Here and Now

There’s an old saying I’ve always liked that says, “Always remember:  wherever you go, there you are!”  When I first heard it, I appreciated the humor of a saying that doesn’t seem to have much of a message at all.  But the more I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t quite true.  Because let’s face it,  there are times in our lives when we find ourselves in a situation that we didn’t plan for or in a place where we never intended to be.  And worst of all, we have no idea of just exactly how we’re supposed to respond to it.

When I first heard about this pandemic, I naively thought that it would be a rather short-term thing, which made it so much easier to cope with.  But as time wore on, I found myself truly grieving for the life that I had before the nasty little virus showed up turned everything upside down.  I missed the little things, like going out to dinner with my husband after a long day, or browsing through my favorite antique shop.  I wanted to be able to buy groceries without needing a face mask, disinfecting cloths, hand sanitizer, and a whole lot of patience.

One by one, trips and events that I had been looking forward to were cancelled:  three weddings, a family reunion, and a week on the beaches of our beloved Sanibel Island.  Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Easter, and Father’s Day all had to be celebrated without our traditional family gatherings.  I hated explaining to my mother that the big 90th birthday party she had been looking forward to so much was going to have to be put off indefinitely.  Worst of all was being afraid to hold my newborn granddaughter because it might not be safe for her.

This isn’t at all where I wanted to be, and yet here I am.  And the only choice I have is how I’m going to react to it.

I’d love to lie and say that I’ve handled it with real maturity and grace.  (This is a social media, where we all put our best, and often false, face on for everyone to see.)  But the truth is that the constant stream of bad news and challenges can wear me out.  Sometimes I find myself just wanting to retreat from it all, effectively putting my life on hold until things are better.

Luckily, I know that’s not really the choice I want to make.  And I know that because whenever I push myself to “get back out there” and live my life just as fully as I safely can, I immediately feel better.  Grocery shopping these days can feel surreal, but when I discover they’ve finally restocked my favorite frozen pizza, the trip to the store seems so worth it.  While I can’t gather with my friends and family in large groups anymore, when we invite another couple over for drinks on our patio, I still have a good time.  And when I watch my son feed his new daughter, I feel nothing but happiness.

I’ve always had a nasty habit of waiting for my problems to go away so that I can begin to enjoy myself.  But the problems this pandemic has brought aren’t going away any time soon, nor are some very real personal issues my family is facing right now.  So I have to keep reminding myself that this is my life now, and that in spite of the challenges, there is still so very much to be treasured and enjoyed.  Because life is always for living, right here and right now.

A Change of Plan

I may be the sort of person who likes to plan for the future, but that doesn’t mean things always turn out quite the way I had planned.  My Spring calendar had been filled with activities that all ended up being cancelled, and I was also supposed to help host a small baby shower for my daughter-in-law who was due in late June with our first granddaughter. Unfortunately, we had to reschedule it twice due to the shelter-at-home restrictions being extended much longer than we had anticipated.

Finally, we decided that the wisest thing to do was simply schedule a “drive-by shower.”  We would decorate the front porch, have the mother-to-be sit there in a comfy chair, and people could drop off their gifts at the curb and then watch while she opened them.  We even ordered individually-wrapped, decorated cookies from a local bakery to give out as favors.  It seemed like an excellent plan for following the restrictions on gatherings and still managing to have a meaningful shower for the mom-to-be.

fullsizeoutput_59ebBut like so many things this Spring, the shower didn’t go exactly as planned.  We still had it, complete with balloons and cookies.  But my daughter-in-law couldn’t attend, because she was in the hospital with her newborn baby girl.  Our granddaughter surprised us all by making her entrance into this world six weeks early.

Both mother and daughter are doing well, and we couldn’t be more thrilled at this addition to our family.  I’m not going to lie, when I first heard that the baby was going to come so early, I was very worried and found it difficult to think of anything else.  I wanted my granddaughter to be okay, and I wanted my son and daughter-in-law to be spared from the anxiety that comes with an early birth.  I can’t tell you the relief we felt when we learned the baby had arrived safely and that our daughter-in-law was doing well.

Sometimes I think I’ll scream if I hear one more television commercial using the words “we are living in uncertain times”…..seriously, is there a single person on this earth who doesn’t know that?  But as tired as I am of hearing it, it’s the truth.  We are living in uncertain times, and like all challenging situations, it brings out both the best and the worst in people.

