Silver Linings

Sometimes life throws us a curve ball, and sometimes life throws us several curve balls all at once.  When that happens, all we can do is try our best to cope with the situation and trust that things will eventually get better.

Last Thursday, I went to the animal shelter where I volunteer and signed the papers to foster Stanley, a Beagle-mix that was sick with kennel cough.  He’s a sweet dog, and I knew he would get better much faster at our house.  I was also hoping that if everything went well, I’d be able to adopt him once he was healthy.  So I loaded Stanley in my car and headed for home.  Halfway there, I realized he was peeing all over the car seat (thank goodness I’d thought to cover it with pee-pads).  I told him to stop, which he did.  Unfortunately, he promptly threw up instead.  And not just on the pee-pads.

These things happen, so I was annoyed, but not too upset.  I put him in the back yard, pulled on some rubber gloves and cleaned up the mess.  It took awhile since the vomit managed to seep into almost every nook and cranny in the car (I had to use a toothpick to scrape it away from the gear shift), but by the time I was finished, no one would ever know a dog had used the front seat of my car as his personal toilet.

My grandson had been sick with RSV since Wednesday, and I was planning to babysit for him on Friday.  But his symptoms worsened dramatically, so we ended up taking him the emergency room on Friday morning where they promptly admitted him to the hospital.  The next two days were a blur of very little sleep, trying to help my daughter and son-in-law without being intrusive, and a whole lot of worry.  There is just something so wrong about a baby in a hospital gown.

And just to make things even more interesting, our furnace decided to quit working Friday night, on the eve of what promised to be the coldest day of the year.  The good news was a service man was able to come to our house first thing Saturday morning.  The bad news was that we needed a part that cost $1,300 and wasn’t going to be available until Monday, or possibly Tuesday.  All I can say is that I’m very grateful for space heaters.

So, one way or another, it’s been a rough weekend and a very long week.  But life is nothing but a series of ups and downs, and things are finally on the upswing.  Our grandson got to come home last Sunday afternoon, and a few days later was back to his normal happy, healthy self.  Our furnace is working again.  The foster dog has settled in nicely and appears to be housebroken.  Even the nasty cold that I managed to catch mid-week is starting to fade, making me hope that I might actually get to enjoy the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

If I’d had my way, most of the events of the past week would never have happened.  But they did, and the good thing is, we got through them.  In the process, we were reminded that we’re stronger and more resilient than we thought, and that we have many people we can count on for support when we need them.  And that gives me hope for the next time life throws a curve ball our way…..

A Change of Season

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

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

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

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

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

Just Enough

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, which meant that I spent the days before it in a futile search for a gift for him.  We stopped getting each other big presents for our birthdays years ago, but we still have a family dinner to celebrate and I like to have something from me that he can open with the rest of his gifts.  The problem is that my husband already has most of the material possessions that he wants and I can’t afford to buy him the ones he wants but doesn’t actually own.  And every year it gets harder to come up with a creative idea for something I actually can get him.

I’ve already made him several photo books,  and had his broken college “Outstanding Athlete of the Year” and MVP Baseball trophies remounted.  I spent hours carefully removing the photos and articles from the disintegrating scrapbook his mother had made him and remounted them all in a brand-new scrapbook.  I bought him tickets to see his favorite comedian when he was in town.  My kids have given him photo collages of his grandson, had a painting made of the house he grew up in, gave him a key-chain engraved with his parent’s signatures and even made him a pen and pencil holder with a photo of his grand-dog that reads “I love Grandpa.”  As far as sentimental gifts go, I think we’ve covered the bases.

By late last week, I was almost in a panic mode.  What in the world was I going to give him this year?  When I asked for suggestions, he went to his closet and handed me a new sweater he’d already bought himself and suggested I simply wrap that up.  When I said that I wanted to get him something he didn’t already know about, he answered, “But I don’t really need anything.”

