Simple Pleasures

When I was a child, one of my favorite outings was a trip to the local zoo.  Sometimes we went as a family, but most often we went with neighborhood friends, all piled into my mother’s car.  The adults would sit in the front seat,  with the other moms holding their babies on their laps, and the rest of us kids would squeeze into the back seat.  If we couldn’t all fit, we’d make the smaller ones sit on the floor.  (This was in the days before seat belts and car seats.)   Once we arrived at the zoo, we’d have a marvelous time running around and seeing all the exotic animals, riding the zoo train, and when our moms weren’t looking, fishing coins out of the fountains to be used at the nearby concession stands.

Later, when I had my own kids, I loved taking them to the zoo as well.  It was fun to watch them enjoy the same things I had loved so much as a child, and to take them for a ride on the very same zoo train.  The zoo has changed and improved in many ways over the years, and thankfully provides a much more natural habitat for its animals these days, but a visit there is still a little trip down memory lane.

Now that my children are grown, I was looking forward to taking my two-year old grandson to the zoo this summer.    Sadly, the zoo had to close temporarily when the pandemic struck and when it did open back up, there were many new restrictions in place.  Reservations were required, masks must be worn, and many attractions remained closed.  I wasn’t sure it was worth the bother, and decided my plans to take my grandson to the zoo were yet another casualty of the Covid virus.

But when my daughter told me she’d made reservations for us to take my grandson to the zoo, I agreed to go.  We came prepared with our masks, a wagon to pull my grandson around in when he was tired of walking, and plenty of cold drinks to keep us hydrated.  While we didn’t have a typical zoo experience,  I can honestly say it was still an enjoyable one.

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We saw plenty of animals, (my grandson liked the elephants the best) and, of course, rode the zoo train just as I had all those years ago.  It was fun to see a two-year old get so excited when he saw his favorite animals and enjoy the train ride so much.  When it was over, I thanked my daughter for taking the initiative to plan the outing, knowing that if she hadn’t, I would have missed out on a very special experience.

And the next time I think that trying to do something I normally enjoy is just too much trouble these days, I’m going to remember that trip to the zoo.  Just because I can’t do many things as I normally would, doesn’t mean I can’t do them at all.  I can still invite friends over, we just sit outside and keep our distance.  I can still enjoy food from my favorite restaurants, I just eat it on their patio or get carry-out.  I may not be able to browse the library, but I can order the books I want and pick them up curbside.

Life is certainly different now, and sometimes it’s hard not to be discouraged.  But I think if we’re willing to be flexible and a little determined, we’ll find that there are still plenty of simple pleasures just waiting to be enjoyed.

The Company You Keep

No doubt about it, 2020 hasn’t exactly turned out to be a banner year.  Aside from the birth of our new granddaughter (which was a wonderful gift), it has mostly been a series of hardships that had to be both accepted and endured.  From learning that our dog tested positive for heart worm in February, to the arrival of the Covid virus in Spring and the subsequent lock-downs which resulted in the cancellation of every single event and gathering we had been looking forward to, to the worry of our granddaughter’s premature birth, followed closely by my husband’s cancer diagnosis, I feel as if I’ve hardly had a chance to draw a breath, much less process it all.

But like everyone else whose world has been turn upside down in the past few months, I don’t really have a choice other than to do my best to cope with this new reality.  And so I do what I can to adapt and learn new coping strategies.  It helps to do the small things that cheer me up, like buying fresh flowers for our house or making sure I always have a stack of new books to read when I can find the time.  I’ve learned the importance of self-care, and am getting much better at saying “no” to obligations that  threaten to overwhelm me.  If nothing else, I’ve  come to accept my limitations, and that’s a good thing.

I’ve also discovered the importance of discernment.  There are days when I take a break from the news, knowing that all the craziness and conflict will still be there when I actually feel strong enough to hear it.  I hit the “unfollow” button on Facebook in order to keep my newsfeed free from the petty bickering and tribal chest-thumping that many feel obligated to post on a daily basis.  Sometimes I let my phone go directly to voice mail, particularly when it rings just as I am sitting down to a hot meal or settling into a comfortable chair with a good book.   It took a while, but I’ve finally learned not to feel guilty about that.

