Role Reversal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let It Shine

When I first heard that my granddaughter was going to be born six weeks early, I was very worried.  Two of my sisters were born too early and hadn’t survived, and a close friend also lost her son who was born prematurely, so I suppose it was only natural that I was scared.  But as I told friends and family about my granddaughter’s birth, I was surprised by how many of them took the time to assure me that my fears were probably misplaced.  I heard story after story from people who had either been preemies themselves, or had a friends or family members whose premature babies grew up to be perfectly healthy children and adults.  I can’t tell you how much those stories helped me, and how much I needed that support.

There’s a popular meme on social media that says something along the line of “everyone is dealing with some kind of hardship, so please be kind.”  And that is so true.  I told people about my granddaughter’s early birth, but there are times when we don’t feel comfortable sharing our problems with others, for whatever reason.  Which means that all of us are almost constantly interacting with people who are hurting, and how we treat them can either help lighten their load or make them feel even worse.  In other words, how we treat others really is a big deal.

It’s especially a big deal right now, as our world seems to face one huge challenge after another and the number of people suffering seems to grow larger every day.  I have no idea what the answers to all these problems are, but I do know that my actions and my words matter.  I may be only one person with zero influence on world affairs, but I can still try to make things just a little bit easier on those around me.

As a blogger, I can use my posts and comments to encourage other bloggers and readers. As a wife, daughter, mother and grandmother, I can give my time and energy to help my family when they’re struggling.  And while I may not have the strength I once did, I can still walk most shelter dogs who desperately need a break from the isolation of their runs.  My personal gifts may be few and not particularly impressive, but I can still choose to use them as much as possible.  And that’s true, I believe, for all of us.

DA56F645-3AF5-4B06-94B8-F2460D5CDBC3In these dark times, all of us have the choice of either spreading the darkness even further, or being a light for those around us.  I hope that we choose to be the ones who encourage and support each other, just as those people helped me when I was so worried about my granddaughter being born too soon.  I’ll always be so grateful to those who assured me she would be just fine, because as it turns out, they were right…..

Nothing Ventured….

When I first started this blog over seven years ago, I was very nervous and had no real idea of what to expect. I wanted to write about the challenges of being “middle-aged” in the hope that others might be able to relate.  I assumed my readers would be friends and family, and possibly a few people who happened to stumble across my blog by accident.  I’d read that posting at least once a day was necessary for successful blogging, but I started with a more manageable schedule of posting once every four days.  I figured that I’d eventually work my way up to the recommended daily blog post.

But as is so often the case, blogging turned out to be something very different from what I had envisioned.  For one thing, I soon realized that not all of my friends and family were actually interested in reading my blog, but that some old classmates, coworkers, casual acquaintances and total strangers were willing to read and occasionally comment on my posts.  I was pleasantly surprised by how encouraging almost all of the comments were, despite my fears of writing on a public forum.  And as time went on, I expanded my blog’s focus beyond the issues of being middle aged and simply began writing about all the things that interest me.

My blogging experience may have turned out very differently from what I expected, but it’s actually been a very good one.  I’ve loved having the chance to connect with wonderful people from all over the world, and being introduced to so many other blogs that I truly enjoy reading.  And while I actually post less often now than I did when I first began (that daily post never did happen), I know I’ve benefited from writing on a regular basis for the past seven years.  Writing is like almost every other skill:  the more I practice it, the more confident I become.

Blogging regularly has also helped me grow, both intellectually (and yes, I know there’s lots of room for improvement there) and emotionally.  It’s impossible to write well about any topic without first figuring out how I really feel about it, and why.  I think that kind of self-examination is good for us, and goes a long way toward helping us discover our true nature.  And I honestly believe that learning to trust our inner voice is a very good thing.

So I’m very glad that I took the risk and started this blog all those years ago.  Like so many other times when I finally found the courage to try something new, I discovered that the rewards were definitely worth the effort.  And since my natural tendency has always been to stick with what is familiar and safe, I make a point of reminding myself now and then that almost everything in my life that I value most is a direct result of trying something new.  As the old saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained….”

