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.

Simple Pleasures

When I was a child, one of my favorite outings was a trip to the local zoo.  Sometimes we went as a family, but most often we went with neighborhood friends, all piled into my mother’s car.  The adults would sit in the front seat,  with the other moms holding their babies on their laps, and the rest of us kids would squeeze into the back seat.  If we couldn’t all fit, we’d make the smaller ones sit on the floor.  (This was in the days before seat belts and car seats.)   Once we arrived at the zoo, we’d have a marvelous time running around and seeing all the exotic animals, riding the zoo train, and when our moms weren’t looking, fishing coins out of the fountains to be used at the nearby concession stands.

Later, when I had my own kids, I loved taking them to the zoo as well.  It was fun to watch them enjoy the same things I had loved so much as a child, and to take them for a ride on the very same zoo train.  The zoo has changed and improved in many ways over the years, and thankfully provides a much more natural habitat for its animals these days, but a visit there is still a little trip down memory lane.

Now that my children are grown, I was looking forward to taking my two-year old grandson to the zoo this summer.    Sadly, the zoo had to close temporarily when the pandemic struck and when it did open back up, there were many new restrictions in place.  Reservations were required, masks must be worn, and many attractions remained closed.  I wasn’t sure it was worth the bother, and decided my plans to take my grandson to the zoo were yet another casualty of the Covid virus.

But when my daughter told me she’d made reservations for us to take my grandson to the zoo, I agreed to go.  We came prepared with our masks, a wagon to pull my grandson around in when he was tired of walking, and plenty of cold drinks to keep us hydrated.  While we didn’t have a typical zoo experience,  I can honestly say it was still an enjoyable one.

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We saw plenty of animals, (my grandson liked the elephants the best) and, of course, rode the zoo train just as I had all those years ago.  It was fun to see a two-year old get so excited when he saw his favorite animals and enjoy the train ride so much.  When it was over, I thanked my daughter for taking the initiative to plan the outing, knowing that if she hadn’t, I would have missed out on a very special experience.

And the next time I think that trying to do something I normally enjoy is just too much trouble these days, I’m going to remember that trip to the zoo.  Just because I can’t do many things as I normally would, doesn’t mean I can’t do them at all.  I can still invite friends over, we just sit outside and keep our distance.  I can still enjoy food from my favorite restaurants, I just eat it on their patio or get carry-out.  I may not be able to browse the library, but I can order the books I want and pick them up curbside.

Life is certainly different now, and sometimes it’s hard not to be discouraged.  But I think if we’re willing to be flexible and a little determined, we’ll find that there are still plenty of simple pleasures just waiting to be enjoyed.

Changing Times

Coping with change has never been my strong point, which could explain why I’m feeling a bit disoriented these days.  It seems that the very second I adjust to one new “normal,” everything shifts and then I have to adjust all over again.  In my weaker moments, I think that all I want to do is go to sleep and not wake up until this whole mess is over.  Thankfully, those moments are way outnumbered by the times I realize that even though my life is certainly different, it isn’t necessarily bad.

Becoming the primary care-giver for my grandson was a huge shift for me, and not just because he shows up at our door early in the morning, all smiles and boundless energy at a time when I’m just staggering around, still half asleep.  Babysitting my grandson has reminded me of what it means to live in the moment, because that’s the only way that two-year olds know how to live.  It’s given me the chance to enjoy the company of a toddler when I’ve lived long enough to know not to sweat the small stuff, and to realize what a gift it is to be able to spend so much time with a little person that I love so much.

fullsizeoutput_5a0dIf someone gave me the choice, I would never have chosen to add a new granddaughter to our family in the middle of a pandemic, (especially since  she arrived six weeks early) but things worked out just fine.  She’s proven to be a real fighter, spending only two weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit before she was able to come home.  We had to meet her for the first time outside, wearing masks and at a distance, but it was still a moment of pure joy.  Trust me, few things can make your heart quite so happy as seeing your son cradling his new baby daughter.  (She’s not quite as small as she looks in this picture– it’s an odd camera angle and my son has big hands.)

I started this blog over five years ago, and the most I hoped for was that I’d accumulate about one-hundred followers. Sometime in the craziness of the last few weeks, I’ve surpassed the 5,000 followers mark.  I’ve been blogging long enough to know that blogging stats don’t mean much, but that still feels like a milestone, no matter how inaccurate it may be.  Especially since as of June 1, Word Press is changing the system I use to write and edit my posts, which means I have no idea if I’ll be able to figure out how to continue this blog or not.

