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.

Good Things Come

Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not one of mine.  I’m the sort who skips dessert and then steps on the scale to see how many pounds I’ve lost.  I wanted my new dog, Finn, to drop all of his annoying habits right away, even though he’s only one-year old.  (You’d think the fact that I’m sixty-one years old and still have almost all of my annoying habits would mean I’d be a little more patient with him.  But you’d be wrong.)  And when I planted this year’s tomato seedling, I immediately started planning the recipes I was going to make with this year’s bumper crop of tomatoes.

So now that my mom has made the decision to move into a retirement home, I’m ready to pack her up and move her in there as soon as possible….next week at the very latest.  And of course that’s not going to happen.

Never mind the fact that she’s going to be moving from a three-bedroom house (with a full basement and a garage) to a one-bedroom condo, which is going to require major down-sizing.  It’s going to be a huge task simply to decide which of her possessions she wants to take with her, never mind what to do with all the stuff she doesn’t want to take.  And then there’s all the chores that go with any move:  the change of address cards, shutting off utilities in the old house, hiring a mover, etc.  All of it takes time.

But the biggest problem is that the retirement community she’s selected has a waiting list, and we’ve been warned that it could be as long as a year before a unit opens up for her.  Which means that I’ve got too much time to spend worrying and fretting as I wait for this move to actually happen.

What if she has a major health issue in the next few months and no longer meets the “independent living” requirements?  What if we get rid of all her extra stuff and then she changes her mind about moving?  What if everyone who currently lives in the retirement home actually stays there for the next ten years, and a condo never becomes available?  There are so many things that could go wrong that my mind just reels…

But this, like so much in life, is something that I really can’t control.  Yes, I want to see my mother safe and happy in her new home, and I do think she’s made the right decision to move.  But the process isn’t going to go any faster if I fret and worry than it will if I manage to step back, take a deep breath, and let things work out however they happen to work out.

IMG_5532 2Because sometimes, I think, we just have to trust that once we’ve done everything we can to make something happen that it often does….if we can just wait a little while.  Finn may still annoy us now and then, but his behavior has improved enormously since he first moved in.  We kept my son’s dogs last week, and the three of them got along just great with no issues at all.  That’s progress.  And I may not have a bumper crop of tomatoes just yet, but I do have enough to make a tasty addition to the salad I’m serving with dinner tonight.

So maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to admit that there’s some truth to that old saying, “good things come to those who wait.”  And then learn to do it with patience and trust….

Decisions, Decisions….

I never thought aging would be easy, but I also never realized it would be quite so confusing.  It’s hard enough to help my almost 89-year old mother figure out whether she wants to continue to stay alone in the spacious house she loves and has lived in for the past ten years, or move to a retirement community.  Moving would require downsizing to a one-bedroom apartment, but staying means that sometimes she is lonely and we would have to scramble for help if she fell or became seriously ill.  It’s not an easy choice to make, but it’s one she has to make for herself.

I may be only 61, but I’ve still reached the age where I’m confronted with far too many choices.  My husband and I live in a modest house with a big yard, with the master bedroom and bathroom upstairs.  We’ve lived here over twenty years and are very attached to our house.  But is it time to move somewhere that will work better for us as we age?  Somewhere with a first-floor master suite, a smaller yard and a driveway that isn’t long enough to park seven cars?  Sometimes I think living in a condo within walking distance to stores and restaurants would be great.  Other times, I think I’d rather just stay here until one of our kids signs us into a nursing home.

And those are the just the choices about living arrangements.  Because face it, the days when women reached a certain age and started dressing like “little old ladies” are basically over.  Stores that cater to women my age and up don’t exactly feature the house-dresses and sensible shoes my grandmother wore.  But there are still times when I look at an item of clothing and think, “is this too young for me?”  I still want to look nice, but I sure don’t want to be like the seventy-something woman I saw last week wearing a micro-mini skirt.  (Yes, she had long legs.  But no, it wasn’t a good look for her.)

