Something New

When some friends invited my husband and I to join them on their trip to Las Vegas, we happily accepted.  My husband had only been there on business trips, spending his time in meetings on the outskirts of the city, and I hadn’t been there at all.  Las Vegas wasn’t a place we had a special interest in visiting, but getting out of town with friends seemed like a great idea, so we decided to give it a try.  And we ended up having a wonderful time.

One advantage of traveling with friends is that they encourage us to try new things.  Not only did we spend a few days in Vegas, but my husband (who is very uncomfortable with heights) actually joined us on the giant, 550-foot tall, ferris wheel on the strip.  The first time we saw it, my husband said there was no way he was getting on that thing.  But our friends assured us that each “pod” is huge and completely enclosed, and said the wheel moved so slowly that you don’t even feel it or realize how high up you are.  To my surprise, my husband agreed to try it.  It could have been peer pressure…even at our age, that’s a thing…or it could have been the glass of wine he drank at dinner.  But for whatever reason, we all boarded the “High Roller,”  and it turned out that they were right.  It wasn’t scary at all, and offered a fabulous view of the city.

Talking about it later, my husband and I agreed we probably wouldn’t have visited Las Vegas at all if our friends hadn’t invited us.  And I know for a fact that if the two of us had made that trip alone, there is no way we would have ridden that ferris wheel.  I’m not as uncomfortable with heights as my husband is, but I tend to avoid them just the same.  At age 64, I’ve reached a point in my life where I believe I already know what I like and what I don’t like, which is okay.  But what is not okay is that sometimes I allow that knowledge to stop me from trying something new.

And that’s where friends and family come in.  They can invite us to try something for the first time, or to venture somewhere we’ve never even considered going.  I like to think of myself as a creature of habit, because that sounds so much nicer than “stuck in a rut.”  Left to my own devices, I rarely wander out of my comfort zone.  But when someone I know and trust suggests something brand new, that opens a door for me to expand my horizons, to experience somewhere brand new, and to realize that I can do more than I ever thought possible.

I guess sometimes peer pressure, from the right people and for the right reasons, can be a very good thing indeed….

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….”

Walk Away

4C65EDDE-AE5D-497A-8094-C6A3821D6AE7A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to make prints of the photos from our recent family vacation, but the local camera store’s site which I often use wouldn’t upload over half of them.  Frustrated, I called the store and asked for help.  The man I spoke to was very nice, but said that the site must be acting up and suggested I come into the store and load them directly onto their equipment from my phone.  

I drove to the store and asked the young woman behind the counter for directions on using their equipment.  She told me bluntly there was no point in doing that, because obviously the files for my photos were corrupted.  Which was annoying enough, but the little smirk that accompanied her words made the situation worse.  I wondered aloud how some of my photos could be corrupted when others, taken at the same time and with the same phone, seemed to be just fine.  She began a long explanation of the many ways photo files can be damaged, but none of them pertained to my situation.  When I tried to tell her so, she told me, sharply, not to interrupt her before she was done speaking.  

And that was when I realized there was absolutely no point in continuing our conversation.  She was not going to admit that the problem could be on their end, and I was not prepared to believe there was anything wrong with the photos that wouldn’t upload to their site.  I would have asked to speak to a manager, but I knew that I was very, very close to completely losing my temper and I didn’t want to take my anger out on someone else.  So I simply turned away and walked out of the store.

The older I get, the more I believe that simply walking away from confrontations is often the best way.  There is rarely any good that comes out of arguing with people who have already made their mind up, or trying to negotiate with those who treat others like idiots.  While I will always believe that being in relationship with people who are different from me is a good thing and that the world needs more, not less, communication, I also know that true communication can’t be one-sided.  Both parties have to be willing to respectfully engage, which means that there is no point in trying to talk to someone who refuses to listen.