So if my next blog post doesn’t appear on schedule, or if the format looks decidedly odd, please know that I’m trying my best to learn a new system and to keep my blog going.  I’m not what you would call “tech savvy” and it always takes me a while to learn new things.  But I’m optimistic that I’ll figure it all out eventually, and believe that this will simply be yet another new thing to get used to.  If the past couple of months have taught me nothing else, it’s that I’m far more adaptable and much stronger than I ever would have believed.  And even more importantly, that change isn’t always such a bad thing.

Reality Check

They say every cloud has a silver lining, and I believe that is true.  We all know how much damage this pandemic has brought, so there’s no need for me to rehash that, especially since I believe we’re all on “negative news overload” these days.  But I have learned a few things from this situation, and some of those lessons will serve me well long after this whole mess is over and done with.

For one thing, I will never again let my house be without a month’s supply of disinfectant, a freezer full of food, and tons of toilet paper.  Before 2020, I thought that the way to prepare for a natural disaster was to have an adequate supply of flashlights, batteries, water and, if at all possible, a generator.  If a snowstorm was predicted, I added bread and milk to that list.  But this year, I’ve learned that the way to react to an new virus is to rush out and buy all the toilet paper I can cram into my shopping cart, as long as I leave room for a container of sanitizing wipes.

I’ve discovered that wearing a face mask isn’t as uncomfortable as I had thought, especially once I found some that fit right.  (I’m not sure why I thought they’d be “once size fits all,” since faces certainly aren’t.)  And as an added bonus, I’ve learned that when you’re a woman of a certain age, a face mask can hide a whole lot of things.  Suffice it to say that I don’t have many wrinkles on my forehead, so really, a face mask isn’t such a bad look for me.  If I could just get one that comes with an anti-aging cream on the inside of it, I’d be all set.

I’ve learned that politicians aren’t afraid to take advantage of a bad situation in order to get free publicity, especially during an election year.  I suspect that most of the daily press briefings we’re seeing will last at least until November, even if this virus doesn’t.  I’ve learned that some people don’t believe in following the rules, no matter how dire the situation happens to be.  I already knew that many of us have a hard time listening to different opinions, but I’ve learned that when people are frustrated and afraid, their levels of intolerance can skyrocket.  And since the things we say and do now are going to be remembered for a long time, it’s best to choose wisely.

But the most important thing I’ve learned is how much of what we think and feel during a crisis comes from our own particular situation and the circumstances we and our loved ones are in.  As the saying goes, “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.”  The pandemic and its quarantines are hurting everybody, but in different ways and to different degrees.  Some of us are on a big ocean liner, barely feeling the waves.  Others are in a tiny rowboat with no oars, being tossed around in the water and having no idea how, or if, we’re going to survive this.  And most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes.

So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, all I can say is this:  now is the time to be gentle with ourselves, and accepting of our emotions.  It’s the time to be tolerant of others and to think before we speak, post, or act.  It’s a time to be brave, even when facing very real fears.  Because when we’re moving toward an uncertain future, as almost all of us are, one of the few things we know for certain is that kindness, compassion and wisdom helps.  It always has, and it always will.

A Day to Remember

I turned 62 yesterday, which in normal times is not a birthday that would be particularly memorable.  But these are not normal times.

I woke up early on my birthday,  and for the first time in weeks, I didn’t immediately remember that we’re in the middle of a pandemic that has my area in an indefinite lock down.  I even forgot my current personal worries.  For just a moment, life seemed normal and good.  Which made it all the harder when reality hit, and my mood took a definite nosedive.

j8F7xtuZS+OVv0b2HB7YNABut it was still a fine Spring day, and my phone began beeping with texts and calls from friends and family wishing me a happy birthday.  My son and his wife had a gorgeous basket of flowers delivered, and my daughter and grandson dropped by with gifts.   My husband gave me lovely roses, a cake and several cards. (Including one from our dog, Finn, with a note from Finn explaining that between the shelter-at-home order and his heart worm treatment, he wasn’t able to shop for my gift this year…..but hoped that he would be allowed to have a slice of my birthday cake anyway.)

