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….

Raise Them Up

When I was pregnant with my son, I was absolutely convinced I was going to have a girl. I was going to name her Sarah Marie, and I believed that she would have red hair (like my husband before he went gray) and green eyes.  I was so sure of all this that I was actually shocked when the doctor put my son in my arms for the first time and said, “Congratulations, it’s a boy!”  Not disappointed, mind you…I loved my son completely and absolutely from the moment he was born….but definitely surprised.  And as I rocked my newborn son, a little part of me said good-by to Sarah Marie.

Honestly, that incident should have prepared me for what parenting is really all about.

As parents, we try so hard to make the right decisions for our children; to steer them onto the paths we think they should take and to instill our values and our knowledge in them.  And that’s as it should be.  But sometimes when we do that, I think we also make the mistake of thinking that our children will turn out to be exactly who we shaped them to be, and that they will always share our interests and always do things just the way we taught them.   But they rarely, if ever, follow exactly in our footsteps and sometimes set off on paths we never even imagined.  And that’s as it should be, too.

As a writer, I was thrilled when my son began writing stories for fun when he was about ten years old.  He was very good at it.  On some level, I suppose I even hoped he might grow up to have the commercially successful writing career that had eluded me.  But eventually he stopped writing those stories, preferring to spend his time playing sports and video games.  I remember being disappointed at the amount of time he would spend in front a computer when he could, in my opinion, be doing much more productive things.

And you know what?  That same son is now working happily and successfully in the field of technology.  He may not have taken the path I had envisioned for him, but he followed his own heart and found the path that was right for him.

Ann's photo 4

Neither my son or daughter turned out exactly the way I had pictured, and neither share every single one of my values and interests.  Instead, they did exactly what they were supposed to do and used the love, experience and knowledge they were raised with as a foundation upon which to build their own lives.  They are changing and evolving into exactly the persons they were meant to be.

My son surprised me, all those years ago in the delivery room, by turning out to be a bit different from what I had expected.  Honestly, both he and his sister still surprise me now and then.  And as their mother, I wouldn’t have it any other way…..

Get Closer

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was heading to lunch with a work friend when I tripped at the top of a set of very tall and very steep concrete steps.  I tried to grab the railing to catch myself, but it was too far away.  Luckily, my friend was strong and had good reflexes, because he shot out his arm to block my fall, and then steadied me with his other hand.  If it hadn’t been for him, I would have fallen all the way down those stairs and ended up in a broken heap on the asphalt parking lot many feet below.  I was still shaken when we reached the restaurant, and apparently, so was my friend, because the first thing he did was order a stiff drink.  I noticed his hand was trembling slightly when he lifted the glass.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he saved my baby’s life.

Aside from our work life, my friend and I had very little in common.  He was single and still living with his parents while I was married and living in my own house.  He had never left the St. Louis area, whereas I had only recently returned to it.  He was gay; I was straight.  I was an avid animal lover, yet when I asked him to sign my anti-vivisection petition, he politely declined, saying he saw nothing wrong with experimenting on animals if it had the potential to help humans.  I could go on, but you get the idea. We were two very different people, and yet we worked together quite well and found it easy to be friends.

And this story is just one example of the many times my life has been enriched by people who are very different from me.  I am white, but the woman whose encouragement gave me the most confidence to write for children is black.  I think deer are among the most beautiful creatures on this earth, but I have friends and relatives who hunt.  I love to read, am terrible at sports and have unbelievably bad math skills, yet the man I married rarely reads, went to college on a sports scholarship and makes his living as an accountant.  And I couldn’t imagine life without him.

I know the current trend is increasingly to “stick with our own kind,” and have nothing to do with those who have different values, different cultures and different beliefs, but I honestly think it is a horrible one.  Sure, we can watch only news shows that reflect our opinions, and we can rage against those who think (and, worst of all vote) differently than we do, and we can “unfriend” all the people on Facebook whose posts we disagree with.  But if we do, the loss is our own.

So many people are worth knowing, if we are brave enough to give them a chance.  When we get close to people who seem different, we often find they have some wonderful qualities mixed in there with the stuff that puts us off.   l don’t know about you, but I have good friends  who voted for Clinton, and I have good friends who voted for Trump.  I didn’t vote for either of those candidates, but you know what?  I still value my friends who did more than words can say.