More importantly, I’ve learned to be a bit more particular about the people I talk to on a regular basis.  I’ve always believed in accepting others for exactly who they are, and that is still the case.  But now that I find myself living almost constantly on the fine line between coping and feeling completely overwhelmed, I realize that I need to spend most of my time only with those who have the ability to cheer me up and keep me hopeful. One good thing about hard times is that you discover some of the people you know are really, really, good at being supportive.  They’re the ones who listen to you without judgement, who assure you that things really will get better, and who know how to make you laugh when all you thought you could do was cry.

IMG_6698I still love all my friends and family, and value my relationship with each and every one of them.  But right now, in this particular situation, I’m gravitating toward those who are helping me cope.  And that’s okay, I think.  If nothing else, they’re showing me exactly what I need to do when it’s my turn to “pay it forward” and help someone else who is in need.  Because the one thing I know about dealing with hardships is that it’s so much easier when you don’t have to face them alone.

Changing Times

Coping with change has never been my strong point, which could explain why I’m feeling a bit disoriented these days.  It seems that the very second I adjust to one new “normal,” everything shifts and then I have to adjust all over again.  In my weaker moments, I think that all I want to do is go to sleep and not wake up until this whole mess is over.  Thankfully, those moments are way outnumbered by the times I realize that even though my life is certainly different, it isn’t necessarily bad.

Becoming the primary care-giver for my grandson was a huge shift for me, and not just because he shows up at our door early in the morning, all smiles and boundless energy at a time when I’m just staggering around, still half asleep.  Babysitting my grandson has reminded me of what it means to live in the moment, because that’s the only way that two-year olds know how to live.  It’s given me the chance to enjoy the company of a toddler when I’ve lived long enough to know not to sweat the small stuff, and to realize what a gift it is to be able to spend so much time with a little person that I love so much.

fullsizeoutput_5a0dIf someone gave me the choice, I would never have chosen to add a new granddaughter to our family in the middle of a pandemic, (especially since  she arrived six weeks early) but things worked out just fine.  She’s proven to be a real fighter, spending only two weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit before she was able to come home.  We had to meet her for the first time outside, wearing masks and at a distance, but it was still a moment of pure joy.  Trust me, few things can make your heart quite so happy as seeing your son cradling his new baby daughter.  (She’s not quite as small as she looks in this picture– it’s an odd camera angle and my son has big hands.)

I started this blog over five years ago, and the most I hoped for was that I’d accumulate about one-hundred followers. Sometime in the craziness of the last few weeks, I’ve surpassed the 5,000 followers mark.  I’ve been blogging long enough to know that blogging stats don’t mean much, but that still feels like a milestone, no matter how inaccurate it may be.  Especially since as of June 1, Word Press is changing the system I use to write and edit my posts, which means I have no idea if I’ll be able to figure out how to continue this blog or not.

So if my next blog post doesn’t appear on schedule, or if the format looks decidedly odd, please know that I’m trying my best to learn a new system and to keep my blog going.  I’m not what you would call “tech savvy” and it always takes me a while to learn new things.  But I’m optimistic that I’ll figure it all out eventually, and believe that this will simply be yet another new thing to get used to.  If the past couple of months have taught me nothing else, it’s that I’m far more adaptable and much stronger than I ever would have believed.  And even more importantly, that change isn’t always such a bad thing.

A Change of Plan

I may be the sort of person who likes to plan for the future, but that doesn’t mean things always turn out quite the way I had planned.  My Spring calendar had been filled with activities that all ended up being cancelled, and I was also supposed to help host a small baby shower for my daughter-in-law who was due in late June with our first granddaughter. Unfortunately, we had to reschedule it twice due to the shelter-at-home restrictions being extended much longer than we had anticipated.