Sweet Dreams

IMG_1065Sometimes it’s hard to be a dog.  I mean, I know I mostly live a good life:  I’ve got a nice home with  a loving human family, a big yard, and my very own basket of dog toys.  But I can’t help but noticing that at my house, there are certain glaring inequities between the lifestyles of those who walk around on two feet and those of us who walk around on four paws.

I’ve written before about the fact that humans get to use an indoor bathroom, whereas I am forced to potty outside, no matter what the weather.  It seems especially unfair when it raining or storming, since those are very scary situations and all I want to do is hide inside and hope that I live to see another day.  And don’t get me started on the perils of icy porch steps or searching in vain for a spot in the yard that isn’t covered in snow or sleet so I can finally do my business.

But the biggest discrepancy (and the one I find hardest to accept) occurs at mealtime.  My parents eat three meals a day, plus snacks.  Sometimes they eat out at restaurants, bringing home the leftovers, and other times Mom cooks.  My favorite dog bed is in the kitchen, so I’m right there while she’s cooking (or reheating) and the delicious aromas just make my mouth water!  When the meal is finally ready, I prance around the kitchen, wagging my tail and in general letting them know just how happy I’d be if they fix a plate for me, but does that ever happen?  No, it does not.

IMG_1527Mom and Dad might feast on a huge variety of meats, pastas, vegetables, fruits and breads, but do you know what I get served?  Dry dog kibble, that’s what.  Twice a day, every day.  Yes I know that there are plenty of starving dogs in the world who would happily make do with kibble, but do you have any idea how hard it is to see and smell so many tasty foods, day in and day out, and never get offered more than one tiny morsel of it?  Trust me, it’s enough to drive a dog crazy!

I’ve tried to let my parents know how I feel.  When they’re eating, I sit right next to them and stare at them imploringly, whining a little now and then to drive my point home.  All that gets me is the aforementioned tiny morsel, and that’s after they’ve cleaned their plates.  I even tried ignoring my kibble in the hopes that they’d serve me something better, but Mom just said that a hunger strike would do my waistline a world of good.  (Body shaming may be a no-no for humans, but clearly it’s still acceptable for us dogs….yet another inequity.)

Don’t get me wrong, I really love my parents.  And I know they think they’re doing the right thing by feeding me the dry dog food.  But that doesn’t stop me from hoping that they’ll eventually figure out that what I really want is to eat the same food they do, served in very generous portions.   A dog can dream…..

Like A Child

Sometimes I enjoy a good snowfall.  My living room has a gas fireplace and a large picture window, which makes it especially nice for sitting in a cozy armchair and watching the big fluffy snowflakes gently falling to the ground.  It’s an incredibly relaxing experience, and almost always leaves me with a lovely feeling of comfort and peace.

Unfortunately, not all Winter weather delivers in the comfort and peace department.  Early last week, the local weather forecasters predicted what could be our worst snow storm in over a decade, if not a century.  Depending on which TV channel I watched, I learned that we could get up to four hours of freezing rain, followed by several inches of sleet, topped off with twenty-plus inches of snow.  Like almost everyone else, I dutifully trotted off to the grocery store to stock up on supplies.  Then I checked that my emergency stash of candles and flashlight batteries was adequate and asked my husband to make sure we had gasoline for the generator,  (And tried not to worry too much when he told me he wasn’t even sure our generator still worked.)

When it finally hit, the Winter storm wasn’t nearly as bad as predicted.  We managed to skip the freezing rain altogether, and had only about an inch of sleet.  Sleet can be dangerous, but it’s not nearly as slippery as ice and it also doesn’t bring down power lines.  And while we did get plenty of snow, eight inches is a lot better than twenty.

I was happy that we were spared the “storm of the decade,” but I can’t say that I managed to enjoy this snowfall.  We never did get big fluffy snowflakes, but we did get lots of wind, very cold temperatures and stiff muscles from shoveling our sidewalks and driveway.  And I can only say that I must have had my mind on other things when I stocked up on groceries, because once we were snowed in I discovered that I was missing a few essentials.  (It’s really hard to make tuna casserole without tuna, or home-made pizza without cheese.)  As far as I was concerned, this snowstorm was just something to be endured.

