Little Things

I got a letter from the gas company today, threatening to turn our gas off if we didn’t contact them immediately to schedule a safety inspection for our gas meter.  I had already scheduled the inspection and it was completed three days ago.  According to the inspector, our meter passed.  I don’t know if the inspector failed to turn his report in, or if the gas company sent the letter before he did so, but the upshot was that I called the gas company’s customer service department and was on hold for a long time before getting a recording saying, “All our representatives are busy now, please leave a voice mail and we’ll get back to you soon.”  That was three hours ago, and I’m still waiting.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not a huge problem.  I’m sure it will get sorted out eventually, and even if they do turn our gas off temporarily, we have electric space heaters and I can cook in our electric toaster oven.  But it is annoying and something I’d rather not deal with.

Lately, I’ve found myself getting far too annoyed at “the little things.”  When a neighbor decided to keep her trash cans at the curb next to our driveway, I was really offended, and not just because it’s against the city ordinances.  It bothered me to look out my window and see them there.  I got upset when there was only one checker working in the store on a busy Saturday morning, resulting in a long wait to check out with my groceries.  It seemed that the little things were adding up, and I was reacting with both anger and impatience.

Which meant that it was time for a good old-fashioned “attitude adjustment.”  Yes, life has been difficult for the past two years and continues to be in many ways.  But the reality is that if I can pay enough attention to the little things to become annoyed by them, then I can also pay enough attention to the little things to react in a more positive way.  The trick is simply to pay attention to different little things.

fullsizeoutput_507dRather than look out my window and see ugly trash cans, I can focus on the beautiful daffodils or the lovely purple buds on our young tree.  Instead of being frustrated by how hard it is to schedule family gatherings at holidays, I can be thankful that my son and daughter live close enough that we always get to celebrate the holidays with them and their families.  I can be thankful that my husband and I are able to eat inside our favorite restaurants again, be grateful that today’s storms didn’t cause any damage in our area, and thrilled that one of my favorite shelter dogs was finally adopted.

Yes, the little things do count, and they do have a very real effect on our moods.  But the good news is that the positive little things add up just as quickly as the negative ones, and they produce a much, much better result.  And the choice of which little things we pay attention to is ours……

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.

Nothing Ventured….

When I first started this blog over seven years ago, I was very nervous and had no real idea of what to expect. I wanted to write about the challenges of being “middle-aged” in the hope that others might be able to relate.  I assumed my readers would be friends and family, and possibly a few people who happened to stumble across my blog by accident.  I’d read that posting at least once a day was necessary for successful blogging, but I started with a more manageable schedule of posting once every four days.  I figured that I’d eventually work my way up to the recommended daily blog post.

But as is so often the case, blogging turned out to be something very different from what I had envisioned.  For one thing, I soon realized that not all of my friends and family were actually interested in reading my blog, but that some old classmates, coworkers, casual acquaintances and total strangers were willing to read and occasionally comment on my posts.  I was pleasantly surprised by how encouraging almost all of the comments were, despite my fears of writing on a public forum.  And as time went on, I expanded my blog’s focus beyond the issues of being middle aged and simply began writing about all the things that interest me.

My blogging experience may have turned out very differently from what I expected, but it’s actually been a very good one.  I’ve loved having the chance to connect with wonderful people from all over the world, and being introduced to so many other blogs that I truly enjoy reading.  And while I actually post less often now than I did when I first began (that daily post never did happen), I know I’ve benefited from writing on a regular basis for the past seven years.  Writing is like almost every other skill:  the more I practice it, the more confident I become.

Blogging regularly has also helped me grow, both intellectually (and yes, I know there’s lots of room for improvement there) and emotionally.  It’s impossible to write well about any topic without first figuring out how I really feel about it, and why.  I think that kind of self-examination is good for us, and goes a long way toward helping us discover our true nature.  And I honestly believe that learning to trust our inner voice is a very good thing.

So I’m very glad that I took the risk and started this blog all those years ago.  Like so many other times when I finally found the courage to try something new, I discovered that the rewards were definitely worth the effort.  And since my natural tendency has always been to stick with what is familiar and safe, I make a point of reminding myself now and then that almost everything in my life that I value most is a direct result of trying something new.  As the old saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained….”

Something New

One year, my husband and I went out for dinner on the night after Thanksgiving.  The soup special was called something like “Turkey Medley,” and it was one of the best-tasting soups I’ve ever had.  Somehow, the cook had managed to include almost all of the flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in one soup…the turkey, the dressing and the roasted vegetables….all of it.  Right then and there I decided that the following year, we were going back to that same restaurant on the day after Thanksgiving so I could have that soup again.  And this time, I planned to take extra home with me.  So you can imagine my disappointment a year later when the waiter informed me that the soup special that night was clam chowder.