Finally, we decided that the wisest thing to do was simply schedule a “drive-by shower.”  We would decorate the front porch, have the mother-to-be sit there in a comfy chair, and people could drop off their gifts at the curb and then watch while she opened them.  We even ordered individually-wrapped, decorated cookies from a local bakery to give out as favors.  It seemed like an excellent plan for following the restrictions on gatherings and still managing to have a meaningful shower for the mom-to-be.

fullsizeoutput_59ebBut like so many things this Spring, the shower didn’t go exactly as planned.  We still had it, complete with balloons and cookies.  But my daughter-in-law couldn’t attend, because she was in the hospital with her newborn baby girl.  Our granddaughter surprised us all by making her entrance into this world six weeks early.

Both mother and daughter are doing well, and we couldn’t be more thrilled at this addition to our family.  I’m not going to lie, when I first heard that the baby was going to come so early, I was very worried and found it difficult to think of anything else.  I wanted my granddaughter to be okay, and I wanted my son and daughter-in-law to be spared from the anxiety that comes with an early birth.  I can’t tell you the relief we felt when we learned the baby had arrived safely and that our daughter-in-law was doing well.

Sometimes I think I’ll scream if I hear one more television commercial using the words “we are living in uncertain times”…..seriously, is there a single person on this earth who doesn’t know that?  But as tired as I am of hearing it, it’s the truth.  We are living in uncertain times, and like all challenging situations, it brings out both the best and the worst in people.

Last weekend, our family dealt with a very personal “uncertain time,” and I’m happy to say that we saw only the best of everyone.  I saw my son and daughter-in-law face a scary situation with courage and strength, and know that they received excellent medical care in a time when hospitals are truly hurting.  Friends and family continually reached out to us with reassuring messages and prayers.  The stories of so many other babies born prematurely who turned out just fine were particularly comforting, because it gave us so much hope.  So many people offered us “their best” and that helped us more than I can ever say.

So as these “uncertain times” that we live in stretch on, I hope I’ll remember what I’ve learned in these past few days.  Which is just how important it is to offer a sympathetic ear, or to offer a word of hope and encouragement as we all struggle to cope and find our way forward.  It may seem like a small thing to do, but trust me, sometimes it can make all the difference in the world.

A Sound Investment

GfmVigVWRjm+IR38uLJhMgEver since his daycare closed, I’ve been spending four days a week caring for my two-year old grandson.  It’s been a rewarding experience in many ways, and also an exhausting one.  I’ve learned a lot in the past seven weeks, including the fact that I’m not as young as I used to be.  I used to complain that I look so much older than I actually feel, but no more.  Nowadays I look in the mirror and see the wrinkles and sags and think, “Yep.  That’s about right.”

I’ve learned to limit the amount of time my grandson spends in front of the television set, and not just because every child expert warns against too much screen time for toddlers.  Honestly, there are just so many shows I can watch before I overdose on cute little characters with enormous eyes and amazing gadgets, busy going on missions and singing about whatever lesson they learned in this episode.   Limiting screen time may be good for his development, but it’s absolutely necessary for my sanity.

The most helpful thing babysitting my grandson has taught me is how to deal with annoying people.  Whenever I  won’t let him do something he wants to do (like playing catch with my crystal candy dish), he tells me, “Walk away, Grandma!”  I was taken aback the first time he said it, but then I realized what a handy saying it actually is.  Whenever someone is bothering me, I can just tell them, “Walk away!”  Who knew it was that simple?

But the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that all the time and effort that goes into raising a child is absolutely worth it.  Because eventually, those children grow up to become adults and those adult sons and daughters can enrich your life in more ways than you can ever imagine.  The child you once taught how to eat with a fork and spoon can become the same person who teaches you how to fix a problem with your computer.  The child whose “boo-boos” you kissed and bandaged can someday be the person who soothes your pain and calms your fears.

This morning I was a little overwhelmed with all the craziness that is going on in the world, and a bit depressed by how many people seem to be using this disaster as a chance to further their own agendas and lash out at the people they never liked in the first place.  My fears and frustrations came out in texts to my daughter, and then I immediately felt guilty for “dumping” on her.  I’m the mom, after all.  So I’m supposed to be the strong one, right?

