Moving Forward

I think my husband and I were just a teeny bit optimistic when it came to my mom’s move to her new retirement home.  Yes, she was moving from a spacious house to a one-bedroom apartment, but we thought we had the perfect system to handle it.  “Just pick the things that you want to take with you, and we’ll handle the rest,” we told Mom.  “It shouldn’t us take very long to clear out the house.”   Seriously, I don’t know what in the world we were thinking.

The problem wasn’t so much the sheer quantity of stuff that was left in her house even after Mom took everything she wanted to her new apartment, and even after all the members of the family had taken all the stuff they wanted.  The problem was trying to decide just exactly what to do with everything else, because her old house has to be cleared out before anyone can move in.  (The last time I checked, there’s not much demand for a house that is full of someone else’s stuff.)

We donated as much as we possibly could, and contacted antique dealers to see if there is any interest in buying some of the older items.  We filled several recycle bins with anything that could be recycled, and finally ordered a dumpster for the rest.  All of this took much more time and hard work than we had anticipated, but even that wasn’t the hardest part.  The hardest part was watching my mother visit her old house and seeing how sad it made her to watch a lifetime’s worth of accumulation being donated, recycled, and sometimes even trashed.

I understand her pain, and I do wish there was a way that we could keep everything she wants us to keep.  But we can’t.  We don’t live in a huge house, and our house is already pretty darned full of our own stuff.  Ditto for all the other members of the immediate family.  After stewing about it for a while (my way of dealing with conflict), I finally decided that we all needed to face a simple truth:  it’s time to move on.

So I told Mom that it’s perfectly normal to feel sad about letting go of some of her possessions.  But I also reminded her of how happy she is in her new home.  She loves her new apartment, and she raves about her new retirement community.  She says everyone she has met is so nice, and she enjoys all the social activities that are offered daily. They even have a room devoted to jigsaw puzzles, her favorite hobby.

Sure, Mom could have kept everything if she had chosen to stay alone in her house, surrounded by all her stuff.  But she chose to move to a retirement community where she would have an apartment small enough for her to easily manage and far more of a social life than she has enjoyed in years.  And the price she has to pay for that choice is giving up some of her possessions, even knowing that some of them won’t be “staying in the family.”

I believe the lesson for my Mom is really a lesson for us all.  Life is meant to be lived to the fullest, and we can’t do that when we cling to the past.  Letting go of the things that hold us back, whether they are material objects, old grudges we continue to nurse, or even belief systems that have become outdated, can be painful for sure.  But it’s the only way we’ll ever move forward and discover the promise of our future.

fullsizeoutput_54efIt helps to remember that the life we’re living today is the one that will be creating the memories of tomorrow.  Like, say, sharing a meal in your new apartment with your favorite (if only) great-grandson….

The Best-Laid Plans

When I was a teenager, I learned to drive by practicing on my family’s Volkswagen Beetle, which had a stick shift.  As anyone who has driven a car with a stick shift knows, when you don’t shift properly, the car only moves forward in a jerky series of starts and stops, and sometimes just stalls out.  It was hard to get the knack of releasing the clutch and stepping on the gas in just the right way so that the car shifted smoothly into the next gear.  I figured it out eventually, but are times in my life when I feel as if I’m still in that little car, struggling to shift gears in a way that doesn’t jerk me all over the road.  This is one of those times.

A few weeks ago, we put my mother on a waiting list for a retirement community.   It was time for her to have a smaller living space to manage and more opportunities for socialization and activities, while still remaining independent.  The community she chose will provide all that, and once the decision had been made, we were eager to move ahead.  Unfortunately, we were told it could be a year before an apartment actually became available, so I reluctantly “shifted gears” and resigned myself to a long wait.  I even decided that the waiting was a good thing, since it would give Mom plenty of time to figure out what she wanted to take with her and to distribute the stuff she no longer needed.

Last week, I was organizing my paperwork when I noticed that I hadn’t put my cell phone number on the retirement community’s contact sheet.  I called the housing director to let her know, and after listening to me ramble a while, she said, “So I’m guessing you didn’t get my message yesterday?  The one that said the apartment you looked at is available now?”

C1bn%xHURyKz0aRtXD8CmQI was stunned.  The apartment we looked at was bright and airy, had an extra closet, and a balcony that overlooked the garden.  We all loved it, but were told that balcony apartments could take as much as two years to get, so Mom knew that the apartment she was going to get most likely wouldn’t have the balcony or extra closet.   And yet that exact apartment was now available immediately.  Mom was thrilled, and so were we, but it meant “changing gears” again as we prepare for a move in the very near future.

