Opting Out

Sometime it’s hard not to be discouraged.  I think that two-plus years of dealing with Covid-19 has left most of us a bit drained, and often operating on our last nerve.  It doesn’t take much these days to provoke an angry reaction, and patience is often in short supply.  While things have certainly improved from the pre-vaccine days, we haven’t managed to return to the normal life we long for.

I still feel nervous when I walk into a crowded room, have a love/hate relationship with face masks, and worry every time I have a sore throat that I’m coming down with Covid.  (I have seasonal allergies, so a sore throat and a runny nose are normal for me at least four months of the year.)  I hate going to my doctor, because he still refuses to see any patient that has Covid symptoms, and almost all symptoms could be Covid.  And, as petty as it sounds, I’m tired of watching my favorite restaurants close down because they can’t get enough staff and/or supplies.

All of which is to say that these days, I’m not always my usual, mostly-cheerful self.  I’m much more thin-skinned, and quick to feel offended or hurt.  I still have good days, but there are too many times when I can best be described as crabby.  And I’ve decided that I really, really, don’t want crabby to become my new normal.

It’s easy to be cheerful when things are going well, and easy to be touchy and rude when they aren’t.  It’s easy to respond to rudeness with anger, and to lash out when someone directs a snide remark my way.  It’s tempting to engage in an on-line argument when someone posts a particularly obnoxious or inaccurate meme, in the hopes of “setting them straight.”  In other words, the opportunities to be nasty to other people are almost limitless.

But, as I said, that’s not the person I want to be.  And so I’m making the deliberate decision to “opt out” of the whole mess, as much as possible.  Because I really don’t need to respond to someone looking for an argument, or react when someone says or writes something that hurts my feelings.  I know there will be times when I’m tempted to give “tit for tat,” as the saying goes, but I hope that I’ll be strong enough to know that by doing so I’m only making a bad situation worse.  Sometimes, silence really is golden.

I’ll try to remember the the person whose words or actions bother me is probably also operating on his or her last nerve, and may not even mean to cause offense.  I’ll try to act the way I want someone to respond when I inadvertently offend them, by giving the benefit of the doubt.  Mostly, I’ll try to remember that, while I can’t control other people’s words and actions, I most certainly can control my own.  And that these days, it’s more important than ever to try to be my very best self.

Making Good Time

064A2666-4A53-49B9-A8C9-E76F4CF47CC0I love strawberries, and I especially love fresh-picked strawberries.  When our children were young, we used to take them to a “pick your own” fruit farm and come back with buckets of strawberries.  My in-laws also had a strawberry patch behind their house, and for years we made sure we visited when the strawberries were ripe.  My mother-in-law graciously allowed me to help myself to her berries, which were always delicious.  But after my in-laws passed away and our children grew up, I stopped finding the time to go strawberry-picking.

This year, I was intrigued when my daughter-in-law gave me some strawberries that she and my granddaughter picked from a nearby farm.  They were very tasty, and she said the farm was only a twenty-minute drive away.  I’ve been busy lately, and at first I didn’t think I could possibly find the time to go pick strawberries.  But I also remembered all those other years I wanted to go and decided I was too busy, and how much I regretted it afterwards.  The strawberry season is a short one.

73FEBAA1-F39C-4314-8A2D-4E3654B318A2So last Tuesday I put on my oldest pair of tennis shoes, drove myself to the farm and picked a big box full of ripe strawberries. (I would have picked two boxes, but my back told me it was time to stop stooping over.)  I ate a few dozen, shared some with my family, cleaned another bowl-full to keep in the fridge, made a strawberry pie, and froze the rest.  Not a bad result for a quick morning’s work.

Yesterday my grandson spent the afternoon at our house, and his parents were also going to drop his baby brother off at dinnertime so we could watch both of them while they enjoyed a quick date night.  Just when it was time for me to start cooking our dinner, my grandson decided it was time to dance to one of his favorite songs.  I watched him for a few minutes, complimented his moves, and edged toward the kitchen.  “Please play the song again!” he pleaded, then added, “and dance with me!”  I hesitated, knowing that it really was time to get dinner going before the baby arrived.

But just as I was opening my mouth to tell him I didn’t have time to dance right now, I suddenly realized that the time is soon coming when he won’t want to dance to “Baby Shark,” or any other song, with his grandma.  And so I played the song again, took his hands, and we danced.  Or to be more accurate, he danced and I jerked around like someone who’s receiving mild electric shocks.  Dinner was late, but we had fun, and I know I made the right choice.