And whenever I do feel the temptation to “stick with my own kind,” all I have to do is remember my friend and coworker from all those years ago.  Because if I hadn’t gotten to know him, he wouldn’t have been with me on those steps.  And I might not have a daughter at all.martha-at-xmas

Scary Fast

I was idly scrolling down my Facebook news feed yesterday when I spotted a couple of photos my daughter had posted of my son and herself, all dressed up for Halloween.  They were taken when my children were very young, in the preschool and kindergarten years, but when I looked at the pictures, I was instantly flooded with very specific memories of those two Halloweens.

martha-and-daniel-2I remembered that my daughter’s angel costume had been borrowed from church  (one of the costumes used for the annual Christmas program), and I remembered how grateful I was that my son wanted to be a fireman two years in a row.  I wasn’t one of those moms who enjoyed putting together elaborate costumes for my children, which also explains why my daughter’s ballerina costume in the second picture is nothing more than her dance class outfit with a shirt underneath the tutu to keep her warm.

I remembered how we carved the pumpkins just before eating dinner, so that our Jack-0-Lanterns would be ready for any early arrivals.  I remember how my husband and I took turns being the parent who stayed at home to greet trick-or-treaters, and the parent who took our kids around the neighborhood.  I remember the pumpkin sugar cookies I made,  dying the frosting orange and then adding just a touch of green for the pumpkin stem.  (I may not have been big on costumes, but I put an effort into those Halloween cookies.)  Mostly I remember the barely contained excitement of my son and daughter when the big night finally arrived, and for once, getting a lot of candy wasn’t just allowed, it was actually encouraged.

When my children were young, I was a stay-at-home mom who was struggling to make a go of a free-lance writing career.  Sometimes I felt a bit overwhelmed by the constant demands on my time, the never-ending cycle of laundry, meals, dirty diapers, and trying to keep two very active little people safe, healthy, and happy.  Occasionally I felt isolated and lonely, missing the company of my co-workers and the way I took easy access to adult conversation for granted.  Older women, especially my mom, often told me to treasure the years when my children were young, and warned me that they would be over far too soon.  “In the blink of an eye,” they said, “this will all be gone.”


I’m ashamed to say that there were times when I didn’t quite believe them, because time didn’t seem to be moving all that fast to me.  But now my daughter is a 30-year old married woman, and my son is a 27-year old man who will be married in less than two weeks.  It seems like only yesterday that they were a little ballerina and fireman, and so excited for Halloween they could hardly stand still.  How can that be?  How in the world did time move so very quickly?  I remember those sweet days of their early childhood so very well, but I guess I must have blinked…..

A New Perspective

When I was eighteen years old, I graduated from a small high school in Kansas and headed off to college in Iowa, and at the same time, my parents moved to a new home in Illinois.  I never moved back in with them, and for the next forty years, my parents and I lived in different states, usually several hours away from each other.  But when my father passed away nine years ago, we all agreed that it would be best for my mother to move to St. Louis to be nearer to two of her daughters, and seven years ago, she moved to a house that is about a fifteen minute drive from me.

It seemed so different to suddenly have my mom close by again.  The first few weeks after her move, I was at her house almost every day, helping her unpack and settle into her new home, and helping her find all the necessary connections (a new doctor, the closest grocery store, a new bank, etc.) that moving to a new state entails.  These days, I’m not at her house as often, but we talk several times a week on the phone, eat dinner together often, and I drop by her house regularly to see if she needs anything or just to visit.  We both like to watch HGTV and sometimes I help her with a jigsaw puzzle, but other times we just sit and talk.

MomThe mother-daughter relationship is always a complicated one, and I suspect that each mother-daughter relationship is also unique.  When I was very young, our household was busy and my mother had her hands full with raising her own three kids, plus a niece and a nephew.  Later, she added to her work load by going back to school to get her masters degree in Education so she could support my father when he quit his job to go to Seminary.     My mother was there when I needed her, but we didn’t spend a lot of time together, and we weren’t especially close.  And of course, once I became a teenager, I was far too cool to listen to anything my mother had to say anyway.