IMG_1071I think it’s only natural to want to repeat something that we’ve really enjoyed, and sometimes we’re able to do just that.  My husband and I fell in love with Sanibel Island the first time we visited and it’s still one of our very favorite vacation spots.  But if I’m honest, I have to say that our first visit was the best, because we were discovering someplace brand new, and to us at least, quite wonderful.  It’s the same way when I like a movie so much that I go back to the theater to watch it again.  I still like it the second time I see it, but I don’t really enjoy the movie as much as I did the first time.

And this is something I have to remember each year as we move into the holiday season, because  Christmas is a time when I find myself trying, often subconsciously, to relive the happy moments of past Christmas celebrations.  But the truth is, I’m no longer a child so I don’t feel the almost unbearable excitement of waking up on Christmas morning and knowing that there’s a pile of presents for me under our tree.  My son and daughter are also grown up now, so the joy of watching their excitement on Christmas morning is also a thing of the past.  I’ll cherish those special memories forever, but the truth is that they are not going to be repeated.

And that’s okay.  Because if we spend all our time trying to recreate the things we enjoyed in the past, we’ll never be able to appreciate all that the present has to offer.  It’s true that I’ll never again celebrate Christmas as a young child or as the mother of young children, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had in this holiday and in all the ones that will follow.  For the next few years, I’ll enjoy being the grandmother of small children, which has it’s own benefits.  I get to share their excitement and joy, but their own parents have to do most of the work of preparing for the holidays.

My husband and I have been back to the restaurant that served that fabulous soup many times, but it’s never been offered again.  Clearly, it was a one-time experience.  But we have tried other menu items and specials, and many of them were absolutely delicious.  Which just goes to show, I think, that sometimes we have to let go of the past in order to fully appreciate the present…..

Lost and Found

I thought I lost my wedding ring this morning.  I had just finished walking a dog at the animal shelter where I volunteer when I noticed that the ring wasn’t on my finger.  The dog I’d been walking seemed to pride herself on pulling very hard throughout our walk, so it was very possible that it had somehow slipped off my finger while I was clutching my end of the leash.  I searched for my ring diligently, carefully retracing our steps and even doing a thorough, if rather disgusting, search through two trash cans full of used doggie poop bags.  But I didn’t find it.

My wedding ring is a plain gold band that’s not particularly valuable, and not a family heirloom.  But it has obvious sentimental value to me, and I wasn’t happy about the thought of it being lost forever.  A couple of my fellow volunteers suggested renting a metal detector to look for it, and while I thought that was a good idea, I wanted to go home and search my house and car first.  And lo and behold, we found the ring hiding in my jewelry box.  How it got in there I’ll never know, because it’s the one piece of jewelry I always wear.  I never put it in my jewelry box, as far as I can remember.  But it’s a mystery I can live with because it has a happy ending.

I’ll admit that while I was looking for my ring I didn’t really believe I’d find it.  There were so many places where it could have slipped off my finger that I thought the chances of finding it again were very small, even if I used a metal detector.  I had resigned myself to the fact that the ring I’ve worn for decades was well and truly gone, and thought that I just needed to accept that fact.  But it was found, and now it’s back on my finger, where it belongs.

The truth is, sometimes things that we believe are lost forever can be found again.  And as we are starting to cautiously move out of a time when the pandemic dictated so much of our lives, I’m hoping that some of what we lost during the past several months can also be found again.  I’m hoping that we can find the patience and compassion that has been sorely missing as we deal with people whose reactions to the pandemic were not exactly the same as ours.  I’m hoping that we can find our sense of community again, and remember that we really are “all in this together” and that what affects one of us often affects all of us.

45E59CA4-A803-44A6-B235-04E02D8E44EFThere is no doubt that we have been through some very trying times,  and that some of us have faced devastating losses.  It’s easy to believe that most of the good things we took for granted before the pandemic have been lost forever, but I honestly don’t believe that’s true.  There are still so many reasons to be hopeful….we just have to keep looking until we find them.

Ready or Not

Fall has finally arrived, but I’m not ready for it.  I’m not ready yet to say goodbye to Summer, with its long, hot days and warm nights.  I don’t want to pack away all my Summer clothes and exchange my sandals for shoes and socks.  I hate the way the flowers in the pots around my patio are beginning to wilt and wither no matter how much I water them, and the way the daylight is fading just a bit earlier with each passing week.  Yes, I know the calendar says Summer officially ended over a week ago, but in my mind, there should be at least another month of it to go.