Last weekend, our family dealt with a very personal “uncertain time,” and I’m happy to say that we saw only the best of everyone.  I saw my son and daughter-in-law face a scary situation with courage and strength, and know that they received excellent medical care in a time when hospitals are truly hurting.  Friends and family continually reached out to us with reassuring messages and prayers.  The stories of so many other babies born prematurely who turned out just fine were particularly comforting, because it gave us so much hope.  So many people offered us “their best” and that helped us more than I can ever say.

So as these “uncertain times” that we live in stretch on, I hope I’ll remember what I’ve learned in these past few days.  Which is just how important it is to offer a sympathetic ear, or to offer a word of hope and encouragement as we all struggle to cope and find our way forward.  It may seem like a small thing to do, but trust me, sometimes it can make all the difference in the world.

Just Fine

My mother called me yesterday and asked me if I was going to host Easter this year.  I could hear the hope in her voice, which made it even harder to remind her that no, I wasn’t going to able to do that.  I told her that we were all going to have to celebrate Easter in our own homes this year, and wait to get together when the “shelter at home” orders are finally lifted.  To her credit, she told me that was just fine and quickly changed the subject.  But I know that my answer hurt her.

Mom always enjoys family gatherings and holiday celebrations, and she was especially looking forward to Easter this year.  She’s been talking about it for a couple of months, ever since she heard that my out-of-town sister and her family were planning to come for Easter.  Mom was thrilled at the thought of having all three of her daughters and their families together to celebrate the holiday, but of course that was before the spread of the Covid-19 virus resulted in massive shutdowns and stay at home orders.  My sister cancelled her visit and I cancelled my plans to host our family gathering.  So this year, Mom is going to be celebrating Easter all by herself:  no family meals, no attending church services, and no watching her great-grandson hunt for Easter eggs.

I know that thousands of people are suffering far greater losses and disappointments than my mother.  I know that this virus has claimed too many lives and cost too many people their livelihood.  But the last thing I’m going to do is to point that out to my mother, or to tell that she has no right to feel disappointed or sad.  She has every right to feel her emotions and every right to mourn her loss, even if other people are mourning much greater ones.  Grief isn’t a contest, and if we never allowed ourselves to feel sad because other people have bigger troubles, we’d never be allowed to feel sad at all.  Which is just plain ridiculous.

Honestly, I admire the way my mother is handling the situation.  This may not be the Easter celebration she wanted, but it’s the Easter celebration she’s getting, and she’s accepted that.  (Which is what often happens once we allow ourselves to actually feel our emotions rather than feel guilty for having them.)  She knows that she we can’t safely visit her in the retirement center right now, and that it isn’t safe for her to come to our house and risk being exposed to the virus and worse, spreading it to the other senior citizens who live in her building.  But she also tells me often that she knows she made the right choice in moving to the retirement center and that they take excellent care of her there.

DSC03117We may not be physically together this year, but I can still drop off an Easter basket at her retirement center and there will be Easter services and concerts she can enjoy on TV.  I’ll call her on Easter and I’m sure the rest of our family will too, which will make her feel much less alone.  We may not be able to celebrate in our traditional way, but we will still celebrate and we will still connect with each other.  Which means that ultimately, my mother was right.  Easter really is going to be “just fine.”

Gratitude

There are times in life when it’s hard not to feel sorry for ourselves, and this is definitely one of them.  We’re grieving for our old way of life, when we could come and go as we pleased,  hang out with friends and family, and being in a large crowd wasn’t dangerous and illegal.  We’re worried that we might get seriously ill, or that someone we love might get sick and or die, and our hearts break for all of those who are grieving a loved one right now or battling this virus themselves.  It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, anxious and depressed, and of course, that is often exactly what we are feeling these days.

But we’re in this for the long haul, and personally, I can’t live in a constant state of worry and fear.  So I try very hard to focus on the things in my life that are still good, right here and now, even in the midst of the chaos.  And I’ve found that once I stop worrying quite so much about what might happen and yearning quite so much for what I once had, I realize that there are still many things in my life that inspire nothing but gratitude.

I’m grateful that I still have my health, and that no one in my family has yet caught this virus.  I know that can change at any time, which is why I’m also incredibly grateful for all the brave souls in the health care field who are risking their own health every time they go to work.   Their dedication and courage will not be forgotten anytime soon.

I’m glad that I’m able to provide childcare for my grandson while his daycare is closed, because few things are better than spending time with a grandchild.  And as anyone who cares for toddlers knows, they are a wonderful distraction from the worries in life, both big and small.

