Let It Begin With Me

I am, by nature, a neat and tidy person.  I may not have coined the expression, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” but I live by it.  I am happiest when my house is clean and organized, and have found that too much dirt and clutter actually makes me vaguely uneasy.  As long as I’m being totally honest, I’ll also admit that when I’m anxious and unhappy, I sometimes find that cleaning my house actually makes me feel better.

I read somewhere that people who like to clean are attempting to impose order on a messy and unpredictable world, and I think that might be true.  (It would certainly explain why I find housecleaning to be  therapeutic.)  But the problem is that the world we live in is often messy, chaotic and sometimes downright dangerous, and there’s not a thing I can do to “clean it up,” at least on any significant scale.

I may be one of the few people who responds to troubles with a vacuum in one hand and dust cloth in the other, but I do think that trying to impose some kind of order on the world is common.  Many do it with social media posts, pointing out the error of other people’s ways in a vain attempt to convince them to think and behave in a way they find acceptable.  And let’s face it, politics is all about trying to elect someone who shares our values, in the hopes that the candidate will be elected and then impose our values on everyone else.  One way or another, we’re all trying to “clean up” the world, and often with the best of intentions.

But the truth is that the only person we can truly control is ourselves.   Yes, we can do our part to make the world a better place by speaking our truth, standing up to oppression, helping those who need it, and most of all, being kind and compassionate to everyone who crosses our path.  But we don’t really get to choose what other people think, say, or do.    And since none of us is perfect, that’s probably a good thing.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is this:  I need to learn to discern between the things I can control and the things I can’t, and I need to pay a whole lot more attention to the things I can.  I may not be able to make the world a peaceful place, but I can make sure I embrace peace in my own life by being as tolerant, honest, and forgiving as I can possibly be.  I can’t force others to own up to their mistakes and bad choices, but I can certainly own up to mine.  In short, all I can do is try, in my limited and flawed way, to live up to the values I really do believe in…..and then let go of all the angst, worry and stress that comes when I focus too much on the things that I can’t control.

buWO0NdZQV2vtwLyj31MrgIt’s a process for sure, and I doubt that I’ll be giving my vacuum cleaner a rest anytime soon.  But if I really want 2021 to be a better year, the very best way I can start is by cleaning up my own act.

Silver Linings

My usual New Year’s post would include a list of all that has happened in the year before, both the good and the bad.  But I’m thinking that no one wants to read a list of all that went wrong in 2020, because let’s face it:  living through 2020 has been depressing enough and there’s no need to dwell on it.  And while the silver linings of this past year were rare, they were also very real, and I’d much prefer to talk about those.

Hard times teach us so much about ourselves and the society in which we live.  And while I saw far too many people (including politicians in both political parties) using this pandemic as an excuse to advance their own agendas, I also saw so many people go out of their way to help others in need.  I was in awe of the many ways people found to reach out to others in a time of unprecedented restrictions on human interaction, and know that personally, I am so very grateful for all those who took the time to show they cared just when I needed their support the most.  If nothing else, 2020 taught us that the human spirit is far stronger than any virus, and that nothing can stifle love, kindness, and compassion.

ncc8I2OwR%2G1yDUq6wYXgAs much as I hate all the devastation that this pandemic has wrought, I have to admit that it has taught me some valuable lessons.  There was a time when I seriously believed I was too old to take care of a young child anymore, and even struggled with understanding my role as a grandparent.  But then my grandson’s daycare closed for eleven weeks and I nervously stepped to the plate to offer my services as primary care-giver.  And it was wonderful!  I was more tired than I had been in years, but I also became much closer to my grandson than I ever would have been under normal circumstances.

Not being able to eat out as much as we had before reminded me that I like to cook, and that some meals really do taste best when they come out of my own kitchen.  The effort that it takes to be able to see loved ones forced me to realize that close relationships really are worth the effort, and should never be taken for granted.  Even the empty grocery shelves that I found so troubling early in this pandemic had a lesson to offer, as I will never again just assume that I will be able to buy what I need, exactly when I need it.  Sometimes we don’t recognize all the gifts in our lives until they are taken away, even temporarily.