Part of the problem is that my husband and I didn’t get to have much of a Summer this year.  He had a bad reaction to surgery in early July, and his extended hospitalization and recovery period meant we had to abandon our plans for a Summer getaway trip.  And it seemed as if by the time my husband was finally feeling well enough to enjoy Summer activities, the season was practically over.  I think it’s hard to move on to a new season when you don’t feel as if you really experienced the old one.

My guess is that a lot of people are feeling that way these days, even though their personal situation isn’t exactly the same as ours.  We’ve been living through some very strange times, mostly due to the horrible pandemic that refuses to go away, and also because of the many natural disasters that have occurred and what feels like more than our usual share of political upheaval.  So many of us have felt the loss of the things that we hold dear about our normal lives, and it’s only natural to have trouble letting go of our expectations and moving forward.

The trouble is, we don’t really have a choice.  Time marches steadily on, usually faster than we would prefer, and there’s not a darn thing we can do about it.  Clinging to our ideas of “what should have been” doesn’t get us anywhere we want to be, and it actually makes it harder to move into the future with any hope or sense of purpose.  The only thing to do is move forward, appreciating what we have and anticipating what is to come.  Because there will always be something to enjoy and treasure if we can just open our eyes and see it.

IMG_4023So I’m dragging out my Fall decorations, placing pumpkins and mums on my front porch, and pretty soon I’ll bake the traditional pumpkin pie that, to me, always signals the beginning of this season.  I know that the leaves on the trees will soon be exploding in beautiful colors and that the shorter days mean cooler nights, which are perfect for enjoying on our patio.  No, I didn’t get the Summer I had hoped for, but who knows?  This Fall might just make up for it.  It’s worth a try, anyway.

Unexpected Gifts

When I first began this blog, I kept to a strict schedule of publishing a new post at least every four days.  I worried that I wasn’t posting often enough, because I’d read that all successful blogs posted something new every single day, but I also knew that daily posting would be too much for me.  Eventually, I settled on my current blogging schedule of posting once a week or so, and that usually seems to work out just fine.

Usually, but not always. Because when it came time to write my most recent post, I found myself coming up with one excuse after another for not actually sitting down at my computer and writing.  I’m not exactly sure what my problem was, although life has been particularly hectic lately and I am easily distracted.  Still, I knew writing requires self discipline and I finally told myself, very firmly, that I was going to write a post on Thursday, come hell or high water.  I had made my plan, and I was going to stick to it, no excuses accepted.

But that didn’t happen.  Thursday flew by with visits from multiple repairmen and delivery services, all of which required some major rearranging of our house and furniture, and a couple of quick trips to the store.  And the evening was even more interesting, when we were hit with an unexpected storm that brought 70-miles per hour winds and heavy rains.  We lost both our power and our internet service, but counted ourselves lucky not to sustain any major property damage. 

By Friday morning our power had come back on but our internet was still out, so writing a blog post wasn’t an option.  But I wouldn’t have had time to write one anyway, because my son’s house and my granddaughter’s daycare center were still without power, and so I spent the day helping care for my granddaughter while my son and his wife worked from our home. 

I’m embarrassed to say that I actually felt guilty, just for a little while, for neglecting my blog after I had been so determined to write that overdo post.  (I’ve always been a little slow on the uptake, but this was a stretch, even for me.)  But finally I came to my senses and realized:  I wasn’t neglecting my blog at all.  I was simply taking care of things that needed my attention a bit more urgently and that were a lot more important.  Storms happen.  Grandchildren require care.  Washing machines break and need to be replaced as soon as possible. 

BWa7CwnUQ2aoDvsK6Di43QYes, my blog is important to me and I love the creative outlet (and self-discipline) it helps provide.  But there are going to be times when it takes a back seat to the other demands on my time and that’s perfectly okay.  Sometimes our normal routines are interrupted, but we get back to them eventually.   And in this case, the interruption meant I got to spend the day with one of my very favorite people in the world…..so I’m not about to complain.

 

What It Is

No one ever promised us that life would always be easy.  Or if someone did, they lied.  Because sometimes, no matter what we do, life is just plain hard.  And the older I get, the more I believe that the wisest thing to do is to simply accept that fact.