The last post I wrote about my mom’s upcoming move to a retirement home was all about patience, which is an area where I come up just a tad short.  And patience truly is a virtue that I’m working hard to acquire.  But sometimes life calls for other strengths, such as the ability to “go with the flow,” to move quickly when needed, and to seize an opportunity when it comes our way.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever learn to “shift gears” to adapt to the changes in my life nearly as well as I learned to shift gears in an actual car, but that’s okay.  I may be moving forward in a series of starts and stops, but I still get where I need to be.  And that’s all that really matters anyway…..

Ageless

No doubt about it, there are certain advantages to aging.  And I’m not talking about just the wisdom and self-acceptance that most of us achieve as we grow older.  I’m talking about the fact that old people can get away with stuff that younger people can’t.  For example, when I take 88-year old mother out to eat, she has no problem letting the waiter know the very second she’s ready to order, even if that means calling across the room to attract his attention.  I have yet to see a waiter take offense.  Instead, all she gets is a tolerant smile and sometimes even a friendly pat on the shoulder.  Somehow, I don’t think that would be the response if my mother wasn’t a textbook example of a “cute little old lady.”

Even at age 60, I have found that my age can be an advantage.  I have heard of people who have a “resting bitch face,” but personally, I have always had what can only be called a “resting stupid face.”  Meaning that when I don’t have a specific expression on my face, I tend to look as if I’m just a few bricks short of a load.  And that has served me well, particularly when I pair it with the words, “But I don’t understand.”  I can’t tell you how many people have done what I’ve wanted just because they couldn’t be bothered to explain the rules to someone they believed wasn’t bright enough to understand them.

But now that I have reached a certain age, I’ve found that the only thing better than having a “resting stupid face” is having an old resting stupid face.  If I’m having a disagreement with someone, (particularly someone younger) I have found that my most effective response is to simply stand there and look at them in a perplexed sort of way.  Sooner or later, they tend to give in, even if they do sigh loudly and roll their eyes at the same time.

Still, I’m only human, and there are times when I don’t really want to feel quite so old.  I miss the vitality of my younger days, would give anything to have the perfect eyesight, firm skin and boundless energy I once took for granted.  Luckily, I’ve discovered a fool-proof way to make me feel young again, and it doesn’t require any expensive or painful surgical procedures.  When I want to feel young, all I have to do is spend time with some of my treasured, life-long friends.  Seriously.

Maybe it’s because they knew me “way back when,” or maybe it’s because when I look at them I still see the young person they once were.  But for whatever reason, when I’m with my old friends, the years just melt away and I truly feel young again.  And it isn’t long before I’m also acting as if I was young:  laughing hysterically at our silly jokes, staying up late because no one wants the evening to end, and most of all, feeling that as long as I have my friends by my side, there’s nothing I can’t handle.

Aging does have it’s advantages, but every once in a while, I need my “old” friends to remind me of what it was like to be young…..

fullsizeoutput_5050

The Best-Laid Plans

My schedule has been very hectic lately, which is why I was really looking forward to Saturday.  Saturday was the first day in over a week when I actually had a big chunk of free time, and I was planning to use it to get caught up on some of the things I still needed to do for Christmas.  I thought I’d get up early, hit a few stores before the crowds came out, and then go home to make a few batches of Christmas cookies and stash them in the freezer.  Afterwards, I planned to go out somewhere casual with my husband for a pizza dinner.   I planned to make Saturday both relaxing and productive, since I could move along at my own pace without having to keep a set schedule.  But things don’t always go according to plan.

My day started early when my mother called to say she was feeling very sick:  extremely dizzy and weak.  I hurried over to her house and ended up taking her to an Urgent Care Center, where they discovered that her heart rate was alarmingly low.  The doctor recommended we go to the Emergency Room of a nearby hospital for further tests and evaluation, and said she would probably be admitted to the hospital.  It’s scary when your elderly mother needs to go to the hospital, but she was putting on a brave face and so I did the same.  I drove her to the ER, where they did a few quick tests before putting her in a wheelchair to wait for the next available doctor.

Luckily, her condition seemed to improve with each passing hour.  When she told me to wheel her over to the receptionist’s desk so she could ask why it was taking so long for her to see a doctor, I knew she was feeling much better.  When she finally did see a doctor and she passed all her tests with flying colors, I became very hopeful, especially when he said she could go home.  And when she started singing along to the radio on the drive home, I knew she was going to be just fine.

The “relaxing and productive” Saturday I had planned turned out to be neither relaxing or productive.  And that meant the already busy schedule I had on Sunday became even busier.  But you know what?  It doesn’t really matter.  Both my mother and I got through a difficult day just fine, and we learned a few lessons along the way.  The most practical lesson was that she needs to remember to keep her Medicare card in her purse, because she needs it to be treated at an Urgent Care or Emergency Room.  But there were other, more important, lessons to be learned as well.