I was getting ready to argue with him when it hit me that he was actually telling the truth.  We celebrated his birthday last night with a dinner at his favorite restaurant, surrounded by his family.  He is in good health, has a family that loves him dearly and close friends he knows he can always count on.  In all the ways that really count, he has enough.

I don’t know why it’s sometimes so hard to realize that we don’t really need more stuff, bigger houses, fancier cars and all the latest gadgets.  Maybe it’s because we live in a society that constantly urges us to get more, and to equate having more with success and happiness.  But the truth is that when we have a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear and most of all, people we love and cherish in our lives, then we really do have….enough.  All the rest is just icing on the cake.

And when I looked at my husband last night, sitting at the table with his grandson in his lap and the rest of us nearby, I realized that I really was looking at a man who not only had enough, but a man who was very blessed indeed.

But that didn’t stop me from giving him one more thing, because I still think of birthdays as a time when it’s fun to open an actual gift.  I found this by a happy accident just a couple of days ago, and I think it will go perfectly on his desk at work, right next to the pencil holder with the photo of his grand-dog.  Some habits are just too hard to break….

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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…..

Letting Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forever Friends

I have always tried very hard not to hurt people’s feelings.  There are certain things I never write about in my blog, even when I’m struggling to find a topic for this week’s post, simply because I know that the post would cause someone pain.  And even though I usually have a lot to say about any given situation, there are times when I stay silent, because I know that my words would just make things worse.  I have even been known to tell a “little while lie” on those rare occasions when telling the truth would be a very hurtful thing.

Yet despite all my efforts to the contrary, I know for an absolute fact that I have, at one time or another, hurt the feelings of every single one of my close friends and relatives.  And as long as I’m being honest, I’ll admit that every single one of them has also hurt my feelings somewhere along the line.

I believe it’s impossible to be close to someone for any length of time and not say or do something that causes them at least a little bit of pain.  Sometimes it’s because we speak or act without thinking first.  Other times, we put a lot of thought into what we said or did and honestly believed that we were being helpful.  (And yet we weren’t.)  The bottom line is that it’s impossible to always know how our words and actions are going to be received and interpreted by others.  So every once in a while, we’re going to say and do exactly the wrong thing, often without having a clue that we’ve done so.

When I think of how easily misunderstandings occur in our relationships, I’m always just a little surprised that people manage to have long-term friends and close family relationships at all.  The key, I think, is the desire to keep those people in our lives and the willingness to forgive and forget all the little ways that we sometimes bump up against each other’s feelings.  I think it takes valuing someone enough to accept them for exactly who they are, which is precisely the same way we want them to accept us.  But however we manage it, long-term and close relationships are a gift to be treasured.

Ann's photoI turned sixty last month, and a few weeks afterwards I went out with some good friends to celebrate.   I “met” one of those friends when I was just one-year old and our mothers plunked us down in the same playpen.  I would have enjoyed the trip to the art museum, the happy hour by the lake, and the dinner at my favorite restaurant no matter what.  But I have to tell you, doing those things with dear friends I have known for forty years, and one I have known for almost my entire life, made the evening so much more special.

There really is nothing quite like sharing a milestone birthday with old friends who have shared so much of my life’s journey.  Perhaps, if I am very lucky, I will be celebrating my 80th birthday with those same friends.  And maybe I’ll even write about it in a blog called “Muddling Through My Golden Years.”

The Big Six-O

In just a few short days I’ll be turning sixty years old.  I’ve never liked making a big fuss about my birthdays, and this year is no exception.  We’ve already had the usual family dinner at my favorite restaurant, and my husband and I hope to take a long weekend trip sometime this summer.  That’s our standard procedure for celebrating birthdays now that we have reached the age when we no longer want or need gifts, and it suits both of us just fine.  Still, there’s something about turning sixty that feels kind of like a big deal, in both a good and bad way.

