A Little Longer

They say that cats have nine lives, and I’m beginning to believe that is also true for my dog.  During the sixteen years Lucy has lived with us, we have prepared ourselves for that “final goodbye” no less than three times.

The first was when she was only eight years old and came down with a serious case of pancreatitis, which the vet warned us could be fatal and that required an extended stay at the animal hospital.  But she recovered and came home with no ill effects aside from a very large vet bill.  The vet did tell us there was a real possibility the disease had shortened her life span.  But since Lucy is almost seventeen now, I can only assume that no one explained that to her.

Then one night last summer we found Lucy staggering in tight circles around the yard, panting hard and drooling, and finally falling over, unable to get back up.  Assuming she was having a major stroke, we rushed her to the emergency animal clinic and called our kids to warn them that the time had probably come to say goodbye.  Turns out, she was suffering from Vestibular Syndrome, which is common in old dogs.  The symptoms do resemble a stroke but most dogs usually recover after a few days.   And sure enough, Lucy did.

These days, Lucy is really beginning to both look and act like the extremely old dog she is.  She no longer always eats her breakfast no matter what tempting and tasty treats we put in her dog bowl, so I didn’t think too much of it last Thursday when she left her breakfast untouched.  But she also didn’t sit begging at the table while I ate, nor follow me around the house as she usually does.  By mid-afternoon, she was struggling to control her hind legs and she couldn’t stand properly or walk across the room without falling and/or repeatedly bumping into the furniture.  She ignored me when I tried to comfort her and seemed terribly weak, confused and unhappy, panting relentlessly and staring blankly ahead.

I thought, once again, the end  had come.  I contacted my family to tell them it was time to say goodbye.  Then I called the vet’s office and scheduled a euthanasia for the next day.  Lucy slept, sprawled awkwardly on the family room floor, for a few hours until my husband came home.  I was surprised to see her get up and greet him.  Later, when my daughter and son-in-law came, she seemed to be back to her normal (if elderly) self.  And my family was wondering exactly why they were supposed to be saying their final goodbyes.

Naturally, I changed her appointment from a euthanasia to an evaluation, and the vet assured me that Lucy was fine for her age.  She believed that Lucy had a neurological episode which she somehow managed to recover from.  Knowing Lucy, I’m quite sure she heard me say “euthanasia,” and immediately thought, “Holy crap!  I’d better snap out of it!”  Lucy is many things, but stupid isn’t one of them.

fullsizeoutput_48feClearly, Lucy is not quite ready to cross over the proverbial rainbow bridge.  Equally clearly, she will not make that crossing until she is darned good and ready.  I know that we are living on borrowed time now.  As the vet so eloquently put it, we are in the “gift stage” of Lucy’s life, since every day we have her with us is a gift.  And it’s a gift we’ll gladly accept, each and every time she gives it.

A New Chapter

Life is often called a journey, and I think that is true.  But I’m an avid reader and also a writer, which means that when I think of my life, I tend to picture it more as a book.  Just like life, books have definite beginnings and endings.  The interesting part is what happens in between and the story is usually divided into specific chapters.  My life’s “chapters” are the highlights of my story, such as graduation, marriage, my first job, the birth of my children, etc.  And now I am beginning yet another chapter, because two days ago my daughter gave birth to her first child and I became a grandparent.

04-RWAR-26Many of my friends already have grandchildren, and they did their best to tell me just how special it is.  And I believed them, I really did.  But I still totally unprepared for the absolute joy and wonder I felt when I first saw my brand-new grandson.  He seemed like nothing less than a tiny little miracle.  And just as I did with my own newborn babies all those years ago, I fell in love with him, immediately and absolutely.

He’s not even a week old yet, so the role of grandparent is still new to me and I don’t really quite know what to expect.  I hope he will always know how much I love him and that he can always count on me.  I want to be the sort of grandmother who enriches his life, and maybe gets the chance to spoil him, just a little bit.  I’ve heard that what grandparents are supposed to do.