Sometimes I think that medical science has advanced just a little too far, at least in the cosmetic surgery department.  Almost everything on our face and body can be plumped here and taken in there, which means we have to decide just exactly what kind of adjustments we’re willing to make in order to cling to our youthful looks.  And while I know that each of us gets to make our own choice, I sometimes find myself almost apologizing for my wrinkly neck and ever-growing under-eye bags because I know they can be fixed.  I’m just too chicken to actually do it.

No doubt about it, the choices we’re faced with as we age are as difficult as they are plentiful, and there is no “one size fits all” answer.  All we can do is establish our own priorities and pursue our own goals, and respect the fact that other people might make choices that are different from ours.  We each get to choose what is most important to us, and we each live in different circumstances.

But the one thing we have in common is the fact that we’ve lived long enough to even address the issues of aging.  Because even though growing older can be a pain some times, our life is still a gift, no matter what our age happens to be.

New Car Blues

I bought a new car a couple of weeks ago, which should be a good thing.  And in many ways, it is.  The car handles well, gets very good gas mileage and is new enough that everything is still shiny and in good working order.  I bought the exact same model as my old car because I believed it would make the adjustment to my new car smooth and easy.  Sadly, that belief turned out to be completely naive.

True, my new car looks an awful lot like my old one.  It’s not very big, it’s light grey, and  has a sun roof, just like my old car.  But there have been some big changes in the way they make cars in the past decade or so.  The new vehicles may look like cars, but they function more like a cross between a computer and a helicopter parent.

My old car had a small screen tucked away on the dashboard that displayed the radio stations and doubled as a rear view monitor when I backed up.  My new car has a much bigger screen that looms over the dashboard and is constantly demanding my attention, sending messages, displaying maps and even a little picture of whoever happens to be singing on the radio.  Why anyone thought that having a driver looking at a screen on the dashboard when they’re supposed to be keeping their eyes on the road is an improvement, don’t ask me.

I try to ignore my screen as much as possible, but it’s as persistent as a whiny child.  When I first started the car, a notice popped up saying that the my car was capable of sending information about my activities to the automaker, for use in their research and development department, and also informed me that there may be a small fee for this service.  I was given the choice to accept or decline, and since I saw no reason why I should pay for the privilege of being spied on, I declined.  That must have made it mad, because now every time I start the car, I get a notice reminding me that I declined and promising dire consequences due to my poor choice.

My new car also talks to me.  Frequently and repetitively.  At first I thought I was imagining the soft voice that I heard sometimes over the music from the radio.  But the voice got louder, and also figured out how to make the music stop while it was speaking. So now when I’m driving along, minding my own business, I’ll suddenly be informed that I’m approaching a highway that has partial lane closures due to construction.  (Which makes me wonder just exactly how my car knew I was planning to get on the highway.)

I’m not sure exactly where all this will end.  Yesterday, while I was driving a half-mile to the grocery store, I got three different alerts about a flash flood warning thirty-two miles away.  Who knows what other kinds of warnings my car is going to give me?  If I’m pulling into the drive through of the local Dairy Queen, am I going to hear “Ice cream has a lot of calories and your jeans are getting a bit tight?”  Or if I’m headed to the mall will my car tell me, “It’s been three days since you’ve visited your mother.  Forget the mall and drive to her house instead?”

I’m not usually one to long for the “good old days,” but I have admit that I really miss the time when the most we expected out of a new car was safe and reliable transportation.   I mean, who really wants a car whose main purpose seems to be proving that it’s smarter than it’s driver?

Yes I Can

Back when I was writing children’s books, I had a pretty simple formula I used to create my stories.  I would create a main character and place him or her in a situation that they desperately wanted to change, which would give me the main plot of my story.  If I were writing a longer book for older children, I would then plan out a chapter-by-chapter timeline to help me keep track of everything as I wrote.  (Details have never been my strong point.)  Finally, I would begin writing the actual manuscript….and that was usually the point where my creative confidence began to drain away and the paralyzing self-doubt crept in.