I read recently (I’d quote the source, but of course I can’t remember it) that one of the main sources of our frustration is the difference between what we expected and what we actually get.  That really resonated with me, because I’ve found that almost every time I’m frustrated and upset, it’s because the situation I find myself in is not the situation I was hoping for or expecting.  And it’s the gap between what I had anticipated and the reality of what actually occurred that often makes me feel so upset.  In other words, the more I think about “what should have been,” the more disappointed and bitter I become.

One way to ward off that frustration would be to simply stop planning or hoping for good things in our lives, because then we wouldn’t be disappointed when those good things didn’t actually materialize.  That philosophy might guarantee we’re never going to be disappointed again, (if you don’t ever plan that dream vacation, you never have to worry about it getting cancelled) but who wants to live like that?  I sure don’t.

I think, perhaps, that the key is to simply remember that nothing in this world is ever guaranteed, and that sometimes even our best-laid plans are going to veer wildly off course.  Challenges we never saw coming are going to pop up when we least expect them, and often when we’re least prepared to cope with them.  And when that happens, it’s natural to be upset and disappointed, at least for a while.  But eventually, we have to let go of our frustration and focus on dealing with the situation at hand.

My husband and I didn’t plan on spending our anniversary at the Emergency Room a mere five days after what was supposed to be a simple surgery, but we did.  And I didn’t plan on sitting at his bedside in the hospital for nine days after that either.  At first, I was bitter because this was not “how things were supposed to be.”  But eventually, I managed to let go of my frustration and simply accept what was.  My husband was in a good hospital, getting good medical care, and he was slowly but surely improving.  I was allowed to be with him, which wasn’t the case for hospital patients when the pandemic first hit.  I was even allowed to bring him food, which tasted a lot better than what the hospital cafeteria sent up.  In other words, I had reasons to be grateful, once I was willing to let go of my expectations and actually see them.

5oNQQuOjR1SkDZ6qfXaozAAnd the fact that life can be unexpectedly hard isn’t the only thing I accept.  I also accept, and even plan on, the fact that life can also be quite good.  Which is why I have every intention of making a dinner reservation at a very nice restaurant when next year’s anniversary rolls around, and I might even look into booking a weekend getaway as well.  That celebration may not actually happen, but I’m hoping it will, and that hope is enough for me.

Just Be There

We’ve had a rough couple of weeks in our household, and things are just now returning to normal.  Once again, my husband had a surgery that went well and a recovery that didn’t.  Honestly, he’s spent so much time in a hospital lately that I seriously considered hauling in his favorite recliner chair and repainting the walls of the room his favorite color.  I figured if he had to be stuck for so long in a hospital room, we may as well make it nice.  Luckily, he was released before I gave in to the urge to redecorate his surroundings and now he’s back home where he belongs.

I’ve always found that when difficult times arrive, I spend all my time and energy just coping, and don’t really “process” what’s happened until later. But now that things have finally calmed down, I find myself looking back over the past few weeks and realizing one very important thing:  there is no way in the world I would have managed without the amazing support of so many caring people.

Hospitals have always been scary places for me (I tend to faint at the sight of blood), but I found out they’re even scarier when the patient is your loved one and and they aren’t doing so well.  And you know what helped me deal with that fear?  The nursing staff who were unfailingly cheerful and attentive, and who always took the time to reassure me when I needed it.  Being an advocate for a patient in a hospital is exhausting, both physically and emotionally, but seeing how good the nurses were at caring for my husband made it so much easier to bear.

I’m also incredibly thankful for the many friends and relatives who took the time to call and text, keeping track of my husband’s progress and offering nonstop encouragement and support.  There were times when those texts were the lifeline I needed to stay (or at least try to appear) calm and strong, and other times when they  provided relief from the boredom of sitting in a hospital room day after day, or gave me a much-needed laugh.  Friends and family are gifts, and you never realize just how much of a gift until you’re in a tough spot and they’re right there with you every step of the way.

It was also a gift to see so many people reaching out to my husband in his time of need.  He had more people praying for him than I could possibly count.  Cards arrived almost daily, some from college friends he hasn’t seen in decades, and all of them helped raise his spirits.  One of his old friends sent him personalized copies of the books he’d written about his own battle with cancer, and the tips for staying positive helped enormously.  Frankly, my husband isn’t usually much for reading, but he not only read those books, he took one of them with him when he was readmitted to the hospital and read from it daily.

This post is more personal than what I usually write, and I hope I haven’t overdone the detail.  But the reason I’m sharing it is simple.  The next time someone you know is going through a tough time, please reach out and offer them your support.  Don’t let fear of intruding or “being a pest” stop you.  Because even if they don’t have time to acknowledge it or respond to you, your care and concern will mean the world to them.  Trust me, it really will.