Friends left gifts of wine and flowers on our doorstep, then lingered in the front yard for a chat while I stood on the porch.  It was so good to see their faces for the first time in weeks, and I can’t begin to say how much I appreciated their thoughtfulness.  Later, my husband got take-out food from one of our favorite restaurants and then let me beat him at three straight card games.  I know he let me win, because he has the ability to remember every single card that has been played and to calculate the odds accordingly, while I’m doing good to remember what game we’re playing.  When I get tired of losing so much, I play solitaire…and cheat, just so I can experience the “thrill of victory” for a change.

In more ways that I have time to list, my birthday was a good day.  But I would be lying to say that it was a completely good day, because no matter how hard I tried not to think about them, my worries and frustrations never totally went away.   I also felt a bit guilty for not feeling 100% happy in the face of so much love and support.

Sometimes it’s so hard to allow ourselves to be human, and to feel anxious, afraid or frustrated, or any of the emotions that come when our world has been turned upside down and no one knows what the future will bring.  But if this year’s birthday celebration has taught me anything, it’s that it’s not only possible to feel conflicting emotions during these times, but that it’s perfectly okay.

We’re allowed to feel grateful for the support of our friends and family and still be worried about the millions of people who have suddenly found themselves unemployed.  It’s okay to be afraid of catching this virus and still long to gather with our loved ones.  Life these days is nothing but a mixture of contradicting emotions, and I think that’s actually a normal response to these abnormal days in which we live.

So when I think back on my 62nd birthday, I think I’ll remember a lot of things.  I’ll remember feeling frustrated as the weeks of sheltering at homes stretches into months.  I’ll remember the love of friends and family who went out of their way to make my birthday a special day.  I’ll remember feeling so very sorry for those who are suffering from this virus, in any form.  But mostly, I’ll remember that even in these difficult times, lots of good things still happen and lots of good people are trying very hard to help others cope.  Which means that in all the important ways, this was a memorable birthday after all…..

Legacy

fullsizeoutput_b0When I was a kid, I often heard my grandparents talk about the Great Depression.  I grew up knowing that my grandfather felt very fortunate to be a dentist, because that was something that was always needed, even in hard times.  He had to keep his prices extremely low, but he said he was grateful to be able to earn enough to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.  I knew that my grandmother always made sandwiches for the people who knocked on their door, asking for help.  She said she didn’t have any money to spare, but she could make sure that no one went away hungry.

Listening to those stories shaped how I understood my grandparents.  I grew up knowing that they were grateful for what they had, and willing to share with others in need.  I’m sure they had their moments of worry, fear and frustration as they lived through those dire times, but my general impression was that they were essentially strong and caring people.

I know we will be talking about this current pandemic for a long time to come, and that for many of us, this will be the defining crisis of our lives.  And that made me wonder what I’ll be able to say about how I coped with this, and even more importantly, how I’ll know I reacted to it.

When this is over (and it will be, even though no one knows exactly when), I’m going to look back on this time and ask myself, “Was I brave or fearful?  Was I wise or foolish?  Did I make the best of a bad situation, or did I made a bad situation even worse?”  And I’m going to have to live with those answers for a very long time.

I know I won’t always like my own answers, if I’m brave enough to be completely honest with myself.  I’ve had my moments of fear, frustration and self-pity, and I suspect that most everyone else has too.  We’re human, and we can’t possibly be strong all the time, especially with a crisis that just seems to go on and on.  But when I’m feeling down, it does help to remember my grandparents and how they somehow managed to stay in touch with their best selves even at a time when it must have seemed as if their entire world was falling apart.

And so I’ll try to do the same.  I’ll try to find things to be grateful for, every single day.  I’ll resist the urge to lash out at others who say things that “trigger” my own fears, and I’ll refuse to use this pandemic as an excuse to attack those whose politics, religion, or any other belief system is different from mine.  I won’t remind anyone that their predictions about how this crisis was going to play out were wrong.  And most importantly, I won’t let the uncertainty about how long this will last and how much damage it will do to our society to push me into stockpiling supplies so that others have to do without.

Because some day I will be asked about how I handled this dark time, and I’d like to think that I learned a thing or two from my grandparents. Which means that I want to follow their example, and try to stay in touch with my best self too.

My Choice

I like to think I’d have made a great Boy Scout, because I have based so much of my life on their motto, “Be prepared.”  I have an emergency kit in my house at all times because I live in an area that is overdue for an earthquake.  And having been through a few blizzards and enduring a five-day power outage in the middle of a very hot and humid July, I know first-hand that advance preparation can make a huge difference in the quality of life following a natural disaster.  As I said, I’m a firm believer in being prepared.