The problem was that no matter how passionately I believed in the story I was trying to write, a part of me was always thinking, “Will an editor like this?  Is my main character interesting enough?  Is my plot believable?” and so on and so on.  And those are valid concerns.  As all writers who hope to get their work accepted by a publisher know, finding an editor who wants to buy our manuscript is an absolute necessity.  But the constant presence of the critical editor in my mind basically squashed my creativity and made it impossible to write from my heart.  And the result was often a competent, but flat, manuscript that lacked a unique and creative spark.

Sadly, that internal critic isn’t limited to my writing.  I can look back on my life and see many times when I allowed that little voice that says “you can’t, you shouldn’t, you’re not good enough,” to dictate my choices and my behavior.  There were too many times when I turned my back on an opportunity, didn’t want to take a risk, or stayed silent when I should have spoken up. There were too many times that I held back when I should have stepped boldly forward.

The simple truth is, when our internal dialogue turns too negative, we aren’t really able to live our lives to their fullest potential.  And that’s a tragedy that none of us should allow.

I believe most of us get better at self-acceptance as we get older, and I’m no exception.  As the years go by, I find myself learning to tune out that negative “internal committee” and to replace it with one that is so much more compassionate and encouraging.  I find myself being willing to risk simply being myself by following my dreams, voicing my true opinions and in general, doing what feels right to me.  It’s a journey, but I am moving slowly and steadily forward.

If I had the chance to go back in time and speak to my younger self, I would have so much advice I would want to share.  But if I was limited to just one thing, it would be, “Believe in yourself and follow your heart.”  Because if we can learn to do that, everything else will surely work out.

Swiftly Fly The Years

It’s no secret that I’m not exactly young anymore.  I’m sixty years old, and could easily pass for a few years older than that (sagging chins and wrinkly skin runs in my family.)  I know I don’t have the strength and stamina I used to have; I never go anywhere without a pair of reading glasses, and I avoid mirrors whenever possible.  So you can see that I really do understand that I’ve become, shall we say, “a woman of a certain age.”

Which is why I can’t quite explain how shocked I was when I realized that my son, (the youngest of my two “children,”) had the audacity to turn thirty this past weekend.  I don’t remember being quite this surprised a couple of years ago, when my daughter turned thirty, although maybe that was because at that time I could take comfort in the thought that at least one of my offspring was still in his twenties.  But my son is my youngest, and now he’s thirty.  How in the world did that happen?  When did my baby boy become a thirty-year old man?

fullsizeoutput_4ee1I know it’s sounds beyond cliche, but it really does seem like just yesterday when he was just a little guy, full of energy, fun and endless curiosity.  I remember how he struggled to pronounce the letter “r” which always made him sound as if he was speaking with a southern drawl.  He could be stubborn when it suited him, but that wasn’t always a bad thing.  If he was interested in something, he threw himself into it with his whole heart.  Once when I was picking him up from preschool, the teacher handed me a large paper bag to take home, filled with that day’s art project.   Apparently, the children had been asked to paint a picture on a coffee can lid.  All the other children painted one.  My son painted nineteen of them.

But now my son and daughter are all grown up and their childhoods are mere memories.  Now we’re all adults.  Sometimes I struggle with just how much advice I’m allowed to give at this stage of our lives, and exactly where the line is between being helpful and being intrusive.  As a mother, I think I’ll always worry and want them to take good care of themselves and make wise decisions.  But our role as a parent changes and evolves as our children grow up and become independent adults.  All I can say is that I try my best to say and do the right thing.  And I’m beyond grateful that I raised two forgiving souls who are willing to overlook the times I get it just a little bit wrong.

So yes, now I am definitely an “older” woman,  but the more I think about it, the more I realize that is perfectly okay.  This stage of life allows me to focus more on myself and to follow my own interests.   And when I look at the fine young man my son has become, I find that I really don’t mind so much that he just happens to be thirty years old…..