So I went home and logged into the site of a company I’ve used many times to make photo books.  And you know what?  All of my photos uploaded successfully, even the supposedly “corrupted” ones.  I didn’t even have to wait for my prints to be mailed to me, as I was able to pick them up at a local drug store about two hours after I ordered them.  I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that wanted to take the prints back to the original store and show them to the rude clerk, saying,  “See?  I was right!”  But I resisted that urge, because I know it would be both petty and pointless.   I have my vacation photos, neatly displayed in an album, and that’s good enough for me.

Accentuate the Positive

When my husband and I were first dating, we often went to the movies.  Our tastes were very different, but we both enjoyed a good comedy and there was almost always one worth seeing.  One evening he told me he’d really like to see the new movie, “Grease.”  I was a little surprised but went along with his choice.  After a quick stop at the snack bar, we settled into our seats and the movie began.

Less than five minutes into it, my husband turned to me with a look of horror on his face.  “I think this is a muscial!” he hissed.  I agreed that it was.  Scowling, he took another bite of popcorn and turned his attention back to the screen.   He watched in suspicious silence for a while longer before he began to look even more alarmed.  “And it’s a love story!”  Given half a chance, I’m sure he would have left the theater there and then.  But as far as I was concerned, we’d paid for the movie and hadn’t even made a dent in our soda and popcorn supplies, so we were going to ride it out.

When the movie was over, I asked him how how he liked it.  “It wasn’t too bad,” he admitted.  “Considering.”  I told him that’s exactly what I thought, too.  It certainly wasn’t one of my favorite movies, but it was good enough that I’m glad we didn’t walk out.

Fast forward more than forty years to a recent Saturday night when my husband and I decided to go out for dinner.  There was a slight chance of rain in the forecast so we considered ourselves lucky that the restaurant had a sidewalk table under a big awning, just in case.  We placed our orders and settled back to enjoy the live music coming from a restaurant across the street.  All was going well until it started to rain….very, very, hard.

ORyzU85tSfq3qtjHCpQWe quickly moved our table as far back from the street as it would go, thinking that would protect us.  And it did, for a while.  But soon the street in front of the restaurant was covered in water that was also lapping up against the curb.  Our waitress asked if we’d like to move inside, but we told her we were fine.  (We’re not eating inside restaurants right now.)   By the time she came back with our food, the water was beginning to cover the sidewalk as well.  Every once in a while a car would venture down the flooded street, creating waves that did reach our table, so we learned to lift our feet whenever we saw one coming.

I know this sounds like a miserable experience, but it really wasn’t.  A few other diners had also chosen to stay outside, the servers were all carrying umbrellas to stay dry, and the temperatures were quite comfortable.  The atmosphere was almost festive.  As I told my husband, “it’s like beach-side dining, without the sand.”

Sometimes in this life, things just don’t turn out the way we had expected.  What sounded like a good movie turns out to be a musical love story.  What we thought would be a good night for dining outside turns into a night of heavy rains.  But if we can just let go of our original plans and simply go with the flow, sometimes things turn out to be just fine.  As a wise person once said, “it’s all about attitude.”

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.

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…..

Let It Go

IMG_1848I think all of us have times when we feel as if we’re on a treadmill, and someone keeps turning the speed up higher and higher.  Those times when there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get through even half of our “to do” list, and we fall into bed each night exhausted and already fretting about all the things we have to accomplish tomorrow.  For some reason, Fall always seems to be one of those times for me, and this year is no exception.

I’m sure part of the problem is that the days are growing steadily shorter and that there is so much to do in order to get our yard ready for Winter and our house ready for the upcoming holidays.  My husband and I are also spending a lot of time getting my mother’s old house ready for its new owners and dealing with all the little glitches that always arise at times like these.  (It took us two months to realize that some of the utility bills for her house have gone AWOL.)   Add these extras to our usual day-to-day responsibilities, and I suppose it’s no wonder we’re feeling a bit overwhelmed.