981CD5CD-BD3A-43F4-BD75-A6FA657AC41ABut then I started getting texts from my daughter, complete with pictures of my grandson out enjoying the snow, as children do.  He went sledding, built a snowman and even “helped” with the shoveling.  At four, he’s far too young to listen to weather reports, but he sure knows how to have fun in the snow.  And thankfully, that reminded me that not everyone saw the recent snowfall through my jaded eyes.

DF61B76E-E0F2-4D19-9F63-D0752691F178_1_201_a

I hope I can always remember just how much it helps to see the world from someone else’s point of view now and then.  I hope I can remember that what’s an inconvenience to me might also my granddaughter’s first chance to play in the snow.  Because sometimes, all we need to do to brighten our mood is try to see things through the eyes of a child……

In the Mirror

I’ve always rather liked the old saying, “Love many; trust a few; always paddle your own canoe.”  It seems to pack a lot of advice in a few simple words, but like most things in this world, the real meaning is up to interpretation.  When I first read it, I believed the last few words referred to being self reliant, and not counting too much on others to take care of us.   And there is a certain amount of wisdom in that interpretation, as expecting others to meet our every need is bound to result in serious disappointment.  But the older I get, the more I see another meaning in those words that I believe is even more important.

“Always paddle your own canoe” can also mean refrain from paddling other people’s canoes.  And by that I don’t mean refrain from helping other people who are in need, as I sincerely believe that all of us have an obligation to help others as much as we possibly can.  That’s just a part of what it means to be human and to live in community.  What I do mean is that we need to refrain from trying to direct other people’s lives.  To use the canoe analogy, that means to refrain from telling other people how fast they need to paddle, what kind of oars they ought to be using, and which bodies of water they should navigate, etc.

Of course we all like our own ideas best, and I’m no exception.  In my heart of hearts, I probably believe that the world would be a better place if only everyone else thought and acted more like me, and I think that’s a belief that most of us share whether we’re aware of it or not.  The problem is that it has become far too fashionable to act on that belief, and to spend endless time and energy pointing out other people’s faults and trying to bring them in line with our way of thinking and doing.  A quick glance at social media is proof of that, with its endless posts that have basically the same message:  “my values are better than your values.”  Few of the posts actually come right out and say that, but the message is still there, loud and clear.

I’ve come to believe that if we’re really interested in making the world a better place, we need to start with ourselves.  Instead of spending quite so much time finding fault with other people, we need to take a good long look in the mirror and see how we can do better.  And then make the effort to actually be better.  And if we put even half the energy that we put into trying to change other people into improving ourselves, I think the results would be amazing, to say the least.

So, yes, I still like that saying about paddling your own canoe.  Because I really believe that if I can keep trying to paddle my canoe (as in live my life) as best as I possibly can, I just might end up doing some good in this world……

Try Again

IMG_1442 2My husband and I try to take a Florida vacation every January.  We’re not fans of the month’s cold days and long nights, so it makes sense for us to spend a week of it on a warm Florida beach.  We also like having something fun to look forward to after the holidays wind down, and have found that nothing beats the post-Christmas blahs quite like throwing shorts, swimsuits and sun screen in a suitcase and heading south for a few days of rest and relaxation.

But this year was different.  I had a hard time looking forward to this trip, and it wasn’t just because the pandemic has taught me to have a “wait and see” attitude about almost everything I schedule. The problem was that this year’s vacation was going to be almost an exact repeat of the trip we took last January:  we were leaving on Martin Luther King weekend, going to the same coastal island, and rented the exact same condo.  And sadly, last year’s trip didn’t go so well.

Last year’s trip was supposed to be a celebration of my husband’s successful battle with cancer.  I was planning to reserve a table on the patio of one of the area’s nicer restaurants, and was even going to order a bottle of champagne for a special toast.  But things went wrong from the start.