But not this time.  This time, my daughter was the strong and encouraging one, pointing out the need to limit my exposure to the negativity and to pay attention to the positive things these changes have brought about.  And it helped, enormously.  Just as it helps when I talk to my son, who has such a clear-headed and confident way of looking at things that I sometimes wonder if we’re actually related, because he certainly didn’t get that from me.

So yeah, I’m pretty tired these days and no longer believe that I’m particularly young, but I’m okay with that.  Like all children everywhere, my grandson is absolutely worth all the time and effort that we can give him.  And someday, when he grows up to become an adult with his own unique gifts, I can only hope I’ll be around to share in them.

Stepping Up

When I first heard about social distancing and rumors of an impending “shelter at home” order, I started planning how I’d spend my extra leisure time at home.  I wanted to paint our guest bedroom, and clean out the storage area of our basement since all the shelves are, once again, completely full.  (I honestly believe that stuff knows how to reproduce, because no matter how many times we clean out our storage shelves, they fill right back up with junk I have no memory of ever bringing home.)  Knowing that I’d need something to keep my spirits up, I also planned to read tons of books, and even bought a jigsaw puzzle because I’ve always found it soothing to work on a puzzle.  Unfortunately, the walls are still unpainted, the storage shelves are still full of mysterious junk, and the jigsaw puzzle is still in it’s box, unopened.

TH7p4prHTY2Lj2gFkx6NfAMy daughter and son-in-law were lucky to keep their jobs and be able to work from home.  But since his daycare closed, I’ve been spending my days caring for my two-year old grandson.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to do it.  I love being with him and I know that in times like these, families have to support each other any way they can.  I’m just saying that there was a reason I had my own children over thirty years ago, when I had much more energy and stamina.

I knew my life was going to change drastically when our area went into “shelter at home” mode, I just misjudged exactly how it was going to change.  And that made me realize that even though all of us who aren’t essential workers are basically in the same boat, these restrictions don’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone.  I see so many postings on social media about how to fill our idle hours, and I can’t even begin to relate to that.  I’m busier now that I’ve been in a long time, and I haven’t been this tired at the end of the day since my own kids were toddlers.

It’s only natural to assume that the way  these life-saving changes affect us is the same way they affect others, but that’s not true.  For some of us, it’s nothing more than a minor inconvenience, but for others, this can mean financial disaster because they’ve been laid-off, or heartbreak as they watch the business they put all their time and money into slowly die. Some of us almost welcome the break from our normally hectic lives, but for those who suffer from anxiety and depression, being told to self-isolate for a long period of time is devastating.  And they don’t need anyone telling them that this “isn’t so bad.”

Obviously, we all need to do everything we can to slow down the spread of this horrible virus.  But I think we need to remember that these necessary social isolation measures and mandatory “shelter at home” orders are much harder on some people than others, and so we need to be careful not to tell others how they should feel about it.  And we need to let them tell us their own truth, without judging them, even if we can’t really relate to what they’re saying.

My truth is that I’m feeling everyone of my sixty-one years these days, and I hate dire speculations about how this pandemic is going to play out because they rob me of my ability to cope.  But when I’m snuggling with my grandson while he drifts off to sleep, I also feel incredibly lucky for this temporary opportunity to be such a big part of his life and to witness first-hand how quickly he’s growing and learning new things.   Which means that my days may not be idle, but they are still, in their own way, very blessed indeed.

Puppy Love

When my first child was born, I remember being surprised by how I instantly fell in love with her.  From the very second the doctor put my daughter in my arms, I was completely and totally in love.  The same thing happened two years later when I had my son, and then again many years later when I first laid eyes on my newborn grandson.  It surprised me because that’s not how I usually operate.  I may decide that I like someone very quickly, but it usually takes a while to actually fall in love.   For me, falling in love is a process that has to unfold in its own good time.

That was certainly the case with Finn, the dog we adopted from the animal shelter last February.  When I first saw him sitting in his run, looking at me with friendly interest, I was immediately attracted.  After spending some time with him at the shelter where he had to stay until he was neutered, I grew to like him very much.  And when we first brought him home, I liked him even more.  But I didn’t really love him, and he didn’t really feel like “my” dog.

