Forty And Counting

fullsizeoutput_5b8dAs of today, my husband and I have been married for forty years.  Our wedding day set records for both heat (112 degrees) and humidity (think steam bath), which meant we had to ditch our plans to take outdoor photos in a nearby park.  It was a nice wedding even so, and my main memory is of being grateful for all the friends and family that came to help us celebrate.  Like most newlyweds, we were young, in love, and had absolutely no idea what the future had in store for us.

The ensuing forty years taught us many things, usually a mixture of both good and bad.    Our meager starting salaries meant we made all of our early purchases based solely on price, including our first house.  But it also taught us how to fix up houses ourselves, turning them not only into a home we actually wanted to live in, but one that we could eventually sell at a profit.  Later, we welcomed a son and a daughter into our family, and learned what it meant to be a responsible parent the same way most people do:  through trial and error, tempered with love.

We learned that some friendships fall by the wayside over the years while others endure, and that those long-term friendships are one of life’s greatest gifts.  When hard times came our way, it was always the support of friends and family that got us through them, and that’s as true today as it ever was.  One of the few things I know for sure in this world is the importance of human relationships and that they are worth every bit of the time and effort they require.

When you live with someone for forty years, you can’t help but notice each other’s odd little quirks, and you also figure out that you aren’t going to change them.  My husband knows that when I say “I’ll be ready in five minutes,” I’m not exactly lying, but I sure am being optimistic.  And I know that when his favorite team loses a game I’m going to hear a lengthy rant about poor coaches, inept officials and all the other unfair factors that can snatch victory from the jaws of the more deserving team.  But we’ve both learned that loving someone also means accepting them as they are, annoying habits and all.

I’m not going to lie, it feels very odd to me to be celebrating our 40th anniversary.  In many ways, it feels as if our wedding day was only yesterday.  And yet here we are, grey-haired (under the dye, in my case) and well past middle-age, with forty years of memories behind us.  We have lost people we loved dearly, but also made new friends and added new loved ones to our family, including two beautiful grandchildren.  No life is without challenge and tragedy, but overall, the years have been kind to us.

IMG_2998We’re definitely not young anymore, but we’re still in love and we still have absolutely no idea what the future holds in store for us.   And that’s okay.  The important thing is that we have each other, and I know that together, we’ll make the most of whatever comes our way.

All Grown Up

Ann's photoWhen I was a child, I truly believed that all adults were mature people who knew what was what in the world.  I may have liked and trusted some grownups more than others, but I still believed that being an adult meant no longer behaving like a child.  I thought that the petty jealousies, the playground competitions and “me first attitudes” I often saw in my peers were things that we would all someday just naturally grow out of.   And then I grew up, and realized that many adults, including me, never truly grow out of some of our childish ways.

I may be a “woman of a certain age,” but there are times when my inner child emerges, and I don’t mean that in a good way.  (Because obviously, children have many, many, good qualities.)  I’m talking about how quickly I can become upset about something trivial, or how easily I can feel slighted, or how quickly I feel cheated when things don’t work out the way I had hoped.  As an adult, I know we’re not guaranteed anything in this world, but my inner child can still become enraged at the thought of not getting “my fair share.”

But those are reactions that I can clearly recognize as being inappropriate, and usually talk myself out of rather easily.  My real struggles come more in the area of wanting someone, anyone, to reassure me when things are going so very wrong.  Like a child, I sometimes want someone to tell me that “everything will be alright” during troubling times.  The problem is, there are times when no one can honestly say that.  Sometimes the only way to deal with trouble is to face it squarely and courageously.

I think that is one of the reasons I’ve been feeling a little down lately.  We’re dealing with so many unknowns right now, and although lots of people have opinions on how things are going to turn out, no one really knows for sure.  There isn’t anyone who can promise just when or how this will all get better.  Heck, we can’t even agree on what “all better” even means these days.  Like children, most of us are looking at things solely from our own point of view and waiting, some more patiently than others, for the rest of the world to adapt to our expectations.

There are times in life when we simply have no choice but to stand on our own two feet, listen to our own heart and make our own choices, knowing full well they might not be the right ones.  And I have come to realize that this is one of those times.  Now is not the time for me to indulge my inner child, looking for someone else to fix things or make sense of an upside down world.  Now is the time to embrace adulthood, with all the freedom and responsibility that comes with it.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally become the grownup my inner child was expecting.