On the one hand, turning sixty means that I’m really pushing the limit when I insist on calling myself middle-aged.  Unless I manage to live to be 120, I am definitely past the mid-point of my life.  But if I admit I’m not middle aged any more, then that means I have to figure out how to change the name of my blog.  Plus think of an name that doesn’t include the phrase “senior citizen.”  Eventually, of course, I’ll have to change the name since it would be weird for someone who is 89 to be writing a blog named Muddling Through My Middle Age, but that’s a problem for another day.

On the other hand, even though sixty does sound really old to me, there’s something kind of liberating about my upcoming birthday.  Honestly, I’ve looked at least sixty years old for the past several years.  I inherited my father’s prematurely sagging neckline and also his fair skin that shows each and every wrinkle and broken capillary in clear detail.  And I think I was about forty-two when my hair turned seriously gray and I understood just exactly why mother dyed her own hair for most of her adult life.  So in a way, it’s kind of nice to finally actually be the age I look.

IMG_3479Beyond that, entering this new decade does feel just a little bit exciting and new.  My husband’s retirement is just a few years away, which means we’ll be free to do some of the traveling we’ve longed to do.  And the empty-nest my kids created when they moved out of the house is beginning to fill up again with supplies for my new grandson.  My son’s old bedroom has been turned into a “baby room,” complete with a crib, rocker, toys and baby books, to be used by my grandson and any other grandchildren I’m lucky enough to acquire.  (Note to my kids:  yes, that was a subtle hint.)

Turning sixty sort of symbolizes a new phase in my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing just what it will bring.  I may no longer be young, but I am a grandmother, and that seems like a fair trade.  I’ve lived long enough to begin to understand who I really am and better yet, to feel brave enough to let others see the “real” me as well.  I’m still relatively healthy, and still able to pursue some of my unfulfilled dreams.

And who knows?  Maybe this will be the decade when I not only look my age, but I begin to act my age as well.  But I wouldn’t bet on it…..

The Greatest Gift

Last weekend was a busy one.  We had a death in the extended family, which meant taking a quick out-of-state trip on Friday to attend the visitation.  On Saturday, we drove back home so we could help our daughter prepare for the family lunch that would follow the baptism of our grandson on Sunday morning.  One of the disadvantages of growing older is that I don’t bounce back from those kinds of weekends as quickly as I used to, so I am only just now actually processing those recent events.

In many ways, the death of a loved one and the baptism of a baby are completely opposite events.  One life is ending and another one is just beginning, and the emotions we feel are so very different.  It doesn’t matter if the death came at the end of a long and well-lived life, or if it was sudden and completely unexpected, we still grieve and wonder if we are ever going to feel quite whole again without that particular person in our life.  And you don’t have to be religious to feel the wonder and joy of an infant baptism, since it represents the beginning of a new life full of promise and hope.  Any way you look at it, funerals and baptisms are very, very, different.

But as I look back over the weekend, I realize that those two seemingly polar opposite events have one very important thing in common.  At both times, family and close friends gathered together to offer community and support.  In the one case, they came to offer comfort and share memories of the loved one who is no longer physically with us.  In the other, they came to show their support of, and love for, a rather new little person who is just beginning his life journey.  But in both cases, the important thing is simply that they came.

Sometimes, life gets in the way and we can’t actually be present when someone needs our support.  Last week, the mother of a dear friend of mine also passed away.  Unfortunately, her funeral was held on the same day as our family’s visitation, five hundred miles away.  As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t physically be there for my friend.  But I could still reach out to her, thanks to modern technology, and make sure she knew she had my love and support.

Life will always be full of ups and downs, of occasions that seem unbearably sad and of other occasions that fill us with joy.  And the people who gather with us at those times to share our grief or our happiness are a powerful reminder that we aren’t in this alone.  They are the community that supports us through the life’s biggest changes.

So my take away from this busy last week and weekend is simple:  be there for those who need us.  Physically when we possibly can; or by calling, sending flowers, a card, or even a quick text when we can’t.  The details don’t really matter.  What’s important is just that we be there for each other, each and every time we are needed.

