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.

I Don’t Get It

I had always been told that age brings wisdom, and in some ways I suppose that’s true.  I like to think that I’ve gotten a bit smarter over the years, or at least just a little less clueless than when I was young.  But I’m almost sixty years old now and there are still far too many things  in this world that I simply do not understand.  And I’m beginning to think that I never will.

Much of what I fail to understand is fairly new, so my age might actually be working against me there.  For instance, I keep seeing ads where restaurants and grocery stores boast about providing “clean food.”  And I think, as opposed to what?  Dirty food?  Are they seriously bragging that they aren’t serving food that’s been dropped on the ground or retrieved from the garbage can?  Of course their food is clean.  If it wasn’t, the health department would shut them down.  That’s their job.  If a restaurant or store wants to impress me with the quality of their food, they need to focus more on words like “healthy” “fresh” and “tasty.”  Especially “tasty.”

I’m also bewildered by the growing popularity of  the “open concept” choice of home design.  As far as I can see, open concept is achieved by tearing down almost all of the existing walls in a home to create one giant living space.  Apparently, this is necessary so that there are sight-lines all over the house, meaning that those living in it can see everything all the time.  For some reason, that’s considered important and the days of enjoying a bit of privacy or some peace and quiet in your home are over.  I can’t help but wonder if even bathroom walls will eventually be removed just so people could be sure of  seeing everything, even when seated on the toilet.

But the things I don’t understand aren’t just limited to new trends.  I know that I’m a bit of a clean-freak and that means my house is probably cleaner than most.  But I’m still surprised by how many people feel free to comment on how “unnaturally clean” my house is.  I know they don’t mean anything negative by it.  But personally, I’d never dream of walking into someone’s messy house and saying, “Wow!  What a pig sty!”  I think people should be allowed to keep their houses as clean or messy as they want, within reason.  (If your house is so clean that you’re following your guests around with a dust cloth and vacuum cleaner, then it is too clean.  If your guests can’t find anywhere to sit down that isn’t sticky and are afraid to eat what comes out of your kitchen, then it’s too dirty.)  Everything in between is perfectly okay.

These are just a few of the things that I puzzle over, and believe me, there are many more.  I’m hoping I’ll get to live a good long life and that will give me the chance to solve more of life’s little mysteries.  But I think it’s far more likely that there will always be many things I won’t begin to understand, even if I life to be one hundred.  And I guess that’s just part of what makes life so interesting…

No Contest

IMG_2401I’m worried about my dog.  Last Friday, she had what appeared to be a stroke and we rushed her to the emergency vet clinic, thinking that the end had come.  It turned out to be Vestibular Syndrome, which looks like a stroke, but the vet said her chances of recovery are actually quite good.  The problem is that Lucy is 15-years old and so far, her recovery has been very slow.

Her eyes are no longer twitching, she’s no longer drooling non-stop and she has regained control of her bladder.  But she’s still lurching around with her head twisted sharply to the right, can’t manage stairs, wipes out completely now and then, and is eating only sporadically.  Lucy is usually fiercely independent, and although she has mellowed somewhat with age, she has always been a sassy little hell-raiser.  So it is hard to see her so tired and bewildered, so unsure of her movements, and so completely dependent on our help.  I cling to the hope that the vets are right and she will continue to improve.  But meanwhile, I worry.

At first, I was reluctant to tell anyone what I was feeling, because I was afraid of the responses I would get.  Yes, I know she’s “just a dog,” and there are people who are suffering from much worse,  and there are even more people out there who are watching loved ones suffer from painful and potentially fatal diseases.  I also know that among my fellow dog-lovers there are many who have watched their own dog suffer, and sometimes even die, of much worse things .  But eventually, I came to the conclusion that even though I feel genuinely sorry for what other people are going through, that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to worry about my dog’s bout with Vestibular Syndrome.

Worry, like grief, is personal.  There’s no competition for who is dealing with the worst hardship or the greatest tragedy.  Whatever it is that I’m coping with, there will always be someone out there coping with something much worse.  But that doesn’t diminish my feelings.

I remember when I was planning my father’s memorial service, and in the midst of trying to make so many decisions, I blurted out the to minister, “This is just so hard!”  He  reminded me that my father was old and sick when he died, so I didn’t have it nearly so bad as people who were planning a funeral for someone who had died young and suddenly.  And you know what?  That response didn’t help at all.   My father may have been old and sick, but my grief was still real, and so was my frustration at trying to figure out the right way to honor his memory.

I know the minister didn’t mean to dismiss my feelings (aside from that remark, he was quite helpful and supportive), but he made the common mistake of trying to rate the bad stuff that happens in our lives on some sort of world-wide scale.  And that’s not helpful.  If I’m upset about something, I don’t benefit from being told it’s a “First-world problem.”  A mother grieving for her dead baby doesn’t need to have someone point out to her that, unlike some other grieving mothers, she has still has another child to love.  A man standing next to the concrete slab where his house used to be doesn’t want to be told, “you’re one of the lucky ones, because the tornado missed your barn.”  Those may be true statements, but they only serve to tell someone that they shouldn’t be feeling what they actually are feeling.