Here and Now

There’s an old saying I’ve always liked that says, “Always remember:  wherever you go, there you are!”  When I first heard it, I appreciated the humor of a saying that doesn’t seem to have much of a message at all.  But the more I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t quite true.  Because let’s face it,  there are times in our lives when we find ourselves in a situation that we didn’t plan for or in a place where we never intended to be.  And worst of all, we have no idea of just exactly how we’re supposed to respond to it.

When I first heard about this pandemic, I naively thought that it would be a rather short-term thing, which made it so much easier to cope with.  But as time wore on, I found myself truly grieving for the life that I had before the nasty little virus showed up turned everything upside down.  I missed the little things, like going out to dinner with my husband after a long day, or browsing through my favorite antique shop.  I wanted to be able to buy groceries without needing a face mask, disinfecting cloths, hand sanitizer, and a whole lot of patience.

One by one, trips and events that I had been looking forward to were cancelled:  three weddings, a family reunion, and a week on the beaches of our beloved Sanibel Island.  Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Easter, and Father’s Day all had to be celebrated without our traditional family gatherings.  I hated explaining to my mother that the big 90th birthday party she had been looking forward to so much was going to have to be put off indefinitely.  Worst of all was being afraid to hold my newborn granddaughter because it might not be safe for her.

This isn’t at all where I wanted to be, and yet here I am.  And the only choice I have is how I’m going to react to it.

I’d love to lie and say that I’ve handled it with real maturity and grace.  (This is a social media, where we all put our best, and often false, face on for everyone to see.)  But the truth is that the constant stream of bad news and challenges can wear me out.  Sometimes I find myself just wanting to retreat from it all, effectively putting my life on hold until things are better.

Luckily, I know that’s not really the choice I want to make.  And I know that because whenever I push myself to “get back out there” and live my life just as fully as I safely can, I immediately feel better.  Grocery shopping these days can feel surreal, but when I discover they’ve finally restocked my favorite frozen pizza, the trip to the store seems so worth it.  While I can’t gather with my friends and family in large groups anymore, when we invite another couple over for drinks on our patio, I still have a good time.  And when I watch my son feed his new daughter, I feel nothing but happiness.

I’ve always had a nasty habit of waiting for my problems to go away so that I can begin to enjoy myself.  But the problems this pandemic has brought aren’t going away any time soon, nor are some very real personal issues my family is facing right now.  So I have to keep reminding myself that this is my life now, and that in spite of the challenges, there is still so very much to be treasured and enjoyed.  Because life is always for living, right here and right now.

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.

Reality Check

They say every cloud has a silver lining, and I believe that is true.  We all know how much damage this pandemic has brought, so there’s no need for me to rehash that, especially since I believe we’re all on “negative news overload” these days.  But I have learned a few things from this situation, and some of those lessons will serve me well long after this whole mess is over and done with.

For one thing, I will never again let my house be without a month’s supply of disinfectant, a freezer full of food, and tons of toilet paper.  Before 2020, I thought that the way to prepare for a natural disaster was to have an adequate supply of flashlights, batteries, water and, if at all possible, a generator.  If a snowstorm was predicted, I added bread and milk to that list.  But this year, I’ve learned that the way to react to an new virus is to rush out and buy all the toilet paper I can cram into my shopping cart, as long as I leave room for a container of sanitizing wipes.

I’ve discovered that wearing a face mask isn’t as uncomfortable as I had thought, especially once I found some that fit right.  (I’m not sure why I thought they’d be “once size fits all,” since faces certainly aren’t.)  And as an added bonus, I’ve learned that when you’re a woman of a certain age, a face mask can hide a whole lot of things.  Suffice it to say that I don’t have many wrinkles on my forehead, so really, a face mask isn’t such a bad look for me.  If I could just get one that comes with an anti-aging cream on the inside of it, I’d be all set.

