A New Chapter

I’ve never claimed to be good at aging gracefully.  Far from it.  I tend to resent most of the changes that aging has caused:  the sags and wrinkles, the sore joints, the inability to read small print, the forgetfulness, the loss of strength and stamina.  I complain bitterly about all of it, and am often shocked when I look in the mirror and am literally “faced” with the difference between how I picture myself and how I actually look.  When I shop for new clothes, I find myself wondering if a certain style is too young for me, and yet I’m still offended if a sales clerk offers me a senior discount.  Far too often, my reaction to aging has been a mixture of confusion and dismay.

And yet……I can’t deny that there are a few benefits to being a “woman of a certain age.”  I have a far better sense of self than I ever did when I was young, and even not-so-young.  I have acquired a certain bit of wisdom that steadies me when I’m faced with the roller coaster of current news and trends, and I’m thankful for the perspective that my age has given me.  If I’m entirely honest, I have to say that I actually value the intellectual and emotional aspect of aging, and what I resent is really just the physical part.

The good news is that I’ve finally figured out that there’s something that makes coping with my aging body just a little bit easier, and that something is being a grandmother.  My three grandchildren bring me great joy, but as odd as it sounds, they also help me accept all the physical changes that I used to resent so much.

So what if I have a sagging chin?  I’m a grandmother, not a new mom!  And those reading glasses I have stashed all over the house (and in my purse, and in my car) are normal for grandparents.  My grandparents wore glasses all the time, after all.  And maybe I am wearing “mom jeans” when I go out in public, but what else do you expect from a woman is actually a grandma?  Looking at it that way, I’m actually dressing young for my age.  Embracing my role as a grandmother is truly kind of liberating, because it takes away the pressure that so many women my age feel to look and act younger than we really are.

TheColemanGrandkids-97 2When I was younger, I never thought I’d be happy spending a Friday night rocking a baby to sleep or bathing a toddler, but the truth is, I am.  Sometimes I still feel a bit surprised by the fact that I have three grandchildren now, but trust me, it’s a happy surprise.  I’m no longer young, and that’s a fact.  But luckily, I’ve got three precious reasons to be grateful for this new stage of my life, and when all is said and done, all I really feel is blessed……

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.

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…….

Enough is Enough

I’m not sure who’s in charge of handing out luck, but whoever it is, he or she should be fired.  Immediately.  Because the string of bad luck I’ve been on for the past year or so has worn out it’s welcome and needs to go away right now.  Yes, I know adversity makes us stronger and that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” but there comes a time when even the toughest of us just want things to lighten up a little.

photo-3I handled it when my dog  came down with heart worm, even after being on heart worm preventative pills for a year.  I adjusted to the pandemic and all the grief and hardship it brought.  I handled the fear of my granddaughter’s premature birth and my husband’s cancer diagnosis, and when I started seeing flashing lights in my right eye, I was just grateful to be able to get a quick appointment with my eye doctor.  Even when my beloved “grand-dog” Frank died unexpectedly on the very day of my husband’s major surgery, I focused on what a good life he had led and and was thankful that he had died at home, with my son and daughter-in-law with him.

I’m not saying that I didn’t complain through it all, or have my moments of self pity and anxiety.  Of course I did, and it would be silly to say otherwise, especially since some of the people who read my blog know me personally and they’d spot the lie. I’m just saying that during what has been a very turbulent period, I tried really hard to keep a positive attitude and to focus just as much on the things that were going right as the things that were going wrong.  And I also figured that sooner or later, our luck had to improve.

Yet just one day after my husband finally got his port removed (which is a very good sign and certainly cause for celebration), I managed to break a bone in my foot.  I wasn’t even doing anything risky or athletic when it happened.  I simply tried to turn around, and while my foot turned, the flip-flop sandal I was wearing didn’t, and down I went.  And of course it is my right foot, which means that I can’t drive when I’m wearing the big “walking boot” the doctor said I’d need to keep on for the next four to six weeks.  (Note to self:  next time I decide to break a foot, break the left one.  It’s so much more convenient.)

It’s not a bad break and it doesn’t even hurt very much.  But it was the last straw, as far as I’m concerned.  Someone has messed up, somewhere, and given me an extra helping of bad luck, I’m just sure of it.  And they need to make it right, and start sending more good luck my way to make up for it.  I’ve spent some time thinking about this and I have my arguments all clear in my mind, complete with supporting data to prove my case. Now all I need to do is figure out just exactly who I have to make my case to, and I’ll be all set.  If only life came with a good customer service department……

The Most Wonderful Time

May has always been one of my favorite months.  When I was a child, I loved it because May started with my birthday celebration and ended with the last day of school.  (I know some children actually liked going to school, but I was never one of them.  I can still remember the pure joy of walking home on that last day of the school year, knowing that I had almost three months of glorious freedom before I had to go back.)  These days, I don’t greet my birthdays with quite the same enthusiasm and it’s been decades since I graduated from school, but I still think May has an awful lot going for it.