The truth is that life will always be busy, and there will always be problems demanding our attention.  But sometimes we have to stop being so sensible and serious, and just do what makes us and those we love happy.  The world won’t stop if we indulge our inner child now and then, and who knows?  We might just be a better person for it too.

In With The New

5648D17B-10C5-49D3-8139-2BF17A237E0DThere’s a lot to love about Spring.  The warmer temperatures, the bright colors on the trees as they sprout new buds, and the gorgeous array of flowers are all welcome signs that Winter is finally over.  Spring is a time of hope, when nature seems to reawaken and we venture outside without bundling up first.  It’s easy to understand why many people call it their favorite season, and I’m certainly always happy to see it arrive.

But Spring has its downside as well, and not just for those of us who suffer from seasonal allergies.  (Though the runny nose, sore throat, itchy eyes and sneezing isn’t any picnic to live with, especially these days when every single allergy symptom is also on the list of Covid symptoms.)  The problem with Spring, for me anyway, is that it involves a whole lot of work.

Spring cleaning my house is simply the beginning.  Once I’ve given everything a thorough cleaning and airing, including painting touch-ups, I help my husband with the yard.  We set up our patio furniture, rake the last of our neighbor’s leaves off our grass, haul out our flower pots to refill, trim bushes and plants, and spread the newly-delivered mulch.  The big box-store commercials make preparing our yards for Spring look like so much fun, but after a few  hours of steady work, trust me, the thrill wears off.

And then there’s the worst job of all: my annual “shifting of the wardrobe.”  This involves removing all the Winter/Fall clothes from my closet and dresser and replacing them with my warm-weather clothes.  It sounds easy, I know, but I struggle with this job each year.  Spring’s fluctuating temperatures makes deciding what I should pack away and what I should leave out for another few weeks rather difficult.  Then there’s the whole question of what I should do with a sweater that I bought (on sale, from a high-end store) three years ago and haven’t worn once.  Or the blouse that I’ve worn many times, because I’ve been wearing it for twelve years.  Just how long is too long to hang on to a blouse?  These are not decisions that I make easily.

I know my life would be simpler if I lived in a house that had a closet big enough to store all my clothes year-round.  But as hard as it is for me to sort through everything two or three times a year, I also know it’s actually a good thing.  It forces me to evaluate my clothes and make a conscious decision on exactly what I want to keep, and helps me recognize when the time has come to get rid of a sweater I once loved but has long since lost its shape and no longer fits.  It’s sort of a  “fashion renewal.”

I still love Spring, despite my allergies and all the work it brings.  Sprucing up our yard, buying new flowers to plant, and weeding out my wardrobe is worth the effort, because discarding what no longer works and actively making room for new things gives me hope.  And the hope that comes from renewal is the very best part of Spring.

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……

Spring Thaw

IMG_1720Spring has arrived, and I’m thrilled.  The daffodils are blooming, the trees are budding out, and the temperatures are running the gamut from just above freezing to warm enough for sandals.  I especially love early Spring because I can be outside without battling tree pollen and the annoying mosquitoes that come a bit later.  For me, Spring has always been a time of hope:  knowing that the long, dark Winter is finally over and that the earth is renewing itself with new and colorful life always makes me happy.

But this year, I’m even more ready for Spring that usual.  It’s not that I believe “everything will be alright now,” because even I’m not that stupid.  It’s just that I feel that after the events of the past two years, on both a personal and global level, I’m finally ready to move forward.

When the pandemic first hit and the lock downs began, all I wanted was my old life back.  I deeply resented all the people who kept saying, “things will never be the same again,” and clung desperately to my belief that somehow, all of us would indeed be able to step back into our pre-Covid lives.  But the world did change, and time, as it always does, marched relentlessly forward.  Slowly but surely, I began to accept my “new reality” and even make peace with it.  In hard times, we just do what we have to do, and learn to find joy in the little things.

But personally, I can’t stay in “survival mode” forever.  There comes a time when I need to get back to simply living my life as best I can.  That doesn’t mean I’ve finally manged to return to the life I had two years ago, because I haven’t, and never will.  It does mean that I’m ready to embrace the life I have as fully as I possibly can, keeping my old habits that still work and shedding the ones that don’t.  It means being open to new ways of thinking, doing, and living that make sense with the world as it is now, and the person I have become.

And so I’m ready for Spring, and not just the one I see outside my window.  I’m ready for a little rebirth of my own.  I’m ready to connect with people I haven’t seen in far too long, and whose absence I’ve felt deeply.  Recently, I was lucky enough to meet up with two dear friends from my school days, and I swear that even in the brief time we spent together, I could feel a little piece of my heart thawing out.  There really is nothing like being in the physical presence of our loved ones, friends and family alike.