IMG_4369I learned that planning is a good thing, as long as I bear in mind the possibility that things can happen that blow my plans right out of the water.  I learned that my mother can exhibit a great deal of grace under pressure, and that she knows how to be brave when confronted with the possibility of a serious health issue.  I hope that she learned she can count on her family to help her in those times, because that is exactly what family is supposed to do.

Finally, I learned that there is no need to worry about the unexpected problems that pop up in our life, because we can’t predict when the bad stuff will happen or what form it will take.  It’s enough to know that when the hard times come, we will find the strength to cope and to do what we need to do.  Because life doesn’t always go according to plan…

A Change of Season

According to the calendar, Summer isn’t officially over until September 21.  But for me, the Labor Day weekend has always signaled the end of summer.  Public swimming pools close, all the kids are back in school, and although the days remain warm (or even hot), they are shorter and followed by cooler nights.  And the flowers that bloomed all summer long begin to look faded and worn, as if they know that the first frost isn’t all that far away.

Some years I’m more than ready for Fall, but not this year.  This year the summer went by way too fast, and we had so many unseasonably cool days that I barely got to wear most of my summer clothes.  If I had my way, we’d be celebrating the 4th of July this weekend, not Labor Day.  But I don’t get my way on such things, and Fall is coming whether I like it or not.  So all I can really do is think back on the last three months and be grateful for all the good memories they brought.

I’m grateful for the short trips we took to visit old friends who we don’t see nearly often enough.  I’m glad that I have finally figured out that good friends are worth the time and effort it takes to stay in touch, no matter how far away they live.  I may not be getting any smarter as I age, but I am doing much better when it comes to getting my priorities straight.

I’ll remember the cool nights my husband and I ate dinner out on our patio, which is rare in St. Louis’ usually hot and humid summers.  I’ll remember that this was the summer we finally painted the ugly-colored brick on our house an attractive shade of grey.  For the first time in over twenty years, I drive up to my house and think, “Wow! That looks nice!”

IMG_2688I’m grateful that I got the chance to host my mom’s 87th birthday party so that she could celebrate with some of her family and friends.  So many of my friends have lost their moms in recent years, and I know that they would give anything to be able to have them around for just one more family gathering.  When I was young, I tended to take my parents for granted (as young people do) thinking that they would always be around when I finally decided to make time for them.  Now I know better.

fullsizeoutput_417bBut mostly, I will always remember that this is the summer that I learned that we will be welcoming a grandson into our family in a few months.  Becoming a grandmother will be a huge and wonderful change in my life, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the reality that my daughter is going to have a baby of her own.  To say I’m excited for the arrival of my first grandchild would be an understatement.

So this Labor Day, there is a part of me that is not quite ready to let go of summer and that wishes Fall would hold off just a little while longer.  But I also know that the changing seasons mirror the changing phases of my life, and that they mostly bring good things.  A mere three years ago, my immediate family consisted of only four people.  Two weddings later, it has grown to six, and soon there will a seventh member of our family.  And that’s a change I wouldn’t trade for the world.

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.

A New Perspective

When I was eighteen years old, I graduated from a small high school in Kansas and headed off to college in Iowa, and at the same time, my parents moved to a new home in Illinois.  I never moved back in with them, and for the next forty years, my parents and I lived in different states, usually several hours away from each other.  But when my father passed away nine years ago, we all agreed that it would be best for my mother to move to St. Louis to be nearer to two of her daughters, and seven years ago, she moved to a house that is about a fifteen minute drive from me.

It seemed so different to suddenly have my mom close by again.  The first few weeks after her move, I was at her house almost every day, helping her unpack and settle into her new home, and helping her find all the necessary connections (a new doctor, the closest grocery store, a new bank, etc.) that moving to a new state entails.  These days, I’m not at her house as often, but we talk several times a week on the phone, eat dinner together often, and I drop by her house regularly to see if she needs anything or just to visit.  We both like to watch HGTV and sometimes I help her with a jigsaw puzzle, but other times we just sit and talk.

MomThe mother-daughter relationship is always a complicated one, and I suspect that each mother-daughter relationship is also unique.  When I was very young, our household was busy and my mother had her hands full with raising her own three kids, plus a niece and a nephew.  Later, she added to her work load by going back to school to get her masters degree in Education so she could support my father when he quit his job to go to Seminary.     My mother was there when I needed her, but we didn’t spend a lot of time together, and we weren’t especially close.  And of course, once I became a teenager, I was far too cool to listen to anything my mother had to say anyway.

So now it seems that in many ways, I have been given a wonderful gift of being able to spend time with her, as two adults, and get to know her more as an individual, rather than simply as my mother.  She tells me stories of her family and her early life (sometimes the same story several times, but repeating stories is a privilege of the aged).  I always knew my mother was a hard worker, but I am still in awe of how active she is in her church, and how willing she is to take on new responsibilities.  I see how much time she makes for the friends in her life, always reaching out to them when she knows they are dealing with something hard.