In May, it’s usually warm enough to enjoy being outside, even if I sometimes need a sweater or light  jacket.  It’s when I plant the flowers that brighten my yard, and almost always the month when my azalea bushes bloom.   I love eating dinner outside, either at a restaurant or on our own patio, because this time of year the insect population hasn’t yet exploded and it’s possible to enjoy a good meal with out fending off hungry flies or blood-thirsty mosquitoes.  (And if you’re ever making the argument that even Mother Nature makes the occasional mistake, just bring up mosquitoes.)

Early May also brings Mother’s Day gatherings and, for racing fans, the  Kentucky Derby, which I traditionally celebrate with a small party and home-made mint juleps.  I didn’t really intend to start an annual Derby party tradition when I threw the first one all those years ago for some church friends, but the following year the church secretary called and wanted to know the start time of this year’s Derby party so she could include it in the church newsletter.  And let’s face it, once an event is in the church newsletter, it’s going to happen, so you may as well just go along with it.

o+cRJw0HQJOhXYdVsqWIMgThis year May was a little different, since I was on my beloved Sanibel Island for both my birthday and the Kentucky Derby, spending a quiet week with family.  But it was still a very good month.  My granddaughter turned one, and few things are better than celebrating your very first granddaughter’s very first birthday.   I was also able to host a small backyard family gathering in honor of my sister-in-law’s recent marriage, and to attend a barbeque with good friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen since the pandemic started.  One way or another, this year’s May brought many happy moments, which were all the sweeter because last year’s was basically a washout.

But now May is drawing to a close, and that means one thing and one thing only:  Summer has arrived.  Yes, I know that the calendar says Summer doesn’t arrive until late June, and that those who live in the southern hemisphere are actually approaching Winter.   But I firmly believe that when Memorial Day ends, Summer begins.  And I’m ready for it:  bring on the picnics, the open swimming pools, the temperatures that allow me to go barefoot outdoors, the long days and short nights. Bring it all!  All of it, that is, except for the mosquitoes.  Those nasty little things can stay far, far away…..

Recharged

Sometimes we all just need to take a little break, and I have to admit that I was more than ready for mine.  My husband and I had planned a trip to Florida for early May before we knew that he would be having major surgery this past Spring.  For a little while we both believed that the trip would have to be cancelled, so you can imagine our relief when the surgeon gave his permission to go, pointing out that my husband could recover at a beachfront condo just as well as he could at home.

But when my husband’s hospital stay extended a week longer than it should have, we still thought that our much-anticipated vacation wasn’t going to happen.  I told myself that it didn’t matter, and that as soon as my husband was better we’d go on a trip somewhere fun, but deep down I was very disappointed.  It’s been a very tough year for my family, and I really wanted to spend a week relaxing at on my beloved Sanibel Island.  I actually felt foolish for looking forward to this trip so much, because the past few months had me almost conditioned to be afraid to look forward to much of anything at all.

I know adversity can make us stronger and more focused on what’s important in our lives, and that’s a very good thing. But sometimes, it can also train us to believe that not only is “the glass half empty,” but that it’s bone dry and will remain that way forever.  When disappointments and bad news come at us too quickly, or when difficult circumstances last for too long, it can become very hard to hang on to our optimistic attitudes and to allow ourselves to really believe that things will ever improve.  Or at least that’s been my experience.

But you know what?  Despite the need for a major surgery we thought he had avoided, and despite the complications that kept my husband in the hospital much longer than we had anticipated, we were able to go on our trip.  My daughter and her family joined us, and we had a wonderful family time just hanging out together, walking the beach, swimming, and (in my husband’s case) taking LOTS of much-needed naps.

I can honestly say that my husband made great strides in his recovery during our trip, which was a real blessing.  But he wasn’t the only one who benefited from our week away from it all.  With each passing day, I felt my spirits lifting just a little bit more.  My heart began to feel lighter, and I felt calmer and more at peace than I had in a long, long time.  The experience was healing for both of us, just in different ways.

