A Helping Hand

I always hoped I’d be the sort of person who could greet any sort of hardship with a cheerful smile and a “can do” attitude, rolling up my sleeves to get to work on solving whatever problem I happen to be facing. I wanted to automatically count my blessings each morning when I woke up, no matter what the day had in store. I wanted to be the person who feels, deep down in her heart, that no matter how long a difficult situation lasts, I’m absolutely certain I last even longer.

And some days, I am exactly that sort of person. I’m genuinely thankful for what I have, and I absolutely feel strong enough to deal with whatever trouble comes my way. But the problem is that I also have other days, when I’m impatient, annoyed, discouraged, and above all, just plain crabby.

Living with the fear of Covid isn’t easy when you have seasonal allergies, especially since the list of possible Covid symptoms has expanded to include almost every symptom that my allergies cause. I used to get a sore throat and think, “Darn, the pollen counts are high again.” Now I think, “OMG, do I have Covid????” I worry that my husband’s cancer treatments will be derailed by either a positive Covid test or that hospitals will once again halt most surgeries and procedures that aren’t Covid-related. And sometimes, I just plain get tired of the difficulties in doing every day things, like grocery shopping, going to the dentist, or getting a leaking basement pipe repaired.

I miss going to church on Sunday mornings, and eating out with friends. I used to worry if I left the house without my cell phone, but now I panic if I reach in my purse and can’t find my trusty little bottle of hand sanitizer. I miss being able to drop in at my mother’s apartment to check that she’s really okay.

I know these are all minor complaints and that many people are in MUCH worse situations. Believe me, I get that. But as the weeks stretch into months and the months threaten to stretch into years, there are times when reminding myself that I’m better off than many others just doesn’t help much.

But the one thing that never fails to help is when another person reaches out in kindness and concern. Never have I appreciated what a gift that is more than I do now.

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On the day before my husband’s first chemo treatment, my daughter dropped off a “care basket” full of supplies to help him cope. Friends and family have called, sent cards, and just plain listened without judgement when I needed to vent. Neighbors have invited us over to sit on their patio for an evening of wine and good conversation. A family friend has reached out regularly to my mother, knowing that she needs extra contact to combat the loneliness the Covid restrictions have caused her and most other senior citizens.

The truth is, life is rather challenging for all of us these days, to various degrees and for a variety of reasons. But if we can all remember to reach out to someone else with an encouraging word, a sympathetic ear, or even just the gift of our (socially distanced) presence, life will be a bit easier for everyone. And if that isn’t worth the effort, then I don’t know what is.

A Good Man

l7PvQ+dETJOMWesRIhyYzQAs my regular readers know, I hate being sick.  So I was deeply unhappy when I realized that the sore throat and stuffy nose I came down with last Monday wasn’t, as I had hoped, an allergic reaction to spending Sunday afternoon taking down our Christmas tree.  It was a real cold.  The good news was that I felt a little bit better with each passing day…until last night, when I began to lose my voice.  I couldn’t talk at all by this morning, so I went to the local urgent care clinic for help.

It turned out to be inflamed vocal cords which should go away soon, and I’m already feeling much better.  Partly because they gave me a steroid shot for the inflammation, but mostly because the staff that I dealt with at the clinic were so professional and kind.  They listened to what I had to say, answered my questions, and explained exactly what my treatment would be.  In short, they were ordinary people who took the time to do their job well, and that helped enormously.

I’ve reached the age where I’ve known too many good people who have died, and even more people who are mourning the loss of their own loved ones.  So it shouldn’t have been a shock when my husband received a text from the wife of our handyman telling us that he had died of a sudden heart attack.  But it was.

We’ve known Mike for many years, and liked him very much.  He did high-quality work, and was friendly, dependable, and the sort of person who could fix or build just about anything.  Mike did a lot of projects for us, and also worked on our son’s house, our daughter’s house and my mother’s house.  You don’t spend that much time with someone and not get to know him fairly well, especially someone who likes to talk, as Mike did.  He told us about his wife, whom he loved dearly, and about his beloved granddaughter, whom he adored.  We knew he loved his dogs, and was an avid hunter and fisherman.

One way or another, my husband spent a lot of time talking to Mike, asking for his advice on various projects and often just “shooting the breeze.”  I think it’s safe to say that the relationship between the two of them moved beyond employer/employee to real friendship.  At least I know that’s the way my husband felt.