DSC01665My mother will be turning eighty-six this summer, so I know that our time together is not unlimited.  I know that she will become more dependent on my help as she ages, and that is nothing more than the natural order of life.  But whatever the future brings, what I know most of all is that I am so very grateful that I have her close by now, and that I will always have the memories of these past few years together.

 

No One Told Me

IMG_5462I am not, and have never been, what you would a call an optimistic person.  I tend to not only expect the worst, but to prepare for it as well.  So I’m still trying to figure out how I managed to be be so completely clueless about what exactly was waiting for me when I reached middle age.  Because honestly, I had no idea….

I thought that being middle aged meant I wouldn’t worry about my children any more, because they would be grown up and out of my house.  I also thought I would have much more money and time at my disposal, because, well, my children would be grown up and out of the house.  And while it’s true my grocery bills have gone down significantly since I stopped having to feed my son’s insatiable appetite, I’m still waiting for all that extra time and money to arrive, and my level of worry about my kids hasn’t gone down one little bit.

I knew that I would eventually hit menopause and that some women experienced “unpleasant” symptoms, but I was still shocked when I had my first hot flash. I didn’t realize that having a hot flash meant feeling as if someone had stuck me in a microwave and turned it on high, and that I would have those feelings at least ten times a day and three to four times every night, for years.  And that constant, bitter, complaining didn’t help at all (as my husband regularly and patiently reminded me).

I didn’t know that that one morning I would wake up, decide to make pancakes for breakfast, but be completely unable to read the directions on the box of Bisquick.  I mean, how could that be?  Literally, one day I could read small print, and the next day I could not.  That mystery is right up there with why the hair from my eyebrows (where I wanted it) suddenly decided to migrate to my upper lip (where I most certainly did not want it).

Logically, I knew that as I aged, my parents and other relatives would also be aging, but sometimes I am still surprised when my mother walks into the room and I realize that she has turned into a bonafide, cute, little-old-lady.  Because when I’m not with her, I tend to picture her as she was twenty-five years ago, which, of course, is pretty much the age I am now.  I try not to think about that too much.

I now realize that middle age has its own set of problems and its own gifts, just like every other stage of our lives.  And I don’t want to sound as if I don’t appreciate the positive aspects, because I do.  I know I have a stronger sense of self now, and I appreciate the good people in my life so much more, and I don’t waste nearly so much time “sweating the small stuff” or worrying what other people think of me.

Still, I wish that I hadn’t been caught quite so off guard by my middle years, and that I had more of a chance to prepare, if only mentally, for all the changes I was going to be facing.  And then I realize that I also don’t have any real idea of what is waiting for me when, in the not too distant future, I become an actual senior citizen.  Maybe it’s time I had a long talk with my mother…..IMG_4369

Motherhood: The Journey Continues

When I first married my husband, we only talked about “maybe” having children, and it was a couple of years before we started talking about “when” we have children, and a couple more years before we decided that it was actually time to start a family. Shortly afterwards, our daughter was born, and exactly two and a half years after that, we had our son.  So for me, motherhood was a gradual process from an abstract idea of maybe having kids, to a definite desire to be a mother, to actually becoming one.

And the process didn’t end there.  From their infancy and toddlerhoods, when my job as a mother meant accepting responsibility for their every need, to their childhood when I had to begin stepping back and letting them learn things for themselves, to their teenage years when I could no longer ignore the fact that they were well on their way to adulthood, my role as a mother has constantly evolved.  Those early years when my kids were so dependent on me were exhausting, but simple.  The delicate balancing act of trying to decide how much support to give and how often to give it began later, and it just got more complicated as they grew up.  These days, everyone makes fun of “helicopter parents,” but anyone who has been a parent knows how hard it is to decide when our kids need our help, and when they need us to step back and learn how to fail.

Now that my son and daughter are actual adults, our relationship is still changing, and my role as their mother continues to evolve. I’m still helping them, but they are also helping me.  The little boy I once pushed in the stroller (for the ten minutes or so he’d consent to ride in there) is now the young man I call when I need a heavy box carried out of the basement or someone to explain to me why my computer suddenly went on strike.  And these days I am almost as likely to ask my daughter for advice (particularly in fashion, an area where she is light years ahead of me) as I am to give advice to her.   Watching my son and daughter grow into well-rounded, competent and caring persons has been, without a doubt, the most rewarding part of motherhood.

Use thisI understand now that my role as a mother will always be changing, just like my relationship with my own mother continues to change and grow.  I loved watching my mom interact with my kids when they were little, and learned a few things about dealing with small children in the process.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have grandkids of my own some day, and that will add a whole new dimension to motherhood.  But whatever happens, wherever the process leads us, I’ll always be their mother.  Always.