While we were driving down the highway a rock flew up and cracked the windshield of our rental car.  Later that day, a distracted bicyclist rode smack into our car.  It wasn’t our fault and she wasn’t seriously injured, but it was very upsetting even so. Then I began having eye symptoms that might mean an injured retina, which I knew could mean a surgery with a long recovery.  But worst of all was the call from my husband’s surgeon with the results of the biopsy from his recent scope.  The surgeon said it was nothing to worry about, but after looking it up online, we were convinced he had grown a new tumor.  So much for our week of relaxation and celebration….

So I suppose in the back of my mind, I secretly believed that bad things were going to happen on this trip.  I’m not superstitious, but I had learned to associate this particular area with serious problems, and that made it hard for me to truly believe that we were going to have fun this time.

But we did.  We had no problems with the car, no accidents, and absolutely no bad news from any of my husband’s doctors.  We walked the beach, did a puzzle, slept late, ate out on patios, and in general had the sort of week that I had envisioned last year.  I didn’t order a bottle of champagne, but we did finally toast the fact that my husband’s cancer is gone.

Before our trip, I had toyed with the idea of cancelling our reservations and going somewhere else this year, somewhere with no bad memories.  I’m so glad I didn’t cancel and let those bad memories ruin a lovely vacation spot for us.  Because sometimes, the best thing to do is to give places (and people) a chance to redeem themselves…….

Without Me

The day after Christmas, I woke up feeling just a little bit “off.”  At first, I thought I had probably just overdid a bit over the holidays.  But as the day wore on, I felt worse, not better.  My throat hurt, I started coughing and I felt a little achy.  By the next morning, I was well and truly sick and stayed that way for most of the week.  The good news was that I tested negative for Covid three times, but the bad news was that I was absolutely miserable and unable to do anything other than lay around feeling sorry for myself.

4F20ECF8-0FF5-4683-8705-FDA15FC89E5ETypically, I spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve relaxing and getting together with friends and family.  The work of the holidays is over by then, but the decorations are still up, the kitchen is stocked with cookies and other Christmas goodies, and there’s plenty of time to enjoy it all.  I hated missing out on all that, but as the week went on, I also began to feel guilty about all the other things I wasn’t doing:  walking the shelter dogs, keeping up with my blogging, hosting a small family gathering for my out-of-town sister, and even basic housework.  (I emptied the dishwasher one day and then had to go lay down for three hours to recover.)

Even worse, I was supposed to be spending at least part of that week helping my daughter care for her newborn son.  Her husband was working and her older son’s daycare was closed for the holidays, so I had promised that I’d be around to lend a helping hand.  But even if I’d had the energy, I couldn’t risk going anywhere near her house.  I didn’t have Covid, but I was still sick and probably contagious.

So there I was, not only sick but feeling very guilty about being sick.  I remembered how hectic caring for a newborn and a young child can be, and how grateful I was for any and all assistance.  I hadn’t seen my out-of-town sister in months and hated the thought of her going back home without us getting together.  I knew that every day I wasn’t at the animal shelter meant that the other volunteers had to walk even more dogs than usual, and that there was a chance that some dogs would miss their daily walk altogether.  I even felt guilty about not keeping up with the comments on my latest blog post, or keeping up with my friends’ blogs.

The silver lining in all this mess was that eventually I realized that sometimes I’m not going to be able to do the things that others want or need me to do, and that I need to stop fretting about it and simply accept it.  There are going to be times when I can’t live up to either my expectations or the expectations of other people, and I have to learn to be okay with that.  Stuff happens, plans go awry, and sometimes, I just need to let go of the ridiculous idea that the world will crash and burn if I’m not carrying my fair share of the load every single minute.

My daughter made it through the week without my help; the blogging world kept right on going without me, and the shelter dogs all got their daily walks.  Go figure.  My sister was even able to stay in town long enough for me to recover and spend time with her, but she would have forgiven me if I hadn’t.  Because the truth is, none of us is indispensable.  Some of us just need to be reminded of that now and then…….