I’ve learned that politicians aren’t afraid to take advantage of a bad situation in order to get free publicity, especially during an election year.  I suspect that most of the daily press briefings we’re seeing will last at least until November, even if this virus doesn’t.  I’ve learned that some people don’t believe in following the rules, no matter how dire the situation happens to be.  I already knew that many of us have a hard time listening to different opinions, but I’ve learned that when people are frustrated and afraid, their levels of intolerance can skyrocket.  And since the things we say and do now are going to be remembered for a long time, it’s best to choose wisely.

But the most important thing I’ve learned is how much of what we think and feel during a crisis comes from our own particular situation and the circumstances we and our loved ones are in.  As the saying goes, “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.”  The pandemic and its quarantines are hurting everybody, but in different ways and to different degrees.  Some of us are on a big ocean liner, barely feeling the waves.  Others are in a tiny rowboat with no oars, being tossed around in the water and having no idea how, or if, we’re going to survive this.  And most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes.

So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, all I can say is this:  now is the time to be gentle with ourselves, and accepting of our emotions.  It’s the time to be tolerant of others and to think before we speak, post, or act.  It’s a time to be brave, even when facing very real fears.  Because when we’re moving toward an uncertain future, as almost all of us are, one of the few things we know for certain is that kindness, compassion and wisdom helps.  It always has, and it always will.

Hanging On

My area has been under a Shelter at Home order for approximately five weeks, with no end in sight.  I’m not going to lie, maintaining a positive attitude gets harder with each passing day, and sometimes I manage it better than others.

Worry about the virus is bad enough, but seeing how people are reacting to that worry can be downright alarming.  Social media is full of experts who know just exactly what we all ought to be doing, and who are telling us just that in CAPITAL LETTERS because we all know that our point is made so much better when we yell in the printed word.   Name-calling is rampant, apparently based on the belief that calling someone we disagree with an idiot is a sure-fire way to convince them of the error of their ways.  Obviously, there is a lot going on right now to make us anxious and to keep us anxious for a very long time.

Which is why I have decided that it is incredibly important that I practice kindness, tolerance and compassion just as much as I possibly can.  Even when I don’t want to….or maybe especially when I don’t want to, because when I’m angry or frustrated I’m so much more likely to say something that hurts someone else.  And there’s more than enough pain in the world right now without me adding to it.

One way or another, nearly everyone is hurting.  Those who have lost a loved one to this virus; those who know they are especially vulnerable to catching the virus; those who are slowly but surely going broke from the restrictions; and those who are losing their battle with depression, chronic anxiety or addictions as these restrictions drag on.  It’s easy for those who are financially stable to dismiss the concerns of those who are sinking into poverty, and it’s easy for those who are relatively young and healthy dismiss the concerns of those who aren’t.  Someone else’s pain is always so much easier to bear than our own.   But shame on us if we allow ourselves pretend it simply doesn’t exist.

I don’t know what the answer is, and I’m not interested in debating the details with anyone.  I’m no expert in contagious diseases or the economy, and I have no way of predicting the future.  All I know is that the best shot we have of moving forward as a society is to work together to we try our hardest to beat this virus and minimize the damage that it’s causing for all of us.  And we can’t do that if we’re all hunkered down in our own little bubble, busy lashing out at those who don’t share it with us.

There’s so much I can’t control right now, no matter how much I wish it were otherwise.  But I can control my words and my actions, and I can make sure I’m not making a bad situation even worse by adding to someone else’s pain.  So I’m going to try very, very, hard to be kind.  First to myself, because now is absolutely the time to indulge in a little self-care.  And then I’m going to try being kind to others, even those whose attitude I can’t begin to understand.  Because like it or not, we really are “all in this together.”

Something Good

Just a few weeks ago, I was stressed about my upcoming implant (no matter how you try to sugar-coat it, an implant means someone is screwing a metal post into your jaw), my dog’s heart-worm diagnosis, and managing a Spring calendar that was overcrowded with events and trips.  I found myself wishing that somehow my life could become less complicated.  Today, my social calendar is completely empty, my dentist’s office closed after completing only the first part of the procedure, and Finn’s much-needed heart worm treatment may be postponed.   Which I guess supports that old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Lots of people are pointing the finger of blame and even more are trying to dictate exactly how we should be feeling right now, and I have very little patience with any of them.  But there are also many people who are spreading messages of hope, who are encouraging us to be kind and tolerant, and who are reminding us that no matter how bad things become, we will get through this.  I don’t know about you, but I find those messages very comforting and reassuring.  And I thought maybe I could help others by sharing the coping mechanisms that work best for me.