So now it seems that in many ways, I have been given a wonderful gift of being able to spend time with her, as two adults, and get to know her more as an individual, rather than simply as my mother.  She tells me stories of her family and her early life (sometimes the same story several times, but repeating stories is a privilege of the aged).  I always knew my mother was a hard worker, but I am still in awe of how active she is in her church, and how willing she is to take on new responsibilities.  I see how much time she makes for the friends in her life, always reaching out to them when she knows they are dealing with something hard.

DSC01665My mother will be turning eighty-six this summer, so I know that our time together is not unlimited.  I know that she will become more dependent on my help as she ages, and that is nothing more than the natural order of life.  But whatever the future brings, what I know most of all is that I am so very grateful that I have her close by now, and that I will always have the memories of these past few years together.


Garage Sale Survivor

When I was a young woman, I used to love a good garage sale.  As a newly-married twenty something, garage sales were a cheap and easy way to fill our new home with necessary furniture and household items without doing too much damage to our household budget.  And when my children were young, spending the morning at neighborhood garage sales was a fun family outing.  I’d give each of them a dollar bill to spend on an item of their choice, which kept them happy and busy while I sorted through the goods, looking for gently-used clothes and toys.  At that point, my children were growing so fast that I didn’t really want to spend a lot of money on their play clothes or on toys that I knew would be ignored once their novelty wore off.

Later, when our house began to feel a bit too full and we had our own piles of outgrown children’s clothes, I even held a few of my own sales.  It was work to gather the stuff I wanted to sell, price it, make the signs and then get up early on the morning of the sale to set up the display tables in our driveway, but it felt good to get rid of all those unwanted items and make a little bit of money at the same time.  I don’t remember being particularly overwhelmed when I was preparing for a garage sale, or being particularly exhausted after the sale was finished.

IMG_9716Yesterday, I spent the morning helping my daughter, my mother, and my sister host a multi-family garage sale.  Most of the items for sale were my daughter’s, the combined result of her love for shopping and the need to find space in her house for the many lovely wedding gifts she received last year.  It took us hours to sort and price everything because we had so much stuff we couldn’t even fit it all in my mother’s two-car garage.  And since we had all contributed items for the sale, we also had to have a system for keeping track of who was selling what, so we could divide the cash fairly afterwards.  Five of us spent an entire evening just setting up the sale.  I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I was pretty tired before the sale even started.

The sale was an undisputed success, with so few leftovers that we were able to fit it all in only two cars to transport it to the local GoodWill.  We had the usual “early birds” who showed up well before the start time, wanting to buy while we were still lugging around the heavy furniture and trying to remember where we put the cash box.  People tended to come in groups, and usually all wanted to check out at the exact same time.  I started the morning running the checkout table, but decided that wasn’t the best use of my talents after I found myself adding $4.00, $.25 and $2.00 and coming up with $5.43.  After that, I stuck to bagging up the purchases and helping my son-in-law carry the heavy stuff to people’s cars.

I’m very glad that I got to spend time with my family, working together, as family bonding time is always important.  I’m glad that my daughter was able to declutter her house and make a small profit at the same time.  I’m even glad that the people who came to the sale were able to get items they needed at a very good price, because I remember how much I used to appreciate that.  But today, I’m exhausted and sore, and feel every single year of my (late) middle age.  I’m sure that my daughter will have another sale someday, but I’m thinking that the next time she does, my contribution is going to be my best wishes, and maybe a couple of cheap glass vases.

Wedding Memories

IMG_0615When my daughter’s fiancé first told us he was going to propose, I was very happy and excited for her, right up to the moment I realized I was going to have to help plan and host the wedding, at which point the panic set in.  I just couldn’t imagine that we would be able to pull together all the little details of such a huge event (whatever happened to the days when a wedding meant a quick ceremony in the sanctuary, followed by cake and punch in the church basement?) even knowing that my daughter is a very organized person who would be doing most of the work herself.  Multi-tasking has never been my strong point, and in weddings, the devil is definitely in the details.  There were many times in the past year when I thought herding fifty cats would have been much easier.

But we did it.  My daughter got married last Saturday, and all the important things went according to plan.  The weather was perfect, everyone was where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there, the ceremony was beautiful, and the reception was fun.  I had been told that, after all that planning and work, the day would just fly by, and that was so true.  I really don’t have a strong, clear memory of it that I can share when people ask, “How did the wedding go?”