ZWZqbuKtTFOCLFbCPIs2oAI know that I was very lucky to be able to go on vacation recently, and that many people are still living under restrictions that don’t allow any travel at all.  But my point is that all of us, no matter what our circumstances, would benefit from finding a way to take a break from our problems and spending even a little time doing whatever we can to recharge our bodies and refresh our souls.  Keeping hope alive and finding those moments of happiness isn’t always easy, but it is always worth the effort.

Fair Enough

IMG_6242Mom’s outside doing some yard work, so I’m taking the opportunity to write another blog post for her.  I’ve written a few already, and they’ve been very well received, if I do say so myself.  Still, it’s been a long time since she’s invited me to write a guest post.  I’d like to think that’s just because Mom is a bit forgetful, and not because she’s getting a little jealous that maybe my blog posts are a tiny bit better than hers.  But for whatever the reason, I got tired of waiting for an invitation and since Mom’s not exactly a fast worker, so I’ve got plenty of time to do it now.

Unless, of course, she happens to discover some of the “treasure” I’ve buried in the back yard, in which case I can think of one or two items that will probably bring her storming back into the house, looking for yours truly.  I’m not quite sure why she gets so upset why I sneak off with some of her granddaughter’s baby toys, because face it:  dog chew toys and baby chew toys look exactly the same and I can’t resist any of them.  That’s why I like to hide a few in the back yard, to play with when I’m outside.  But last week she was searching everywhere for the baby’s favorite teething toy, and then she began throwing suspicious glances my way.  Suffice it to say, if she unearths a certain rubber giraffe, I’m got some explaining to do.

4fpVgBptSf+s5gvff1HMRwWhich brings me to the point of this post.  As much as I like living with my human family, (and I really do love them), I can’t help but notice that there’s a certain unfairness in the way the different members of the family are treated.  Just because I happen to have fur and walk around on four legs, I often have to abide by a totally different set of rules.  Take the aforementioned toys, for instance.  I’m perfectly willing to share my toys with babies and children, and believe me, when the adults aren’t looking, they play with my toys.  But if I dare to pick up one of their toys, I’m immediately told to “drop it,” as if I’ve done something horrible.  And they insist on washing the toys before they return them to the child or baby in question, which is just plain insulting.

Also, the humans in my family never have to “relieve themselves” outside.  But I’m expected to do my business outside all the time, in all kinds of weather.  Once when it had been storming all day, I really had to go.  But I knew if I let my parents know that, they’d put me out in the yard.  So I went downstairs and took care of my problem there.  Just so you know:  no matter how badly you have to go, never, ever, pee on the leg of your dad’s pool table.  You wouldn’t believe how upset he’ll get, even though a pool table leg does look an awful lot like a tree trunk.

You see what I mean about unfairness?  It can be a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but luckily, we dogs are nothing if not forgiving.  And steady meals, a warm bed, and plentiful dog treats make up for a lot.  But mostly, I know they love me and I love them, and that’s all that really counts anyway. 

Love, Finn

A Sure Thing

Predicting the future has never been an easy thing to do, but these days, it’s become completely impossible.  If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that life is uncertain and plans are often nothing more than optimistic hopes.  And I have to say that I really, really, don’t like living this way.

One of my coping mechanisms for dealing with difficulties has always been to have something…anything…to look forward to.  Dreaming of our annual January vacation on the beach is what gets me through the cold and dark Winter days, and even something as small as knowing I have dinner reservations at my favorite restaurant can lift my spirits on a particularly stressful day. 

I’m never happy to see Summer end, but knowing that the holidays are coming has always made it easier to accept.  Yet who knows if I’ll be able to host a family Thanksgiving dinner this year, or if we’ll see extended family at Christmas?  These days, it sometimes seems that looking forward to something is a sure-fire way to make sure it doesn’t actually happen.

Which is why I very deliberately didn’t think much about the family weekend getaway we had planned for the end of September.  My husband and I had booked a house at a nearby lake community for three nights and invited our children and grandchildren to join us.  I knew it would be great fun if we managed to pull it off, but I waited until the very last minute to begin buying our supplies and packing our things, just in case.

fullsizeoutput_5ceeAnd miracle of miracles, it all worked out.  The house had a gorgeous view of the lake and plenty of room for everyone, and the weather was great. We found time to relax and unwind, while some of us golfed, fished, visited a nearby winery, made crafts, went horseback riding, played games, or went for walks in the woods.  The lake was warm enough to try the paddle boards and I even managed to go kayaking without falling into the water (another miracle).

All in all, we had a wonderful time and it’s a weekend I won’t soon forget.  Finally being able to “get away” for a while was great, and spending quality time with the people I love was even better.  But perhaps the greatest gift of all was realizing that, even in these crazy and uncertain times, sometimes the things we look forward to really do happen.  And knowing that gives me all the hope I need.