I’m grateful that I have a back yard I can enjoy when I feel the need to get out of my house, especially now that there are signs of Spring everywhere I look.  In the midst of so much loss, it’s reassuring to see the signs of new life in the budding trees and the blooming flowers.  Spring is all about new birth and renewal, and that’s a message we can use right now.

I’m grateful that so far, I’ve been able to get everything I truly need in terms of food and basic supplies.  The empty shelves in the supermarkets do fill back up, and the temporary shortages remind me not to take any of it for granted.  Even in the face of this contagious virus, people are still producing food and medicine, delivering it to the stores, and working at those stores so that the rest of us can have what we need to live.  And immense gratitude is the only possible response.

I’m grateful for the small things that make these days so much easier to bear:  getting lost in a good book, spending the evening playing Yahtzee with my husband, and talking to my mom on the phone every day, especially when she tells me she’s doing just fine.  I’m cooking more than I have in years, so I’m especially grateful that my husband always tells me that what comes out of my kitchen “tastes great,” even those times when I know it doesn’t.

But most of all, I’m grateful for all the wonderful people in my life who take the time to stay in touch because there is no way in the world I would get through the upcoming weeks without their support.  Sharing our worries, offering each other encouragement, helping each other find some way to laugh and be happy, even for a little while, makes all the difference.  So to everyone who is reaching out right now, through phone calls, texts, emails, blogs, or social media….thank you.  Because you are a reminder that together, we really will get through this.  And I couldn’t possibly be more grateful for that.

Just Before Dawn

IMG_0830My husband and I had really been looking forward to our vacation.   Last Fall had been particularly busy and stressful, followed by a hectic Holiday schedule.  By mid-January, we were both more than ready for a week of relaxation in the Florida sun and counting down the days until our departure.

But then we noticed that snow and ice were predicted on the morning that we were scheduled to leave.  Unwilling to risk losing even one day of our precious vacation, we decided to leave a day early, even though we’d have to fly into Ft. Lauderdale, spend the night there and then drive across the state to Ft. Myers the next morning.  We booked a hotel that was supposed to be right by the airport, rented a car, and figured we were all set.

It wasn’t until we were leaving the Ft. Lauderdale airport that we  realized we’d left all of our hotel booking information at home.  All we could remember was the name of the hotel, so we asked for directions as we were leaving the rental car lot.  I’ll never know if the attendant didn’t hear us correctly or if she just had a sadistic streak, but the directions she gave took us no where near our hotel.  If you’ve ever been lost in a strange city at night, you’ll have some idea of the mood in our car as we searched in vain for a Courtyard Hotel near the airport.  It wasn’t our finest hour, relationship-wise.   I’ll spare you the details of who said what, but suffice it to say that we arrived at our hotel almost two hours later, tired, hungry and in desperate need of a drink (or two)….only to discover that the hotel’s bar/restaurant had already closed for the night.

We awoke the next morning to a beautiful sunny day, so we were in good spirits as we drove across Florida to the Ft. Myers area.  The room in our new hotel was spacious and clean and everything was going quite well until that evening, when it was time to head to a nearby restaurant to meet friends for dinner.  That’s when we realized that the deadbolt on our door had broken and we were locked in our hotel room.

First we panicked, then we called the front desk and asked for help.  The assistant manager came quickly, but he couldn’t get the door to open either.  The good news was that there was a door to an adjoining room, so he was able to go into that room and then unlock the connecting door and enter our room.  The bad news was that the connecting door slammed shut behind him and automatically locked, so then all three of us were locked in our hotel room.

We repeated our panicking/call the front desk routine, and they sent someone down to unlock the connecting door. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough, and all through dinner I kept wondering what we were going to do if they couldn’t find a locksmith to fix our door because I knew the hotel was full.  At that point I was beginning to wonder if the Florida vacation we had dreamed of was ever going to materialize.

But from then on, our vacation was basically everything we had hoped it would be:  a time to relax and unwind, walk along a sandy beach and just “recharge our batteries.”  I guess I forgot that sometimes we have to wait awhile for the things we want, and sometimes we have to overcome a few obstacles before we get where we want to be.  That’s just the way life is, and it’s something that I need to remember when I’m struggling through some hard times:  that the darkest hour really is just before dawn.  And all we have to do is hang in there….

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….