But I know all those things are just part of the problem.  And the rest of the problem rests squarely on my shoulders.  Because I have a long-standing and very unhealthy habit of taking on too much and hanging on to too much.  My intentions are good….I want to be a supportive friend, a good neighbor, a dependable family member, and basically just the sort of person that others know they can count on for help, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Within reason, of course.  But the problem is, sometimes I forget to be reasonable.

I tend to forget that there are limits to how much responsibility I can take on and still retain a sense of well-being.  I seem to need constant reminders that when I try to “be there” for everyone, I usually end up satisfying no one, least of all myself.  I need to learn that there’s no such thing as a perfect friend or relative, and that as long as I am doing my best, those who truly care about me will be okay with that.

I suspect that self-care and setting healthy boundaries will always be a process for me, and that’s okay.  I’d rather be too generous with my time and resources than too selfish.  But I also want to respect my limits, and learn to say “no” to obligations and needs that I truly can’t meet without stretching myself too thin.  I need to let go of my natural inclination to rush in and try to fix things, all the time.  Because let’s face it, it’s both arrogant and short-sighted of me to believe that I’m the only one who can step up when help is required.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll get to the point where next Fall is just a little bit more relaxed, and therefore more enjoyable for me and also for the people who would rather not have to deal with me when I’m stressed and crabby.  That certainly strikes me as a worthy goal….

A New Idea

When I first started blogging, coming up with an idea to write about was the least of my concerns.  I had lots of things to say about being a “middle-aged” woman (a title I still cling to despite being sixty-one, partly because I don’t want to be called a senior citizen and partly because it’s too much trouble to change the name of this blog), and I actually had a backlog of posts already written, just waiting for me to hit the “publish” button.

But that was almost five years ago, and there’s only so much anyone can say about sagging skin, aching joints, the empty-nest syndrome, struggling to find clothes that are designed for someone my age, failing eyesight, etc.  And I’ve basically covered most of the positive aspects of aging, such as becoming a grandparent, growing more accepting and comfortable with who I really am, and having more time to pursue my own interests.

It doesn’t help that I have a terrible memory, and am sometimes halfway through writing a post before I realize that I’ve already written the exact same post.  Then I briefly toy with the idea of posting it anyway, in the hopes that no one would notice, but I always end up hitting the “delete” button and starting over on some other topic.

So the sad fact is that even though I now post only once a week or so, there are still times when I struggle to come up with something new and interesting to say.   Part of the problem stems from the nature of blogging.  Mine is a public blog, which means that anyone who wants to read it is welcome.  But that also means that I can’t write about certain personal topics without giving up my privacy, and I can’t write about some relationship issues without hurting the feelings of the people who would recognize themselves in my posts.  I never want to use my blog as a way to attack or hurt anyone else.

More importantly, I firmly believe that if someone is going to take the time to read my writing, they have every right to expect something in return.  I see far too many new bloggers who invite their readers to “come along with me as I write down all the crazy, random thoughts in my head,” and my gut reaction is always, “why would I want to do that?”  A writer should always have something of value to offer their readers, whether it’s entertainment, information, understanding, inspiration, a call to action, affirmation, or even just a temporary diversion from their everyday life.

The upshot is there are a whole lot of legitimate reasons as to why I’m encountering a bit of writer’s block these days, at least when it comes to my blog.  I toyed briefly with the idea of quitting, but I quickly realized that I’d miss my blogging community (which includes both other bloggers and old friends I’ve reconnected with through this blog) far too much to do that.  I’d also miss the creative outlet that this blog provides, and I believe I need that in my life, now more than ever.

So for now, I’ll keep on blogging, even when it’s just a little bit hard.  I may venture off topic now and then, and I’m quite sure the day will come when my rotten memory means I won’t realize that my wonderful “new” post is really just a repeat of one I’ve already written.  I only hope that my readers will either be forgiving or also a bit short in the memory department.

I’ve come to realize that blogging, like so many things in my life that I consider important and worthwhile, isn’t always going to be easy.  But for now, at least, it’s worth the effort.