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…..

Getting To Know You

All relationships have to go through a period of adjustment.  Sort of like the first year of my marriage, when I discovered that my husband not only snored in his sleep, but also had a habit of sleepwalking around the apartment in the middle of the night.  (I woke up to find him fast asleep under the dining room table more than once.)  Or when he realized that the number of meals I actually knew how to cook was rather limited, and had to tell me that even though he loved my beef stroganoff, he’d rather not have it for dinner three nights a week.  Learning to live with someone new always brings a few surprises.

fullsizeoutput_4ff5So it’s probably only natural that I’m still learning a few things about our new dog, Finn.  He’s a Patterdale Terrier mix, and like most terriers, he’s very loving, energetic and determined.  But I’m still waiting to see some sign of the usual terrier intelligence.  He’s not stupid, but if he was human, he’d be a solid “C” student, even with his very best effort.

I have a mental image of my little dog sitting at a school desk,  muttering to himself while working on his math assignment:  “Two plus two?  Okay, that must be four.  Yeah, four.  Now for two plus three.  That’s got to be six.  But what about two plus four?  What could that be?  This is so hard!  Is it time for recess yet?”

Luckily, Finn is a sweet guy who seems to want nothing more than to be with us.  We can usually hear him barking madly when we leave the house, but by the time we return, he’s always curled up in his crate, fast asleep.  He loves to chase the squirrels and rabbits in our back yard, and plays endlessly with his squeaky toys when he’s inside.  He’s slowly (very slowly) learning the ways of our household, and seems quite pleased with himself whenever he earns our praise.

fullsizeoutput_4ff3Finn adores our grandson and is very patient with him, even though our grandson is a toddler who is still learning how to be gentle with dogs.  It probably helps that our grandson is still learning to feed himself and about half of his food ends up on the floor around his high chair.  Finn has figured out that toddlers are an excellent source of extra food, and makes it a point to be nearby whenever the little guy is eating at our house.

I’m still in the process of discovering exactly who Finn is, and what he needs from me.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to be patient when he makes mistakes, such as the other morning when I came downstairs to find him sitting on the kitchen table, calmly looking out the window.  I have to remind myself of how long it took our other dogs to settle into our household routines and learn our household rules, and remember to cut Finn a little slack.

And I’m still keeping an open mind when it comes to Finn’s intelligence.  He does know “sit” and how to come when called, and he never potties inside.  He’s learned that good things come to those who sit underneath high chairs.  But most important of all, he’s figured out how to make us love him and forgive his occasional misdeeds.  Which probably means that he’s just as smart as he needs to be.

Wait and See

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

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

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

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

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

Not Too Easy

I have always been the sort of person who prefers the easy route.  I remember when my high school English class was studying the works of the Romantic poets, and our teacher asked us each to write a poem that incorporated nature, human suffering, and religion as our homework assignment.  While others in the class complained about having to write a poem, I whipped out my pen and paper and immediately wrote mine:

  Looking out my window,

I see the rain has gone;

In the sky, there’s a rainbow,

And it’s time to mow the lawn!

I often wonder as I mow,

straining over the sod,

“why don’t we just let it grow?”

It was put there, you know, by God!

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I don’t remember the rest of it, but it went on along those lines for at least another two stanzas.  I thought it was funny, and even read it out loud to the rest of the class.  So I was shocked when one of my friends in the class after mine told me that the teacher had said that if I turned that poem in, I would receive a “D.”  Not about to let the teacher get the best of me, I went home and spent a couple of hours writing a poem about a drug addict dying of an overdose in a weed-strewn alley.  I got an “A” on that poem, and that same friend reported that the teacher actually read it to their class, even crying a little at the end. (Served her right, I thought.)

I’m still not sure that my first poem deserved a “D”  (hadn’t the teacher ever heard of satire?), or that my second poem deserved an “A” (it was deliberately melodramatic).  But I do know that I put a lot more effort into the second one, and that I wouldn’t have bothered to write it if my friend hadn’t told me the teacher hated my first one.  Which is a pattern that I have repeated throughout my life.

I may prefer it when my life is easy, when things are going along just fine with minimal effort on my part,  but those are rarely the times when I accomplish anything worth doing.     It’s almost always during the hard times in my life when I discover just exactly what I am capable of doing, and that’s often a lot more than I thought.

I spent most of my life fainting at the sight of blood, and thought that meant I would always be useless in any kind of medical emergency.  But the first time my daughter  fell off her bike and came running to me, dripping blood, I managed to wipe away her tears and clean and bandage her wounds without getting the slightest bit dizzy.  I tend to be impatient and a little claustrophobic, but the time our plane sat on the runway for six hours waiting for permission to take off taught me that I really do have the ability to sit patiently in tight quarters for as long as I need to.  And the succession of “fixer-uppers” that my husband and I have bought and lived in has taught me that I can work harder and longer than I had ever thought possible.  If we had been able to afford a “move-in ready” house, I would probably still believe I could never acquire any rehabbing skills.

So while I will probably always prefer the easy life, I think it is also a good thing that the easy life is not always the life I lead.  Life’s hardships, both big and small, push me to test my limits and discover strengths that I never knew I had.  And in the end, that makes the hard times worth it.