IMG_0204While I would have preferred that 2020 had gone differently, for me and for everyone else in the world, it wasn’t entirely a wash-out of a year, and not just because this was the year I gained a precious granddaughter.  I learned a lot in the past twelve months, and I truly believe that some of those lessons will help me be a better person in the years to come.  I’ve learned to have more faith in myself and in the people around me, to remember that the best way to deal with adversity is with compassion and patience, and most of all, to never lose hope for a better future.  Happy New Year, everyone!

This Christmas

ddVckuVpRGyx7hp7gz2TZwEven though I love Christmas, there’s always something about December that makes me feel a little sad.  The shorter days and longer nights we experience this time of year don’t help, but the biggest problem is probably the way I tend to build Christmas up in my head and the fact that the reality of Christmas rarely lives up to my expectations.  (I guess Chuck Griswold and I have something in common besides our love for over-the-top holiday lighting.)

I tend to anticipate the perfect Christmas with a huge assortment of delicious cookies and other fabulous food, a perfectly-decorated tree surrounded by a pile of presents that are “just right” for the person who is going to open them, and most of all, lots of fun and relaxing time with my friends and family.  And while the Christmas I get is always pretty darned good, there are also lots of little snags along the way:  burnt cookies, the arrival of my annual Christmas cold, trying to coordinate a schedule for our get-togethers that works for everyone, and discovering that the perfect present I wanted to buy for someone special is on back-order until Spring.

And that’s the reality of a normal Christmas.  This year, we’ll be celebrating a Covid Christmas, which means I won’t be able to attend my beloved Christmas Eve candlelight service, or host the usual big gatherings of my friends and family.  My in-person Christmas shopping has been minimal, and the delivery of the gifts I ordered online has been spotty, to say the least.  (We opened one box to find only the shredded packaging of the gift we had ordered.  Someone is going to be on Santa’s naughty list for that one!)  All of which is to say that this year, it’s been a little harder than usual to maintain my Christmas cheer.

And yet….Christmas is still my favorite holiday and I have no intention of giving it a miss this year.  Yes, we are still struggling with a pandemic that has dragged on far too long, and we are so very tired of it.  The days are short and cold, and Winter is just beginning.  Celebrating the holiday in many of my favorite ways is out of the question, sadly.  But none of that has managed to stop Christmas from coming, and whether or not I enjoy this Christmas is a decision that is mine alone to make.

IMG_7285So I’m choosing to enjoy it.  I’m choosing to give the people I love my imperfect gifts, and just have those gift receipts handy if they need to exchange them.  I’m choosing to spend my dark December evenings basking in the glow of my Christmas tree, or when it’s warm enough, sitting outside enjoying the colored lights we strung around our patio.  I’m baking extra cookies this year and plan to leave them on the porches of the neighbors and friends I can’t invite over.  I’ve discovered that a local church is having an outside (socially distanced and masked) Christmas Eve candlelight service that I might attend if I decide to brave the predicted cold temperatures.  And if not, there are plenty of services I can view online.

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it.  And to absolutely everyone:  wishing you much joy, peace and happiness, now and in the year ahead.

Changes in Attitude

JXHyluo%SGWcmbt7MgVpvgTraditions have always been a big part of my holiday celebrations.  We always use our good china for the meals at Easter and Thanksgiving, my Christmas tree is lit with the old-fashioned bulbs of my childhood, and champagne must be served on New Year’s Eve.  I go a little overboard when decorating my house at Christmas, but the actual process goes quickly because I put the exact same decorations in the exact same place every year.

I suppose I like my holiday traditions so much because they remind me of  the happy celebrations of years past.  Carrying on traditions of my childhood might also be a way of honoring family members who have passed.  (This could be why it was years before I was able to ignore my father’s strict rules about decorating a Christmas tree:  smallest ornaments on the top, biggest ornaments on the bottom, a white light bulb at the top of the tree, and if icicles are used, only one strand may be placed on each branch.  I felt like true rebel the first time I hung a large ornament near the top of the tree and dared to put three strands of icicles on an especially bare branch.)