I see so much of my daughter in him already, and when I look at my son-in-law, I have no doubt that my grandson is blessed with a wonderful father and role model.   I hope they both know I’m always ready to offer my support as they adjust to parenthood, with all of its joys and all of its demands.  I know they are going to be terrific parents.

I’m not exactly sure what this next chapter of my life will bring.  But I have to tell you, I can’t wait to find out….

Year After Year

I’m a big fan of Christmas traditions.  This is the one time of the year when “doing things the way we’ve always done them” feels not only right, but almost mandatory.  I love trimming my tree with ornaments I’ve had for decades, and I do it while listening to Nat King Cole’s Christmas music, just the way my family did when I was a child.  I find it both meaningful and comforting to carry on old family Christmas traditions….most of the time.  But there are a few traditions that I would love to abandon, if only I could.

I could do without the nasty Christmas cold I manage to come down with every year, and just once I’d like the breakfast casserole I make for Christmas morning to turn out the way the recipe promised.  But it never does.  It’s either under-cooked and soggy, or over-cooked and dry, and it always sticks to the baking dish.  Still, my family chokes it down each year and assures me that it tastes just fine, because (of course) that casserole is a Christmas tradition.

IMG_2768But if I could abandon just one of my Christmas traditions, it would be the annual battle to put the lights on my Christmas tree.  I prefer the large, old-fashioned lights that throw out a warm, cozy glow on a dark night, just like the ones my family has always used.  You’d think that putting a few strands of them on the tree would be easy.  But each and every year year, something goes dreadfully wrong when we try to light up our tree.

Last year the Christmas lights I had been using finally wore out and refused to work, so I embarked on a frantic search for replacement lights.  Which every single store I went to seemed to be sold out of.  I even gave the LED lights a try, but after carefully putting them on the tree I realized that while they are indeed bright to look at, they don’t actually light up a room.  Eventually, after much time and effort, I did find some satisfactory lights and was able to spend my December evenings basking in their glow.

This year I had the lights and figured it would take twenty minutes, tops, to string them and then we could hang the ornaments.  I was wrong.  I put the lights on the tree, but then realized there weren’t nearly enough.  So I took them back off, found another strand in our basement and put them all back on again.  Then the strand in the middle of the tree stopped working, so I took those off while my husband went to the store to get some more.  By the time we finally got the tree lit and looking good, the entire afternoon was shot and we decided to go have pizza and hang the stupid ornaments the next day.

But at least the lights are on the tree, and soon I can add the ornaments.  My Nat King Cole CD is still working (I checked), so I think I’m all set.  By this time tomorrow my tree will be fully decorated and I can just relax and enjoy the rest of the season.  Until, of course, I catch my annual Christmas cold….

Can You Remember?

Coleman Application_page 3 1In most ways, I take after my father much more than my mother.  I inherited his sense of humor, his passion for reading, his deep love of animals, and (unfortunately) his sagging neck line and tendency to be a bit wide in the middle.  My mother and I look nothing alike, and I have none of her teaching, sewing, or decorating skills.  But there is one trait that my mother and I do share: we both have astonishingly bad memories.  And that’s beginning to worry me a little.

When I was young and my mom wanted my attention, she always called the names of my sisters first, and that was when she was looking straight at me.  Sometimes she even worked in the name of one of our dogs before she got to, “I mean….Ann!”  I never doubted that she actually knew who I was, it just took her a while to come up with the right name.  And honestly, I understood that, because I operate the exact same way.

I once stuck a glass bottle of Coca Cola in the freezer in order to get it cold enough to drink, and then forgot all about it until that evening, when someone opened our freezer door and discovered that it had exploded in there.  As a young mother, I walked out of my house without remembering my keys so many times that my son would not only ask me if I had the keys before he would follow me out the door, he also insisted I show them to him.  He was only five at the time,  but I guess he’d had a little too much experience at being locked out.

I have a long history of forgetting appointments, and I shed my belongings the way a dog sheds hair as I go about my day.  I’ve left purses behind in restaurants,  walked out of supermarkets without the groceries I just paid for, and left lawn sprinklers on overnight.  (Thankfully, we don’t live in an area that is prone to drought.)  I never buy expensive sun glasses or umbrellas because I lose track of them so often.  And I’m just as bad at remembering names as my mother ever was.