I’m not sharing this because I’m looking for sympathy for our loss, because that should be reserved for Mike’s family and close friends, who are in deep mourning.  I’m sharing this because I think it’s important for us all to remember just how much good ordinary people doing their jobs well can do, and how much of a positive impact they can make on the people around them.

The people who get most of the attention aren’t really the important ones, in my opinion.  It’s people like Mike and the staff I encountered at the urgent care clinic who really count.  It’s the ones who are kind and honest, and who do their jobs to the best of their ability,  and who are always ready to lend a hand when needed who are the people who truly make the world a better place.  And I believe that they are the ones whose example the rest of us would do well to follow….

Hidden Treasure

I can’t say that I was looking forward to helping my mom prepare for her upcoming move into a retirement community.  I knew that my mom doesn’t make decisions easily, and would therefore need help in deciding exactly what she wanted to take with her into her new apartment.  And I also knew that Mom has a ton of stuff in her house to be sorted through, and that we’re going to have to figure out exactly what to do with all the things that she no longer wants.  Moving from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment requires some serious downsizing and a whole lot of time and work.

But while it hasn’t exactly been fun to spend hours on end at Mom’s house emptying out closets, sorting through her kitchen cabinets and opening all the boxes stored in her basement, there’s been an unexpected upside to this whole procedure.  Because while some of those boxes, drawers and closets are full of the stuff that probably should have been donated or thrown away years (if not decades) ago, we’ve also discovered some family things that have made all the effort worthwhile.

I found a scrapbook that my mom made for the 10th anniversary celebration of my dad’s ordination.  Sounds boring, I know, but that scrapbook was filled with photos of our family and articles about us that I hadn’t ever seen because I wasn’t living at home when Mom made the scrapbook.  Or when she decided to put it in a box and leave it in that unopened box during three subsequent moves.  (Now you see why I insist on opening all the boxes for this move.)

dS0lwqSCSwKbwC1WqL+ExwWe also found an invitation to wedding of my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother, which I plan to frame.  And it was great fun looking through the folder my parents had made when we were planning my wedding, especially when we looked at the prices that were being considered.  My dad had written, “I told them to forget it!” next to the name of one venue, so I guess it’s safe to assume that they were a bit more expensive than the $11.95 per person we eventually paid for my reception.

Going through Mom’s stuff has brought back so many memories.  I loved discovering letters written by relatives who died years ago, because it was almost as if I were hearing their voices again.  And finding the copy of my grandfather’s high school report card covered with B’s and C’s was a bit of a surprise, since I had always known him as a smart and successful dentist.  Discovering that he had struggled a little in high school made me realize how hard he must have worked for the success he achieved later in life, when he actually taught at dental school.

Some of the documents I found were sad, like the guest books for both of my great-grandparent’s funerals.  Even sadder were the telegrams to out-of-town relatives, informing them that my oldest sister died shortly after her premature birth, and asking them to reach out to my mother.  But all of it is a record of my family’s past, and therefore also a part of my past.

I am, and always will be, a strict minimalist who firmly believes in the old adage “less is more.”  But when it comes to the photos, documents, letters, etc. that record family history, I have come to believe that there is no such thing as too much.  It may not have a monetary value, but trust me me….it’s true treasure.

All Good Things

It seemed to me that this past Winter was especially hard.  My home town was spared the horrible blizzards that devastated other parts of the Midwest, but our Winter was still made up of months of very cold temperatures and too much snow and ice.  I don’t know if it’s my age or that my volunteer job of walking dogs at the local animal shelter means I’m outside for long periods of time, but whatever the reason, I don’t tolerate the cold very well.  The blood drains out of my fingers, leaving them bleached white and painful, my nose runs continuously, and my eyes tear so much that everyone thinks I’m crying.

So you can see why I was really, really, ready for Winter to be over, even as the frigid temperatures hung on and the promise of Spring seemed so very far away.  I often found myself wondering just how big of a beach-front Florida condo we could buy if we sold our house and drained our savings accounts.  Sometimes I thought about just staying in my nice warm bed all day, reading books and eating hot soup.  I even toyed with the idea of having all the supplies I needed delivered to me so that I didn’t have to venture out into the cold.

But I didn’t act on any of those crazy impulses.  Instead, I just kept to my regular routine, knowing that sooner or later, Winter would give up and leave, making room for the Spring that I was longing for.  And sure enough, Spring finally showed up.

fullsizeoutput_5070The past couple of weeks have been (mostly) wonderfully warm, with just enough rain to wash away the nasty tree pollen that triggers my allergies.  The flowers are blooming, the trees are budding, and the birds are singing outside my window every morning.  The days are getting longer, and it now stays light well into the dinner hour, which means we can both cook and eat outside on our patio.