It didn’t particularly worry me, because I know there’s always an adjustment period when we bring a new dog into our homes and that it takes time for us to get to know one another.  We learned that Finn is a sweet soul who is very affectionate, energetic and just a little bit more stubborn that we’d prefer.  (In Finn’s opinion, just because I’ve told him “no” forty-nine times when he tries to join me on the couch is no reason not to try for the fiftieth time.  He is the eternal optimist.)

Finn’s persistence can be annoying, especially on the days when I’m babysitting my grandson and Finn insists on trying to share his toys and lick his face.  I know that Finn would never intentionally hurt my grandson, but his attentions are sometimes overwhelming for a toddler and so I have to separate them a lot.  And remind my grandson that Finn’s toys are not for children and remind Finn that my grandson’s toys are not for dogs.  Over and over.  Those are the times when I wonder just exactly why I selected a young terrier as our next family dog, rather than say, a fourteen-year old Basset Hound.

But honestly, it doesn’t matter why I picked out Finn, or how many annoying habits he happens to have.  Because sometime in the past few months, it happened.  I fell in love with Finn and his pushy little self.  I still get annoyed with him from time to time, but he has definitely wormed his way into my heart and that’s where he’ll stay for the rest of his life.  He’s my dog now, absolutely and completely.

As an animal shelter volunteer, I see so many dogs that are returned by their new owners just a few days after their adoption.  I’m sure a few of those people have legitimate reasons for doing that, but I firmly believe that most of them are making a big mistake.  “Just give it time,” I want to tell them.  Because none of us are perfect, whether we walk on two legs or four paws.  And all worthwhile relationships require a certain amount of effort and patience.

But if you trust and believe, the love will come…..

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Real Time

Sometimes it’s hard to really stay in touch with the people we love, even if we see them on a regular basis.  I know my husband and I are very fortunate to have our adult son and daughter (along with their spouses and our grandson) living in the same town as we do, close enough that we can easily visit each other’s homes.  But we all lead very busy lives, and so it can still be difficult to find the time to gather everyone together for a family meal, or even to have the kind of real conversations that allow us to keep up with each other’s true thoughts and feelings.

Like so many people, we often rely on the the convenience of text messaging to communicate with each other.  And while texts certainly have the advantage of being quick and easy, they aren’t at all the same thing as a face-to-face conversation.  Texts don’t allow us to hear someone’s tone of voice, or to read their expression and body language.  The truth is that we all need the chance to spend “quality time” now and then with the people who are most important to us.

Which is why I was so very grateful for the chance to spend a week in Florida recently, sharing a house with all seven members of my immediate family.  Living together for a week without the usual distractions and demands on our time gave us the opportunity to relax and enjoy each other’s company in exactly the way I had hoped.

u4gYQgJ8TEei69SASvgWe shared meals together, played games, swam in the pool, worked a puzzle, watched some beautiful sunsets, laughed, and just talked about whatever happened to be on our minds.  Living with my grandson for a week reminded me of just how much work, and just how much fun, caring for a toddler can be.  It was great to witness my daughter and son-in-law’s impressive parenting skills, and to watch my grandson grow even closer to my son and daughter-in-law.

There’s no such thing as a perfect vacation, and this one was no exception.  The temperatures and humidity were both too high to really enjoy being outside early in the week, and the house wasn’t as close to the beach as we had hoped.  I’ll also spare you the details of where we found the giant dead roach. (You’re welcome.)

fullsizeoutput_5564But those were just minor glitches that didn’t matter at all.  We still had a wonderful week together.  Our recent vacation gave us the perfect chance to grow just a little bit closer as a family, and to truly strengthen the bonds that hold us all together.  And in that sense, it was all I possibly could have asked for, and more.

No Guarantees

I just got back from a follow-up visit with the endodontist who did a minor surgical procedure on one of my upper molars.   I’d been dreading the visit, because with the way my luck has been running lately, I figured the news wasn’t going to be good.  I fully expected her to say something along the lines of,  “The surgery didn’t work, so that tooth needs to be pulled.  Plus you need two more root canals, five new crowns and possibly another oral surgery just to be safe.  This is going to be expensive, so we’re going to need your debit card and PIN number so we can just access your bank account directly.”

