally, I don’t think all this “sticking with our own kind” is a good thing at all.  When we surround ourselves with people who think, look or act mostly the way we do, we are rarely challenged with the idea that perhaps our way isn’t always the right way.  When we know that the responses to our opinions will usually be agreement, it’s all too easy to believe that our opinions are actually facts.  And if we do this long enough, then it’s easy to forget altogether that there are good people out there who just happen to look at things a tad differently than we do.

It’s easy to live in our own little bubbles, secure in the knowledge that we are right and morally superior to those whose views don’t match ours, and there are times when I’m really tempted to do that.  But ultimately, it’s not the way I want to live.

I want to live in the real world, which is populated by people who see things in their own unique way.  I want to be in relationship with people who don’t always share my political and religious views because they challenge me to examine just exactly why I believe what I do.  I want to have friends who don’t share all my interests, but are willing to tell me about theirs.  Mostly, I want to continue to learn and grow as a person.  And I don’t think that can happen when I can’t find the courage to burst out of my own little bubble.

Take A Chance

We added a patio to our back yard several years ago, which left an area between our house and the new patio that needed some landscaping.  I went to a garden supply store and bought several bushes, which we planted according to the directions on the labels, paying careful attention to how large they were supposed to grow.  But either the person who wrote those labels knows even less about plants than I do or the bushes had their own ideas regarding optimal growth, because every one of them grew to at least three times their predicted size.  What was supposed to be an artistic  arrangement of greenery and flowers looked more like an over-grown jungle with each passing week.

We dug up a few bushes and moved them to other parts of our yard, hoping they would survive the transplant.  Most of them did.  But then we were left with a scraggly-looking plant that was wedged in between a crepe myrtle and an evergreen.  I didn’t remember buying it and wasn’t even sure whether it was a bush or a particularly ambitious weed.  My husband and I debated whether we should transplant it or simply pull it out, but in the end we decided to move it to the side of the house to replace a rose bush that had died last year.

It was in the middle of summer and I had no idea what kind of sunlight this particular plant preferred, so I knew the odds of survival weren’t good.  I also knew it was entirely possible that we were going to all this effort to save a weed, possibly even a version of a ragweed that both my husband and I are allergic to.  But for some strange reason, replanting seemed the right thing to do.

IMG_2815The plant not only lived, it thrived.  And the last time I was at a garden center, I saw one that looked just like it and eagerly read the label.  Turns out, that scraggly bush wasn’t a weed at all…it’s actually a butterfly bush (which I still don’t remember buying).  And this whole past week it’s been busy attracting monarch butterflies.

I’m not, and never have been, what you’d call an optimistic person.  Right now I have a pain in a lower molar which I’m quite certain is going to require some kind of serious and expensive treatment, because a pain in my tooth can’t mean anything else, right?  Looking at the bright side is not my strong point and neither is expecting good things, despite the fact that I have had my share of good things in life.  It’s a negative thought pattern that I have always struggled with and truly hope to overcome some day.

Which is the point of the story of the butterfly bush.  I’m not good at gardening and most of the bushes and flowers that I plant die well before their time despite my best efforts.  But I overcame my natural pessimism and gave that weedy-looking plant a chance, and the reward was a thriving and beautiful butterfly bush that actually does attract butterflies.  And I hope that whenever I look at it, I’ll remember the lesson it taught me.  Because I really do want to become a person who is more willing to take a chance on something good.

True Colors

It’s been a week since I banged my eye socket into the corner of my nightstand, and the resulting black eye is still going strong.  I wake up every morning hoping that my “shiner” has finally begun to fade, but one look in the mirror tells me that it’s actually looking worse with each passing day.  (Or as my husband so eloquently put it when he checked out my eye this morning, “Oh, my God!”)  It’s not nearly as sore, and the area immediately underneath my eyebrow is fading to a sickly yellow, but the eyelid itself is still a stunning reddish-purple, with bruises at each corner.  And the dark purple color is steadily spreading underneath my eye, giving me the mother of all eye bags.

Right after the accident, I could hide the worst of the damage with carefully applied make up, but that’s not working anymore.  Unless I’m wearing oversized sunglasses, my black eye is on display for everyone to see.  Some people ask what happened, others maintain a tactful silence, but everyone who sees me can’t help but notice it.

At first, I was very self-conscious about my black eye, and hesitated to go out in public.  But I soon realized that I had only two options:  stay home and hide until the colors faded away, or just go on and live my life, even if I did have an ugly, swollen eye.  I choose to go about my normal life, and learned a few things in the process.

I have always tried hard to look my best.  I dye my hair, put on make up, and try to wear clothes that are at least somewhat flattering.   And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of that.  But having a black eye made me realize that no amount of effort was going to make me actually look good.  And I was surprised to realize that I didn’t really care about that nearly as much as I thought I would.  Once I got used to the idea, I really had no problem just heading out into the world, scary-looking eye and all.

It was actually rather liberating.  I stopped worrying about my outfits when I was getting ready to go out, and stopped getting annoyed when my hair insisted on choosing it’s own style, as it so often does.  I still applied make up, but if I messed it up a little, I didn’t take it off and start again.  For the first time in a long time, I felt very comfortable in my own skin, with no need to hide the flaws.  And I think that is a very good thing.

