Things I Learned the Hard Way

The older I get, the more I am convinced that many of life’s most important lessons can’t be taught in the classroom.  So many of the things I really need to know I learned from experience, and sometimes through multiple experiences because I have the unfortunate habit of not always paying attention to what life is trying to teach me.  In the hopes of sparing others unnecessary discomfort, embarrassment, and pain, I thought I’d share a few of those lessons.

  1. If at all possible, avoid having a root canal.  If you can’t avoid it, always accept the offer of anything that distracts you from the fact that someone is busy digging all the nerves out of your tooth.  Wearing earphones drowns out the sound of the drills, and keeps you from hearing if the dentist happens to say, “Ooopsie,” or “Dang, I totally didn’t mean to do that!”
  2. When making plans for travel, never prepay for anything that is not refundable, nor tell the relatives you are visiting that you will be there no matter what.  That is a sure-fire way to bring on a major blizzard, an attack of the flu, or a family or household emergency.  I will always remember the Thanksgiving Eve when I came home to discover the upstairs toilet was clogged, the downstairs toilet was in the hallway, and our refrigerator wasn’t working.  I had to call my out-of-town mother and tell her there was a tiny chance we might not be there for Thanksgiving dinner.
  3. If you get home with your new jeans only to discover that the store forgot to remove the little gizmo on them that is supposed to spray ink if not properly removed, go back to the store and ask them to remove it.  Don’t try to do it yourself.  They aren’t kidding about that ink spraying thing.
  4. Set your own limits.  Nobody knows what you are capable of doing or coping with nearly as well as you do, and you are not required to live up to anyone’s expectations except your own.  This includes, but is not limited to, firmly telling your doctor that you don’t want to see the cute but bloody little cyst he just removed from your body.  Standing your ground on these matters beats sitting in the waiting room with your head between your knees, sipping cold water and waiting for the feelings of dizziness and nausea to pass so you can go home.

IMG_1452I could go on, but I like to keep my blog posts short and at least somewhat to the point, so I’ll just close with one final, and yet very important, lesson.  Never, ever, feed your dog or let your dog find and consume something her digestive system can’t handle. (I won’t name names, but some of you may recognize the photo.)  It results in explosive diarrhea, and few things are worse than living with a house dog suffering from explosive diarrhea.  I’ll spare you the details.  You’re welcome.

Patiently Waiting

I’m sure you’ve seen those commercials for mattress stores, claiming that since we spend at least one quarter of our lives sleeping, we should make sure we are doing it on a proper mattress. There are lots of different mattresses to choose from, everything from foam memory, pillow top, and even a mattress that raises and lowers at the touch of a remote, just to make sure we get a good night’s sleep.  I’m not arguing the need for a decent mattress, but I am wondering why the same reasoning doesn’t apply to other areas of our lives.  And maybe it’s because I’ve just returned from a doctor’s appointment, but what I’d really like to know is, why can’t someone put a little bit of time and effort into designing a decent waiting room?

I have no idea exactly what percentage of our lives are spent in waiting rooms, but at the age of 58, I’m quite sure I’ve spent several hundred hours in them.  And I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy a single minute.

Waiting rooms are depressingly similar.  They’re usually painted some bland color, packed with uncomfortable chairs and finished off with a dark carpet in a pattern that was obviously selected to hide stains.  There may be a television attached to the wall, but if there is, it’s inevitably tuned to a 24-hour news channel and the sound is either muted or so loud you can’t hear when your name is finally called.   Stacks of magazines are often available, but they are usually either trade magazines or at least six months old, or both.  And if you’re in a doctor’s office, you definitely don’t want to know how many sick people have already touched that year-old issue of People you’re skimming through with their germ-ridden hands.  If you aren’t sick already, you soon will be.

Luckily, we live in an age where most people can pass the time in the waiting room by reading from their personal electronic device, or a cell phone.  But that has it’s downside too, because having a cell phone so handy means that the people who share your waiting room can, and will, talk on them.  Loudly and about nothing even remotely interesting.  I’ve always believed that if you’re going to force other people to listen to your personal phone conversations, at least make it worth their while.  Say, perhaps, by reciting your credit card number, including the expiration date and security code.