Luckily, she didn’t say anything of the kind.  Instead, she told me that the tooth seems to be healing nicely, and that occasional discomfort I feel around it is most likely caused by scar tissue and the pressure from my sinuses. (Which makes sense, since I’ve just gotten over a particularly nasty cold.)  Her verdict may not have been what I was expecting, but it did make me very happy and relieved.

Sometimes I wish I lived in a world where things were more predictable.  I wish that I could guarantee that my life would go well if I just did all the right things:  working hard, obeying the rules, being kind to other people, etc.  I honestly think that I could even handle the bad stuff so much better if I could just see it coming and brace myself for it, just a little bit.

But the world doesn’t work that way.  No matter what we do, only a portion of our lives will ever be predictable.  Life is a journey full of unexpected twists and turns, with many surprises along the way.  And not all of them are good.

A couple of weeks ago, I agreed to foster one of the dogs from the animal shelter where I volunteer.  Stanley was suffering from kennel cough, and my plan was to adopt him as soon as he was healed and the shelter made him available for adoption.  He lived with us for over a week, gradually recovering his health and his spirits.  My husband and I began to think of him as “our” dog and we were sure it was just a matter of time before we would be able to officially adopt him.

But we were wrong.  Stanley began displaying some serious resource guarding, which can be a dangerous behavior in any home, but it’s especially a problem in a home that has small children in it.  We have a ten-month old grandson who is just beginning to be mobile, and he’s a fast little guy.  He’s also years away from being old enough to understand that when a dog growls, it’s time to back away slowly.  As much as we wanted to keep Stanley, we absolutely weren’t willing to put our grandson at risk.  And so we made the very hard decision to take Stanley back to the shelter.

Sometimes things don’t go the way we planned at all, and sometimes that hurts.  A lot.  All we can do is move forward, confident in the knowledge that not all of the surprises in store for us will be bad ones, and remembering that sometimes things turn out much better than we had dared to hope.  Life is unpredictable, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Family Vacation

I still remember the first time my husband and I took a beach vacation together.  I was pregnant with my daughter, and we wanted to go on a final trip as a couple before we started our family.   We flew to Sanibel Island in Florida, where we rented a beachfront condo and spent the week relaxing in the sun and basically falling in love with Sanibel.  In the years to come, we returned to Florida as often as we could, bringing our children with us.  I honestly think that one of the reasons we like Florida so much is simply because we have so many happy memories of our family vacations there.

IMG_0022Last week, my husband and I spent yet another week in Florida, sharing a vacation home on Marco Island with my daughter, son-in-law and our baby grandson.  We walked the nearby beach, swam in the pool and even went on a sight-seeing cruise.  It was our first  family vacation that included our grandson, which made it even more fun and special.  Especially when I walked the beach with him and thought of all the time that had passed since I had walked a Florida beach when I was pregnant with his mother.

Sometimes I have a hard time believing that I am actually a grandmother now.  It doesn’t seem so very long ago when I was a young mother myself, and when a family vacation entailed a whole lot of planning and preparation.  I remember making “busy bags” to keep the kids occupied on the long car rides and spending so much time making sure their suitcases were properly packed that I usually forgot stuff I wanted to put in my own suitcase.   And what I forgot was usually something that I really needed, like a swimsuit.  Or underwear.  Vacations back then were fun, but they were also a lot of work.

And yet here I am, a sixty-year old grandmother whose own two “kids” are all grown up now, one of them with a baby of her own.  And I’m gradually getting used to this new season of my life, and realizing that it brings its own gifts.  It truly was a joy to have our grandson along on this trip, and to be in the position of simply helping as his parents took good care of him.

IMG_4094If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to enjoy more vacations with my children and their families, and I look forward to that possibility.  But even if that doesn’t happen, even if this is our last family trip to Florida, I’ll be content.  Because I already have enough good memories to last a lifetime.