The problem is that I’m starting to get a bit up there in age, which means that I’m getting to the point where people are going to be getting just a tad judgmental about my lack of memory skills.  Like my mother, I have had a bad memory all my life, and forgetting stuff is just normal for me.  But forgetfulness is also something that becomes concerning as people hit their twilight years (and rightfully so), but how can you notice that someone’s memory is slipping away when it’s barely been there to begin with?

IMG_0576 2My mother is at the age where I often accompany her to important visits, and I see the looks that she sometimes gets when she has problems remembering stuff.  And I know the time is coming when I’m going to be getting those looks as well.  Which probably explains why I can get a little defensive about my mother’s memory (or lack thereof), because I not only know it’s just who she is, but I realize it’s also who I am.

I know my mom well enough to know that she’s still quite sharp mentally, even if her counter is strewn with the notes to help her remember all the stuff she needs to remember.  And I’m there to speak up for her if need be.  But that leaves the question of who is going to speak up for me when I’m her age and waltzing out of the grocery store without my groceries.  I guess I just have to hope that my kids inherited their father’s memory so they’ll recall all those times when they were little and I forgot my house keys.  And know that it’s just me being me.

Just Say It

478While I was on vacation a few weeks ago, I wandered into a clothing store and had just begun to look through the racks when my cell phone rang.  Not wanting to be rude, I stepped just outside to take the call, standing with my back to the store.  As I was talking, I heard a loud click behind me, but I didn’t realize what it meant until I finished the call and tried to go back inside.  The door was now locked.  I could see the clerk through the glass door, doing her best to look busy over by the register and deliberately not looking in my direction.  I was only on the phone for a minute, but apparently that was all the time she needed to and lock me out.

Fuming, I checked the hours posted next to the door, and realized that the store was scheduled to close in ten minutes.  I’m guessing the clerk was afraid I was going to take an armful of clothes into the dressing room and force her to stay open while I tried them on, which is why she grabbed the chance to lock me out.  But it would have been so much better if she had just told me the store would be closing soon when I first walked in.  That, I would have understood.  And I wouldn’t have been standing on the sidewalk in front of her store, thinking distinctly unkind thoughts about sneaky little sales clerks, and vowing never to shop there again.

Believe me, I struggle with speaking up just as much as everyone else, particularly when I’m not sure how what I have to say is going to be received.  I have wimped out and kept my mouth shut more times than I can count.  But in almost every case where I’ve done that, I’ve ended up being sorry in the end.  Either my silence has led to an awkward misunderstanding, or I have ended up feeling rather bitter and angry because someone else doesn’t understand what I haven’t bothered to tell them.  But when I find the nerve to say the stuff that’s hard to say, I’m at least opening the door for a chance at real communication and understanding.

It helps to remember how much I appreciate it when someone is brave enough to speak up to me.  The other night, my husband and I were driving home from dinner at our favorite restaurant when the manager called.  He wanted to know if everything was alright with our meal, or if our waiter (who was new) had done anything to offend us.  My husband assured him that everything was great, and asked why he wanted to know.  It turns out, we had accidentally left the waiter a one-dollar tip.  We were so glad that the manager knew us well enough to know we would never do that on purpose, and was willing to call and let us know.  We drove right back to the restaurant and gave the waiter his proper tip, even though the manager said we could just take care of it next time we were in.

I know that these examples are small and personal, but I believe that the practice of speaking honestly and tactfully as much as possible is best in most situations.  I think we owe it to ourselves and to others to find the courage to say what needs to be said.  I’ve heard the old saying, “Silence is Golden,” and there are times when it is.  Hateful, petty and spiteful words are much better left unsaid.  But for everything else, real communication is priceless.