Dangerous Thoughts

I’m the sort of person who likes to be prepared.  It’s second nature for me to plan ahead and try to consider every possible outcome of almost every situation, especially the negative ones.  I buy travel insurance for our big trips, have an emergency kit both in my house and in the trunk of my car, keep a stash of any medications I may need in my purse, etc.  I always have a “plan B” in mind when I’m making any kind of decision, no matter how big or small, because I’m well aware that things might not work out as I had hoped.

So I really don’t need anyone or anything constantly warning me of possible danger, or pointing out all the things that should be causing me worry and angst.  Believe me, I’ve got that covered.  Which is why I get so annoyed with all the warnings and alerts that I’m bombarded with every day of my life.

The news media is bad enough, with it’s constant stream of negativity and dire warnings about, well….everything.  Yes, we are facing some very serious issues in our country and in the world, but I don’t think that daily newscasts with the essential message of  “be afraid, be very afraid!” are going to help us solve them.  Nor do I appreciate it when my cell phones sends me emergency news alerts about things that are definitely not emergencies.  If my phone is going to interrupt my day with an alert, it had better be about something serious, like an approaching tornado or an invasion of Martians.

But the worst offender is my car.  It has several built-in warning systems which I’m sure were intended for safety, and that’s a good thing.  Unfortunately, I’ve come to believe that my car was programed by someone who’s rather paranoid, because it warns me about everything, all the time.  If I pull into the garage and get within two feet of the trash cans, my car not only beeps at me, but warning lights flash and sometimes it even hits the automatic brakes.  Yes, getting within two feet of another car on the highway would be a problem.  But I’m parking my car.  In my garage.  And it’s not a huge garage, so I have to get “dangerously” close to the trash cans to do so.

Last week my car got really upset because I had parked in the street, and someone else pulled up behind me a bit closer than my car deemed appropriate.  They had actually left plenty of room for me to pull away from the curb, but the minute I started my car, it flashed and beeped and generally had a panic attack as I manuvered out of the spot.  I swear, if my car was a person, it would say nothing but “Danger!  Watch out!  Oh my gosh, oh my gosh…OH MY GOSH!!!!”

As I said, I don’t need this in my life.  I’m well aware of the dangers that surround me, and I take them seriously.  If I’m going to be bombarded with unsolicited messages, I’d much rather hear something encouraging, such as, “You can do it!”  Building confidence is almost always more effective than instilling fear, even when facing the big problems, in my opinion.  Now all I have to do is figure out a way to get others, especially my car, on board with that….

Good Things Come

Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not one of mine.  I’m the sort who skips dessert and then steps on the scale to see how many pounds I’ve lost.  I wanted my new dog, Finn, to drop all of his annoying habits right away, even though he’s only one-year old.  (You’d think the fact that I’m sixty-one years old and still have almost all of my annoying habits would mean I’d be a little more patient with him.  But you’d be wrong.)  And when I planted this year’s tomato seedling, I immediately started planning the recipes I was going to make with this year’s bumper crop of tomatoes.

So now that my mom has made the decision to move into a retirement home, I’m ready to pack her up and move her in there as soon as possible….next week at the very latest.  And of course that’s not going to happen.

Never mind the fact that she’s going to be moving from a three-bedroom house (with a full basement and a garage) to a one-bedroom condo, which is going to require major down-sizing.  It’s going to be a huge task simply to decide which of her possessions she wants to take with her, never mind what to do with all the stuff she doesn’t want to take.  And then there’s all the chores that go with any move:  the change of address cards, shutting off utilities in the old house, hiring a mover, etc.  All of it takes time.

But the biggest problem is that the retirement community she’s selected has a waiting list, and we’ve been warned that it could be as long as a year before a unit opens up for her.  Which means that I’ve got too much time to spend worrying and fretting as I wait for this move to actually happen.

What if she has a major health issue in the next few months and no longer meets the “independent living” requirements?  What if we get rid of all her extra stuff and then she changes her mind about moving?  What if everyone who currently lives in the retirement home actually stays there for the next ten years, and a condo never becomes available?  There are so many things that could go wrong that my mind just reels…

But this, like so much in life, is something that I really can’t control.  Yes, I want to see my mother safe and happy in her new home, and I do think she’s made the right decision to move.  But the process isn’t going to go any faster if I fret and worry than it will if I manage to step back, take a deep breath, and let things work out however they happen to work out.