IMG_0666What I do have are a series of mental pictures of the highlights of the day.  First, I remember how beautiful my daughter looked when she first put on her dress in the chapel of the church, and how proud I was when she walked down the aisle with her father.  After the ceremony, I remember watching everyone gather in the front of the church for family pictures, and I remember thinking how lucky the bride and groom were to have such a large, loving family to support them in their marriage.

I remember the slight panic I felt during the cocktail hour, as I stood on the edge of the crowded room and realized that I needed to circulate and greet the guests.  I much prefer to stay “behind the scenes” at large social gatherings, working quietly to make sure everything is going well, and I am never comfortable in large crowds.

Later, when we were seated in the ballroom and they introduced the wedding party as they came in, I remember the precious sight of my son (a groomsman) walking in with a bridesmaid on his left arm while holding the hand of the little Junior Bridesmaid on his right.  And then my daughter and her new husband came in, and I realized that all the planning, work and money had been worth it, just for that moment alone.

There are lots of other special memories:  the toasts, the first dance, seeing my eight-five year old mother dancing to some modern song with my nephew (as one of my friends told me later, “your mother still has the moves!”), and finally, everyone out on the dance floor for the final song, dancing and singing along to Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.”  (I knew my daughter would work a country song in there somewhere.)

I firmly believe that every bride is beautiful on her wedding day, just as every groom is handsome.  I also firmly believe that true beauty comes from within, and what made my daughter and her new husband so pleasing to look at had nothing to do with their physical appearance, and everything to do with the way they kept looking at each other throughout the day.  The happiness and the love for each other I saw on their faces made them a very beautiful couple, and that’s a beauty that will, hopefully, stay with them for the rest of their lives ….

Wedding Hopes

I usually write a blog post on Sunday, but since this Sunday happens to be the day after my daughter’s wedding, I decided I’d better write it now, and simply publish it on Sunday. And since I have no idea how my daughter’s wedding will actually go, I decided that I’d write about how I hoped it went instead.

We had a few glitches this past week, but I’m hoping that the wedding ceremony went ahead as planned and that it was both beautiful and meaningful.  I’m also hoping I didn’t do anything to embarrass my daughter, like tripping down the aisle, knocking over the unity candle, or crying during the ceremony.  (All very real possibilities, trust me.) The ceremony is the heart and soul of any wedding, and I hope it was everything my daughter and her finance wanted it to be.

IMG_0612I hope that the wedding party was able to get some nice outdoor photos during the time between the ceremony and the reception, as my daughter absolutely loves photos, and her finance has learned to be very patient about posing for pictures.  (They are already getting started on the give-and-take of married life.)   And I hope that after riding around on the party bus that was taking them from one photo op to another for three hours, that the newlyweds made it to the cocktail hour in time to thank their guests for coming.  We have been both surprised and touched by how many people are planning to come to the wedding, even when it means traveling across the country.  That kind of support is priceless.

I hope that the reception was nice:  the food was good, my husband made it through his welcome speech without having a panic attack, that people enjoyed dancing, etc.  I hope that my daughter and her finance realized how blessed they are to share their wedding day with so many of their friends and family, all together in one big room. It isn’t often in life that you get to have all of the people you love in the same place and at the same time, and that is a big part of what makes weddings so special.

I hope we remembered to thank everyone who helped us pull the wedding together, as there is no way we could have done this without them.  We had friends and family help with the centerpieces and decorations, provide transportation, take photos, provide food, and most importantly, give their advice and support when it was so desperately needed.  We’ll never be able to thank them enough.

I hope that my daughter and her new husband enjoyed their special day, and that it was all they imagined it would be.   Despite all the planning, money and work that goes into the actual wedding day, it is over so very quickly.  But mostly, I hope that my daughter and my new son-in-law have a long and happy life together, and they grow to love and appreciate each other even more than they already do as they journey through life together.  And if they should happen to decide to provide my husband and I with a grandchild or two, that would be a nice touch as well…..

Planning Ahead?

IMG_0291As anyone who has ever met me knows, I am really, really, good at worrying. For me, worrying is almost as natural as breathing, and for the most part, if I’m breathing, I’m also worrying about something.  So I knew that when my daughter got engaged, I was going to have to make an honest effort to just go along with her decisions, to simply dig in and do the work that is required to pull off a wedding these days and try my very best to trust that things would all work out.