My China Horses

When I was a child, I wanted a horse more than anything in the world.  Unfortunately, I spent the first eleven years of my life living in a city with no horse stables in sight, so I knew that the chances of getting a horse of my own were slim.   I learned to make do with the china horses I purchased from the local variety store each time I saved enough of my weekly allowance.  Eventually, I collected a whole herd of little horses that were proudly displayed on a bookshelf in my bedroom.  Sometimes I made the mistake of trying to play with them, but they were so fragile that the play sessions usually resulted in a “thinning of the herd.”

We moved to rural Kansas when I turned eleven, and I was thrilled to finally get my first real horse.  Gypsy was beautiful, but she wasn’t particularly nice, and it wasn’t long before she had me thoroughly intimidated.  Luckily, we were able to sell Gypsy and buy Tony, a sturdy Welsh pony whose goodwill and common sense allowed me to learn what owning and riding my own horse was really all about.  Eventually, I outgrew Tony and got Prince, the world’s most wonderful horse, whom I loved and enjoyed until his death seventeen years later.

I kept my collection of china horses, displaying them for years after I had acquired a real horse.  I even took a few of them to college with me, where they stood on a shelf above my desk.  If my friends thought it was odd for a college woman to decorate her dorm room with horse figures, they were kind enough not to say so.  The horses (not made of china, I finally realized, but probably ceramic or porcelain) still broke easily, so I lost one or two each time I moved them.  Later, when my husband and I set up our first home together, I finally packed away the last of the herd in a box marked “keepsakes.”

I think it was about five years ago that I first saw a tiny horse figure in an antique shop, just like the ones I used to collect as a child, and I bought it.  Then I unpacked the four horses I had left in my keepsake box and placed them, discreetly, on the bottom shelf of the TV stand in our bedroom.  I have since found a few more horses for sale in shops where antiques and collectibles are sold and brought them home to join the herd.  Last year, I boldly moved them to the top of the bookshelf in my bedroom, where my husband has learned to tolerate them.

IMG_2422They may look like a group of cheap horse figurines, but to me, they are so much more.  They remind me of my childhood dream of owning a horse, and of how that dream actually came true.  They remind me that dreams don’t always match reality, but that if I can find the courage to persevere, sometimes reality is just as good, if not better, than the dream.

I have come full circle now, once again living in a large city where owning a horse isn’t practical.  So once again, I am making do with my little collection of “china” horses.  Only this time, they are more than enough.

(Many thanks to Greg over at Almost Iowa  for the writing prompt, “My Stuff.”)

Lessons From A Small Town

When I was eleven years old, my family moved from St. Louis to a small town in central Kansas.  Adjusting to small town life was hard at first, because it was very different from what I was used to, and I wasn’t particularly happy about moving so far away from my friends and family.  But being eleven, I had only two choices:  be miserable for the next few years or adapt to my new life.  And so I got used to it, and soon came to appreciate the gifts that come from living in a small town.

Scan 7One of the first things I noticed about life in a small town was that everyone knew almost everyone else, if not by name, then at least by sight.  Which meant that when you passed someone on the sidewalk, you acknowledged them in some way.  A simple nod or “hello” would do if you didn’t have time to stop and chat, but hurrying on by as if you didn’t notice the person was considered rude.  The same thing was true if you were driving a car.  People waved at each other as they drove past, even if it was nothing more than simply lifting the index finger off the steering wheel.  No one was anonymous, and everyone deserved recognition.

Living in a small town also taught me a thing or two about trust.  I was amazed to discover that I could walk into almost any store along Main Street and make a purchase simply by signing my name.  It was common practice for stores to accept credit on an honor system, which meant that the clerk would make note of the amount owed, and the next time one of my parents came in, they paid up.  I used credit for an after-school snack, or to pick up something my Mom needed to make dinner, but I knew some of the poorer families in town depended on that credit for the times they truly couldn’t afford to pay.  Small towns tend to take care of their own.

My small town didn’t have different neighborhoods for the rich, middle class and poor, and so we all intermingled at the stores, schools and churches.  I learned to get along with all different kinds of people, because you think twice about making an enemy of someone when you know you are going to be seeing that person on a regular basis as you go about your daily life.  Of course not everyone was good friends with everyone else, but when disaster struck, the community came together very quickly.  I still remember the funeral of a high school friend being held in the school’s gymnasium because none of the seven churches in town had a sanctuary big enough to hold everybody.