Whether you’re waiting for routine medical exam, to have your teeth filled at the dentist or even just the oil changed in your car, no one really wants to be in that waiting room.  Sitting elbow to elbow with complete strangers, some of whom have better personal hygiene habits that others, is no picnic, no matter how you look at it.  But I believe it doesn’t really have to be that way.

Just think what a difference it would make if waiting rooms were designed to be places that people actually enjoyed.  Why not have cheerful decor and big, comfy chairs, with plenty of space between them.   Maybe they’d even recline, for those who needed a nap. And each chair would have it’s own screen, and everyone would get their own set of earplugs, so they could watch what they wanted without disturbing others. Cell phones would be collected upon arrival, and returned when the appointment was over. In the corner, there would be a concession stand with drinks and light snacks.

I don’t know about you, but I’d happily trot off to my next appointment if I knew I’d have such a nice room to wait in.  I might even show up an hour early, and I certainly wouldn’t complain if the doctor was running a bit behind.  I know this sounds a bit far-fetched, but hey, look how far we have come with mattresses.  If a mattress can evolve from a husk-filled pallet to the individually adjustable, super-comfortable beds we have now, surely we can design a waiting room worth spending time in.  I’m just saying….

Understanding Politics

I admit that I’m no fan of politics, probably because I understand it just about as well as I understand trigonometry, which means I don’t understand it at all.   If I’m in the room when two people get into a heated political argument, it takes very little time for me to be so overwhelmed by the points, counter points and accusations being flung back and forth that I just tune out.  (Which is exactly same reaction I have if someone is trying to explain trigonometry to me.)  But while I might not understand all the intricate workings of the American political system, I can’t help but notice that there are certain patterns to the way that many people deal with politics, and I thought I’d pass those along.

IMG_1144First of all, I’ve learned that words are very important.  If the candidate you like says something untrue, then he or she “misspoke.”  But if the candidate you don’t like says something untrue, then he or she “lied.”  Similarly, the candidate you like has “friends,” while the candidate you don’t like has only “cronies.”  The one word that is never uttered is “hypocrite,” for obvious reasons.

Viewpoint is also important.  If you like the current President, then everything that is wrong with our country is blamed on Congress.  If you don’t like the current President, then everything that is wrong with our country is blamed on the President.  If both the President and majority of Congress are members of the party you vote for, then everything that is wrong with our country is blamed on some other group.  At the moment, the two most popular scapegoat choices seemed to be immigrants and the rich.  (And “the rich” means anyone with more money than you.)

Constantly sharing your political opinions is considered a good thing.  Posting them daily on Facebook, working them into every casual discussion, and speaking up at family dinners with a pleasant conversation starter such as “Candidate X is a complete moron who will ruin our country” is apparently very necessary.  We all know how short attention spans are these days, so it’s best not to trust anyone to remember how we think they should vote, and why, just because we told them so yesterday.  I think this is the same rationale used by the groups that make watching TV during an election years so fun by running the exact same campaign ad five times in a row.

Finally, be sure to idolize your favorite political candidate and absolutely do not tolerate any criticism of him or her.  If someone persists in sharing facts that tarnish your idol, try name-calling.  (What worked in kindergarten can also work now. )  Better yet, distance yourself from anyone who doesn’t share your political views, no matter who they are.  You probably have more close friends and relatives than you need anyway.

Again, I am certainly no expert on politics, and am just reporting what I have observed.  There also seems to be an alternative model for being politically active, which involves simply supporting and even campaigning for the candidate of your choice without abandoning good manners or common sense.  I’m lucky enough to know several people who fall into that category.  And if I were ever forced to become more involved in politics, that’s the group I would hope to join.  Sometimes it’s good to be in the minority.

Not That Old

DSC01337At age fifty-seven, I have finally figured out that I am no longer young.  I have accepted the sags and wrinkles; I own (and use) at least six pairs of reading glasses, and I am no longer surprised when I wake up in the morning and there’s always something, somewhere on my body, that hurts.  I am fully aware that tucking in my shirts is no longer a good look for me, and the only thing I’m looking for when I buy a new swimming suit is maximum coverage and strong elastic.  On the upside, I’ve got a much stronger sense of self than I ever had before, and I care less about what others think of me with each passing day.  In short, I have embraced the fact that I have moved from “young” into “middle aged” and have actually learned to appreciate this phase of my life.  I’m just not ready to be “old.”