First, I’m limiting my exposure to the news media and to the negative aspects of social media as much as possible.  I turn on the news in the morning just long enough to stay abreast of current events, and then I switch the channel.  There’s something comforting about watching people on television shows go about their normal lives, and doing the things we used to do before anyone knew what “social distancing” meant.  As for Facebook, I’ve found that the “unfollow” button is my new best friend.  It allows me to stay friends with those who are constantly publishing angry posts without having the vitriol spread all over my news-feed.

I’m using the extra time I now have to do the chores around my house that I’ve been ignoring for so long, and that feels good.  I take my dog for (sedate) walks when the weather permits, and still go to the shelter to help with the dogs that are living there because animals in cages always need someone to care for them.  And now that my grandson’s daycare is closing, I’m going to be babysitting for him while his parents work from home.  I’m eager to spend more time with him, even though I’m sure there will also be times when I remember why I had my own kids when I was young.

u69gwAJcQXfDEE8WD6QI’m trying to indulge in small pleasures whenever I can, including taking the time to read a little bit every day.  When I spotted flowers while stocking up on food at the grocery store, I hesitated.  Should I really be spending money on something so unnecessary?  But then I realized that now is exactly the time to surround myself with anything that cheers me up, and added them to my cart.

Most importantly, I’m trying to stay in touch with family and friends, particularly those who are hurting the most, through calls, texts and emails.  I’ve found that each time I do something that helps someone else, I feel a little less stressed and worried, and a little bit more empowered.  It reminds me that I can still make a positive impact on our troubled world, in my own small way.  And that lesson will serve me well long after this horrible virus has left finally left town.

Quiet Time

Earlier this year, I came down with a bad cold that seemed to concentrate in my throat and eventually caused me to lose my voice altogether.  The doctor told me to rest my voice as much as possible, which essentially meant that I shouldn’t talk unless I absolutely had to for the next few days.  I’m the sort of person who usually has a lot to say, but luckily the laryngitis made it so difficult to talk that staying silent turned out to be much easier than I had thought.  And the added bonus was that I learned a few things during that time I was required to keep my big mouth (mostly) shut.

The first thing I learned is that sometimes it’s best to pretend not to notice certain things, like, say, how very happy my husband looked when he heard that the doctor had told me to quit talking for a couple of days.  I could have pondered on just why he seemed to believe my laryngitis was such good news for him, but I decided it was probably in the best interest of our marriage if I didn’t go too far down that particular road.

The second thing I learned is that it’s so much easier to listen to someone, and I mean really listen to what someone is saying, when I know that I’m not going to have to say anything back.  Because usually when someone is talking to me, a part of me is listening and another part of me is already thinking about how I’m going to respond.  Which means that I’m only giving that person  part of my attention.  And it’s so much easier to understand someone else’s point of view when we actually shut up long enough to hear what they’re trying to tell us.

The third (and best) thing I learned is the value of silence.  Once I was in the position of having to decide whether or not saying something was worth the risk to my inflamed vocal cords, I became much more comfortable with not voicing every thought and idea that happened to cross my mind.  I learned how to simply enjoy my own thoughts without always feeling the need to share them with others.  I discovered how nice it can be so simply be with someone and to sit in companionable silence.  Honestly, during the time of my enforced silence I felt calmer and more at peace than I had in a long time.

This is not to say that silence is always a good thing, because obviously it isn’t.  Talking is an important form of communication and one of the main ways we humans connect with each other.  But for someone like me–who tends to talk a little bit too much–learning to be quiet was an enlightening experience.   I hope that I can remember the lessons I learned from being silent and continue to give my mouth a rest from time to time as I move forward.  Because if I do forget, then my only hope will be another case of laryngitis…..

If The Shoe Fits….