IMG_5532 2Because sometimes, I think, we just have to trust that once we’ve done everything we can to make something happen that it often does….if we can just wait a little while.  Finn may still annoy us now and then, but his behavior has improved enormously since he first moved in.  We kept my son’s dogs last week, and the three of them got along just great with no issues at all.  That’s progress.  And I may not have a bumper crop of tomatoes just yet, but I do have enough to make a tasty addition to the salad I’m serving with dinner tonight.

So maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to admit that there’s some truth to that old saying, “good things come to those who wait.”  And then learn to do it with patience and trust….

Refreshment Time

Sometimes I think the best part of any vacation is simply the chance to take a break from our usual routines and obligations, and to leave behind the stress and worry that normally takes up far to much of our attention and energy.  Especially if we have the good sense to actually disconnect from our regular lives by not keeping up with our emails, texts and whatever other form of social media we are in the habit of using.

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I have a hard time even remembering all the stuff I’m supposed to be worried about, never mind trying to actually deal with all those problems.  Add in the usual busy schedule, caring for the family and friends who need it, and the constant onslaught of negative news, and it’s no wonder that my tiny mind really does struggle to keep up with it all.  And believe me, I know there are many, many others whose lives are far more complicated than mine.

Which is why taking a break from it all every now and then is so very important.  It’s amazing what a little time spent “off the grid” can do to restore our souls and remind us that life is so much more than a check list of duties and goals that needs to be completed.

IMG_5250Vacations allow us to leave all those worries, schedules and obligations behind, for a least a little while.  More importantly, they give us the time to reconnect with our true selves, and if we’re lucky, with the people in our lives who matter the most.  And it doesn’t matter if our vacation is long and expensive or short and cheap, as long as we disconnect from our usual routines and spend the time doing something that truly makes us happy.  Even taking a long walk in a park or sitting in the sun in our own back yard, happily reading a favorite book can count as a vacation if we need it to.  “Stop and smell the roses” is more than just a cliche.

I believe that all of us need a little time off now and then, so we can have the opportunity to listen to our hearts and be reminded of who we really are.  It’s far too easy to get so caught up in the frantic pace of our daily lives that we put our minds “in neutral” and spend our days doing little more than completing whatever task is in front of us and then quickly moving on to the next one.  But that’s not what life is supposed to be, at least not all the time.

One of my favorite literary characters is fond of saying, “Life is for the living.”  And I couldn’t agree more…..

Yes I Can

Back when I was writing children’s books, I had a pretty simple formula I used to create my stories.  I would create a main character and place him or her in a situation that they desperately wanted to change, which would give me the main plot of my story.  If I were writing a longer book for older children, I would then plan out a chapter-by-chapter timeline to help me keep track of everything as I wrote.  (Details have never been my strong point.)  Finally, I would begin writing the actual manuscript….and that was usually the point where my creative confidence began to drain away and the paralyzing self-doubt crept in.

The problem was that no matter how passionately I believed in the story I was trying to write, a part of me was always thinking, “Will an editor like this?  Is my main character interesting enough?  Is my plot believable?” and so on and so on.  And those are valid concerns.  As all writers who hope to get their work accepted by a publisher know, finding an editor who wants to buy our manuscript is an absolute necessity.  But the constant presence of the critical editor in my mind basically squashed my creativity and made it impossible to write from my heart.  And the result was often a competent, but flat, manuscript that lacked a unique and creative spark.

Sadly, that internal critic isn’t limited to my writing.  I can look back on my life and see many times when I allowed that little voice that says “you can’t, you shouldn’t, you’re not good enough,” to dictate my choices and my behavior.  There were too many times when I turned my back on an opportunity, didn’t want to take a risk, or stayed silent when I should have spoken up. There were too many times that I held back when I should have stepped boldly forward.

The simple truth is, when our internal dialogue turns too negative, we aren’t really able to live our lives to their fullest potential.  And that’s a tragedy that none of us should allow.

I believe most of us get better at self-acceptance as we get older, and I’m no exception.  As the years go by, I find myself learning to tune out that negative “internal committee” and to replace it with one that is so much more compassionate and encouraging.  I find myself being willing to risk simply being myself by following my dreams, voicing my true opinions and in general, doing what feels right to me.  It’s a journey, but I am moving slowly and steadily forward.

If I had the chance to go back in time and speak to my younger self, I would have so much advice I would want to share.  But if I was limited to just one thing, it would be, “Believe in yourself and follow your heart.”  Because if we can learn to do that, everything else will surely work out.