But for whatever reason, I’ve always held on tightly to my holiday traditions, and only changed them when I had to in order to accommodate the changes in my growing family.  But then the year 2020 happened, and I decided that it’s rather pointless to try to hold on to traditions in a year when the world has been basically turned upside down.

So this year, we had our family dinner with just our kids on the night before Thanksgiving, and my mother joined my sister and her husband for their own separate dinner.  My husband and I spent Thanksgiving day putting up our Christmas tree and hanging our outdoor lights, adding a new string of Christmas lights around our patio. While I have absolutely no idea how we’ll be celebrating Christmas this year, I do know it will be very different from years past.

And you know what?  I’m mostly okay with it.  Sure, I worry about my 90-year old mother’s emotional health if she has to be alone on Christmas, but I’ll do everything in my power to prevent that.  (Because when you’re 90, “staying apart this year so we can be together next year” has a very hollow ring to it.)   But I’m also learning that different doesn’t always mean worse.  And there’s something kind of liberating about knowing that I can’t keep up with all my traditions this year, because that means that I’m free to think of new ways to celebrate the holidays that work in these strange and trying times.

I’m truly hoping that next year we will be able to celebrate the holidays however we please.  But this year, I’m going to have to rely on a major change of attitude and expectations to get me through the season.  And who knows?  In the midst of all this craziness, I just might just find a new tradition that is worth keeping long after this pandemic is gone.

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.

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….

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 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.

Gratitude

There are times in life when it’s hard not to feel sorry for ourselves, and this is definitely one of them.  We’re grieving for our old way of life, when we could come and go as we pleased,  hang out with friends and family, and being in a large crowd wasn’t dangerous and illegal.  We’re worried that we might get seriously ill, or that someone we love might get sick and or die, and our hearts break for all of those who are grieving a loved one right now or battling this virus themselves.  It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, anxious and depressed, and of course, that is often exactly what we are feeling these days.

But we’re in this for the long haul, and personally, I can’t live in a constant state of worry and fear.  So I try very hard to focus on the things in my life that are still good, right here and now, even in the midst of the chaos.  And I’ve found that once I stop worrying quite so much about what might happen and yearning quite so much for what I once had, I realize that there are still many things in my life that inspire nothing but gratitude.

I’m grateful that I still have my health, and that no one in my family has yet caught this virus.  I know that can change at any time, which is why I’m also incredibly grateful for all the brave souls in the health care field who are risking their own health every time they go to work.   Their dedication and courage will not be forgotten anytime soon.

I’m glad that I’m able to provide childcare for my grandson while his daycare is closed, because few things are better than spending time with a grandchild.  And as anyone who cares for toddlers knows, they are a wonderful distraction from the worries in life, both big and small.

I’m grateful that I have a back yard I can enjoy when I feel the need to get out of my house, especially now that there are signs of Spring everywhere I look.  In the midst of so much loss, it’s reassuring to see the signs of new life in the budding trees and the blooming flowers.  Spring is all about new birth and renewal, and that’s a message we can use right now.

I’m grateful that so far, I’ve been able to get everything I truly need in terms of food and basic supplies.  The empty shelves in the supermarkets do fill back up, and the temporary shortages remind me not to take any of it for granted.  Even in the face of this contagious virus, people are still producing food and medicine, delivering it to the stores, and working at those stores so that the rest of us can have what we need to live.  And immense gratitude is the only possible response.

I’m grateful for the small things that make these days so much easier to bear:  getting lost in a good book, spending the evening playing Yahtzee with my husband, and talking to my mom on the phone every day, especially when she tells me she’s doing just fine.  I’m cooking more than I have in years, so I’m especially grateful that my husband always tells me that what comes out of my kitchen “tastes great,” even those times when I know it doesn’t.

But most of all, I’m grateful for all the wonderful people in my life who take the time to stay in touch because there is no way in the world I would get through the upcoming weeks without their support.  Sharing our worries, offering each other encouragement, helping each other find some way to laugh and be happy, even for a little while, makes all the difference.  So to everyone who is reaching out right now, through phone calls, texts, emails, blogs, or social media….thank you.  Because you are a reminder that together, we really will get through this.  And I couldn’t possibly be more grateful for that.