I believe Winter comes to all of us in many ways.  Some times it’s the literal Winter of cold, nasty weather and long, dark nights.  Other times, it’s the hardships and losses that that we suffer through and that can make life feel so very difficult, both physically and emotionally.  There are times when it seems as if our personal Winter will never end.

fullsizeoutput_507dThat’s when it helps me to remember that at the end of every seasonal Winter, no matter how hard and how long it has been, comes Spring.  The sun gets a little stronger, the temperatures a little warmer and the days last a little longer with each passing week.  And that reminds me that the dark days in our personal lives don’t last forever either.  It may take a long time, but eventually our burdens will feel just a little bit lighter, our hearts will feel just a little bit warmer, and our spirits will celebrate the arrival of our very own Spring.

Priceless

I tend to be a little cranky when I’m sick, especially when I have a cold.  I know that the common cold is a very minor illness, especially when compared to some of the health issues that other people deal with, but I still hate having one.  I hate the sore throat, the sneezing and coughing, the constant nose-blowing and being so congested that I can barely breathe.  When I have a cold, I tend to walk around with a box of tissue in one hand and a jar of ointment in the other (to soothe my sore nose), feeling tremendously sorry for myself and scowling at the world in general.  As I said, I don’t do colds well.

So you can imagine how irritated I am that I am currently suffering from at least my fifth cold this year.  I seem to be on a schedule of being sick for a week, feeling better for about three days, and then getting sick again.  I’ve sought medical advice, which was basically “take some decongestants, drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest.”  I don’t think the doctor understood that what I was actually looking for was a miracle cure that would make all my symptoms disappear forever.  Sometimes even the smartest people can miss the obvious….

The sad thing is, I know where these colds are coming from.  Before I became a grandmother, I usually suffered from only one or two colds in an entire year.  But as soon as my little grandson started daycare, I’ve been catching colds with alarming regularity.  The cycle goes something like this:  my grandson goes to daycare, where he comes into contact with lots of other little kids, and at least one of them is always suffering from a cold.  He catches the cold, and then passes it on to me the next time I see him.  (He may be only one, but he’s already very good at sharing.)

Which means that the only way I can reasonably hope to stay healthy in the upcoming months is to avoid all contact with my grandson.  And that’s not going to happen.  Because as much as I hate having a cold (and trust me, I really hate it), I love my grandson more.

IMG_4458I only have one grandchild and I want to spend as much time with him as I possibly can.  I love watching him grow and learn new things, and my heart melts just a little each he gives me a hug.  I know those hugs usually come with a few cold germs attached (let’s face it, he’s basically a petri dish in a diaper), but I’ll still happily take each and every hug he offers.

Sometimes we have to pay a high price for the things we want, and I know that suffering from a never-ending series of colds is the price I have to pay for spending time with my grandson. But that’s okay, because I also know he’s worth it.

The Only Constant

I started this blog because I wanted to write about the phase of my life that I called “middle age,” even if I was a bit old for that title. At the time, I was feeling a little bit lost and unsure of myself in the face of changes that sometimes seemed overwhelming.  I was a stay-at-home mom whose kids had grown up and moved out, and a free-lance writer who hadn’t sold anything in years.  My mother had reached the age where our roles were beginning to reverse.  Trying to keep up with the latest in technology left me feeling both confused and inadequate.  Worst of all were the changes that aging had wrought on my body, which essentially meant that everything that could possibly go south had done so, and I couldn’t read a thing without my reading glasses.

One way or another, I felt that my old identity had been stripped away and I hadn’t yet found my new one.  I thought that blogging about it might help, because writing has always helped me sort out just exactly what I am thinking and feeling.  And I was right…..it did help.  Just not quite in the way I had thought.

It’s been over three years since I launched Muddling Through My Middle Age, and I still haven’t found that new identity.  But after spending so much time writing about the struggle to figure out just who I have become,  I finally realized that it is that it’s perfectly okay not to know exactly who I am, or to claim a particular role and self-image and try to make it last for the rest of my life.  Because life is constantly changing, and the only way I can ever hope to cope with that is by being willing to change right along with it.

Of course some things about me will always stay the same.  My basic personality, my morals and my values, my deepest loves and my most annoying quirks are with me for life.  But so many other things have changed.  Just in recent years, I’ve become a blogger, a mother-in-law and a grandmother.  I am, slowly but surely, gaining confidence in my ability to master technology.  I have embraced new ideas and conquered some old fears.  I have become more “comfortable in my own skin” than I have ever been, even if that skin is awfully wrinkled and saggy these days.