I am fifty-eight years old, and I only spent seven of those years living in a small town.  I’m not sure exactly what percent of my life that works out to be, but I am sure it’s a small one.  Yet those years had a profound effect on my life, and I credit them with many of the things I have learned along the way about trust, diversity, tolerance and most of all, community.  I guess that old saying is right, and that it really does take a whole village to raise a child.

Wait and See

Why my daughter was one, my husband and I wanted to move to a house that would accommodate the second child we hoped to have.  Our first house was a small two-bedroom home, and the second bedroom was a little smaller than the average walk-in closest.  Our choices were limited due to our rather tiny budget, and after searching for several weeks, we were getting very discouraged.  So we were thrilled when our agent showed us a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in a suburb that had good schools and was an easy commute to my husband’s job. And best of all:  it was in our budget, because it needed work and had sat on the market for a long time with no interest, so they had just reduced the price.  We immediately put in a very strong offer and confidently waited to hear the good news that we could begin packing.

glenway-houseI was so sure that the house would be ours that when our agent called to say the sellers had already accepted another offer, I actually cried, just a little.  I had been so happy that we had finally found the perfect house for our family, with plenty of room to grow into and loads of potential for a couple (like us) who were willing to do some rehab work. Losing that house was devastating, but all we could do was keep looking, and we eventually found another fixer-upper in the same neighborhood.  It was smaller (three-bedroom, one bath), but it was in our budget and although we weren’t particularly excited about it, we decided it would do.

The first few times I drove by the house we lost, I felt a little tinge of jealousy for the people who had been lucky enough to buy it.  I wanted that extra bedroom for my home office, and that extra bathroom sure would come in handy when we had house guests.  But eventually, I became a little more knowledgeable about real estate and realized that not buying getting that house I had wanted so desperately was actually the best thing that could have happened to our family.

Being young and naive, my husband and I had been so busy counting bedrooms and bathrooms that we didn’t pay much attention to the fact that the house sat on a busy street with no sidewalks, two blocks from active train tracks on the north and two blocks from a major highway on the south.  It also had a steep asphalt driveway which would have been impossible to navigate in icy weather, and was probably slippery even in rain.  The house we ended up with may have been smaller, but it sat on a quiet street where kids could safely ride bikes, had a flat driveway, and was within walking distance to a grade school.  Yes, we had to put time and money into it, but when the time came to sell that house, we were able to make a small profit from our efforts.  That wouldn’t have happened with the house we lost.

The point of this story is that I have learned, over these many years, that sometimes what we think is a bad thing actually turns out to be a good thing.  And conversely, what we think is a good thing can turn out to be bad.  So I try very hard these days not to get too excited when I believe something good has happened, at least not right away, until I see how things play out.  Even more importantly, I try not to be too despairing when things aren’t going quite the way I wanted.  Because I can’t predict the future any better than anyone else, and sometimes the best thing to do is simply wait and see.

Making an Impression

Sometimes, it’s just nice to get away, no matter where I happen to be heading, and that was part of the reason I was looking forward to driving to Kansas last weekend for my 40th high school reunion.  I was also looking forward to seeing some of my old classmates, and the chance to spend a little extra time with some good friends who live near that area and who I don’t get to see nearly as often as I would like to.  Still, it was a high school reunion, and that’s just not the same thing as heading off to a vacation on the beach.  A reunion involves making the effort to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in years, and engaging in small talk with lots of people for an extended time.  For an introvert like me, that’s a little intimidating, no matter much I enjoy someone’s company.

IMG_0402

I also had a vivid memory of my 20th high school reunion, which was the first reunion I had attended since graduating high school.  My high school was in a small town that hosted the County Fair each year, so it was a tradition for the classes to hold their reunions on the weekend of the fair, and for each class to participate in the fair’s parade by riding on their class float.  It was hot sitting on an open float in the summer sun, which meant there was also a tradition for each class to toss water balloons at those sitting on the other class floats.   I won’t bore you with the details, but at some point near the end of the parade, I tried to grab a water balloon and promptly fell off the float, landing hard on the asphalt street.  I scraped the skin off the palms of my hands, had a bleeding head wound, and suffered some very serious damage to my pride. I know there are people who dream of making a big impression at their class reunion, and I certainly made one.  Trust me, it’s over-rated.