I know that there are still major issues to be faced, and more trials ahead for all of us.  But my hope is that somehow in the midst of it all, we can all find our own, personal Spring.

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.

In the Mirror

I’ve always rather liked the old saying, “Love many; trust a few; always paddle your own canoe.”  It seems to pack a lot of advice in a few simple words, but like most things in this world, the real meaning is up to interpretation.  When I first read it, I believed the last few words referred to being self reliant, and not counting too much on others to take care of us.   And there is a certain amount of wisdom in that interpretation, as expecting others to meet our every need is bound to result in serious disappointment.  But the older I get, the more I see another meaning in those words that I believe is even more important.

“Always paddle your own canoe” can also mean refrain from paddling other people’s canoes.  And by that I don’t mean refrain from helping other people who are in need, as I sincerely believe that all of us have an obligation to help others as much as we possibly can.  That’s just a part of what it means to be human and to live in community.  What I do mean is that we need to refrain from trying to direct other people’s lives.  To use the canoe analogy, that means to refrain from telling other people how fast they need to paddle, what kind of oars they ought to be using, and which bodies of water they should navigate, etc.

Of course we all like our own ideas best, and I’m no exception.  In my heart of hearts, I probably believe that the world would be a better place if only everyone else thought and acted more like me, and I think that’s a belief that most of us share whether we’re aware of it or not.  The problem is that it has become far too fashionable to act on that belief, and to spend endless time and energy pointing out other people’s faults and trying to bring them in line with our way of thinking and doing.  A quick glance at social media is proof of that, with its endless posts that have basically the same message:  “my values are better than your values.”  Few of the posts actually come right out and say that, but the message is still there, loud and clear.

I’ve come to believe that if we’re really interested in making the world a better place, we need to start with ourselves.  Instead of spending quite so much time finding fault with other people, we need to take a good long look in the mirror and see how we can do better.  And then make the effort to actually be better.  And if we put even half the energy that we put into trying to change other people into improving ourselves, I think the results would be amazing, to say the least.

So, yes, I still like that saying about paddling your own canoe.  Because I really believe that if I can keep trying to paddle my canoe (as in live my life) as best as I possibly can, I just might end up doing some good in this world……

Keeping The Faith

I was hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, so when I first heard the news reports of predicted turkey shortages, I was concerned.  I hurried to my local grocery store early in November to place my order for a fresh turkey, just to make sure I would have one.  But the clerk at the meat counter told me that they weren’t taking orders for turkey or anything else this year, and that he wasn’t sure they would have any fresh turkeys for sale at all.  He told me that if I wanted to be sure to have a turkey for my Thanksgiving dinner, I should buy one of their frozen ones right now, before they ran out. 

I thanked him and went over to the inspect the frozen turkeys.  They were covered with frost, and when I scraped off the label in order to read the price, I was shocked to see that it would cost $37 for a 14-pound turkey.  Call me cheap, but I just couldn’t make myself pay that much for what looked suspiciously like a turkey left over from last year.  I decided to keep looking, and that if I came up empty-handed, we could always celebrate Thanksgiving with a nice lasagna instead.

Luckily, I found a store that was happy to take my order for a fresh turkey, and while it wasn’t exactly cheap, it was free-range, so that made the price easier to accept.  Much harder to accept was the sight of the literally dozens of turkeys, both fresh and frozen, available in every grocery store in the days just before Thanksgiving.  All that worry, all that schlepping from store to store searching for turkeys, and it turned out that there were more than enough for everyone.  I haven’t felt quite that conned since the days after the Beanie Baby craze, and I could blame that one on my kids.

No one who knows me well would ever call me an optimist, but even I have had enough of the doom and gloom predictions that seem so relentless these days.  Yes, there are very real issues to worry about and I’m quite sure that there really are bad things coming our way.  But I also know that not every dire prediction comes true (the predicted turkey shortage certainly didn’t) and that perhaps the time has come for me to be a little more discerning when I decide how I respond to the constant reports of how “the sky is falling.”  Because maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t.

IMG_1069 2We actually had a rather nice Thanksgiving this year.  The vaccines allowed us to gather as an extended family, and for that I was thankful.  I was even more thankful that my husband’s long battle with cancer finally seems to be over, and that we will soon be welcoming another grandchild into our family.  Also, I managed to cook the turkey without setting off the smoke alarm, which doesn’t always happen.  All of which is to say that, even in these troubled times, there is still a whole lot of good going on.  We just have to be willing to see it….