I was at a party over the weekend, chatting with a couple of friends, when one of them told me how much she had enjoyed my most recent blog post.  She turned to the other friend and asked, “Didn’t you think it was funny?”  The other friend looked embarrassed, and then said, “Actually, I don’t read her blog.”  A few days later, that friend called me an apologized, worried that she had offended me.  She told me that her life was very busy right now, and that she didn’t really have time to read anything, not even a friend’s blog.

I quickly reassured her that there was no need for her to apologize. And there wasn’t.  We’ve been friends for a very long time, and I know perfectly well that she’s not a big reader.  I also know that she is a kind and generous soul who would never deliberately do anything to hurt anyone’s feelings, including mine.  And I have learned over the years not to be offended when I discover that a friend or family member doesn’t read my posts.

I admit that when I first started my blog, I (naively) believed that I could count on all my friends and family to read it, and also figured that they would probably be my only readers.  But I soon discovered that people who didn’t particularly enjoy reading weren’t suddenly going to change their ways just because I had started a blog.  And that not supporting my blog didn’t mean they didn’t care about me, and that I couldn’t count on them in other, equally important, ways.

Our friends and family members are unique individuals, with their own particular strengths and weaknesses.  And if we’re wise, we remember exactly what those strengths and weaknesses are when we’re looking for support or help.  A friend who is chronically late is not the person to ask for a ride to the airport, at least not if you want to make sure you don’t miss your plane.  And if you know someone has a hard time being discreet, that’s not the person you go to when you want to confide a deep, dark secret.

I think the trick is to remember that no one can be “all things to all people,” and to remember that everyone who is close to us enriches our lives in their own, unique way.  Maybe the friend with the loose lips is the perfect person to call when you need a ride to the airport, or maybe the friend who is never on time happens to be excellent at keeping a secret.  It’s a matter of knowing someone well enough to have a pretty good idea of what they can, and cannot, do for us.  Then we don’t set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting something that they aren’t capable of giving. Personally, I really appreciate my friends who take the time to read my blog.  But I also value the ones who don’t.

We don’t do anyone, least of all ourselves, any favors when we don’t see our friends and family for who they really are, and that includes their strengths, their weaknesses, and even just their personal tastes.  And if we really care about them, we’re more than willing to love and accept them just exactly as they are.

Five Years Later

I’ve been blogging for five years now, and when you do something for five years, you’re bound to learn a thing or two.  To begin with, I learned that time really does fly when you’re having fun, because it just doesn’t seem as if five whole years have gone by since I started this blog.   I can still remember how I struggled to figure out how to create a blog, and how I felt both nervous and proud when I finally managed to publish my first blog post.

It wasn’t long before I realized that the blog stats I checked so obsessively really didn’t mean all that much, because they weren’t particularly accurate.  I have many regular readers who don’t follow my blog, and I have even more followers who never read a single post.  I also noticed that the posts I liked best weren’t always the ones that generated the most views.  Eventually, I figured out that what made writing a particular post most worthwhile was when one of my readers was kind enough to let me know that my writing spoke to them.  Because face it, if something we write touches even one person in a significant way, then that post was well worth the effort.

I sometimes have trouble embracing change, but blogging has taught me that change is not always a bad thing.  I think all bloggers enjoy having a core group of “blogging friends” who read and support each other’s blogs, and I was lucky enough to find such a group early on.  I’m not at all sure I would have stuck with my blog without their encouragement.  But most of the people in my initial core group have dropped out of Word Press, and been replaced by other new friends who have ventured into the blogging world.  The blogging community is constantly changing, and I’ve learned to accept that and be grateful for each new connection it brings me.

Blogging has also made me much less cynical, because it’s taught me that, despite what the news media would have us believe, most people are basically good.  When I first started blogging, I was very intimidated by the fact that readers would be able to comment directly on my posts.  I was quite sure I was going to have to deal with lots of spam and nasty responses.  But 99% of the comments I’ve received have been positive.  And they usually generate interesting discussions among people who seem to be both kind and intelligent, and willing to be share their experience and knowledge.  That’s the sort of thing that gives me hope for our world.

Finally, the most important thing my blog has taught me is to be willing to take a risk now and then, especially when it involves something I’ve always wanted to do.  If I hadn’t worked up the nerve to hit that “publish” button for the first time, I would have missed out on so much just because I was too afraid to try something new.   And the past five years wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun…..