The truth is, there is no such thing as just one new identity for me to discover and embrace for the rest of my life.  There’s just me….continually changing, growing and adapting to whatever life happens to bring.  And that’s a good thing.

Trust Issues

Last week I was in the check-out lane at the grocery store, paying for my items in cash. The young man who was the cashier told me I owed $21.78, so I handed him a twenty and a five-dollar bill.  Normally the amount of change I would get back would come up on the computer screen for both of us to see, but he must have entered the wrong amount because according to the screen, I still owed him money.  Quite a lot of money, as a matter of fact.

“No problem.  I’ll figure out your change on this,” he said, whipping out his cell phone and pulling up his calculator app.  He tapped his phone’s screen a few times and then reached into his cash drawer and handed me $4.76.  I’m notoriously bad at math, but even I knew that $25.00 minus $21.78 doesn’t come to $4.76.

“I don’t think that’s right,” I told him.

“Sure it is,” he said.  And held out his phone to me as proof.  “See?”

And sure enough, it did say $4.76 on his screen.  But all that meant was that he had keyed in the wrong amount (again).  I was beginning to think that perhaps being a grocery store cashier was not the ideal job for this particular person.

But the more I thought about it, the more I believed that the real problem wasn’t his habit of hitting the wrong keys when typing in numbers.  The problem was that it never occurred to him to question the accuracy of the information provided by one of his devices. And that got me wondering about how often the rest of us accept whatever facts we get from our devices, instantly and without questions.

Like most people, if I want to find the answer to something quickly and easily, I just “Google it.”  And whatever answer Google comes up with, I believe.  Others, who are more up to date in their devices may also ask “Siri” or “Alexa.”  But honestly, how in the world do we know that Siri and Alexa know what they are talking about?

When home computers first became popular, we were often reminded that they are only as accurate as the information that is programmed into them.  And sometimes technology malfunctions, as anyone who has gotten hopelessly lost following incorrect GPS directions knows all too well.  I admit that I have no idea how Siri or Alexa actually work, or even how Google sifts through thousands of websites to decide which ones show up first on my screen.  But I think it’s a good idea to remember that no technology is infallible, “exhibit A” being Auto-correct and the way it can mangle the simplest of text messages.

Last month I was in Florida with a friend who wanted to hit the beach at low tide because that’s the prime time to find the best shells.  She Googled it, and found that low tide was going to be at 1:30 that afternoon.  At exactly 1:30 we arrived at the beach with our high hopes and empty shelling bags.  And found ourselves staring at a beach that was experiencing what is commonly known as a high tide.  We managed to find some decent shells, but I’m still thinking that someone needs to teach Google a thing or two about the Florida tide cycles.  Or next time, maybe I’ll play it safe and just ask one of the locals.

Too Much Information

Sometimes I think I’m a terrible friend.  Don’t get me wrong, I care about each and every friend I have, deeply and sincerely.  I know I’m lucky to have them in my life and what a gift those relationships are.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m nowhere near the kind of friend I want to be, and that bothers me.

Last weekend my husband and I went to dinner with a couple of very good friends we have known for more years that I care to count.  We had a great time, eating good food and catching up on what was going on in each other’s lives.  It was a fun evening and one I thought had gone very well, until after I was home and it hit me that I had not once asked my friend about how her sister was doing.  The sister who had been fighting a very serious cancer and who, the last time I actually remembered to ask, was still struggling to fully recover.

All too often, that’s exactly the kind of friend I am:  the one who doesn’t remember to ask the important questions.  The one who doesn’t always manage to keep track of what is going on in her friends’ lives, which means I’m also the one who sometimes doesn’t give the kind of support that her friends need and that I really, really want to give them.

I know what the problem is, and it’s not a lack of compassion.  The problem is that I  don’t seem to have the ability to keep track of large quantities of information, no matter how important that information happens to be.  Like almost everyone else these days, I’m constantly bombarded with information that needs to be acknowledged, processed and categorized so that it can be retrieved when needed.  But in my case, the information is usually misfiled somewhere in the depths of my tiny little brain.

I can remember what I want to ask someone about until that person is actually standing in front of me, or I’m talking to them on the phone.  That’s the exact moment that I can remember only that I need to schedule a vet appointment for my dog, get a flu shot, take our passports back to the safety deposit box, and drop some food off at my mother’s house.  Later, when I’m standing in my basement trying to remember what I went down there for, I’ll remember that I want to ask about a good friend how her recent job interview went.  (Not that I’ll actually ask her, since she’s not standing in my basement at that exact moment.)