Luckily, this reunion was uneventful, as I shed no blood and had no need for medical care, most probably because they no longer have the classes participate in the parade.  I managed not to embarrass myself (at least as far as I know, but there might be photos that haven’t surfaced yet), and had a great time catching up with old friends and acquaintances.  Everyone talked to most everyone else, and unlike the class reunions we always see on television shows, the tone was relaxed, friendly, and casual.

I think one of the the best things about growing older is how most of us shed the need to try to impress each other, which means that when we do gather with classmates we haven’t seen in years, we don’t ask about their accomplishments, try to gauge their material wealth, or scrutinize their appearance.  We simply ask how they are doing, and genuinely hope that they are happy with their lives, no matter what their circumstances.  And if they are struggling in some way, we offer sympathy and support, rather than judgement.  Maybe that kind of honesty and acceptance only comes with age, I really don’t know.  But if so, it sure is worth the wait.

Take The Chance

Martha & DanielWhen my son started first grade, I decided to look for a part-time job to help supplement our household income.  I had worked as a free-lance writer for several years, but both the assignments and the pay were sporadic at best.  I heard that the local school district often used substitutes for their various offices, and so I applied for the job.  Shortly afterwards, I was called for an interview to be a substitute teacher.  I knew there must have been a mistake, but since it had been a long time since I’d had a job interview, I decided to go anyway, just for the experience.  Surprisingly, I was hired on as an elementary-level substitute teacher (my bachelor’s degree qualified me for short-term assignments), and added to the list of potential office subs as well.

Early one morning a few weeks later, I got a call from a woman in the Human Resources Department, wanting to know if I could come in right away.  I should have been thrilled, but I was standing there in my underwear, with my hair still dripping wet from the shower, and I had no way to get there because my car was in the shop. “No problem,” the woman said when I told her I had no transportation, “I can come get you.  I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”  So I scrambled around and got ready, and spent my first day working as the only person in the Human Resources office, answering phone calls, fielding questions, and even securing a substitute for a teacher who had to go home sick.

Still later, I was called in to actually be a substitute teacher for a third grade class at my children’s school.  The administrators and other teachers were very supportive, the teacher I was subbing for had left an easy-to-follow lesson plan, and the kids were mostly well-behaved.  I was exhausted by the end of the day (don’t let anyone ever tell you teaching is easy), but I must not have screwed up too badly because I got more assignments, and even had teachers request me for planned absences.

Eventually, I gave up subbing in the classrooms, but I stayed on as an office sub for the next twelve  years.  The work was sometimes mind-numblingly routine, but I really liked the people I worked with, greatly improved my computer skills,  and the job provided the flexibility I needed to pursue my writing career and be available to my kids.  In short, the job was a good fit for me and my family at the time, and I was fortunate to get it.

It would have been so easy for me not to go on that initial interview, since it was for a job I didn’t apply for and didn’t think I qualified for.  And it would have been so easy to tell the woman who called from Human Resources that I just wasn’t available to come in that morning.  Looking back on it, I’m surprised I said yes, because taking risks is not my strong point.  I tend to play it cautious in life, choosing the easy option over the difficult one, and am a little too quick to think, “I can’t do that.”  But if I hadn’t stepped out of my comfort zone all those years ago, I would have missed out on a great part-time job.

I try to remember that these days, when I’m faced with an opportunity that feels a bit too challenging and my first instinct is to say, “no thanks.”  I try to remember that every good thing that has happened in my life:  my marriage, my children, my writing, my volunteering, etc., came only when I was willing to try something new and take on a challenge I wasn’t entirely sure I could handle. Mostly, I try to remember that, when given the choice, it is almost always better to take the risk.