I’ve been making a very conscious effort not to think about all the things that could possibly go wrong, which is my usual approach to just about everything.  I know that sounds awfully negative, but it’s really not.  My theory is that if I have anticipated a possible problem and already figured out a solution, or at least an acceptable reaction to the problem, then I don’t have to think about it anymore.  Because if the problem happens, I already know what I’m going to do about it.  Still, I knew my habit of obsessing over potential problems was going to drive my daughter, her fiancé and my husband all crazy so I tried very hard not to do it, and mostly succeeded.

IMG_0297So that might explain why I wasn’t as prepared for this, the week before the big wedding, as I would normally have been.  When a representative from the church called yesterday to say that our minister had been called out of town for a family emergency and wouldn’t be able to do the wedding, I didn’t have another minister already in mind who could do the service.  (Luckily, they did.)  And when my husband called early this morning to say that when he called the limo service to verify where they are taking the bridal party for their after-wedding photos and got a recording saying that the phone number was no longer in service, I had no back up plan handy.  And when my daughter texted me a little later to let me know that the dentist just told her she needs to have a root canal tomorrow and asked what I thought she should do, I had to fight the urge to tell her to call her father and do whatever he advised.

Now I know that the odds are very high that everything will all work out just fine.  The problem with the limo service was simply with the phone system, and they didn’t really go out of business three days before the wedding and two days after we made the final payment.  My daughter is going to a very good dental specialist and I’m sure the procedure will actually make her feel much better, as who wants to get married with a sore tooth?   And the church’s Wedding Coordinator has been in close touch, assuring me that he will make sure everything goes well during the ceremony.

I still think that I would have handled the problems that have arisen in the last forty-eight hours a little bit better if I had followed my usual routine of thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong with the wedding and had already identified some solutions.  My system of planning for potential problems (also known as worrying) may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  But I have reached the point in my life where I realize that it’s what works for me.

Forever Family

familyMy daughter got engaged last summer, and her wedding is coming up fast.  Even though we’ve spent the past few months booking a venue, reserving a church, selecting her wedding dress and making all the hundreds of other decisions that seem to be required for a wedding these days, it has only recently begun to sink in that she’s actually getting married.  And soon.

I still remember the first day I brought her home from the hospital, and how everything single thing in my world suddenly felt so different.  The house my husband and I had lived in happily for a couple of years had to be completely reconfigured to accommodate a baby, a good night’s sleep became nothing more than a distant memory, and even the shortest outing required careful planning as we either had to find and hire a reliable baby sitter or pack a diaper bag with more provisions than I normally packed for a week’s vacation back in my childless days.  My husband and I had shifted from being a couple to being a family, and life was never the same again.

Later, as we were raising both my daughter and her younger brother, I couldn’t even imagine what life would be like when they grew up and moved out to start their own lives.  The four of us were a complete and happy family unit, and the thought of us not living together anymore was almost frightening.  At the time, I had a friend whose youngest daughter had recently moved out and I asked her how she could possibly cope with that loss.  She told me that in her opinion, the teenage years were God’s little way of making it a bit less painful to see them go.  And as the years went by, I understood that she was right.

When our turn came to have an empty nest, it wasn’t the horrible adjustment I thought it would be, because I realized that I hadn’t really lost my kids at all.  They had grown up, but we were still a family and our relationship was simply different than it was when they were children.  Now I could see the young woman and the young man they had become, and I liked what I saw.  And the little bonuses of having an empty nest, such as the extra closet space, much smaller grocery bills and not having to listen to either country or rap music in my house helped, too.

MarthaIn a few short weeks, our family is going to change again, and in a big way.  My daughter will be married, which means her first priority will be her new husband, and not us.  She’ll even have a new last name.  But, once again, this is just a change that means our family will be different, and that’s not a bad thing.  We’re gaining a terrific son-in-law who already feels like a member of our family.  It’s reassuring to see my daughter in love with someone who makes her happy and to know that they are choosing to spend their lives together.  And I know she is marrying into a wonderful family whose love and support will only enrich her life.

I have come to believe that family is something that is both constant and constantly changing.  And that change isn’t always a bad thing.  In the case of this particular change that is coming to our family, I believe it’s a very good thing indeed.