I worry that my over-stretched memory means that my friends and family must think I am self-centered, and worse, that I don’t really care about what is going on in their lives and that they can’t count on me for support when they need it.  The truth is, I couldn’t possibly care more, and I am always ready to give any kind of help that they need.  But it’s also true that they might need to remind me that they need that support.

I suppose the fact that I actually have friends means that there are people in this world who, if they don’t always understand me, or at least willing to put up with me.  And for that I am deeply grateful.  I suppose the true test of any friendship is the ability to accept people for who they truly are, flaws and all.  And maybe it’s time I began to do that for myself as well.

A New Chapter

Life is often called a journey, and I think that is true.  But I’m an avid reader and also a writer, which means that when I think of my life, I tend to picture it more as a book.  Just like life, books have definite beginnings and endings.  The interesting part is what happens in between and the story is usually divided into specific chapters.  My life’s “chapters” are the highlights of my story, such as graduation, marriage, my first job, the birth of my children, etc.  And now I am beginning yet another chapter, because two days ago my daughter gave birth to her first child and I became a grandparent.

04-RWAR-26Many of my friends already have grandchildren, and they did their best to tell me just how special it is.  And I believed them, I really did.  But I still totally unprepared for the absolute joy and wonder I felt when I first saw my brand-new grandson.  He seemed like nothing less than a tiny little miracle.  And just as I did with my own newborn babies all those years ago, I fell in love with him, immediately and absolutely.

He’s not even a week old yet, so the role of grandparent is still new to me and I don’t really quite know what to expect.  I hope he will always know how much I love him and that he can always count on me.  I want to be the sort of grandmother who enriches his life, and maybe gets the chance to spoil him, just a little bit.  I’ve heard that what grandparents are supposed to do.

I see so much of my daughter in him already, and when I look at my son-in-law, I have no doubt that my grandson is blessed with a wonderful father and role model.   I hope they both know I’m always ready to offer my support as they adjust to parenthood, with all of its joys and all of its demands.  I know they are going to be terrific parents.

I’m not exactly sure what this next chapter of my life will bring.  But I have to tell you, I can’t wait to find out….

One More Christmas

IMG_2153We were sure that last year would be our dog Lucy’s very last Christmas.  She was fifteen years old, and had survived a couple of serious health issues.  Signs of her aging were obvious: stiffness in her joints, hearing loss, and worst of all, a digestive system that obviously could no longer handle the variety of “food” she still found and insisted on eating.  Lucy had been part of our family for over fourteen years, so our Christmas morning was a little bittersweet as all photographed and video-taped what we thought would be the last time she would ever help us open presents.

Clearly, Lucy had other ideas.  Because Christmas is a week away, and she is still with us.

I’m not sure if it’s her competitive nature (her doggie sister lived to be sixteen and a half, and I think she has every intention of exceeding that goal), or just that she is still enjoys life.  She turned sixteen last October.  Lucy’s hearing is basically gone, her eyes are somewhat cloudy and she can no longer balance on three legs while I trim her nails.  But she still has a healthy appetite, still trots briskly after the occasional squirrel, and still plays with her dog toys now and then.  She can even still chase her tail a little bit when she gets really excited about something,  such as her dinner being served.

I know that eventually my family will be facing a Christmas, and a life, without Lucy.  She won’t be with us forever despite her best efforts.  Time moves on and those we love, both human and otherwise, grow old and die…often before we are ready to let them go. And since Christmas is a time when the influence of the past seems to be stronger than usual, acknowledging that loss can be hard.

My father has been gone for eight years now, and both my mother-in-law and father-in-law have been gone for six years.  And while my husband and I miss them all the time, we miss them especially during the Christmas season, when the memories of the holidays we celebrated together are especially strong.  We didn’t live in the same state so we had to be flexible about when we got together, but they were always a part of our Christmas celebrations.  And Christmas isn’t quite the same without them.

Yet Christmas is still a beautiful season.  It’s a time to treasure the family and friends we still have and to appreciate the new people who join our family and enrich our lives. My mother may be in her late eighties, but she is still with us, and so is her elderly Chihuahua.  My children and their spouses live close by and we are very much looking forward to the arrival of our first grandson in just a few weeks.  Some change is good indeed.

And the fact that Lucy will get at least one more chance to find the special present that Santa Dog left under the tree will just make this Christmas that much sweeter.