Worth Waiting For

When our grandson was born two years ago, my husband and I were at the hospital and were able to both see and hold him within hours of his birth.  In the weeks that followed, I often stopped by my daughter’s house to help out so she and her husband could run an errand or take a much-needed nap.  I quickly learned just how strong the bond between a grandparent and grandchild can be, and what a gift that relationship was.

So when I heard that happy news that my son and daughter-in-law were expecting a child in June, I believed that I knew exactly what to expect. I thought that I’d get to meet my new granddaughter at the hospital, and had already told her parents that I’d be more than happy to help out when they brought their new baby home.  Truth be told, I was really looking forward to it.

But then a sneaky little virus wormed it’s way into our lives, and I knew that I wouldn’t be meeting our new granddaughter at the hospital.   When we got the call that she was coming six weeks early, all we could do was pray for a safe delivery and a healthy baby.  She spent her first two weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, and when she finally came home, we counted ourselves lucky to see her for the first time outside and from a distance.

The weeks went by and she grew bigger and stronger, and our son and daughter-in-law were very good about letting us visit whenever we asked, even allowing us to hold her.  But something still felt just a little bit “off.”  I loved my new granddaughter, but I didn’t feel as if I actually knew her.  The fact that she was a preemie, born during a pandemic, created some barriers, at least in my mind.  And while I knew it was for the best, it still made me sad.

y5kJkKr%RmG1zaP4cziDcgThat all changed last Saturday, when I had the privilege of babysitting for her for the day.  It was my first time alone with her, and the first time caring for her.  You learn something about a baby when you rock her to sleep, feed her, change her diaper, and sing a silly song to keep her entertained.  And when she (almost) smiles at you, and you feel the unmistakable bond between a grandparent and a grandchild, your heart just sings.  This was exactly what I had been longing for, I finally realized.  I wanted the chance to really know my granddaughter, and to connect with her.

Sometimes we just need to be patient in this life, especially when we’re living through such unsettled times.  I may have had to wait until it was safe, but the time did come when I was able to interact with my granddaughter in all the ways I had envisioned when I first heard my daughter-in-law was pregnant.  And you know what?  She was absolutely worth the wait.

Making Do

Like so many things this year, the big party we were planning to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday was cancelled.  Turning ninety is sort of a big deal, so we had hoped to rent a venue and invite extended family and all of Mom’s friends to stop by for cake, drinks and snacks.  Initially, Mom had told us there was no need to make such a fuss, but as the lock-down wore on and we had to cancel family gathering after family gathering, she began to really look forward to her big party.  It was going to be her chance to finally see everyone again, altogether in the same place.

When it became apparent that the virus wasn’t going to cooperate with our original plans, we told Mom that we were going to have to put off the big party for a while longer, but that we would have a small dinner gathering for our immediate family instead.  Since some of our immediate family lives out-of-state, my sister volunteered to host it in her yard so we could all stay outside and socially distance.  Everything was fine until we saw the weather forecast for the day of the party:  98 degrees with a heat index of  at least 105.  We waited as long as possible, hoping that the forecast would change, but it didn’t.  And since there is no way it would be safe for Mom to be out in that kind of heat for any length of time, we had to cancel again.

My Mom told us she understood, and I knew that she did.  But I also knew how deeply disappointed she was, and I didn’t blame her one bit.  So my husband and I talked it over and came up with an alternative plan:  we would have Mom over to our yard early in the morning for breakfast and include only our kids and grandchildren.  It wasn’t anywhere close to the celebration we had promised her, but it was the best we could do in the circumstances.  I only hoped it would be enough.

IMG_6723And you know what?  It was enough.  We loaded the patio table with breakfast food and drinks, hooked up some fans to keep it as cool as possible, and filled the wading pool for our grandson to play in.  Our newborn granddaughter even joined us outside for a little while before going into back into air-conditioned house for her morning nap.  Mom opened her gifts, we all enjoyed each other’s company, and we finished before the temperature became unbearably hot.

fullsizeoutput_5bb8Someday, we will throw Mom the big birthday celebration we had originally planned, even if it ends up being for her 91st birthday instead.  But I’m so glad that we had our small get-together in honor of her 90th birthday, and that Mom got to celebrate with at least some of her family.  In these times when so many plans have been cancelled, I think it’s important to be as flexible as we possibly can and to adapt our plans to fit the circumstances.  As my grandmother used to tell me, “Sometimes it’s best to just make do with what you have, and be grateful for it.”  Wise words for sure….