Which is why I get alarmed when I find myself sometimes thinking, talking and acting like an old person.  I hate it when I walk into a store at the mall and my first thought is, “Can someone please turn that darn music down?”  I hate it when I’m on vacation, deciding where to go for dinner, and I find myself checking out the “Early Bird Specials” because the prices are so much better if I can talk my husband into eating dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon.  And I especially hate it when a young clerk at the checkout counter takes one look at me and automatically gives me the Senior Citizen Discount.

I feel so very old when I’m reading posts on Facebook that contain random abbreviations that everyone but me seems to understand.  I had to google “smh” to figure out that it means “shaking my head.”  And then, of course, I wondered why in the world would so many people feel the need to tell others they are shaking their heads?  And if it really is so very necessary, why don’t they just come out and say so in plain English, rather than use those annoying little asterisks and obscure initials?  (And if that last sentence doesn’t make me sound old, I don’t know what does.)

It’s a bit jarring to realize that I have lived long enough to see the clothing styles from my youth making a comeback.  Yesterday, I saw a newscaster wearing a dress that would have been completely in style when I was in high school…back in the mid 1970s.  And terms from my youth, like “hipster” and “kiddos” are back with a vengeance.  Isn’t that only supposed to happen to old people?

Still, I am only fifty-seven, which means I’m not actually an old person yet.  I just need to accept that from now on, there are always going to random incidents or moments that make me feel older than I  want to be.  Things such as getting invited to my 40th high school reunion, seeing toys from my childhood in an antique mall, or worse, looking at myself in the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning before I have washed my face or run a comb through my hair.  I’ve got to remember to stop doing that…

How Old Am I?

No matter how much I’d like to believe (or pretend) that I’m still young, I really do consider myself to be a middle aged woman.  I’ve thought of myself as middle aged for at least the past fifteen years or so.  And when I finally decided to start my blog, I made it all about being middle aged and coping with all the changes that middle age brings.  One way or another, being middle aged is a big part of my identity right now.

But then I started reading other people’s blogs about middle age, and realized that there are many different ways to define middle age.  I had always considered middle age to be the huge chunk of life between younger adulthood and senior citizen, and I sort of resented people who suggested that it starts and ends much earlier than that. (I even wrote a post about it called Don’t Take Away My Middle Age.)  Others believe middle age literally means the exact middle of our life, so that even if we live to be one hundred, our middle age ends when we are fifty.  Middle age is, at best, a rather fluid concept.

IMG_0393I think the problem for those of us on the upper end of middle age is that we don’t have any real term for what comes next other than “senior citizen.”  And while I have the utmost respect for senior citizens (my 85 year-old mother truly rocks the whole “cute little old lady” thing), I know that it will be many more years before I am ready to be one.  So that creates the whole question of, if I’m too old to be middle aged, but still too young to be a senior citizen, then what exactly am I?

At 57, I’m fast reaching the age when, even with the most generous definition, I can’t all myself middle aged anymore.  This will be the first time in my life when I don’t really know what age group I fall into.  So far, I’ve been a baby, child, tween, teenager, young adult, just a regular adult, and middle ager.  All that’s left, as far as I know, is senior citizen.  But it seems a bit odd to me to lump people who are in their early sixties with people who are in their late nineties.  I think that span is too long, and that the people on the opposite ends of it don’t really have that much in common.

Maybe I need to just go back to just considering myself simply as an adult, the way I did in my thirties, at least until somebody comes up with a good term for this particular time in our lives.  Or maybe it’s time I just stopped thinking in terms of age categories all together, because my age is really nobody’s business but mine.  Whatever I decide, I’m going to keep the name of my blog the same. I’d like to think that by doing so I’m making some sort of bold stand against aging and age classifications, but the truth is that figuring out how to change the name is just too much work.