This Is The Day

We went to brunch this morning to celebrate my son-in-law’s birthday, taking our baby grandson with us.  The little guy did great, spending most of the time either sleeping or snuggling quietly on my shoulder, staring in wonder at the activity around us.  It was one of the nicest brunches I’ve had in a long time.  The food and company were great, of course.  But what really made me happy was the chance to just sit there with my family, holding my infant grandson.  And I wanted to savor every minute of it, because I know that babies don’t stay babies for very long and that far too soon, he’s going to be too big to drape so perfectly over my shoulder.

I am not, and never have been, particularly good at “living in the moment.”  I tend to put off doing the things that I could be doing, and even the things that I really want to do, until later, when I’m not quite so busy.  Or tired.  Or stressed.  Or whatever other excuse I have come up with for not fully appreciating what, and who, I have in my life right now, at this very moment.  And by doing so, I am counting on a future that is in no way guaranteed.

Life can change in an instant, both for the better and for the worse.  And all we can really count on is the here and now.  So it is actually rather important that we make each and every day count, as much as we possibly can.

IMG_0780For me, that means holding my grandson while he’s still small enough to let me, even if the food on my plate gets a little cold while I do so.  Or putting him in his stroller and taking him for a walk on a warm spring day, even when I have dozens of unfinished chores on my to-do list.  It even means taking even a few minutes to actually play the piano I insisted on buying a few years ago, rather than just vowing to find the time play whenever I dust it.

Making my day count may mean calling that friend I haven’t talked to in ages, or reaching out to mend a rift that threatens a once close relationship.  It may mean making a healthy choice for my next meal, or going for a brisk walk even if the weather isn’t perfect.  It may mean trying something I’ve always wanted to do, even if I’m afraid I will fail miserably.  The important thing is that I do it today.  Not tomorrow, because tomorrow may not come, for me or for someone I love.

Ever since my father died, I have made it a point to call my elderly mother several times a week.  Somewhere along the line, we began ending our phone calls with the words, “love you.”  We were never the sort of family who said that very often, and it was a little awkward at first.  But now it’s a habit, and a good one at that.  Because there is no better time to tell someone you love them than today.

By Any Other Name

As my regular readers know, I recently became a grandmother.  I promised myself that I would not become one of those women who talked constantly about their new grandchild, pausing only long enough to thrust photos of the baby into the hands of everyone I met.  I absolutely wasn’t going to keep blathering on about my new grandson in my blog, because I’ve always tried to write about a variety of topics so my readers don’t get too bored.  I was going to exercise self-restraint and common sense as I stepped into this new role of mine and only mention the new addition to our family when he did something truly newsworthy, like winning a Nobel Prize or discovering a cure for cancer.

Yeah, right…..  I have always written about what happens to be on my mind at the time I’m creating a new blog post.  And these days, what is on my mind is my new grandson.  All my good intentions lasted for less than a day.

Which brings me (finally) to the point of this post.  Ever since news got around that I not only look old enough to be a grandmother but that I’ve actually become one, people have been asking me what I’m going to be called.  When I was a child, we all just called our grandmothers “grandma,”  but nowadays we get to choose how our grandchildren we refer to us.  I know people who have come decided to go by Mimi, Nana, Me-ma, etc.  Those are good names, but none of them sound quite right for me.   And as long as I get to pick a name, why not pick something that I’d really like to be called?

Maybe I could get my grandson to refer to me as the “Wise One,” since age is supposed to bring wisdom and I’m not exactly young anymore.   Or, as long as I’m picking names that have no grounding in reality, I could be called “Goddess of Beauty and Youth.”  That has a nice ring to it, I think.   Or I could just go for the gold and have him call me “Wonder Woman.”  That sort of covers everything I aspire to.

Sadly, I have a feeling that by the time my grandson is old enough to pronounce any of the names I’d really like to be called, he’s also going to be old enough to roll his eyes while he’s saying them.  So I think I’ll just stick with tradition and go with “Grandma.”  It’s short, easy to remember and pronounce, and face it:  it’s what I am now.  But mostly it’s a title that I’m more than happy to claim.