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.

The Best-Laid Plans

My schedule has been very hectic lately, which is why I was really looking forward to Saturday.  Saturday was the first day in over a week when I actually had a big chunk of free time, and I was planning to use it to get caught up on some of the things I still needed to do for Christmas.  I thought I’d get up early, hit a few stores before the crowds came out, and then go home to make a few batches of Christmas cookies and stash them in the freezer.  Afterwards, I planned to go out somewhere casual with my husband for a pizza dinner.   I planned to make Saturday both relaxing and productive, since I could move along at my own pace without having to keep a set schedule.  But things don’t always go according to plan.

My day started early when my mother called to say she was feeling very sick:  extremely dizzy and weak.  I hurried over to her house and ended up taking her to an Urgent Care Center, where they discovered that her heart rate was alarmingly low.  The doctor recommended we go to the Emergency Room of a nearby hospital for further tests and evaluation, and said she would probably be admitted to the hospital.  It’s scary when your elderly mother needs to go to the hospital, but she was putting on a brave face and so I did the same.  I drove her to the ER, where they did a few quick tests before putting her in a wheelchair to wait for the next available doctor.

Luckily, her condition seemed to improve with each passing hour.  When she told me to wheel her over to the receptionist’s desk so she could ask why it was taking so long for her to see a doctor, I knew she was feeling much better.  When she finally did see a doctor and she passed all her tests with flying colors, I became very hopeful, especially when he said she could go home.  And when she started singing along to the radio on the drive home, I knew she was going to be just fine.

The “relaxing and productive” Saturday I had planned turned out to be neither relaxing or productive.  And that meant the already busy schedule I had on Sunday became even busier.  But you know what?  It doesn’t really matter.  Both my mother and I got through a difficult day just fine, and we learned a few lessons along the way.  The most practical lesson was that she needs to remember to keep her Medicare card in her purse, because she needs it to be treated at an Urgent Care or Emergency Room.  But there were other, more important, lessons to be learned as well.

IMG_4369I learned that planning is a good thing, as long as I bear in mind the possibility that things can happen that blow my plans right out of the water.  I learned that my mother can exhibit a great deal of grace under pressure, and that she knows how to be brave when confronted with the possibility of a serious health issue.  I hope that she learned she can count on her family to help her in those times, because that is exactly what family is supposed to do.

Finally, I learned that there is no need to worry about the unexpected problems that pop up in our life, because we can’t predict when the bad stuff will happen or what form it will take.  It’s enough to know that when the hard times come, we will find the strength to cope and to do what we need to do.  Because life doesn’t always go according to plan…

Year After Year

I’m a big fan of Christmas traditions.  This is the one time of the year when “doing things the way we’ve always done them” feels not only right, but almost mandatory.  I love trimming my tree with ornaments I’ve had for decades, and I do it while listening to Nat King Cole’s Christmas music, just the way my family did when I was a child.  I find it both meaningful and comforting to carry on old family Christmas traditions….most of the time.  But there are a few traditions that I would love to abandon, if only I could.

I could do without the nasty Christmas cold I manage to come down with every year, and just once I’d like the breakfast casserole I make for Christmas morning to turn out the way the recipe promised.  But it never does.  It’s either under-cooked and soggy, or over-cooked and dry, and it always sticks to the baking dish.  Still, my family chokes it down each year and assures me that it tastes just fine, because (of course) that casserole is a Christmas tradition.

IMG_2768But if I could abandon just one of my Christmas traditions, it would be the annual battle to put the lights on my Christmas tree.  I prefer the large, old-fashioned lights that throw out a warm, cozy glow on a dark night, just like the ones my family has always used.  You’d think that putting a few strands of them on the tree would be easy.  But each and every year year, something goes dreadfully wrong when we try to light up our tree.

Last year the Christmas lights I had been using finally wore out and refused to work, so I embarked on a frantic search for replacement lights.  Which every single store I went to seemed to be sold out of.  I even gave the LED lights a try, but after carefully putting them on the tree I realized that while they are indeed bright to look at, they don’t actually light up a room.  Eventually, after much time and effort, I did find some satisfactory lights and was able to spend my December evenings basking in their glow.

This year I had the lights and figured it would take twenty minutes, tops, to string them and then we could hang the ornaments.  I was wrong.  I put the lights on the tree, but then realized there weren’t nearly enough.  So I took them back off, found another strand in our basement and put them all back on again.  Then the strand in the middle of the tree stopped working, so I took those off while my husband went to the store to get some more.  By the time we finally got the tree lit and looking good, the entire afternoon was shot and we decided to go have pizza and hang the stupid ornaments the next day.

But at least the lights are on the tree, and soon I can add the ornaments.  My Nat King Cole CD is still working (I checked), so I think I’m all set.  By this time tomorrow my tree will be fully decorated and I can just relax and enjoy the rest of the season.  Until, of course, I catch my annual Christmas cold….

Can You Remember?

Coleman Application_page 3 1In most ways, I take after my father much more than my mother.  I inherited his sense of humor, his passion for reading, his deep love of animals, and (unfortunately) his sagging neck line and tendency to be a bit wide in the middle.  My mother and I look nothing alike, and I have none of her teaching, sewing, or decorating skills.  But there is one trait that my mother and I do share: we both have astonishingly bad memories.  And that’s beginning to worry me a little.

When I was young and my mom wanted my attention, she always called the names of my sisters first, and that was when she was looking straight at me.  Sometimes she even worked in the name of one of our dogs before she got to, “I mean….Ann!”  I never doubted that she actually knew who I was, it just took her a while to come up with the right name.  And honestly, I understood that, because I operate the exact same way.

I once stuck a glass bottle of Coca Cola in the freezer in order to get it cold enough to drink, and then forgot all about it until that evening, when someone opened our freezer door and discovered that it had exploded in there.  As a young mother, I walked out of my house without remembering my keys so many times that my son would not only ask me if I had the keys before he would follow me out the door, he also insisted I show them to him.  He was only five at the time,  but I guess he’d had a little too much experience at being locked out.

I have a long history of forgetting appointments, and I shed my belongings the way a dog sheds hair as I go about my day.  I’ve left purses behind in restaurants,  walked out of supermarkets without the groceries I just paid for, and left lawn sprinklers on overnight.  (Thankfully, we don’t live in an area that is prone to drought.)  I never buy expensive sun glasses or umbrellas because I lose track of them so often.  And I’m just as bad at remembering names as my mother ever was.

The problem is that I’m starting to get a bit up there in age, which means that I’m getting to the point where people are going to be getting just a tad judgmental about my lack of memory skills.  Like my mother, I have had a bad memory all my life, and forgetting stuff is just normal for me.  But forgetfulness is also something that becomes concerning as people hit their twilight years (and rightfully so), but how can you notice that someone’s memory is slipping away when it’s barely been there to begin with?

IMG_0576 2My mother is at the age where I often accompany her to important visits, and I see the looks that she sometimes gets when she has problems remembering stuff.  And I know the time is coming when I’m going to be getting those looks as well.  Which probably explains why I can get a little defensive about my mother’s memory (or lack thereof), because I not only know it’s just who she is, but I realize it’s also who I am.

I know my mom well enough to know that she’s still quite sharp mentally, even if her counter is strewn with the notes to help her remember all the stuff she needs to remember.  And I’m there to speak up for her if need be.  But that leaves the question of who is going to speak up for me when I’m her age and waltzing out of the grocery store without my groceries.  I guess I just have to hope that my kids inherited their father’s memory so they’ll recall all those times when they were little and I forgot my house keys.  And know that it’s just me being me.