So it should come as no surprise that I have enough supplies in my house to get us through a two-week quarantine if that should become necessary.  I’m also washing my hands regularly, avoiding large crowds, and in general following CDC recommendations.  I’ll miss the annual March Madness tournament this year because that’s one of the few sporting events I actually look forward to, but I understand why it was necessary to cancel it and most other large gatherings.  Following safe-practice protocols in the face of a global pandemic requires a certain amount of sacrifice from each of us, and I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is how quickly we are judging those whose emotional reaction to the Corona virus is different from ours.  Even in the best of times, people are going to react to bad news differently, and this is uncharted territory for us all.  Some people are in full-on panic mode, while others are calm and confident that this will pass soon.  Some people are making jokes about the situation, some are tired of talking about it at all, and some can’t seem to talk about anything else.  And all of that is okay.

Each of us responds to crises in our own way, and we have the right to do that.  The problem is that we sometimes assume we also have the right to tell other people exactly how they should be feeling, but we don’t.  We just get to control our own thoughts and feelings, and we are absolutely not in charge of anyone else’s emotions.

Personally, I don’t do panic mode well.  I’m concerned about the Corona virus, but I’m choosing not to be in a panic because when I panic, I can’t do the things that I need to do to stay healthy and sane.  I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, and I can’t take care of those who are depending on me.  So my choice is to check the CDC site regularly to make sure I’m following the government guidelines, to be prepared for a possible home quarantine, and then….to just live my life as normally as I can.  And yes, I sometimes joke about the situation because humor is, and always has been, one of my coping mechanisms.

I believe that we will get through this pandemic, and that we will also get through the economic downturn that will most surely follow.  I believe that the best way to get through this is to realize we’re all in it together, and that taking pot-shots at one another is a sure-fire way to make the situation even worse.  In other words, I choose to be as realistic as I must be and as positive as I can be in the upcoming weeks.   Because personally, that’s the only choice I can live with.

Something New

IMG_1130When I was a child, Valentine’s Day meant school parties and special family dinners that featured heart-shaped gelatin molds and my very own box of chocolates.  When I hit the awkward teen-age years, the holiday was mostly a painful reminder of the boyfriend I didn’t have.  Then I found true love, and for the past forty-something years, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with flowers, chocolates and dinner at a nice restaurant, all of which I enjoyed very much.

But tastes change as we age, and in recent years both my husband and I began to tire of the crowds at the restaurants on February 14.  While the roses he brought me were beautiful, we couldn’t help feeling a bit scammed by the fact that their prices doubled (or even tripled) around Valentine’s Day.  And I have definitely reached the age where eating a huge box of chocolates is not a good idea, either in terms of health or being able to fit into my pants.

So this year, my husband and I decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day by babysitting our grandson so our daughter and son-in-law could enjoy an evening out.  Like all parents with full-time jobs and young children, they could use  more “couple time” and we love nothing more than being with our grandson.  Which why I spent this year’s Valentine’s evening snuggling with a two-year old while reading him bedtime stories.  And loving every minute of it.

I’ve come to believe that one of the secrets to living a happy life is the ability to let go of traditions, expectations, and even relationships that no longer work.  When our traditions stop giving us joy, it’s time to find new ones.  When familiar thought-patterns keep us nursing old grudges and reinforce negative self-images, it’s time to look for new perspectives.  And when people we were once close to make it clear that they are no longer interested in spending time with us or including us in their gatherings, then it’s time to accept that and focus our time and energy on those who do value our company.

It’s not a matter of turning our back on the past and all of the happy memories we have.  It simply means that we understand that all of us change, and that the things that once worked for us may not be such a good fit anymore.  More importantly, it means that we’re recognizing that there are new possibilities just waiting to be explored that just might make us every bit as happy as what we are leaving behind.  We just have to be brave enough to try them.

There was a time when I thought the best possible Valentine’s Day celebrations involved lots of flowers, cards, chocolates, and dinner at a fancy restaurant.  I couldn’t have imagined wanting to spend the evening eating store-bought macaroni and cheese, salad from a bag and reheated chicken nuggets, followed by bathing a toddler and then reading him the exact same book six times in a row before he finally fell asleep.  Yet that is exactly how I celebrated this year.  And you know what?  It was one of the nicest Valentine’s Days I’ve had in years.