Ready or Not

Fall has finally arrived, but I’m not ready for it.  I’m not ready yet to say goodbye to Summer, with its long, hot days and warm nights.  I don’t want to pack away all my Summer clothes and exchange my sandals for shoes and socks.  I hate the way the flowers in the pots around my patio are beginning to wilt and wither no matter how much I water them, and the way the daylight is fading just a bit earlier with each passing week.  Yes, I know the calendar says Summer officially ended over a week ago, but in my mind, there should be at least another month of it to go.

Part of the problem is that my husband and I didn’t get to have much of a Summer this year.  He had a bad reaction to surgery in early July, and his extended hospitalization and recovery period meant we had to abandon our plans for a Summer getaway trip.  And it seemed as if by the time my husband was finally feeling well enough to enjoy Summer activities, the season was practically over.  I think it’s hard to move on to a new season when you don’t feel as if you really experienced the old one.

My guess is that a lot of people are feeling that way these days, even though their personal situation isn’t exactly the same as ours.  We’ve been living through some very strange times, mostly due to the horrible pandemic that refuses to go away, and also because of the many natural disasters that have occurred and what feels like more than our usual share of political upheaval.  So many of us have felt the loss of the things that we hold dear about our normal lives, and it’s only natural to have trouble letting go of our expectations and moving forward.

The trouble is, we don’t really have a choice.  Time marches steadily on, usually faster than we would prefer, and there’s not a darn thing we can do about it.  Clinging to our ideas of “what should have been” doesn’t get us anywhere we want to be, and it actually makes it harder to move into the future with any hope or sense of purpose.  The only thing to do is move forward, appreciating what we have and anticipating what is to come.  Because there will always be something to enjoy and treasure if we can just open our eyes and see it.

IMG_4023So I’m dragging out my Fall decorations, placing pumpkins and mums on my front porch, and pretty soon I’ll bake the traditional pumpkin pie that, to me, always signals the beginning of this season.  I know that the leaves on the trees will soon be exploding in beautiful colors and that the shorter days mean cooler nights, which are perfect for enjoying on our patio.  No, I didn’t get the Summer I had hoped for, but who knows?  This Fall might just make up for it.  It’s worth a try, anyway.

Reasonably Nice

It’s been very hot and humid here for the past few days, and I don’t seem to be coping with it very well.  Part of the problem is that I walk dogs at a local animal shelter, which means that I’m outside a lot, no matter what the weather.  (The fact that I’m no longer a “spring chicken” probably also has something to do with it, but I prefer not to think about that.)  The upshot is that by the time I was done with my walking shift yesterday morning, I was hot, tired, and and sore.   All I wanted to do was go home, take a cool shower, and lie down.

Then I discovered that there were some dogs in another part of the shelter still waiting to be walked, and that I was the only person still around to walk them.  I’d like to say that I accepted the situation and did my duty cheerfully, but I did not.  I was angry, because now I was faced with two unpleasant choices:  either stay and walk some more dogs, or go home, knowing those dogs wouldn’t get walked that morning.  And like most angry people, I immediately looked for someone to blame:  Why hadn’t someone else walked those dogs?  Why had they “saved them” for me to take care of?   Obviously, someone wasn’t doing their job, or so I told myself.

Luckily, I shared my frustrations with a staff person I trust, because venting sometimes helps.  She listened calmly to my rant, and then gently pointed out that sometimes there just aren’t enough people to get everything done, no matter how hard they try.  No one had “saved” any dogs for me to walk, they just hadn’t been able to get to them all.  Everyone, she reminded me, was just doing the best they could.

It took me a few minutes to stop feeling sorry for myself and to realize the truth in what she said.  It took a few more minutes to actually be grateful for her honesty, because it was something I needed to hear.  When times are hard, it’s only natural for us to react with disappointment and anger, and to look for someone to blame for all our troubles.  But doing so doesn’t help anyone or anything.

I think it’s especially good for us to remember that now, because in these crazy and turbulent times we’re all struggling, one way or another.  And the last thing struggling people need is someone lashing out at them in anger.  What struggling people need, which means what all of us need, is a little bit of patience, kindness, and acceptance, I think.

Or at least that’s what I needed yesterday when I complained to that staff person.  She could have taken my rant personally and reacted in anger, but she didn’t.  Her calm and reasoned response was a gift to me, because it helped me calm down and look at the situation much more rationally.  And you know what?  I did stay and walk those dogs, and while I was doing so, someone else came along to help.  I may have been even more tired by the time I finally got home, but I wasn’t angry anymore.  Instead, all I felt was gratitude……