I believe that each of us is allowed to be upset, to worry, and to grieve exactly the way we want to and need to, without being judged or corrected.  There is no prize for the one suffering from the biggest tragedy, and no one deserves to have their feelings dismissed for being too trivial.  Our emotions are real and need to be dealt with as such, even if they don’t make much sense to others.  Because when it comes to feelings, there really is no contest at all.

It’s Complicated

I hate clutter, which means that getting rid of things is rarely a problem for me.  I routinely go through my possessions, ruthlessly culling the items that are no longer useful or desirable.  No matter how many times a charity calls for donations, I can always produce at least one big bag of used clothes, household items or other items.  And that’s not counting the carload of stuff we donate each year to the rummage sale at my mother’s church, or the stuff we give to my daughter to take to the local resale shop.

Even my most precious possessions–my books, my Christmas ornaments and my photographs–aren’t immune to my tendency to downsize and minimize.  I rid my bookshelves of books that no longer interest me, and I gave each of my kids a couple dozen of my Christmas ornaments when they moved out and started decorating their own trees.  And when my photo boxes get too full, I go through them and toss out the occasional photo or two.  (Especially when I have no idea who is in the picture.)  I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “saver.”

fullsizeoutput_3ebeWhich makes it all the harder to explain why I have several poinsettia plants on the window seat in my family room that are well past their prime.  The newest addition is two years old, and none of them sport the pretty red leaves anymore.  They are now green and spindly, require frequent watering and drop dead leaves all over the place.  But I can’t make myself throw them out.  I’ve tried, but I can never get past the idea that they are still alive, and I would be killing them for no reason other than I find them inconvenient.  And so they stay, taking up space and cluttering up my window seat.

I don’t have a rational explanation about my inability to get rid of unwanted plants when I can so easily give away just about anything else that’s in my house.  It’s completely out of character, and I doubt that anyone who knows me would believe that I have a window seat full of straggly poinsettias left over from Christmases of several years ago.  And yet I do.

And I don’t think I’m all that unusual.  Yes, hanging onto old poinsettias may be unusual, but doing things that seem out of character is actually rather common.  I believe most people have odd quirks and have done things that would surprise their friends and family.   I also believe that most people hold certain beliefs which seem at odds with their usual viewpoints.  Because the truth is that most people are much more complicated than they seem.

Of course we like to slot other people into categories that make they easy to identify, but those categories are rarely completely accurate.  It’s not uncommon for a liberal to hold a conservative view on a particular subject, or for a city dweller to have a passion for country music.  Animal shelter volunteers can own purebred dogs, and the grown son of a dedicated gardener may prefer his vegetables canned.  It’s all okay.  Because real people are complicated, and they are allowed to harbor all sorts of contradictions.  It’s just part of what makes us human.

And the reason I’m hoping no one gives me another poinsettia for Christmas this year.

Timing is Everything

IMG_1185Usually, I can’t wait for the arrival of Spring.  By the time March rolls around, I want nothing more than to be finished with Winter.  I hate Winter’s short, cold days and its long, even colder nights.  I hate the dry air in my house that creates chapped skin and generates shocks from static electricity despite the best efforts of my humidifier.  And although I love walking shelter dogs three times a week, I hate doing it in freezing temperatures.  My eyes water from the cold wind, my fingers turn white, and my nose hair freezes.  So ordinarily, the first sign of Spring fills me with joy and a hope for better things.

But this year, Spring came too early, even for me.  Although we had some truly cold days in December and a few frosty days in January, February brought an early warmth that fooled the local foliage into thinking that it was time to bloom.  Before the month was over, daffodils and crocuses were out, and the magnolias, pear trees, forsythia and many other bushes and trees I can’t name were in full flower.  And through it all, I just kept thinking, “But it’s too early for this!  It’s not even March yet!”

The timing of it all just struck me as off, and even a little bit creepy.  I felt out of sorts on many days, and even something as simple as getting dressed became complicated.    Should I go downstairs and root through my bins of warm-weather clothes to find something to wear, or put on one of the  winter sweaters I usually wear in February and hope that wherever I was going had air-conditioning?  As odd as it sounds, I yearned for at least one more snowfall, and temperatures that still required a coat.

And then March finally arrived, and I began to think that perhaps it wasn’t too early for the balmy weather and glorious colors of Spring after all.  Sure, it was still a few weeks ahead of schedule, but warm weather in March isn’t that unusual where I live.  So I finally decided that Spring had indeed sprung, and started in with my usual spring routines.  I packed away my heavy sweaters, began my Spring house-cleaning and even thought about putting out a few Easter decorations.  And whenever I was outside, I found myself not only noticing, but truly appreciating the cheerful colors on all the flowering trees and bushes.

Which meant, of course, that Winter has decided to make a comeback.  In a couple of days the temperatures are supposed to plummet, and we are expected to receive a “wintry mix” that will probably include accumulating snow.  The colorful blooms I’ve been admiring will wither and turn brown, while other plants that have just begun to bud out may not bloom at all.  I may even have to figure out where I stashed the snow shovel.

But I’m not worried.  I know that all I have to do to send Winter packing (at least until next year) is to pretend that I’m truly enjoying the cold weather this weekend.  I’m going to light a fire in the fireplace, put on my favorite winter sweater, make hot chocolate, and if there’s enough snow, I’m even going to build a snowman.  Because believe me, that’s all it will take to make Spring come roaring right back.