Looking Back

It’s hard to believe it, but 2021 is almost over.  It’s been a rather strange year…not as bad as 2020, but not as good as I had hoped for either.  Like many of us, I had believed that this would be the year that marked the end of the pandemic, but this nasty virus seems determined to stay with as long as possible.  Still, we’re learning how to deal with it and making great strides in the areas of vaccines and treatments.  I honestly believe that eventually modern medicine will prevail, and hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

On a more personal note, it’s been a very busy year, filled with lots of peaks and valleys.  We were dismayed last Spring when we discovered that my husband needed to have a major surgery that early tests had indicated he could avoid, and discouraged when he ended up spending over 21 days in the hospital.  But we were thrilled this Fall when subsequent tests showed that his cancer is finally gone, and we began wrapping our minds around the fact that the cancer patient was now a cancer survivor.  Making that transition takes a bit of time, emotionally.

We had visits from out-of-town relatives we hadn’t seen in over a year, and were able to take a much-anticipated Florida vacation with all of our immediate family.  We were able to include my mother in our Thanksgiving and Easter dinners this year, and to gather as a family to celebrate her 91st birthday.  Those are among the many moments I’m grateful for, and were all the sweeter because I no longer take such things for granted.

This is also the year I was fitted with “Invisalign” braces to correct some ongoing dental issues, but I can’t honestly say I’m grateful for that because I discovered (after I handed over the check) that they are supposed to be worn for 22 hours a day and that I’m not allowed to eat or drink anything but water while wearing them.  Note to self:  always read the fine print before embarking on new procedures.  Still, when it’s all over and my teeth are finally aligned correctly I’m quite sure I’ll feel the gratitude.

FullSizeRenderBest of all, this was the year we added a new grandson to our family, and I realized once again just how quickly I can fall in love with a little bitty person I just met.  One of the nicest things about families is how there is always enough room, and enough love, for one more.

Wishing everyone a very happy New Year, with sincere wishes for a wonderful 2022 for all!

Something New

One year, my husband and I went out for dinner on the night after Thanksgiving.  The soup special was called something like “Turkey Medley,” and it was one of the best-tasting soups I’ve ever had.  Somehow, the cook had managed to include almost all of the flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in one soup…the turkey, the dressing and the roasted vegetables….all of it.  Right then and there I decided that the following year, we were going back to that same restaurant on the day after Thanksgiving so I could have that soup again.  And this time, I planned to take extra home with me.  So you can imagine my disappointment a year later when the waiter informed me that the soup special that night was clam chowder.

IMG_1071I think it’s only natural to want to repeat something that we’ve really enjoyed, and sometimes we’re able to do just that.  My husband and I fell in love with Sanibel Island the first time we visited and it’s still one of our very favorite vacation spots.  But if I’m honest, I have to say that our first visit was the best, because we were discovering someplace brand new, and to us at least, quite wonderful.  It’s the same way when I like a movie so much that I go back to the theater to watch it again.  I still like it the second time I see it, but I don’t really enjoy the movie as much as I did the first time.

And this is something I have to remember each year as we move into the holiday season, because  Christmas is a time when I find myself trying, often subconsciously, to relive the happy moments of past Christmas celebrations.  But the truth is, I’m no longer a child so I don’t feel the almost unbearable excitement of waking up on Christmas morning and knowing that there’s a pile of presents for me under our tree.  My son and daughter are also grown up now, so the joy of watching their excitement on Christmas morning is also a thing of the past.  I’ll cherish those special memories forever, but the truth is that they are not going to be repeated.

And that’s okay.  Because if we spend all our time trying to recreate the things we enjoyed in the past, we’ll never be able to appreciate all that the present has to offer.  It’s true that I’ll never again celebrate Christmas as a young child or as the mother of young children, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had in this holiday and in all the ones that will follow.  For the next few years, I’ll enjoy being the grandmother of small children, which has it’s own benefits.  I get to share their excitement and joy, but their own parents have to do most of the work of preparing for the holidays.

My husband and I have been back to the restaurant that served that fabulous soup many times, but it’s never been offered again.  Clearly, it was a one-time experience.  But we have tried other menu items and specials, and many of them were absolutely delicious.  Which just goes to show, I think, that sometimes we have to let go of the past in order to fully appreciate the present…..