The irony is that I have always been most attracted to people who are genuine, and who are just as willing to acknowledge their flaws as they are their strengths.  And I have worked hard at trying to live my own life as honestly as I possibly can, putting my real self out there, emotionally and intellectually.  But it took getting a black eye to make me realize that it’s perfectly okay to let people see my physical flaws as well.

So this past week has actually been good for me.  It reminded me that I don’t always have to put my best foot (or face) forward, and that my appearance is such a small part of who I really am.  I’m not saying I’m glad I got the black eye, but I really believe the lesson it taught me was worth it.

Moving Forward

I have what is referred to as a “pear-shaped” body, which is a kind way of saying that my upper thighs are a size bigger than the rest of me.  I complained about this for years before I finally lost the fifteen pounds that I was sure would give me the body shape I wanted.  It didn’t.  I still had the same body shape, just two sizes smaller.  Which meant that I still had an awful time finding pants that fit me, and I complained bitterly about that until a friend (who I’m sure was tired of listening to me whine about the same old thing) suggested I try having my pants altered to fit me.  So now I buy my pants on sale so that I can afford to take them to a tailor, who takes them in at the waist.  And just like that, my long-term wardrobe problem was solved.

I’m not going to lie:  I’m good at complaining.  Complaining comes as naturally to me as worrying, probably because they are closely related and tend to feed off each other.  It’s just who I am, and I’ve learned to accept that.  But what I have also learned is that the trick is to remember to move beyond complaining to actively trying to address the problem I happen to be complaining about.

It’s okay to recognize my worries and express my concerns as long as I realize that complaining isn’t going to solve a thing.  Complaining simply names the problem, but if I actually want to fix the problem, then that’s going to require some sort of action on my part.  Sometimes that’s as simple as finding a good tailor, while other times, of course, the problems are much more serious and complicated.

IMG_1157But even when the problems are huge and completely beyond my personal control, I can still do my part to try to make things better.  I can join groups that are working to change public policy, and I can volunteer with agencies that address the issues I care about.  For instance, I may not be able to single-handedly save all the homeless dogs, but I most certainly can spend my time at the local animal shelter, doing everything in my power to make the lives of the dogs there just a little bit easier.

It’s easy, I think, to fall into the pattern of simply pointing out the many problems we see around us and to believe that is as far as we need to go, or as far as we can go.  But I’ve discovered that when I do that, I end up feeling helpless, overwhelmed, and depressed.  Far better to see problems as something that need fixing, and to recognize that there is often something we can do to help solve them.  Not only does that make the world a better place, but it empowers us to discover that we really are capable of making a positive impact.

Moving from merely complaining to active problem solving is just as good for us as it is for the ones we are trying to help.  And in my case, it means that I finally have pants that fit.

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.

Spring Forward

I have always thought of myself as a bit of a cynic.  Believing that good things are coming my way doesn’t come naturally to me at all.  And even when good things really do happen, my first thought is usually, “This won’t last.”  So maybe that’s why I have a hard time recognizing what I’m feeling right now, and what I feel every year right about this time.  Because according to my calendar, Spring has finally arrived.  And there’s something about Spring that always makes me feel hopeful.

IMG_1203I don’t know if it’s longer days, or the budding trees and flowers, or waking up to the sounds of the birds chirping in my yard, or just the increasing warmth of the sun on my face.  But somewhere in all of nature’s reawakening, I feel my heart opening up to new possibilities and growth.  I am more willing to try new things, to tackle those “to do” projects that I’ve been avoiding all winter, and even to take a few risks that I would normally avoid.  Somehow the things that used to seem comfortingly familiar now feel unbearably routine, and I find myself longing for all things new.

And so I begin my usual routine of Spring cleaning. I begin with my house, cleaning and de-cluttering like a mad woman, and even redecorating a bit until every room feels fresh and new.  I go through my closet, pulling out the clothes and shoes I haven’t worn in years, even if they are still in good condition and were purchased at a bargain price.  And then I go shopping in search a few new items, making a point to at least try on styles I don’t usually wear.  I read books by new authors, strike up conversations with people I don’t know well, and when I go out to eat, I insist on trying a new restaurant.  Accepting new challenges, big or small, actually seems attractive.

For at least a few weeks, I find it easy to maintain my optimism and my passion for new things.  But as Spring turns to Summer my “spring fever” gradually wears off, and I find myself once again attracted to what is familiar and comforting in my life.  And in many ways, that’s a good thing, because I don’t want to live a life of constant change, and I certainly can’t afford a life of constantly buying new things.

But each year, a little bit of that “spring fever” experience sticks with me, and my horizons are broadened that much more.  Some new styles find their way into my closet; I discover a new favorite author, and sometimes I find myself with a new friend or two.  Some of the new doors I opened reveal new paths that carry me forward in unexpected ways.  And the best part is, I know that next year I’ll get to do it all over again.  Because, as we all know, hope springs eternal.