Five Years Later

I’ve been blogging for five years now, and when you do something for five years, you’re bound to learn a thing or two.  To begin with, I learned that time really does fly when you’re having fun, because it just doesn’t seem as if five whole years have gone by since I started this blog.   I can still remember how I struggled to figure out how to create a blog, and how I felt both nervous and proud when I finally managed to publish my first blog post.

It wasn’t long before I realized that the blog stats I checked so obsessively really didn’t mean all that much, because they weren’t particularly accurate.  I have many regular readers who don’t follow my blog, and I have even more followers who never read a single post.  I also noticed that the posts I liked best weren’t always the ones that generated the most views.  Eventually, I figured out that what made writing a particular post most worthwhile was when one of my readers was kind enough to let me know that my writing spoke to them.  Because face it, if something we write touches even one person in a significant way, then that post was well worth the effort.

I sometimes have trouble embracing change, but blogging has taught me that change is not always a bad thing.  I think all bloggers enjoy having a core group of “blogging friends” who read and support each other’s blogs, and I was lucky enough to find such a group early on.  I’m not at all sure I would have stuck with my blog without their encouragement.  But most of the people in my initial core group have dropped out of Word Press, and been replaced by other new friends who have ventured into the blogging world.  The blogging community is constantly changing, and I’ve learned to accept that and be grateful for each new connection it brings me.

Blogging has also made me much less cynical, because it’s taught me that, despite what the news media would have us believe, most people are basically good.  When I first started blogging, I was very intimidated by the fact that readers would be able to comment directly on my posts.  I was quite sure I was going to have to deal with lots of spam and nasty responses.  But 99% of the comments I’ve received have been positive.  And they usually generate interesting discussions among people who seem to be both kind and intelligent, and willing to be share their experience and knowledge.  That’s the sort of thing that gives me hope for our world.

Finally, the most important thing my blog has taught me is to be willing to take a risk now and then, especially when it involves something I’ve always wanted to do.  If I hadn’t worked up the nerve to hit that “publish” button for the first time, I would have missed out on so much just because I was too afraid to try something new.   And the past five years wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun…..

Can I Help?

A few days ago, I had oral surgery to address an ongoing infection in one of my upper molars.  The procedure involved cutting through my gums and manually removing the infection and the tips of the molar’s roots before sealing them off.  I’m not going to lie and say it was fun, or even no big deal.  I don’t like even simple dental procedures, and this one was a doozie, any way you looked at it.  But I can say that the procedure wasn’t nearly as bad as I had anticipated, for one reason and one reason only:  the terrific attitude of the endodontist and her staff.

From the minute I walked into the office, I was treated with compassion, patience and encouragement.  Did I want a blanket to cover up in?  Did I have any questions before we began?  Would I like the chair set to massage during the procedure?  Of course I wanted all of it, especially the chance to ask some last-minute questions.  And by the time the procedure began, I was much calmer more relaxed than I would ever have thought possible in those circumstances.  By the time it was over, I was actually kind of proud of myself for how well I handled it.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my pride was misplaced.  Yes, I had done a good job of managing my nerves in the days before the procedure, but by the time of the actual appointment, I was both nervous and scared.  If the staff had been hurried and abrupt, brushing off my questions, rolling their eyes at my request for a last-minute bathroom break, or acting as if there was no reason for me to be apprehensive, my entire experience would have been very, very, different.  If I had even stuck around long enough for them to do it.  (I may be old, but I can still run pretty fast when I have to.)

The reason I was so calm during the procedure was because the endodontist and her staff did everything in their power to settle my nerves and allow me to get through it with as much dignity as possible.  And that is a gift that I will not soon forget.

I’m sure I was just one of a series of scared and nervous people that the endodontist’s staff has dealt with, and that the way I was treated was their normal routine.  But their patience and encouragement made a world of difference to me.  Which just goes to show that how we treat other people really is a very big deal.

It really doesn’t take that much effort to offer someone an encouraging word, or to listen when someone needs to express their fears and concerns.  It isn’t that hard to smile at a newcomer, to talk to someone who is lonely, or to offer our sympathy to someone who is grieving.  Yet each and every time we do these things, we may well be giving someone else that little bit of help they need to get them through whatever difficulty they happen to be facing at the time.  And what could be more important than that?